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The Trolley Problem

Doesn't your Maori massaclre example disprove the validity of virtue ethics?

The Trolley Problem

"No, obviously. That would be monstrous."

This feels like begging the question. Why is it obvious that a doctor shouldn't kill one patient to save five? It seems like it is obvious because we have an overwhelmingly strong intuition that it is wrong. Given that there are many people who have an overwhelmingly strong intuition that being gay is wrong, I'm unsure if it's a good idea to just rely on that intuition, and leave it there.

Don't feel bad about not knowing basic things

Database normalization is just about avoiding duplication, right?

I think the thing here is that people who get database design can't really understand how it is possible to not get it, but there are a lot of people for whom it is extremely difficult to understand this topic. I sat through years of lectures wondering why we were taught things that were completely self-evident. Then I looked at a lot of other people's code, and it became clear that it wasn't self-evident at all.

Covid 5/6: Vaccine Patent Suspension

"stripping away intellectual property protections without any compensation"

Isn't the AstraZeneca vaccine almost entirely financed with government funding? Even the ostensibly privately funded vaccines depend heavily on funding provided by taxpayers.

So as a taxpayer, not only am I funding the development of these vaccines, I'm also then funding government force to protect private monopolies on these vaccines. Regardless of the short-term implications of IP waivers, it seems clear to me that this is not a sound system, and that the incentives for creating these vaccines were strongly dependent on taxpayer funds, not by the possible long-term value of any IP generated by this research.

Why I Work on Ads

I have two different thoughts on this:

  1. I don't think ads are inherently bad. It's true that ads are a way of financing things that either would otherwise not be financed, or would be financed by (and thus exclusively available to) relatively rich people. However, I'm pretty sure that online ads actually devalue ads in general, and make it more difficult to provide these services. An ad that runs in a newspaper is much, much more valuable than an online ad on that same newspaper's website, even if the website reaches many more people. This effectively means that the way online ads currently work, they harm entities that rely on ad revenue. The more personalized and trackable ads become, the more closely they are valued by their direct revenue generation power instead of their long-term impact, and thus, the less value they have. Evidence for this is that ads where tracking is impossible (e.g. on podcasts) are valued higher than ads that allow for detailed tracking.
  2. The way online ads are currently monetized relies on personalization. This means that online ads create a strong incentive to track people, and to harm people's ability to have privacy online. This, in turn, means that it becomes much easier to use this data in more nefarious ways, and (for example) discriminate against people using data gathered for ad tracking.

The better companies get at tracking, the more data they have that will be abused, and the lower the value of ads will become. Therefore, the most good would be created if online companies stopped investing in ad tech, and online ads went back to being anonymous.

A New Center? [Politics] [Wishful Thinking]

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. It seems to me that a winner-take-all election for an immensely powerful head of the executive branch of the government necessarily creates a two-party system (or something similar to a two-party system, as has happened in Germany), even if you ignore all other issues. Since there is no general feeling that having a powerful president is inherently problematic, there will not be a strong third party.
  2. It's not entirely clear to me what concrete positions a hypothetical center party would take. The two parties aren't that far apart, if you ignore identity politics issues. One party wants taxes a bit higher, the other wants taxes a bit lower, but they're not that far apart. One party wants basic health insurance to be governed by legislation, the other by the free market, but they're both pretty similar ideas. There is no room for a center party because there is no space between the two parties, regardless of how angry they are at each other. In fact, the anger might be an example of narcissism of small differences, where the two sides are so angry at each other precisely because they hold similar positions, and need other ways to differentiate themselves. Hence, to focus on nonsensical issues like trying to ban people from bathrooms, or complaining about Dr. Seuss.
On Falsifying the Simulation Hypothesis (or Embracing its Predictions)

I find it highly unlikely that we live in a simulation. Anyone who has implemented any kind of simulation has found out that they are hugely wasteful. It requires a huge amount of complexity to simulate even a tiny, low-complexity world. Therefore, all simulations will try to optimize as much as possible. However, we clearly don't live in a tiny, low-complexity, optimized world. Our everyday experiences could be implemented with a much, much lower-complexity world that doesn't have stuff like  relativity and quantum gravity and dark energy and muons.

The basic premise that simulations are basically the same as reality, and that there many simulations, but only one reality, and that statistically, we therefore almost certainly live in a simulation, is not consistent with my experience working on simulations. Any simulation anyone builds in the real world will by necessity be infinitely less complex than actual reality, and thus infinitely less likely to contain complex beings.

Why are young, healthy people eager to take the Covid-19 vaccine?

I can only speak for myself, but the simple fact is that we need to be about 70% of the population to be immune in order for anything resembling normalcy to return. With a 90% protection rate for new vaccines, this means about 80% of people need to either get sick or get the vaccine. Given how few people already have antibodies in many places, this means that pretty much everybody who isn't a vaccine denier needs to get vaccinated. That's why I will get vaccinated as soon as I am able to.

Why are deaths not increasing with infections in the US?

I think there are two basic reasons:

  1. There's a lag between infection and test, between test and hospitalization, and between hospitalization and death. So death is the chart that will go up the latest, and there are a lot of long-tail deaths from people who were infected a long time ago, so death rate rises are less "spikey" than infections.
  2. Case fatality rate has trended down in general. Hospitalization-death rate has roughly halfed since the first wave.

Scientists aren't entirely sure why 2. is happening, but there are multiple possible explanations, all of which probably contribute to some degree.

  1. In some places, many particularly vulnerable people are already dead.
  2. The average age of newly infected people has gone down after the first spike, probably for multiple different reasons, including older people being more careful on average. Also, we might be getting slightly better at protecting vulnerable populations. Younger people have a much higher chance of surviving an infection.
  3. Mask wearing decreases the initial viral load that triggers an infection, which causes a less severe, more survivable infection.
  4. Treatments are getting more effective.
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