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Regulatory lags for New Technology [2013 notes]

5 gwern 31 May 2017 01:27AM

I found some old notes from June 2013 on time delays in how fast one can expect Western political systems & legislators to respond to new technical developments.

In general, response is slow and on the order of political cycles; one implication I take away is that a takeoff an AI could happen over half a decade or more without any meaningful political control and would effectively be a ‘fast takeoff’, especially if it avoids any obvious mistakes.

1 Regulatory lag

“Regulatory delay” is the delay between the specific action required by regulators or legislatures to permit some new technology or method and the feasibility of the technology or method; “regulatory lag” is the converse, then, and is the gap between feasibility and reactive regulation of new technology. Computer software (and artificial intelligence in particular) is mostly unregulated, so it is subject to lag rather than delay.

Unfortunately almost all research seems to focus on modeling lags in the context of heavily regulated industries (especially natural monopolies like insurance or utilities), and few focus on compiling data on how long a lag can be expected between a new innovation or technology and its regulation. As one would expect, the few results point to lags on the order of years; for example, Ippolito 1979 (“The Effects of Price Regulation in the Automobile Insurance Industry”) finds that the period of price changes goes from 11 months in unregulated US states to 21 months in regulated states, suggesting the price-change framework itself causes a lag of almost a year.

Below, I cover some specific examples, attempting to estimate the lags myself:

(Nuclear weapons would be an interesting example but it’s hard to say what ‘lag’ would be inasmuch as they were born in government control and are subject to no meaningful global control; however, if the early proposals for a world government or unified nuclear weapon organization had gone through, they would also have represented a lag of at least 5 years.)

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[Link] "AIXIjs: A Software Demo for General Reinforcement Learning", Aslanides 2017

1 gwern 29 May 2017 09:09PM

[Link] Keeping up with deep reinforcement learning research: /r/reinforcementlearning

3 gwern 16 May 2017 07:12PM

[Link] "The unrecognised simplicities of effective action #2: 'Systems engineering’ and 'systems management' - ideas from the Apollo programme for a 'systems politics'", Cummings 2017

6 gwern 17 February 2017 12:59AM

[Link] Decision Theory subreddit

6 gwern 07 February 2017 06:42PM

Rationality Heuristic for Bias Detection: Updating Towards the Net Weight of Evidence

9 gwern 17 November 2016 02:51AM

Bias tests look for violations of basic universal properties of rational belief such as subadditivity of probabilities or anchoring on randomly-generated numbers. I propose a new one for the temporal consistency of beliefs: agents who believe that the net evidence for a claim c from t1 to t2 is positive or negative must then satisfy the inequalities that P(c, t1)<P(c, t2) & P(c, t1)>P(c, t2), respectively. A failure to update in the direction of the believed net evidence indicates that nonrational reasons are influencing the belief in c; the larger the net evidence without directional updates, the more that nonrational reasons are influencing c. Extended to a population level, this suggests that a heuristic measurement of the nonrational grounds for belief can be conducted using long-term public opinion surveys of important issues combined with contemporary surveys of estimated net evidence since the start of the opinion surveys to compare historical shifts in public opinion on issues with the net evidence on those issues.

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Recent updates to gwern.net (2015-2016)

28 gwern 26 August 2016 07:22PM

Previously: 2011; 2012-2013; 2013-2014; 2014-2015

"When I was one-and-twenty / I heard a wise man say, / 'Give crowns and pounds and guineas / But not your heart away; / Give pearls away and rubies / But keep your fancy free.' / But I was one-and-twenty, / No use to talk to me."

My past year of completed writings, sorted by topic:


  • Embryo selection for intelligence cost-benefit analysis
    • meta-analysis of intelligence GCTAs, limits set by measurement error, current polygenic scores, possible gains with current IVF procedures, the benefits of selection on multiple complex traits, the possible annual value in the USA of selection & value of larger GWASes, societal consequences of various embryo selection scenarios, embryo count versus polygenic scores as limiting factors, comparison with iterated embryo selection, limits to total gains from iterated embryo selection etc.
  • Wikipedia article on Genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA)






gwern.net itself has remained largely stable (some CSS fixes and image size changes); I continue to use Patreon and send out my newsletters.

The Brain Preservation Foundation's Small Mammalian Brain Prize won

43 gwern 09 February 2016 09:02PM

The Brain Preservation Foundation’s Small Mammalian Brain Prize has been won with fantastic preservation of a whole rabbit brain using a new fixative+slow-vitrification process.

  • BPF announcement (21CM’s announcement)
  • evaluation
  • The process was published as “Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation”, McIntyre & Fahy 2015 (mirror)

    We describe here a new cryobiological and neurobiological technique, aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ASC), which demonstrates the relevance and utility of advanced cryopreservation science for the neurobiological research community. ASC is a new brain-banking technique designed to facilitate neuroanatomic research such as connectomics research, and has the unique ability to combine stable long term ice-free sample storage with excellent anatomical resolution. To demonstrate the feasibility of ASC, we perfuse-fixed rabbit and pig brains with a glutaraldehyde-based fixative, then slowly perfused increasing concentrations of ethylene glycol over several hours in a manner similar to techniques used for whole organ cryopreservation. Once 65% w/v ethylene glycol was reached, we vitrified brains at −135 °C for indefinite long-term storage. Vitrified brains were rewarmed and the cryoprotectant removed either by perfusion or gradual diffusion from brain slices. We evaluated ASC-processed brains by electron microscopy of multiple regions across the whole brain and by Focused Ion Beam Milling and Scanning Electron Microscopy (FIB-SEM) imaging of selected brain volumes. Preservation was uniformly excellent: processes were easily traceable and synapses were crisp in both species. Aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation has many advantages over other brain-banking techniques: chemicals are delivered via perfusion, which enables easy scaling to brains of any size; vitrification ensures that the ultrastructure of the brain will not degrade even over very long storage times; and the cryoprotectant can be removed, yielding a perfusable aldehyde-preserved brain which is suitable for a wide variety of brain assays…We have shown that both rabbit brains (10 g) and pig brains (80 g) can be preserved equally well. We do not anticipate that there will be significant barriers to preserving even larger brains such as bovine, canine, or primate brains using ASC.

    (They had problems with 2 pigs and got 1 pig brain successfully cryopreserved but it wasn’t part of the entry. I’m not sure why: is that because the Large Mammalian Brain Prize is not yet set up?)
  • previous discussion: Mikula’s plastination came close but ultimately didn’t seem to preserve the whole brain when applied.
  • commentary: Alcor, Robin Hanson, John Smart, Evidence-Based Cryonics, Vice, Pop Sci
  • donation link

To summarize it, you might say that this is a hybrid of current plastination and vitrification methods, where instead of allowing slow plastination (with unknown decay & loss) or forcing fast cooling (with unknown damage and loss), a staged approach is taking: a fixative is injected into the brain first to immediately lock down all proteins and stop all decay/change, and then it is leisurely cooled down to be vitrified.

This is exciting progress because the new method may wind up preserving better than either of the parent methods, but also because it gives much greater visibility into the end-results: the aldehyde-vitrified brains can be easily scanned with electron microscopes and the results seen in high detail, showing fantastic preservation of structure, unlike regular vitrification where the scans leave opaque how good the preservation was. This opacity is one reason that as Mike Darwin has pointed out at length on his blog and jkaufman has also noted that we cannot be confident in how well ALCOR or CI’s vitrification works - because if it didn’t, we have little way of knowing.

EDIT: BPF’s founder Ken Hayworth (Reddit account) has posted a piece, arguing that ALCOR & CI cannot be trusted to do procedures well and that future work should be done via rigorous clinical trials and only then rolled out. “Opinion: The prize win is a vindication of the idea of cryonics, not of unaccountable cryonics service organizations”

…“Should cryonics service organizations immediately start offering this new ASC procedure to their ‘patients’?” My personal answer (speaking for myself, not on behalf of the BPF) has been a steadfast NO. It should be remembered that these same cryonics service organizations have been offering a different procedure for years. A procedure that was not able to demonstrate, to even my minimal expectations, preservation of the brain’s neural circuitry. This result, I must say, surprised and disappointed me personally, leading me to give up my membership in one such organization and to become extremely skeptical of all since. Again, I stress, current cryonics procedures were NOT able to meet our challenge EVEN UNDER IDEAL LABORATORY CONDITIONS despite being offered to paying customers for years[1]. Should we really expect that these same organizations can now be trusted to further develop and properly implement such a new, independently-invented technique for use under non-ideal conditions?

Let’s step back for a moment. A single, independently-researched, scientific publication has come out that demonstrates a method of structural brain preservation (ASC) compatible with long-term cryogenic storage in animal models (rabbit and pig) under ideal laboratory conditions (i.e. a healthy living animal immediately being perfused with fixative). Should this one paper instantly open the floodgates to human application? Under untested real-world conditions where the ‘patient’ is either terminally ill or already declared legally dead? Should it be performed by unlicensed persons, in unaccountable organizations, operating outside of the traditional medical establishment with its checks and balances designed to ensure high standards of quality and ethics? To me, the clear answer is NO. If this was a new drug for cancer therapy, or a new type of heart surgery, many additional steps would be expected before even clinical trials could start. Why should our expectations be any lower for this?

The fact that the ASC procedure has won the brain preservation prize should rightly be seen as a vindication of the central idea of cryonics –the brain’s delicate circuitry underlying memory and personality CAN in fact be preserved indefinitely, potentially serving as a lifesaving bridge to future revival technologies. But, this milestone should certainly not be interpreted as a vindication of the very different cryonics procedures that are practiced on human patients today. And it should not be seen as a mandate for more of the same but with an aldehyde stabilization step casually tacked on. …

Recent updates to gwern.net (2014-2015)

21 gwern 02 November 2015 12:06AM

Previously: 2011; 2012-2013; 2013-2014

“Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. / For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”

Sorted by topic:

Darknet market related:

Statistics & decision theory:

QS related:


  • “Effective Use of arbtt”: My window tracker/time-logger of choice is arbtt which records X window info for later classification and analysis; but one of the challenges is you don’t know how to set up arbtt or improve your environment or write classifications rules. So I wrote a tutorial.
  • Time-lock crypto: wrote a Bash implementation of serial hashing time-lock crypto, link to all known implementations of hash time-lock crypto; discuss recent major theoretical breakthroughs involving Bitcoin



  • switched to Patreon for donations
  • continued sending out my newsletter; up to 24 issues now
  • rewrote gwern.net CSS to be mobile-friendly; should now be readable in an iPhone 6 browser
  • optimized website loading (removed Custom Search Engine, A/B testing, non-validating XML, outbound link-tracking; simplified Disqus; minified JS, and fully async/deferred JS loading)
  • A/B testing:

[Link] 2015 modafinil user survey

9 gwern 26 September 2015 05:28PM

I am running, in collaboration with ModafinilCat, a survey of modafinil users asking about their experiences, side-effects, sourcing, efficacy, and demographics:

This is something of a followup to the LW surveys which find substantial modafinil use, and Yvain's 2014 nootropics survey. I hope the results will be useful; the legal questions should help reduce uncertainty there, and the genetics questions (assuming any responses) may be interesting too.

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