Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Best career models for doing research?

25 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 04:25PM

Ideally, I'd like to save the world. One way to do that involves contributing academic research, which raises the question of what's the most effective way of doing that.

The traditional wisdom says if you want to do research, you should get a job in a university. But for the most part the system seems to be set up so that you first spend a long time working for someone else and research their ideas, after which you can lead your own group, but then most of your time will be spent on applying for grants and other administrative trivia rather than actually researching the interesting stuff. Also, in Finland at least, all professors need to also spend time doing teaching, so that's another time sink.

I suspect I would have more time to actually dedicate on research, and I could get doing it quicker, if I took a part-time job and did the research in my spare time. E.g. the recommended rates for a freelance journalist in Finland would allow me to spend a week each month doing work and three weeks doing research, of course assuming that I can pull off the freelance journalism part.

What (dis)advantages does this have compared to the traditional model?

Some advantages:

  • Can spend more time on actual research.
  • A lot more freedom with regard to what kind of research one can pursue.
  • Cleaner mental separation between money-earning job and research time (less frustration about "I could be doing research now, instead of spending time on this stupid administrative thing").
  • Easier to take time off from research if feeling stressed out.

Some disadvantages:

  • Harder to network effectively.
  • Need to get around journal paywalls somehow.
  • Journals might be biased against freelance researchers.
  • Easier to take time off from research if feeling lazy.
  • Harder to combat akrasia.
  • It might actually be better to spend some time doing research under others before doing it on your own.

EDIT: Note that while I certainly do appreciate comments specific to my situation, I posted this over at LW and not Discussion because I was hoping the discussion would also be useful for others who might be considering an academic path. So feel free to also provide commentary that's US-specific, say.

Comments (999)

Comment author: lix 07 December 2010 07:08:51PM *  22 points [-]

After several years as a post-doc I am facing a similar choice.

If I understand correctly you have no research experience so far. I'd strongly suggest completing a doctorate because:

  • you can use that time to network and establish a publication record
  • most advisors will allow you as much freedom as you can handle, particularly if you can obtain a scholarship so you are not sucking their grant money. Choose your advisor carefully.
  • you may well get financial support that allows you to work full time on your research for at least 4 years with minimal accountability
  • if you want, you can practice teaching and grant applications to taste how onerous they would really be
  • once you have a doctorate and some publications, it probably won't be hard to persuade a professor to offer you an honorary (unpaid) position which gives you an institutional affiliation, library access, and maybe even a desk. Then you can go ahead with freelancing, without most of the disadvantages you cite.

You may also be able to continue as a post-doc with almost the same freedom. I have done this for 5 years. It cannot last forever, though, and the longer you go on, the more people will expect you to devote yourself to grant applications, teaching and management. That is why I'm quitting.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 07:18:29PM 4 points [-]

once you have a doctorate and some publications, it probably won't be hard to persuade a professor to offer you an honorary (unpaid) position which gives you an institutional affiliation, library access, and maybe even a desk. Then you can go ahead with freelancing, without most of the disadvantages you cite.

Huh. That's a fascinating idea, one which had never occurred to me. I'll have to give this suggestion serious consideration.

Comment author: billswift 07 December 2010 09:45:23PM 7 points [-]

Ron Gross's The Independent Scholar's Handbook has lots of ideas like this. A lot of the details in it won't be too useful, since it is mostly about history and the humanities, but quite a bit will be. It is also a bit old to have some more recent stuff, since there was almost no internet in 1993.

Comment author: James_Miller 07 December 2010 10:40:55PM 3 points [-]

Or become a visiting professor in which you teach one or two courses a year in return for modest pay, affiliation and library access.

Comment author: Louie 10 December 2010 10:35:15AM 14 points [-]

I'm putting the finishing touches on a future Less Wrong post about the overwhelming desirability of casually working in Australia for 1-2 years vs "whatever you were planning on doing instead". It's designed for intelligent people who want to earn more money, have more free time, and have a better life than they would realistically be able to get in the US or any other 1st world nation without a six-figure, part-time career... something which doesn't exist. My world saving article was actually just a prelim for this.

Comment author: Alicorn 10 December 2010 01:07:15PM 12 points [-]

Are you going to accompany the "this is cool" part with a "here's how" part? I estimate that would cause it to influence an order of magnitude more people, by removing an inconvenience that looks at least trivial and might be greater.

Comment author: erratio 11 December 2010 01:46:45AM 2 points [-]

As someone already living in Australia and contemplating a relocation to the US for study purposes, I would be extremely interested in this article

Comment author: David_Gerard 11 December 2010 02:10:04AM *  0 points [-]

Come to England! It's small, cramped and expensive! The stuff here is amazing, though.

(And the GBP is taking a battering while the AUD is riding high.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 December 2010 02:14:24AM 0 points [-]

I was under the impression that England was quite difficult to emigrate to?

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 December 2010 02:38:50PM 2 points [-]

I'm now thinking of why Australian readers should go to London and live in a cramped hovel in an interesting place. I feel like I've moved to Ankh-Morpork.

Comment author: Mardonius 13 December 2010 02:56:40PM 1 point [-]

Simple! Tell them they too can follow the way of Lu-Tze, The Sweeper! For is it not said, "Don't knock a place you've never been to"

Comment author: diegocaleiro 11 December 2010 12:44:09AM 1 point [-]

Hope face.

Let's see if you can beat my next 2 years in Brazil..... I've been hoping for something to come along (trying to defeat my status quo bias) but it has been really hard to find something comparable.

In fact, if this comment is upvoted enough, I might write a "How to be effective from wherever you are currently outside 1st world countries" post...... because if only I knew, life would be just, well, perfect. I assume many other latinos, africans, filipinos, and slavic fellows feel the same way!

Comment author: lukeprog 21 January 2011 01:00:21AM *  0 points [-]

Louie? I was thinking about this years ago and would love to know more details. Hurry up and post it! :)

Comment author: katydee 10 December 2010 11:11:12AM 0 points [-]

Color me very interested!

Comment author: Wei_Dai 23 January 2011 08:28:24PM *  10 points [-]

Consider taking a job as a database/web developer at a university department. This gets you around journal paywalls, and is a low-stress job (assuming you have or can obtain above-average coding skills) that leaves you plenty of time to do your research. (My wife has such a job.) I'm not familiar with freelance journalism at all, but I'd still guess that going the software development route is lower risk.

Some comments on your list of advantages/disadvantages:

  • Harder to network effectively. - I guess this depends on what kind of research you want to do. For the areas I've been interested in, networking does not seem to matter much (unless you count participating in online forums as networking :).
  • Journals might be biased against freelance researchers. - I publish my results online, informally, and somehow they've usually found an interested audience. Also, the journals I'm familiar with require anonymous submissions. Is this not universal?
  • Harder to combat akrasia. - Actually, might be easier.

A couple other advantages of the non-traditional path:

  • If you get bored you can switch topics easily.
  • I think it's crazy to base one's income on making research progress. How do you stay objective when you depend on your ideas being accepted as correct for food and shelter? Also, you'd be forced to pick research goals that have high probability of success (so you can publish and keep your job) instead of high expected benefit for humanity (or for your intellectual interests).
Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:32:11PM *  9 points [-]

Another idea is the "Bostrom Solution", i.e. be so brilliant that you can find a rich guy to just pay for you to have your own institute at Oxford University.

Then there's the "Reverse Bostrom Solution": realize that you aren't Bostrom-level brilliant, but that you could accrue enough money to pay for an institute for somebody else who is even smarter and would work on what you would have worked on. (FHI costs $400k/year, which isn't such a huge amount as to be unattainable by Kaj or a few Kaj-like entities collaborating)

Comment author: shokwave 07 December 2010 05:39:10PM 4 points [-]

the "Reverse Bostrom Solution"

Sounds like a good bet even if you are brilliant. Make money, use money to produce academic institute, do your research in concert with academics at your institute. This solves all problems of needing to be part of academia, and also solves the problem of academics doing lots of unnecessary stuff - at your institute, academics will not be required to do unnecessary stuff.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:46:20PM 7 points [-]

Maybe. The disadvantage is lag time, of course. Discount rate for Singularity is very high. Assume that there are 100 years to the singularity, and that P(success) is linearly decreasing in lag time; then every second approximately 25 galaxies are lost, assuming that the entire 80 billion galaxies' fate is decided then.

25 galaxies per second. Wow.

Comment author: PeerInfinity 12 December 2010 12:56:18AM *  5 points [-]

I'm surprised that noone has asked Roko where he got these numbers from.

Wikipedia says that there are about 80 billion galaxies in the "observable universe", so that part is pretty straightforward. Though there's still the question of why all of them are being counted, when most of them probably aren't reachable with slower-than-light travel.

But I still haven't found any explanation for the "25 galaxies per second". Is this the rate at which the galaxies burn out? Or the rate at which something else causes them to be unreachable? Is it the number of galaxies, multiplied by the distance to the edge of the observable universe, divided by the speed of light?

calculating...

Wikipedia says that the comoving distance from Earth to the edge of the observable universe is about 14 billion parsecs (46 billion light-years short scale, i.e. 4.6 × 10^10 light years) in any direction.

Google Calculator says 80 billion galaxies / 46 billion light years = 1.73 galaxies per year, or 5.48 × 10^-8 galaxies per second

so no, that's not it.

If I'm going to allow my mind to be blown by this number, I would like to know where the number came from.

Comment author: Caspian 12 December 2010 02:54:00AM *  2 points [-]

I also took a while to understand what was meant, so here is my understanding of the meaning:

Assumptions: There will be a singularity in 100 years. If the proposed research is started now it will be a successful singularity, e.g. friendly AI. If the proposed research isn't started by the time of the singularity, it will be a unsuccessful (negative) singularity, but still a singularity. The probability of the successful singularity linearly decreases with the time when the research starts, from 100 percent now, to 0 percent in 100 years time.

A 1 in 80 billion chance of saving 80 billion galaxies is equivalent to definitely saving 1 galaxy, and the linearly decreasing chance of a successful singularity affecting all of them is equivalent to a linearly decreasing number being affected. 25 galaxies per second is the rate of that decrease.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 12 December 2010 12:58:20AM 2 points [-]

I meant if you divide the number of galaxies by the number of seconds to an event 100 years from now. Yes, not all reachable. Probably need to discount by an order of magnitude for reachability at lightspeed.

Comment author: FAWS 12 December 2010 02:00:39AM 0 points [-]

Hmm, by the second wikipedia link there is no basis for the 80 billion galaxies since only a relatively small fraction of the observable universe (4.2%?) is reachable if limited by the speed of light, and if not the whole universe is probably at least 10^23 times larger (by volume or by radius?).

Comment author: shokwave 07 December 2010 06:01:32PM 3 points [-]

Guh. Every now and then something reminds me of how important the Singularity is. Time to reliable life extension is measured in lives per minute, time to Singularity is measured in galaxies per second.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 06:04:43PM *  1 point [-]

Well conservatively assuming that each galaxy supports lives at 10^9 per sun per century (1/10th of our solar system), that's already 10^29 lives per second right there.

And assuming utilization of all the output of the sun for living, i.e. some kind of giant spherical shell of habitable land, we can add another 12 orders of magnitude straight away. Then if we upload people that's probably another 10 orders of magnitude.

Probably up to 10^50 lives per second, without assuming any new physics could be discovered (a dubious assumption). If instead we assume that quantum gravity gives us as much of an increase in power as going from newtonian physics to quantum mechanics did, we can pretty much slap another 20 orders of magnitude onto it, with some small probability of the answer being "infinity".

Comment author: MartinB 08 December 2010 10:22:04AM 1 point [-]

Now thats a way to eat up your brain.

Comment author: XFrequentist 07 December 2010 08:46:32PM 2 points [-]

In what I take to be a positive step towards viscerally conquering my scope neglect, I got a wave of chills reading this.

Comment author: timtyler 08 December 2010 10:03:24AM 1 point [-]

That seems like a rather exaggerated sense of importance. It may be a fun fantasy in which the fate of the entire universe hangs in the balance in the next century - but do bear in mind the disconnect between that and the real world.

Comment author: shokwave 08 December 2010 03:33:28PM 3 points [-]

the disconnect between that and the real world.

Out of curiosity: what evidence would convince you that the fate of the entire universe does hang in the balance?

Comment author: Manfred 08 December 2010 10:16:19PM 2 points [-]

No human-comparable aliens, for one.

Which seems awfully unlikely, the more we learn about solar systems.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 08 December 2010 02:02:04PM 1 point [-]

assuming that the entire 80 billion galaxies' fate is decided then.

What's your P of "the fate of all 80 billion galaxies will be decided on Earth in the next 100 years"?

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 08 December 2010 02:15:18PM 0 points [-]

Some complexities regarding "decided" since physics is deterministic, but hand waving that aside, I'd say 50%.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 09 December 2010 12:50:42AM 1 point [-]

With high probability, many of those galaxies are already populated. Is that irrelevant?

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 09 December 2010 12:24:19PM 0 points [-]

I disagree. I claim that the probability of >50% of the universe being already populated (using the space of simultaneity defined by a frame of reference comoving with earth) is maybe 10%.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 09 December 2010 01:33:40PM 0 points [-]

"Already populated" is a red herring. What's the probability that >50% of the universe will ever be populated? I don't see any reason for it to be sensitive to how well things go on Earth in the next 100 years.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 09 December 2010 06:32:33PM 1 point [-]

I think it is likely that we are the only spontaneously-created intelligent species in the entire 4-manifold that is the universe, space and time included (excluding species which we might create in the future, of course).

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 09 December 2010 06:58:44PM 1 point [-]

I'm curious to know how likely, and why. But do you agree that aliens are relevant to evaluating astronomical waste?

Comment author: timtyler 09 December 2010 06:37:12PM 0 points [-]

That seems contrary to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-Indication_Assumption

Do you have a critique - or a supporting argument?

Comment author: Kevin 09 December 2010 02:28:22PM *  0 points [-]

If you think there is a significant probability that an intelligence explosion is possible or likely, then that question is sensitive to how well things go on Earth in the next 100 years.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 09 December 2010 03:06:06PM *  3 points [-]

However likely they are, I expect intelligence explosions to be evenly distributed through space and time. If 100 years from now Earth loses by a hair, there are still plenty of folks around the universe who will win or have won by a hair. They'll make whatever use of the 80 billion galaxies that they can--will they be wasting them?

If Earth wins by a hair, or by a lot, we'll be competing with those folks. This also significantly reduces the opportunity cost Roko was referring to.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 02:31:26PM *  0 points [-]

About 10% (if we ignore existential risk, which is a way of resolving the ambiguity of "will be decided"). Multiply that by opportunity cost of 80 billion galaxies.

Comment author: David_Gerard 08 December 2010 02:58:15PM 1 point [-]

Could you please detail your working to get to this 10% number? I'm interested in how one would derive it, in detail.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 03:20:26PM *  0 points [-]

I restored the question as asking about probability that we'll be finishing an FAI project in the next 100 years. Dying of engineered virus doesn't seem like an example of "deciding the fate of 80 billion galaxies", although it's determining that fate.

FAI looks really hard. Improvements in mathematical understanding to bridge comparable gaps in understanding can take at least many decades. I don't expect a reasonable attempt at actually building a FAI anytime soon (crazy potentially world-destroying AGI projects go in the same category as engineered viruses). One possible shortcut is ems, that effectively compress the required time, but I estimate that they probably won't be here for at least 80 more years, and then they'll still need time to become strong enough and break the problem. (By that time, biological intelligence amplification could take over as a deciding factor, using clarity of thought instead of lots of time to think.)

Comment author: Larks 07 December 2010 05:45:35PM 1 point [-]

Unfortunately, FHI seems to have filled the vacancies it advertised earlier this month.

Comment author: Alexandros 07 December 2010 08:09:00PM 1 point [-]

Are you talking about these? (http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/news/2010/vacancies) This seems odd, the deadline for applications is on Jan 12th.

Comment author: Larks 08 December 2010 08:57:55PM 0 points [-]

Oh yes - strange, I swear it said no vacancies...

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:47:23PM 0 points [-]

Sure, so this favors the "Create a new James Martin" strategy.

Comment author: Unnamed 07 December 2010 07:21:16PM 7 points [-]

But for the most part the system seems to be set up so that you first spend a long time working for someone else and research their ideas, after which you can lead your own group, but then most of your time will be spent on applying for grants and other administrative trivia rather than actually researching the interesting stuff. Also, in Finland at least, all professors need to also spend time doing teaching, so that's another time sink.

This depends on the field, university, and maybe country. In many cases, doing your own research is the main focus from graduate school on. At research universities in the US, at least, doing research is a professor's main job - although they do also have to do some teaching, apply for grants, and so on, professors are primarily judged by their publication record. In graduate school, many students get to work on their own research projects. A common model is: a professor who has some areas of interest & expertise gets graduate students who are interested in doing research in those areas. At first the students might work primarily on the professor's projects, especially if they don't have research ideas of their own yet, but during their time at grad school a student is expected to develop their own research ideas (within the same general area) and do their own projects, with guidance from the professor so that they can learn to do it well.

I think the academic route should work pretty well if you're interested in topics that are an established part of an academic field. If you're interested in an unusual topic that is not so well established, then you need to look and see if you'll be able to make academia work. Will you be able to get articles about that topic published in academic journals? Can you find a grad school, and then a university job, where they will support & encourage your research on that topic?

If you can find any published articles related to the topic then that's a starting point. Then I'd make a list of every researcher in the field who is interested in the topic, starting with the authors of published articles. Then look into all the grad students who have worked with those researchers, follow citation paths, and so on. You can get a decent sense of what academia might be like for you based on publicly available info (those researchers' websites, their lists of publications, and so on), and then you can contact them for more info. If you do go to grad school, you might go to one of their universities, or to a university that they recommended.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 08 December 2010 02:24:21AM *  34 points [-]

I believe that most people hoping to do independent academic research vastly underestimate both the amount of prior work done in their field of interest, and the advantages of working with other very smart and knowledgeable people. Note that it isn't just about working with other people, but with other very smart people. That is, there is a difference between "working at a university / research institute" and "working at a top university / research institute". (For instance, if you want to do AI research in the U.S., you probably want to be at MIT, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, CalTech, or UC Berkeley. I don't know about other countries.)

Unfortunately, my general impression is that most people on LessWrong are mostly unaware of the progress made in statistical machine learning (presumably the brand of AI that most LWers care about) and cognitive science in the last 20 years (I mention these two fields because I assume they are the most popular on LW, and also because I know the most about them). And I'm not talking about impressive-looking results that dodge around the real issues, I'm talking about fundamental progress towards resolving the key problems in artificial intelligence. Anyone planning to do AI research should probably at least understand these first, and what the remaining obstacles are.

You aren't going to understand this without doing a lot of reading, and by the time you've done that reading, you'll probably have identified a research group whose work clearly reflects your personal research goals. At this point it seems like the obvious next step is to apply to work with that group as a graduate student / post doc. This circumvents the problem of having to work on research you aren't interested in. As for other annoyances, while teaching can potentially be a time-sink, the rest of "wasted" time seems to be about publishing your work; I really find it hard to justify not publishing your work, since (a) other people need to know about it, and (b) writing up your results formally oftentimes leads to a noticeably deeper understanding than otherwise. Of course, you can waste time trying to make your results look better than they are, but this certainly isn't a requirement and has obvious ethical issues.

EDIT: There is the eventual problem that senior professors spend more and more of their time on administrative work / providing guidance to their lab, rather than doing research themselves. But this isn't going to be an issue until you get tenure, which is, if you do a post-doc, something like 10-15 years out from starting graduate school.

Comment author: nhamann 10 December 2010 11:27:35AM 6 points [-]

... the progress made in statistical machine learning (presumably the brand of AI that most LWers care about) and cognitive science in the last 20 years... And I'm not talking about impressive-looking results that dodge around the real issues, I'm talking about fundamental progress towards resolving the key problems in artificial intelligence.

Could you point me towards some articles here? I fully admit I'm unaware of most of this progress, and would like to learn more.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 11 December 2010 03:56:43AM *  11 points [-]

A good overview would fill up a post on its own, but some relevant topics are given below. I don't think any of it is behind a paywall, but if it is, let me know and I'll link to another article on the same topic. In cases where I learned about the topic by word of mouth, I haven't necessarily read the provided paper, so I can't guarantee the quality for all of these. I generally tried to pick papers that either gave a survey of progress or solved a specific clearly interesting problem. As a result you might have to do some additional reading to understand some of the articles, but hopefully this is a good start until I get something more organized up.

Learning:

Online concept learning: rational rules for concept learning [a somewhat idealized situation but a good taste of the sorts of techniques being applied]

Learning categories: Bernoulli mixture model for document classification, spatial pyramid matching for images

Learning category hierarchies: nested Chinese restaurant process, hierarchical beta process

Learning HMMs (hidden Markov models): HDP-HMMs this is pretty new so the details haven't been hammered out, but the article should give you a taste of how people are approaching the problem, although I also haven't read this article; I forget where I read about HDP-HMMs, although another paper on HDPs is this one. I think the original article I read was one of Erik Sudderth's, which are here. Another older algorithm is the Baum-Welch algorithm.

Learning image characteristics: deep Boltzmann machines

Handwriting recognition: hierarchical Bayesian approach, basically the same as the previous research

Learning graphical models: a survey paper


Planning:

Planning in MDPs: value iteration, plus LQR trees for many physical systems

Planning in POMDPs: I don't actually know much about this; my impression is that we need to do more work in this area, but approaches include reinforcement learning. A couple interesting papers: Bayes risk approach, plus a survey of hierarchical methods

Comment author: Danny_Hintze 10 December 2010 11:30:46PM 5 points [-]

There is the eventual problem that senior professors spend more and more of their time on administrative work / providing guidance to their lab, rather than doing research themselves. But this isn't going to be an issue until you get tenure, which is, if you do a post-doc, something like 10-15 years out from starting graduate school.

This might not even be a significant problem when the time does come around. High fluid intelligence only lasts for so long, and thus using more crystallized intelligence later on in life to guide research efforts rather than directly performing research yourself is not a bad strategy if the goal is to optimize for the actual research results.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 11 December 2010 03:05:43AM 3 points [-]

Those are roughly my thoughts as well, although I'm afraid that I only believe this to rationalize my decision to go into academia. While the argument makes sense, there are definitely professors that express frustration with their position.

What does seem like pretty sound logic is that if you could get better results without a research group, you wouldn't form a research group. So you probably won't run into the problem of achieving suboptimal results from administrative overhead (you could always just hire less people), but you might run into the problem of doing work that is less fun than it could be.

Another point is that plausibly some other profession (corporate work?) would have less administrative overhead per unit of efficiency, but I don't actually believe this to be true.

Comment author: Perplexed 22 January 2011 04:52:52AM 1 point [-]

... my general impression is that most people on LessWrong are mostly unaware of the progress made in statistical machine learning (presumably the brand of AI that most LWers care about) and cognitive science in the last 20 years ... . And I'm not talking about impressive-looking results that dodge around the real issues, I'm talking about fundamental progress towards resolving the key problems in artificial intelligence. Anyone planning to do AI research should probably at least understand these first, and what the remaining obstacles are.

I'm not planning to do AI research, but I do like to stay no more than ~10 years out of date regarding progress in fields like this. At least at the intelligent-outsider level of understanding. So, how do I go about getting and keeping almost up-to-date in these fields. Is MacKay's book a good place to start on machine learning? How do I get an unbiased survey of cognitive science? Are there blogs that (presuming you follow the links) can keep you up to date on what is getting a buzz?

Comment author: jsteinhardt 22 January 2011 09:19:18PM 2 points [-]

I haven't read MacKay myself, but it looks like it hits a lot of the relevant topics.

You might consider checking out Tom Griffiths' website, which has a reading list as well as several tutorials.

Comment author: sark 21 January 2011 11:10:18PM 1 point [-]

We should try to communicate with long letters (snail mail) more. Academics seem to have done that a lot in the past. From what I have seen these exchanges seem very productive, though this could be a sampling bias. I don't see why there aren't more 'personal communication' cites, except for them possibly being frowned upon.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 21 January 2011 11:46:01PM 1 point [-]

Why use snail mail when you can use skype? My lab director uses it regularly to talk to other researchers.

Comment author: sark 22 January 2011 01:06:23AM 3 points [-]

Because it is written. Which makes it good for communicating complex ideas. The tradition behind it also lends it an air of legitimacy. Researchers who don't already have a working relationship with each other will take each other's letters more seriously.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 22 January 2011 04:28:09AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted for the good point about communication. Not sure I agree with the legitimacy part (what is p(Crackpot | Snail Mail) compared to p(Crackpot | Email)? I would guess higher).

Comment author: Sniffnoy 23 January 2011 05:31:55AM 1 point [-]

What I'm now wondering is, how does using email vs. snail mail affect the probability of using green ink, or its email equivalent...

Comment author: sark 22 January 2011 12:01:12PM 1 point [-]

Heh you are probably right. It just seemed strange to me how researchers cannot just communicate with each other as long as they have the same research interests. My first thought was that it might have been something to do with status games, where outsiders are not allowed. I suppose some exchanges require rapid and frequent feedback. But then, like you mentioned, wouldn't Skype do?

Comment author: jsteinhardt 22 January 2011 09:09:22PM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure what the general case looks like, but the professors who I have worked with (who all have the characteristic that they do applied-ish research at a top research university) are both constantly barraged by more e-mails than they can possibly respond to. I suspect that as a result they limit communication to sources that they know will be fruitful.

Other professors in more theoretical fields (like pure math) don't seem to have this problem, so I'm not sure why they don't do what you suggest (although some of them do). And I am not sure that all professors run into the same problem as I have described, even in applied fields.

Comment author: Desrtopa 22 January 2011 06:17:53AM *  0 points [-]

"In the past" as in before they had alternative methods of long distance communication, or after?

Comment author: Jordan 09 December 2010 07:17:24AM 6 points [-]

An important academic option: get tenure at a less reputable school. In the States at least there are tons of universities that don't really have huge research responsibilities (so you won't need to worry about pushing out worthless papers, preparing for conferences, peer reviewing, etc), and also don't have huge teaching loads. Once you get tenure you can cruise while focusing on research you think matters.

The down side is that you won't be able to network quite as effectively as if you were at a more prestigious university and the pay isn't quite as good.

Comment author: utilitymonster 09 December 2010 01:49:13PM 1 point [-]

Don't forget about the ridiculous levels of teaching you're responsible for in that situation. Lots worse than at an elite institution.

Comment author: Jordan 09 December 2010 08:37:27PM 2 points [-]

Not necessarily. I'm not referring to no-research universities, which do have much higher teaching loads (although still not ridiculous. Teaching 3 or 4 classes a semester is hardly strenuous). I'm referring to research universities that aren't in the top 100, but which still push out graduate students.

My undegrad Alma Mater, Kansas University, for instance. Professors teach 1 or 2 classes a semester, with TA support (really, when you have TAs, teaching is not real work). They are still expected to do research, but the pressure is much less than at a top 50 school.

Comment author: alexflint 10 December 2010 10:44:22AM *  5 points [-]

One big disadvantage is that you won't be interacting with other researchers from whom you can learn.

Research seems to be an insiders' game. You only ever really see the current state of research in informal settings like seminars and lab visits. Conference papers and journal articles tend to give strange, skewed, out-of-context projections of what's really going on, and books summarise important findings long after the fact.

Comment author: Danny_Hintze 10 December 2010 11:21:30PM 3 points [-]

At the same time however, you might be able to interact with researchers more effectively. For example, you could spend some of those research weeks visiting selected labs and seminars and finding out what's up. It's true that this would force you to be conscientious about opportunities and networking, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Networks formed with a very distinct purpose are probably going to outperform those that form more accidentally. You wouldn't be as tied down as other researchers, which could give you an edge in getting the ideas and experiences you need for your research, while simultaneously making you more valuable to others when necessary (For example, imagine if one of your important research contacts needs two weeks of solid help on something. You could oblige whereas others with less fluid obligations could not.).

Comment author: MartinB 08 December 2010 10:27:45AM 5 points [-]

This thread raises the question about how many biologists and medical researchers are on here. Due to our specific cluster I expect a strong learning towards the IT people. So AI research gets over proportional recognition, while medical research including direct life extension falls on the wayside.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 07 December 2010 09:29:50PM 4 points [-]

Speaking as someone who is in grad school now, even with prior research, the formal track of grad school is very helpful. I am doing research that I'm interested in. I don' t know if I'm a representative sample in that regard. It may be that people have more flexibility in math than in other areas. Certainly my anecdotal impression is that people in some areas such as biology don't have this degree of freedom. I'm also learning more about how to research and how to present my results. Those seem to be the largest advantages. Incidentally, my impression is that for grad school at least in many areas, taking a semester or two off if very stressed isn't treated that badly if one is otherwise doing productive research.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 14 December 2010 12:46:06AM 0 points [-]

I am doing research that I'm interested in. I don' t know if I'm a representative sample in that regard.

I'm in grad school in statistics and am in the same boat. It doesn't seem that difficult to do research on something you're interested in while still in grad school. In a nutshell, choose your major professor wisely. (And make sure the department is large enough that there are plenty of options)

Comment author: aletheilia 07 December 2010 07:29:25PM 4 points [-]

Being in a similar position (also as far as aversion to moving to e.g. US is concerned), I decided to work part time (roughly 1/5 of the time of even less) in software industry and spend the remainder of the day studying relevant literature, leveling up etc. for working on the FAI problem. Since I'm not quite out of the university system yet, I'm also trying to build some connections with our AI lab staff and a few other interested people in the academia, but with no intention to actually join their show. It would eat away almost all my time, so I could work on some AI-ish bio-informatics software or something similarly irrelevant FAI-wise.

There are of course some benefits in joining the academia, as you mentioned, but it seems to me that you can reap quite a bit of them by just befriending an assistant professor or two.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 04:42:18PM 4 points [-]

Kaj, why don't you add the option of getting rich in your 20s by working in finance, then paying your way into research groups in your late 30s? PalmPilot guy, uh Jeff Hawkins essentially did this. Except he was an entrepreneur.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 04:54:08PM 3 points [-]

That doesn't sound very easy.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 December 2010 04:59:58PM *  5 points [-]

Sounds a heck of a lot easier than doing an equivalent amount of status grabbing within academic circles over the same time.

Money is a lot easier to game and status easier to buy.

Comment author: David_Gerard 07 December 2010 05:29:04PM *  8 points [-]

There is the minor detail that it really helps not to hate each and every individual second of your working life in the process. A goal will only pull you along to a certain degree.

(Computer types know all the money is in the City. I did six months of it. I found the people I worked with and the people whose benefit I worked for to be excellent arguments for an unnecessarily bloody socialist revolution.)

Comment author: wedrifid 07 December 2010 06:57:43PM 2 points [-]

A goal will only pull you along to a certain degree.

For many people that is about half way between the Masters and PhD degrees. ;)

If only being in a university was a guarantee of an enjoyable working experience.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 06:19:46PM *  1 point [-]

Curious, why did it bother you that you disliked the people you worked with? Couldn't you just be polite to them and take part in their jokes/socialgames/whatever? They're paying you handsomely to be there, after all?

Or was it a case of them being mean to you?

Comment author: David_Gerard 07 December 2010 06:22:06PM *  2 points [-]

No, just loathsome. And the end product of what I did and finding the people I was doing it for loathsome.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 06:27:11PM 2 points [-]

I dunno, "loathsome" sounds a bit theoretical to me. Can you be specific?

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 December 2010 06:40:00PM *  4 points [-]

One of my brother's co-workers at Goldman Sachs has actively tried to sabotage his work. (Goldman Sachs runs on a highly competitive "up or out" system; you either get promoted or fired, and most people don't get promoted. If my brother lost his job, his coworker would be more likely to keep his.)

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 07:36:07PM 2 points [-]

I don't understand: he tried to sabotage his cowerker's work, or his own?

Comment author: sfb 07 December 2010 07:38:17PM 6 points [-]

CronoDAS's Brother's Co-worker tried to sabotage CronoDAS's Brother's work.

Comment author: David_Gerard 08 December 2010 01:03:25AM *  2 points [-]

Not without getting political. Fundamentally, I didn't feel good about what I was doing. And I was just a Unix sysadmin.

This was just a job to live, not a job taken on in the furtherance of a larger goal.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:23:59PM 2 points [-]

Agreed. Average Prof is a nobody at 40, average financier is a millionaire. shrugs

Comment author: Hul-Gil 26 July 2011 12:32:15AM 0 points [-]

The average financier is a millionaire at 40?! What job is this, exactly?

Comment author: sark 25 January 2011 06:07:29PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for this. This was a profound revelation for me.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:27:44PM *  3 points [-]

Also, you can get a PhD in a relevant mathy discipline first, thereby satisfying the condition of having done research.

And the process of dealing with the real world enough to make money will hopefully leave you with better anti-akrasia tactics, better ability to achieve real-world goals, etc.

You might even be able to hire others.

Comment author: Manfred 07 December 2010 06:19:25PM 4 points [-]

Upvoted for comedy.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 04:57:32PM *  1 point [-]

I don't think you need to be excessively rich. $1-4M ought to be enough.

Edit: oh, I forgot, you live in scandanavia, with a taxation system so "progressive" that it has an essential singularity at $100k. Might have to move to US.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 05:01:28PM 1 point [-]

Might have to move to US.

I'm afraid that's not really an option for me, due to various emotional and social issues. I already got horribly homesick during just a four month visit.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 December 2010 05:39:32PM 4 points [-]

Alaska might be a reasonable Finland substitute, weather-wise, but the other issues will be difficult to resolve (if you're moving to the US to make a bunch of money, Alaska is not the best place to do it).

One of my favorite professors was Brazilian, who went to graduate school at the University of Rochester. Horrified (I used to visit my ex in upstate New York, and so was familiar with the horrible winters that take up 8 months of the year without the compensations that convince people to live in Scandinavia), I asked him how he liked the transition- and he said that he loved it, and it was the best time of his life. I clarified that I was asking about the weather, and he shrugged and said that in academia, you absolutely need to put the ideas first. If the best place for your research is Antarctica, that's where you go.

The reason why I tell this story is that this is what successful professors look like, and only one tenth of the people that go to graduate school end up as professors. If you would be outcompeted by this guy instead of this guy, keep that in mind when deciding you want to enter academia. And, if you want to do research outside of academia, in order to do that well that requires more effort than research done inside of academia.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 06:42:41PM 1 point [-]

It's not the weather: I'd actually prefer a warmer climate than Finland has. It's living in a foreign culture and losing all of my existing social networks.

I don't have a problem with putting in a lot of work, but to be able to put in a lot of work, my life needs to be generally pleasant otherwise, and the work needs to be at least somewhat meaningful. I've tried the "just grit your teeth and toil" mentality, and it doesn't work - maybe for someone else it does, but not for me.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 December 2010 11:45:37PM 4 points [-]

my life needs to be generally pleasant otherwise, and the work needs to be at least somewhat meaningful. I've tried the "just grit your teeth and toil" mentality, and it doesn't work - maybe for someone else it does, but not for me.

The first part is the part I'm calling into question, not the second. Of course you need to be electrified by your work. It's hard to do great things when you're toiling instead of playing.

But your standards for general pleasantness are, as far as I can tell, the sieve for a lot of research fields. As an example, it is actually harder to be happy on a grad student/postdoc salary; instead of it being shallow to consider that a challenge, it's shallow-mindedness to not recognize that that is a challenge. It is actually harder to find a mate and start a family while an itinerant academic looking for tenure. (Other examples abound; two should be enough for this comment.) If you're having trouble leaving your network of friends to go to grad school / someplace you can get paid more, then it seems likely that you will have trouble with the standard academic life or standard corporate life.

While there are alternatives, those tend not to play well with doing research, since the alternative tends to take the same kind of effort that you would have put into research. I should comment that I think a normal day job plus research on the side can work out but should be treated like writing a novel on the side- essentially, the way creative literary types play the lottery.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 09 December 2010 04:30:10AM 1 point [-]

It's living in a foreign culture and losing all of my existing social networks.

Of course it is! I am in the same situation. Just finished undergrad in philosophy. But here life is completely optimized for happiness: 1) No errands 2) Friends filtered through 15 years for intelligence, fun, beauty, awesomeness. 3) Love, commitment, passion, and just plain sex with the one, and the others. 4) Deep knowledge of the free culture available 5) Ranking high in the city (São Paulo's) social youth hierarchy 6) Cheap services 7) Family and acquaintances network. 8) Freedom timewise to write my books 9) Going to the park 10 min walking 10) Having been to, and having friends who were in the US, and knowing for fact that life just is worse there....

This is how much fun I have, the list's impact is the only reason I'm considering not going to study, get FAI faster, get anti-ageing faster.

If only life were just a little worse...... I would be in a plane towards posthumanity right now.

So how good has a life to be for you to be forgiven of not working for what really matters? Help me folks!

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:15:11PM 1 point [-]

Well, you wanna make an omlet, you gotta break some eggs!

Comment author: Clippy 07 December 2010 06:56:48PM *  13 points [-]

Conditioning on yourself deeming it optimal to make a metaphorical omelet by breaking metaphorical eggs, metaphorical eggs will deem it less optimal to remain vulnerable to metaphorical breakage by you than if you did not deem it optimal to make a metaphorical omelet by breaking metaphorical eggs; therefore, deeming it optimal to break metaphorical eggs in order to make a metaphorical omelet can increase the difficulty you find in obtaining omelet-level utility.

Comment author: JGWeissman 07 December 2010 07:18:44PM 4 points [-]

Many metaphorical eggs are not [metaphorical egg]::Utility maximizing agents.

Comment author: Clippy 07 December 2010 07:28:16PM 1 point [-]

True, and to the extent that is not the case, the mechanism I specified would not activate.

Comment author: Larks 07 December 2010 06:27:56PM 1 point [-]

Do you have any advice for getting into Quant work? (I'm a second year maths student at Oxford, don't know much about the city).

Comment author: [deleted] 08 December 2010 08:31:53AM 5 points [-]

An advice sheet for mathematicians considering becoming quants. It's not a path that interests me, but if it was I think I'd find this useful.

Comment author: Manfred 07 December 2010 06:23:29PM *  9 points [-]

The largest disadvantage to not having, essentially, an apprenticeship is the stuff you don't learn.

Now, if you want to research something where all you need is a keen wit, and there's not a ton of knowledge for you to pick up before you start... sure, go ahead. But those topics are few and far between. (EDIT: oh, LW-ish stuff. Meh. Sure, then, I guess. I thought you meant researching something hard >:DDDDD

No, but really, if smart people have been doing research there for 50 years and we don't have AI, that means that "seems easy to make progress" is a dirty lie. It may mean that other people haven't learned much to teach you, though - you should put some actual effort (get responses from at least two experts) finding out of this is the case)

Usually, an apprenticeship will teach you:

  • What needs to be done in your field.

  • How to write, publicize and present your work. The communication protocols of the community. How to access the knowledge of the community.

  • How to use all the necessary equipment, including the equipment that builds other equipment.

  • How to be properly rigorous - a hard one in most fields, you have to make it instinctual rather than just known.

  • The subtle tricks an experienced researcher uses to actually do research - all sorts of things you might not have noticed on your own.

  • And more!

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 December 2010 04:38:14PM 3 points [-]

Depending on what you're planning to research, lack of access to university facilities could also be a major obstacle. If you have a reputation for credible research, you might be able to collaborate with people within the university system, but I suspect that making the original break in would be pretty difficult.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 December 2010 12:59:57AM *  2 points [-]

While it's not geared specifically towards individuals trying to do research, the (Virtual) Employment Open Thread has relevant advice for making money with little work.

Comment author: James_Miller 07 December 2010 10:51:24PM 2 points [-]

If you had a paper that was good enough to get published if you were a professor then the SIAI could probably find a professor to co-author with you.

Google Scholar has greatly reduced the benefit of having access to a college library.

Comment author: sketerpot 08 December 2010 01:20:46AM 6 points [-]

Google Scholar has greatly reduced the benefit of having access to a college library.

That depends on the field. Some fields are so riddled with paywalls that Google Scholar is all but useless; others like computer science, are much more progressive.

Comment author: Perplexed 12 December 2010 01:28:25AM 2 points [-]

What (dis)advantages does this have compared to the traditional model?

I think this thread perfectly illustrates one disadvantage of doing research in an unstructured environment. It is so easy to become distracted from the original question by irrelevant, but bright and shiny distractions. Having a good academic adviser cracking the whip helps to keep you on track.

855 comments so far, with no sign of slowing down!

Comment author: Vaniver 07 December 2010 05:28:19PM -3 points [-]

Ideally, I'd like to save the world.

First bit of advice: grow up. Be interested in research because you're curious, not because you're special and/or status-seeking. Until the word that comes to mind is "improve" rather than "save" you will be looking at the wrong questions for the wrong reasons.

Journals might be biased against freelance researchers.

Oh, absolutely. If you want to be part of academia, you have to be part of academia.

It might actually be better to spend some time doing research under others before doing it on your own.

I would replace "might" here with "would."

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 05:39:38PM 9 points [-]

First bit of advice: grow up. Be interested in research because you're curious, not because you're special and/or status-seeking.

This comment strikes me as rather confrontational, and also as offering advice based on a misguided understanding of my motives.

Until the word that comes to mind is "improve" rather than "save" you will be looking at the wrong questions for the wrong reasons.

I have very little clue of what you're trying to say.

Comment author: Vaniver 08 December 2010 12:24:43AM *  8 points [-]

This comment strikes me as rather confrontational

Of course. Whenever someone says they want to do something impossibly hard, the proper response is to dismiss them. Either they agree with you, and you made the right call, or they disagree with you, and you've cemented their resolve.

But JoshuaZ is right that I think the wording is ridiculous. "Save the world" is nothing but applause lights. If it were "see a positive singularity" we would have at least gone from 0th order to 1st order. If it were "make life extension available sooner" we've progressed from 1st order to 2nd order. If it were "make lab-grown organs available sooner" we've progressed from 2nd order to 3rd order. If one comes to me with the last desire, I'd tell them to move to Wake Forest and become friends with Anthony Atala. If someone comes to me with the first desire, I pat them on the head.

Even Norman Borlaug didn't "save the world." He might have personally extended lifespans by billions of human-years, but that's not close, even on a log scale. And if you want to be a second Norman Borlaug, trying to save the world seems like a poor way to approach that goal because you focus on the wrong questions. Borlaug wanted to improve the world- to make hungry people full by creating wheat varieties that were disease-resistant. He had the altruistic impulse, but he was facing a problem worked out to third order. The altruistic impulse is a great thing, but if you don't have a third order problem yet keep looking.

And when asking for career advice, it's relevant information where you are in that process. If you're at 2nd order, your interests will already be narrow enough that most advice will be inapplicable to your situation. The 2nd order person in the particular track I've outlined already knows they will strongly benefit from getting a medical degree in America, England, or China (there may be a few other countries on this list; this isn't my specialty) or that they should earn a bunch of money while getting familiar with efforts already underway in those countries. If you're at 3rd order, you're already at the point where there are a handful of appropriate opportunities, and you're better off looking for those opportunities specifically than you are getting generic advice.

If you're at 0th order? Then you need to spend time cultivating your interests. If you go to Silicon Valley and your only interest is "I want to get rich!" you won't get very far. While that may be the underlying interest of everyone there, the fact that it's so common means that it conveys very little information. The way for an individual to tackle a 0th order problem is to find a 3rd order problem, uncover some 4th order problems while investigating that problem, and solve those.

EDIT: I fleshed this out further is this post.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 08 December 2010 10:17:46AM 9 points [-]

But JoshuaZ is right that I think the wording is ridiculous. "Save the world" is nothing but applause lights.

You're reading way too much into that single line. I wanted to express the sentiment of "I want to be as effective as possible in doing good", and there was a recent post covering that topic which happened to be named "how to save the world", so I linked to it. If that post hadn't been there, I might have said something like "I want to do something meaningful with my life". I was also assuming "saving the world" and other similar expressions to be standard LW jargon for "doing as much good as possible".

As for my actual goals... Ideally I'd like to help avert a negative singularity, though since I don't have very high hopes of that actually being possible, I also give the goals of "just have fun" and "help people in the short term" considerable weight, and am undecided as to how much effort I'll in the end spend explicitly on singularity matters. But to the degree that I do end up trying to help the singularity, the three main approaches I've been playing with are

  • Just make money and donate that to SIAI.
  • Help influence academia to become more aware of these issues.
  • Become well-known enough (via e.g. writing, politics) among normal people that I can help spread singularity-related ideas and hopefully get more people to take them seriously.

These are obviously not mutually exclusive, and indeed, one of the reasons I'm playing around with the idea of "freelance academia" is that it allows me to do some of the academic stuff without the commitment that e.g. getting a PhD would involve (as I'm not yet sure whether the academic approach is the one that I'd find the most rewarding). All three also have to varying extent an intrinsic appeal, beyond just the singularity aspect: I wouldn't mind having a bit more money, intellectual work is rewarding by itself, and so is writing and having a lot of people care about your opinions.

As for the details of the academic career path, the "help avoid a negative singularity" aspect of that currently mainly involves helping write up the ideas about the singularity into concise, well-sourced papers that people can be pointed to. (Here is one example of such work - an improved, full-length version of that paper is in the works.) Beyond that, maybe with time I can come up with original insights of my own to contribute to the field, as well as build a reputation and give those singularity-related ideas more merit by producing well-regarded papers in non-singularity-related fields that I happen to be interested in.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 07 December 2010 09:31:56PM 2 points [-]

I believe that Vaniver is making a distinction between "improve" and "save" in saying that any given individual is unlikely to have a large-scale enough impact to be described as "saving" the world, but that many people can improve the world. This point may have some validity, although Norman Borlaugh may be a relevant counterexample to show that it isn't completely impossible.

Comment author: ata 08 December 2010 01:20:54AM *  4 points [-]

That would be only relevant if Kaj had said "I expect to save the world" instead of "Ideally, I'd like to save the world". I read the latter as specifying something like "all existential risks are averted and the world gets much more awesome" as an optimization target, not as something that he wants to (let alone expects to be able to) do completely and singlehandedly. And as an optimization target, it makes good sense. Why aim for imperfection? The target is the measure of utility, not a proposed action or plan on its own. (Possibly relevant: Trying to Try.)

(One thing I see about that paragraph that could be legitimately disputed is the jump from specifying the optimization target to "One way to do that involves contributing academic research, which raises the question of what's the most effective way of doing that" without establishing that academic research is itself the best way (or at least a good way) for a very smart person to optimize the aforementioned goal. That itself would be an interesting discussion, but I think in this post it is taken as an assumption. (See also this comment.))

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 10:35:42AM *  1 point [-]

I read the latter as specifying something like "all existential risks are averted and the world gets much more awesome" as an optimization target, not as something that he wants to (let alone expects to be able to) do completely and singlehandedly.

There is no "singlehandedly", individual decisions control actions of many people.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 08 December 2010 10:20:48AM 0 points [-]

That itself would be an interesting discussion, but I think in this post it is taken as an assumption.

Indeed it is.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 07 December 2010 05:54:26PM 1 point [-]

Agreed that it is too confrontational.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 07 December 2010 05:51:43PM 1 point [-]

How does this contribute to the thread?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 28 December 2010 01:53:16PM *  0 points [-]

Oh, absolutely. If you want to be part of academia, you have to be part of academia.

I think this varies from field to field. Some fields are more biased than others. Math for example is not very biased in that regard. The hard sciences are not as biased also but in order for people to do good work in them they need resources that they are going to have trouble getting outside academia or industry. I suspect (but have no strong evidence) that the "softer" a subject the more likely the journalists are to discriminate based on whether or not a submitter is in academia.

Comment author: Vaniver 28 December 2010 02:11:32PM 0 points [-]

This sounds similar to adoption of pre-prints like ArXiv; in fields where most papers are accepted for publication (I think it's 90% in physics) people use it; in fields where most papers aren't accepted (I think it's 20-30% in some humanities fields) people find them worthless (since a preprint hasn't passed the gatekeeper, and that's actually a significant cull).

Comment author: InquilineKea 07 December 2010 11:09:24PM 1 point [-]

What about becoming a blogger at a place like ScienceBlogs?

Alternatively, if you're willing to live very ascetically, what about emailing/asking philanthropists/millionaires with ideas, and asking them to fund them? (perhaps with a probationary period if necessary). What about emailing professors?

Theoretically, if you had VERY supportive+tolerant parents/friends (rare, but they exist on the Internet), you could simply ask to live with them, and to do research in their house as well.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 07 December 2010 05:18:07PM *  1 point [-]

I am doing something similar, except working as a freelance software developer. My mental model is that in both the traditional academic path and the freelance path, you are effectively spending a lot of your time working for money. In academia, the "dirty work" is stuff like teaching, making PowerPoint presentations (ugh), keeping your supervisor happy, jumping through random formatting hoops to get papers published, and then going to conferences to present the papers. For me, the decisive factor is that software development is actually quite fun, while academic money work is brain-numbing.

Comment author: LucasSloan 07 December 2010 04:27:59PM 0 points [-]

How hard is it to live off the dole in Finland? Also, non-academic research positions in think tanks and the like (including, of course, SIAI).

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 04:42:20PM 5 points [-]

Not very hard in principle, but I gather it tends to be rather stressful, with stuff like payments not arriving when they're supposed to happening every now and then. Also, I couldn't avoid the feeling of being a leech, justified or not.

Non-academic think tanks are a possibility, but for Singularity-related matters I can't think of others than the SIAI, and their resources are limited.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 December 2010 06:00:59PM 2 points [-]

Many people would steal food to save lives of the starving, and that's illegal.

Working within the national support system to increase the chance of saving everybody/everything? If you would do the first, you should probably do the second. But you need to weigh the plausibility of the get-rich-and-fund-institute option, including the positive contributions of the others you could potentially hire.

Comment deleted 07 December 2010 07:39:36PM *  [-]
Comment author: wedrifid 07 December 2010 08:08:29PM 3 points [-]

I was once chastized by a senior singinst member for not being prepared to be tortured or raped for the cause.

Forget entirely 'the cause' nonsense. How far would you go just to avoid not personally getting killed? How much torture per chance that your personal contribution at the margin will prevent your near term death?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 December 2010 05:56:23AM 2 points [-]

Could we move this discussion somewhere, where we don't have to constantly worry about it getting deleted.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 08 December 2010 06:55:25AM *  9 points [-]

I'm not aware that LW moderators have ever deleted content merely for being critical of or potentially bad PR for SIAI, and I don't think they're naive enough to believe deletion would help. (Roko's infamous post was considered harmful for other reasons.)

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 07:04:07AM 0 points [-]

"Harmful for other reasons" still has a chilling effect on free speech... and given that those reasons were vague but had something to do with torture, it's not unreasonable to worry about deletion of replies to the above question.

Comment author: Bongo 08 December 2010 02:43:38PM *  2 points [-]

The reasons weren't vague.

Of course this is just your assertion against mine since we're not going to actually discuss the reasons here.

Comment deleted 09 December 2010 05:23:32PM [-]
Comment author: wedrifid 08 December 2010 06:15:13AM *  2 points [-]

There doesn't seem to be anything censor relevant in my question and for my part I tend to let big brother worry about his own paranoia and just go about my business. In any case while the question is an interesting one to me it doesn't seem important enough to create a discussion somewhere else. At least not until I make a post. Putting aside presumptions of extreme altruism just how much contribution to FAI development is rational? To what extent does said rational contribution rely on newcomblike reasoning? How much would a CDT agent contribute on the expectation that his personal contribution will make the difference and save his life?

On second thoughts maybe the discussion does seem to interest me sufficiently. If you are particularly interested in answering me feel free to copy and paste my questions elsewhere and leave a back-link. ;)

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 06:40:49AM -2 points [-]

I think you/we're fine -- just alternate between two tabs when replying, and paste it to the rationalwiki if it gets deleted.

Don't let EY chill your free speech -- this is supposed to be a community blog devoted to rationality... not a SIAI blog where comments are deleted whenever convenient.

Besides, it's looking like after the Roko thing they've decided to cut back on such silliness.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 11:22:39AM *  9 points [-]

Don't let EY chill your free speech -- this is supposed to be a community blog devoted to rationality... not a SIAI blog where comments are deleted whenever convenient.

You are compartmentalizing. What you should be asking yourself is whether the decision is correct (has better expected consequences than the available alternatives), not whether it conflicts with freedom of speech. That the decision conflicts with freedom of speech doesn't necessarily mean that it's incorrect, and if the correct decision conflicts with freedom of speech, or has you kill a thousand children (estimation of its correctness must of course take this consequence into account), it's still correct and should be taken.

(There is only one proper criterion to anyone's actions, goodness of consequences, and if any normally useful heuristic stays in the way, it has to be put down, not because one is opposed to that heuristic, but because in a given situation, it doesn't yield the correct decision. )

(This is a note about a problem in your argument, not an argument for correctness of EY's decision. My argument for correctness of EY's decision is here and here.)

Comment author: wedrifid 08 December 2010 11:52:53AM *  4 points [-]

You are compartmentalizing.

This is possible but by no means assured. It is also possible that he simply didn't choose to write a full evaluation of consequences in this particular comment.

Comment author: xamdam 08 December 2010 08:37:17PM *  2 points [-]

whether the decision is correct (has better expected consequences than the available alternatives), not whether it conflicts with freedom of speech.

Sounds like a good argument for WikiLeaks dilemma (which is of course confused by the possibility the government is lying their asses off about potential harm)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 08:43:34PM *  0 points [-]

The question with WikiLeaks is about long-term consequences. As I understand it, the (sane) arguments in favor can be summarized as stating that expected long-term good outweighs expected short-term harm. It's difficult (for me) to estimate whether it's so.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 08 December 2010 12:01:04PM 2 points [-]

What you should be asking yourself is whether the decision is correct (has better expected consequences than the available alternatives), not whether it conflicts with freedom of speech.

Upvoted. This just helped me get unstuck on a problem I've been procrastinating on.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 11:56:28AM 2 points [-]

(There is only one proper criterion to anyone's actions, goodness of consequences, and if any normally useful heuristic stays in the way, it has to be put down, not because one is opposed to that heuristic, but because in a given situation, it doesn't yield the correct decision.)

Very much agree btw

Comment author: red75 08 December 2010 03:21:12PM -1 points [-]

Shouldn't AI researchers precommit to not build AI capable of this kind of acausal self-creation? This will lower chances of disaster both causally and acausally.

And please, define how do you tell moral heuristics and moral values apart. E.g. which is "don't change moral values of humans by wireheading"?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 December 2010 07:29:20AM 2 points [-]

Besides, it's looking like after the Roko thing they've decided to cut back on such silliness.

I believe EY takes this issue very seriously.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 07:35:24AM 2 points [-]

Ahh. Are you aware of any other deletions?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 December 2010 07:52:30AM 3 points [-]

Yes, several times other poster's have brought up the subject and had their comments deleted.

Comment author: XiXiDu 08 December 2010 08:38:41PM *  3 points [-]

Are you aware of any other deletions?

Here...

I'd like to ask you the following. How would you, as an editor (moderator), handle dangerous information that are more harmful the more people know about it? Just imagine a detailed description of how to code an AGI or create bio weapons. Would you stay away from censoring such information in favor of free speech?

The subject matter here has a somewhat different nature that rather fits a more people - more probable pattern. The question is if it is better to discuss it as to possible resolve it or to censor it and thereby impede it. The problem is that this very question can not be discussed without deciding to not censor it. That doesn't mean that people can not work on it, but rather just a few people in private. It is very likely that those people who already know about it are the most likely to solve the issue anyway. The general public would probably only add noise and make it much more likely to happen by simply knowing about it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 12:48:25PM *  4 points [-]

Don't let EY chill your free speech -- this is supposed to be a community blog devoted to rationality... not a SIAI blog where comments are deleted whenever convenient.

Following is another analysis.

Consider a die that was tossed 20 times, and each time it fell even side up. It's not surprising because it's a low-probability event: you wouldn't be surprised if you observed most other combinations equally improbable under the hypothesis that the die is fair. You are surprised because a pattern you see suggests that there is an explanation for your observations that you've missed. You notice your own confusion.

In this case, you look at the event of censoring a post (topic), and you're surprised, you don't understand why that happened. And then your brain pattern matches all sorts of hypotheses that are not just improbable, but probably meaningless cached phrases, like "It's convenient", or "To oppose freedom of speech", or "To manifest dictatorial power".

Instead of leaving the choice of a hypothesis to the stupid intuitive processes, you should notice your own confusion, and recognize that you don't know the answer. Acknowledging that you don't know the answer is better than suggesting an obviously incorrect theory, if much more probability is concentrated outside that theory, where you can't suggest a hypothesis.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 12:56:57PM 3 points [-]

Since we're playing the condescension game, following is another analysis:

You read a (well written) slogan, and assumed that the writer must be irrational. You didn't read the thread he linked you to, you focused on your first impression and held to it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 08 December 2010 01:21:24PM 1 point [-]

Since we're playing the condescension game

I'm not. Seriously. "Whenever convenient" is a very weak theory, and thus using it is a more serious flaw, but I missed that on first reading and addressed a different problem.

You read a (well written) slogan, and assumed that the writer must be irrational. You didn't read the thread he linked you to, you focused on your first impression and held to it.

Please unpack the references. I don't understand.

Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:19:55PM [-]
Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:21:07PM *  [-]
Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:21:41PM *  [-]
Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:22:13PM [-]
Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:23:31PM *  [-]
Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 06:56:45AM -1 points [-]

Am I the only one who can honestly say that it would depend on the day?

There's a TED talk I once watched about how republicans reason on five moral channels and democrats only reason on two.

They were (roughly):

  1. harm/care
  2. fairness/reciprocity
  3. in-group/out-group
  4. authority
  5. purity/scarcity/correctness

According to the talk, Democrats reason with primarily the first two and Republicans with all of them.

I took this to mean that Republicans were allowed to do moral calculus that Democrats could not... for instance, if I can only reason with the firs two, then punching a baby is always wrong (it causes harm, and isn't fair)... If, on the other hand, I'm allowed to reason with all five, it might be okay to punch a baby because my Leader said to do it, or because the baby isn't from my home town, or because my religion says to.

Republicans therefore have it much easier in rationalizing self-serving motives.

(As an aside, it's interesting to note that Democrats must have started with more than just the two when they were young. "Mommy said not to" is a very good reason to do something when you're young. It seems that they must have grown out of it).

After watching the TED talk, I was reflecting on how it seems that smart people (myself sadly included) let relatively minor moral problems stop them from doing great things... and on how if I were just a little more Republican (in the five channel moral reasoning sense) I might be able to be significantly more successful.

The result is a WFG that cycles in and out of 2-channel/5-channel reasoning.

On my 2-channel days, I'd have a very hard time hurting another person to save myself. If I saw them, and could feel that human connection, I doubt I could do much more than I myself would be willing to endure to save another's life (perhaps two hours assuming hand-over-a-candle level of pain -- permanent disfigurement would be harder to justify, but if it was relatively minor).

On my 5-channel days, I'm (surprisingly not so embarrassed to say) I'd probably go arbitrarily high... after all, what's their life compared to mine?

Probably a bit more than you were looking to hear.

What's your answer?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 December 2010 07:25:45AM 2 points [-]

I took this to mean that Republicans were allowed to do moral calculus that Democrats could not... for instance, if I can only reason with the firs two, then punching a baby is always wrong (it causes harm, and isn't fair)... If, on the other hand, I'm allowed to reason with all five, it might be okay to punch a baby because my Leader said to do it, or because the baby isn't from my home town, or because my religion says to.

First let me say that as a Republican/libertarian I don't entirely agree with Haidt's analysis.

In any case, the above is not quiet how I understand Haidt's analysis. My understanding is that Democracts have no way to categorically say that punching (or even killing) a baby is wrong. While they can say it's wrong because as you said it causes harm and isn't fair, they can always override that judgement by coming up with a reason why not punching and/or killing the baby would also cause harm. (See the philosophy of Peter Singer for an example).

Republicans on the other hand can invoke sanctity of life.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 07:32:29AM 2 points [-]

Sure, agreed. The way I presented it only showed very simplistic reasoning.

Let's just say that, if you imagine a Democrat that desperately wants to do x but can't justify it morally (punch a baby, start a somewhat shady business, not return a lost wallet full of cash), one way to resolve this conflict is to add Republican channels to his reasoning.

It doesn't always work (sanctity of life, etc), but I think for a large number of situations where we Democrats-at-heart get cold feet it works like a champ :)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 December 2010 07:49:26AM 1 point [-]

It doesn't always work (sanctity of life, etc), but I think for a large number of situations where we Democrats-at-heart get cold feet it works like a champ :)

So I've noticed. See the discussion following this comment for an example.

On the other hand other times Democrats take positions that Republicans horrific, e.g., euthanasia, abortion, Peter Singer's position on infanticide.

Comment author: David_Gerard 08 December 2010 08:27:51AM *  5 points [-]

Peter Singer's media-touted "position on infanticide" is an excellent example of why even philosophers might shy away from talking about hypotheticals in public. You appear to have just become Desrtopa's nighmare.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 10:48:36AM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the link -- very interesting reading :)

Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:04:26PM [-]
Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:21:10PM [-]
Comment author: Bongo 08 December 2010 12:14:46PM *  8 points [-]

(I would have liked to reply to the deleted comment, but you can't reply to deleted comments so I'll reply to the repost.)

  • EDIT: Roko reveals that he was actually never asked to delete his comment! Disregard parts of the rest of this comment accordingly.

I don't think Roko should have been requested to delete his comment. I don't think Roko should have conceded to deleting his comment.

The correct reaction when someone posts something scandalous like

I was once criticized by a senior singinst member for not being prepared to be tortured or raped for the cause

is not to attempt to erase it, even if that was possible, but to reveal the context. The context, supposedly, would make it seem less scandalous - for example, maybe it was a private dicussion about philosophical hypotheticals. If it wouldn't, that's a bad sign about SIAI.

The fact that that erasure was the reaction suggests that there is no redeeming context!

That someone asked Roko to erase his comment isn't a very bad sign, since it's enough that one person didn't understand the reasoning above for that to happen. That fact that Roko conceded is a bad sign, though.

Now SIAI should save face not by asking a moderator to delete wfg's reposts, but by revealing the redeeming context in which the scandalous remarks that Roko alluded to were made.

Comment author: CarlShulman 08 December 2010 06:43:02PM *  27 points [-]

Roko may have been thinking of [just called him, he was thinking of it] a conversation we had when he and I were roommates in Oxford while I was visiting the Future of Humanity Institute, and frequently discussed philosophical problems and thought experiments. Here's the (redeeming?) context:

As those who know me can attest, I often make the point that radical self-sacrificing utilitarianism isn't found in humans and isn't a good target to aim for. Almost no one would actually take on serious harm with certainty for a small chance of helping distant others. Robin Hanson often presents evidence for this, e.g. this presentation on "why doesn't anyone create investment funds for future people?" However, sometimes people caught up in thoughts of the good they can do, or a self-image of making a big difference in the world, are motivated to think of themselves as really being motivated primarily by helping others as such. Sometimes they go on to an excessive smart sincere syndrome, and try (at the conscious/explicit level) to favor altruism at the severe expense of their other motivations: self-concern, relationships, warm fuzzy feelings.

Usually this doesn't work out well, as the explicit reasoning about principles and ideals is gradually overridden by other mental processes, leading to exhaustion, burnout, or disillusionment. The situation winds up worse according to all of the person's motivations, even altruism. Burnout means less good gets done than would have been achieved by leading a more balanced life that paid due respect to all one's values. Even more self-defeatingly, if one actually does make severe sacrifices, it will tend to repel bystanders.

Instead, I typically advocate careful introspection and the use of something like Nick Bostrom's parliamentary model:

The idea here is that moral theories get more influence the more probable they are; yet even a relatively weak theory can still get its way on some issues that the theory think are extremely important by sacrificing its influence on other issues that other theories deem more important. For example, suppose you assign 10% probability to total utilitarianism and 90% to moral egoism (just to illustrate the principle). Then the Parliament would mostly take actions that maximize egoistic satisfaction; however it would make some concessions to utilitarianism on issues that utilitarianism thinks is especially important. In this example, the person might donate some portion of their income to existential risks research and otherwise live completely selfishly.

In the conversation with Roko, we were discussing philosophical thought experiments (trolley problem style, which may indeed be foolish ) to get at 'real' preferences and values for such an exercise. To do that, one often does best to adopt the device of the True Prisoner's Dilemma and select positive and negative payoffs that actually have emotional valence (as opposed to abstract tokens). For positive payoffs, we used indefinite lifespans of steady "peak experiences" involving discovery, health, status, and elite mates. For negative payoffs we used probabilities of personal risk of death (which comes along with almost any effort, e.g. driving to places) and harms that involved pain and/or a decline in status (since these are separate drives). Since we were friends and roommates without excessive squeamishness, hanging out at home, we used less euphemistic language.

Neither of us was keen on huge sacrifices in Pascal's-Mugging-like situations, viewing altruism as only one part of our respective motivational coalitions, or one term in bounded utility functions. I criticized his past "cheap talk" of world-saving as a primary motivation, given that in less convenient possible worlds, it was more easily overcome than his phrasing signaled. I said he should scale back his claims of altruism to match the reality, in the way that I explicitly note my bounded do-gooding impulses.

We also differed in our personal views on the relative badness of torture, humiliation and death. For me, risk of death was the worst, which I was least willing to trade off in trolley-problem type cases to save others. Roko placed relatively more value on the other two, which I jokingly ribbed and teased him about.

In retrospect, I was probably a bit of a jerk in pushing (normative) Hansonian transparency. I wish I had been more careful to distinguish between critiquing a gap between talk and values, and critiquing the underlying values, and probably should just take wedifrid's advice on trolley-problem-type scenarios generally.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 09 December 2010 03:16:21AM *  2 points [-]

First off, great comment -- interesting, and complex.

But, some things still don't make sense to me...

Assuming that what you described led to:

I was once criticized by a senior singinst member for not being prepared to be tortured or raped for the cause. I mean not actually, but, you know, in theory. Precommiting to being prepared to make a sacrifice that big. shrugs

  1. How did precommitting enter in to it?

  2. Are you prepared to be tortured or raped for the cause? Have you precommitted to it?

  3. Have other SIAI people you know of talked about this with you, have other SIAI people precommitted to it?

  4. What do you think of others who do not want to be tortured or raped for the cause?

Thanks, wfg

Comment author: CarlShulman 09 December 2010 09:03:49AM *  18 points [-]

I find this whole line of conversation fairly ludicrous, but here goes:

Number 1. Time-inconsistency: we have different reactions about an immediate certainty of some bad than a future probability of it. So many people might be willing to go be a health worker in a poor country where aid workers are commonly (1 in 10,000) raped or killed, even though they would not be willing to be certainly attacked in exchange for 10,000 times the benefits to others. In the actual instant of being tortured anyone would break, but people do choose courses of action that carry risk (every action does, to some extent), so the latter is more meaningful for such hypotheticals.

Number 2. I have driven and flown thousands of kilometers in relation to existential risk, increasing my chance of untimely death in a car accident or plane crash, so obviously I am willing to take some increased probability of death. I think I would prefer a given chance of being tortured to a given chance of death, so obviously I care enough to take at least some tiny risk from what I said above. As I also said above, I'm not willing to make very big sacrifices (big probabilities of such nasty personal outcomes) for tiny shifts in probabilities of big impersonal payoffs (like existential risk reduction). In realistic scenarios, that's what "the cause" would refer to. I haven't made any verbal or explicit "precommitment" or promises or anything like that.

In sufficiently extreme (and ludicrously improbable) trolley-problem style examples, e.g. "if you push this button you'll be tortured for a week, but if you don't then the Earth will be destroyed (including all your loved ones) if this fair coin comes up heads, and you have incredibly (impossibly?) good evidence that this really is the setup" I hope I would push the button, but in a real world of profound uncertainty, limited evidence, limited personal power (I am not Barack Obama or Bill Gates), and cognitive biases, I don't expect that to ever happen. I also haven't made any promises or oaths about that.

I am willing to give of my time and effort, and forgo the financial rewards of a more lucrative career, in exchange for a chance for efficient do-gooding, interaction with interesting people who share my values, and a meaningful project. Given diminishing returns to money in rich countries today, and the ease of obtaining money for folk with high human capital, those aren't big sacrifices, if they are sacrifices at all.

Number 3. SIAIers love to be precise and analytical and consider philosophical thought experiments, including ethical ones. I think most have views pretty similar to mine, with somewhat varying margins. Certainly Michael Vassar, the head of the organization, is also keen on recognizing one's various motives and living a balanced life, and avoiding fanatics. Like me, he actively advocates Bostrom-like parliamentary model approaches to combining self-concern with parochial and universalist altruistic feelings.

I have never heard anyone making oaths or promises to make severe sacrifices.

Number 4. This is a pretty ridiculous question. I think that's fine and normal, and I feel more comfortable with such folk than the alternative. I think people should not exaggerate that do-gooding is the most important thing in their life lest they deceive themselves and others about their willingness to make such choices, which I criticized Roko for.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 08 December 2010 08:35:04PM 0 points [-]

Great comment Carl!

Comment author: Bongo 08 December 2010 06:51:16PM 1 point [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 08 December 2010 04:54:34PM *  6 points [-]

I don't think Roko should have been requested to delete his comment. I don't think Roko should have conceded to deleting his comment.

Roko was not requested to delete his comment. See this parallel thread. (I would appreciate it if you would edit your comment to note this, so readers who miss this comment don't have a false belief reinforced.) (ETA: thanks)

The correct reaction when someone posts something scandalous like

I was once criticized by a senior singinst member for not being prepared to be tortured or raped for the cause

is not to attempt to erase it, even if that was possible, but to reveal the context.... Now SIAI should save face not by asking a moderator to delete wfg's reposts....

Agreed (and I think the chance of wfg's reposts being deleted is very low, because most people get this). Unfortunately, I know nothing about the alleged event (Roko may be misdescribing it, as he misdescribed my message to him) or its context.

Comment author: Bongo 08 December 2010 05:28:22PM *  1 point [-]

Roko said he was asked. You didn't ask him but maybe someone else did?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 08 December 2010 05:59:11PM *  4 points [-]

Roko's reply to me strongly suggested that he interpreted my message as requesting deletion, and that I was the cause of him deleting it. I doubt anyone at SIAI would have explicitly requested deletion.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 02:16:52PM 3 points [-]

If it wouldn't, that's a bad sign about SIAI.

I wish I could upvote twice

Comment author: wedrifid 08 December 2010 02:44:44AM 1 point [-]

Restoring comment above this, for posterity:

How? That is, what tool allowed you to restore the now deleted comments? Browser cache or something more impressive?

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 04:36:19AM 2 points [-]

To be more specific, when I saw that comment I assumed Roko was about to delete it and opened up a second browser window.

I caught your comment with the script, because I've been half sure that EY would delete this thread all day...

Comment author: wedrifid 08 December 2010 04:53:29AM 1 point [-]

Ahh, gotcha.

I like the script by the way... ruby! That is my weapon of choice these days. What is the nokogiri library like? I do a fair bit of work with html automation but haven't used that particular package.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 05:08:17AM 1 point [-]

It's pretty nice, just a faster version of _why's Hpricot... or a ruby version of jQuery if you're in to that :)

What tools do you use for html automation?

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 04:23:47AM 1 point [-]

A bit of both. I don't maintain a mirror of lesswrong or anything, but I do use a script to make checking for such things easier.

I'd be interested to know what you were hoping for in the way of "more impressive" though :)

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 04:28:30AM *  0 points [-]

note that script is pretty rough -- some false positives, would't count a "[redacted]" edit as deletion (though it would cache the content).

more to avoid rescanning the page while working, etc

Comment author: ata 08 December 2010 02:51:03AM *  1 point [-]

Most likely either browser cache or a left-open browser tab containing the comments, being that the formatting of the line "FormallyknownasRoko | 07 December 2010 07:39:36PM* | 1 point[-]" suggests it was just copied and pasted.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 04:24:56AM 1 point [-]

Pretty much

Comment deleted 08 December 2010 02:53:59AM [-]
Comment author: waitingforgodel 08 December 2010 04:27:21AM 1 point [-]

See, that doesn't make sense to me. It sounds more like an initiation rite or something... not a thought experiment about quantum billionaires...

I can't picture EY picking up the phone and saying "delete that comment! wouldn't you willingly be tortured to decrease existential risk?"

... but maybe that's a fact about my imagination, and not about the world :p

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 08 December 2010 06:10:38PM 0 points [-]

Context was discussing hypothetical sacrifices one would make for utilitarian humanitarian gain, not just from one but from several different conversations.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 December 2010 07:16:32PM 2 points [-]

They actually had multiple conversations about hypothetical sacrifices they would make for utilitarian humanitarian gain? That's... adorable!

Comment author: waitingforgodel 09 December 2010 02:59:10AM 4 points [-]

Care to share a more concrete context?

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 09 December 2010 12:25:24PM *  1 point [-]

That is the context in as concrete a way as is possible - discussing what people would really be prepared to sacrifice, versus making signallingly-useful statements. I responded that I wasn't even prepared to say that I would make {sacrifice=rape, being tortured, forgoing many years of good life, being humiliated etc}.

Comment author: waitingforgodel 09 December 2010 03:56:36PM 4 points [-]

Okay, you can leave it abstract. Here's what I was hoping to have explained: why were you discussing what people would really be prepared to sacrifice?

... and not just the surface level of "just for fun," but also considering how these "just for fun" games get started, and what they do to enforce cohesion in a group.

Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 08 December 2010 06:09:44PM 0 points [-]

Nothing to do with "the ugly".

Comment deleted 07 December 2010 07:59:32PM [-]
Comment deleted 07 December 2010 09:03:43PM [-]
Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 December 2010 05:54:11AM *  3 points [-]

How hard is it to live off the dole in Finland?

Given the current economic situation in Europe, I'm not sure that's a good long term strategy.

Also, I suspect spending to long on the dole may cause you to develop habits that'll make it harder to work a paying job.

Comment author: knb 07 December 2010 05:22:05PM 1 point [-]

I think for many kinds of research, working in groups drastically increases the efficacy of individual effort, due to specialization, etc.

Are you trying to get in on AI research?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 07 December 2010 05:26:59PM 1 point [-]

Are you trying to get in on AI research?

Right now, my main interest is mostly in a) academic paper versions of the things SIAI has been talking about informally b) theoretical cognitive science stuff which may or may not be related to AI.