Embedded Interactive Predictions on LessWrong

This feature seems to be making the page wider and allowing horizontal scrolling on my mobile (iPhone) which degrades the post reading experience. I would prefer if the interface got shrunk down to fit the phone’s width.

Working in Virtual Reality: A Review

Thanks for this post! Interesting to learn about the current state of things.

It does seem true (and funny) to me that the #1 thing in physical reality I and millions of others would like to experience in Virtual Reality is our computer screens.

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

Consider this analogy: Professional basketball teams are much better than hobby league teams because they have a much stronger talent pool and incentive feedback loop. Yet individual teams rise and fall within their league, because it’s a competitive ecosystem. Business is currently the pro league for brainpower, but individual companies still rise and fall within that league.

Business is also a faster-changing game than basketball because consumer preferences, supplier offerings and technological progress are all moving targets. So a company full of really smart people will still often find itself much less competitive than it used to be.

Companies like Yahoo that fall too far stop being able to generate large profits and attract top talent, and eventually go extinct. The analogy with sports teams breaks here because many sports leagues give their worst teams some advantages to rebuild themselves, while failing companies just go out of business.

GM, IBM and AT&T are teams who have fallen in the league rankings, but if they’re still operating in the market then they’re still effectively competing for talent and their higher-paid positions still probably have correspondingly higher average IQ.

The NYT is a case where the competitive ecosystem shifted drastically, and the business successfully continued optimizing for profit within the new ecosystem. Before the internet, when information was a scarce resource, the NYT’s value prop was information creation and distribution, with a broad audience, and paid for by broad-targeted ads. Now their value prop is more focused on advocacy of the viewpoints of its narrower subscriber base, paid for by that subscriber base. The governing board of the NYT may care about neutral news reporting, but they also care a lot about profit, so they consider the NYT’s changes to be good tradeoffs.

If you think of the NYT like a public service providing neutral reporting, then yes that service has been crumbling, and no company will replace it doing that same service (the way IBM’s services are getting replaced by superior alternatives) because it wasn’t designed with the right incentive feedback loops for providing neutral reporting, it was designed as a profit-maximizing company, and profit only temporarily coincided with providing neutral reporting.

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

The highest-quality organizations today (not sure if they're "institutions") are the big companies like Amazon and Google. By "high quality" I mean they create lots of value, with a high value-per-(IQ-weighted)-employee ratio.

Any institution that does a big job, like government, has lots of leverage on the brainpower of its members and should be able to create lots of value. E.g. a few smart people empowered to design a new government healthcare system could potentially create a $trillion of value. But the for-profit companies are basically the only ones who actually do consistently leverage the brainpower and create $trillions of value. This is because they're the only ones who make a sustained effort to win the bidding war for brainpower, and manage it with sufficiently tight feedback cycles.

Another example of a modern high-quality institution that comes to mind, which isn't a for-profit company, is Wikipedia. Admittedly no one is bidding money for that talent, so my model would predict that Wikipedia should suffer a brain drain, and in fact I do think my model explains why the percentage of people who are motivated to edit Wikipedia is low. But it seems like there's a small handful of major Wikipedia editors addicted to doing it as a leisure activity. The key to Wikipedia working well without making its contributors rich is that the fundamental unit of value is simple enough to have a tight feedback loop, so that it can lodge in a few smart people's mind as an "addictive game". You make an edit and it's pretty clear whether you've followed the rule of "improve the article in some way". Repeat, and watch your reputation score (number of edits, number of article views) tick steadily up.

So my model is that successful institutions are powered by smart people with reward feedback loops that keep them focused on a mission, and companies are attracting almost all the smart people, but there are still a few smart people pooled in other places like Wikipedia which use a reward feedback loop to get lots of value from the brainpower they have.

Re subcultures and hobby groups: I don't know, I don't even have a sense of whether they're on an overall trend of getting better or worse.

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?
Answer by LironNov 03, 202068

Institutions have been suffering a massive brain drain ever since the private sector shot way ahead at providing opportunities for smart people.

Think of any highly capable person who could contribute high-quality socially-valuable work to an important institution like the New York Times, CDC, Federal Highway Administration, city counsel, etc. What's the highest-paying, highest-fun career opportunity for such a person? Today, it's probably the private sector.

Institutions can't pay much because they don't have feedback loops that can properly value an individual's contribution. For example, if you work for the CDC and are largely the one responsible for saving 100,000 lives, you probably won't get a meaningful raise or even much status boost, compared to someone who just thrives on office politics and doesn't save any net lives.

In past decades, the private sector had the same problem as institutions: It was unable to attribute disproportionate value to most people's work. So in past decades, a typical smart person could have a competitive job offer from an institution. In that scenario, they might pick the institution because their passion for a certain type of work, and the pride of doing it well, and the pride of public service, on top of the competitive compensation and promotion opportunities, was the most attractive career option.

But now we're in a decades-long trend where the private sector has shot way ahead of institutions in its ability to offer smart people a good job. There are many rapidly-scaling tech(-enabled) companies, and it's increasingly common for the top 10% of workers to contribute 1,000%+ as much value as the median worker in their field, and companies are increasingly better at making higher-paying job offers to people based on their level of capability.

We see institutions do increasingly stupid things because the kind of smart people who used to be there are instead doing private-sector stuff.

The coordination problem of "fixing institutions" reduces to the coordination problem of designing institutions whose pay scale is calibrated to the amount of social good that smart people do when working there, relative to private sector jobs. The past gave us this scenario accidentally, but no such luck in the present.

Does playing hard to get work? AB testing for romance

Cofounder of Relationship Hero here. There's a sound underlying principle of courtship that PHTG taps into: That if your partner models you as someone with a high standard that they need to put in effort to meet, then they'll be more attracted to you.

The problem with trying to apply any dating tactic, even PHTG, is that courtship is a complex game with a lot of state and context. It's very common to be uncalibrated and apply a tactic that backfires on you because you weren't aware of the overall mental model that your partner had of you. So I'd have to observe your interactions and confirm that "being too easy" is a sufficiently accurate one-dimensional projection of where you currently stand with your partner, before recommending this one particular tactic.

Instead of relying on a toolbag of one-dimensional tactics, my recommended approach is to focus on understanding your partner's mental model of you, and of their relationship with you, and of the relationship they'd want. Then you can strategize how to get the relationship you want, assuming it's compatible with a kind of relationship they'd also want.

Rationality and Climate Change
Answer by LironOct 06, 202011

I agree with the other answers that say climate change is a big deal and risky and worth a lot of resources and attention, but it’s already getting a lot of resources and attention, and it’s pretty low as an existential threat.

Also, my impression is that there are important facts about how climate change works that are almost never mentioned. For example, this claim that there are diminishing greenhouse effects to CO2:

Also, I think most of the activism I see around climate change is dumb and counterproductive and moralizing, e.g. encouraging personal lifestyle sacrifices.

"Zero Sum" is a misnomer.

I think they mean that ad tech (or perhaps a more consensus example is nukes) is a prisoner’s dilemma, which is nonzero sum as opposed to positive/negative/constant/zero sum.

Open & Welcome Thread - September 2020

Golden raises $14.5M. I wrote about Golden here as an example of the most common startup failure mode: lacking a single well-formed use case. I’m confused about why someone as savvy as Mark Andreessen is tripling down and joining their board. I think he’s making a mistake.

What are good rationality exercises?
Answer by LironSep 28, 202010

I was thinking that if the sequences and other LW classics were a high school class, we could make something like an SAT subject test to check understanding/fluency in the subject, then that could be a badge on the site and potentially a good credential to have in your career.

The kinds of questions could be like:


If a US citizen has a legal way to save $500/year on their taxes, but it requires spending 1 hour/day filling out boring paperwork on 5 days of every week, should they do it?

a. Virtually everyone should do it

b. A significant fraction (10-90%) of the population should do it

c. Virtually no one should do it


With sufficient evidence and a rational deliberation process, is it possible to become sure that the Loch Ness Monster does/doesn't exist?

a. We CAN potentially become sure either way

b. We CAN'T potentially become sure either way

c. We can only potentially become sure that it DOES exist

d. We can only potentially become sure that it DOESN'T exist

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