Dumbledore's Army


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We need a standard set of community advice for how to financially prepare for AGI

Your question ignores timeframes. I’m happy to argue that P(stock rises in the next 5 years |AGI in 20 years)≈P(stock rises in the next 5 years) for all stocks.

I’m a professional equity investor, and trust me, the market isn’t that forward-looking. Unless you believe in AGI within the next 10 years, I suggest ignoring it when it comes to picking investments. Because for the intermediate timeframe until the market begins to take the concept seriously, the value of your investments will be determined by all the other factors which you’re ignoring in favour of focusing on AGI, so unless you want your investment results to be meh for years-to-decades, then don‘t go for some all-out bet on AI.

What weird beliefs do you have?

Thinking about this some more, if there was an industrial civilisation at the PETM I think it would be most likely marine based. (Maybe cephalopods?)

I previously asked myself what evidence we would see if there was a prior industrial civilisation on Earth and I came up with 1) transfer of biological species to other continents as per my previous comments 2) depletion of fossil fuels (I don't remotely know enough geology to begin to answer the question of whether we are 'missing' fossil fuels that ought to be there) and 3) technofossils especially plastics. I only commented about 1) because that's the one I thought the most compelling argument.

But actually, a marine civilisation accounts for all three arguments. The oceans were and are connected, so it's not a surprise to find the same species in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. And the oceans are severely under-studied so we'd be much less likely to notice any oddities. We're also much less likely to notice missing fossil fuels under water (yes our civilisation drills in the sea if it's shallow enough but it's less explored and less understood than the land). And the odds of us finding fossils under the seabed are practically zero. (Unless there's a good area where what was seafloor at the PETM is now uplifted into a landmass?)

We still have a complete absence of evidence that any such civilisation existed, but I might join you in giving it a 5% possibility. 

And now my mind goes down more speculative routes - what does the tech tree of a marine civilisation look like? They couldn't have fire, therefore no metalworking or pottery. Is there some other basic technology, as hard-to-imagine for us terrestrials as fire would be to a stone-age squid? (Maybe: can you exploit large changes in water pressure to change the properties of wood or other materials? Could a marine civ drop or lower objects a couple of kilometres down, leave them for a while, and then retrieve them, and would that produce useful changes?) How would a civilisation without fire invent combustion engines or steam turbines or other ways to get energy out of fossil fuels? Hmm. I will stop now before I spend all day going down this rabbit hole.

What weird beliefs do you have?

Maybe the crop plants weren’t the best example to use. If we all disappeared tomorrow, there would still be rats and dingos and feral hogs in Australia. There would be rats on almost every island worldwide. There would be Japanese knotweed and buddleja and rhododendrons everywhere. There would be bougainvillea across all the tropics. There would be American crayfish and Pacific oysters in Britain. There would be Asian carp in North America. There might be hippopotamuses in South America! Ie it’s not just domesticates, it’s the far larger number of wild species we’ve moved around (probably thousands or more - I couldn’t find an estimate with a quick google search)

If any comparable thing had happened in the past, palaeobiology and genetic taxonomy should be a godawful mess instead of dovetailing nicely with the geological evidence on continental drift. Now maybe I’m just ignorant, and evolutionary biologists are going round scratching their heads and wondering how ancestral koalas suddenly showed up on Madagascar 55 million years ago, or some equivalent mystery. But I’m not aware of any such problem. Maybe the Antarctic habitat explains that, but I have trouble squaring the idea of a civilisation large-scale enough to cause runaway global warming with one that leaves no trace 55 million years later. 

The world would be a more interesting place if there was a previous industrial civilisation. I just don’t think there is evidence to support that proposition, and even 55 million years later, there should be some traces. But if someone digs up fossil plastics in Antarctica or something, I will be delighted to be proven wrong.

Covid 4/9: Another Vaccine Passport Objection

“What’s scary is when I try to put a probability on ‘this turns into a broader thing that outlives Covid and people have to show the computer has them in good standing to get on a train’ or something like that. I still think it’s a super low probability thing, maybe 2% (it’s a Fermi answer, but a considered one), but that’s 2% of a really, really bad outcome.”

I’m sorry, but the 2% strikes me as pure optimism. If the government gets vaccine passports approved for anything, the probability is very high that we’re stuck with them for the long haul, and that use will gradually expand over time from slippery slope effects.

As a comparison, think about all the civil liberties lost after 9/11 and how you never got most of them back. Eliezer Yudkowski wrote that it was a vast underestimate to think that the overreaction to 9/11 would be ten times worse than the event itself. Every bias that caused the overreaction to terrorism is also present and causing the overreaction to Covid. Vaccine passports are part of that overreaction!

Think about how governments learned to shout ‘terrorism!’ any time they wanted more power and how those powers always ended up being used against more than just terrorists. In the US you guys had the NSA snooping on everything and everyone, terrorists or no. Here in the UK one very sinister example is the 2001 Anti-Terrorist Act which our then-government solemnly promised would only be used against terrorists. Within a few years it was being used to seize assets from Icelandic banks for the crime of being inconveniently bankrupt. You simply cannot trust governments to only use their new powers against the original target. Once you add a tool to their toolbox, that tool gets used.

Now really think about what it would take to be the politician or bureaucrat that tried to scrap vaccine passports. You’re up against fear of blame and the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics: whoever makes that decision is at risk of being blamed for every person who ever gets sick again. They will be demonised by the other side as pro-virus. Then there’s simple status quo bias: once the passports exist scrapping them then becomes a change in the status quo and subject to inertia, akrasia, and the difficulty of coming to consensus.

I hope you now understand why I am fundamentally opposed to vaccine passports. I hope I have persuaded you too. This is a terrible, dangerous idea, and the time to stop them is before they become the status quo.

Monastery and Throne

Your arguments about health care systems collapsing in the absence of lockdowns are highly emotive but not factual. The experience from Sweden, from Serbia, from the US states which didn't do second lockdowns, is that the health care systems didn't collapse. You are arguing from the unexamined assumption that no lockdown means failed health care system and your assumption is empirically, provably false. Please update your views accordingly. 

Monastery and Throne

I see a lot of nit-picking of my evidence, but you have provided zero support for your own claim that lockdowns do more good than harm. I challenge you to come up with a published cost-benefit analysis that proves the same. 

What would a good cost-benefit analysis include? There are a lot of harms caused by lockdowns. Some of them are difficult to quantify (eg my last point), but I think it's reasonable to demand a cost-benefit analysis takes into account at least three of the following six harms (which are far from an exhaustive list): 

  • Increased poverty is directly correlated to lower life expectancy, so we should measure the lost years of life from increased poverty. This is a very long-term effect, which will be doing harm for years to come.
  • Unemployment and financial problems are both 'scarring' (it takes a long time to dig yourself out) and both cause mental health effects. We should include the long-term mental health cost of increased unemployment and individual financial problems.
  • Where lockdowns include school closures, the long-term effect on children's development and socialisation is extreme. We should include estimates of the lifetime impact on children, which will include shorter life expectancy. (Yes, shorter educations are correlated to future life expectancy.)
  • Additional mental health effects directly attributable to the lockdown including elevated rates of depression, stress and anxiety. Proper acknowledgement that some of these effects (eg increased alcoholism) have long-term effects which should be accounted for.
  • Lockdown sucks for everyone, even if still employed, not in school, and not suffering a formal mental health condition. We should acknowledge that this is a widespread disutility and deserves to be considered.
  • Lockdowns have set a deeply disturbing precedent that governments can remove almost all civil liberties when they declare there's an emergency. This directly harms democracy and raises the risk of future loss of freedoms. (Yes this one is the hardest to quantify, but it's important and I would like to see more people acknowledge it.)

An ideal cost-benefit analysis would acknowledge that benefits from lockdowns in terms of lives saved are uncertain and include a range of estimates, but if you find one that properly considers at least 3 of the above 6 points, I'll accept it even if it has a point estimate for benefits. (Those using the initial Imperial College models should be at the top end of the range because the Imperial College figures are too high for all the reasons I've already said.) However, since you've said that "It's a strawman that policymakers compare lockdown to "do nothing."" then I do expect your superior cost benefit analysis will compare lockdown to more reasonable restrictions, rather than a do nothing option. 

So there it is. I challenge you: bring evidence or go home.


PS: If I seem to be beating the drum of long-term effects too hard, it's because I'm still angry at the UK government's (belated, poor-quality) excuse for a cost-benefit analysis which, among its many other failures, looked only at harm done over the next five years.

Monastery and Throne

Lockdowns are more harmful than beneficial with the few exceptions of those countries like New Zealand that successfully kept the virus out. For any country where the virus is already endemic, the damage done by lockdowns was immense, and the benefits relatively limited. Remember that the counterfactual is not 'do nothing'. It's 'enact some more reasonable set of restrictions'. 

Prof Douglas Allen of SFU just did a really good takedown of bad arguments in favour of lockdown. In his most unrealistic extreme scenario intended to steelman the pro-lockdown case, he finds that lockdowns cost 3.6x more than their benefits, at the opposite end of the spectrum, they might have cost as much as 282x more than their benefits. (His figures for Canada, but the argument should generalise to any developed country.)

This image is a good example of how distorted pro-lockdown arguments are. It's taken from Neil Ferguson's Imperial College model used to argue for lockdown. Pro-lockdown cost-benefit analyses generally compare the blue line below (full lockdown) with the black line (do nothing) for an estimate of 120 lives saved per 100,000 people. It would be far more reasonable to compare that blue line to the brown line below (assumes case isolation and household quarantine but not lockdown measures) which immediately halves your assumed benefit for lockdown measures. Then remember that the Imperial College model is grossly overstated and assumes no public behaviour change in the absence of a lockdown. You get the picture. 

I really do encourage you to read the whole study: http://www.sfu.ca/~allen/LockdownReport.pdf


To expand on your last sentence, anger can be a driver of positive change in the world. Greta Thunberg is angry that people are carelessly wrecking the only planet we have to live on. Racial justice protesters in the US are angry that black people keep getting killed by the police. Unless you're a saint, being furious about some injustice is much more motivating than the dispassionate thought that 'x would be a good deed'.

Having said that, I would agree with OP that most of the time in most interpersonal situations anger is damaging, and for most people becoming less angry is a good thing. (Or at least many people should become much more aware about why they are angry, at whom, instead of letting themselves be generically angry and taking it out on the nearest available target.)

Why has nuclear power been a flop?

What is your definition of contaminate? If Devanney is correct that low doses of radiation are acceptable - and I believe he is - then much land which is described as ‘contaminated’ is in fact perfectly liveable. (Also see the people who illegally live in the Chernobyl exclusion zone). For a reasonable definition of ’contaminate’ then, it follows that a nuclear accident contaminates much smaller areas of land and is less expensive.

Your anti-nuclear argument also ignores the status quo of non nuclear energy. In America alone, fossil fuels (read coal) kill tens of thousands every year. So if you replaced all coal power with nuclear and had a Chernobyl every year (unrealistic extreme scenario), it would still save lives on net. 

That said, I can see the argument that renewables are safer than both today, but OP is absolutely right to analyse the decades-long failure to replace coal with nuclear in the period before we had renewables.

What weird beliefs do you have?

I love the idea, but I’m sceptical based on genetics. Our civilisation has moved a lot of species around, from stuff like bringing placental mammals to Australia to things like exporting food crops around the world. Potatoes evolved in the Americas, now you can find them everywhere. Soy beans came from Japan / East Asia but now they’re heavily cultivated in Brazil. 

I assume that any previous industrial civilisation, even if it were less adaptable than humans, would probably have spread outside of its home continent, if only to look for oil and minerals. And they’d end up introducing species all over the place, like we have, and modern day geneticists should be scratching their heads and trying to figure out all sorts of mysteries about what evolved where. But so far as I know (I’m not an evolutionary biologist) we just don‘t have those sort of mysteries where species categories suddenly jump continents.


So, sadly, I don’t think that the Earth has had a previous industrial civilisation at least since Australia separated from the other continents. I wouldn’t rule out previous pre-industrial civilisations, though. In fact, given the wide variety of species today which demonstrate at least some tool use - not just great apes but also capuchin monkeys, corvids, even octopuses - I’d be surprised if no previous species ever got to at least homo erectus level.

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