All of Robert_Unwin's Comments + Replies

An additional point (discussed‎) is that CDT seems to recommend modifying oneself to a non-CDT based decision theory. (For instance, imagine that the CDTer contemplates for a moment the mere possibility of encountering NPs and can cheaply self-modify). After modification, the interest in whether decisions are responsible causally for utility will have been eliminated. So this interest seems extremely brittle. Agents able to modify and informed of the NP scenario will immediately lose the interest. (If the NP seems implausible... (read more)

"why is a causal connection privileged?" I agree with everything here. What follows is merely history.

Historically, I think that CDT was meant to address the obvious shortcomings of choosing to bring about states that were merely correlated with good outcomes (as in the case of whitening one's teeth to reduce lung cancer risk). When Pearl advocates CDT, he is mainly advocating acting based on robust connections that will survive the perturbation of the system caused by the action itself. (e.g. Don't think you'll cure lung cancer by making your p... (read more)

The LW approach has focused on finding agent types that win on decision problems. Lots of the work has been in trying to formalize TDT/UDT, providing sketches of computer programs that implement these informal ideas. Having read a fair amount of the philosophy literature (including some of the recent stuff by Egan, Hare/Hedden and others), I think that this agent/program approach has been extremely fruitful. It has not only given compelling solutions to a large number of problems in the literature (Newcomb's, trivial coordination problems like Stag Hunt th... (read more)

Generally agree. I think there are good arguments for focusing on decision types rather than decisions. A few comments: Point 1: That's why rationality of decisions is evaluated in terms of expected outcome, not actual outcome. So actually, it wasn't just your agent type that was flawed here but also your decisions. But yes, I agree with the general point that agent type is important. Point 2: Agree Point 3: Yes. I agree that there could be ways other than causation to attribute utility to decisions and that these ways might be superior. However, I also think that the causal approach is one natural way to do this and so I think claims that the proponent of two-boxing doesn't care about winning are false. I also think it's false to say they have a twisted definition of winning. It may be false but I think it takes work to show that (I don't think they are just obviously coming up with absurd definitions of winning).

if from the US, you'll need a visa to visit moscow and i don't think you can obtain this on arrival in russia.

Whether you change beliefs in response to a new case will depend on the nature of the selection or sampling process . If you go through a history of quack medicine, you'd get lots of new case-studies but you might not change your beliefs about typical human epistemic performance at all.

Even if new cases are selected to be examples of human stupidity, they might still be roughly random within that class. So cases that are more extreme than one's expectation will shift your beliefs. But this might leave your beliefs about the frequency of incidence of human... (read more)

I think dreeves background at Yahoo and success in founding Beeminder makes him well-placed to talk about getting things done.

Thanks so much, Robert!

And breaking news: I'm now part of the program!

(I'm really excited about this!)

You make claims that your movement is growing fast and that many people are already involved. These claims would be more credible you presented more evidence for how committed these people are. Joining a facebook group requires minimal commitment. It's even less impressive if THINK was free-riding from existing rational altruism groups.

When I look at the website, I don't see much evidence of 20 serious, well-organized groups being ready to roll-out three weeks from now.

Unrelated point: colleges have complicated restrictions on use of their logo. I'm not ... (read more)

Definitely a legitimate concern. What we actually have is around 50 potential groups, ranging on a spectrum from "might possibly happen" to "is almost certainly going to launch this fall" to "going to launch, and looks to be very strong right out the gate." The 20 meetups I referred to are groups with organizers which we've skyped with extensively, have talked about what needs to get done, and consider it highly likely that the group will launch successfully. Realistically, some will likely flourish strongly and others will not. The primary difference in our strategy as compared to Giving-What-We-Can and 80000 hours is a massive outreach program. We've currently sent out e-mails to around a thousand students who are already involved with charity meetups or otherwise active in student groups. Our volunteers are continuing to research additional schools and find more people to recruit. We're casting a wide net, and designing a system that is easier to replicate and self-propagate than existing EA networks. Some of this is taking advantage of existing altruist networks (the responses from Harvard we've gotten mostly comes from an existing Effective Altruist meetup, and the primary difference is that now they'll have access to our meetup modules for weekly content). But we've also reached many new people. We're particularly excited about Boston University, where 8 people independently replied with interest in starting a meetup there, despite no existing Effective Altruist community. The website will gradually be updated to showcase individual meetups and organizers. Signalling competence is certainly important, but it does take work beyond the actual competence and it was more important to start promoting the website than to make sure it was perfected first. Thanks. We'll look into that.

Great post. Arnold Kling has a good discussion of Kurzweil's predictions somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it by Googling.

I agree that Kurzweil did well, making a significant number of specific, non-obvious correct predictions. But how well does Kurzweil's ability here generalize to other predictions? Kurzweil was predicting developments in his own field 10 years into the future. He has an advantage that products often take >4 years to develop, and he has insider knowledge of what kind of products the big tech companies are talking about in-house. (So we could compare him to internal discussions of possible products at Microsoft or Apple, etc.).

This post has a link to the article I assume you're referring to, but the article isn't there - the Wayback Machine does have a copy of it though (no idea if this link which is supposed to point directly to the archive page will work...)

I am interested to hear how this is turning out So further updates would be welcome. It seems you might also get some support from LW people if things aren't going well.

And updated.
Thank you. I'll try to update more when I can, but my net access has been very shaky. I right now only have a couple moments here (at the public library). Hopefully later net at my hostel will work better and will be able to give better update. (Just letting you know I'm not ignoring/avoiding updating, just been having net difficulties)

In some sports, applied science seems important to improving expert performance. The PhD knowledge is used to guide the sportsperson (who has exceptional physical abilities). Likewise, our skill at making reliably sturdy buildings has dramatically improved due to knowledge of physics and materials science. But the PhDs don't actually put the buildings up, they just tell the builders what to do.

I can't find the references now, but I have seen several stories about sports (specifically, some football teams in Australia) using psychology and other scientific knowledge (and improving because of it).

(2) is a useful point, but doesn't generalize fully. To take your own examples, if some theories in astrophysics and particle physics were extremely well supported by the standards of physics, then the lack of spinoffs would not undermine them very much. If the theories are well supported, then they've made lots of novel predictions that have been verified. That a particular spinoff works is just evidence that a particular novel prediction is verified.

Today, the many spinoffs of physics in general can lend support to branches that haven't produced spinoffs yet. But what about the first developments in physics? How soon after Newton's laws were published did anyone use them for anything practical? Or how long did it take for early results in electromagnetics (say, the Coulomb attraction law) to produce anything beyond parlor tricks? I don't know the answers here, and if there were highly successful mathematical engineers right on Newton's heels, I'd be fascinated to hear about it, but there very well may not have been. Of course, theory always has to precede spinoffs; it would make no sense to reject a paper from a journal due to lack of spinoffs. To use the heuristic, we need some idea of how long is a reasonable time to produce spinoffs. If there is such a "spinoff time," it probably varies with era, so fifty years might have been a reasonable delay between theory and spinoff in the seventeenth century but not in the twenty-first.

Tetlock's political judgment study was a test for macroeconomics, political science and history. Yet people with PhDs in these areas did no better on predicting macro political and economic events than those without any PhD. Maybe macro helps in producing good econometric models, but it doesn't help in making informal predictions. (Whereas one suspects that physics and chemistry would help in a test of quick predictions about a novel physical or chemical system, vs. people without a PhD in these fields).

Well, some disciplines are a bit too hard for humans to actually reason about (such as predicting complex interactions of many people), the demand for something that looks like science results in a supply of pseudoscience. That was the case for medicine through history until relatively recently - very strong demand for some solutions, lack of any genuine solutions, resulting in a situation where frauds and self deception are the best effort. With the economics, perhaps an extremely intelligent individual may be able to make interesting predictions, but the individual as intelligent as most of the traders can't predict anything interesting. The 'political science' is altogether non-scientific discipline that calls itself science and thus is even worse than garden variety pre-science which is at least scientific enough to see how unscientific it is. The history would only help predictively if the agents (politicians, etc) were really unaware of history and if little changed since closest precedent, which isn't at all the case.
Another analogy is that having a PhD in the relevant sciences doesn't help you play sports.

I was looking for someone to specify a well supported psychological theory that predicts that CBT should be effective. What's the theory, and what's the evidence that people believed it before CBT came along?

I also think Shulman's example of IQ is different from the physics/chemistry case. It was discovered that scores on a short IQ test predicted long-term job performance on a range of tasks. Organizations that used IQ in hiring were then able to obtain better long-term job performance. But IQ was not something that was predicted from a model of how the b... (read more)

The issue here is that the theory that predicts that CBT should be effective is called "Stoicism" and has been around for a long while prior to the concept of a psychological research process. If you are looking for a therapy or action that arose from psychological theory directly, I would recommend looking into the treatment of PTSD (not even recognized as a treatable condition until the 1970s) or something-- CBT has been informed and refined by the research process, but its underpinnings existed prior to the research process itself.

Re: your examples successful spin-offs for psychology, to what extent did these therapies come out of well-established theory? Maybe someone can weigh in here. It seems possible that these are good therapies but ones that don't have a strong basis in theory (in contrast to technologies from physics or chemistry).

While cognitive-behavioral therapy could in some ways be characterized as an offshoot of the philosophy known as Stoicism (which oddly seems to have "lucked into" quite a set of effective beliefs, especially when compared to most other philosophies) rather than an offshoot of psychology, the psychological research process and psychological theory as a whole have definitely acted to inform and refine CBT.