Engineer working on next-gen satellite navigation at Xona Space Systems. I write about effective-altruist and longtermist topics at nukazaria.substack.com, or you can read about puzzle videogames and other things at jacksonw.xyz
Is there a plausible path towards gene therapies that edit dozens, hundreds, or thousands of different genes like this? I thought people were worried about off-target errors, etc? (Or at least problems like "you'll have to take 1000 different customized doses of CRISPR therapy, which will be expensive".) So my impression is that this kind of GWAS-inspired medicine would be most impactful with whole-genome synthesis? (Currently super-expensive?)
To be clear I agree with the main point this post is making about how we don't need animal models, etc, to do medicine if we have something that we know works!
(this comment is kind of a "i didn't have time to write you a short letter so I wrote you a long one" situation)re: Infowar between great powers -- the view that China+Russia+USA invest a lot of efforts into infowar, but mostly "defensively" / mostly trying to shape domestic opinion, makes sense. (After all, it must be easier to control the domestic media/information lansdscape!) I would tend to expect that doing domestically-focused infowar stuff at a massive scale would be harder for the USA to pull off (wouldn't it be leaked? wouldn't it be illegal somehow, or at least something that public opinion would consider a huge scandal?), but on the other hand I'd expect the USA to have superior infowar technology (subtler, more effective, etc). And logically it might also be harder to percieve effects of USA infowar techniques, since I live in the USA, immersed in its culture.
Still, my overall view is that, although the great powers certainly expend substantial effort trying to shape culture, and have some success, they don't appear to have any next-gen technology qualitatively different and superior to the rhetorical techniques deployed by ordinary successful politicians like Trump, social movements like EA or wokeism, advertising / PR agencies, media companies like the New York Times, etc. (In the way that, eg, engineering marvels like the SR-72 Blackbird were generations ahead of competitors' capabilities.) So I think the overall cultural landscape is mostly anarchic -- lots of different powers are trying to exert their own influence and none of them can really control or predict cultural changes in detail.
re: Social media companies' RL algorithms are powerful but also "they probably couldn't prevent algorithms from doing this if they tried due to goodharts law". -- Yeah, I guess my take on this is that the overt attempts at propaganda (aimed at placating the NYT) seem very weak and clumsy. Meanwhile the underlying RL techniques seem potentially powerful, but poorly understood or not very steerable, since social media companies seem to be mostly optimizing for engagement (and not even always succeeding at that; here we are talking on LessWrong instead of tweeting / tiktoking), rather than deploying clever infowar superweapons. If they have such power, why couldn't left-leaning sillicon valley prevent the election of Trump using subtle social-media-RL trickery?(Although I admit that the reaction to the 2016 election could certainly be interpreted as sillicon valley suddenly realizing, "Holy shit, we should definitely try to develop social media infowar superweapons so we can maybe prevent this NEXT TIME." But then the 2020 election was very close -- not what I'd have expected if info-superweapons were working well!)With Twitter in particular, we've had such a transparent look at its operations during the handover to Elon Musk, and it just seems like both sides of that transaction have been pretty amateurish and lacked any kind of deep understanding of how to influence culture. The whole fight seems to have been about where to tug one giant lever called "how harshly do we moderate the tweets of leftists vs rightists". This lever is indeed influential on twitter culture, and thus culture generally -- but the level of sophistication here just seems pathetic.
Tiktok is maybe the one case where I'd be sympathetic to the idea that maybe a lot of what appears to be random insane trends/beliefs fueled by SGD algorithms and internet social dynamics, is actually the result of fairly fine-grained cultural influence by Chinese interests. I don't think Tiktok is very world-changing right now (as we'd expect, it's targeting the craziest and lowest-IQ people first), but it's at least kinda world-changing, and maybe it's the first warning sign of what will soon be a much bigger threat? (I don't know much about the details of Tiktok the company, or the culture of its users, so it's hard for me to judge how much fine-grained control China might or might not be exerting.)
Unrelated -- I love the kind of sci-fi concept of "people panic but eventually go back to using social media and then they feel fine (SGD does this automatically in order to retain users)". But of course I think that the vast majority of users are in the "aren't panicking" / never-think-about-this-at-all category, and there are so few people in the "panic" category (panic specifically over subtle persuasion manipulation tech that isn't just trying to maximize engagement but instead achieve some specific ideological outcome, I mean) that there would be no impact on the social-media algorithms. I think it is plausible that other effects like "try not to look SO clickbaity that users recognize the addictiveness and leave" do probably show up in algorithms via SGD.
More random thoughts about infowar campaigns that the USA might historically have wanted to infowar about:
"Human brains are extremely predisposed to being hacked, governments would totally do this, and the AI safety community is unusually likely to be targeted."-- yup, fully agree that the AI safety community faces a lot of peril navigating the whims of culture and trying to win battles in a bunch of diverse high-stakes environments (influencing superpower governments, huge corporations, etc) where they are up against a variety of elite actors with some very strong motivations. And that there is peril both in the difficulty of navigating the "conventional" human-persuasion-transformed social landscape of today's world (already super-complex and difficult) and the potentially AI-persuasion-transformed world of tomorrow. I would note though, that these battles will (mostly?) play out in pretty elite spaces, wheras I'd expect the power of AI information superweapons to have the most powerful impact on the mass public. So, I'd expect to have at least some warning in the form of seeing the world go crazy (in a way that seems different from and greater than today's anarchic internet-social-dynamics-driven craziness), before I myself went crazy. (Unless there is an AI-infowar-superweapon-specific hard-takeoff where we suddenly get very powerful persuasion tech but still don't get the full ASI singularity??)
re: Dath Ilan -- this really deserves a whole separate comment, but basically I am also a big fan of the concept of Dath Ilan, and I would love to hear your thoughts on how you would go about trying to "build Dath Ilan" IRL.
(Copies from EA Forum for the benefit of lesswrongers following the discussion here)Definitely agree that empathy and other social feelings provide indirect evidence for self-awareness (ie, "modeling stuff about yourself" in your brain) in a way that optimism/pessimism or pain-avoidance doesn't. (Although wouldn't a sophisticated-enough RL circuit, interacting with other RL circuits in some kind of virtual evolutionary landscape, also develop social emotions like loyalty, empathy, etc? Even tiny mammals like mice/rats display sophisticated social behaviors...)I tend to assume that some kind of panpsychism is true, so you don't need extra "circuitry for experience" in order to turn visual-information-processing into an experience of vision. What would such extra circuitry even do, if not the visual information processing itself? (Seems like maybe you are a believer in what Daniel Dennet calls the "fallacy of the second transduction"?)Consequently, I think it's likely that even simple "RL algorithms" might have a very limited, very shallow, non-self-aware kinds of experience: an image-classifier is doing visual-information-processing, so it probably also produces isolated "experiences of vision"! But of course it would not have any awareness of itself as being a thing-that-sees, nor would those isolated experiences of vision be necessarily tied together into a coherent visual field, etc.So, I tend to think that fish and other primitive creatures probably have "qualia", including something like a subjective experience of suffering, but that they probably lack any sophisticated self-awareness / self-model, so it's kind of just "suffering happening nowhere" or "an experience of suffering not connected to anything else" -- the fish doesn't know it's a fish, doesn't know that it's suffering, etc, the fish is just generating some simple qualia that don't really refer to anything or tie into a larger system. Whether you call such a disconnected & shallow experience "real qualia" or "real suffering" is a question of definitions.I think this personal view of mine is fairly similar to Eliezer's from the Sequences: there are no "zombies" (among humans or animals), there is no "second transduction" from neuron activity into a mythical medium-of-consciousness (no "extra circuitry for experience" needed), rather the information-processing itself somehow directly produces (or is equivalent to, or etc) the qualia. So, animals and even simpler systems probably have qualia in some sense. But since animals aren't self-aware (and/or have less self-awareness than humans), their qualia don't matter (and/or matter less than humans' qualia)....Anyways, I think our core disagreement is that you seem to be equating "has a self-model" with "has qualia", versus I think maybe qualia can and do exist even in very simple systems that lack a self-model. But I still think that having a self-model is morally important (atomic units of "suffering" that are just floating in some kind of void, unconnected to a complex experience of selfhood, seem of questionable moral relevance to me), so we end up having similar opinions about how it's probably fine to eat fish.I guess what I am objecting to is that you are acting like these philosophical problems of qualia / consciousness / etc are solved and other people are making an obvious mistake. I agree that I see a lot of people being confused and making mistakes, but I don't think the problems are solved!
Why would showing that fish "feel empathy" prove that they have inner subjective experience? It seems perfectly possible to build a totally mechanical, non-conscious system that nevertheless displays signs of empathy. Couldn't fish just have some kind of built-in, not-necessarily-conscious instinct to protect other fish (for instance, by swimming together in a large school) in order to obtain some evolutionary benefit?Conversely, isn't it possible for fish to have inner subjective experience but not feel empathy? Fish are very simple creatures, while "empathy" is a complicated social emotion. Especially in a solitary creature (like a shark, or an octopus), it seems plausible that you might have a rich inner world of qualia alongside a wide variety of problem-solving / world-modeling skills, but no social instincts like jealousy, empathy, loyalty, etc. Fish-welfare advocates often cite studies that seem to show fish having an internal sense of pain vs pleasure (eg, preferring water that contains numbing medication), or that bees can have an internal sense of being optimistic/risky vs pessimistic/cautious -- if you think that empathy proves the existence of qualia, why are these similar studies not good enough for you? What's special about the social emotion of empathy?Personally, I am more sympathetic to the David Chalmers "hard problem of consciousness" perspective, so I don't think these studies about behaviors (whether social emotions like jealousy or more basic emotions like optimism/pessimism) can really tell us that much about qualia / inner subjective experience. I do think that fish / bees / etc probably have some kind of inner subjective experience, but I'm not sure how "strong", or vivid, or complex, or self-aware, that experience is, so I am very uncertain about the moral status of animals. (Personally, I also happily eat fish & shrimp all the time.)In general, I think this post is talking about consciousness / qualia / etc in a very confused way -- if you think that empathy-behaviors are ironclad proof of empathy-qualia, you should also think that other (pain-related, etc) behaviors are ironclad proof of other qualia.
Hi Trevor! I appreciate this thread of related ideas that you have been developing about intelligence agencies, AI-augmented persuasion techniques, social media, etc.
That said, I think this post is too conspiratorial in assuming that some combination of social media companies / national governments understand how to actually deploy effective persuasion techniques in a puppetmaster-like way which is way beyond everyone else. I think that the current situation is more like "we are living in an anarchic world influenced by an out-of-control memetic marketplace of ideas being influenced by many different actors of varying levels of sophistication, none of whom have amazing next-level gameboard-flipping dominance". Some scattered thoughts on this theme:
Anyways, I guess my overall point is that it just doesn't seem true that the CIA, or Facebook, or China, or anyone else, currently has access to amazing next-gen persuasion tech. So IMO you are thinking about this in the wrong way, with too much of a conspiratorial / Tom Clancy vibe. But the reason I wrote such a long comment is because I think you should keep exploring these general topics, since I agree with you about most of the other assumptions you are making!
Thanks for writing this post, I 100% share your sentiment and appreciate the depth with which you've explored this topic, including some of the political considerations.Here are some other potentially-relevant case studies of people doing similar-ish things, trying to make the world a better place while navigating touchy political fears related to biotech:
Some further questions I have about the political and theory-of-change considerations:
Yeah, I am interested in this from the "about to have an infant" perspective (my wife is almost 20 weeks pregnant). Interestingly this means she will be able to get both the flu, covid, and newly-approved RSV shot.
Good point that rationalism is over-emphasizing the importance of Bayes theorem in a pretty ridiculous way, even if most of the individual statements about Bayes theorem are perfectly correct. I feel like if one was trying to evaluate Eliezer or the rationalist community on some kind of overall philosophy scorecard, there would be a lot of situations like this -- both "the salience is totally out of whack here even though it's not technically /wrong/...", and "this seems like a really important and true sentiment, but it's not really the kind of thing that's considered within the purview of academic philosophy..." (Such as the discussion about ethics / morality / value, and many other parts of the Sequences... I think there is basically a lot of helpful stuff in those posts, some of which might be controversial, but it isn't really an Official Philosophical Debate over stuff like whether anti-realism is true. It's more like "here's how I think you should live your life, IF anti-realism is true".)
Didn't mention many-worlds because it doesn't feel like the kind of thing that a philosopher would be fully equipped to adjudicate? I personally don't feel like I know enough to have opinions on different quantum mechanics interpretations or other issues concerning the overall nature / reality of the universe -- I still feel very uncertain and confused about that stuff, even though long ago I was a physics major and hoped to some day learn all about it. Although I guess I am sorta more sympathetic to Many Worlds than some of the alternatives?? Hard to think about, somehow...
Philosophers having hot takes on linguistics and the relationship between words and concepts -- not good or bad that they have so many takes, and I'm also not sure if the takes themselves are good or bad. It is just my impression that, unlike some of the stuff above, philosophy seems to have really spent a lot of time debating these issues, and thus it would be ripe for finding well-formed disagreements between EY and various mainstream schools of thought. I do think that maybe philosophers over-index a little on thinking about the nature of words and language (ie that they have "too many takes"), but that doesn't seem like such a bad thing -- I'm glad somebody's thinking about it, even if it doesn't strike me as the most important area of inquiry!
Yeah, agreed that that Solomonoff induction argument feels very bizzarre! I had never encountered that before. I meant to refer to the many different arguments for atheism sprinkled throughout the Sequences, including many references to the all-time classic idea that our discovery of the principles of evolution and the mechanics of the brain are sufficient to "explain away" the biggest mysteries about the origin of humanity, and should thus sideline the previously-viable hypothesis of religious claims being true. (See here and here.) EY seems to (rightly IMO) consider the falseness of major religious claims to be a "slam dunk", ie, totally overdetermined to be false -- the Sequences are full of funny asides and stories where various religious people are shown to be making very obvious reasoning errors, etc.
Some other potentially controversial views that a philosopher might be able to fact-check Eliezer on, based on skimming through an index of the sequences:
Maybe you toss out half of those because they aren't seriously disputed by any legit academics. But, I am pretty sure that at least postmodern philosophers, "complexity scientists", people with bad takes on philosophy-of-science / philosophy-of-probability, and people who make "On the Impossibility of Supersized Machines"-style arguments about intelligence, are really out there! They at least consider themselves to be legit, even if you and I are skeptical! So I think EY would come across with a pretty good track record of correct philosophy at the end of the day, if you truly took the entire reference class of "controversial philosophical claims" and somehow graded how correct EY was (in practice, since we haven't yet solved philosophy -- how close he is to your own views?), and compared this to how correct the average philosopher is.
I suggest maybe re-titling this post to:"I strongly disagree with Eliezer Yudkowsky about the philosophy of consciousness and decision theory, and so do lots of other academic philosophers"or maybe:"Eliezer Yudkowsky is Frequently, Confidently, Egregiously Wrong, About Metaphysics"or consider:"Eliezer's ideas about Zombies, Decision Theory, and Animal Consciousness, seem crazy"Otherwise it seems pretty misleading / clickbaity (and indeed overconfident) to extrapolate from these beliefs, to other notable beliefs of Eliezer's -- such as cryonics, quantum mechanics, macroeconomics, various political issues, various beliefs about AI of course, etc. Personally, I clicked on this post really expecting to see a bunch of stuff like "in March 2022 Eliezer confidently claimed that the government of Russia would collapse within 90 days, and it did not", or "Eliezer said for years that X approach to AI couldn't possibly scale, but then it did".
Personally, I feel that beliefs within this narrow slice of philosophy topics are unlikely to correlate to being "egregiously wrong" in other fields. (Philosophy is famously hard!! So even though I agree with you that his stance on animal consciousness seems pretty crazy, I don't really hold this kind of philosophical disagreement against people when they make predictions about, eg, current events.)