philh's Comments

How to Identify an Immoral Maze

When counting levels of hierarchy, it's not necessarily clear where to stop. For DeepMind, would you stop counting at the CEO of DeepMind, or continue through to the CEO of Alphabet? Or to take my previous job, I'd say there were four plausible stopping points (the respective heads of Universal Pictures International, Universal Pictures, NBCUniversal, and Comcast; though I could be misremembering the structure such that either of the first two is not plausible).

My impression is that when a startup gets bought by a large company, the startup typically turns to hell; and this would point towards counting the levels in the parent. But I also suspect that would be too pessimistic on average (i.e. adding a level above the CEO counts for some amount, but less than a level below the CEO). This is super not confident.

How to Identify an Immoral Maze

This is mostly a terminology quibble, but I guess it also means I've been mildly misreading previous posts: I wouldn't say you have middle management until you reach four levels. That is, my usage (and also Wikipedia's) of the term would be "people who manage managers, and are also managed" while you seem to just mean "people who manage, and are also managed".

At least one of the corporations in Moral Mazes had more than twenty ranks.

But per the comments on the previous post, that's not necessarily (and probably not) twenty levels of hierarchy, right? In that someone might be given a promotion to a new rank and pay grade, while continuing to manage exactly the same set of people who themselves have exactly the same set of responsibilities.

In which case it's not clear how relevant it is, and it seems misleading.

Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality"

But of course it’s not costless.

To be clear, I meant only that "please" is costless (and you're right that it's only nearly so). This seemed relevant because we might therefore expect it to have devolved into meaninglessness, but this doesn't seem to have happened.

I agree with the costs that you list, with the caveat that as I mentioned I'm unsure about the treadmill. I just also think commenting in that style has benefits as well, and I'm legitimately unsure which side dominates.

Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality"

I have no idea why your proposed alternative version of my comment would be “less social-attack-y”.

Nevertheless, I do think it feels that way to me, and I also think it would feel that way to others.

I don't have a good explanation for why. I do think that signaling "I am complying with the necessary formalities in order to ask what I wish to ask" is part of it. Similar to how the word "please" signals nothing more than "I wish to signal politeness", and that seems sufficient to actually be polite. Even though it's a costless signal.

It does feel to me like there's a risk here of a euphemism treadmill. If we can't get away without adding tedious formalities, then everyone adds those formalities by default, and then they stop signalling the thing they used to signal.

I'm not fully convinced this won't happen, but I do think it's relevant that there's a broader culture outside of LW which will exert some influence pulling us towards whatever signalling norms it uses.

Were someone else to write exactly the words I wrote in my original comment, they would not be perceived as a social attack; whereas if I write those words—or the words you suggest, or any other words whatsoever, so long as they contained the same semantic content at their core[1]—they will be perceived as a social attack.

This doesn't strike me as literally true, and I do think you could appear less social-attack-y than you do, without changing the core semantic content of what you write.

But I do feel like it's the case that your speech style is more likely to be perceived as a social attack coming from you than from someone else.

I wish it weren't so. It's certainly possible for "the identity and history of the speaker" to be a meaningful input into the question "was this a social attack". But I think the direction is wrong, in this case. I think you're the single user on LW who's earned the most epistemic "benefit of the doubt". That is, if literally any other user were to write in the style you write, I think it would be epistemically correct to give more probability to it being a social attack than it is for you.

And yet here we are. I don't claim to fully understand it.

That I can’t come up with any good guess about the meaning of the word is implicated by me asking the question in the first place.

I don't think this is true. It might be that you think you probably could come up with a good guess, but don't want to spend the cognitive effort on doing so. It might be that you think you have a good guess, but you want to confirm that it's right. I've sometimes asked people to clarify their meaning for a reason along the lines of: "I'm pretty sure I have a good idea what you mean. But if I give my own definition and then reply to it, you can say that that wasn't what you meant. If you give your own definition, I can hold you to it." (Implicit to this is a mistrust of their honesty and/or rationality.)

That the term is central to the argument is obvious once the question is asked.

I don't think this is true, either. Someone might ask this question about a term that isn't central, perhaps just because they're curious about a tangent.

That we should avoid the illusion of transparency is little more than an applause light for a locally shared (and publicly known to be shared) value.

This does seem true.

I feel like I may well be using the term "social attack" to refer to a group of things that should ideally be separated. If I am doing that, I'm not sure whether the confusion was originally introduced by myself or not. I'm not sure what to do with this feeling, but I do think I should note it.

Although I don't think you're performing social attacks - in this case, I don't think I even feel-them-but-disendorse-that-feeling - I do think this is the kind of conversation that has potential to eat up lots of time unproductively. (Which, I guess that points against my "I would be surprised" from two comments up.) So by default, after this comment I'm going to limit myself to two more posts on this topic.

Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality"

Separately: given that Said's comments are often perceived as social attacks, it seems to me that this is most of the problem[1]. If a thread turns out to be a giant waste of everyone's time, then that's also bad, of course... but I would be surprised if that happened to nearly the same extent, without the percieved-social-attack thing going on.

You propose elsethread that Said could try to generate plausible interpretations to include in his comments. But if we take the main goal to be defusing perceptions of social attack, we should remember that there are other ways to achieve that goal.

For example, the following seems less social-attack-y to me than Said's original comment in this thread[2]; I'd be curious how you'd have felt about it. (And curious how Said would have felt about writing it, or something like it.)

What do you mean by ‘authentic’, ‘authenticity’, etc.? I don’t think I’ve seen these terms (as you use them) explained on Less Wrong.

I might be able to come up with a guess about what you mean, but I don't think it would be a very good one. The terms seem pretty central to the argument you're making here, so I think it's important that we avoid illusion of transparency regarding them.

[1] I do think it matters whether or not this perception is accurate, but it might not matter for the question of "what effect do these comments have on the social fabric of LW".

[2] And FWIW, I don't expect the original comment was intended as a social attack in the slightest. But I do think it felt like one, to me, to some degree.

Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality"

It’s pretty common for you to ask for clarification on words, phrases or concepts that feel like they have pretty straightforward meanings to me, and I can’t remember a single of the (at least a dozen) threads in which you asking questions of that type resulted in a conversation that I thought was worth the time of the author, or was net-positive for my experience on LessWrong.

I'm surprised at the examples you give.

What they all have in common is Said asking for clarification on a word or phrase. In 4/5, someone gave a definition that Said either accepted or didn't follow up on. All of these cases seem positive to me. (I can't judge how much time they cost, but one was just a link to a definition, one was quoting wikipedia and the others were fairly brief, so I'd guess not prohibitively much.) In the exception, there was no answer at all; if that's not positive, it's certainly not very negative either. They also have this in common with the specific comment that started this thread.

Two of them have more going on than that, and one of them seems much more like an example of the thing you seem to be pointing at, where much back-and-forth is had, much time is spent, and not much gets resolved. (The other was the one that got no reply.) They do not have this in common with the specific comment that started this thread.

When I think back to other examples of this thing happening, the one I came up with was on "zetetic explanation", and I don't see Said doing "ask for clarification on a word or phrase" there. (Certainly if he does, then by that time things are already well underway.)

So just judging by these examples, I wouldn't expect Said's comment in this case to cause the thing you're worried about.

(Forgive me if someone has already made this point. I read almost the whole thread and skimmed the rest, and I don't remember anyone doing so. But I wouldn't be shocked to see that I just missed it.)

Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality"

As I mentioned in many other places, I am also very confident that dozens of authors have perceived Said’s comments to primarily be social attacks, and have found them to be major obstacles to engaging with LessWrong.

I'm a bit surprised that no one in this comment chain (as far as I can see) has mentioned the possibility of these users deleting such comments on their posts, or even blocking Said in general.

It's not a perfect solution, and maybe not all these users have enough karma to moderate their own posts (how much karma does that need?), and I believe blocking is a relatively recent feature, but... it seems like it could meaningfully lessen these obstacles?

Dominic Cummings: "we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos"

I've heard this type of speech named "enactive" (to go along with the more common denotative aka descriptive, normative aka prescriptive, imperative).

Does GPT-2 Understand Anything?

Sentences 1 and 4 should have higher probability than sentences 2 and 3. What they find is that GPT-2 does worse than chance on these kinds of problems. If a sentence is likely, a variation on the sentence with opposite meaning tends to have similar likelihood.


Despite all this, when generating text, GPT-2 is more likely to generate a true sentence than the opposite of a true sentence. “Polar bears are found in the Arctic” is far more likely to be generated than “Polar bears are found in the tropics,” and it is also more likely to be generated than “Polar bears are not found in the Arctic” because “not found” is a less likely construction to be used in real writing than “found.”

Hm. These sound contradictory to me?

My understanding is that a sentence's proability of being generated is closely related to its likelihood; closely enough that if a sentence has similar likelihood as its negation, it should have similar probability of generation, and vice versa. But then the first quote says "true sentences have similar, but lower likelihood than their negations" and the second says "true sentences have higher likelihood than their negations".

Assuming I've got that right, what gives?

Related question: what's the precise ranking of sentences 1-4? The quote suggests that some aggregation of 2 and 3 is ranked higher than the same aggregation of 1 and 4; but is it 2>3>1>4, or 2>1>3>4, or what?

Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay

I also bet more than 50% chance that within 3 years at least one of {Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon} will give more than 50% of their software engineers the ability to work from home for at least 80% of their workdays.

If that's not just a figure of speech, I'll take this bet. $100 each?

(This is not intended as commentary on the question at hand.)

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