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

Comment author: Jiro 23 December 2013 09:26:57PM 1 point [-]

If it's the first paycheck you've earned in five years and you can't afford to eat out once a week without the donation, and you have a lot of debt, it's likely you have little or no savings. If so, I would suggest putting the $100 in the bank in preference to either eating out or CFAR. You never know when a $100 expense might come up.

Furthermore, you should be paying off the debt anyway. Put it this way: Imagine that instead of you coming into possession of $100, someone were to shave $100 off your debt directly. Under those circumstances, would you go into $100 more debt (cancelling the effect of reducing it) to be able to give some money to CFAR? (Ignoring the fact that you probably can't borrow in increments of $100.) If you wouldn't increase your debt by 100 to pay CFAR in the first scenario, you shouldn't pay CFAR in preference to reducing your debt by $100 in this scenario.

Comment author: Vaste 23 December 2013 09:38:22PM 4 points [-]

Well, if it's a stable income then there's nothing wrong with a little celebration. Could be worth it for the boost in self-esteem from being able to contribute to something one feels is genuinely good and special.

Comment author: Vaste 23 December 2013 12:32:15PM *  6 points [-]

What about CFAR this year? Should I consider donating to their 2013 Winter Matching Fundraiser instead of to MIRI?

Last year I remember someone (Eliezer?) wrote a somewhat confusing recommendation as to which one one should donate to.

A quick glance at their progress reveals that the MIRI one has almost reached its goal of $250k whereas CFAR has only gotten $8k so far (but also has another two weeks to go).

Comment author: a_gramsci 14 February 2012 09:52:38PM 2 points [-]

The thing about that is, is that not everyone is donating at the same time, so that they can see the expected value change.

Comment author: Vaste 15 February 2012 11:05:17AM 2 points [-]

Yes, but there can be long delays between a donation happening and updates. Coordinating donations can be non-trivial, especially when flash crowds appear (e.g. sob story on reddit).

Also, such a randomized approach is not necessary if one can just donate small amounts to multiple projects instead (i.e. if transaction fees are not a problem).

In response to comment by Vaste on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Nornagest 19 January 2012 12:17:37AM *  0 points [-]

What asymmetry?

Readers have more information about the quality of a new book in a business model where the book exists publicly and can be browsed in a bookstore, borrowed from friends, etc. than in a business model where the book has no public existence until bought and paid for. This can be diluted somewhat by giving out sample chapters, advance copies for reviewers (but they'd better be trusted reviewers), et cetera, but nonetheless I'd expect it to push willingness to pay down at the margins. Especially taking hyperbolic discounting into account -- readers will generally pay more for a book today than a book to be published at some indefinite point in the future.

The marginal cost of producing new digital copies of a book is miniscule, so it might still end up being favorable to an (established) author relative to dead-tree publishing -- but compared to self-published digital media sold per copy, I'd expect it to come out to a loss. There are other piracy-friendly business models out there, though -- I'm rather fond of Baen's Free Library, for all that their books are unabashed pulp.

In response to comment by Nornagest on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Vaste 19 January 2012 12:36:31PM 0 points [-]

There's also government contracting, which is a similar situation, but with lowest bidder instead.

In response to comment by Vaste on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Clippy 18 January 2012 11:57:26PM *  0 points [-]

True: in the absence of anticipation of exclusivity rights, creators would seek ways to repoduce the pseudo-scarcity that socially-recognized exclusivity rights would otherwise provide. And they will generally do so via less efficient means: for example, rather than giving the user a copy of the software, the creator will keep it in a "black box" they control, and simply perform the input/output over a network, incurring strictly more overhead than if they could trust the user to keep their own copy and not distribute it.

This phenomenon mirrors the more general ones of how:

  • societies with people more willing to steal others' physical possessions will still find ways to be secure in such possessions, but by diverting more resources to securing them; or

  • societies with people less willing to trust strangers (or honor promises made to strangers) will still make credit transactions, but have to spend significantly more on enforcement mechanisms.

In response to comment by Clippy on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Vaste 19 January 2012 12:48:49AM 0 points [-]

Well some would do it that way. But consider the possibility of cooperation instead of competition. Completely non-crippled software exists today already (open source). Crippling your software to make it scarce means it has to beat the competition by a larger margin. People must decide if the inconvenience is worth it. There's also the risk of a culture that detests crippling develops that "frees" your software, despite attempts at crippling (e.g. cracking games).

Also, societies unwilling to accept the zero-cost of copying will still have piracy, but at a cost of less trust in the legal system.

Not to mention societies embracing "piracy" would have to divert less resources to discussing it...

In response to comment by Vaste on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Nornagest 18 January 2012 11:52:44PM *  0 points [-]

I don't know if any area uses this business model already?

That sounds like the threshold pledge system, which is fairly common in the nonprofit world and has been applied to a few media projects that I'm aware of. Kickstarter is probably the most famous service to use the model.

I am not an economist, but I wouldn't expect it to generate the funds of sale by unit if widely adopted. There's a basic information asymmetry there which I'd expect to make people averse -- and justifiably so -- to letting go their money.

In response to comment by Nornagest on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Vaste 19 January 2012 12:09:19AM *  0 points [-]

There's a basic information asymmetry there which I'd expect to make people averse -- and justifiably so -- to letting go their money.

What asymmetry?

I can think of two problems (context being writers and books):

  • first book by a new writer pretty much has to be free. No one trusts him.
  • a famous (trusted) writer writes crap book or no book, but gets money anyway. He loses trust. ("Trust" becomes new world currency?)

In a way, the relationship writer - readers becomes more similar to that of employee - employer.

In response to Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Vaste 18 January 2012 11:56:41PM 2 points [-]

The computer together with the Internet may be the most amazing invention in human history. We now have the means to allow all human beings access to all information of our entire race! No matter if you're a (not too) poor farmer in Africa or a bank executive, the only thing you need is a computer and Internet access, and it costs nothing more (well there's electricity). Yet we choose to limit this fantastic invention and deny the poor farmer access.

If food was free would we then limit it, for fear that there might not be enough new dishes invented? Surely we could come up with ways to cope with living in a world were food was truly abundant? And surely we would choose a better option than starting to charge for that which is free? Fake scarcity can't be the only solution.

"Piracy" is but a natural reaction to copyright. I suggest we discuss how one could better allocate resources than pretending software is a physical "product" that can be sold.

Comment author: Clippy 18 January 2012 03:50:46PM *  1 point [-]

Non-responsive to User:RobertLumley's claim. The existence of beings who locate valuable targets in designspace, despite expecting to receive no monetary compensation therefrom, does not imply the non-existence of beings who only locate such targets in anticipation of monetary reward (viz, that accruing from from affirmation of expected legal rights of exclusion in who can instantiate the designspace target), nor that such beings would never find "Pareto-improvements" in an exclusivity-respecting society.

In response to comment by Clippy on Ethics of piracy
Comment author: Vaste 18 January 2012 11:28:34PM *  0 points [-]

What would making piracy legal really imply? (I.e. assume there are no IP rights/restrictions/monopolies.) How would a company like Adobe make money that way? This is something worth considering.

How might programmers make money? The people who buy the software (e.g. a database for a warehouse) still needs it, and would still be willing to pay for someone to make it. The company may also try to keep it local and secret, if the warehouse database is a strategic advantage. Or they might share it if they care more about e.g. the better quality that naturally comes from more users (e.g. more bug reports and developers -> fewer bugs).

What about Adobe? They might have to sell the first copy of their software, i.e. setting a price that people pool together to meet before they will release the new version, after which anyone can copy it freely of course (anyone with a computer). This is a very different business model from earning money from the software continuously (i.e. from each copy), and might generate less funds. I don't know if any area uses this business model already?

Comment author: EphemeralNight 15 January 2012 04:47:48PM 5 points [-]

Aren't there stories of lucid dreamers who were actually able to show a measurable improvement in a given skill after practicing it in a dream? I seem to recall reading about that somewhere. If true, those stories would be at least weak evidence supporting that idea.

On the other hand, this should mean that humans raised in cultural and social vacuums ought to be disproportionately talented at everything, and I don't recall hearing of anything about that one way or the other, but then I can't imagine a way to actually do that experiment humanely.

Comment author: Vaste 17 January 2012 09:55:25PM 1 point [-]

Improving after practicing in a simulation doesn't sound that far-fetched to me. Especially not considering that they probably already have plenty of experience to base their simulation on.

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 January 2011 05:02:35AM 12 points [-]

Although I definitely agree with the thrust of the article, I don't feel that lives-saved is necessarily a very good metric of utility. A child in the Third World might be saved from malaria, but grow up nutrient deficient leading to reduced mental capacity, work on a subsistence farm, contract HIV, and die after having three kids, who subsequently starve. A charity that prevented fewer deaths in a predictable causal sequence might still be a better utility maximizer if it had a greater positive effect on people's quality of life.

Of course, a lot of us already agree on the best available utility maximizing charity, but even among the more "mundane" options I think that causes such as promoting education in the third world may beat out direct life-saving maximizers.

Comment author: Vaste 17 January 2012 05:21:39PM 2 points [-]

Perhaps a better idea would be to spend money on education of women in poor areas, something that is known to reduce the fertility rate.<citation needed> By reducing the fertility rate we also reduce the number of poor, starving, dying in HIV etc children born into this world.

I think that simply measuring the number of dead children may be useful as a simplification, but it's too simplistic. Really, to me it seems like it's just something that people believing in axiomatic morals are having problems dealing with. "But, think of the children!"

If the answer to "is it better to spend this money on saving a kids life?" is always yes, I'd say you have a problem with your value system.

View more: Next