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

James_Miller comments on CFAR’s new focus, and AI Safety - LessWrong

30 Post author: AnnaSalamon 03 December 2016 06:09PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (88)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 December 2016 07:40:39PM 3 points [-]

The ten up-votes you have for this post is a signal that either we shouldn't have a leader or if we should it would be difficult for him/her to overcome the opposition in the rationality movement to having a leader.

Comment author: Viliam 12 December 2016 02:23:22PM *  1 point [-]

Speaking for myself (one of the upvotes), I think that having a single leader is bad, but having a relatively small group of leaders is good.

With one leader, it means anything they do or say (or did or said years or decades ago) becomes interpreted as "this is what the whole rationalist community is about". Also, I feel like focusing on one person too much could make others feel like followers, instead of striving to become stronger.

But if we have a small team of people who are highly respected by the community, and publicly acknowledge each other, and can cooperate with each other... then all we need for coordination is if they meet in the same room once in a while, and publish a common statement afterwards.

I don't want to choose between Eliezer Yudkowsky, Peter Thiel, and Scott Alexander (and other possible candidates, e.g. Anna Salamon and Julia Galef). Each of these people is really impressive in some areas, but neither is impressive at everything. Choosing one of them feels like deciding which aspects we should sacrifice. Also, some competition is good, and a person who is great today may become less great tomorrow.

Or maybe the leader does not have to be great at everything, as long as they are great at "being a great rationalist leader", whatever that means. But maybe we actually don't have this kind of a person yet. (Weak evidence: if a person with such skills would exist, the person would probably already be informally accepted as the leader of rationalists. They wouldn't wait until a comment on LW tells them to step forward.) Peter Thiel doesn't seem to communicate with the rationalist community. Eliezer Yudkowsky is hiding on facebook. Scott Alexander has an unrelated full-time job. Maybe none of them actually has enough time and energy to do the job of the "rationalist leader", whatever that might be.

Also, I feel like asking for a "leader" is the instinctive, un-narrow, halo-effect approach typically generated by the corrupted human hardware. What specific problem are we trying to solve? Lack of communication and coordination in the rationalist community? I suggest Community Coordinator as a job title, and it doesn't have to be any of these high-status people, as long as it is a person with good people skills and cooperates with them (uhm, maybe Cat Lavigne?). Maybe even a Media Speaker who would once in a week or once in a month collect information about "what's new in the rationalist community", and compose an official article.

tl;dr -- we don't need a "leader", but we need people who will do a few specific things which are missing; coordination of the community being one of them

Comment author: James_Miller 12 December 2016 04:14:42PM 1 point [-]

Part of the advantage of having a leader is that he/she could specialize in leading us and we could pay him/her a full-time salary. "Also, I feel like asking for a "leader" is the instinctive, un-narrow, halo-effect approach typically generated by the corrupted human hardware." Yes, but this is what works.

Comment author: Viliam 12 December 2016 04:47:02PM *  3 points [-]

Please taboo "leading us". What is the actual job description for the leader you imagine? What is the expected outcome of having such leader?

And, depeding on your previous answer, could we achieve a similar outcome by simply having a specialist for given task? I mean, even actual leaders employ specialists, so why not skip the middleman? (Or do you believe that the leader would be better at finding the specialists? That sounds almost like a job description... of a specialist.)

Or is the leader supposed to be a symbol? A speaker for the movement?

Or perhaps a person who chooses an arbitrary goal (a meaningful one, but ultimately it would be an arbitrary choice among a few meaningful candidates) under the assumption that if we all focus on one goal, we are more likely to achieve it than if everyone follows a different goal (i.e. a suboptimal choice is still much better than no choice)?

Comment author: James_Miller 12 December 2016 08:33:12PM 5 points [-]

I want someone who could effectively give orders/strong suggestions saying "give to this cause", "write to your congressman saying this", "if you have this skill please do this", "person A should help person B get this job", "person C is toxic and should be excluded from our community", "person D is fantastic, let's recruit her to our community", "everyone please read this and discuss", "person E is great, everyone thank her", "person F has made great contributions to our community but has suffered some recent bad news so let's help her out".

Comment author: Viliam 14 December 2016 11:27:17AM 2 points [-]

I agree that all of this could be useful in many situations.

I just suspect there may be no person fit for this role and willing to take it, and that choosing an unfit person could be harmful. Essentially, people who are sufficiently sane and uncontroversial, are probably not interested in this role, because they believe they have better things to do. Otherwise, they could have already taken it.

All it would need at the beginning would be to privately ask other "rationalist celebrities" whether they think that X is a good idea and whether they are willing to endorse it publicly, and if they say yes, post X in the Main with the list of celebrities who endorse it. If the same person would do this 5 times in the row, people would automatically start accepting them as the leader. Most wouldn't notice if for the sixth time the endorsements from the other "rationalist celebrities" would be absent, as long as none of them opposes the post directly.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 December 2016 05:06:16PM 1 point [-]

What is the actual job description for the leader

Telling you what to think and what to do, of course. Without a Glorious Leader you would just wander around, lost and confused.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 December 2016 04:16:41PM *  1 point [-]

he/she could specialize in leading us


we could pay him/her a full-time salary

Who is that "we"?