All of Timothy Underwood's Comments + Replies

Book summary: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

So basically what Bryan Caplan is claiming is that all of the theories that say there are huge effects visible in people over 25 years old from early childhood parenting (at least from differences in early childhood parenting that are part of the normal distribution in our society) are wrong. Caplan is saying they are wrong because identical twin adoption studies show that identical twins raised apart are very similar on the measured variables, and also that the measured variables capture what we actually care about.

Does this actually contradict the eviden... (read more)

1Vanilla_cabs2moI find it misleading that what Caplan calls "variations in parenting" would actually mean "switching from a high stress/ high pressure version of normal middle class parenting to a low stress version of normal middle class parenting". You oppose that very limited definition on the one hand, and "extreme changes in how the child is treated" on the other hand, but there are many third options. Homeschooling, for example. Or raising a child in the countryside as opposed to a crowded city. I have nothing against the limited version of Caplan's argument, but I'm concerned readers might be misled into updating towards a bigger version of the argument.
Postmodern Warfare

Yeah, I read that bit in the article when Bret Deveraux linked to it, and I winced hard at this confidence that China's approach of wanting to use lots of AI was obviously was a bad idea. 

Schools probably do do something

An excellent argument -- though obviously not conclusive.

The first alternative idea that comes to my mind is that you could just be teaching the oldest kids in those classes to see themselves as high status and that you could get the same effect through any other intervention that encourages particular kids to see themselves as better than other kids.

Certainly this seems to be an example of school doing something.

Online LessWrong Community Weekend

Agreeing with the request, I don't think I ever saw a response to the application

1MichaelLowe5moHey, we sent out our first batch of responses on Friday, could you kindly check your spam folder?
Are PS5 scalpers actually bad?

The drip feed idea sounds really unlikely. The scalper is not a monopolist over the sales of PS5s, so he is accepting the market price, and can't raise it by unilaterally not offering supply. For that to happen the scalpers would need to coordinate.

Scott Alexander 2021 Predictions: Buy/Sell/Hold

Yeah, I read that as a cumulative case statement (and I also thought Scott made the prediction before the current explosion in counts).

I also find it really interesting living in Hungary the way that the Covid numbers are being talked about in India. The official numbers just don't seem very bad yet. OTOH Hungary managed to top the world leagues in something everyone talks about for the first time since it lost its most suicides per capita crown to some other depressed Eastern European nation (I'm guessing that is who took it from the Hungarians), so I thi... (read more)

Thirty-three randomly selected bioethics papers

I like the edit. Be the person who you want to see in the world. Also visibly model behaviors you want to encourage. 


Some blindspots in rationality and effective altruism

Yeah, I really like this idea -- at least in principle. The idea of looking for value agreement and where do our maps (that likely are verbally extremely different) match is something that I think we don't do nearly enough.

To get at what worries me about some of the 'EA needs to consider other viewpoints discourse' (and not at all about what you just wrote, let me describe two positions:

  1. EA needs to get better at communicating with non EA people, and seeing the ways that they have important information, and often know things we do not, even if they speak in
... (read more)
2Remmelt Ellen10moWell-written! Most of this definitely resonates for me. Quick thoughts: * Some of the jargon I've heard sounded plain silly from a making-intellectual-progress-perspective (not just implicit aggrandising). Makes it harder to share our reasoning, even to each other, in a comprehensible, high-fidelity way. I like Rob Wiblin's guide on jargon [] . * Perhaps we put too much emphasis on making explicit communication comprehensible. Might be more fruitful to find ways to recognise how particular communities are set up to be good at understanding or making progress in particular problem niches, even if we struggle to comprehend what they're specifically saying or doing. (I was skeptical about the claim 'majority of people are explicit utilitarians' – i.e. utilitarian not just consequentialist or some pluralistic mix of moral views – but EA Survey responses [] seems to back it up: ~70% utilitarian)
Some blindspots in rationality and effective altruism

The way I've tended to think about these sorts of questions is to see a difference between the global portfolio of approaches, and our personal portfolio of approaches.

A lot of the criticisms of EA as being too narrow, and neglecting certain types of evidence or ways of thinking make far more sense if we see EA as hoping to become the single dominant approach to charitable giving (and perhaps everything else), rather than as a particular community which consists of particular (fairly similar) individuals who are pushing particular approaches to doing good that they see as being ignored by other people.

3Remmelt Ellen10moYeah, seems awesome for us to figure out where we fit within that global portfolio! Especially in policy efforts, that could enable us to build a more accurate and broadly reflective consensus to help centralised institutions improve on larger-scale decisions they make (see a general case [] for not channeling our current efforts towards making EA the dominant approach to decision-making). To clarify, I hope this post helps readers become more aware of their brightspots (vs. blindspots) that they might hold in common with like-minded collaborators – ie. areas they notice (vs. miss) that map to relevant aspects of the underlying territory. I'm trying to encourage myself and the friends I collaborate with to build up an understanding of alternative approaches that outside groups take up (ie. to map and navigate their surrounding environment), and where those approaches might complement ours. Not necessarily for us to take up more simultaneous mental styles or to widen our mental focus or areas of specialisation. But to be able to hold outside groups' views so we get roughly where they are coming from, can communicate from their perspective, and form mutually beneficial partnerships. More fundamentally, as human apes, our senses are exposed to an environment that is much more complex than just us. So we don't have the capacity to process our surroundings fully, nor to perceive all the relevant underlying aspects at once. To map the environment we are embedded in, we need robust constraints for encoding moment-to-moment observations, through layers of inductive biases, into stable representations. Different-minded groups end up with different maps. But in order to learn from outside critics of EA, we need to be able to line up our map better with theirs. Let me throw an excerpt from an intro draft on the tool I'm developing. Curious for your thoughts!
Return to New York City

Fun as a travelogue and description of eating great food that is making me long for eating at places that I really love again too. Mainly having non stop Mexican next time I go home to California again -- Mexican food really, really, really just isn't the same in Budapest.

Though if you ever are in Hungary, you need to try langos.

AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine and blood clots

My intuition is that this is an unlikely worry. The people who actually understand the math on vaccines might be slightly more cautious, but won't actually care, and will keep saying that vaccinating despite the blood clots was the right choice. While the people who are currently scared of vaccines won't really care, and will just point to this as an additional reason to believe what they already believed. 

2cistran10moThis neglects to account for a large group of people who have no opinion and will be swayed by any news, positive or negative. Overcoming a formed opinion is going to be harder.
Takeaways from one year of lockdown

Sure it is. This is what I did when deciding that I would go to a concert I'd been waiting for since January that was then cancelled a couple of days later in the middle of March 2020. Guesstimate at the odds of getting it in a giant crowded outdoors venue given the background number of cases I was hearing about in Budapest. Guesstimate at the odds of dying if I got it, with another adjustment for the amount of time that I might lose from being very sick.

I then noted that the expected loss in minutes of life after doing this calculation was considerably le... (read more)

Centrally planned war

You might find the way mercenary armies functioned during the 30 years war interesting.

Coronavirus and Rents II

Huh, my instinctive (and thus likely to be wrong) hypothesis is that coronavirus hasn't economically hurt rich people very much, so the competitive house price dynamics for big units are still going on, while it has hit poorer people much harder.

When can Fiction Change the World?

I'm a writer, not a technical person -- what I'm interested in trying to do is signal boosting ideas that within the community to the sort of general tech audience that reads hard sci fi novels, in the hopes of boosting serious interest and awareness around the subject, rather than painting a particular approach as the right approach.

1ViktorThink1yThat does sound like a rational approach, especially since the complexity of the problem makes it near impossible to promote a single approach.
When can Fiction Change the World?

I think that was a great comment :)

As for how this idea can be used -- I'd say that as a sort of artistic thing, as described it feels a little deus ex machina, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, its just I'm right now personally trying to come up with stories where by the time the AI is actually on the verge of being developed, enough right choices were made earlier that it is inevitable things go well, with the idea that what is valuable now is encouraging people to build the institutions and safety procedures into their system so that ... (read more)

1ViktorThink1yYes, I can see why it would be greater motivation for people to act today, if they read a book where the actions today to a greater extent determine the outcome of the first AGI/ASI. And I can see some ways we today could increase the likelihood of aligned AI, like a international cooperation program, or very high funding of organisations like MIRI and CHAI. I presume the people that aided to the safe creation of AI, could be painted as heroes, which might also work as a motivator for the reader to act. A clear call to action after the book seems like an effective way to increase the chance that people will act, I will include that in the book if we finish writing it. If you have a specific approach to aligned AI, that you think is likely to work and would like to write the book about, I think it would be very interesting to discuss, and potentially be included in my book as well.
When can Fiction Change the World?

Who specifically do you think should act differently, and in what concrete way because they are more aware of the Beyond the Reach of God narrative?

2ChristianKl1yI don't think the intellectual work of finding a concrete way that's likely makes humanity survive an AGI going foom is currently done. If there would be a concrete way, the problem would be a lot less problematic. Hopefully, places like MIRI and FHI will do that work in the future. So I would expect people to take it seriously to support organizations like MIRI and FHI over OpenAI which pushes for capability increases.
When can Fiction Change the World?


I feel like there is a lot of dystopian literature out there, but relatively little about telling a story where there is a plausible path to escaping things going horribly wrong that then works. So I'm right now intentionally trying to come up with stories that sell an utopian path while signal boosting ideas that are being put forward in FHI papers and other parts of the community as ways to get there. For example the project I'm right now the most excited about has the working title of The Windfall Clause. Also the sci fi project that I a... (read more)

0ChristianKl1yThat sounds to me like the story will teach the wrong thing. It will teach that it's just a matter of being smart and then we will survive.
When can Fiction Change the World?

Oh that's cool. I had known about Herzl being a central figure in Zionism, but not that he'd written a novel to push it forward.

The US Already Has A Wealth Tax

Uh, you can't escape the implied inflation wealth tax by going to a different country, while you could escape a wealth tax by doing so. [Edit: Oops, already said]

Having said that, I agree with you that at .5% it wouldn't make much of a difference, though Graham might be right that even that little is still enough to start people thinking about changing their behavior due to the tax. Also Elizabeth Warran's implied 6% on billionaires accounting for the extra amount charged to cover her healthcare plan would have definitely driven people who were expecting to ever get huge startup wealth away.

I'm looking for research looking at the influence of fiction on changing elite/public behaviors and opinions

Thanks for those examples. I have been looking for cases of movies also. Also it is good that you had here an example of something that a lot of people would view as a negative case (making the invention of the hydrogen bomb faster).

What surprised me and conflicted with my intuitions is the way that works of art pushing already highly familiar ideas that already had lots of artistic works about them are capable of still having a huge effect if they catch the public imagination in either a way previous works hadn't, or that this particular generation o... (read more)

2Matt Goldenberg1yIt feels like a lot of what made the cases above work is that they influenced specific people. There may be other cases of media being popular and having an impact on the populace, but one way to make your media really effective is to show it to someone influential.
2Pablo1yThere's also the example of a work without which the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent deaths of tens of millions of people in famines and mass killings, may not have occurred. But until you mentioned it, I hadn't realized that fiction appears to be more often credited with having a positive than a negative influence, whereas for philosophy the reverse seems to be the case. Would be interesting to move beyond impressions and come up with a more rigorous way of testing this.
Billionaire Economics

The tech founder liquidating his holdings to solve homelessness may or may not be a good idea, but it is not a bad idea because it would suck resources dedicated to tech out of the economy. He'd sell his shares to other people, who now own the tech stream of income, and then take their money and use it to solve homelessness. The only possible economic downside is a bit of inflation as the implied velocity of money goes up slightly since most capital owners spend a very small portion of their wealth each year, while he presumably would be spending it faster. But a 20 billion or even 50 billion one time spend in terms of that is not even a rounding error to the total economy.

Does the 14-month vaccine safety test make sense for COVID-19?

Based on my priors about how groups like the FDA and CDC work that seems unlikely to be true. My strong impression is that the system is designed to minimize the odds of things going wrong in a way that will generate headlines based on errors of commission.

Is there any source showing how the decided on this trial duration as something that would balance the risks involved with a deadly epidemic?

2Decius2yI believe so [] , but I lack the requisite domain-specific knowledge to extract it, or even to evaluate those reasons once they have been extracted. The thing about the size of the federal government is that there was a team of people with domain-specific knowledge integrating and responsive to public comments and suggestions from people with and without domain-specific knowledge. Their records *ARE* available, if you can figure out what to ask for. The general summary is probably fairly accurate, but it would be a major error to think that the actual policy was strictly to highly optimize for the fairly accurate summary.
Does the 14-month vaccine safety test make sense for COVID-19?

Uhuh, and waiting a year will help us avoid this how? I mean maybe not giving it to the people in the underground bunker that we've stuck a breeding population in that can repopulate the earth after the non killer robot apocalypse makes sense on these grounds, but they aren't going to catch Covid-19 anyways.

If it starts to kill everyone within 14 months, we'll almost certainly know before everyone in poor countries gets it distributed to them, and then the underdeveloped inherit the world.

2Decius2yThe odds that there's some serious side effect that isn't extinction-level are many orders of magnitude higher, and the approval system was made in advance with the full knowledge and careful consideration of the potential of epidemics.
Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover

Japan was not unified particularly at all, there was a low intensity civil war within ten years that created the government which drove the modernization effort.

2Daniel Kokotajlo2yOK, interesting! I'd love to hear more about what explains the difference. My "experience" theory is looking good so far.
What will be the big-picture implications of the coronavirus, assuming it eventually infects >10% of the world?

I do have a model where that happens, that is fairly high in my actual scenario estimates right now -- basically everyone in Iran, the poor parts of the Middle East and Africa gets exposed, which is enough for the more than 10% of the global population, and then basically nobody anywhere else gets it because all of the countries with strong states that are interconnected end up using the quarantines and travel restrictions to shut down the spread of the virus, which we know works from China (probably less than 5% of the population Wuhan itself is going to come down with the virus).

What will be the big-picture implications of the coronavirus, assuming it eventually infects >10% of the world?

To what extent is the anti-China narrative simply a lot of people here collectively agreeing with the official Western news story that has been agreed on in the last three years, and how much of this is an actual assessment of how China has behaved/ How it will be perceived as having behaved?

I mean from my point of view, while clearly the low level people at the city level in Wuhan failed fairly badly when faced with a novel and very fast moving problem, at the national level though it looks like the Chinese government has reacted about as aggressively and... (read more)

1jmh2yI think there is plenty of events reported in (English language versions) Chinese press and reports of events showing manipulation of the data to provide lower infections and death numbers by Chinese themselves to question the numbers. The fact that there might be a China-always-lies-about-data train that any number of people might be riding really has much to do with it. They definitely have been taking some very serious actions. However they have also been using their dominant position in WHO to craft an international narrative that may well have allowed a greater international spread of the infection. That said, clearly the existing meme and this outbreak seem very compatible with my bit above about xenophobic reactions. I do think it's a risk, and certainly hope it does not play out, but as I said I think the end result in a few years is no one really remembers this any more than they do SARS and MERS. [Things like this [] don't help the case for believing China's government. After releasing the first COVID-19 genome sequencing the Chinese lab was shutdown for "rectification" without any real explanation it seems.]
At what point should CFAR stop holding workshops due to COVID-19?

I think the thing is that shutting down all social gatherings requires coordination to work. If there are no large groups, COVID-19 can't spread, dies, and you never have a pandemic. But if everyone else is meeting, and you don't, you'll just end up getting it from your wife, or a co-worker, or your neighbors or something. So you might as well hold the meeting if everyone else is going to be meeting.

What is unclear to me right now, and something I'm thinking about is whether countries and regions that don't yet have internal spread... (read more)