Vaniver's Comments

What happens in a recession anyway?

To see how relevant that will be, I'd look at how the virus is impacting production of the major capital sinks: construction, oil wells & pipelines, data infrastructure, power plants & the electric grid, roads & railroads, etc.

One interesting point on this front is that the cost to road work and infrastructure improvements is lower now than it normally is, so if you figure out a way to do construction work safely, you could justify above-baseline investment in some major capital sinks. (It's unclear to me how licensing restrictions come into play here; you have millions of unemployed, but you might not be able to use them to build and repair bridges and roads.)

Has LessWrong been a good early alarm bell for the pandemic?

"Will ncov survivors suffer lasting disability at a high rate?" is a medical question that makes no implication about broader covid risk.

This seems wrong to me, in part because the hypothesis that there could be widespread negative effects even for survivors was a compelling reason for 1) me to take it seriously (at the time, I estimated my disability risk was something like 5x the importance of my mortality risk) and 2) people to expect spread to be bad in a way that shows up in many indicators (like GDP).

Has LessWrong been a good early alarm bell for the pandemic?

Even with them included, though, there's an obvious sharp discontinuity in volume of posting starting on Feb. 27th. 

Is this the right comparison? It seems to me that the interesting question is "what was the balance of information available on LW before the 20th?" and "how much information was there on LW before the 20th?", not "did the amount of discussion on LW increase over time?". In worlds where we had posted the perfect pandemic survival guide on Feb 11th, and then as more and more people realized the crisis was real, posted questions here, the posts graph would look a lot like the one you posted.

To the best of my knowledge, LW had very little minimization or pushback against preparation (and what pushback I recall was generally of precautions that probably were too extreme or could have been accomplished more cheaply).

Based on that, I'd say that we have not yet achieved any kind of substantial collective coordination or debiasing. By and large, we're still passively waiting for the consensus to come to us and shake us out of complacency.

I mean, this seems true in the sense that most online communities are 90% lurkers.

I think my main regret was something like "assuming more people were on top of this," explicitly or implicitly; I was spooked and preparing early enough that when I went on one of my last outings to get something with Duncan, our conversation spooked him and he started preparing, and then he was on top of it in time to help other people prepare. But you won't see any warnings from me on LessWrong or Facebook, because my reaction was closer to "ah now I have a bunch of chores to get ready myself, and I'm not making inferences on any private data, so others can come to the same conclusion if they want to" than "oh jeez I need to make sure everyone is aware of this / I need to publicly vouch for my inference to best shift the group epistemology."

But also most of the conversations that I was having about this were private, in one way or another; what should this group house do? What do I think of this draft doc my boyfriend's group house is working on? Some of this eventually made its way to LW, mostly through the actions of a few heroes, but also often after days of private discussion and fact-checking.

March 2020 newsletter

From the article about Cameo:

(There are other uses, too: New York Times media columnist Ben Smith just paid former Giants linebacker Leonard Marshall to convince his dad to take more precautions against the coronavirus.)

How special are human brains among animal brains?

The other question is whether we'd allow another species to master language. I've never considered this question before, but my guess is that we would.

At this point, we'd encourage it. (See people trying to communicate with dolphins, or dogs, or gorillas, or parrots, or...)

But the relevant time period was probably when there were multiple species in the homo genus; as most similar to humans, they were probably also the fewest steps away from language and also the most likely to be a competitor for the same ecological niche. There's much more reward to anatomically modern humans for driving neanderthals to extinction than driving parrots to extinction, and so we don't see our near competitors in the race to language anymore. 

How special are human brains among animal brains?

Perhaps the idea is something like "Some species had to get there first. That species will be the 'first observer', in some meaningful sense. Whenever that happened, and whatever species became that first observer, there'd likely be a while in which no other species had language, and that species wondered why that was so."

I think this is the idea. You're right that it doesn't change our estimate of how difficult language is from the non-existence of a second species with language; the thing that it does is point out that "even if you observe 1 element of a rare set, you shouldn't think the set is common instead of rare, because you were conditioning on observing at least one element of that set." [That is, we're not seeing any of the planets that have life but no language, or directly observing any of the 50 kiloyear time periods when Earth was one of those.]

Taking Initial Viral Load Seriously

The biggest change that this suggests, I believe, is that people should not isolate with their families if they become sick. (Basically for the same reason that the first kid with measles is ok, but their siblings are in trouble.)

The 'temporary hospitals', where someone with COVID goes there to recover and hopefully doesn't infect anyone else (or get too much additional virus from the other patients), seem like they get around this.

Why do we have offices?

I think high bandwidth communication (and meta communication) is the core factor, with social presence and accountability as secondary factors.

Why do we have offices?

Note that this sort of inspectability is, in principle, accessible for remote work; you could have software that captures what's going on for each employee's screen (or webcam), and either randomly sample it or programmatically check for long periods of inactivity, or attempts to fool the system, or so on.

Is the coronavirus the most important thing to be focusing on right now?

I do indeed think that during World War 2 it would have been reasonable for many people on LessWrong to participate in the war effort, and think the same is true in this case.

It feels to me like there are three reasons this could be the case:

  1. Counterfactual impact on the war; if the LWers of the time chose to act instead of not act, they shift the probabilities of who ends up winning / what collateral damage happens over the course of the resolution.
  2. Social obligation; if LW conscientiously objected from doing its part, or thought other things were more important, this would be terrible PR / weaken LW's position after the fact. (Or maybe the reason to be an EA and the reason to sign up to fight in the war have a common cause that's hard to turn off.)
  3. Ability to impact other things that happen as a result of war participation; sign up, be excellent, get promoted, and then set up good systems that last after the crisis. (This looks like the standard argument for being in public service, except argues it's an unusually good time to enter it.)

Is this basically what you had in mind, or is there something else I'm missing?

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