Rationalists from the UK -- what are your thoughts on Dominic Cummings?

Huh, works for me. Anyway I'd rather not repeat his nasty slander but "They're [just] a sex cult" is the gist.

Rationalists from the UK -- what are your thoughts on Dominic Cummings?

The received view of him is as just another heartless Conservative with an extra helping of tech fetishism and deceit. In reality he is an odd accelerationist just using the Tories (Ctrl+F "metastasising"). Despite him quoting Yudkowsky in that blog post, and it getting coverage in all the big papers, people don't really link him to LW or rationality, because those aren't legible, even in the country's chattering classes. We are fortunate that he is such a bad writer, so that no one reads his blog.

Here's a speculative rundown of things he probably got implemented (but we won't really know until 2050 declassification):

  • Doubling of the already large state R&D budget (by 2025). This will make the government half of all UK R&D spending. £800m ARPA like. £300m STEM funding already out.

  • Pushed the COVID science committee into an earlier lockdown. Lockdown sceptics / herd immunity types likely to gain influence now.

  • An uncapped immigration path for scientists

  • Tutoring in state schools

  • Data-driven reform of the civil service is incomplete and probably abortive. His remaining crew are "misfits", little influence. Associated data science, superforecasting and evidence-based policy with racists and edgelords. (One of those is on record as having a ridiculously negative view of LW.) Weirdo hiring scheme may mean Whitehall hiring even more staid in the short run.

  • Something something bullying, norms, deception, centralisation of power. Whipping the Treasury probably not a good precedent.

  • His hypocrisy probably weakened lockdown norms. This also wasted a huge amount of Boris Johnson's political capital during a public health crisis; I don't know how to evaluate that.

Model Depth as Panacea and Obfuscator

Great post. Do you have a sense of

  1. how much of tree success can be explained / replicated by interpretable models;
  2. whether a similar analysis would work for neural nets?

You suggest that trees work so well because they let you charge ahead when you've misspecified your model. But in the biomedical/social domains ML is most often deployed, we are always misspecifying the model. Do you think your new GLM would offer similar idiotproofing?

Yeah, the definition of evidence you use (that results must single out only one hypothesis) is quite strong, what people call "crucial" evidence.

Are there good ways to find expert reviews of popular science books?

I suspect there is no general way. ): Even the academic reviews tend to cherry-pick one or two flaws and gesture at the rest.

Partial solutions:

  1. Invest the time to follow the minority of Goodreads users who know their stuff. (Link is people I follow.)
  2. See if Stuart Ritchie has reviewed it for money.
Most reliable news sources?

The Economist ($) for non-Western events and live macroeconomics. They generally foreground the most important thing that happens every week, wherever it happens to occur. They pack the gist into a two page summary, "The World this Week". Their slant is pro-market pro-democracy pro-welfare pro-rights, rarely gets in the way. The obituaries are often extremely moving.

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Raised in the old guard, Chalmers doesn't understand...

This amused me, given that in the 90s he was considered an outsider and an upstart, coming round here with his cognitive science, shaking things up. (" 'The Conscious Mind' is a stimulating, provocative and agenda-setting demolition-job on the ideology of scientific materialism. It is also an erudite, urbane and surprisingly readable plea for a non-reductive functionalist account of mind. It poses some formidable challenges to the tenets of mainstream materialism and its cognitivist offshoots" )

Not saying you're wrong about him in that lecture. Maybe he has socialised and hardened as he gained standing. A funny cycle, in that case.

What are objects that have made your life better?

I did a full accounting, including vague cost-benefit ranking:

Ignoring the free ones, which you should just go and get now, I think the best are:

  • Sweet Dreams Contoured sleep mask. Massively improved sleep quality, without having to alter the room, close the windows, whatever. 100:1.

  • Bowflex SelectTech dumbbells. A cheap gym membership is £150 a year; using these a couple times a week for 2 years means I’ve saved hundreds of pounds and dozens of hours commuting. They should last 15 years, so maybe total 30:1. (During the present lockdown, with gyms closed, the dumbbells get a temporary massive boost too.)

  • [Queal, a complete food powder] once a day. Saves money (if a lunch would otherwise be £4) and time and the delivery vector means I actually use the other powders I buy (spirulina, creatine, beta-alanine). Big discount for verifiable EAs. Also a handy automatic prepper store. 10:1.

  • Filco Majestouch 2 Tenkeyless mechanical keyboard. Assuming this decreases my RSI risk by 1%, it will have paid off 10 times over. But also in comfort and fun alone. 10:1

What are the relative speeds of AI capabilities and AI safety?

Some more ways:

If it turns out that capabilities and safety are not so dichotomous, and so robustness / interpretability / safe exploration / maybe even impact regularisation get solved by the capabilities lot.

If early success with a date-competitive performance-competitive safety programme (e.g. IDA) puts capabilities research onto a safe path.

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