Firming Up Not-Lying Around Its Edge-Cases Is Less Broadly Useful Than One Might Initially Think

Cade Metz hadn't had this much trouble with a story in years. Professional journalists don't get writer's block! Ms. Tam had rejected his original draft focused on the subject's early warnings of the pandemic. Her feedback hadn't been very specific ... but then, it didn't need to be.

For contingent reasons, the reporting for this piece had stretched out over months. He had tons of notes. It shouldn't be hard to come up with a story that would meet Ms. Tam's approval.

The deadline loomed. Alright, well, one sentence at a time. He wrote:

In one post, he aligned himself with Charles Murray, who proposed a link between race and I.Q. in "The Bell Curve."

Metz asked himself: Is this statement actually and literally true?

Yes! The subject had aligned himself with Charles Murray in one post: "The only public figure I can think of in the southeast quadrant with me is Charles Murray.".

In another, he pointed out that Mr. Murray believes Black people "are genetically less intelligent than white people."

Metz asked himself: Is this statement actually and literally true?

Yes! The subject had pointed that out in another post: "Consider Charles Murray saying that he believes black people are genetically less intelligent than white people."

Having gotten started, the rest of the story came out easily. Why had he been so reluctant to write the new draft, as if in fear of some state of sin? This was his profession—to seek out all the news that's fit to print, and bring it to the light of the world!

For that was his mastery.

Anna and Oliver discuss Children and X-Risk

being the-sort-of-person-who-chooses-to-have-kids

What years were most of these biographies about? Sexual marketplace and family dynamics have changed a lot since, say, 1970ish. (Such that a lot of people today who don't think of themselves as the-sort-of-person-who-chooses-to-have-kids would absolutely be married with children had someone with their genotype grown up in an earlier generation.)

Anna and Oliver discuss Children and X-Risk

Two complementary pro-natalist considerations I'd like to see discussed:

  • Eugenics! It doesn't seem like there are any technical barriers to embryo selection for IQ today. If longtermist parents disproportionately become early adopters of this tech in the 2020s, could that help their children be a disproportionate share of up-and-coming AI researchers in the 2040s?

  • Escaping our Society's memetic collapse. We are the children of a memetic brood-parasite strategy. It's a lot easier to recruit new longtermists out of universal culture than it is from Mormonism, but universal culture triumphed not because its adherents had more children than everyone else, but by capturing the school and media institutions that socialize everyone else's children: horizontal meme transmission rather than vertical. If social-media-era universal culture is no longer as conducive to Reason as its 20th-century strain, maybe we need to switch to a more Mormon-like strategy (homeschooling, &c.) if we want there to be top reasoners in the 2040s.

Above the Narrative

Consider adapting this into a top-level post? I anticipate wanting to link to it (specifically for the "smaller audiences offer more slack" moral).

Google’s Ethical AI team and AI Safety

people are afraid to engage in speech that will be interpreted as political [...] nobody is actually making statements about my model of alignment deployment [...] try to present the model at a further disconnect from the specific events and actors involved

This seems pretty unfortunate insofar as some genuinely relevant real-world details might not survive the obfuscation of premature abstraction.

Example of such an empirical consideration (relevant to the "have some members that keep up with AI Safety research" point in your hopeful plan): how much overlap and cultural compatibility is there between AI-ethics-researchers-as-exemplified-by-Timnit-Gebru and AI-safety-researchers-as-exemplified-by-Paul-Christiano? (By all rights, there should be overlap and compatibility, because the skills you need to prevent your credit-score AI from being racist (with respect to whatever the correct technical reduction of racism turns out to be) should be a strict subset of the skills you need to prevent your AGI from destroying all value in the universe (with respect to whatever the correct technical reduction of value turns out to be).)

Have you tried asking people to comment privately?

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

Thanks for the detailed reply! I changed my mind; this is kind of interesting.

This is not about "tone policing." This is about the fundamental thrust of the engagement. "You're wrong, and I'mm'a prove it!" vs. "I don't think that's right, can we talk about why?"

Can you say more about why this distinction seems fundamental to you? In my culture, these seem pretty similar except for, well, tone?

"You're wrong" and "I don't think that's right" are expressing the same information (the thing you said is not true), but the former names the speaker rather than what was spoken ("you" vs. "that"), and the latter uses the idiom of talking about the map rather than the territory ("I think X" rather than "X") to indicate uncertainty. The semantics of "I'mm'a prove it!" and "Can we talk about why?" differ more, but both indicate that a criticism is about to be presented.

In my culture, "You're wrong, and I'mm'a prove it!" indicates that the critic is both confident in the criticism and passionate about pursuing it, whereas "I don't think that's right, can we talk about why?" indicates less confidence and less interest.

In my culture, the difference may influence whether the first speaker chooses to counterreply, because a speaker who ignores a confident, passionate, correct criticism may lose a small amount of status. However, the confident and passionate register is a high variance strategy that tends to be used infrequently, because a confident, passionate critic whose criticism is wrong loses a lot of status.

the exact same information cooperatively/collaboratively

Can you say more about what the word collaborative means to you in this context? I asked a question about this once!

implied claim that your strategy is motivated by a sober weighing of its costs and benefits, and you're being adversarial because you genuinely believe that's the best way forward [...] you tell yourself that it's virtuous so that you don't have to compare-contrast the successfulness of your strategy with the successfulness of the Erics and the Julias and the Benyas

Oh, it's definitely not a sober weighing of costs and benefits! Probably more like a reinforcement-learned strategy?—something that's been working well for me in my ecological context, that might not generalize to someone with a different personality in a different social environment. Basically, I'm positing that Eric and Julia and Benya are playing a different game with a harsher penalty for alienating people. If someone isn't interested in trying to change a trait in themselves, are they therefore claiming it a "virtue"? Ambiguous!

I defy you to say, with a straight face, "a supermajority of rationalists

Hold on. I categorically reject the epistemic authority of a supermajority of so-called "rationalists". I care about what's actually true, not what so-called "rationalists" think.

To be sure, there's lots of specific people in the "rationalist"-branded cluster of the social graph whose sanity or specific domain knowledge I trust a lot. But they each have to earn that individually; the signal of self-identification or social-graph-affiliation with the "rationalist" brand name is worth—maybe not nothing, but certainly less than, I don't know, graduating from the University of Chicago.

the hypothesis which best explains my first response

Well, my theory is that the illegible pattern-matching faculties in my brain returned a strong match between your comment, and what I claim is a very common and very pernicious instance of dark side epistemology where people evince a haughty, nearly ideological insistence that all precise generalizations about humans are false, which looks optimized for protecting people's false stories about themselves, and that I in particular am extremely sensitive to noticing this pattern and attacking it at every opportunity as part of the particular political project I've been focused on for the last four years.

You can't rely on people just magically knowing that of course you object to EpicNamer, and that your relative expenditure of words is unrepresentative of your true objections.

EpicNamer's comment seems bad (the -7 karma is unsurprising), but I don't feel strongly about it, because, like Oli, I don't understand it. ("[A]t the expense of A"? What is A?) In contrast, I object really strongly to the (perceived) all-precise-generalizations-about-humans-are-false pattern. So, I think my word expenditure is representative of my concerns.

it's disingenuous and sneaky to act like what's being requested here is that you "obfuscate your thoughts through a gentleness filter."

In retrospect, I actually think the (algorithmically) disingenuous and sneaky part was "actually helps anyone", which assumes more altruism or shared interests than may actually be present. (I want to make positive contributions to the forum, but the specific hopefully-positive-with-respect-to-the-forum-norms contributions I make are realistically going to be optimized to achieve my objectives, which may not coincide with minimizing exhaustingness to others.) Sorry!

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

I also object to "would be very bad" in the subjunctive ... I assert that you ARE introducing this burden, with many of your comments, the above seeming not at all atypical for a Zack Davis clapback. Smacks of "I apologize IF I offended anybody," when one clearly did offend.

So, I think it's important to notice that the bargaining problem here really is two-sided: maybe the one giving offense should be nicer, but maybe the one taking offense shouldn't have taken it personally?

I guess I just don't believe that thoughts end up growing better than they would otherwise by being nurtured and midwifed? Thoughts grow better by being intelligently attacked. Criticism that persistently "plays dumb" with lame "gotcha"s in order to appear to land attacks in front of an undiscriminating audience are bad, but I think it's not hard to distinguish between persistently playing dumb, and "clapback that pointedly takes issue with the words that were actually typed, in a context that leaves open the opportunity for the speaker to use more words/effort to write something more precise, but without the critic being obligated to proactively do that work for them"?

We might actually have an intellectually substantive disagreement about priors on human variation! Exploring that line of discussion is potentially interesting! In contrast, tone-policing replies about not being sufficiently nurturing is ... boring? I like you, Duncan! You know I like you! I just ... don't see how obfuscating my thoughts through a gentleness filter actually helps anyone?

more willing to believe that your nitpicking was principled if you'd spared any of it for the top commenter

Well, I suppose it's not "principled" in the sense that my probability of doing it varies with things other than the severity of the "infraction". If it's not realistic for me to not engage in some form of "selective enforcement" (I'm a talking monkey that types blog comments when I feel motivated, not an AI neutrally applying fixed rules over all comments), I can at least try to be transparent about what selection algorithm I'm using?

I'm more motivated to reply to Duncan Sabien (former CfAR instructor, current MIRI employee) than I am to EpicNamer27098 (1 post, 17 comments, 20 karma, joined December 2020). (That's a compliment! I'm saying you matter!)

I'm more motivated to reply to appeals to assumed-to-exist individual variation, than the baseline average of comments that don't do that, because that's a specific pet peeve of mine lately for psychological reasons beyond the scope of this thread.

I'm more motivated to reply to comments that seem to be defending "even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists" than the baseline average of comments that don't do that, for psychological reasons beyond the scope of this thread.

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

there are humans who do not laugh [...] humans who do not shiver when cold

Are there? I don't know! Part of where my comment was coming from is that I've grown wary of appeals to individual variation that are assumed to exist without specific evidence. I could easily believe, with specific evidence, that there's some specific, documented medical abnormality such that some people never develop the species-typical shiver, laugh, cry, &c. responses. (Granted, I am relying on the unstated precondition that, say, 2-week-old embryos don't count.) If you show me the Wikipedia page about such a specific, documented condition, I'll believe it. But if I haven't seen the specific Wikipedia page, should I have a prior that every variation that's easy to imagine, actually gets realized? I'm skeptical! The word human (referring to a specific biological lineage with a specific design specified in ~3·10⁹ bases of the specific molecule DNA) is already pointing to a very narrow and specific set of configurations (relative to the space of all possible ways to arrange 10²⁷ atoms); by all rights, there should be lots of actually-literally universal generalizations to be made.

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

Oh. I agree that introducing a burden on saying anything at all would be very bad. I thought I was trying to introduce a burden on the fake precision of using the phrase "many orders of magnitude" without being able to supply numbers that are more than 100 times larger than other numbers. I don't think I would have bothered to comment if the great-grandparent had said "a sign that you're wrong" rather than "a sign that you are many orders of magnitude more likely to be wrong than right".

The first paragraph was written from an adversarial perspective, but, in my culture, the parenthetical and "I can empathize with ..." closing paragraph were enough to display overall prosocial and cooperative intent on my part? An opposing lawyer's nitpicking in the courtroom is "adversarial", but the existence of adversarial courts (where opposing lawyers have a duty to nitpick) is "prosocial"; I expect good lawyers to be able to go out for friendly beers after the trial, secure in the knowledge that uncharity while court is in session is "part of the game", and I expect the same layered structure to be comprehensible within a single Less Wrong comment?

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

if you find yourself typing a sentence about some behavioral trait being universal among humans with that degree of absolute confidence, you can take this as a sign that you are many orders of magnitude more likely to be wrong than right.

"Many orders of magnitude"? (I assume that means we're working in odds rather than probabilities; you can't get more than two orders of magnitude more probability than 0.01.) So if I start listing off candidate behavioral universals like "All humans shiver when cold", "All humans laugh sometimes", "All humans tell stories", "All humans sacrifice honor for PR when the stakes are sufficiently high", you're more than 1000-to-1 against on all of them? Can we bet on this??

(Yes, you were writing casually and hyperbolically rather than precisely, but you can't expect to do that on and not be called on it, any more than I could expect to do so on your Facebook wall.)

I empathize with the intuition that "Everyone without fail, even [...]" sounds like an extreme claim, but when you think about it, our world is actually sufficiently small that it's not hard to come up with conditions that no one matches: a pool of 7.6·10⁹ humans gets exhausted by less than 33 bits of weirdness.

Load More