Richard Horvath

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Birds, Brains, Planes, and AI: Against Appeals to the Complexity/Mysteriousness/Efficiency of the Brain

I like the bird-plane analogy. I kind of had the same idea, but for slightly different reason: just as man made flying machines can be superior to birds in a lot of aspects, man made ai will most likely can be superior to a human mind in a similar way.

Regarding your specific points: they may be valid, however, we do not know at which point in time we are talking about flying or AI: Probably a lot of similar arguments could have been made by Leonardo da Vinci when he was designing his flying machine; most likely he understood a lot more about birds and the way they fly than any of his contemporaries or predecessors; yet, he had no chance to succeed for at least three additional centuries. So are we in the era of the Wright Brothers of A.I., or are we still only at da Vinci's?

I personally think the former is more likely, but I believe the probability of the second one is a lot greater than zero.

What is going on in the world?

Almost all of these could have been said 50 years ago with no or minor (e.g. change Trump to Nixon) change with pretty much the same emphasis. Even those that not (e.g. Pandemic), could be easily replaced with other things similar in nature in absolute outcome (famine in China, massive limitation of mobility (and other freedoms) in the Eastern Block etc.).

Even 100 years ago you could make similar cases for most things (except A.I., that is a newer concept, yet there could have been similar issues in those times for which people had the same hope for that I am not aware of).

Yet, here we are, better off than before. Was this the expected outcome?

What is it good for? But actually?

Generally I am quite wary with explanations of evolutionary psychology, but I think a good point can be made that going to war oversees is very similar to going out to hunt mammoth for the tribe: a dangerous travel-adventure to kill things to help the tribe. I suppose people with such tendencies were more likely to reproduce.

Nuclear war is unlikely to cause human extinction

"Something that I hadn't considered before: would it be possible to move people into target areas (before attacks) or radiated areas (afterwards) by using conventional and/or area denial weapons?"

I don't think so. Generally if you want to increase casualties you would want to have people concentrated as much as possible, so move people into already large cities. However, people during wartime (and pandemics) usually tend to move out from such places, this is shown both by historical experience and to me seems to be the logical way to act (as cities are targeted due to critical infrastructure they contain and most services cities offer become severely limited).

Even if the countryside were targeted deliberately for this effect, conventional weapons cannot be used efficiently for this kind of area denial, for such nuclear weapons seem to be the most effective, maybe alongside with chemical weapons, but those have the same limitation (fallout directed by weather conditions, wind in particular) with far less power.

Top Time Travel Interventions?

I travel back in time to the 1170s and shoot Temüjin, aka Genghis Khan, before he could establish his empire.

Although there had been good policies he promoted (e.g., religious tolerance, trade), the probable upsides vastly outweigh this.

Just to name a few that I consider to be most important:

1. During the Mongol conquest tens of millions perished. This had been the approximately third bloodiest "conflict" in all human history. However, unlike e.g. the World Wars, where several large  belligerents existed without a single pivotal person (e.g., even without a Hitler, a bloody Second World War could have happened, just as a first one did in the same region between the same states) and almost all of it could have been avoided if the Mongol Empire is not formed at all.

2. As part of these conquests Baghdad and it's Grand Library was destroyed, which were the center of Islamic scholarship of that time. Most likely this had been a huge factor in the decline of secularism and scientific inquiry in the Middle East.

3. The mainstream theory regarding the spread of Black Death in Europe says it arrived via Genoese traders who fled from the Mongol siege of Kaffa, Crimea, where mongols catapulted infected corpses over the city walls. If really that was the source, avoiding this could have changed the prevented/delayed the spread of the disease and deathtoll might have been much lower.

As these all would have happened about 8 centuries ago, the long term effects would be even greater.

LessWrong FAQ

I did not find a designated page, so I am going to test the spoiler function here.

 

>! test spoiler 123
456

789

Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full)

This reminds me of Seneca.

Your modern parables give a better frame for some of his advises:

"Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”"

How to reach 80% of your goals. Exactly 80%.

Good idea, I might actually try this one.

Some questions on implementation:

When do you set your daily goals? Are you doing this exercise each morning of the particular day, or are you setting these on the evening before?

Do you have specific time slots set to update the tracking or do you do that each time you complete a task?

Did you change something in the process since you started using it (e.g., something that seemed too arduous or ineffective)?

Rationality and Climate Change
  1. Climate change is only negative insofar as it causes negative change in human welfare.
    1.  Human welfare in this framework is a function of natural environment (which includes climate) and all improvements added to this environment by human effort (e.g. roads, houses, electricity network etc.), which I will refer to as "capital".
    2. If the climate of an area changes to one that is better suited for human welfare (e.g. allows better crop yields, lessens the need of energy consumption for heating or cooling etc.), climate change has a positive effect.
    3. As capital needs to be replaced over a time period (e.g., infrastructure has to be repaired and maintained, which can be measured in a ratio of cost of maintenance/cost of  production, lets call this "replacement rate"), climate change will have a negative effect on human welfare if the change causes the replacement rate to increase (e.g., if expenses on air conditioning rise faster due to climate change then they drop on insulation from cold).
  2. For advanced civilizations climate change is inevitable.
    1. One cannot drain energy from a system without affecting it.
      Hence, the higher we are on the Kardashev scale the larger the impact of our energy consumption on our environment.
    2. Even if we change to other energy sources, the environment will still be affected. I do not see serious research into this. Even worse, it seems most people have the illusion that other energy sources might have zero effect on the environment. Large dams already show otherwise for hydroelectric, but it is not so clear on other sources.
      As a thought experiment: imagine we are living in a world where the ratio of fossil fuel and wind energy usage is exactly the opposite. As CO2 emission is 1-2% of our world's, we would not be able to find negative effect from this on climate. To me it is plausible that that is the same case with other sources of energy.
  3. We are bad at figuring out what climate will do in the future and what how consumption affects it.
    1. I am not very familiar with contemporary publications on this, but I am quite sceptical about our ability to make accurate predictions, especially as it is the local climate that mostly affects human welfare, global average temperature is a very weak estimation for this.
    2. In case of human consumption, all supply chain through the whole product lifecycle must be mapped if we desire an accurate top-down solution. I do not see this in the proposed solutions. I have the impression they are only dealing with CO2 production during operation, ignoring production and decomission and all other negative externalities.
  4. The climate change issue is a discussion of an externality problem with weak understanding of causal effects and very large number of participants.
    1. There is a classic economics example: 
      Two firms located on a river. Upstream firm pollutes the river, reducing output for the downstream firm.
    2. To modify this to climate change: replace the river with an ocean, increase the number of actors to 8 billion, allowing them to create non-fixed sets (e.g., companies, towns, families), have them all affect each other in a very small way, which if summed up changes the pollutedness in a specific direction but which still increase production is some beaches of the ocean, but we do not know to what extent exactly. (and here we haven't even elaborated on different jurisdictions).

As per above, it is a difficult question. However, even if we found a good solution, the issue has become so politicised that carrying out any plan without massive disruption by interest groups is unavoidable.

What hard science fiction stories also got the social sciences right?

Well, integrating all our best knowledge of social sciences for SciFi is hard. I am not sure if I can judge if it was successful or not in most cases. What I can point out instead is a couple of works where something like this had been attempted, as the author gave serious thought on how different technology and environment would affect society:

  1. Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Heinlein
    I think the elaboration on how family structure is changed due to low female:male ratio and dangerous environment makes sense ( https://www.reddit.com/r/AskScienceFiction/comments/214z3t/the_moon_is_a_harsh_mistress_how_do_line/ ), and the book contains a lot of good thought on other things like this.
     
  2. Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds
    In these books a lot of different social structures are listed that are possible due to technology, such as the Democratic Anarchism (quoting from the wiki):
    "The Demarchy functioned by means of a neural implant that constantly sought the user's opinion on aspects of Demarchist life. This constant prompting eventually faded away into the user's neural background, much like the ticking of a clock might fade away into background noise.
    ...
    Each core was tasked with collecting and processing votes, and also determining whether or not the elected decision was the best one in previous elections -- voters who continually made "good" decisions were rewarded by having their vote count for more than one standard vote."
    The second book ("Chasm City") also elaborates on how the crew of a small fleet of multi-generational interstellar ships would live and be organized until they reach their destination in the not-so-far future (so without neural links and magic gadgets).
     
  3.  We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor.
    This one is less rigorous on the "hard" part than the previous two. I really like some ideas, such as if  human minds can be uploaded and multiplied, we would could end up a whole industry being operated by the copies of a single expert.
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