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joined 2022 September 05 16:08:37 UTC


User ID: 619



17 followers   follows 2 users   joined 2022 September 05 16:08:37 UTC


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User ID: 619

I wonder if declining fertility/maternity among women have a role to play here. Sure, being a mother kicks maternal instinct into overdrive, but it also channels and focuses it on your offspring. By contrast, if you're 35 and childless, you don't have a proximal locus for it. Instead, it might be channeled into forms of high-visibility compassion-driven benevolence (no! not like that!) of the kind that progressivism strongly seeks to identify itself with.

Would Plato’s account of the trial and death of Socrates be better if there were a possibility of Socrates simply... not dying?

Funnily enough, Athenian tragedy had a very messy relationship with canonicity. Did Iphigenia really die at Aulis, sacrificed by her father's hand, or was she replaced with a deer on the altar by Artemis at the last minute? Depends on which playwright and even which play we're talking about. That woman Helen, who started the whole Trojan War? Never even went to Troy according to one famous play.. A huge amount of Greek storytelling, especially tragedy, seems to be basically fan fiction to Homer and the wider oral epic tradition, playing with "what ifs" and turning preferred heroes from myth (especially Athenian ones) into massive Mary Sues.

I have, at times, suffered what seemed to me like episodes of minor existential horror contemplating the 'world' of narrative driven games like say, Half-Life 2. The protagonist exists in what is, essentially a linear corridor, and he can only move forward. Whatever he may want to do, there's nothing he can do but move forward.

This is a central theme in episode 2 of the new hit Zoomer show The Amazing Digital Circus. Only two episodes released so far but they’re both great.

I've been happily married to a woman from SE Asia for over a decade. Admittedly we're not a typical wmaf couple insofar as she's three years older than me and brings home a bigger paycheck, but I find it interesting that in my decade or so of dating, the most satisfying relationships I had tended to be with non-Anglo women. Probably the biggest difference I encountered in dating Asian/SE Asian women compared to Americans/Brits was a generally more pragmatic attitude towards relationships and coupling. Anecdotally, the cult of the individual is stronger in the West, with many Western women I dated seemingly focused on my narratological contribution to their spirit journey rather than bread-and-butter relationship issues. But also, if I'm completely honest, a big part of it for me was always that I'm a thoroughly xenophilic polyglot and people from countries culturally remote from my own are just more interesting.

FWIW I’m grateful to you for these thoughtful responses each time.

No rhetoric intended — “Mycoprotein” can include regular mushrooms but in the meat replacement context, it’s usually used to mean microfungi like Fusarium venenatum. These are cultivated in big vats in roughly the same way you’d cultivate brewer’s yeast, rather than on more traditional farms like field mushrooms.

I’d be pretty surprised if the issues you raise were a serious problem. We have a huge amount of experience at preventing bacteria or pathogens getting into a whole range of industrial biotech processes, and in this case we can very tightly control the inputs and monitor conditions. Hell, if necessary, you could just include antibiotics as inputs into the process, though I doubt it’d come to that.

There are lots of other large scale processes that have very high cleanliness standards and can’t use strong disinfectants, from brewing to mycoprotein cultivation. Honestly seems like one of the less difficult things to get right.

The idea that Ukrainians are only fighting out because mean old NATO made them do it is absurd. In the months leading up to the February invasion, it was widely assumed in Western capitals that Ukraine would fold like a house of cards, and that would be that. The only reason the West got sucked into the conflict in its current capacity is because Ukraine put up an impressive resistance, stopping the Russian offensive in its tracks and pushing them back rapidly. Relatively recent polling data from Ukraine (a few months old, but after the failed summer offensive) shows continued strong support for the war and confidence in the UAF. Now, I'll happily grant that Ukraine's 2023 summer offensive was a disaster, not so much because of casualties but because it significantly depleted Ukrainian munitions and led to the current "shell hunger" being experienced across the line, and all for very little return. But despite this setback, Russia has not been to shift the lines significantly either, suffering lopsided casualties for minimal territorial gains at Bakhmut and Avdiivka, and the largest successful advances of the war after the initial invasion still remains the Ukrainian Kharkiv counteroffensive of Q3 2022.

The bitter lesson of the last year, I would suggest, is that the operational environment in Ukraine now strongly favours defensive operations, and large breakthroughs are unlikely. On the one hand, this is bad news for Ukraine: any dreams of sweeping advances into Crimea or liberation of Donetsk City have been thoroughly quashed. However, it's also bad news for Russia, insofar as it makes an outright military resolution of the conflict unlikely. Instead, it will be a battle of stamina and will between Ukraine (and its backers) and Russia (and its backers). It may be that the Ukrainian people decide it's not worth fighting on, and will sue for peace, and that's ultimately up to them, but we're a long way from that point. Moreover, it's not clear that the fundamentals of the battle of stamina really do favour Russia: we're witnessing dramatic scaling-up of munitions production in Europe and the US, the continuing depletion of Russian armoured vehicle stocks, and increasingly bold attacks on Russian oil and gas infrastructure hundreds of miles behind the border. It seems to me that the resolution of the conflict remains wide open.

Yeah, I’ve seen some wild liveleak stuff in the past but the scene with the dog was enough to make me decide my brain really doesn’t need this content in it.

I think a lot of this analysis is on the money, and the US doesn't realise its vulnerability. A lot of its policies are the kind of social engineering experiments you can get away with in a time of leisure and ease, but are unaffordable luxuries in a hostile world. But it's also worth noting some major US strengths -

(1) Attracting top talent. The US is still the world's number one destination for the smartest most talented people from across the planet. China doesn't offer a very compelling cultural package to anyone who isn't Chinese. Sure, you'll get your Filipino nurses and Indian janitors, but those people would much rather be working in the US. Being a global super-attractor for high-conscientiousness, high-g, high ambition individuals is an incredible strength.

(2) Economic security. If you're a billionaire, would you rather put your money in the US or China? Sure China might have less red tape to deal with, and fewer DEI requirements, but the government can also just seize your stuff or imprison you or kill you if you piss off the wrong person. Or they might suddenly decide to make your whole industry illegal, or put massive restrictions on it for ideological reasons. This is not the kind of climate that fosters daring investment decisions; the closest thing China had to an Elon Musk or Sam Altman figure was Jack Ma, and he has been aggressively slapped down by the CCP.

(3) Facilitating creative destruction. Related to the above, the US is a hub for social and technological change. Partly due to its size and partly due to its relatively laissez-faire governance, it's a haven for disruptive new technologies like crypto and AI. By contrast, I have low expectations of the ability of Chinese society as governed by the CCP to properly harness generative AI. Part of that is because China has some of the strictest regulations on AI in the world. But more broadly, AI is likely to cause massive destabilisation in job markets, information ecosystems, and education, and it seems unlikely to me that the Chinese government will just shrug its shoulders and let that happen.

(4) Market discipline. We talk about China's incredible high-speed rail network, but it's still possible this will turn out to be a boondoggle. Generally, the economics of high-speed rail suck, and it's not just Western inefficiency that holds it back - Singapore and Malaysia recently cancelled a line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore because the numbers just didn't add up. By contrast, the economics of air travel are pretty straightforward, and the US has roughly 25 times the number of airports as China. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the US is some kind of paragon of market efficiency, and it regularly throws taxpayers' money at stupid projects. But I think the combination of democracy and strong free-market foundations makes it harder for it to do this at the same scale and duration as China.

(5) Long-term economic trajectory. China's economics look vastly different now than they did 10 years ago. Back then, Goldman Sachs thought it likely that China would overtake the US in nominal GDP by the late 2020s. Now it's been pushed back to the late 2040s (crucially, well past the median projected date for AGI), and may indeed never happen if China's demographics don't improve. More broadly, China has yet to find an alternative solution to property development to be the second leg of its economy alongside manufacturing; it has far more property than it will ever use, and its attempt to use overseas construction projects as an alternative have had very mixed results (plus could never absorb the same amount of labour as domestic production). China's youth unemployment rate is high, and many of its young people are increasingly disaffected. Meanwhile, with the rise of "safeshoring" and "derisking", new FDI is flowing into alternative manufacturing hubs in India and Indonesia, which can increasingly compete with China on price. China seems to have fallen squarely into the middle income trap, at quite a low level, somewhere below Russia and above Egypt in GDP (PPP)/capita terms. None of this is to say that China's threat has receded - it is enormous, and even if its economy simply chugs along, it will remain a huge global producer. But it's not the all-powerful economic juggernaut it appeared a few years ago. By contrast, the US economy has performed very impressively, actually beating China in GDP/growth in Q3 last year (admittedly that one is a bit of an outlier).

(6) Friends and Allies. The US has lots of allies. Among its closest are three nuclear powers (UK, France, Israel), two permanent UN security council seats (UK, France), six of the world's largest economies (Germany, Japan, UK, France, Italy, Canada), and some of the world's largest raw mineral producers (Canada, Australia), and that's not even counting India and Indonesia, who the US is increasingly courting. It leads many of the world's most powerful international organisations like the World Bank and IMF, has a hugely outsize influence on culture, has military bases all around the world, and has no serious enemies on its own continent. By contrast, China's closest allies are Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, and Russia, who are as much liabilities as assets. It is on poor terms with several of its closest neighbours, notably Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, The Philippines, and Vietnam. It has very little cultural power and very few bases overseas.

So, I think it would be a mistake to throw up our hands in despair; the US has formidable structural advantages in any prolonged conflict with China. But none of this is a reason for complacency. Hopefully the Ukraine War has proven to be a shock to the system and will reinvigorate US ambitions.

'defend allies without going on global adventures' I meant taking a stand to defend Taiwan if it were attacked as opposed to isolationism - that wasn't clear in my post though. However, the US has lots of troops all over the world, that huge base in Africa that was recently closed for example.

One of the reasons the US has bases all over the world is so it can quickly deploy forces in defense of allies. For example, the recently-closed based in Niger was helping the government of that country (and neighboring regions) defend against ISIS and Boko Haram. Bases in the Middle East can help defend KSA, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and UAE against Iran, Houthis, etc.. Base in Okinawa and the Philippines protect those countries from China. And so on. While I'm sympathetic to your broad view that the US has overestimated its strength and should be focused on protecting what it has, it's not clear to me that the material means of doing so are radically different. E.g., if a US ally in East Africa is attacked, the solution is sending a carrier group.

You can look for correlated clusters of symptoms. It’s not that women and men with autism present with entirely qualitatively different features, it’s just that men and women present them to different degrees (men usually more so). If the scale is calibrated to men it will be relatively insensitive for women (though more specific).

Toy example: playing Warhammer and MtG is not especially diagnostic of autism in men. Lots of non-autistic men play Warhammer and MtG [citation needed]. I would expect a far higher proportion of cis women who play Warhammer/MtG to be autistic. So if our toy autism scale only puts a small amount of weight on this variable it will miss autism in women.

Given the already high rates of data fabrication inside but especially outside the West, I’d assign very little weight to any data from a paper where the authors, reviewers, and editors don’t even check for howlers like the ones quoted.

More broadly, speaking from the sausage factory floor, I can say that the trend in high-level publishing in the humanities increasingly seems to be towards special issues/special series where all papers are by invitation or commissioned. This creates some problems (harder for outsiders to break in, easier for ideologue editors to maintain a party line), but in general seems like an acceptable stopgap measure for wordcel fields to cover the next 5-10 year interregnum where LLM outputs are good enough to make open submission impossible, but not quite good enough to replace the best human scholars.

Fascinating; I seem to see quite a lot of small Ford Focuses, Fiestas, and Mondeos here in the UK.

Even ‘right-wing’ sci-fi has this motif. The heroes in ‘Starship Troopers’ are two White men leading the multicultural coalition of Earth against the brutalistic ‘bugs’

In the Heinlein novel, Johnny Rico is explicitly stated to have a Filipino background.

100% agree on all points. Not clear whether Google will be able to adapt AdWords for LLMs but at least they have a chance if they’re the ones leading the revolution.

And also completely agree about the changing shape of LLMs. They’ll just become a mostly invisible layer in operating systems that eg handles queries and parlays user vague requests (“show me some funny videos”) into specific personalised API calls.

Just some quick thoughts on the future of the internet. In short, I expect the way we use the web and social media to change quite dramatically over the next 3-5 years as a result of the growing sophistication of AI assistants combined with a new deluge of AI spam, agitprop, and clickbait content hitting the big socials. Specifically, I’d guess most people will have an AI assistant fielding user queries via API calls to Reddit, TikTok, Twitter, etc. and creating a personalised stream of content that filters out ads, spam, phishing, and (depending on users’ tastes) clickbait and AI generated lust-provoking images. The result will be a little bit like an old RSS feed but mostly selected on their behalf rather than by them directly, and obviously packed with multimedia and social content. As the big social networks start to make progressively more of their money from API charges from AI assistant apps and have fewer high-value native users, they’ll have less incentive to control for spambots locally, which will create a feedback loop that makes the sites basically uninhabitable without AI curation.

One result of this is that Google is kind of screwed, because these days people use it mainly for navigation rather than exploratory search (eg you use it to search Reddit, Twitter, or Wikipedia, or find your way to previously-visited articles or websites when you can’t remember the exact URL). But AI assistants will handle navigation and site-specific queries, and even exploratory search will be behind the scenes, meaning Google Ads will get progressively less and less exposure to human eyeballs. This is why they urgently need to make Gemini a success, because their current business model won’t exist in the medium-term.

All of this feels incredibly predictable to me given the dual combination of AI assistants and spambots getting much better, but I'm curious what others think, and also what the consequences of this new internet landscape will be for society and politics.

Behind the scenes Google is having a bit of an identity crisis. The DEI radicalism is there, but in the last 12 months there’s been apparently been a big shift away from creative research towards short-term deliverables (source: two very good friends there).

But if you’re going to be highly ideologically constrained yet also extremely focused on bottom lines and rushing products out the door, who wants to work for you? The brilliant hippies and autistic weirdos will go work somewhere they’re not chasing deadlines. The ruthlessly efficient pragmatists will go somewhere they can make sick bank without having to tithe to the DEI god.

Of course, you’ll still have plenty of mediocre middle managers, but you’ll be alienating a good chunk of the top talent who can choose where to go. And they’re the ones who can reliably deliver the big new ideas.

I don’t think it’s an insuperable problem. A difficult one to be sure, but academic incentive structures are a lot more mutable than a bunch of other social problems if you have the political will. There’s also the fact that the current blind review journal-based publishing system is on borrowed time thanks to advances in LLMs, so we’ll need to do a fair amount of innovating/rebuilding in the next decade anyway.

Another problem is that there are more scientists than plausible paths of scientific enquiry.

Philip Kitcher has some useful insights here on the division of epistemic labour in science. In short, it's not always ideal to have scientists pursuing just the most plausible hypotheses. Instead, we should allocate epistemic labour in proportion to something like expected utility, such that low-probability high-impact hypotheses get their due. Unfortunately, this can be a hard sell to many researchers given the current incentive structures. Do you want to spend 10 years researching a hypothesis that is almost certainly false and is going to give you null results, just for the 1% chance that it's true? In practice this means that science in practice probably skews too much towards epistemic conservatism, with outlier hypotheses often being explored only by well-funded and established eccentric researchers (example: Avi Loeb is one of the very few mainstream academics exploring extraterrestrial intelligence hypotheses, and he gets a ton of crap for it).

There are also of course some fields (maybe social psychology, neuroscience, and pharmacology as examples) where the incentives stack up differently, often because it's easy to massage data or methodology to guarantee positive results. This means that researchers go for whatever looks bold and exciting and shiny because they know they'll be able to manufacture some eye-catching results, whereas a better division of epistemic labour would have them doing more prosaic but valuable work testing and pruning existing paradigms and identifying plausible mechanisms where it exists (cue "it ain't much but it's honest work" meme).

All of which is to say, I think there's plenty of work to go around in the sciences, enough to absorb all the researchers we have and more, but right now that labour is allocated highly inefficiently/suboptimally.

Not an expert on this by any means but I have seen some encouraging results on in vivo (as opposed to in utero or in vitro) gene editing. Here's a sample paper discussing the state of the field. There's also a further question whether in vivo gene editing for intelligence would produce the kind of behavioural impacts we care about; as far as I know, that's an open uncertainty.

Just FWIW as someone engaged on academic work on these issues, I broadly agree with your take. That said, two quick points of disagreement -

(1) Even supposedly friendly personalisation can be dangerous. Really effective personalised advertised can boost consumption, but if you're anything like me, you should probably be consuming less. You're like a dieter walking through a buffet restaurant filled with dishes perfectly targeted to your palate. By controlling the data held on you by third parties, you can limit how appealing the menu they offer you is. Now, of course, sometimes it will be your cheat day and you can eat to your heart's content, and having an amazing menu offered to you is positively desirable. But most of the time, having this personalised menu is going to be bad for your ability to achieve your reflectively-endorsed goals. Data privacy is one way to protect yourself from having your own most voracious instincts exploited.

(2) Privacy concerns don't seem to me to be male-coded. If anything, more of my female students are very worried about it. More than anything else, I'd say it skews continental European; Germans above anyone else seem obsessed with it. Brits are radically unconcerned about it.

Couldn’t Abbot announce that state law enforcement would prevent federal agents from making arrests of guardsmen in that case? Obviously it would be an escalation but seems like there’s a whole ladder here with progressively more extreme rungs for both players.

When writing formal letters in Japanese, there are a variety of extra steps you have to do above and beyond fancy salutations and signoffs, including - my favourite - the seasonal observations beginning the letter (e.g., in August you could say "The oppressive heat continues to linger") and closing it ("please give my regards to everyone"). These are so stereotyped that I think most recipients of letters regard them more as a structural element of the composition than a semantic one, just as in English we don't really think of the virtue of sincerity when reading "Yours Sincerely".

I think this is basically what LLMs will do to writing, at least on the 5-10 year time scale. Everything will be written by LLMs and interpreted and summarised by LLMs, and there will be a whole SEO-style set of best practices to ensure your messages get interpreted in the right way. This might even mean that sometimes when we inspect the actual first-order content of compositions created by LLMs that there are elements we find bizarre or nonsensical, that are there for the AI readers rather than the human ones.

To get back to your point, I absolutely think this is going to happen to bureaucracy in academia and beyond, and I think it's a wonderful thing, a process to be cherished. Right now, the bureaucratic class in education, government, and elsewhere exert a strongly negative influence on productivity, and they have absolutely no incentives to trim down red tape to put themselves out of jobs or reduce the amount of power they hold. This bureaucratic class is at the heart of cost disease, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that their continued unchecked growth is a civilisation-level threat to us.

In this regard, LLMs are absolutely wonderful. They allow anyone with limited training to meet bureaucratic standards with minimal effort. Better still, they can bloviate at such length that the bureaucracy will be forced to rely on LLMs to decode them, as noted above, so they lose most of the advantage that comes with being able to speak bureaucratese better than honest productive citizens. "God created men, ChatGPT made them equal."

If you're worried that this will lead to lax academic standards or shoddy research practices, I'd reassure you that academic standards have never been laxer and shoddy research is absolutely everywhere, and the existence of review boards and similar apparatchik-filled bodies does nothing to curb these. If anything, by preventing basic research being done by anything except those with insider connections and a taste for bureaucracy, they make the problem worse. Similarly, academia is decreasingly valuable for delivering basic research; the incentive structures have been too rotten for too long, and almost no-one produces content with actual value.

I'm actually quite excited about what LLMs mean in this regard. As we get closer to the point where LLMs can spontaneously generate 5000-10000 word pieces that make plodding but cogent arguments and engage meticulously with the existing literature, huge swathes of the academic journal industry will simply be unable to survive the epistemic anarchy of receiving vast numbers of such submissions, with no way to tell the AI-generated ones from the human ones. And in the softer social sciences, LLMs will make the harder bits - i.e., the statistics - much easier and more accessible. I imagine the vast majority of PhD theses that get completed in these fields in 2024 will make extensive use of ChatGPT.

All of these changes will force creative destruction on academia in ways that will be beautiful and painful to watch but will ultimately be constructive. This will force us to think afresh about what on earth Philosophy and History and Sociology departments are all for, and how we measure their success. We'll have to build new institutions that are designed to be ecologically compatible with LLMs and an endless sea of mediocre but passable content. Meanwhile I expect harder fields like biomed and material sciences to (continue to) be supercharged by the capabilities of ML, with the comparative ineffectiveness of institutional research being shown up by insights from DeepMind et al.. We have so, so much to look forward to.

Nice! Note that it’s iecit rather than iacuit, and I feel like Latin wouldn’t do two coordinate clauses joined with a conjunction. Maybe a participle phrase, eg Abbotus numquam fideliter credens aleam iecit.