Member of the LessWrong 2.0 team. I've been a member of the rationalist/EA communities since 2012. I have particular rationality interests in planning and emotions.


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Regulation and AI Risk

Yeah, that seems right to me. I'm giving it the Merge Candidate flag.

Open Problems Create Paradigms

Thanks, John, for the conversation and the write-up. Definitely great you getting something up. Here are my own add-ons to the post:

The Existing LW Questions Platform "Failed" Because of Lack of Context

I think a lot about how LessWrong can cause more intellectual progress, and more recently I've been thinking about why LessWrong's existing Open Questions feature didn't succeed at our highest hopes for it. Concretely, it hasn't gotten existing full-time researchers outsourcing parts of their work to willing others via LessWrong. Researchers at OpenPhil, FHI, MIRI, AI Impacts, etc. don't post questions that then get great answers via people on LessWrong going off and working for days/weeks/months.

One of the largest factors, I believe, is that in fact very difficult hard to convey the context of a research question. Why is it interesting, what kinds of answers are useful, how to go about it. At best you need to explain a large swathe of your current research project and at worst someone needs to study for months or years to understand the background. This requires more effort on the part of the question-asker than writing up a few paragraphs and possibly much more of an answerer who might then have a long reading list.

This problem of imparting context came up repeatedly in interviews I did with current LW/EA researchers.

Version 2: Research Agendas

Trying to address the problems on the Open Questions feature led me to something I've been calling the "Research Agendas feature" which I've attempted to model more closely on how research currently gets done.

  1. "Research Agendas" are owned/worked on by a very small number of people who commit to working hard on them, in contrast with the QA forum model where a lot of people might spend a relatively small amount of attention. These people actually put in the hours to properly share context on the research via explaining and/or studying and/or talking at length.
  2. "Research Agendas" are defined by 1) the Open Questions they're trying to answer, 2) a methodology / paradigm that Research Agenda intends to use to define and/or answer the questions posed. In writing up a "Research Agenda", one is expected to write up the context or at least write enough so that someone could go study and then understand.
  3. If "Research Agendas" caught on, the way you'd know what some researcher was up to is you'd go read their open "Research Agendas" where they explain what they're trying to do. Others could potentially join in.

Open Questions -> Research Agendas -> Paradigms

If you bundle up enough questions into "Research Agendas" that share common context, presumed methods, and a sense of what the answers look like–and if the questions are compelling enough–I think you get on track to having a shared paradigm where broadly people have shared context: a sense of what's trying to be answered, how to go about it, and what success looks like. Conversely, they don't need to keep rehashing the fundamentals each time.

I think John makes it sound a bit too easy. To get a whole paradigm going, I think you need some deep Open Questions that generate enough work to keep busy for a while, and I think those questions need to be quite compelling. I'm going mostly off what Kuhn himself wrote, popularizer of this "paradigm" notion:

In this essay, ‘normal science’ means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice. Today such achievements are recounted, though seldom in their original form, by science textbooks, elementary and advanced. These textbooks expound the body of accepted theory, illustrate many or all of its successful applications, and compare these applications with exemplary observations and experiments. Before such books became popular early in the nineteenth century (and until even more recently in the newly matured sciences), many of the famous classics of science fulfilled a similar function. Aristotle’s Physica, Ptolemy’s Almagest, Newton’s Principia and Opticks, Franklin’s Electricity, Lavoisier’s Chemistry, and Lyell’s Geology—these and many other works served for a time implicitly to define the legitimate problems and methods of a research field for succeeding generations of practitioners. They were able to do so because they shared two essential characteristics. Their achievement was sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity. Simultaneously, it was sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve.

Achievements that share these two characteristics I shall henceforth refer to as ‘paradigms,’ a term that relates closely to ‘normal science.’ By choosing it, I mean to suggest that some accepted examples of actual scientific practice—examples which include law, theory, application, and instrumentation together—provide models from which spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research. These are the traditions which the historian describes under such rubrics as ‘Ptolemaic astronomy’ (or ‘Copernican’), ‘Aristotelian dynamics’ (or ‘Newtonian’), ‘corpuscular optics’ (or ‘wave optics’), and so on. The study of paradigms, including many that are far more specialized than those named illustratively above, is what mainly prepares the student for membership in the particular scientific community with which he will later practice. Because he there joins men who learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models, his subsequent practice will seldom evoke overt disagreement over fundamentals. Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition.

Kuhn, Thomas S.. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (pp. 10-11). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. [Emphasis added]

One comment I made in response to John's draft is that, following Kuhn, you probably need more than writing skill and mimetic reach–you need to be building a scientific achievement that's recognizable enough to people as striking at what they really care about such that they stop what they're doing and come do it your way. 

Embedded Agency might actually achieve that, but I'm led to believe it wasn't a small feat.


Another comment is that I think shared methodology needs emphasis. It fits to lump methodology a bit under the Open Question definition but it's large enough to highlight as crucial to establishing paradigms.

Achieving Paradigm-genesis

As far as I can, most of the research of interest to the LW/EA cluster is in a pre-paradigmatic state. There's an undercurrent of shared epistemic approach and people are trying to innovate (one, two, three), but there's no sense of "these are the questions we need to answer, this what an answer looks like, and this is what you should do to get that answer". Existing methods and standards of analysis in history and sociology probably don't cut it for us, but we're not mature enough to have our own. Related, we've got proliferating schools of AI Alignment/Safety (can't even agree on the name, geeze).

I should clarify, we want multiple paradigms for multiple different problems we tackle. Predicting the rate of technological progress is a different task to developing a provably safe AGI design.

I don't think reaching enough consensus to form paradigms will be quick, but I'm hopeful that if we can more clearly communicate the problems we're tackling, how we're doing it, and the results we're getting, then we're on track to building ourselves little paradigms and sub-paradigms that make your thoughts precise and greatly accelerate work (up until the point you discover where you paradigm was broken from the beginning).

When Money Is Abundant, Knowledge Is The Real Wealth


If I understood it correctly, the central point of this post is that very often, knowing what to do is a much larger problem than having the ability to do things, i.e., money and power. I often like to say that planning is an information problem for this reason. This post is an excellent articulation of this point, probably the best I've seen.

It's an important point. Ultimately, it is precisely this point that unifies epistemic and practical rationality, the skills of figuring out what's true and skills of achieving success. When you recognize that success is hard because you don't know what to do, you appreciate why understanding what is actually true is darned important, and that figuring out how to discover truth is among the best way to accomplish goals whose solution isn't known.

This can all get applied downstream in Value of Information calculations and in knowledge-centric approaches to planning. It's good stuff. Thanks!

LessWrong FAQ

Sorry for the delayed reply yet again, my bad.

Thanks for digging into the T&C, your analysis seems correct to me. I think we do want users to retain their rights – more than once people have been reluctant to post if might cost them their rights and other publishing opportunities. I think it'd be very costly to make writing seem costlier to authors.

Regarding an API endpoint – we have one! See here for a tutorial. The main thing is that if you wanted to archive everything, I'm not sure it's so great if you wanted to get comments too. Pulling all the posts and all the comments and assembling correctly would be a hassle. I think you're better trying to get archive via Internet Archive or similar. Deltas would indeed be tricky. But I assure you, we are not going to let the site data get lost!

Launching Forecast, a community for crowdsourced predictions from Facebook

Interestingly, Prediction Markets for Internet Points was all about setting up prediction markets on Facebook with internet points. I'm curious whether Paul would think the current app to fulfill what he was imagining there. 

Launching Forecast, a community for crowdsourced predictions from Facebook

Very neat! I had a look at the desktop website. On the whole, pretty good. I could imagine it facilitating some good discussion around predictions, though seems like it's just getting started. 

Currently, predictions are made with a slider, coming from a LessWrong background, I'd prefer if the slider had indications of probability (50%, 75%, 82%) the current thing has me guessing and doesn't show me until I confirm. A chance to review before confirming would be good.

On the "Reason" cards, it says "10 people", "8 people", but doesn't indicate what that means. I'm guessing it's number who endorsed the reason.


A bigger topic I'm curious in is how this relates to Facebook overall. I can't imagine very many FB users being interested in prediction markets. (NPE's other listed projects of music collaboration and sports experiences would have much broader appeal, I'd think.) So I'm curious what the vision is and how Facebook ends up motivated to host this kind of project.

LessWrong FAQ

Ah, I regret that the parent comment here slipped my notice.

There's no problem with you archiving the site for your personal/private use. People have made various epubs and mobi's of the Sequences and other posts at times. Ultimately we want people to read the content regardless of form. 

Copyright stuff is included in the Terms of Use document linked at the end of the FAQ. I'll check with others before trying to publicly interpret the legal meaning.

The LessWrong Team

I'm glad you like the site! You're welcome.

I'm curious though, what do you mean by "formalized"?



I don't really see a need for this page. Delete? Redirect to Reality is normal? Redirect to Absurdity heuristic? --Zack M. Davis 20:06, 17 November 2009 (UTC)

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