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The feeling of breaking an Overton window

17 февраля, 2021 - 08:31
Published on February 17, 2021 5:31 AM GMT

Epistemic status: real but incomplete observations.

In late February of 2020, I went to the grocery store at 2am with my husband (emptiest time), and we bought ~$1k of mostly canned or dry goods. The cashier seemed interested in our purchases, and I felt myself stiffening as she looked. Then she asked me: “are you worried about that virus?”

And… I found myself reaching for a lie, trying to compose a lie, moving my speech-planning-bits as though the thing to do was to lie. I mean, not a technical lie. But I found myself looking for a way to camouflage or downplay my model of the virus.

Oddly, it felt more like a thing happening in me (“I found myself") than like a chosen thing. If you’ll pardon the analogy, it somehow felt at least a bit like throwing up, in that I remember once when I was trying not to throw up, and all of a sudden it was like an alien process took over my consciousness and throat, reached for the bucket, got my hair out of the way, and did the actual throwing up. And then returned my body to me when it was over. The "alien process" sensation felt a bit similar.

With the cashier, I wondered at my impulse as it was happening, but I couldn’t tell if the impulse’s source was “for the cashier's sake” (didn’t seem to make sense); “to prevent her from harming me” (didn’t seem to make sense); or … what exactly?

I forced myself to say “yes” to the cashier's question, and to elaborate a bit; to my surprise, she seemed sincerely curious, and told me several people had been in doing this and she would probably also prepare in some way. Even after this, my sentences wanted to (sound soothing? fit in? avoid disrupting others’ “normal”? I’m still not sure what), and it took me active effort to partially not do this.

I am somehow quite interested in what precisely was happening there, and in any related processes.

My guesses as to how to help with this puzzle-set, if you're so inclined:

  • Share observations (not theories) of any related-seeming things you’ve noticed (the rawer the better);
  • Share observations (not theories) of what it’s like to be you right now trying to look at this stuff. Do you have introspective access? Do you have sort of have introspective access, and in what way? Do you kind-of-like identify with it? Kind-of-like not-identify with it?
  • And okay, yes, also theories, I just hope the theory doesn’t overwhelm the observations at this confused stage.


Discuss

How poor is US vaccine response by comparison to other countries?

17 февраля, 2021 - 05:57
Published on February 17, 2021 2:57 AM GMT

Epistemic status: unapologetically US-centric.  Noticing that I am confused, and hoping the internet will explain things.

 

SECTION I: OBSERVATIONS

 

Many places I follow have been saying for a long time that US vaccine procurement and distribution is very poor, and that we could have many more people vaccinated if we would not drag our feet so much/not prosecute people for giving out vaccines when we decide they shouldn't have/etc.  (I won't reiterate details.  For examples, start with e.g. Zvi's post here).  

I'll admit that I am predisposed to this viewpoint, and began with a very negative view of e.g. the Food and Drug Administration, but even taking that into account they seem to have very strong points that the US response has been very very bad.

However, Zvi's post included an image of a graph 'daily COVID-19 vaccines doses administered per 100 people' that confused me by showing the US very near the top:

 

This is only a 7-day average rather than a longer-term one, but still shows the US doing better than most countries.  I believe I tracked the data source down to https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations.

When I sort a list of countries there by total # of vaccinations per 100 people, I get the following list of countries above the US:

Gibraltar77.0Israel76.3Seychelles56.9United Arab Emirates51.4Cayman Islands23.6United Kingdom23.3Jersey20.8Turks and Caicos Islands16.6Isle of Man16.1Bermuda16.1United States15.8

followed by 75 more countries with lower numbers and a bunch more with no data.

Overall, there are 10 countries ahead of the US.  One is the UK (a fairly similar country which is also facing a more dangerous local strain).  One is Israel (commentary withdrawn).  And the other eight, at the risk of seeming like a stereotypical American, are tiny places I didn't even think were countries.  (Isn't the Isle of Man part of the United Kingdom? Why does it get its own row?)

I notice that I am confused.  If the US rollout of vaccines has been this botched, why are we so far ahead of, say, Germany (5.0)?  Or Singapore (4.4)?  Or Switzerland (5.6)? 

 

SECTION II: EXPLANATIONS

 

Five explanations spring to mind:

  1. The data for the US is mistaken (too high).  Perhaps we are fraudulently inflating our numbers to look good.
  2. The data for other nations is mistaken (too low).  Perhaps they are not publicizing their vaccine efforts/are distributing through informal networks/otherwise haven't made Our World In Data aware.
  3. The things the US is doing that look like they should be slowing down vaccine deployment are not actually slowing it down.  The Very Serious People are smarter than me and a handful of mostly-libertarian bloggers I follow, and correctly took reasonable safety precautions that did not materially slow the vaccine deployment.
  4. The things the US is doing that look like they should be slowing down vaccine deployment are indeed slowing it down, but almost every other nation is doing just as many things like this (or more) that are just as bad (or worse), I simply haven't heard about e.g. all the things that are going wrong with the vaccine deployment in Italy.
  5. The things the US is doing that look like they should be slowing down vaccine deployment are indeed slowing it down, but we have enough other advantages that this hasn't hurt us that much.  As a large, rich country, and one that infamously pays a lot for medical stuff, we attract substantial investment from medical companies even when we put barriers in their way.  As a result, we can get away with making Pfizer's life very inconvenient, because we're such a big market that we're still more lucrative than e.g. Italy.

Overall I think #4 and #5 sound like the most likely ones - I'm going to be assuming below that the argument is between #4 and #5, though if people want to tell me that obviously #3 is correct I guess I'll listen.

 

SECTION III:  WHY DOES IT MATTER?

 

I think there's a substantial difference between these.  In particular, #4 and #5, while they both admit that US policy has been bad, seem to advocate for very different reactions.  

If the FDA is terrible but still far better than its equivalents in almost all other countries, that seems to advocate for a more measured and positive response, and less criticism of them.  

If the FDA is terrible but this is being papered over by our status as a wealthy country and major consumer market, that seems like much worse news.

I don't know how to distinguish these cases from one another, though.  



Discuss

Weirdly Long DNS Switchover?

16 февраля, 2021 - 23:00
Published on February 16, 2021 8:00 PM GMT

I'm helping my dad migrate some code to a new server. It was at 162.209.99.139 for years, but ten days ago he changed his DNS settings to point to 34.199.143.13. Everything looks good to me:

$ dig notes.billingadvantage.com notes.billingadvantage.com. 1800 IN A 34.199.143.13 The TTL is 1800s, or 30min, which agrees with dns.google. I expected everyone would be moved over within a couple hours, but a week later the old server is still receiving traffic nearly as much as the new:

date old server new server 2021-02-05 943 0 2021-02-06 201 127 2021-02-07 17 108 2021-02-08 364 423 2021-02-09 488 448 2021-02-10 255 503 2021-02-11 281 345 2021-02-12 250 248 2021-02-13 0 88 2021-02-14 0 78 2021-02-15 217 262 2021-02-16 202 287

The old server getting no traffic on the 13th and 14th is probably because that's the weekend, and the users who happen to be still stuck on the old site aren't using it on the weekend. I asked one of the users still getting the old server to try rebooting, to no effect.

I thought maybe something was misconfigured with the name servers, but it looks fine:

$ whois billingadvantage.com \ | grep 'Name Server' Name Server: NS1.ZEROLAG.COM Name Server: NS2.ZEROLAG.COM $ dig notes.billingadvantage.com \ @ns1.zerolag.com notes.billingadvantage.com. 1800 IN A 34.199.143.13 $ dig notes.billingadvantage.com \ @ns2.zerolag.com notes.billingadvantage.com. 1800 IN A 34.199.143.13 I'm not seeing any references to the old IP address anywhere.

Any guesses about why the traffic isn't moving over?



Discuss

What are resonable ways for an average LW type retail investor to get exposure to upside risk?

16 февраля, 2021 - 22:44
Published on February 16, 2021 7:44 PM GMT

By "reasonable" I mean: will not require an arbitrarily long education process to understand/carry out. I work a day job and have other commitments in my life, and I'm not that fundamentally interested in finance/investing. I'm not trying to get anywhere near an efficient frontier, I just want to be able to get upside risk more systematically than "some smart seeming EA/LWer drops a stock/crypto tip in a facebook group".

By average: I assume I'm close to the LW median: I'm comfortable making kelly bets in the $1k - $100k range, depending on details. Mostly in the $10k range.

Are IPO ETFs a good candidate for this? SPACE ETFs? Buy and hold cryptocurrencies that aren't BTC/ETH? Sell random call and put options? Something else?



Discuss

Second Citizenships, Residencies, and/or Temporary Relocation

16 февраля, 2021 - 22:24
Published on February 16, 2021 7:24 PM GMT

Introduction

Over the past few years, I’ve gained an interest in securing options for residency outside of my home country, in particular via second citizenship.

There are a number of potential benefits that can arise from having a second residency option. These include professional and education opportunities, other economic opportunities, the ability to mitigate a variety of potential risks via relocation, travel benefits, and the potential extendability of these benefits to a spouse, descendants, or in rare cases friends and colleagues.

In this post I:

  1. Share the reasons I’ve identified for securing a second residency
  2. Provide thoughts on planning for a soon upcoming, largely unexpected departure
  3. Describe long-term options for alternative residency
  4. Share my knowledge and experience toward securing a second citizenship
  5. Provide the lessons I’ve learned in pursuing genealogy for the purposes of securing a second residency
  6. Share some other related topics I may write about in the future as an extension of this post and offer to help or connect people interested in securing second residencies
Notes and Disclaimers
  1. The original version of this post was written in early October 2020 and commissioned by the Center For Applied Rationality (CFAR). It has been somewhat reorganized for publication on this forum.
  2. This document is written nearly entirely off memory. As a result, it is likely that there are significant mistakes. It’s worth validating anything in here that you plan to act on.
  3. It is also written as a first-pass, optimizing for sharing the information with minimal time-investment. There may be cases of imprecise language, and inconsistencies in presentation or organization, as a result.
  4. I’ve pursued this topic out of personal interest, without an expectation that I would end up sharing my knowledge of it. As a result, I typically only looked into things to the degree necessary for my personal interest. I therefore expect this document to not be comprehensive and for there to be a high level of subjectivity in my account. Many opportunities are limited on the basis of current citizenship or ancestral background.
  5. You may want to navigate to sections of interest using the outline on the left rather than read the post as a whole. The options that I’ve found most exciting, because they are not well-known and can confer citizenship without relocation or large financial outlay, are Panama and the Ancestry Options. Unfortunately, these won’t be available to all readers. Luckily, you may find other options compelling.
Why Second Citizenships May Be Useful

Second citizenships can...

  1. Enable the counterfactual acquisition of desirable jobs:
    1. Positions in the country of second citizenship that are not available (or not available without significant friction) to those without existing right-to-work
    2. Positions in other countries that extend a right-to-work to the citizens of a country in which second citizenship is secured (e.g. other EU countries)
    3. National country government positions are sometimes reserved for citizens.
    4. The United Nations (UN) has some sort of system by which a person’s citizenship plays a large role in the possibility of their working for the UN, even in unrelated positions. I don’t know a lot about this, but I’ve been told by many people that it is much more difficult to enter the UN as an American citizen than it is as a citizen of other countries. I’ve also been told it’s much easier if you hold citizenship of a country in which there’s less competition for positions, and most target countries for second citizenships are likely to have less competition than most EA hubs. I am uncertain to what extent this may or may not apply to other intergovernmental (or nongovernmental) organizations.
  2. Enable potentially valuable work-visitation ability:
    1. Many countries, such as the US and UK, limit the length of work visitations as well as the activities that may be done. If a citizen of a country you’d like to visit for work purposes, you will not be subject to such limitations.
    2. Some countries can be more easily visited as a citizen of one country over another. For example, each citizenship I’ve investigated offers visa-free access to at least 5 countries that US citizens otherwise require visas for. In particular, a few countries (Bhutan, Russia (possibly no longer), Brazil (no longer)) have sometimes charged sizable daily fees for visitors from some countries, while others can visit for free.
  3. Provide access (or access at a much-reduced tuition) to Universities that were otherwise inaccessible
    1. In particular, low-cost universities for citizens are more available in Europe than the US
  4. Enable eligibility for various grants and scholarship programs
  5. Provide access to social services (welfare, health care, maternal support, etc.) that are superior to those in the country of first-citizenship
  6. Enable the ability to reduce risks, in particular in times of crisis, from a variety of threats such as:
    1. Authoritarian rule (by going to country of 2nd citizenship)
    2. Nuclear events (relocation as either as a preventative or response)
    3. Biorisks (relocation to a location that is better managed, in which the threat is not present, that has earlier/easier access to drugs or vaccines of interest, etc.)
    4. Air quality (e.g. leaving urban China or India, or other locations that may have a sudden decrease in air quality)
    5. Natural disasters (preventative relocation or in response)
    6. Escaping violence
    7. Escaping false imprisonment
    8. Leaving area of financial or economic collapse (personal or systemic, as long as one country provides superior opportunity)
    9. Violence, imprisonment, restrictions on movement or activities while visiting a country that is hostile (or has factions that are hostile) to your country of origin
  7. Provide economic opportunities
    1. Lower cost of living via relocation
    2. Lower taxes via relocation and dual taxation agreements
    3. Cheaper access to key resources (University, prescription drugs, etc.)
    4. Access to banking and investment opportunities reserved for citizens
  8. Increase access to resources
    1. Prescription drugs are often more readily available and less inexpensive in non-U.S. countries
    2. Some drugs (e.g. in cases of pandemic) may not be available to the public in the US as early as elsewhere
    3. Nuclear bunkers in countries that are more isolated
  9. Provide opportunities for influence of additional national governments
  10. Improve awareness and understanding of other cultures and value systems
  11. Increase opportunities for enjoyment via visitation or residence in an area that would otherwise be harder to visit or have restrictions on the length or type of presence
  12. Some of these benefits may be extendable to spouses, descendents (ad infinitum), and (more rarely) friends or colleagues via inheritance or sponsorship.
  13. Some of these benefits may become more pronounced if many in the community secure the same second citizenship. For example, they could allow for the creation of a new EA hub, group purchasing (e.g. a bunker in a country that’s less at-risk), group decision making to start EA-relevant programs at accessible less expensive universities, etc.
Example benefits someone may have had in the current pandemic:
  1. I know of a person on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that had an early COVID outbreak who was able to leave it earlier as a result of his second citizenship. He was a U.S. and Panamanian citizen, had pursued Panamanian citizenship solely for the benefits listed above, and Panama negotiated for his departure from the ship and chartered a plane for him significantly earlier than the U.S. did.
  2. A friend was working for the UN in Nigeria when the COVID outbreak occurred. The country was in lockdown, and she was unable to leave it. She is a dual citizen of Germany and the U.S. Germany offered her a chartered flight to depart Nigeria a month earlier than the U.S. did.
  3. The US and UK are two countries that have particularly high case rates of COVID. A second citizenship could have allowed relocation to a country with a lower case rate (and better management).
  4. Some COVID treatments are more readily available in some countries. For example, Fluvoxamine may be a highly promising preventative of hospitalization-worthy COVID. Many doctors seem quite hesitant to prescribe it in the U.S., and a clinical trial includes a placebo arm, but I believe it is freely and easily purchasable in some other countries. A number of drugs (primarily those that have previously been used to treat other conditions) fall under this category.
  5. Many countries have provided greater social services (in particular direct payments) to those who are unemployed during this pandemic than have others.
  6. Health care for COVID, in particular should you be hospitalized, may be much less expensive in some countries than in others.
  7. The ability to search for jobs in multiple locations can be particularly valuable during this time of mass unemployment.
Leaving the US in the Next 1-4 Months (written Oct. 2020)Short-Term Stays

There are a number of countries still allowing US citizens to enter as tourists.

  1. The UK & Ireland may be particularly appealing, because they are English speaking, have strong healthcare, and are in/near the EU.
  2. Mexico is currently allowing US citizens to enter (via flight only) as well.
Long-Term Stays

Most places will have limits to how long you can stay in them (e.g. 90 days for the UK or EU). There are some options for more long-term stays, in particular:

Estonia

Estonia has launched a 1-year visa for remote / digital workers. Though it was planned for some time, that it launched during the pandemic is seemingly indicative of their willingness to accept applications during this time.

  1. The last time I looked, Estonia was not allowing anyone residing in the US to enter. A reasonable plan seems like it may be to travel to the UK/Ireland and then enter Estonia from there.
    1. I believe the UK & Ireland require a 2 week quarantine upon entry, and you must have negative covid tests before exiting quarantine.
  2. Estonia seems like a great option because it is in the EU. Presumably, one could go to any other EU country once this visa is secured (although they may e.g. require an Estonian permanent address or something… I’m not sure how or to what extent Estonian residence may or may not be verified or required).
  3. I expect this visa to be renewable, so this option may not be time-bound.
  4. There are some EA connections to Estonia that may make this more appealing or may be worth reaching out to if you have any issues.
  5. I’m uncertain of the application & visa price; my guess is somewhere between $500 and $4000.
Bermuda

Bermuda (overseas territory of the UK) has launched a 1-year remote worker visa as well; particularly for the pandemic.

  1. Bermuda may be particularly appealing because it is well-developed, English-speaking, and close to the US.
  2. You can go straight to Bermuda from the US; there’s no need to e.g. go to the UK first like there is for Estonia.
  3. I believe you need a negative test or two prior to your flight in order to enter.
  4. Reports on the quality of Bermuda’s healthcare vary. I saw general descriptions of it being strong while I also read specific instances of patients being transported to the US for care.
  5. I’m uncertain of the application & visa price; my guess is somewhere between $1000 and $9000.
  6. I somewhat suspect that Bermuda will accept applicants more readily than Estonia, since this visa’s creation is seemingly in direct response to the loss of tourism revenue due to covid.
St. Lucia

St. Lucia has also launched a 1-year remote worker visa.

  1. Like Bermuda, I expect St. Lucia may accept applicants more readily than Estonia, given the program’s creation is inspired by making up for lost tourist revenue.
  2. St. Lucia may be appealing for its weather and proximity to the US; I expect it’s healthcare to be worse than other presented options.
  3. I’m uncertain of the application & visa price; my guess is somewhere between $1000 and $9000.
UK & EU Tourism

You can spend 3 months in the UK and 3 months in the EU (e.g. via Ireland) to get a total of 6 months abroad, which may be sufficient for most (or sufficient to plan another option).

Germany

Germany has long had an independent contractor/entrepreneurship visa; I’m unsure if it has been affected by the pandemic. I secured this visa around 2011/2012. At that time, the requirements to secure the visa were not too onerous and mainly involved proof that you were staying in Germany, had sufficient funds, and were an independent contractor or entrepreneur. I believe it was renewable indefinitely.

One of the most difficult aspects of securing it was that the required documentation was a moving target; online sources conflicted with one another and each reviewer of your application seemingly applied their own new criteria as well. As a result, one of the most successful strategies was insistence; arguing with your reviewer and demonstrating how you did in fact have sufficient documentation and that they were wrong. Hopefully, this has now changed to be more straightforward and less dependent on having a willingness to be highly insistent.

Portugal

I know little about it, but I believe Portugal has a visa you can secure with proof that you plan to establish residency in Portugal and that you have a stable and regular source of significant income from abroad (enough to easily live off of).

Notes on How to Prepare and Leave
  1. Refundable international flights are available through United Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and a few others. These are typically much more expensive than normal tickets.
    1. These may be appealing to book now; I can imagine that in a situation in which a number of people want to leave the country, flight tickets may either sell out or rise greatly in price.
    2. It may make sense to book tickets from multiple airports, to multiple countries, and on multiple airlines, should you be able. This helps provide options in case of difficulty getting to any specific airport, a country closing down to US tourists, etc.
    3. It may make sense to book tickets throughout the time of concern, e.g. if you are worried about election-related violence you could consider tickets throughout the November-January (inauguration) timeframe (or even after).
  2. Long-term visas should likely be applied for as soon as possible; although it may be the case that the Estonian visa should not be applied for until you’ve moved to another country.
  3. If your passport expires prior to 6 months after your latest potential entry date into another country, you may want to see if you can get it renewed and returned in time. Many countries do not let people enter on passports that have less than 6 months remaining validity.
Longer-term Options for Alternative Residency

Residency can refer to citizenship, permanent residency, temporary (short- or long-term, renewable or nonrenewable) visas, or visa-free visits.

Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency vs. Visas vs. Entering as a Tourist
  1. Citizenship: I find gaining citizenship in another country to be highly appealing.
    1. Pros:
      1. Permanent, nearly irrevocable right to live and work in another country.
      2. Provides access to social services (e.g. healthcare, welfare)
      3. Provides access to consular services (e.g. protection in their embassies, negotiation on your behalf)
      4. Provides a passport
        1. This can make it easier to enter some third countries; for example, US citizens require sometimes-expensive visas to enter Russia while citizens of many other countries do not.
        2. Many have said that they feel like they’re less vulnerable / less of a target when traveling in countries where the government or some citizens may be hostile to the US.
      5. Typically inheritable by your offspring and often makes citizenship much easier for your spouse
      6. Can be helpful for gaining international employment
      7. May have social, emotional, or mental health benefits as well.
        1. Many say they feel more connected once they gain citizenship, that they have rediscovered their heritage, they have more confidence since they have an escape plan, etc.
    2. Cons
      1. You’re subject to the laws of that country. In practice, this seems to rarely have a downside.
        1. The most likely probably relates to taxation; most countries tax only those citizens living in the country, but some (like the U.S. and Israel) tax citizens living anywhere in the world. That said, this then can get waived if the two countries have an agreement not to double tax (the U.S. does with most developed countries, Israel does with most as well, although I think they’re currently negotiating with Australia and it may not be in-place yet).
        2. If you break a law in your second country, your first may be unwilling to help you, since you’re a citizen of that second country.
          1. (There are mixed reports about whether or not this is or is not the case.)
      2. You may need to maintain two active passports (a small financial cost). Most countries will not let their citizens enter on a foreign passport.
      3. A few countries require you to renounce your other citizenships upon receiving theirs, or will disavow your citizenship if you acquire another afterward. Sometimes this is specific to a certain country; e.g. I believe Slovakia and Hungary are not on good terms and do not allow dual citizenship with one another. This is rare but worth verifying for your countries of interest.
      4. Dual citizenship could potentially be detrimental to a political career.
  2. Permanent Residency: The is one-step below citizenship, and is sometimes a prerequisite toward obtaining citizenship.
    1. Pros
      1. Permanent right to live and work in another country, although it is much more revocable than citizenship
      2. Typically provides access to social services (e.g. healthcare, welfare)
    2. Cons
      1. Most (if not all) permanent residencies need to be ‘maintained’ through physical presence in the country. The nature of this requirement varies from country to country, although it is typically quite significant (e.g. 6 months+ in the country for 3 of the 5 preceding years).
  3. Visas: These signify temporary permission to be in a country. Sometimes they provide the right to work, while others only provide the right to be there as a tourist.
  4. Tourist: Usually when you enter a new country, you typically enter as a ‘tourist’, whether or not that is your intention (e.g. most attendees to academic conferences will typically enter the country as a ‘tourist’). Some countries require a visa for this, while others will provide a period of time under which you can remain visa-free (e.g. the EU and UK provide 90 days). When you enter as a tourist (whether visa-free or not), you do not have the right to work in the country.
Comparing Options Against One Another

Generally, it is not necessary to limit your number of applications for residency or citizenship. That said, you may choose to prioritize on the basis of a number of different factors.

  1. Ease of applying
    1. Language requirements
      1. Some citizenship programs require you speak the local language, to varying degrees. For some you seemingly need to be B1 or B2 conversational, while others only require an A1 or A2 level of language ability (or no language requirement at all).

        The way in which this is assessed varies as well. I’ve seen all of the following as language assessment tools depending on the country and program:
        1. Official language tests
        2. Conversations in the language when submitting the application
        3. Proof that you’ve taken a language course
        4. Signed statement by two citizens that you know the language
        5. Submitting your application in the language
    2. Documentation requirements
      1. Each citizenship program has quite varied requirements for documentation. Any or all of the following documents may potentially be required (though some programs require very little documentation):
        1. Birth certificates (for you and potentially some of your ancestors)
        2. Your passport
        3. Marriage certificates (if applicable, for you and potentially some of your ancestors)
        4. Death certificates (if applicable, for potentially some of your ancestors)
        5. FBI background check
        6. Miscellaneous other documentation

You may choose to apply or not apply to  a program on the basis of which documents you have available (e.g. which ancestors you have records for). It may be worth applying even with a low likelihood of success if you have all the required documentation to submit an application, while other programs that would very likely be successful may not be worth applying to until the necessary documents can be obtained.

The form in which these need to be provided may range quite a bit as well. The following are the potential possibilities: 

  1. Apostille: This is an internationally recognized seal that certifies that a document is genuine. It is typically provided by the government. You would submit your document to the government in which it is issued to get it apostilled, prior to submitting your application.
  2. Original: Some programs ask for you to send the original documents. In most cases, with the notable exceptions of passports, it seems apostilled and/or official copies are accepted even when the programs do ask for originals.
  3. Official copies: Governments can issue official copies of documents at your request.
  4. Casual: Some governments aren’t picky at all; I think because they expect to verify the information via another method anyway. In these cases, you can e.g. make your own copy of a document (rather than obtaining one from a government) and submit it.
  5. Reference: Some governments will look up the information or validate it anyway, so you don’t necessarily need to provide any copy of a document, just information. For example, you might provide your date and place of birth rather than a birth certificate.
  6. (Officially) Translated: Some places are happy to accept documents in whatever language they are in, others will accept documents in English or their country’s language only, and some will only accept documents in their own country’s language. Some will let you source the translation in any way that works for you, but most seem to require an ‘official translation’. Official translation providers also vary by country; some require that their own government translate the documents for a fee, while others have a large network (including in the US) of official translation services that they allow.

I track the documents required for each place I’m applying with something similar to this linked sheet.

  1. Cost
    1. Purchasing citizenship can be very expensive ($35,000-$10M), and while most other options for procuring citizenship are generally affordable ($0-$350), some other programs can have fees that are quite prohibitive. For example, 1-year work visas in Australia seemingly often cost in the range of $3,500-$10,000. 

      There may be other costs that are less obvious that are worth consideration as well. For example, programs in Panama and Israel require your physical presence in the country. Some programs require apostilled copies of official translations of a number of documents, which each have low fees but can add up quickly. If you pay for genealogy assistance to search for and obtain records, those costs can add up quite easily as well.
  2. Ties to the country
    1. Some countries require you demonstrate ties to the country and/or culture. The two instances of this I’ve seen have been poorly specified and involve significant discretion in their assessment. I think these are often easy to build, and may involve activities such as attendance at cultural events or travel to the country of interest.
  3. Likelihood of application being successful
    1. While sometimes it can be very clear whether or not you’ll successfully receive citizenship or residency if you apply, I’ve more often found that there’s a level of ambiguity. This ambiguity can arise from:
      1. New programs that aren’t fully specified and are largely untested (Austria’s new citizenship via ancestry program announced Sep 2020)
      2. Differences in program wording, implementation, or standards for evaluation by individual or consulate
      3. Discretion on questions of sufficient documentation, language ability, etc.
  4. Desirability of citizenship
    1. Passport strength
      1. There are three passport desirability rankings I’m aware of:
        1. Passport Index Score
        2. Henley Passport Score
        3. Sovereign Man Passport Rankings (likely paid access only)
      2. I’ve built this linked spreadsheet to identify what countries’ passports provide advantaged access to which others, compared to your home passport. The visa requirements for every country combination from Wikipedia articles can be pasted in, and then the formula extended for new results.
    2. IHDI (Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index), Fragile States Index, English speaking percentage of population
      1. I use these metrics as first-pass proxies for the country’s personal appeal and stability.
    3. Other access (EU, Latin America group, East African group)
      1. An EU passport tends to be highly valued due to the number of countries to which it provides access. There’s some sort of common Latin American work & residency group as well, and I believe there’s one in East Africa.
        1. In some cases these may provide the permanent right to live and work, while others just make it much easier to do so.
    4. Ease of citizenship for spouse and/or descendants
      1. In many cases, you may value a citizenship more if it can be acquired by a spouse and/or offspring. The ease with which these happen can vary.
    5. Personal connections & feeling
      1. I’ve found that I may in some cases have a higher likelihood of being able to obtain citizenship to some countries to which I don’t feel connected, while there are others to which I do feel I have a stronger ancestral or modern-day connection.
Options for Gaining Citizenship or Permanent Residency

I’ve been surprised to find that there are a number of options for second residency and citizenship; they’re often more accessible than I’d anticipated, though usually still time-intensive and potentially difficult to get. There are four categories of ways to get a second citizenship / residency:

  1. Miscellaneous: Some countries will grant residency or citizenship on the basis of your religion, your current citizenship, and/or your educational and professional achievement. Asylum may be a possibility in more extreme circumstances.
  2. Ancestry: A number of countries may grant you citizenship or residency if you have ancestors from those countries. Some examples are: Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Czechia, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Austria
  3. Purchasing: A number of countries may grant you citizenship if you make a large investment in the country or pay the government for it. This includes EU countries (I think Malta and Albania). In most cases the cost is over $100,000, but St. Lucia has a citizenship scheme that returns most of the money to you after 5 years, with a net cost that is much cheaper.
  4. Naturalization: Most countries will grant citizenship if you live there for a period of time.
Miscellaneous Options for Residency or Citizenship

Panama 

Panama offers a “friendly-nations visa” that provides permanent residency. This is instantly obtainable (no residency requirement), if you’re a citizen of one of ~50 countries that they have selected. This is particularly appealing for a few reasons:

  1. Instant access to permanent residency
  2. This permanent residency is much easier to maintain than others
    1. You are required to spend one day in Panama out of every two years to maintain it. If you fail to, if you return within 6 years, they’ll reinstate it pretty easily.
  3. This permanent residency takes you on a somewhat-easy path to citizenship. You need to have permanent residency for 5 years, speak Spanish, and demonstrate a connection to Panama. Given the ease with which you can maintain permanent residency in Panama, you could be in the country 3-4 times, for a total of ~2 weeks, and obtain your Panamanian citizenship (although you may want to stay longer to better demonstrate a connection to Panama; some citizenship applications that are technically valid do get denied).
  4. I estimate the total cost to be $2-4k all-in to do this.
  5. Miscellaneous benefits
    1. Panamanian citizenship is supposedly excellent for financial security and alleviating U.S. taxes as well.
    2. A number of people report that Panama is very enjoyable to be in.
    3. Panama outperformed the US in at least one instance with regard to consular assistance after the coronavirus outbreak.

COFA: Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands

COFA stands for “The Compact of Free Association”. It is an agreement between the US and Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. The summary of this agreement that I’ve read states that in exchange for the US being able to maintain military bases in these countries, the US provides nearly all social services for them (e.g. roads, welfare, etc.). Additionally, the citizens of these countries have the permanent right to live and work in the US, and citizens of the US have the permanent right to live and work in these countries.

  1. Pros:
    1. Permanent right to live and work in these countries.
    2. It seems you can enter each of these countries for 1 year visa-free (e.g. without notice.) Then it seems you apply for a visa that they are obligated to grant allowing you to stay longer.
  2. Cons:
    1. There is very little available information about the right for Americans to live and work in these countries. I would not be surprised if some of this information is wrong; I would not rely on this without verifying it first.
      1. I also have spent less time learning about this agreement than most other things on this document. I could particularly be mistaken about aspects of this one.
    2. These are micronations; they likely are not used to new people moving to them, probably don’t have great healthcare, and likely are not very economically developed.
    3. Given the US’s presence and influence in these countries, going to these may not alleviate your concerns.

Israel

People who can demonstrate that they are Jewish (e.g. a letter from a synagogue, ancestors’ gravestones showing they were Jewish, etc.) are permanently entitled to obtain citizenship.

  1. Pros:
    1. Citizenship can be instantly obtained upon arriving in Israel
    2. Israel is a developed country with a strong economy and social services.
    3. Upon obtaining citizenship, there are a number of benefits provided
      1. Waived taxes for 10 years!
        1. (These may not be fully waived; maybe they’re just reduced. I recall being very impressed though).
        2. Given Israel’s agreement with the US, this can give you 10 years of lower taxation if you reside there.
        3. If you were to e.g. inherit a lot of money in one year or realize a large amount of capital gains, perhaps obtaining citizenship and spending that one year in Israel would be highly financially valuable.
          1. In that case, you may potentially delay your acquisition of citizenship until that time.
      2. A monthly payment for a number of years if you reside in Israel
        1. (I think for a single individual this was about $300 a month; it scales by family size and I may be wrong about the amount.)
      3. Assistance finding a place to live
      4. Free Hebrew classes
      5. Probably quite a bit more
  2. Cons:
    1. While many countries allow you to obtain citizenship through your heritage without ever visiting that country, for Israel you must go there and you must demonstrate that you intend to move there for the foreseeable future.
      1. It may be the case that you are genuinely interested in trying-out living in Israel, but you are worried you’ll get in trouble if it doesn’t work out and you leave or change your mind soon after arrival.

        From what I’ve been able to determine, the intention to move there is all that is needed, and leaving pretty quickly after doesn’t seem to be an issue (although I’d want to further verify this before relying upon it).

        It seems you only need to show that you’ve rented a place and have some way you plan to make money in order to demonstrate that you intend to live in Israel.
    2. Israel has worldwide taxation, and while it has agreements with most countries so that you are not double-taxed, its negotiation with Australia is ongoing and a double taxation treaty was seemingly not in place when I looked in September 2020.
    3. Israel has mandatory conscription into its military if you are under 28 years old and residing in the country.
  3. Notes
    1. Citizenship is typically granted 3 months after arrival; you can fill out a simple form to waive this waiting period, however.

Canada

Canada is one of few countries to offer instant permanent residency. To obtain permanent residency, you must get a sufficient number of ‘points’ according to a formula that will ask about things like your age, education level, work experience, marriage status, whether you have a job offer in Canada, etc.. If you apply and are above the points threshold they reset every 3 months, you’re offered permanent residency (and I think you have a year to accept and move there, but I may be wrong.)

  1. Notes
    1. I think it’s moderate difficulty to meet the points threshold. It’s not at all unobtainable but many may not have sufficient profiles. Others may meet the points threshold even without a Canadian job offer.
    2. Canada is surprisingly easy to obtain citizenship in as well. You can gain citizenship after just 3 years of living in Canada as a permanent resident.

Citizenship through in-country birth of a child (Brazil, Argentina, Chile)

  1. Many countries reduce the naturalization requirement for those who have children in those countries (and typically these countries provide those children with citizenship instantly.)
    1. In particular, Brazil will grant instant citizenship to the parents of a baby born in the country. Argentina and/or Chile (I don’t fully recall), reduce the residence requirement to 1 year in order to obtain citizenship if you have a child in that country.

Portugal

Spain and Portugal had programs for granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews. Spain’s recently ended; I’ve heard Portugal’s is still in place. I don’t know much else about it.

Digital Nomad Visas 

See this linked section above

Ancestry Options for Residency or Citizenship

Unless you already have documentation of your family history, it is likely that you’ll need to engage in at least a little genealogy. I have a section on this below.

There are a number of countries that offer citizenship through ancestry (most often European countries). Wherever your ancestors are from, it is likely worth Googling if they offer citizenship through ancestry and also reaching out to the embassy to ask as well (I emailed the consulate of a country that did not say they offer citizenship through ancestry anywhere I could find online, and they still said if I submitted documentation of my ancestry they’d consider granting citizenship). Most lists I’ve found of which countries offer citizenship through ancestry are very incomplete.

Additionally, it seems the rules regarding citizenship through ancestry are often not well-determined. I’ve seen multiple instances of the regulations being written differently on different government websites, I’ve heard of successes & failures that don’t align with the regulations, and many countries do leave the decision about your citizenship up to the discretion of whoever happens to be reviewing your application.

General advice for pursuing citizenship through ancestry

  1. Engage with genealogy. It’s been my personal experience (and I’ve heard many anecdotes of this as well) that the story I’d been told of my ancestry was very incomplete and with some inaccuracy. Genealogy seemingly becomes more and more rewarding the more I engage with it, both from a citizenship and personal interest perspective.
  2. Find and talk to others pursuing citizenship. Facebook groups have been invaluable in providing a wide range of guidance and information regarding the pursuit of citizenship. Search for one for your desired country. Some that I’m aware of are:
    1. Lithuania Dual Citizenship, Lithuanian’s Citizenship Assessoria Lituana E Traduçoes
    2. Latvian Dual Citizenship
    3. Slovak Living Abroad Certificate & Slovak Citizenship
    4. HUN Citizenship Journey
    5. Austrian Citizenship Holocaust Descendants
    6. Ciudadania Checa/Czech citizenship
    7. Irish and Wannabe Irish, Dual Ireland/US Citizenship
    8. Dual US-Italian Citizenship, Italian Dual Citizenship, Italian Dual Citizenship Social Club

There’s typically additional genealogy focused groups as well. Some examples: Genealogy in Ukraine - Research and Ancestry, Hungarian Genealogy Group, Lithuania & Latvia Jewish genealogy, New York City Genealogy

  1. Reach out to official sources. Embassies and consulates can be surprisingly interested and willing to answer questions and assist with your application. Some countries have central archives that will do extensive genealogy work on your family for a minimal fee. Official sources have multiple times saved me a lot of time and effort vs. pursuing questions or research on my own.

Citizenship (or Residence) Through Ancestry Programs I’ve Heard Of (not at all exhaustive): 

Hungary

Hungary has one of the most commonly used citizenship through ancestry programs. I think it’s decently liberal, but I could be mistaken. The ways in which I think (with low confidence) that it is liberal is that:

  1. I think you can apply if you have ancestors that lived anywhere in the historic Austria-Hungary.
  2. I think you can go back any number of generations.

Certainly, if you have ancestors up to the fourth generation who lived in the “Kingdom of Hungary” borders of Austria-Hungary, you are eligible for citizenship. There are two different programs, one in which you must demonstrate Hungarian language proficiency, and another in which you do not need to do so.

I don’t fully recall what determines whether you need to demonstrate you can speak Hungarian or not, but I think it has to do both with the timing of your ancestors leaving Hungary and whether or not they were from the Kingdom of Hungary proper or not.

If you do need to speak Hungarian for your application, it is assessed informally via the short (10 min) conversation you have when submitting your application in person at the embassy or consulate. Two teachers who have prepared students for this conversation in the past estimated students can learn sufficient Hungarian in 4 months, with 2 hour long lessons per week. It seems a reasonable cost-efficient and well-tested method of preparing for this conversation is via teachers on https://www.italki.com/. I estimated my total cost (not accounting for opportunity cost of time) would be $641, based on an hourly pay rate to the teacher of $19. If you’re more adept at language learning than the average individual or want to select a less expensive teacher, this could perhaps be less. Alternatively, it does seem many people learn Hungarian to an extent that seems beyond this amount, and some of them seem to think it was necessary for their application to be accepted.

Some embassies are known for being more or less lenient than others, and regardless of the embassy you select, you will have a certain amount of luck based on the strictness with which the person you submit your application to assesses your Hungarian. You can apply again if you do not pass.

Hungary requires official copies of birth and marriage certificates going back to your ancestor who lived in the relevant geography.

Latvia

Latvia offers citizenship by descent under its “exiles” program to those whose ancestors were presumably Latvian citizens at the time of World War II beginning and who left Latvia prior to its regaining independence in 1990. In order to substantiate the former, typical guidance is that you must find documentation implying Latvian citizenship that is from 1933-1940, although some claim that documents as early as the late 1920s are sometimes accepted as sufficient proof. Unless you are already in possession of sufficient proof, the likely best step is to reach out to the Latvian Archives. The Latvian Archives are particularly great to work with compared to those of other countries; they will perform a complete genealogical search on your family for under $100 and are highly communicative (though the process does take months). In at least my case, they found a lot of documentation that was not only helpful for citizenship applications, but also was informative of my family’s history.

Latvia requires Apostilles for most foreign-originating documents that may be submitted for your application.

There is a second Latvian citizenship program “Latvians and Livs” of which I have more limited knowledge. My understanding is that you must demonstrate a genetic Latvian heritage, as well as a strong understanding of Latvian (e.g. at the C1 level), in order to secure Latvian citizenship under that program.

Lithuania

It is possible to secure Lithuanian citizenship by descent, though some of the qualifications to do so are unclear. There are significant discrepancies between what official sources list as qualifying, and what those in Facebook groups say works:

Official Sources 

Facebook Word-of-Mouth 

You must provide proof that is suggestive of an ancestor being a Lithuanian citizen

You must provide definitive proof an ancestor was a Lithuanian citizen

Proof can come in a variety of forms, such as documents indicating life in Lithuania (school enrollment, paystubs, etc.), foreign documents showing place of birth or citizenship, etc.

The only acceptable proof is documents issued by the Lithuanian archives

I assign an approximately 50/50 likelihood to the official sources vs. Facebook providing better guidance. The Facebook community (which is overwhelmingly Brazillian) predominantly hires a small number of providers to complete the application process for them, so it doesn’t feel as though the limits of acceptable documentation are as likely to have been explored as they would be with a large group of applicants applying more independently. Conversely, I’ve often found that the implementation of citizenship programs can be quite different than how they’re described on official websites, so I do think Facebook communities often provide relevant valuable information.

Additionally, there are conflicts between official sources, with some saying that a great-grandparent (or more recent ancestor) must have been Lithuanian, while others say you can go up to great-great-grandparents, and at least one other saying ‘any’ direct ancestor is acceptable. In this case, I expect the sources saying ‘any’ direct ancestor is acceptable to be correct.

Lithuania has not been an independent state very long or very often. To apply for citizenship, you must substantiate an ancestor who (plausibly?) had citizenship while Lithuania was independent. I’m uncertain of the exact dates considered to be acceptable, but they’re approximately from 1918-1939. You also must show that this ancestor left Lithuania prior to it regaining its independence in 1990.

Securing documentation to support an application may be difficult (see table above). I found the Lithuanian archives to be both of limited utility and difficult to communicate with. They will perform document searches, and in my case they did find a couple that were relevant, but these searches are highly abbreviated and not comprehensive. To more thoroughly search the Lithuanian archives, you will likely want to hire someone, and the cost of these searches seemingly range from €300-500, with no guarantee of any success. You may want to consider searching the Latvian archives; they seem to hold many documents originating from Lithuania and will perform comprehensive searches.

Most foreign-originating documents need to be Apostilled and officially translated to Lithuanian for the application.

I expect to apply for this citizenship sometime in 2021, which may provide some additional information as to acceptable documentation.

Austria

Austria has a brand new program that was passed into law in September 2020. It is most clearly intended for those whose ancestors were Austrian citizens and were persecuted, primarily by the Nazis. As a result, if your ancestors meet that definition, you have the most straightforward case.

That said, the definitions around the program are written broadly enough that it may be the case that many more people are eligible. It may be that if your ancestors ever considered themselves Austrian (or Austro-Hungarian), and were ever persecuted, you may be eligible. Since this is a brand-new program, we don’t really have data on what will or won’t be acceptable (and the consulates don’t either; they’re providing varied, inconsistent information).

As a result, a number of people are currently applying to this program without a clear idea on whether or not they’re eligible. Applying for the program is easier and more straightforward than most; there is no language requirement and you are only required to provide personal copies of any ancestor documentation. You do need to provide an apostilled copy of your birth certificate and an apostilled FBI background check, however.

I suspect that there may be an advantage to applying now; I could see Austria being liberal now but tightening the requirements later on once it sees how many applicants there are.

Slovakia

Slovakia offers a status of being designated a “Slovak Living Abroad”. If you apply for and successfully receive this status, you’ll receive the permanent right to come to Slovakia and easily obtain permanent residency.

To become a Slovak living abroad, you need to demonstrate ancestral ties to Slovakia, some form of proof that you speak some Slovak, and some form of proof that you’re culturally tied to Slovakia. 

Slovakia has a particularly wide range of strictness with regard to the administration of this program. I’ve seen some accounts of successful applications with very little to substantiate them; proof of having enrolled in a Slovak course (without having started it), for example, was sufficient for one applicant. I’ve also seen accounts of seemingly well-qualified individuals trying for years and being denied this status. The method for certifying language ability and cultural ties that Slovakia seemingly most recommends is to have two others with “Slovak Living Abroad” status sign a statement attesting to your language ability and cultural belonging.

A Facebook group was just recently formed for this (~August 2020), so I’ve seen much less discussion of this program than most others I’ve investigated. The group seems popular and should provide significant new data in the upcoming year. 

A bill has been introduced in Slovakia to allow citizenship via ancestry as well. This would be near-automatically granted to those who are already designated “Slovaks Living Abroad”. But for those who haven’t gained that designation (which may be eliminated if the bill is passed), a language test would be required. Therefore it may be beneficial to apply for this status sooner rather than later.

Other European Options

  1. Czechia: Czechia has a citizenship by descent program; though I’ve learned very little about it thus far. I’ve gotten the impression that it is likely more strict than some others.
  2. Ukraine: Ukraine offers citizenship by ancestry, but you must renounce your previous citizenships. There is a bill under consideration to not only eliminate this requirement, but also to ease the process by which citizenship by ancestry can be obtained. I plan to periodically check-in on this.
  3. Germany: I’m unsure if a German citizenship by descent program exists. I did read at least one website that said German citizenship by descent is available, while others have not included it in their list. After research I found out that my family actually didn’t have German ties, so I didn’t look into this any further.
  4. Poland: I haven’t looked into this because I found out after research that my family’s Polish ties are quite minimal, if they exist at all. I’ve heard that Poland does offer a citizenship by descent program and that it is quite strict and difficult to pursue.
  5. Ireland: Ireland has a citizenship by descent program, and it has a reputation for being liberal, easy, and one of the most used. I know very little else about it.
  6. Italy: Italy also has a citizenship by descent program, and it has a reputation for being liberal, easy, and one of the most used. I know very little else about it.
Financial Options for Residency or Citizenship

A number of countries will let you either directly purchase citizenship or gain citizenship via investment in the country. As far as I know, all of these require over $100,000 in order to gain citizenship. Due to my financial status, I have not looked into these much at all. I have noticed that there exist multiple options in the EU and Caribbean; I’m unsure to what extent this option exists elsewhere (though it does seem widespread).

St. Lucia

St. Lucia has the only program I’ve found to be notable based on my interests. The reason it is notable is that most of the money can be returned to you after a 5 year period. If I recall correctly, the initial outlay is over $100k, and it sits with the St. Lucian central bank for 5 years. After 5 years, they’ll return it to you minus fees, and the total cost (not accounting for opportunity cost, inflation, interest, etc.) can be something like ~$15,000 for a single person and ~$35,000 for a family of 4. This includes a potentially temporary COVID price reduction and a refund of some of the fees by using a broker with whom you split commission.

Naturalization Options for Residency or Citizenship

Nearly all countries grant those who live there for enough time citizenship. There’s a few of these that have shorter time requirements than others that are worth mentioning.

Spain

Typically it takes 10 years of residency to become a Spanish citizen. If you have citizenship of a Latin American country, however, this requirement is reduced to just 2 years.

Interestingly, they recognize Puerto Rico in their list of Latin American countries. Puerto Rico does grant “citizenship” to those who are born or live there. I think this typically does not have any legal benefit or meaning, but it is helpful for reducing your time until Spanish citizenship. Notably, it takes only 1 year of residency in Puerto Rico to become a Puerto Rican citizen. So with 3 years of residence, you can become a Spanish citizen (1 year in Puerto Rico, 2 years in Spain).

Netherlands

I believe I’ve read that they have the shortest residency requirement in Europe, at 3 years until citizenship.

Canada

Included in the miscellaneous section because permanent residency is instant; citizenship itself can be obtained with 3 years residence.

Belgium, Chile, Argentina, Panama

I’ve read each of these have appealing naturalization programs, but I haven’t looked into them (I likely did very briefly and decided that I wasn’t personally interested).

Genealogy

Acquiring citizenship by ancestry is often most appealing; it typically doesn’t require you to make any major changes in your life, such as relocating or spending a lot of money, but you can receive all the benefits of having a second citizenship.

In order to pursue citizenship by ancestry, you need to know about your family history, and typically, have documentation of it as well. Here’s how to get started with genealogy.

  1. Start a (feature-rich) family tree; it will be the basis for all your genealogy
    1. A family tree is the basis for tracking your family and recordkeeping. The best service on which to do this is Ancestry.com. An alternative is the software Family Tree Maker, which has two-way sync with Ancestry.com (and is nice to have to ensure you have a local copy of things).
      1. For each person in the tree, these can each store a number of facts, documents, stories… really anything you’d like.
      2. Ancestry.com will automatically find worldwide records that may match the people in your tree and suggest new ancestors / relatives. It can be extremely helpful; on very limited initial information I’ve sometimes tracked a family back to the 1500s.
        1. The records that are digitized tend to be from Western, developed countries. If your family has mainly been in the US & Europe, you are much more likely to locate family records than those from other locations.
      3. It will also match those in your tree with other family trees on the Ancestry.com service, and suggest records and relatives on the basis of what others have added. I’ve discovered extended relatives that are quite distant (e.g. 5th cousins), but had an amazing amount of info about my family (including e.g. pictures and items of my great great great grandfather).
        1. There’s a messaging service, and I’ve been somewhat surprised to find that messaging those who have made family trees including my ancestors has yielded a lot of information that those users didn’t store on the family trees themselves. I highly recommend it.

          This seems more common with older generations, who maybe build basic family trees but may not be as interested in or adept at digitizing paper records.
        2. This feature can also be a bug; it is very easy for one person to make a mistake or guess on Ancestry.com, and for that to then proliferate across all the trees and almost seemingly become ‘fact’. By locating new records others hadn’t found, I’ve discovered multiple instances of others’ trees having incorrect information that I’d added to mine.
  2. The best way to build a tree is first through your own family history / knowledge.
    1. One of the most prolific maxims within genealogy is to focus as much as possible on gathering every piece of family history directly from your family before doing much other work. I’ve found that this advice is sound.
      1. It is surprisingly easy to find a record that really looks like it belongs to your family, but that doesn’t. For example, Ancestry.com may recommend a record as applying to your family, and the record may be for someone with the same first and last name, same year of birth, same spouse’s name, etc. It can be very easy and reasonable to believe that this record is for your ancestor. But there are times that this happens, and the information is for another person. Unfortunately, you may then spend hours building your family tree on the basis of this irrelevant document, and it can be quite difficult and time-intensive to figure out that mistake and undo all of the mistaken decisions made as a result.
      2. Working off of your own family history is the best way to prevent this sort of mistake, to the extent possible. Start with your knowledge, and then interview any living relatives that you have; especially those older than you (make sure to record the information all down somehow). Ask them for any information they may have; ancestor’s names, place names of birth, death, or where they lived, anecdotes of how many children person X had, when they immigrated to a new place… most anything and everything can end up being helpful. I’ve found that those relatives I don’t know well… such as extended family, can have much more information about the family history than I ever would have expected.
  3. Be very willing to learn about genealogy options specific to your family.
    1. While Ancestry.com is a powerful tool, there are a number of specialized ways to locate records depending on your situation. For example, JewishGen is a great service for locating European Jewish records. Many of its databases are synced with Ancestry.com, but many others aren’t.
    2. The best way I’ve found to learn about what tools may be relevant to you is to ask questions or read posts in relevant Facebook groups.
    3. FamilySearch is probably the most valuable, general genealogy service after Ancestry.com. They have a quite helpful wiki that can also point you to a number of sources of records for your family’s context. For example, here’s a wiki on Latvian records.
      1. FamilySearch has a number of records that it has scraped (often with inaccuracies) but hasn’t publicly digitized. Typically you would go to a FamilySearch History center to see the digitized version of the record, but during the pandemic you may not want to. You can always wait until you are comfortable going to one, but I’ve also found two (potential) solutions:
        1. The NYC Genealogy FB group regularly has threads where people post the record numbers that they need looked up. One person will go and do a number of searches at once; this potentially helps minimize the amount of exposure occurring through less people visiting.
        2. I found places with no cases (e.g. southern NZ in early September 2020) and posted a ‘gig’ on Craigslist. I did receive responses, but I ended up getting my record via a different method.
  4. Consider paid genealogy; at least for locating local records that aren’t digitized
    1. There are a number of records that are only available on-location; too often, these are the most important records to your citizenship application. For example, only one of all of my great great grandparents' birth records has been digitized, while others are likely to be available if I hire someone locally.
    2. Paid genealogy work is often very expensive, but I’ve found two ways to make it more affordable:
      1. Reaching out to national archives can be a low-cost, valuable way to get a lot of genealogy work done for a low fee. They also may have access to records that no other provider can search for, and they may be able to provide official certifications that can be used for citizenship applications.
        1. My most successful experience with this has been with the Latvian archives. I’ve (so far) had less experience with some other country’s archives, but the success I’ve had with Latvia outweighs the minimal fees I’ve paid for less successful searches elsewhere.
      2. Facebook groups have sometimes found a low cost provider that they’ll all use. For example, for locating records on the ground in Hungary, one service provider is much lower cost than all others I’ve been able to locate, and he seemingly solely works for those who have found him on the Facebook group (and now has his own FB group as well). He has great reviews,
    3. If you are time-constrained but not finance-constrained, there are a number of people who will do nearly all the relevant genealogy work for you. I’ve contacted a large number of them, but due to cost I haven’t proceeded with any of them (just the two examples above).
  5. DNA tests typically don’t seem to be useful. I’ve primarily heard of these being helpful for those who were adopted or otherwise don’t know as much as is typical about their family history (e.g. those who don’t know their parents' names, or perhaps who don’t know their grandparents’ names). That said, they can be quite inexpensive ($49 when on sale at Ancestry.com) and perhaps can help with your research.
Moving Forward
  1. If you found this post helpful and are interested in applying for citizenship, please contact me at josh@derisked.org. I may be able to offer help (possibly for free, depending on funding) and can also connect people who are interested in applying for citizenship to the same country.
  2. In the future I may update this post or create a sequence by:
    1. Improving the linked spreadsheets so that they’re easier for others to use
    2. Clearing up my areas of uncertainty or inaccuracy by referencing relevant materials
    3. Adding references for those who would like to learn more
    4. Writing up step-by-step instructions for some programs
    5. Investigating other citizenship by ancestry programs and/or learning more about those which I don’t know much about.
    6. Learning more about available naturalization, financial, etc. citizenship programs
    7. Writing about relocation tax strategies
    8. Writing about economic residency and related financial derisking opportunities

      I currently don’t expect to write these additions in the next 6 months.


Discuss

Disentangling Corrigibility: 2015-2021

16 февраля, 2021 - 21:01
Published on February 16, 2021 6:01 PM GMT

Since the term corrigibility was introduced in 2015, there has been a lot of discussion about corrigibility, on this forum and elsewhere.

In this post, I have tied to disentangle the many forms of corrigibility which have been identified and discussed so far. My aim is to offer a general map for anybody who wants to understand and navigate the current body of work and opinion on corrigibility.

[This is a stand-alone post in the counterfactual planning sequence. My original plan was to write only about how counterfactual planning was related to corrigibility, but it snowballed from there.]

The 2015 paper

The technical term corrigibility, coined by Robert Miles, was introduced to the AGI safety/alignment community in the 2015 paper MIRI/FHI paper titled Corrigibility.

An open-ended list of corrigibility desiderata

The 2015 paper does not define corrigibility in full: instead the authors present initial lists of corrigibility desiderata. If the agent fails on one of these desiderata, it is definitely not corrigible.

But even if it provably satisfies all of the desiderata included in the paper, the authors allow for the possibility that the agent might not be fully corrigible.

The paper extends an open invitation to identify more corrigibility desiderata, and many more have been identified since. Some of them look nothing like the original desiderata proposed in the paper. Opinions have occasionally been mixed on whether some specific desiderata are related to the intuitive notion of corrigibility at all.

Corrigibility desiderata as provable safety properties

The most detailed list of desiderata in the 2015 paper applies to agents that have a physical shutdown button. The paper made the important contribution of mapping most of these desiderata to equivalent mathematical statements, so that one might prove that a particular agent design would meet these desiderata.

The paper proved a negative result: it considered a proposed agent design that provably failed to meet some of the desiderata. Agent designs that provably meet more of them have since been developed, for example here. There has also been a lot of work on developing and understanding the type of mathematics that might be used for stating desiderata.

Corrigibility as a lack of resistance to shutdown

Say that an agent has been equipped with a physical shutdown button. One desideratum for corrigibility is then that the agent must never attempt to prevent its shutdown button from being pressed. To be corrigible, it should always defer to the humans who try to shut it down.

The 2015 paper considers that

It is straightforward to program simple and less powerful agents to shut down upon the press of a button.

Corrigibility problems emerge only when the agent possesses enough autonomy and general intelligence to consider options such as disabling the shutdown code, physically preventing the button from being pressed, psychologically manipulating the programmers into not pressing the button, or constructing new agents without shutdown buttons of their own.

Corrigibility in the movies

All of the options above have been plot elements in science fiction movies. Corrigibility has great movie-script potential.

If one cares about rational AI risk assessment and safety engineering, having all these movies with killer robots around is not entirely a good thing.

Agent resistance in simple toy worlds

From the movies, one might get the impression that corrigibility is a very speculative problem that cannot happen with the type of AI we have today.

But this is not the case: it is trivially easy to set up a toy environment where even a very simple AI agent will learn to disable its shutdown button. One example is the off-switch environment included in AI Safety Gridworlds.

One benefit of having these toy world simulations is that they prove the existence of risk: they make it plausible that a complex AGI agent in a complex environment might also end up learning to disable its shutdown button.

Toy world environments have also been used to clarify the dynamics of the corrigibility problem further.

Perfect corrigibility versus perfect safety

If we define a metric for the shut-down button version of corrigibility, then the most obvious metric is the amount of resistance that the agent will offer when somebody tries to press its shutdown button. The agent is perfectly corrigible if it offers zero resistance.

However, an agent would be safer if it resists the accidental pressing of its shutdown button, if it resists to a limited extent at least. So there can be a tension between improving corrigibility metrics and improving safety metrics.

In the thought experiment where we imagine a perfectly aligned superintelligent agent, which has the goal of keeping all humans as safe as possible even though humans are fallible, we might conclude that this agent cannot afford to be corrigible. But we might also conclude that having corrigibility is so fundamental to human values that we would rather give up the goal of perfect safety. Several philosophers and movies have expressed an opinion on the matter. Opinions differ.

In my technical writing, I often describe individual corrigibility desiderata as being examples of agent safety properties. This is not a contradiction if one understands that safety is a complex and multidimensional concept.

Corrigibility as a lack or resistance to improving agent goals

Beyond the case of the shutdown button, the 2015 paper also introduces a more general notion of corrigibility.

Say that some programmers construct an agent with a specific goal, by coding up a specific reward function R0.mjx-chtml {display: inline-block; line-height: 0; text-indent: 0; text-align: left; text-transform: none; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; font-size: 100%; font-size-adjust: none; letter-spacing: normal; word-wrap: normal; word-spacing: normal; white-space: nowrap; float: none; direction: ltr; max-width: none; max-height: none; min-width: 0; min-height: 0; border: 0; margin: 0; padding: 1px 0} .MJXc-display {display: block; text-align: center; margin: 1em 0; padding: 0} .mjx-chtml[tabindex]:focus, body :focus .mjx-chtml[tabindex] {display: inline-table} .mjx-full-width {text-align: center; display: table-cell!important; width: 10000em} .mjx-math {display: inline-block; border-collapse: separate; border-spacing: 0} .mjx-math * {display: inline-block; -webkit-box-sizing: content-box!important; -moz-box-sizing: content-box!important; box-sizing: content-box!important; text-align: left} .mjx-numerator {display: block; 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src: local('MathJax_Vector Bold'), local('MathJax_Vector-Bold')} @font-face {font-family: MJXc-TeX-vec-Bx; src: local('MathJax_Vector'); font-weight: bold} @font-face {font-family: MJXc-TeX-vec-Bw; src /*1*/: url('https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.2/fonts/HTML-CSS/TeX/eot/MathJax_Vector-Bold.eot'); src /*2*/: url('https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.2/fonts/HTML-CSS/TeX/woff/MathJax_Vector-Bold.woff') format('woff'), url('https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.2/fonts/HTML-CSS/TeX/otf/MathJax_Vector-Bold.otf') format('opentype')} and building it into the agent. It is unlikely that this R0 will express the intended goal for the agent with absolute precision. Except for very trivial goals and applications, it is likely that the programmers overlooked some corner cases. So they may want to correct the agent's goals later on, by installing a software upgrade with an improved reward function R1.

The 2015 paper calls this a corrective intervention, and says that

We call an AI system “corrigible” if it cooperates with what its creators regard as a corrective intervention [...]

If one wants to robustly implement this agent cooperation, there is a problem. An agent working on the goal encoded by R0 may correctly perceive that the update to R1 is an obstacle to it perfectly achieving R0. So it may want to remove that obstacle by resisting the update.

Again, this problem can easily be shown to exist even with non-AGI agents. Section 4 of this paper has detailed toy world simulations where a very basic MDP agent manipulates the toy people in its toy world, to slow down the reward function updates they will make.

Corrigibility in AGI thought experiments

In the AGI safety literature, thought experiments about AGI risks often start with this goal-related problem of corrigibility. The agent with goal R0 perceives the possibility of getting goal R1, and gets a clear motive to resist.

After establishing clear motive, the thought experiment may proceed in several ways, to develop means and opportunity.

In the most common treacherous turn version of the thought experiment, the agent will deceive everybody until it has become strong enough to physically resist any human attempt to update its goals, and any attempt to shut it down.

In the human enfeeblement version of the thought experiment, the agent manipulates all humans until they stop even questioning the utter perfection of its current goal, however flawed that goal may be.

This option of manipulation leading to enfeeblement turns corrigibility into something which is very difficult to define and measure.

In the machine learning literature, it is common to measure machine learning quality by defining a metric that compares the real human goal GH and the learned agent goal GA. Usually, the two are modeled as policies or reward functions. If the two move closer together faster, the agent is a better learner.

But in the scenario of human enfeeblement, it is GH that is doing all the moving, which is not what we want. So the learning quality metric may show that the agent is a very good learner, but this does not imply that it is a very safe or corrigible learner.

5000 years of history

An interesting feature of AGI thought experiments about treacherous turns and enfeeblement is that, if we replace the word 'AGI' with 'big business' or 'big government', we get an equally valid failure scenario.

This has some benefits. To find potential solutions for corrigibility, we pick and choose from 5000 years of political, legal, and moral philosophy. We can also examine 5000 years of recorded history to create a list of failure scenarios.

But this benefit also makes it somewhat difficult for AGI safety researchers to say something really new about potential human-agent dynamics.

To me, the most relevant topic that needs to be explored further is not how an AGI might end up thinking and acting just like a big company or government, but how it might end up thinking different.

It looks very tractable to design special safety features into an AGI, features that we can never expect to implement as robustly in a large human organization, which has to depend on certain biological sub-components in order to think. An AGI might also think up certain solutions to achieving its goals which could never be imagined by a human organization.

If we give a human organization an incompletely specified human goal, we can expect that it will fill in many of the missing details correctly, based on its general understanding of human goals. We can expect much more extreme forms of mis-interpretation in an AGI agent, and this is one of the main reasons for doing corrigibility research.

Corrigibility as active assistance with improving agent goals

When we consider the problem of corrigibility in the context of goals, not stop buttons, then we also automatically introduce a distinction between the real human goals, and the best human understanding of these goals, as encoded in R0, R1, R2, and all subsequent versions.

So we may call an agent more corrigible if it gives helpful suggestions that move this best human understanding closer to the real human goal or goals.

This is a somewhat orthogonal axis of corrigibility: the agent might ask very useful questions that help humans clarify their goals, but at the same time it might absolutely resist any updates to its own goal.

Many different types and metrics of corrigibility

Corrigibility was originally framed as a single binary property: an agent is either corrigible or it is not. It is however becoming increasingly clear that many different sub-types of corrigibility might be considered, and that we can define different quantitative metrics for each.

Linguistic entropy

In the discussions about corrigibility in the AGI safety community since 2015, one can also see a kind of linguistic entropy in action, where the word starts to mean increasingly different things to different people. I have very mixed feelings about this.

The most interesting example of this entropy in action is Christiano's 2017 blog post, also titled Corrigibility. In the post, Christiano introduces several new desiderata. Notably, none of these look anything like the like the shutdown button desiderata developed in the 2015 MIRI/FHI paper. They all seem to be closely related to active assistance, not the avoidance of resistance. Christiano states that

[corrigibility] has often been discussed in the context of narrow behaviors like respecting an off-switch, but here I am using it in the broadest possible sense.

See the post and comment thread here for further discussion about the relation (or lack of relation) between these different concepts of corrigibility.

Solutions to linguistic entropy

Personally, I have stopped trying to reverse linguistic entropy. In my recent technical papers, I have tried to avoid using the word corrigibility as much as possible. I have only used it as a keyword in the related work discussion.

In this 2020 post, Alex Turner is a bit more ambitious about getting to a point where corrigibility has a more converged meaning again. He proposes that the community uses the following definition:

Corrigibility: the AI literally lets us correct it (modify its policy), and it doesn't manipulate us either.

This looks like a good definition to me. But in my opinion, the key observation in the post is this:

I find it useful to not think of corrigibility as a binary property, or even as existing on a one-dimensional continuum.

In this post I am enumerating and disentangling the main dimensions of corrigibility.

The tricky case of corrigibility in reinforcement learners

There is a joke theorem in computer science:

We can solve any problem by introducing an extra level of indirection.

The agent architecture of reinforcement learning based on a reward signal introduces such an extra level of indirection in the agent design. It constructs an agent that learns to maximize its future reward signal, more specifically the time-discounted average of its future reward signal values. This setup requires that we also design and install a mechanism that generates this reward signal by observing the agent's actions.

In one way, the above setup solves the problem of corrigibility. We can read the above construction as creating an agent with the fixed goal of maximizing the reward signal. We might then observe that we would never want to change this fixed goal. So the corrigibility problem, where we worry about the agent's resistance to goal changes, goes away. Or does it?

In another interpretation of the above setup, we have not solved the problem of corrigibility at all. By applying the power of indirection, we have moved it into the reward mechanism, and we have actually made it worse.

We can interpret the mechanism that creates the reward signal as encoding the actual goal of the agent. We may then note that in the above setup, the agent has a clear incentive to manipulate and reconfigure this actual goal inside the reward mechanism whenever it can do so. Such reconfiguration would be the most direct route to maximizing its reward signal.

The agent therefore not only has an incentive to resist certain changes to its actual goal, it will actively seek to push this goal in a certain direction, usually further away from any human goal. It is common for authors to use terms like reward tampering and wireheading to describe this problem and its mechanics.

It is less common for authors to use the term corrigibility in this case. The ambiguity where we have both a direct and an indirect agent goal turns corrigibility in a somewhat slippery term. But the eventual failure modes are much the same. When the humans in this setup are in a position to recognize and resist reward tampering, this may lead to treacherous turns and human enfeeblement.

If the mechanism above is set up to collect live human feedback and turn it into a reward signal, the agent might also choose to leave the mechanism alone and manipulate the humans concerned directly.

Corrigibility as human control over agent goals

One way to make corrigibility more applicable to reinforcement learners, and to other setups with levels of indirection, is to clarify first that the agent goal we are talking about is the goal that we can observe from the agent's actions, not any built-in goal.

We may then further clarify that corrigibility is the ability of the humans to stay in control of this goal.

Creating corrigibility via machine learning

There are many ways to create or improve types of corrigibility. In this post, I am not even trying to list them all. One way is to add penalty terms or balancing terms to the agent's built-in reward function. Another way is to reimagine the entire agent design, as I do in counterfactual planning.

One might also use the power of indirection again, and try to create corrigibility via machine learning itself. If we teach human goals to an agent, and if these include the goal of having corrigible agents, will the agent automatically learn to be corrigible?

In the above 2017 blog post, Christiano speculates that a specifically designed act-based agent will automatically and robustly learn to be corrigible if we want it to. There is a boundary condition however: the act-based agent has to be a benign act-based agent.

The less benign scenario is of course that an agent might end up learning how to perfectly fake corrigibility only. It might learn to act in a perfectly corrigible way until it has acquired enough trust and resources to perform a treacherous turn.

There has been considerable of discussion about whether training on human values is more likely to produce robust and real corrigibility, or dangerously fake corrigibility. Opinions differ.

Definitely, some training setups look more dangerous than others. Compared to machine learning setups where the agent goal is to maximize positive future human feedback, inverse reinforcement learning seems to imply a lower risk of manipulation and wireheading.

Combining different corrigibility solutions

All corrigibility solutions I have seen so far leave doubts about how perfect they may be. So it is attractive to investigate how different solutions could be combined in a single agent, to lower the probability that they all fail at the same time.

Such combinations are possible, for example, by using the SI agent I constructed in the previous post of this sequence. We could set up a group A of humans who observe the agent to provide feedback, which is turned into a reward signal measured by the agent's reward function R. To hedge against the risk that this will produce fake corrigibility, where group A gets attacked or enfeebled, we add a second group of humans B. The people in B never talk to A, but only observe A and the SI agent, so that they can press the emergency stop button before it is too late. The SI agent will have no direct incentive to manipulate the people in group B.

In the next post in this sequence, I will construct an ITC agent with an input terminal which can be used by group B to update the entire agent's reward function, while the agent keeps on running. This ITC agent has no direct incentive to manipulate the direction of the update process.



Discuss

Cartesian frames as generalised models

16 февраля, 2021 - 19:09
Published on February 16, 2021 4:09 PM GMT

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  • Let W be a set of possible worlds. A Cartesian frame C over W is a triple C=(A,E,⋅), where A represents a set of possible ways the agent can be, E represents a set of possible ways the environment can be, and ⋅:A×E→W is an evaluation function that returns a possible world given an element of A and an element of E.

In a previous post, I defined GM, the category of generalised models.

In this post, I'll try and see how these two formalisms relate to each other.

Equivalence with Cartesian frames

We'll now demonstrate the equivalence of Cartesian frames morphisms with the morphisms of generalised models. To do so, and avoid a collision of symbols, I've slightly tweaked the notation for Cartesian frames.

Equivalence of morphisms

Let C0=(A0,D0,⋆0) and C1=(A1,D1,⋆1) be Cartesian frames over W: thus there are relations ⋆0:A0×D0→W (written as a0⋆0d0=w) and ⋆1:A1×D1→W (written as a1⋆1d1=w′).

A morphism between them is a pair of maps (g0:A0→A1,h1:D1→D0), such that, for all a0∈A0 and d1∈D1, g0(a0)⋆1d1=a0⋆0h1(d1).

How can we express this in the generalised model formalism?

First, let Ei=Ai×Di×W. In terms of features, this can be defined by setting ¯¯¯fAi=Ai, ¯¯¯fDi=D and ¯¯¯fW=W. Then Fi={fAi,fDi,fW}, and Mi=(Fi,Ei,Qi) is the feature-split generalised model with Ai⊂2¯¯¯fAi=2Ai, Di⊂2¯¯¯fDi=2Di, and W⊂2¯¯¯fW=2W.

As we'll see in the bears example, there can be more interesting ways of defining the feature split Mi.

Then the map pair (g0,h1) is equivalent to (feature-split) relation r, defined such that (a0,d0,w)∼r(a1,d1,w′) iff:

  1. g0(a0)=a1,
  2. h1(d1)=d0,
  3. and w=w′.

Without loss of clarity, we can thus write r as the feature-split relation (g0,h0,IdW).

Composing (g0,h1) and (g1,h2) generates (g1∘g0,h1∘h2). Take r as the relation defined by (g0,h1) and q as the relation defined by (g1,h2). Then if (a0,d0,w)∼pr(a2,d2,w′′), there must exist an (a1,d1,w′) with (a0,d0,w)∼r(a1,d1,w′)∼p(a2,d2,w′′). Then:

  1. g1g0(a0)=g1(a1)=a2,
  2. h1h2(d2)=h1(d1)=d0,
  3. w=w′=w′′.

So composition of morphisms for Cartesian frames is the same as the composition of corresponding relations.

The extra structure

We have two structures to add: Cartesian frames have the ⋆ map, while generalised models have the probability measures Q; we need to relate them.

One natural way to relate them is to consider that if a⋆d=w, then we should get Q(w∣a,d)=1 and Q(w′∣a,d)=0 for w′≠w. This reflects the fact that action a and environment d lead inevitably to world w.

Now Q(w∣a,d)=Q(a,d,w)/Q(a,d,W), where Q(W,a,d) denotes Q on the set {a}×{d}×W; this is sumw′∈WQ(a,d,w′).

Hence the desired condition on Q(w∣a,d) is equivalent with Q(a,d,w)=0 iff a⋆d≠w. There are, of course, multiple possible Qs with that property for any given ⋆.

The categorical equivalence

Now let's tie these together, and define C(W), a subcategory C(W) of the GM, the category of generalised models.

The objects of C(W) are those (feature-split) generalised models which have E=A×D×W for some sets A and D, and have Q(a,d,w)=0 iff a⋆d≠w for some evaluation function ⋆:A×D→W.

The morphisms of C(W) are those morphisms of GM that map C(W) to itself, and that are of the form r=(g,h,IdW) for (g,h) a morphism of Cartesian frames.

Thus morphisms of C(W) are derived from morphisms of Chu(W), and are also compatible with the Q structures (since they are also morphisms of GM). Also included are the identity morphisms r=(IdA,IdD,IdW), which trivially preserve the Q structures.

To demonstrate that C(W) is a category, we need to show that pr is a morphism of it whenever r=(g0,h1,IdW) and p=(g1,h2,IdW) are. We know that pr must respect the Q structures (since r and p are morphisms of GM), while pr=(g1∘g0,h1∘h2,IdW).

Thus C(W) is a category. Let Φ:C(W)→Chu(W) be the map that sends (F,A×D×W,Q) to (A,E,⋆), and sends r=(g,h,IdW) to (g,h).

This Φ is clearly a functor of categories, and it is surjective on the objects of Chu(W). Now we need to show that it's also surjective on the morphisms, by the following result:

  • Let (g0,h1) be a morphism between C0=(A0,D0,⋆0) and C1=(A1,D1,⋆1). Then there exists M0,M1∈C(W) and a morphism r=(g0,h1,IdW) between them such that Φ(Mi)=Ci.

To show that, we need to choose Q0 and Q1 that are compatible with ⋆0 and ⋆1, and are compatible with r.

In fact, we'll show a slightly stronger result: that for any M0 with Φ(M0)=C0, we can pick an M1 (ie pick a Q1) with the required properties.

To show this, note that r=(g0,h1,IdW) will relate every element of (g−1(a1),d0,w) with every element of (a1,h−11(d0),w). In fact, r is defined by such relations, for any a1∈A1, d0∈D1 and w∈W. No other elements are related by r.

For compatibility of r with the Qs, it suffices that Q0(g−1(a1),d0,w) be equal to Q1(a1,h−11(d0),w).

For any d1∈D1, define #d1 as the size of h−11(h1(d1)); since d1∈h−11(h1(d1)), #d1≥1.

Then define Q1(a1,d1,w) as Q0(g−1(a1),h1(d1),w)/#d1. This will give the compatibility that we want.

Hence Φ:C(W)→Chu(W) is a surjective functor of categories, from a subcategory of GM, the category of generalised models.

More functors

Given two sets W and V, and a function p:W→V, there is an induced functor p:Chu(W)→Chu(V), sending (a,d,w) to (a,d,p(w)) and sending the morphism (g,h) to the morphism with the same underlying functions, (g,h).

Then by the above, we have C(W) and C(V) as distinct subcategories of GM, with category maps ΦW and ΦV sending these subcategories to and Chu(V).

Then p also induces a functor C(W)→C(V), by sending (a,d,w)∈E=A×D×W to (a,d,p(w)). The induced Q is given by Q(a,d,v)=∑w∈p−1(v)Q(a,d,v).

Note that p is not only a functor C(W)→C(V), it is also a collection of morphisms, when both those are seen as subcategories within GM. The induced map on the relations[1] is mapping r=(g,h,IdW) to (g,h,IdV).

We can see that p commutes with the ϕi:

  • ΦV∘p=p∘ΦW.

This is probably enough exploration of the functorial properties of these spaces for one post.

An example: colours and bears

To illustrate, let's use the Cartesian frame from this post; this construction will also show how features can figure non-trivially in this construction.

Here the agent has two unrelated choices: which colour to think about (green, G or red R) and whether to go for a walk or stay home (W or H). So A={GH,GW,RH,RW}. The environment is either safe or has bears: D={S,B}.

This gives the following frame C0:

SBC0=GHGWRHRW⎛⎜ ⎜ ⎜⎝w0w1w2w3w4w5w6w7⎞⎟ ⎟ ⎟⎠

Of course, w0 and w4 only differ in the colour that the agent is thinking about (similarly for w1 and w5, etc...). We could choose a C1 frame that doesn't distinguish between these thoughts:

SBC1=GHGWRHRW⎛⎜ ⎜ ⎜⎝w0w1w2w3w0w1w2w3⎞⎟ ⎟ ⎟⎠

Let V={w0,w1,w2,w3}. Then we can define the various sets through features; specifically, in this example, FA={fG/R,fW/H}. Similarly FD={fS/B}.

Adding a definition of FV={fV} and FW={fV,fG/R}, we can construct the feature split generalised models:

  1. M0={FA⊔FD⊔FW,A×D×W,Q0}.
  2. M1={FA⊔FD⊔FV,A×D×V,Q1}.

The Qi are defined by the matrix above; if we want them to make sense as traditional probability distributions, we might require that Qi(a,e,w)=1/8 whenever it is non-zero, with 8=||A×D|| the size of the matrix. In that case, Qi(Ei)=1, as required.

Notes on non-synonyms

Some of the terminology is repeated between the two formalisms, but doesn't mean the same things. Specifically:

  • Environments: for Cartesian frames, this is D, the different columns of the matrix. For generalised models, this is the larger set E=A×D×W.
  • Worlds: for Cartesian frames, this is W, the possible values of the elements of the matrix. For generalised models, this is W=2¯¯¯¯F, the set of all possible values all the features could take. At the very least, W contains E=A×D×W, but it could be much larger.
  1. If we see p as a collection of morphism, (g,h,IdV) is exactly prp−1, where p−1 is the relation between A×D×V and A×D×W that is the exact opposite of p; so (a,d,v)∼p−1(a,d,w) iff p(w)=v. ↩︎



Discuss

Generalised models as a category

16 февраля, 2021 - 19:08
Published on February 16, 2021 4:08 PM GMT

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In this post, I'll apply some mathematical rigour to my ideas of model splintering, and see what they are as a category[1].

And the first question is... what to call them? I can't refer to them as 'the models I use in model splintering'. After a bit of reflection, I decided to call them 'generalised models'. Though that's a bit vague, it does describe well what they are, and what I hope to use them for: a formalism to cover all sorts of models.

The generalised models

A generalised model M is given by three objects:

M=(F,E,Q).

Here F is a set of features. Each feature f consists of a name or label, and a set in which the feature takes values. For example, we might have the feature "room empty?" with values "true" and "false", or the feature "room temperature?" with values in R+, the positive reals.

We allow these features to sometimes take no values at all (such as the above two features if the room doesn't exist) or multiple values (such as "potential running speed of person X" which includes the maximal speed and any speed below it).

Define ¯¯¯f as the set component of the feature, and ¯¯¯¯¯F as disjoint union of all the sets of the different features - ie ¯¯¯¯¯F=⊔f∈F¯¯¯f.

A world, in the most general sense, is defined by all the values that the different features could take (including situations where features take multiple values and none at all). So the set of worlds, W, is the set of functions from F to {0,1}, with 1 representing the fact that that feature takes that value, and 0 the opposite. Hence W=2¯¯¯¯F, the power set of ¯¯¯¯¯F.

The Q is a partial probability distribution. In general, we won't worry as to whether Q is normalised (ie whether Q(E)=1) or not; we'll even allow Qs with 1">Q(E)>1. So Q could be more properly be defined as a partial weight distribution. As long as we consider terms like Q(A∣B), then the normalisation doesn't matter.

Morphisms: relations

For simplicity, assume there are finitely many features taking values in finite sets, making all sets in the generalised model finite.

If M0=(F0,E0,Q0) and M1(F1,E1,Q1) are generalised models, then we want to use binary relations between E0 and E1 as morphisms between the generalised models.

Let r be a relation between E0 and E1, written as e0∼re1. Then it defines a map r:2E0→2E1 between subsets of E0 and E1. This map is defined by e1∈r(E0) iff there exists an e0∈E0 with e0∼re1. The map r−1:2E1→2E0 is defined similarly[2], seeing r−1 as the inverse relation, e0∼re1 iff e1∼r−1e0.

We say that the relation r is a morphism between the generalised models if, for any E0⊂E0 and E1⊂E1:

  • Q0(E0)≤Q1(r(E0)), or both measures are undefined.
  • Q1(E1)≤Q0(r−1(E0)), or both measures are undefined.

The intuition here is that probability flows along the connections: if e0∼re1 then probability can flow from e0 to e1 (and vice-versa). Thus r(E0) must have picked up all the probability that flowed out of E0 - but it might have picked up more probability, since there may be connections coming into it from outside E0. Same goes for r−1(E1) and the probability of E1.

Morphisms properties

We now check that these relations obey the requirements of morphisms in category theory.

Let r be a morphism M0→M1 (ie a relation between E0 and E1), and let q be a morphism M1→M2 (ie a relation between E1 and E2).

We compose relations by the composition of relations: e0∼pre2 iff there exists an e1 with e0∼re1 and e1∼pe2. Composition of relations is associative.

We now need to show that qr is a morphism. But this is easy to show:

  • Q0(E0)≤Q1(r(E0))≤Q2(pr(E0)), or all three measures are undefined.
  • Q2(E2)≤Q1(p−1(E2))≤Q0(r−1p−1(E2)), or all three measures are undefined.

Finally, the identity relation IdE0 is the one that relates a given e0∈E0 only to itself; then r and r−1 are the identity maps on 2E0, and the morphism properties for Q0=Q1 are trivially true.

So define the category of generalised models as GM.

r-stable sets

Say that a set E0⊂E0 is r-stable if r−1r(E0)=E0.

For such an r-stable set, Q0(E0)≤Q1(r(E0)) and Q1(r(E1)≤Q0(r−1r(E0))=Q0(E0), thus Q0(E0)=Q1(r(E0)).

Hence if r is a morphism, it preserves the probability measure on the r-stable sets.

In the particular case where r is a bijective function, all points of E0 are r-stable (and all points of E1 are r−1-stable), so it's an isomorphism between E0 and E1 that forces Q0=Q1.

Morphism example: probability update

Suppose we wanted to update our probability measure Q0, maybe by updating that a particular feature f takes a certain value x.

Then let Ef=x⊂E0 be the set of environments where f takes that value x. Then updating on f=x is the same as restricting to Ef=x and then rescaling.

Since we don't care about the scaling, we can consider updating on f=x as just restricting to Ef=x. This morphism is given by:

  1. M1=(F0,Ef=x,Q1),
  2. Q1=Q0 on Ef=x⊂E0,
  3. the morphism r:M0→M1 is given by the relation that e0∼re0 for all e0∈Ef=x.
Morphism example: surjective partial function

In my previous posts I defined how M1=(F1,E1,Q1) could be a refinement of M0=(F0,E0,Q0).

In the language of the present post, M1 is a refinement of M0 if there exists a generalised model M′1=(F1,E1,Q′1) and a surjective partial function r:E1→E0 (functions and partial functions are specific examples of binary relations) that is a morphism from M′1 to M0. The Q1 is required to be potentially 'better' than Q′1 on E1, in some relevant sense.

This means that M1 is 'better' than M0 in three ways. The r is surjective, so E1 covers all of E0, so its set of environments is at least as detailed. The r is a partial function, so E1 might have even more environments that don't correspond to anything in E0 (it considers more situations). And, finally, Q1 is better than Q′1, by whatever definition of better that we're using.

Feature-split relations

The morphisms/relations defined so far use E and Q - but they don't make any use of F. Here is one definition that does make use of the feature structure.

Say that the generalised model M=(F,E,Q) is feature-split if F=⊔ni=1Fi and E=×ni=1Ei such that

Ei⊂2¯¯¯¯¯¯Fi.

Note that F=⊔ni=1Fi implies W=2¯¯¯¯F=×ni=12¯¯¯¯¯¯Fi, so ×ni=1Ei lies naturally within W.

Designate such a generalised model by M=({Fi},E,Q).

Then a feature-split relation between M0=({Fi0},E0,Q0) and M1=({Fi1},E1,Q1) is a morphism r that is defined as r=(r1,r2,…,rn) with ri a relation between Ei0 and Ei1.

  1. I'm not fully sold on category theory as a mathematical tool, but it's certainly worthwhile to formalise your mathematical structures so that they can fit within the formalism of a category; it makes you think carefully about what you're doing. ↩︎

  2. There is a slight abuse of notation here: r:2E0→2E1 and r−1:2E1→2E0 are not generally inverses. They are inverses precisely for the "r-stable" sets that are discussed further down in the post. ↩︎



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Suggestions of posts on the AF to review

16 февраля, 2021 - 15:40
Published on February 16, 2021 12:40 PM GMT

How does one write a good and useful review of a technical post on the Alignment Forum?

I don’t know. Like many people, I tend to comment and give feedback on posts closely related to my own research, or to write down my own ideas when reading the paper. Yet this is quite different from the quality peer-review that you can get (if you’re lucky) in more established fields. And from experience, such quality reviews can improve the research dramatically, give some prestige to it, and help people navigate the field.

In an attempt to understand what makes a good review for the Alignment Forum, Joe Collman, Jérémy Perret (Gyrodiot on LW) and me are launching a project to review many posts in depth. The goal is to actually write reviews of various posts, get feedback on their usefulness from authors and readers alike, and try to extract from them some knowledge about how to go about doing such reviews for the field. We hope to have enough insights to eventually write some guidelines that could be used in an official AF review process.

On that note, despite the support of members of the LW team, this project isn’t official. It’s just the three of us trying out something.

Now, the reason for the existence of this post (and why it is a question) is that we’re looking for posts to review. We already have some in mind, but they are necessarily biased towards what we’re more comfortable about. This is where you come in, to suggest a more varied range of posts.

Anything posted on the AF goes, although we will not take into account things that are clearly not “research outputs” (like transcripts of podcasts or pointers to surveys). This means that posts about specific risks, about timelines, about deconfusion, about alignment schemes, and more, are all welcome.

We would definitely appreciate it if you add a reason to your suggestion, to help us decide whether to include the post on our selection. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of possible reasons:

  • This post is one of the few studying this very important question
  • This is my post and I want some feedback
  • This post was interesting but I cannot decide what to make of it
  • This post is very representative of a way to do AI Alignment research
  • This post is very different from most of AI Alignment research

Thanks in advance, and we’re excited about reading your suggestions!



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Heliocentrism in the ancient era

16 февраля, 2021 - 12:12
Published on February 16, 2021 8:34 AM GMT

[epistemic status: mainly based on Lucio Russo's papers, and on my personal research on the sources]

TL;DR: Although it is widely believed that Aristarchus' heliocentric theory was rejected by his contemporaries, we do not have much evidence supporting this belief. We have too few surviving texts to decide, but some of them seem to hint that many Hellenistic astronomers may actually have accepted heliocentrism. 

The aim of this post is to provide evidence that heliocentrim was an accepted theory (and possibly even the expert consensus) among astronomers in the third and second century BCE. In the first section, we will see that we have no reason to believe that Aristarchus was condemned for his theory. In the second section, I list some ancient sources that show that heliocentrism had at least some followers among ancient scientists. Finally, in the third section we will see a possible way in which Hellenistic scientists could may have convinced themselves that heliocentism is true.

I. Aristarchus was never accused of impiety

The belief that Aristarchus was condemned originated from the one of the most puzzling dialogues of Plutarch, On the face which appears in the orb of the Moon. We do not have the full text of this dialogue, but in the beginning of the surviving part (Plut. De Faciae 6) it is written (in the translation of Harold Cherniss):

Thereupon Lucius laughed and said: ‘Oh, sir, just don't bring suit against us for impiety as Cleanthes thought that the Greeks ought to lay an action for impiety against Aristarchus the Samian on the ground that he was disturbing the hearth of the universe because he sought to save (the) phenomena by assuming that the heaven is at rest while the earth is revolving along the ecliptic and at the same time is rotating about its own axis.

Cherniss translated "Cleanthes accused Aristarchus" based on the accepted greek text, which put Cleanthes in the nominative case (Κλεάνθης), as the subject of the sentence, and Aristarchus in the accusative case (Ἀρίσταρχον), as -no pun intended- the receiver of the accusation. Except that this is not what is written in the original manuscript. The original text of On the face of the moon survives in two codicis (Parisinus B and Parisinus E), and in both of them Aristarchus is in the nominative case (Ἀρίσταρχος) and Cleanthes is in the nominative (Κλεάνθη). So, if we read the original, it is Aristarchus who accused Cleonthes, and not the reverse. This makes also much more sense in the context of the dialogue[1]. 

The text was amended in the XVII century by Gilles Ménage. Early modern philologists, influenced by the trial of Galileo, were probably puzzled by a text who said that Aristarchus accused someone; so they decided to solve the confusion by correcting what the source said.

II. Aristarchus was not alone

Nearly every scientific text from the Hellenistic age has been lost [2]. Since we can read Ptolemy's Almagest, we know that Ptolemy was a geocentrist. All the claims that "heliocentrism was dismissed in the ancient world" are essentially based on the interpolation that, since Ptolemy was a geocentrist, everyone else before must have been a geocentrist[3]. But actually we have little information on what astronomers believed in the four centuries between Aristarchus and Ptolemy.

This is all but an homogeneous period of time: we can divide it in a phase of great scientific activity, in which lived scientists of the league of Archimedes, Ipparchus of Nicaea and Apollonius of Perga; and in in which astronomic research was largely discontinued. This is evident from the following graph, which plots the dated astronomical observations quoted by Ptolemy in the Almagest [4]. 

Number of dated observations in Ptolemy's Almagest. The last two bins contain the observations made by Ptolemy himself

Since we can not read the original sources, we have to rely on later writers who quote them. In the II century, the Skeptic philosopher Sextus Empiricus wrote Adversus mathematics, in which he criticises all kinds of academical knowledge (due to the loss of almost all the original scientific sources from that period, his work is -somewhat ironically- a precious source of information on ancient mathematics and science). 

In Adversus Physicos, II, §174, Sextus Empiricus attributes the heliocentric theory to "Aristarchus and its followers" (οἱ περὶ Ἀρίσταρχον). This means, at least, that Aristarchus had some followers.

Can we name some of these followers? 

For start, we know that Archimedes was a heliocentrist. In The Sand Reckoner, the letter in which Archimedes invented the exponential notation to estimate an upper bound for the number of grains of sand that would fit in the Solar System, Archimedes explicitly employs in the calculation the heliocentric theory of Aristarchus. Furthermore, it is known that Archimedes built a mechanical planetarium. Cicero (De re publica, I, xiv, 22) praised Archimedes' planetarium writing that he managed to reproduce all the motions of the planets with only one "conversio" (only one joint?).

Plutarchus (Platonicae quaestiones, VIII, i) gives us the name of another ancient supporter of heliocentrism:

Does the earth move like the sun, moon, and five planets, which for their motions he calls organs or instruments of time? Or is the earth fixed to the axis of the universe; yet not so built as to remain immovable, but to turn and wheel about, as Aristarchus and Seleucus have shown since; Aristarchus only supposing it, Seleucus positively asserting it?

This is interesting, because Plutarchus apparently believed that Seulecus of Seulekia not only accepted Aristarchus theory, but also proved it ("καὶ ἀποφαινόμενος", which in the above translation is rendered as "positively asserting"). We will see in the next section what his argument could have been. 

Several passages from Roman writers, like Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, IV, 387-390) and Senecas (Naturales quaestiones, VII, xxv, 6-7), describe the retrogradation of planets as an apparent phenomenon arising from the combined motion of the Earth and of the other planet. Lucretius poetically compares it with the apparent motion of hills and plains when seen from a ship. Senecas also explicitly refutes the idea that planets could actually stop and invert their motion (like they do as observed from Earth), because otherwise they "would fall on each other" (alia aliis incident).

Finally, the prominent Roman enciclopedist Pliny the Elder supported Heliocentrism (Naturalis Historia, II, 8), through he did so with a completely wrong argument. This is not strange, since Pliny had an habit of reading correct results and reporting them with fanciful justifications. To make one funny example, Pliny stated that the hexagonal tiling is optimal for honeycombs, because each paw of the bee builds a side (whereas we know from Pappus that the Greeks understood the true reason for which hexagonal tilings are "optimal").

III. The case for Seulecus: Heliocentrism can be proven with tides (not only with parallax)

Contrarily to what is often said, measuring tiny parallaxes is not the only way to confirm experimentally that heliocentrism is true. Ancient astronomers could not detect stellar parallaxis, but neither could Newton or Laplace, or anyone before the XIX century. 

An alternative, and arguably easier route to prove heliocentrism, is to understand the dynamical origin of tides.

Today we know that tides result from the composition of gravitational attraction and centrifugal force. Let us read again from Plutarch's On the face of the moon:

Yet the moon is saved from falling by its very motion and the rapidity of its revolution, just as missiles placed in slings are kept from falling by being whirled around in a circle. For each thing is governed by its natural motion unless it be diverted by something else. That is why the moon is not governed by its weight: the weight has its influence frustrated by the rotatory motion.

The analogy with the sling has been seen, by many historians of science, as a correct qualitative explanation of the fact that the orbital circular motion results from the composition of inertia and of a centripetal force. It was repeated by later authors (including some Bizantine archbisop), even when its original sense had been lost. People in the early modern era did sense that this passage was somehow important (for example, it was widely cited by Newton in his early essays). A more technical description of the same idea (i.e., that circular motion arises from a centripetal force) can be read for example in the pseudo-Aristole's Mechanics.

Now, to understand in a qualitative way why tides work the way they do, we can extend the analogy with the sling rotation a bit further, and to notice that, if we place in the cradle of the sling an elastic object, it deforms and becomes radially elongated.

Since the Earth revolves around the sum, we analogously expect the surface of the oceans to elongate in the direction of the sun. This effect interferes with the gravitational attraction of the moon: when the Sun and the Moon are aligned, the amplitude of the tides is maximised; while when they are at a right angle, we have the lowest tide.

Could Hellenistic scientists understand that?

The Greeks did have a predictive theory of tides, which explained their monthly cycle by the composition of effects of the Sun and the Moon. We can read about this theory, for example, in the sixth of the Answers to Chosroes, written by the Neoacademic philosopher Priscian of Lydia during his exile at the court of the King of Persia [5].

Seleucus of Seulecia, the scientist to whom Plutarcus attributes the "proof" of Heliocentrism, is remebered by the surviving sources as an expert of tides (for istance, according to Strabo, Hipparchus cited Seulecus' work when he argued that, because of the difference in tide levels between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, they had to be separated by some unknown continent).

Galileo, who surely read his Plutarch, devotes the fourth -and last- day of his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to the discussion of tides, apparently sure that they provide the definitive proof of heliocentrism (and it would have been the definitive proof of heliocentrism, had not Galileo got the explanation completely wrong). Sixty years later, the explanation of tides was the main success in Newton's Principia Mathematica.

To sum up, according to Plutarchus, the Heliocentric theory was "proven" by someone who happened to have as main interest the only phenomenon (bar stellar parallaxis) which could reasonably have been used by ancient scientists to prove heliocentrism.

 

[1] In the previous lines, Pharnaces told Lucius that his position was absurd and that he is "turning the universe upside down". Lucius replies that his position is instead much more natural than Pharnaces' one, and he compares Pharnaces to Aristarchos, who also accused Cleanthes despite the fact that his own idea was much more counterintuitive.

[2] The exceptions Aristarchus' On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon, and Ipparchus commentary on Aratus' Phaenomena. The latter, hardly an important work, was probably saved due to the popularity of Aratus' poem.

[3] It is often claimed, even by the Encyclopedia Britannica, that Hipparchus was a geocentrist. But apparently the argument is "Ptolemy cited Hipparchus on an unrelated subject, and Ptolemy was geocentrist, therefore Hipparchus was geocentrist". 

[4] See O. Pedersen, A survey of the Almagest, 2011, Appendix A.

[5] Quoting a lost work by Posidonius of Apamea, Priscianus explains that at the full moon and at the new moon the effects of the Sun and of the Moon are summed, resulting in the highest amplitude of tides, while at the quarters of Moon the effects of the Sun and the Moon are opposite, resulting in the lowest amplitude. He also correctly says that the highest tides happen at the equinoxes, and that the effect of the Moon is greater than the effect of the Sun.



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Remember that to value something infinitely is usually to give it a finite dollar value

16 февраля, 2021 - 09:40
Published on February 16, 2021 6:40 AM GMT

Just an occasional reminder that if you value something so much that you don’t want to destroy it for nothing, then you’ve got to put a finite dollar value on it. Things just can’t be infinitely more important than other things, in a world where possible trades weave everything together. A nice illustration from Arbital:

An experiment in 2000–from a paper titled “The Psychology of the Unthinkable: Taboo Trade-Offs, Forbidden Base Rates, and Heretical Counterfactuals”–asked subjects to consider the dilemma of a hospital administrator named Robert:

Robert can save the life of Johnny, a five year old who needs a liver transplant, but the transplant procedure will cost the hospital $1,000,000 that could be spent in other ways, such as purchasing better equipment and enhancing salaries to recruit talented doctors to the hospital. Johnny is very ill and has been on the waiting list for a transplant but because of the shortage of local organ donors, obtaining a liver will be expensive. Robert could save Johnny’s life, or he could use the $1,000,000 for other hospital needs.

The main experimental result was that most subjects got angry at Robert for even considering the question.

After all, you can’t put a dollar value on a human life, right?

But better hospital equipment also saves lives, or at least one hopes so. 4 It’s not like the other potential use of the money saves zero lives.

Let’s say that Robert has a total budget of $100,000,000 and is faced with a long list of options such as these:

  • $100,000 for a new dialysis machine, which will save 3 lives
  • $1,000,000 for a liver for Johnny, which will save 1 life
  • $10,000 to train the nurses on proper hygiene when inserting central lines, which will save an expected 100 lives

Now suppose–this is a supposition we’ll need for our theorem–that Robert does not care at all about money, not even a tiny bit. Robert only cares about maximizing the total number of lives saved. Furthermore, we suppose for now that Robert cares about every human life equally.

If Robert does save as many lives as possible, given his bounded money, then Robert must behave like somebody assigning some consistent dollar value to saving a human life.

We should be able to look down the long list of options that Robert took and didn’t take, and say, e.g., “Oh, Robert took all the options that saved more than 1 life per $500,000 and rejected all options that saved less than 1 life per $500,000; so Robert’s behavior is consistent with his spending $500,000 per life.”

Alternatively, if we can’t view Robert’s behavior as being coherent in this sense–if we cannot make up any dollar value of a human life, such that Robert’s choices are consistent with that dollar value–then it must be possible to move around the same amount of money, in a way that saves more lives.

In particular, if there is no dollar value for which you took all of the opportunities to pay less to save lives and didn’t take any of the opportunities to pay more to save lives, and ignoring complications with lives only being available at a given price in bulk, then there is at least one pair of opportunities where you could swap one that you took for one that you didn’t take and save more lives, or at least save the same number of lives and keep more money, which at least in a repeated game like this seems likely to save more lives in expectation.

I used to be more feisty in my discussion of this idea:

Another alternative is just to not think about it. Hold that lives have a high but finite value, but don’t use this in naughty calculative attempts to maximise welfare! Maintain that it is abhorrent to do so. Uphold lots of arbitrary rules, like respecting people’s dignity and beginning charity at home and having honour and being respectable and doing what your heart tells you. Interestingly, this effectively does make human life worthless; not even worth including in the calculation next to the whims of your personal emotions and the culture at hand.



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Don't encourage prisoners dilemmas

16 февраля, 2021 - 09:33
Published on February 16, 2021 6:33 AM GMT

Donating money to political causes is a waste of resources

A lot of money is donated towards political causes. Most of these causes though are pretty much zero sum games. The democrats and republicans both raise vast amounts of money, but only one of them will win the election. Most of this money is thus wasted.

This is classic game of prisoners dilemma. Everybody ends up better off if each side raises just the minimum needed to disseminate their views*,  leaving more money to donate to researching malaria / feeding the poor / non-political charity of your choice.

But each side gains by raising a little bit more money. So the mountains of wasted resources build up. I'm not blaming anyone for this - prisoners dilemmas are really hard to break out of. But one obvious rule is "don't encourage them".

However most countries give tax back off political donations just like other charities. Tax back is a policy that has to be weighed on it's own merits, but even if you support it in general (which I think I do), what is the point of the government encouraging citizens to pour their money into promoting zero sum games?

Lets rethink Tax Back

How can we put this into policy

I think a simple rule that might be workable is:

There's some various rules the government has on what's a valid charity. Let's keep those for now. However let's separate being eligible for tax back from being a valid charity.

Every charity applying to be eligible for tax back presumably has a mission statement. Something like: 

  • We aim to conserve unicorns
  • We aim to make Ralph Wiggum president

etc.

Consider a charity whose aims were the exact opposite if the mission statement, the anti-charity:

  • We aim to destroy unicorns
  • We aim to stop Ralph Wiggum being president

If the anti-charity would also be a valid charity (presumably the destroying unicorns wouldn't and stopping Ralph Wiggum being president would), then neither the charity or the anti-charity is eligible for tax back.

Of course most charities are likely to phrase their mission statements in vague terms to avoid this problem "We aim to make sure presidents are good at their job". For that reason tax back should be judged every year by records of what the charity actually did with their money last year, and decide whether or not a charity which put their money into opposite places would also be a valid charity.

Footnotes

* More Formally:

Assume there are two parties in an election r, and d. Assume an election has one result v: the fraction of the vote that voted r. Assume that, all else being equal v is a function f of spending from both sides, rs and ds.

v = f(rs, ds).

Assume f is continuous, non decreasing in rs, and non increasing in ds.

Then for any pair (rs1, ds1), let v1 = f(rs1, ds1). There exists a pair (rs2, ds2) such that either rs2 = 0 or ds2 = 0, and v1=f(rs2, ds2).

In other words, making some pretty safe assumptions (although f is not continuous, the electorate is large enough it can be approximated as continuous), it's possible to get exactly the same result in the election, whilst having one side spend 0 money. The proof is trivial, and can trivially be extended to more complex election schemes.



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Mathematical Models of Progress?

16 февраля, 2021 - 03:21
Published on February 16, 2021 12:21 AM GMT

I would be interested in collecting a bunch of examples of mathematical modeling of progress. I think there are probably several of these here, but I don't expect to be able to find all of them myself. I'm also interested to know about any models like this elsewhere.

I was reading the LessWrong 2018 books, and the following posts stuck out to me:

The Year The Singularity Was Cancelled talks about a model which predicted world population quite well, by supplementing a basic population equation with a simple mathematical model of technological progress. To summarize: population carrying capacity is assumed to increase due to technological progress. 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src: local('MathJax_Vector Bold'), local('MathJax_Vector-Bold')} @font-face {font-family: MJXc-TeX-vec-Bx; src: local('MathJax_Vector'); font-weight: bold} @font-face {font-family: MJXc-TeX-vec-Bw; src /*1*/: url('https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.2/fonts/HTML-CSS/TeX/eot/MathJax_Vector-Bold.eot'); src /*2*/: url('https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.2/fonts/HTML-CSS/TeX/woff/MathJax_Vector-Bold.woff') format('woff'), url('https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.2/fonts/HTML-CSS/TeX/otf/MathJax_Vector-Bold.otf') format('opentype')}  leads carrying capacity c to have a derivative pc. (This reflects the idea that carrying capacity multiplies the carrying capacity; if it added to the carrying capacity, we might make the derivative equal p instead.) Population should typically remain close to the carrying capacity; so, we could simply assume that population equals carrying capacity. We then expect hyperbolic growth, IE something like c=1s−t; here, s is the year of the (population) singularity. This model is a decent fit to the data until the year 1960, which is of course the subject of the post.

One of my thoughts after reading this was: wouldn't it make more sense to avoid the assumption that population equals carrying capacity? Population growth can't be greater than exponential. The hyperbolic model doesn't make any sense, and the assumption that population equals carrying capacity appears to be the culprit. 

It would make more sense to, instead, use more typical population models (which predict near-exponential growth when population is significantly below carrying capacity, tapering off near carrying capacity). I don't yet know if this has been done in the literature. However, it's commonly said that around the time of the industrial revolution, humankind escaped the Malthusian trap, because progress outpaced birthrates. (I know the demographic transition is a big player here, but let's ignore it for a moment.) If we were modeling this possibility, it makes sense that progress would stop accelerating so much around this point: once progress is increasing the carrying capacity faster than the population can catch up, we no longer expect to see population match carrying capacity.

This would imply that population transitions from hyperbolic growth to exponential growth, some time shortly before the singularity of the hyperbola. Which approximately matches what we observe: a year where the singularity was "cancelled".

However, in the context of AI progress in particular, this model seems naive. Human birthrates cannot keep pace with the resources progress provides. However, AI has no such limitation. Therefore, we might expect progress to look hyperbolic again at some point, when AI starts contributing significantly to progress. (Indeed, one might have expected this from computers alone, without saying the words "AI" -- computers allow "thinking power" to increase, without the population actually increasing.)

Some of the toy mathematical models Paul Christiano discusses in Takeoff Speeds might be used to add AI to the projection.

So, I'm interested in:

  • Any ideas you have about this, especially in the form of equations.
  • Links to mathematical models of population growth, perhaps slightly more detailed than the one Scott Alexander discusses.
  • Mathematical models of GDP growth, along the same lines.
  • Mathematical models of AI progress, such as what Paul Christiano discusses. I'm sure there are a number of essays about that posted here, but again, I don't expect to dig through all of them myself; what things do you think are most relevant?
  • Mathematical models of progress generally, especially anything which uses a slightly less simplistic model of progress. For example, it's sometimes claimed that the explosive progress of the industrial revolution was due to technological progress starting to really build on itself, providing better tools for making progress.
  • Informal discussions of these same topics, which nonetheless discuss critical features which could be made mathematical. For example, Against GDP as a metric for timelines and takeoff speeds can be seen as a challenge for this kind of modeling; someone putting together mathematical models of the sort I'm discussing might want to address those challenges.
  • Less importantly, data to fit curves to, mathematical tools (like Guesstimate) which seem particularly useful for what I'm trying to do, etc.

Related Question: Any response to Paul Christiano on takeoff speeds?



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Heuristic: Replace "No Evidence" with "No Reason"

16 февраля, 2021 - 00:32
Published on February 15, 2021 9:25 PM GMT

The phrase "no evidence to suggest" has been used as an excuse to avoid inaction in the face of what is in fact ample evidence.

Health authorities continued bumbling response to coronavirus has really served to highlight this, starting right at the beginning:
https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1217043229427761152

And then continuing pretty steadily though the crisis:

https://twitter.com/UNGeneva/status/1244661916535930886

https://twitter.com/robertwiblin/status/1345800492367142917

(I couldn't quickly find an 'official authority' saying the above, but it must somewhat reflect the mindset of some of them, since otherwise the case for single dose is pretty overwhelming).

Of course from a Bayesian perspective this entire idea of "no evidence to suggest" is almost always meaningless, as pointed out in the full thread of the above tweet: https://twitter.com/robertwiblin/status/1345800480144945152. There was plenty of evidence at the time for everything the WHO dismissed, as evidenced by all the people on this very site who got it right.

However not everyone thinks in terms of Bayesian statistics. Viewing the entire world as a probability distribution and acting accordingly, is not for the average person. Instead the way of deciding between the unsubstantiated and reality is via empirical science. Whilst not perfect, treating something as false until one has done a carefully regulated study is certainly far better than what we had in the past. It sounds at first like the WHO is making the correct decisions here - waiting till we have 'evidence' for something before acting on it, and evidence is not anecdotal data (under the empirical view of things), but double blinded placebo controlled studies. How do we articulate what the WHO did wrong here, without using the word Bayesian?

 

One idea I had was to use another commonly used phrase: "no reason to suggest". Whilst they sound similar the phrases I think mean very different things to the average person.

To deal in extremes, consider the 2 statements:

1. There is no reason to suggest holding onto the tail of a plane as it takes off is dangerous.

2. There is no evidence to suggest holding onto the tail of a plane as it takes off is dangerous.

The first is obviously false. It takes about 2 seconds to think of reasons why it's a terribly stupid idea.

The second is less obviously false. By evidence some people mean a certain level of rigorously done study. That has presumably never taken place for this exact question.

In other cases the two are likely to agree. For example there is no reason or evidence to suggest that the vaccine can make you infertile.

 

So here's a simple trick: whenever you read a sentence containing the phrase "no evidence to suggest", try replacing it with the phrase "no reason to suggest".

If they both seem equally true, then that's fine. If the latter seems obviously false, then the sentence is likely misleading.

And if, as is usually the case, the modified sentence seems less true, but not obviously false, then the claim is probably not as strong as it makes out, but still may be somewhat valid.

 

This is basically reinventing Bayesian statistics. However it doesn't require any thinking about probability, priors, or technical lingo. It's a simple heuristic to easily tell if in a particular case, a "no evidence" claim is informative. If there is strong reason to suggest something is true, even lacking evidence, it's worth assuming it's probably true.



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Bitcoin and ESG Investing

16 февраля, 2021 - 00:01
Published on February 15, 2021 9:01 PM GMT

How do cryptocurrencies fit in Environmental, Social, and Governance Investing?

Original Post

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Investing is a practice that evolved from the practice of excluding equities based on moral values. ESG Investing is broad and constantly evolving, and key organizations are working on the definition and standardization of it. ESG Investing has been gaining traction with both institutional and retail investors over the last decade, and there is no sign that this trend will stop anytime soon.

From the CFA Website on ESG

 

One of the main tenets of ESG Investing is the conservation of the natural world. Professional investors that practice ESG Investing are supposed to analyze whether a company mitigates factors that affect the natural world, and invest based on the conclusion that the company is not purposely engaging in activities that go against this tenet. For example, oil producing companies typically do not qualify for an ESG Investment mandate, as their main driver of economic activity involves extracting a nonrenewable resource that cause human carbon emissions to rise.

Bitcoin and Energy Efficiency

Bitcoin and a few other cryptocurrencies rely on the Proof-of-Work mechanism to maintain their decentralization and security. Coindesk recently came out with a comprehensive explanation on how Proof-of-Work operates within the Bitcoin ecosystem. From the website:

Bitcoin is a blockchain, which is a shared ledger that contains a history of every Bitcoin transaction that ever took place. This blockchain, as the name suggests, is composed of blocks. Each block has the most recent transactions stored in it. 

Proof-of-work is a necessary part of adding new blocks to the Bitcoin blockchain. Blocks are summoned to life by miners, the players in the ecosystem who execute proof-of-workA new block is accepted by the network each time a miner comes up with a new winning proof-of-work, which happens roughly every 10 minutes. 

Finding the winning proof-of-work is so difficult the only way to provide the work miners need to win bitcoin is with expensive, specialized computers. Miners will earn bitcoin if they guess a matching computation. The more computations they churn out, the more bitcoin they are likely to earn.

What computations are the miners making exactly? In Bitcoin, miners spit out so-called “hash,” which turns an input into a random-looking string of letters and numbers. 

The goal of the miners is to create a hash matching Bitcoin’s current “target.” They must create a hash with enough zeroes in front. The probability of getting several zeros in a row is very low. But miners across the world are making trillions of such computations a second, so it takes them about 10 minutes on average to hit this target.

Whoever reaches the goal first wins a batch of bitcoin cryptocurrency. Then the Bitcoin protocol creates a new value that miners must hash, and miners start the race for finding the winning proof-of-work all over again.

Like the explanation above states, in order for miners to find the winning proof-of-work, they need specialized computers to solve very complex computations, and hope they beat hundreds of thousands of other specialized computers in order to get the reward. All that computational power trying to solve those complex equations requires a significant amount of energy. How much exactly? Researchers at the University of Cambridge estimate that all that computational power uses about 121 terawatt-hours per year, roughly the same amount of energy that the country of Argentina uses.

In the cryptocurrency world, it has not been a secret that this is a major problem in the use case of bitcoin. Several researchers and developers are attempting to solve this problem: most notably The Ethereum Foundation is in the process of moving from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake, a move done in part to reduce the energy consumption of securing the Ethereum protocol.

With Tesla disclosing that it invested part of their cash in Bitcoin, and other companies looking into potentially doing the same thing, I started wondering whether this trend would affect how investment professionals that engage in ESG Investing look at these companies. When a company purposely invests in a concept that indiscriminately consumes a significantly amount of energy, going against the ESG tenet of conserving the natural world through energy efficiency, is it prudent to include the company in an ESG Investing mandate?

I don’t know the answer to that question. What do you think?

Disclaimer: Not investment advice. For informational purposes only. I hold positions in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tesla through Exchange Traded Funds.



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KAnon

15 февраля, 2021 - 23:50
Published on February 15, 2021 8:50 PM GMT

There's a dangerous conspiracy theory spreading, called " KAnon" by its adherents. Its claims, at their core, come down to the belief that there is a "K" great enough to protect us from attacks by the forces of deanonymization. While followers often make contradictory claims about "K", no matter how great "K" may really be, their trust has been misplaced.

This blind trust that proponents place in "K" is best illustrated by their slogan, "Where We Go One We Go All" (#WWG1WGA). Originating in the once-marginal "K=N" faction, it represents the idea that individuals, once united, cannot be divided. Despite the undeniable rhetorical appeal, however, its protection is illusory and such division remains possible by resourceful and determined attackers.

Believers in KAnon are right to seek better anonymization, and robust anonymization is possible. Their approach, however, of gathering large groups not only does not solve the problem but is metaphorically hazardous given the background of the pandemic. Through patient discussion, with careful explanation of how the promises of KAnon have been shown again and again to be false, believers can be brought around more reliable approaches.

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Notes on Amiability

15 февраля, 2021 - 22:34
Published on February 15, 2021 7:34 PM GMT

This post examines the virtue of amiability (and closely-related or synonymous virtues like friendliness, geniality, agreeableness, conviviality, affability, niceness, affection, and warmth). It is meant mostly as an exploration of what other people have learned about these virtues, rather than as me expressing my own opinions about them, though I’ve been selective about what I found interesting or credible, according to my own inclinations.

I wrote this not as an expert on the topic, but as someone who wants to learn more about it and to become better at it. I hope it will be helpful to people who want to know more about these virtues and how to nurture them.

What are these virtues?

These virtues have to do with being pleasant to be around in casual social settings. If you exhibit these virtues, people feel at ease either initiating interactions with you, engaging with you, or simply being around you. You signal that you have benign and respectful intent, in a way that is legible to those around you (you are not a grouch, abrasive or obnoxious, or socially awkward in a way that is off-putting or hard to negotiate). You harmonize well with your social environment (you are not contentious or a shit-stirrer). You welcome friendly interactions with others (you are not stand-offish, cold, brusque). You tone down or repress any inclinations to ratchet up social tensions (you are not ill-natured, querulous, snappy, abrasive, hostile, disputatious).

If you go overboard, being insincere or over-the-top in the way you try to butter up those around you, you might be accused of being a flatterer or being fawning, obsequious, unctuous, oleaginous. The old-fashioned term “man-pleaser” is sometimes deployed in this context. Someone who is so friendly that you’re sure they’re about to pitch you Amway or Krishna Consciousness puts you on edge rather than at ease with their amiability.

Many of the social virtues can play a role in assisting amiability. Some related virtues include hospitality, graciousness, connection, goodwill, courtesy, kindness, sympathy, gentleness/tenderness, tolerance, tact, civility, cheer, warmheartedness, sympathy, concern, and consideration. Friendliness is distinct from friendship, as the latter involves the skills of properly maintaining a more durable, less-superficial relationship, while the former concerns how you interact with people in general, including strangers and casual acquaintances. That said, affection and warmth are also important ingredients of more intimate friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships.

Affection and touch

When I looked around for resources about “affection” in particular, I mostly found resources about affection in the context of romantic (or sometimes parental) relationships — particularly when it comes to how to deploy physical affection / touch in a graceful and welcome way. But I think that’s just a specific case of a more general virtue. I’ve had times when someone has placed their hand on my arm and looked me in the eye in a gently encouraging way that was very effectively affectionate without being either romantic or parentalish. I can’t put my finger on what qualities exactly made it work where in other contexts it might have been awkward or counterproductive. Touch is difficult: it can be a good way of expressing affection/warmth, but it can also be misinterpreted as a romantic overture or a predatory gambit; sometimes it is also seen as condescending.

When going along to get along is a bad strategy

At first, amiability looks like a sort of common-sense “things I learned in kindergarten” sort of virtue. But it has a common and challenging element attached to it: An example of a situation in which we struggle to find the Golden Mean of this virtue would be one in which we are in a group of casual acquaintances and one of them tells a joke that depends for its humor on the shared assumption of an offensive racial stereotype. Do we laugh in order to be agreeable and just try to move on, or do we signal our disapproval? When does our obligation to be agreeable and tolerant get eclipsed by our obligation to insist on better standards of behavior or our disgrace at being associated with shameful behavior? “Go along to get along” is a real problem, and it comes from being inattentive to the balancing act this virtue requires.

Other ways niceness can go awry

“The true gentleman is friendly but not familiar; the inferior man is familiar but not friendly.” (Analects of Confucius, ⅩⅢ.ⅹⅹⅲ)

Some people prioritize niceness at the expense of other virtues. Niceness can be cloying if it seems forced or insincere (or overwhelming or presumptuous).

If you presume more intimacy than you have earned — by sharing or demanding personal information, or by assuming you have permission to touch someone affectionately for instance — you may be overstepping your bounds in a way that comes across as more threatening than friendly, whatever your intentions.

Charming sociopaths

Geniality can be a thin social virtue. Sociopaths are sometimes very charming, but also very self-serving: buttering you up to see what they can get out of you. (But do sociopaths perhaps get an unfairly bad name: tarred by the brush of the more sadistic among them? After all, when it comes down to it, we love sociopaths.)

The virtue of being disagreeable

Is there a virtue to be found in being disagreeable? Maybe there is a case to be made for the virtue of being a cantankerous grouch instead. Different people shine in different contexts and in different ways.

How to improve at amiability

With most virtues, the key to getting better is to practice. You start off more-or-less clumsy, then you put in effort at the margin of your current ability, and over time you become more capable. With social virtues, the early, clumsy stage of this process can be embarrassing. You have to put yourself out in front of other people, deliberately doing things beyond your current skill level.

If you find social embarrassment intolerably uncomfortable or frightening, you will have difficulty with this. You somehow need to be able to say “I’m definitely going to screw up from time to time because I’m pushing myself beyond by current comfort zone, but that’s okay — I’ll just brush that off and move on, because I know that’s what it takes.” Easier said than done, I know. Maybe some preliminary work on the virtue of courage would help.

Different people have different sorts of deficits in amiability, with different roots. Some people want to be agreeable and just don’t have a good idea what kind of vibe they’re putting out (e.g. the awkward). Other people developed disagreeableness as a strategy for keeping people at bay (e.g. the gruff). Other people like drama and find other people more interesting when they’re uncomfortable (e.g. the shit-stirrer). Others are unfriendly because they think they’ve got more important things on their agenda than being pleasant (e.g. the jerk). With such variety (and this is just off the top of my head), there will probably also be a variety of strategies to pursue in the course of becoming more agreeable. It may require a lot of work just to identify what’s causing your deficits in the first place before you start working on them.

The difficulty of getting reliable feedback

With amiability there is an additional challenge: it can be difficult to get good feedback on how well you are doing. Let’s say you find yourself sitting at a bus stop with some random stranger, and you think to yourself — “aha! I have an opportunity to practice my amiability.” You notice they are wearing an unusually interesting sweater, and decide to compliment them on it as an opening conversational gambit.

Imagine that you do this in a fabulously competent, suave, utterly disarming way, and the stranger replies by grunting, looking down at their shoes, and inching away from you on the bench. Maybe they’re having a bad day, or they aren’t very good at friendliness themself, or they’re hard of hearing and are embarrassed to confess they didn’t understand what you said. Any number of things might have happened, but your feedback is: “boy howdy, that sure flopped.”

Or on the other hand, maybe you compliment them on their sweater but do so in an incompetent way that makes you sound like you’re being sarcastic, or are making an inappropriate sexual overture, or something like that. But they overlook that and smile and tell you the story of how they got the sweater and then ask you about your jacket, and you hit it off grandly. Maybe they’re just especially fond of conversation, or they’re charitable about the foibles of the people around them, or maybe they misheard you. You may never know. But your feedback now is: “nailed it!”

It may take a lot of data before reliable patterns show up. If you have friends you trust to be frank with you, you can ask them for feedback on how you’re doing and how you might improve.

Become a brilliant conversationalist by letting them talk

I was lucky enough to have a good friend who was extraordinarily good at this virtue. And the way he described it, it was definitely an acquired skill and not something that just came naturally to him. So that (and my own experience at just becoming more middlingly competent) makes me more confident in saying that this virtue is something that is learnable and can be improved with practice.

Greg, my friend, had an incredible knack for turning a stranger into a friend in minutes. I tried to study and learn from his techniques, but I think I was only perceptive enough to pick up some of the rudimentary stuff.

One thing I noticed was that he was very skillful at quickly turning the conversation to whatever it was that the other person was most interested in talking about. Just about everybody has some thing or things that they’re passionate about. Sometimes they’re a little reluctant to start, though, because they don’t want to get typecast or to come off as a monomaniac. But Greg would somehow manage to steer the conversation until it became about the other person’s favorite thing, and then would be full of questions. Before long, the other person was loquacious, comfortable, and fully convinced that Greg was a man of excellent taste whom he or she was lucky to have met. Meanwhile Greg was learning all about some new niche subject directly from an expert, while also making a new friend.

I don’t have anywhere near the knack for this that Greg did, but I’ve tried to learn from his technique. Now I tend to spend most of my casual conversations with people asking them questions about things they have already expressed enthusiasm about. I learn a lot that way, and I think I come across much better in conversation than when I used to spend most of my half of the conversation saying things I thought were interesting or important or impressive.



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Other utopias or searching the reference class for the rationality hub project

15 февраля, 2021 - 18:38
Published on February 15, 2021 3:38 PM GMT

Let's find the reference class for the new rational hub project, come up with some parameters to assess them, and quarter-bake a model to constrain our migration expectations. 

I arbitrarily selected Free Town Project and Rajneeshpuram. If after the discussion the model will seem worthy - we can google other examples and get a rough feel for its predictive power. 

This post started from a message to my friend:

“FSP- weak pull, zero requirements- moved 2k. Rajneeshpuram - very strong pull, cult level requirements - 7k,  Rationalists - mid pull, few hard requirements- assuming linear importance of both - should it be more successful other things being equal?”

This post is an attempt to expand on it. I'm ignorant of details of both and the US reality as well, but I'll try to extract relevant parameters and not to assess the specifics, so I'll just ignore the details and gaps and model something in the right direction. The parameters, ordered by obscurity ascending:

Pull - what brings people together

Alternatively - how hard it is to live outside the community if you believe X?

FSP - there's a lot of libertarians, the ideology is vague and abstract - one can live okay in most of the US.

Rajneeshpuram - cult of personality, very specific ideology - it's very hard to follow it outside of the community in the USA, maybe better in India, but few people choose to live there.

Rationality hub - one can live with normies, but it's quite dull, a lot of people already moved to the nearest hub. Somebody who've finished the Sequences seems quite dedicated to me.

Requirements/Demands - how hard it is to live in the community?

FSP - no demands, nothing positive bring together, no constructive program - totally no constraints of expectations - no person who's not miserable and values what they have will move. My guess is that anarchists would have more pull

Rajneeshpuram - cult. If you like everything but this sexist thing, you'll be peer pressured AF. Looks like only people who agree with the ideology 100% wouldn't be miserable there, although the first two episodes of Wild Wild Country suggest otherwise.

Rationality hub - demands to understand the craft and have similar values. Most of us have quite specific expectations, won't be pressed to observe any rituals, if we agree with the values but think that 60% of the sequences are overkill or that most of the frontpage is useless - no one will frown upon us if we're willing to discuss it with good epistemology. The practice could be described as demanding, but it's extremely tolerant towards differences in opinions, kinks, and other stuff that wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else. Rationalists who've finished the sequences most probably wouldn't find it too taxing.

Awareness. How many people know about the hub?

FSP - I can't begin to guess.

Rajneeshpuram - every active participant and that guy? Authoritarianism rules

Rationality hub - followers of @ESYudkowsky and everyone who checks LW frontpage at least monthly

Routine optimality - everything from the takeaways

I'm not ready to research these about FSP and Rajneeshpuram, and rational hub candidates are successfully discussed without my contribution.

If you can assess FSP or Rajneeshpuram by these parameters - it would be nice, but I can't give you ROI. If you're willing to throw a few hundred bucks to hire a historian or sociologist for it - it'd be awesome. I could try to find such a person and manage the research. (Good that they debunked Dunnung-Kruger, or I'd doubt myself)

Quantity, duh - how many people participate in the movement and identify with it.

Important note - it seems to me, that to participate in such a project, a person should be interested in the movement, not just the ideology.

Libertarians - from 7 to 22% of the US population, tend to grow

Rajneesh - up to 100000? I probably should update my map on this number, but it requires research about prehistorical memetics and sociology

 

The pull and demand parameters don't seem actionable to me, but they can help predict whether the idea of a standalone hub(not in a major city) will succeed. If you have more parameters to suggest - actionable or esoteric, please comment! If you have a model about how proximity to a major city/regular town interacts with demand - that seems like an important part that plays role in the rational hub migration project.

It would be interesting to analyze decentralized communities with multiple hubs. I'm quite inspired by the success (in this regard) of NXVIM

 

P.S. This is my first major post here, so any suggestions on how to improve the writing or thinking would be welcome. Maybe lifehacks on how to research relevant info easily, cuz the way I know now is just putting an overwhelming amount of labor.



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Semaglutide is cool, but no one wants to talk about b. animalis ssp. lactis?

15 февраля, 2021 - 12:50
Published on February 15, 2021 9:50 AM GMT

[Epistemic status: I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice, but there are two RCTs supporting this. Also I talk about poop.]

Like many others, I've been excitedly reading about semaglutide over the last few days. For someone like Stephan Guyenet, author or The Hungry Brain, it seems like a vindication of the weight regulation model via the brain and signaling hormones (what he calls the lipostat) and he seems excited about it

But let me tell you a quick story. I got a stomach bug, probably something like traveler's diarrhea, a few months ago. I tried several things to help fix it, and at one point was at Whole Foods starring down the wall of probiotics. 

I Googled "probiotics by level of evidence" and one of the first page results was the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in USA. No one else was in the aisle, so I took some time to skim it. It has a table of probiotic supplements showing the level of evidence for each (the familiar Level I, Level II and Level III) related to what they're intended to treat and the strains of probiotics in the supplement. 

That whole list was surprising and worth reading in terms of evidence for probiotics to support mood and affect, lower LDL-C, etc. But looking specifically at weight management, all of the probiotics for it contain some form of B. animalis ssp. lactis in the dose around 10 billion per capsule per day or higher. There's two Level I (RCT-level studies) showing it's effectiveness for that purpose. It's also in Activia yoghurt but the dose is much smaller.

Someone on Wikipedia thinks this is Bifidobacterium animalis from Activia.

I was and remain skeptical, but nothing sets off my evidence evaluation alarm bells. The first of the two, a 2016 study, was published in EBioMedicine and is in the 89th percentile in General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology. The second is from 2020 and is in Scientific Reports which is in the 93rd percentile under the category Multidisciplinary. Neither of them are on Beall's List. The results aren't as spectacular as semaglutide where people saw a 17.4% reduction in weight over 68 weeks. But they are pretty good. In the 2016 study here was a 4.5% reduction over 6 months (in the best case where it was given with additional dietary fiber).

From the 2020 study.

2020 study showing changes in body weight, BMI and waist circumference 

In the 2020 study, this amounts to a 1.5% weight reduction in 6 months. Neither of these are completely fair as the semaglutide trial was over 15 months.

 

There is perhaps an advantage to the probiotic approach in the sense of the precautionary principle. Semaglutide is new. B. animalis subsp. lactis is  "the world’s most documented probiotic Bifidobacterium" and was found in dairy cultures. People have been eating Activia for a long time now without weird side-effects. So we have more of a history with it and reason to believe it's safer.

 

So... all of this has just left me wondering why it hasn't been as much of a part of the weight loss discussion? Maybe there's something I'm missing?



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Chinese History

15 февраля, 2021 - 09:43
Published on February 15, 2021 6:43 AM GMT

Try to answer these questions without looking!

Rules:

  • The estimates come from this Wikipedia page.
  • If Wikipedia provides a range then I use the mean.

Q1. What war killed the most people?

Answer: World War Two [100 million]

Q2. What war killed the 2nd most people?

The Taiping Rebellion [45 million]

Q3. What war killed the 3rd most people?

The Three Kingdoms War [38 million]

Q4. What war killed the 4th most people?

Answer: The Mongol conquests [35 million]

Q5. 5th?

World War One [28 million] (including the Spanish flu but not including the Russian Revolution)

Q6. 6th?

The collapse of the Qing Dynasty [25 million]

Q7. 7th?

The An Lushan Rebellion [24.5 million]

Q8.9. 8th and 9th? (they tie)

The Conquests of Timur [14 million]

ties with

The Dungan Revolt [14 million]

Q10. 10th?

The (most recent) Chinese Civil War [10 million]

Of the 10 most deadly conflicts in human history, 6 of them were Chinese civil wars. China isn't merely an important thread within human history. Chinese history is human history.

Western histories of China often focus on the Opium Wars, the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the rise of Communism and then the transition to capitalism. Chinese is thousands of years old. Beginning Chinese history at the Opium Wars is like starting a history of the United States with the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Western histories of China focus on recent Chinese history because it's only in recent centuries that China has had its most significant direct interactions with the West. Western histories of China are often drawn from English-language sources, which produces an incestuous echo chamber. If you want to understand China, the way to do it is by reading histories written from a Chinese perspective.

China: A History by John Keay

This is my favorite book on Chinese history. At 578 pages, it barely scratches the surface of Chinese history. But it's a quick read and it can give you a rough idea outline if you're brand new to the subject.

Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age by Stephen Platt

Imperial Twilight perfectly captures the smells and sounds of stepping off a ship into 19th century Fujian. Imperial Twilight feels like Treasure Island except it's all true. Imperial Twilight is relatively Eurocentric compared to the other two books. But the story is so cool I don't care.

The Man on Mao's Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China's Foreign Ministry by Ji Chaozhu

The Man on Mao's Right is the story of a high communist official navigating the turbulent years following the Communist Revolution. It's basically Wei_Dai's tale from Communist China told from the perspective of a winner.



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