Tristan Williams

I hope you've smiled today :) 

I really want to experience and learn about as much of the world as I can, and pride myself on working to become a sort of modern day renaissance man, a bridge builder between very different people if you will. Some not-commonly-seen-in-the-same-person things: I've slaughtered pigs on my family farm and become a vegan, done HVAC (manual labor) work and academic research, been a member of both the Republican and Democratic clubs at my university. 

Discovering EA has been one of the best things to happen to me in my life. I think I likely share something really important with all the people that consider themselves under this umbrella. EA can be a question, sure, but I hope more than that that EA can be a community, one that really works towards making the world a little better than it was. 

Below are some random interests of mine. I'm happy to connect over any of them, and over anything EA, please feel free to book a time whenever is open on my calendly

  • Philosophy (anything Plato is up my alley, but also most interested in ethical and political texts)
  • Psychology (not a big fan of psychotropic medication, also writing a paper on a interesting, niche brand of therapy called logotherapy that analyses its overlap with religion and thinking about how religion, specifically Judaism, could itself be considered a therapeutic practice)
  • Music (Lastfm, Spotify, Rateyourmusic; have deep interests in all genres but especially electronic and indie, have been to Bonnaroo and have plans to attend more festivals)
  • Politics (especially American)
  • Drug Policy (current reading Drugs Without the Hot Air by David Nutt)
  • Gaming (mostly League these days, but shamefully still Fortnight and COD from time to time)
  • Cooking (have been a head chef, have experience working with vegan food too and like to cook a lot)
  • Photography (recently completed a project on community with older people (just the text), arguing that the way we treat the elderly in the US is fairly alarming)
  • Meditation (specifically mindfulness, which I have both practiced and looked at in my RA work, which involved trying to set forth a categorization scheme for the meditative literature)
  • Home (writing a book on different conceptions of it and how relationships intertwine, with a fairly long side endeavor into what forms of relationships should be open to us)
  • Speaking Spanish (Voy a Espana por un ano a dar clases de ingles, porque quiero hablar en Espanol con fluidez)
  • Traveling (have hit a fair bit of Europe and the US, as well as some random other places like Morocco)
  • Reading (Goodreads; I think I currently have over 200 books to read, and have been struggling getting through fantasy recently finding myself continually pulled to non-fiction, largely due to EA reasoning I think)

How you can help me: I've done some RA work in AI Policy now, so I'd be eager to try to continue that moving forward in a more permanent position (or at least a longer period funded) and any help better myself (e.g. how can I do research better?) or finding a position like that would be much appreciated. Otherwise I'm on the look for any good opportunities in the EA Community Building or General Longtermism Research space, so again any help upskilling or breaking into those spaces would be wonderful. 

Of a much lower importance, I'm still not for sure on what cause area I'd like to go into, so if you have any information on the following, especially as to a career in it, I'd love to hear about it: general longtermism research, EA community building, nuclear, AI governance, and mental health.

How I can help others: I don't have domain expertise by any means, but I have thought a good bit about AI policy and next best steps that I'd be happy to share about (i.e. how bad is risk from AI misinformation really?). Beyond EA related things, I have deep knowledge in Philosophy, Psychology and Meditation, and can potentially help with questions generally related to these disciplines. I would say the best thing I can offer is a strong desire to dive deeper into EA, preferably with others who are also interested. I can also offer my experience with personal cause prioritization, and help others on that journey (as well as connect with those trying to find work).

Wiki Contributions


Mmm okay a bit confused by the thrust of the first bit. Is it that you wish to set yourself apart from my view because you see it unavoidably leading to untenable positions (like self-extinguishing)?

Jumping to the rest of it, I liked how you put the latter option for the positioning of the shepard. I'm not sure the feeling out of the "shepard impulse" is something where the full sort of appreciation I think is important has come out.

But I think you're right to point towards a general libertarian viewpoint as a crux here, because I'm relatively willing to reason through what's good and bad for the community and work towards designing a world more in line with that vision, even if it's more choice constrained.

But yeah, the society is a good example to help us figure out where to draw that line. It makes me most immediately wonder: is there anything so bad that you'd want to restrict people from doing it, even if they voluntarily entered into it? Is creating lives one of the key goods to you, such that most forms of lives will be worth just existing?

To answer your last question, it's the latter, a world where synthetic alternatives and work on ecological stability yields a possibility of a future for predators who no longer must kill for survival. It would certainly mean a lot less cows and chickens exist, but my own conclusions from the above questions lead me to thinking this would be a better world.

Thanks for the continued dialogue, happy to jump back in :)

I think it's very reasonable to take a "what would they consent to" perspective, and I do think this sort of set up would likely lead you to a world where humane executions and lives off the factory farm were approved of. But I guess I'd turn back to my originial point that this sort of relation seems apt to encourage a certain relation to the animal that I think will be naturally unstable and will naturally undermine a caring relationship with that animal. 

Perhaps I just have a dash too much of deontology in me, but if you asked me to choose between a world where many people had kids but they ate them in the end, or a world of significantly fewer kids but where there was no such chowing down at the end of their life, I'd be apt to choose the latter.  But deontology isn't exactly the right frame because again, I think this will just sort of naturally encourage relationships that aren't whole, relationships where you have to do the complicated emotional gymnastics of saying that you love an animal like their your friend one day and then chopping their head from their body the next and savoring the flavor of the flesh on the grill. 

Maybe my view of love is limited, but I also think nearly every example you'd give me of people who've viewed animals as "sacred or people" but still ate them likely had deficient relationship to the animal. Take goats and the Islamic faith, for example. It's not fully the "sacred" category like cows for Hindus, but this animal has come to take a ritualistic role in various celebrations of the relgion, and when I've talked to Muslims about what the reason for this treatment, or things being Halal are, they will normally point out that this is a more humane relation to have with the animal. The meat being "clean" is supposed to imply, to some degree, "moral", but I think this relation isn't quite there. I've seen throat cuttings from Eid which involve younger members of the family being brought into the fold by serving as axeman, often taking multiple strikes to severe the head in a way of slaughter that seems quite far from caring. One friend of mine, who grew up in India with his family raising a number of goats for this occassion, often saw the children loving the goats and having names for them and such. But on Eid this would stop, and I think what the tradition left my friend with is a far more friendly view to meat consumption than he would have developed otherwise. 

My last stab at a response might be to bring up an analogy to slavery. I take the equivalent of your position here to be "look, if each slave can look at the potential life he will hold and prefer that life to no life at all, then isn't that better than him not existing at all?" And to me it seems like I'd be again called to say "no". We can create the life of a slave, we can create the life of a cow who we plan to eat in the end, but I'd rather just call off the suffering all together and refuse to create beings that will be shackled to such a life. It's not a perfect analogy, but I hope it illustrates that we can deny the category entirely, and that that denial can open us up to a better future, one without slaves who prefer their life to not existing, but fellow citizens, one without farmed animals who prefer their life to not existing, but of pets we welcome happily into our families. That is the sort of world I hope for. 

Garrett responded to the main thrust well, but I will say that watermarking synthetic media seems fairly good as a next step for combating misinformation from AI imo. It's certainly widely applicable (not really even sure what the thrust of this distinction was) because it is meant to apply to nearly all synthetic content. Why exactly do you think it won't be helpful?

Yeah, I think the reference class for me here is other things the executive branch might have done, which leads me to "wow, this was way more than I expected". 

Worth noting is that they at least are trying to address deception by including it in the full bill readout. The type of model they hope to regulate here include those that permit "the evasion of human control or oversight through means of deception or obfuscation". The director of the OMB also has to come up with tests and safeguards for "discriminatory, misleading, inflammatory, unsafe, or deceptive outputs".

(k)  The term “dual-use foundation model” means an AI model that is trained on broad data; generally uses self-supervision; contains at least tens of billions of parameters; is applicable across a wide range of contexts; and that exhibits, or could be easily modified to exhibit, high levels of performance at tasks that pose a serious risk to security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters, such as by:

          (i)    substantially lowering the barrier of entry for non-experts to design, synthesize, acquire, or use chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) weapons;

          (ii)   enabling powerful offensive cyber operations through automated vulnerability discovery and exploitation against a wide range of potential targets of cyber attacks; or

          (iii)  permitting the evasion of human control or oversight through means of deception or obfuscation.

Models meet this definition even if they are provided to end users with technical safeguards that attempt to prevent users from taking advantage of the relevant unsafe capabilities. 

Hmm, I get the idea that people value succinctness a lot with these sorts of things, because there's so much AI information to take in now, so I'm not so sure about the net effect, but I'm wondering maybe if I could get at your concern here by mocking up a percentage (i.e. what percentage of the proposals were risk oriented vs progress oriented)?

It wouldn't tell you the type of stuff the Biden administration is pushing, but it would tell you the ratio which is what you seem perhaps most concerned with.

[Edit] this is included now

What alternative would you propose? I don't really like mundane risk but agree that an alternative would be better. For now I'll just change to "non-existential risk actions" 

This is where I'd like to insert a meme with some text like "did you even read the post?" You:

  • Make a bunch of claims that you fail to support, like at all
  • Generally go in for being inflammatory by saying "it's not a priority in any meaningful value system" i.e. "if you value this then your system of meaning in the world is in fact shit and not meaningful"
  • Pull the classic "what I'm saying is THE truth and whatever comes (the downvotes) will be a product of peoples denial of THE truth" which means anyone who responds you'll likely just point to and say something like "That's great that you care about karma, but I care about truth, and I've already reveled that divine truth in my comment so no real need to engage further here"

If I were to grade comments on epistemic hygiene (or maybe hygiene more generally), this would get something around a "actively playing in the sewer water" rating. 

I don't think we can rush to judgement on your character so quick. My ability to become a vegan, or rather to at least take this step in trying to be that sort of person, was heavily intertwined with some environmental factors. I grew up on a farm, so I experienced some of what people talk about first hand. Even though I didn't process it as something overall bad at the time, a part of me was unsettled, and I think I drew pretty heavily on that memory and being there in my vegan transition period. 

I guess the point is something like you can't just become that person the day after you decide you want to be. Sometimes the best thing you can do is try to learn and engage more and see where that gets you. With this example that would mean going to a slaughterhouse yourself and participating, which maybe isn't a half bad idea (though I haven't thought this through at all, so I may be missing something). 

Also giving up chicken is not a salve, its a great first step, a trial period that can serve as a positive exemplar of what's possible for the version of yourself that might wish to fully revert back one day. I believe in you, and wish you the best of luck with your journey :)

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