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

Comment author: Nornagest 25 March 2014 07:55:57PM *  1 point [-]

Do you think there's more or less than a 1 in a million chance of someone reading and executing one of these ideas?

Vastly less. I expect the chances of a given person genuinely wanting to indiscriminately harm humanity -- not just as an idle revenge fantasy or as a means of signaling cynicism, but as a goal motivating actual behavior even when it comes at high costs -- to be somewhere in the neighborhood of one in a million already, if not lower. The chance of such a person reading the offending post, following the reasoning, deciding to implement it, and coming up with the liquid money to fund it (million-dollar budgets don't grow on trees) is very small indeed.

It's much easier to find people that want to direct harm at some nation or identity group, but most of the ideas in this thread aren't so easily targeted.

Comment author: faul_sname 26 March 2014 05:23:55AM 2 points [-]

On reflection, I think you're right that the chances are much lower than 1 in a million that a given human wants to indiscriminately harm humanity. Retracted.

Comment author: Punoxysm 24 March 2014 11:44:38PM *  1 point [-]

I'm gonna guess this has something to do with bees then (or in that general direction)?

Well, all sorts of tragedy of the commons things exist. If you think you've got one that could turn a commons into a resource to be manipulated, and can convince people, there will be a dozen investors knocking at your door!

It's been done a thousand times before and not only that but there are whole philosophical movements arguing that it's a moral imperative.

Nevertheless, you seem like you're in the running for the prize.

Comment author: faul_sname 25 March 2014 12:08:57AM 0 points [-]

Tragedy-of-the-commons-for-profit has been done quite profitably -- see swoopo.com until quite recently.

Comment author: faul_sname 24 March 2014 11:54:44PM 4 points [-]

Organic Chemistry lab --

Label everything, especially when two subsequent steps of your reaction look very similar.

If you're going to leave something stirring overnight, make sure there's a backup power supply, especially if your area has a history of power failures.

Not mine, but -- If the temperature of your oil bath seems to be going up much more slowly than usual, check to make sure the thermometer is working properly. Don't just turn the heat up until the temperature until the thermometer reads correctly. One of the people in my lab managed to cook his compound at 280 C because the tip of the thermometer was slightly above the surface of the oil bath.

Comment author: Punoxysm 24 March 2014 11:14:14PM 2 points [-]

I'm sorry, but dust speck distribution is far more expensive than your budget will allow, unless you have a concrete plan to create and fund a dust speck foundation from that seed funding I will again have to reject your application.

Comment author: faul_sname 24 March 2014 11:30:10PM 0 points [-]

Is the chance of me of doing that conditional on your giving me a million dollars less than the chance that James_Miller will bring utopia to an infinite number of people in conjunction with the chance that he will not do that if you give him a million dollars?

Comment author: Punoxysm 24 March 2014 11:08:56PM *  4 points [-]

Well, bioterrorism is definitely illegal. And remember the challenge is "don't do anything illegal", not "don't get found guilty". And there is plenty of information out there about how to do bad things, though reading too much of it without a reasonable cover will get you on a watchlist. And there are plenty of books filled with both malice and misinformation. What could you really contribute at the margin? If you think you could kickstart your rise as a dictator for a million dollars, I'm afraid I think you're suffering from overoptimism/pessimism.

Norman Borlaug relied on people adopting his inventions and discoveries. If he'd been pushing agricultural practices that only produced half as much food, he'd just be crank.

Comment author: faul_sname 24 March 2014 11:18:51PM -2 points [-]

Bioterrorism is definitely not where I was going with this. However, it is pretty much a given that the owners of large farms will do things that will increase their crop production, even if it decreases the productivity of farms that are spatially or temporally distant from them.

Again, think about creative uses for the knowledge you have for 5 minutes before you come to the conclusion that it's not possible to do significant harm with it. You probably don't even have to think directly of doing harm -- just look for the most profitable thing you can do with that knowledge, figure out what the negative side effects would be (particularly tragedy-of-the-commons type effects), and figure out how you can maintain profitability while increasing those negative side effects.

Comment author: Punoxysm 24 March 2014 10:34:09PM 0 points [-]

Thank you for your application. Unfortunately, I have no way to evaluate your reliability on this matter. In fact, putting the money in your hands could likely facilitate your plan, which, even if it is extremely implausible, thus producing a infinitely positive expected utility if you were to receive the award.

Comment author: faul_sname 24 March 2014 11:08:24PM *  -2 points [-]

Okay then, I will put dust specks in the eyes of an infinite number of people.

I win.

Comment author: Punoxysm 24 March 2014 09:59:08PM *  2 points [-]

The real purpose it to get us thinking about whether our first impulse answers (probably industries and ideologies we'd like to take pot shots at) are actually really "the worst".

It can cast light on what effective altruism means.

And I really don't see anyone following this as a how-to manual, so I don't get why you say it's stupid.

Comment author: faul_sname 24 March 2014 11:06:13PM -1 points [-]

I would estimate that the worst idea posted here would probably be equivalently bad to killing about a million people. Do you think there's more or less than a 1 in a million chance of someone reading and executing one of these ideas?

Comment author: faul_sname 24 March 2014 11:00:38PM *  1 point [-]

Have you actually thought about this for 5 minutes?

No, it's not difficult at all to think of extremely destructive but entirely legal things to do with $1,000,000 that would have an extremely negative impact on people. Look at what Norman Borlaug did to improve the human condition on a relatively small budget. Imagine if he decided he hated humanity. Now imagine he had access to modern-day technology.

Also consider how many copies of a book you can distribute for a million dollars.

And if you're taking this in directions anywhere near as specific and dark as I am, please, for the love of all that is good in this world, don't share.

For reference, I have a fair but not exceptional amount of knowledge regarding Bio and Biotech. The less destructive intervention I thought of would be about as bad as the Dust Bowl, though it would be nothing like the dust bowl (I really, really don't want to give any hints to people who don't have the requisite knowledge, or people who haven't connected the dots yet). The more destructive action involves distributing information, and has the potential to be much, much worse.

Comment author: trist 12 March 2014 03:00:19PM 36 points [-]

Irrationality Game: (meta, I like this idea)

Flush toilets are a horrible mistake. 7b/99%

Comment author: faul_sname 13 March 2014 07:04:07AM 0 points [-]

Upvoted for "horrible". I don't see how their impact is all that bad -- at 3.5 GPF (which is standard), that means that, for example, all of the flush toilets in California together use about 750,000 acre-feet of water per year. Compared to the 34 million acre feet used in the same state for agriculture, it's clear that flush toilets use a significant but still pretty small fraction of the water in the state, but "horrible" is an overstatement. (I choose California because it is a populous state that regularly has water shortages).

Comment author: Kawoomba 03 January 2014 02:36:12PM 13 points [-]

So you can translate, say, smoking a cigarette into a cost of about 1800 expected heartbeats (or about 80 seconds of life expectancy).

You got tachycardia or somethin'?

Comment author: faul_sname 03 January 2014 08:56:42PM *  5 points [-]

No, chaosmage is just a very active hummingbird. Hitting keys on the keyboard takes work when you only weigh 10 grams.

(1800 heartbeats in 80 seconds is 1500 beats per minute, as opposed to the human average of around 80 beats per minute)

View more: Next