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

Comment author: Froolow 19 February 2015 10:54:48AM *  18 points [-]

Here is a rough cost-benefit analysis. I found all the numbers before doing any maths and tried to be as optimistic as possible towards your theory to account for people more intelligent than me coming up with better ways to do it if it became standardised.

The cost of freezing a cell is proxied as the cost of freezing your eggs, which is already commercially available. It is £2900 for the initial harvest and £275 for a subsequent year of freezing. This £275 is not discounted because you pay it every year. Source. Let's assume that the clinic are nice and let you freeze as many different organ-cells as you want for the same £275 / year fee.

There are 56,000 people in the EU who are on the organ donor waiting list, suggesting there are around 56,000 people who have a sufficiently chronic failure of an organ that it didn't kill them outright but will kill them if they don't get a transplant. Many of these 56,000 people will get an organ through conventional means, but let's say none of them do to account for the fact that as medicine advances we will probably be able to transfer more people off the 'going to die' list onto the 'might be able to survive if given a transplant' list. Let's also assume that this represents 56,000 new people on the organ transplant list each year, even though the average wait on the list is around three years. Source (also I found a dodgy-looking source suggesting that 50,000 people die of organ failure each year, so the figure for the number who could benefit is probably not out by more than an order of magnitude). There are 500m people in the EU, so your chance of being on the organ transplant list in any given year is about 0.01%.

Same source as above suggests the average QALY gain for an organ transplant is 11.5 for a liver transplant, 6.8 for a heart transplant and 5.2 for a lung transplant. Let's assume all transplants give you the full 11.5 QALYs because medicine improves.

Finally let's assume you freeze your cells now at 25 with the expectation that they will be used in 40 years at 65. You only get one shot at doing this; you may never freeze your cells again because they degrade too much on your 26th birthday.

This means in total you pay £13900 for a 0.01% chance at 11.5 additional QALYs, for an expectated value of £10.8m / QALY. That is to say, if you would pay £10.8m for an additional year of life at the margin, this is probably worthwhile (given some very optimistic assumptions). However, this is only true if you get one shot to freeze your cells at 25. If instead you can wait until you need them and freeze them then, you'd only be paying something like £250 / QALY. You can see from these two numbers that even if cells degrade in quality to the extent that they are a thousand times harder to successfully transplant you are still better to wait until you are pretty sure you are a high-risk group for organ failure. Anyone who believes £10.8m / QALY is a good deal should also be prepared to accept a salary cut of around £115,000 / year in order to avoid a 20 mile commute since road vehicles have a fatality rate of something like 1.5 per billion miles travelled.

Comment author: Froolow 03 November 2014 12:40:57PM *  0 points [-]

I really enjoyed the article, but I think your argument falls down in the following way:

1) Fission / fusion are the best energy sources we know of, but we can't yet do it for all forms of matter

2) A sufficiently clever and motivated intelligence probably could do it for all forms of matter, because it looks to be thermodynamically possible

3) (Implicit premise) In between now and the creation of a galaxy-hopping superintelligence with the physical nouse to fusion / fission at least the majority of matter in its path, there will be no more efficient forms of energy discovered

4) Therefore paperclips (or at least something that looks enough like paperclips that we needn't argue)

Premise 1 is trivialy true, premise 2 has just enough wild speculation to make it plausible but still exciting, and the conclusion is supported if premise 3 is true. But premise 3 looks pretty shakey to me - we can already extract energy from the quantum foam and can at least theoretically extract energy from matter-antimatter collision (although I don't know if thermodynamics permits either of these methods to be more efficient than fusion). It is a bold judgement to suppose we are at the limits of our understanding of these processes, and bolder still to assume there are no further processes to discover.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 November 2014 10:26:48AM 3 points [-]

I think that's Sensitivity vs Specificity

Comment author: Froolow 03 November 2014 12:26:17PM *  5 points [-]

They are slightly different, but in practical terms they describe the same error; sensitivity and specificity are properties of a test while Type I and II errors are properties of a system, but both errors are basically saying, "Our test is not perfectly accurate so if we want to catch more people with a disease we need to misdiagnose more people"

To illustrate the distinction, consider a test which is 90% sensitive and 90% specific in a population of 100 where a disease has a 50% prevelance. This means 50 people have the disease, of which the test will identify 45 as having the problem (90% sensitive). 50 people are free of the disease, of which the test will correctly identify 45 (90% specific). So if diagnosed your probability of the diagnosis being a Type I error is 5/50 = 10% (if given the all clear the same logic applies for a Type II error). You derive this from the number of people in the population who were told they have a disease who were incorrectly diagnosed divided by the total population who were told they have a disease (rightly or wrongly)

But if the disease prevelance changes due to demographic pressue to 10% then 10 people have the disease of whom 9 are diagnosed, and 90 people are disease-free of whom 81 are given the all-clear. This means the probabilities of the different 'Type' errors change dramatically; now 9/18 = 50% for a Type I error and 1/82 ~ 1.2% for a Type II error. But the sensitivity and specificity of the test are completely unchanged.

Comment author: Lumifer 21 October 2014 05:25:12PM *  1 point [-]

Well, if we were to approach this seriously, there a few more factors in play.

On the benefits side you need to estimate the expected length of time that this scheme will be operational. It's not just GoodSearch being around, it also them continuing to offer the same rate (and the price of generic eyeballs has been going down since as far back as I can remember and shows no signs of stopping) while providing adequate service.

You also need to figure out the appropriate discount rate since $1 in 2040 is quite different from $1 in 2014.

On the costs side you need to estimate how many additional reconfigurations you might need (browsers change, config files become corrupted, etc. etc.). Also, every time you find find a particular Bing search inadequate and need to re-search using Google, that's more time cost which could easily swamp the initial 10-minute estimate. If you believe the Bing search to be inferior to Google you should also include the opportunity costs of missing something important without realizing it.

More importantly, you need to realize what the main cost is -- it's not reconfiguration time, it's you allowing yourself to be tracked by Bing, etc. (that's what the advertisers are actually paying for). That cost is hard to estimate and probably depends on the individual, but it exists and ignoring it is unwise.

P.S. By the way, it turns out Goodsearch doesn't donate 1c/search. It donates 50% of its revenue -- that's quite a different thing.

Comment author: Froolow 21 October 2014 06:57:28PM 0 points [-]

I agree with everything you've said, but I would point out that I already allow myself to be tracked by Google, so the true cost is only the difference between the 'badness' of Google and Microsoft.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 21 October 2014 04:27:19PM *  1 point [-]

OK. First of all, super-kudos for this response, and I apologise if I've come across as uncivil, which I probably have.

I don't have a problem with your reasoning that, all other things being equal, earning some money for charity for what you'd ordinarily do is better than earning no money for charity for what you'd ordinarily do. I have a problem with how you appraise the value of ten minutes of work.

So, your reasoning:

  • It will take ten minutes to change your search settings
  • Changing your search settings will earn 50 cents a day for charity
  • Over one year, that's ~$130
  • That's ~$130 { in the implicit context of one year } for ten minutes work
  • There's nothing else you can do in the next ten minutes that will earn $130 { context-free }
  • Therefore rather than working a marginal ten minutes you're best off changing your search settings

Why one year? This seems a completely arbitrary selection, and yet it absolutely determines the value you're comparing to your opportunity cost, (which in your worked example you specify in $/hour, so not in the context of one year). You could specify five years as your time-horizon and your expected value for that ten minutes would be huge, or two hours and it would be tiny.

Fundamentally, the money is generated by future search activity, and even though this search activity is "free" in the sense that it's happening anyway, it's not actually free for purposes of cost-benefit analysis (it still carries an opportunity cost), and you still need to consider it as an input, otherwise you have no reference for the time horizon over which you generate outputs. It is in this context that I consider it ineffective. Just because the output is generated by effort you're already exerting does not mean this effort is being used efficiently.

Does that make sense?

Comment author: Froolow 21 October 2014 06:54:51PM *  0 points [-]

Don't worry about the tone, opportunity cost is that hinterland where it is too complicated to explain to someone who doesn't get it in one sentence, but too fundamental not to need to talk about so it is very difficult to judge tone when you're not sure whether you can assume familiarity with economic concepts.

It sounds to me like we basically agree - the cost of switching search engine is ten minutes (assumption) and this pays off about 50 cents a day for forever (assumption). This makes cutting off the analysis at one year arbitrary, which I agree with. You also have to compare the effort you put into searching with anything else you could do with that time, (even if you would have been doing those searches 'naturally') for the purpose of correctly calculating opportunity cost.

I think we disagree on the final step - if this is to be ineffective you need to be able to find an activity which is a better use of my time than conducting those daily searches. Since my primary contribution to charitable causes is from my salary, and I use a lot of Google in my job (I would be fired if I didn't do internet searches because I would be totally ineffective) I can't think what else I should be doing - what is a better use of my time than doing those searches? Assume we're only interested in maximising my total charitable giving.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 21 October 2014 03:09:26PM *  1 point [-]

I am using it in the context of a rate of return on effort. So are you, though I'd politely describe your definition as "bespoke".

The way both you and the OP are evaluating the decision is not how you do cost-benefit analysis. If you treat the ten minute setup time as the only input, and project arbitrarily into the future by discounting inputs you're already doing, you can value that ten minutes to ludicrous levels which you clearly shouldn't be reasoning with. The OP in fact does this by observing that after two years of GoodSearching, they will have returns of $1200 / hour. For evaluation purposes, you can't keep dining out on the same ten minutes.

This isn't to say people shouldn't do what the OP is suggesting. If you want to, knock your socks off. Just don't go round telling people that by 2040 you'll have earned $16,000 per hour for charity.

[Edited for a stray "concrete" which shouldn't have been there]

Comment author: Froolow 21 October 2014 03:50:43PM 1 point [-]

Why not? Genuine question, because my job is pretty much nothing but cost-benefit analysis of fixed-cost projects which pay off a small amount every year, and the calculation you describe as 'not how you do cost-benefit analysis' is almost exactly how I would do a cost-benefit analysis of this kind (although I wouldn't phrase it as $1200 / hour because that's clunky, I'd probably talk about a percentage return on investment). I rate the probability that I am wrong here as extremely small, but if I am wrong I really need to hear it, and have the problem explained to me.

If I were totally comitted to getting the most accurate answer I'd add a couple of complications that katydee doesn't - for example;

  • I would discount against the possibility that GoodSearch no longer exists in 2040 (and discount future earnings more generally),

  • I would try to estimate a probability that I'd need to reconfigure my settings in the future, and estimate timings for that (if both Chrome and GoodSearch are still around in 30 years I'd be surprised!)

But ignoring these complications for the moment I think it is totally accurate to say in 2040, "I have donated $16,000 to charity since 2014". I think the $1200/hour rhetoric is unhelpful, because it implies that you could earn another $1200 by working another hour, when in fact you don't actually ever earn $1200 (well, I suppose you do after about a decade) and you can only earn the money over a very long period of time. I would probably describe it as a 'Nominal Rate of Return of X% per annum over Y years', compared to a nominal rate of return of almost zero percent per annum if I don't search with GoodSearch (it is possible my advertising generates a multiplier effect which has a tiny positive externality on me, but I'd expect this to be almost totally negligable)

Where is the error in my reasoning?

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 21 October 2014 12:55:19PM 0 points [-]

Because it's just capturing a small subset of your personal contribution to advertising revenue, which is tiny in the first place.

You would not (I hope) consider funding something you actually cared about (rent, food on the table, credit card bills, etc.) by a similar mechanism. This is in part because it's grossly inefficient at monetising your effort. It's certainly not, as the OP claims, $600/hour in any meaningful sense. The only thing it has going for it is that you're carrying out that effort anyway.

Comment author: Froolow 21 October 2014 01:24:01PM 5 points [-]

I think there is a problem in how we are using the word 'ineffective'. I think you are using the word to mean 'very small absolute amounts' whereas I am using the word to mean something like 'low opportunity cost : return ratio'. I think looking at the cost : return ratio is fairer, and I also think 'very small absolute amount' is misleading.

I did 46 searches on my work computer yesterday, and probably a handful more on mobile devices. Say 50 for the sake of argument, or $0.50. Over a year this is $130 dollars if I make no searches at weekends. I agree with katydee that it would probably take about ten minutes to configure my search settings, so I am better advised to spend ten minutes configuring my search settings than work a marginal ten minutes and donating the procedes so long as my salary is less than about $800 an hour. Based on the 2013 LessWrong Survey, around 1500 LessWrong users have a salary of less than $800 an hour, so if they all configured their internet settings in that way they would raise about $200,000 for a charity of their choice. I can't find an official budget for MIRI, but I'd estimate that it is somewhere between $0.5m and $1m per year, so that's a pretty meaningful amount.

Another interpretation of your argument is that it is inefficient to do needless searches on GoodSearch to earn money for charity. This is a good argument; if it takes (say) five seconds to do a search then you are better off working a marginal hour as long as your salary is above $7.20 per hour. But I don't think anyone is actually arguing that - the idea is just to monetise searches you would be making anyway, since recapturing a small (non-zero) fraction of your personal contribution to advertising is strictly better than recapturing a zero-size contribution to your personal contribution to advertising.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 21 October 2014 10:15:02AM 1 point [-]

This post has put me in a state of mild existential horror.

After a year of using GoodSearch, I found it to be both an effective way to earn money for charity and an effective way to motivate myself to use search engines more often.

I'd like to suggest that it's a grossly ineffective way to earn money for charity, and a perverse way to motivate oneself to use search engines more often. That said, it's not obvious to me that it isn't strictly better than the alternative (no searching, no charity) for some non-negligible set of people.

Comment author: Froolow 21 October 2014 12:06:54PM *  4 points [-]

I don't understand why you think it is a grossly ineffective way to earn money for charity. Please could you explain why you think this is?

In response to Gaming Democracy
Comment author: avairosa 02 August 2014 10:39:24AM 0 points [-]

Others have critiqued this idea on the basis that it's essentially lobbying by one interest group or another - even if you don't offer money for a campaign you can offer the votes of those people who strongly share your interests.

I'd critique it on the grounds that the triad of intelligent/politically unaffiliated/cares a great deal about this particular issue simply doesn't give you enough people to work with. Picking up people who are politically unaffiliated and have a particular passion about a political issue is much more difficult than it might seem. Most people vote on either self-interest or sacred values (or some combination of the two). Opposing homeopathy is probably a good idea, but you'd be hard-pressed to find people who can clearly see it's in their self-interest (a few million saved every year on needless treatments amounts to mere cents for them a year, most likely) or aligns with their sacred values (most people see homeopathy as stupid, not as evil).

I don't think looking into the theory of interests groups is a bad idea at all, merely that this particular technique requires issues that have significant political muscle to begin with. As a general rule I suspect good policy is better served by moving the Overton Window than by hacking various features of democracy.

In response to comment by avairosa on Gaming Democracy
Comment author: Froolow 07 August 2014 10:57:23AM 0 points [-]

I think - though I'm not certain - that you are right that in all but the most marginal seats you'd never find a politically unafiliated / passionate about a political issue group large enough to swing a seat. I don't think that implies that you shouldn't try to game democracy though - there are certain known flaws in the democratic system we have which exist (and swing elections) independently of whether people knowingly exploit them or not.

Comment author: Jiro 04 August 2014 06:51:24PM 1 point [-]

Doesn't that raise the possibility that in order to save people's money you should encourage more homeopathy? After all, if homeopathy is overall beneficial compared to no homeopathy because people save more by using placebos than they lose in expensive treatment, wouldn't it be a pretty big coincidence that we're at exactly the optimum level of placeboness? If not, then perhaps the maximum savings happens at a rate of homeopathy that is even larger than the current one.

In response to comment by Jiro on Gaming Democracy
Comment author: Froolow 07 August 2014 10:54:58AM *  1 point [-]

I think that's certainly an interesting idea - NHS-homeopathy could be even cheaper than what is currently provided (comissioning the services off a private homeopathy provider) because we could do it in bulk - the raw ingredients aren't expensive at all. I'd worry about the indirect cost of moving the Overton Window though - at the moment we STRONGLY advise people not to use homeopathy even for trivial conditions, and we mock those that promote it. Even so, many people still use it and swear by its efficacy. If we moved to a situation where we promoted homeopathy for minor conditions and gave its practitioners the stamp of NHS/Government approval, we would see many more people using it for minor conditions and - I would expect - some people begin to use it for major conditions. Thus the money we save on prescribing a placebo over an active drug might be sucked up by the cost of treating the complications of people who take homeopathic treatments to manage AF and then get a massive stroke, for example.

But I think as a matter of principle we should set the level of homeopathy at whatever maximises the number of healthy life-years per unit of spending, even if that is not zero.

View more: Next