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Room For More Funding In AI Safety Is Highly Uncertain

12 Evan_Gaensbauer 12 May 2016 01:57PM

(Crossposted to the Effective Altruism Forum)


Introduction

In effective altruism, people talk about the room for more funding (RFMF) of various organizations. RFMF is simply the maximum amount of money which can be donated to an organization, and be put to good use, right now. In most cases, “right now” typically refers to the next (fiscal) year.  Most of the time when I see the phrase invoked, it’s to talk about individual charities, for example, one of Givewell’s top-recommended charities. If a charity has run out of room for more funding, it may be typical for effective donors to seek the next best option to donate to.
Last year, the Future of Life Institute (FLI) made the first of its grants from the pool of money it’s received as donations from Elon Musk and the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil). Since then, I've heard a few people speculating about how much RFMF the whole AI safety community has in general. I don't think that's a sensible question to ask before we have a sense of what the 'AI safety' field is. Before, people were commenting on only the RFMF of individual charities, and now they’re commenting of entire fields as though they’re well-defined. AI safety hasn’t necessarily reached peak RFMF just because MIRI has a runway for one more year to operate at their current capacity, or because FLI made a limited number of grants this year.

Overview of Current Funding For Some Projects


The starting point I used to think about this issue came from Topher Hallquist, from his post explaining his 2015 donations:

I’m feeling pretty cautious right now about donating to organizations focused on existential risk, especially after Elon Musk’s $10 million donation to the Future of Life Institute. Musk’s donation don’t necessarily mean there’s no room for more funding, but it certainly does mean that room for more funding is harder to find than it used to be. Furthermore, it’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts in this space, so I think there’s a strong case for waiting to see what comes of this infusion of cash before committing more money.


My friend Andrew and I were discussing this last week. In past years, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) has raised about $1 million (USD) in funds, and received more than that  for their annual operations last year. Going into 2016, Nate Soares, Executive Director of MIRI, wrote the following:

Our successful summer fundraiser has helped determine how ambitious we’re making our plans; although we may still slow down or accelerate our growth based on our fundraising performance, our current plans assume a budget of roughly $1,825,000 per year [emphasis not added].


This seems sensible to me as it's not too much more than what they raised last year, and it seems more and not less money will be flowing into AI safety in the near future. However, Nate also had plans for how MIRI could've productively spent up to $6 million last year, to grow the organization. So, far from MIRI believing it had all the funding it could use, it was seeking more. Of course, others might argue MIRI or other AI safety organizations already receive enough funding relative to other priorities, but that is an argument for a different time.

Andrew and I also talked about how, had FLI had enough funding to grant money to all the promising applicants for its 2015 grants in AI safety research, that would have been millions more flowing into AI safety. It’s true what Topher wrote: that, being outside of FLI, and not otherwise being a major donor, it may be exceedingly difficult for individuals to evaluate funding gaps in AI safety. While FLI has only received $11 million to grant in 2015-16 ($6 million already granted in 2015, with $5 million more to be granted in the coming year), they could easily have granted more than twice that much, had they received the money.

To speak to other organizations, Niel Bowerman, Assistant Director at the Future of Humanity Institute (FH)I, recently spoke about how FHI receives most of its funding exclusively for research, and bottlenecks like the operations he runs more depend on private donations FHI could use more of.  Sean O HEigeartaigh, Executive Director at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), at Cambridge University, recently stated in discussion that CSER and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), which CSER is currently helping launch, face the same problem with their operations. Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence, and Director of FHI, is in the course of launching the Strategic Artificial Intelligence Research Centre (SAIRC), which received $1.5 million (USD) in funding from FLI. SAIRC seems good for funding for at least the rest of 2016.

 


The Big Picture
Above are the funding summaries for several organizations listed in Andrew Critch’s 2015 map of the existential risk reduction ecosystem.There are organizations working on existential risks other than those from AI, but they aren’t explicitly organized in a network the same way AI safety organizations are. So, in practice, the ‘x-risk ecosystem’ is mapable almost exclusively in terms of AI safety.

It seems to me the 'AI safety field', if defined just as the organizations and projects listed in Dr. Critch’s ecosystem map, and perhaps others closely related (e.g., AI Impacts), could have productively absorbed between $10 million and $25 million in 2016 alone. Of course, there are caveats rendering this a conservative estimate. First of all, the above is a contrived version of the AI safety "field", as there is plenty of research outside of this network popping up all the time. Second, I think the organizations and projects I listed above could've themselves thought of more uses for funding. Seeing as they're working on what is (presumably) the most important problem in the world, there is much millions more could do for foundational research on the AGI containment/control problem, safety research into narrow systems aside.


Too Much Variance in Estimates for RFMF in AI Safety

I've also heard people setting the benchmark for truly appropriate funding for AI safety to be in the ballpark of a trillion dollars. While in theory that may be true, on its face it currently seems absurd. I'm not saying there won't be a time in even the next several years when $1 trillion/year couldn't be used effectively. I'm saying that if there isn't a roadmap for how to increase the productive use of ~$10 million/year to AI safety, to $100 million to $1 billion dollars, talking about $1 trillion/year isn't practical. I don't even think there will be more than $1 billion on the table per year for the near future.

This argument can be used to justify continued earning to give on the part of effective altruists. That is, there is so much money, e.g., MIRI could use, it makes sense for everyone who isn't an AI researcher to earn to give. This might make sense if governments and universities give major funding to what they think is AI safety, give 99% of it to only robotic unemployment or something, miss the boat on the control problem, and MIRI gets a pittance of the money that will flow into the field. The idea that there is effectively something like a multi-trillion dollar ceiling for effective funding for AI safety is still unsound.

When the range for RFMF for AI safety ranges between $5-10 million (the amount of funding AI safety received in 2015) and $1 trillion, I feel like anyone not already well-within the AI safety community cannot reasonably make an estimate of how much money the field can productively use in one year.
On the other hand, there are also people who think that AI safety doesn’t need to be a big priority, or is currently as big a priority as it needs to be, so money spent funding AI safety research and strategy would be better spent elsewhere.

All this stated, I myself don’t have a precise estimate of how much capacity for funding the whole AI safety field will have in, say, 2017.

Reasonable Assumptions Going Forward

What I'm confident saying right now is:

  1. The amount of money AI safety could've productively used in 2016 alone is within an order of magnitude of $10 million, and probably less than $25 million, based on what I currently know.
  2. The amount of total funding available will likely increase year over year for the next several years. There could be quite dramatic rises.. The Open Philanthropy Project, worth $10+ billion (USD), recently announced AI safety will be their top priority next year, although this may not necessarily translate into more major grants in the next 12 months. The White House recently announced they’ll be hosting workshops on the Future of Artificial Intelligence, including concerns over risk. Also, to quote Stuart Russell (HT Luke Muehlhauser): "Industry [has probably invested] more in the last 5 years than governments have invested since the beginning of the field [in the 1950s]." This includes companies like Facebook, Baidu, and Google each investing tons of money into AI research, including Google’s purchase of DeepMind for $500 million in 2014. With an increasing number of universities and corporations investing money and talent into AI research, including AI safety, and now with major philanthropic foundations and governments paying attention to AI safety as well, it seems plausible the amount of funding for AI safety worldwide might balloon up to $100+ million in 2017 or 2018. However, this could just as easily not happen, and there's much uncertainty in projecting this.
  3. The field of AI safety will also grow year over year for the next several years. I doubt projects needing funding will grow as fast as the amount of funding available. This is because the rate at which institutions are willing to invest in growth will not only depend on how much money they're receiving now, but how much they can expect to receive in the future. Since how much those expectations reasonably vary is so uncertain, organizations are smartly conservative to hold their cards close to their chest. While OpenAI has pledged $1 billion for funding AI research in general, and not just safety, over the next couple decades, nobody knows if such funding will be available to organizations out of Oxford or Berkeley like AI Impacts MIRI, FHI or CFI. However,

 

  • i) increased awareness and concern over AI safety will draw in more researchers.
  • ii) the promise or expectation of more money to come may draw in more researchers seeking funding.
  • iii) the expanding field and the increased funding available will create a feedback loop in which institutions in AI safety, such as MIRI, make contingency plans to expand faster, if able to or need be.

Why This Matters

I don't mean to use the amount of funding AI safety has received in 2015 or 2016 as an anchor which will bias how much RFMF I think the field has. However, it seems more extreme lower or upper estimates I’ve encountered are baseless, and either vastly underestimate or overestimate how much the field of AI safety can productively grow each year. This is actually important to figure out.

80,000 Hours rates AI safety as perhaps the most important and neglected cause currently prioritized by the effective altruism movement. Consequently, 80,000 Hours recommends how similarly concerned people can work on the issue. Some talented computer scientists who could do best working in AI safety might opt to earn to give in software engineering or data science, if they conclude the bottleneck on AI safety isn’t talent but funding. Alternatively, small but critical organization which requires funding from value-aligned and consistent donors might fall through the cracks if too many people conclude all AI safety work in general is receiving sufficient funding, and chooses to forgo donating to AI safety. Many of us could make individual decisions going either way, but it also seems many of us could end up making the wrong choice. Assessments of these issues will practically inform decisions many of make over the next few years, determining how much of our time and potential we use fruitfully, or waste.

Everything above just lays out how estimating room for more funding in AI safety overall may be harder than anticipated, and to show how high the variance might be. I invite you to contribute to this discussion, as it only just starting. Please use the above info as a starting point to look into this more, or ask questions that will usefully clarify what we’re thinking about. The best fora to start further discussion seem to be the Effective Altruism Forum, LessWrong, or the AI Safety Discussion group on Facebook, where I initiated the conversation leading to this post.

The Web Browser is Not Your Client (But You Don't Need To Know That)

21 Error 22 April 2016 12:12AM

(Part of a sequence on discussion technology and NNTP. As last time, I should probably emphasize that I am a crank on this subject and do not actually expect anything I recommend to be implemented. Add whatever salt you feel is necessary)1


If there is one thing I hope readers get out of this sequence, it is this: The Web Browser is Not Your Client.

It looks like you have three or four viable clients -- IE, Firefox, Chrome, et al. You don't. You have one. It has a subforum listing with two items at the top of the display; some widgets on the right hand side for user details, RSS feed, meetups; the top-level post display; and below that, replies nested in the usual way.

Changing your browser has the exact same effect on your Less Wrong experience as changing your operating system, i.e. next to none.

For comparison, consider the Less Wrong IRC, where you can tune your experience with a wide range of different software. If you don't like your UX, there are other clients that give a different UX to the same content and community.

That is how the mechanism of discussion used to work, and does not now. Today, your user experience (UX) in a given community is dictated mostly by the admins of that community, and software development is often neither their forte nor something they have time for. I'll often find myself snarkily responding to feature requests with "you know, someone wrote something that does that 20 years ago, but no one uses it."

Semantic Collapse

What defines a client? More specifically, what defines a discussion client, a Less Wrong client?

The toolchain by which you read LW probably looks something like this; anyone who's read the source please correct me if I'm off:

Browser -> HTTP server -> LW UI application -> Reddit API -> Backend database.

The database stores all the information about users, posts, etc. The API presents subsets of that information in a way that's convenient for a web application to consume (probably JSON objects, though I haven't checked). The UI layer generates a web page layout and content using that information, which is then presented -- in the form of (mostly) HTML -- by the HTTP server layer to your browser. Your browser figures out what color pixels go where.

All of this is a gross oversimplification, obviously.

In some sense, the browser is self-evidently a client: It talks to an http server, receives hypertext, renders it, etc. It's a UI for an HTTP server.

But consider the following problem: Find and display all comments by me that are children of this post, and only those comments, using only browser UI elements, i.e. not the LW-specific page widgets. You cannot -- and I'd be pretty surprised if you could make a browser extension that could do it without resorting to the API, skipping the previous elements in the chain above. For that matter, if you can do it with the existing page widgets, I'd love to know how.

That isn't because the browser is poorly designed; it's because the browser lacks the semantic information to figure out what elements of the page constitute a comment, a post, an author. That information was lost in translation somewhere along the way.

Your browser isn't actually interacting with the discussion. Its role is more akin to an operating system than a client. It doesn't define a UX. It provides a shell, a set of system primitives, and a widget collection that can be used to build a UX. Similarly, HTTP is not the successor to NNTP; the successor is the plethora of APIs, for which HTTP is merely a substrate.

The Discussion Client is the point where semantic metadata is translated into display metadata; where you go from 'I have post A from user B with content C' to 'I have a text string H positioned above visual container P containing text string S.' Or, more concretely, when you go from this:

Author: somebody
Subject: I am right, you are mistaken, he is mindkilled.
Date: timestamp
Content: lorem ipsum nonsensical statement involving plankton....

to this:

<h1>I am right, you are mistaken, he is mindkilled.</h1>
<div><span align=left>somebody</span><span align=right>timestamp</span></div>
<div><p>lorem ipsum nonsensical statement involving plankton....</p></div>

That happens at the web application layer. That's the part that generates the subforum headings, the interface widgets, the display format of the comment tree. That's the part that defines your Less Wrong experience, as a reader, commenter, or writer.

That is your client, not your web browser. If it doesn't suit your needs, if it's missing features you'd like to have, well, you probably take for granted that you're stuck with it.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Mechanism and Policy

One of the difficulties forming an argument about clients is that the proportion of people who have ever had a choice of clients available for any given service keeps shrinking. I have this mental image of the Average Internet User as having no real concept for this.

Then I think about email. Most people have probably used at least two different clients for email, even if it's just Gmail and their phone's built-in mail app. Or perhaps Outlook, if they're using a company system. And they (I think?) mostly take for granted that if they don't like Outlook they can use something else, or if they don't like their phone's mail app they can install a different one. They assume, correctly, that the content and function of their mail account is not tied to the client application they use to work with it.

(They may make the same assumption about web-based services, on the reasoning that if they don't like IE they can switch to Firefox, or if they don't like Firefox they can switch to Chrome. They are incorrect, because The Web Browser is Not Their Client)

Email does a good job of separating mechanism from policy. Its format is defined in RFC 2822 and its transmission protocol is defined in RFC 5321. Neither defines any conventions for user interfaces. There are good reasons for that from a software-design standpoint, but more relevant to our discussion is that interface conventions change more rapidly than the objects they interface with. Forum features change with the times; but the concepts of a Post, an Author, or a Reply are forever.

The benefit of this separation: If someone sends you mail from Outlook, you don't need to use Outlook to read it. You can use something else -- something that may look and behave entirely differently, in a manner more to your liking.

The comparison: If there is a discussion on Less Wrong, you do need to use the Less Wrong UI to read it. The same goes for, say, Facebook.

I object to this.

Standards as Schelling Points

One could argue that the lack of choice is for lack of interest. Less Wrong, and Reddit on which it is based, has an API. One could write a native client. Reddit does have them.

Let's take a tangent and talk about Reddit. Seems like they might have done something right. They have (I think?) the largest contiguous discussion community on the net today. And they have a published API for talking to it. It's even in use.

The problem with this method is that Reddit's API applies only to Reddit. I say problem, singular, but it's really problem, plural, because it hits users and developers in different ways.

On the user end, it means you can't have a unified user interface across different web forums; other forum servers have entirely different APIs, or none at all.2 It also makes life difficult when you want to move from one forum to another.

On the developer end, something very ugly happens when a content provider defines its own provision mechanism. Yes, you can write a competing client. But your client exists only at the provider's sufferance, subject to their decision not to make incompatible API changes or just pull the plug on you and your users outright. That isn't paranoia; in at least one case, it actually happened. Using an agreed-upon standard limits this sort of misbehavior, although it can still happen in other ways.

NNTP is a standard for discussion, like SMTP is for email. It is defined in RFC 3977 and its data format is defined in RFC 5536. The point of a standard is to ensure lasting interoperability; because it is a standard, it serves as a deliberately-constructed Schelling point, a place where unrelated developers can converge without further coordination.

Expertise is a Bottleneck

If you're trying to build a high-quality community, you want a closed system. Well kept gardens die by pacifism, and it's impossible to fully moderate an open system. But if you're building a communication infrastructure, you want an open system.

In the early Usenet days, this was exactly what existed; NNTP was standardized and open, but Usenet was a de-facto closed community, accessible mostly to academics. Then AOL hooked its customers into the system. The closed community became open, and the Eternal September began.3 I suspect, but can't prove, that this was a partial cause of the flight of discussion from Usenet to closed web forums.

I don't think that was the appropriate response. I think the appropriate response was private NNTP networks or even single servers, not connected to Usenet at large.

Modern web forums throw the open-infrastructure baby out with the open-community bathwater. The result, in our specific case, is that if we want something not provided by the default Less Wrong interface, it must be implemented by Less Wrongers.

I don't think UI implementation is our comparative advantage. In fact I know it isn't, or the Less Wrong UI wouldn't suck so hard. We're pretty big by web-forum standards, but we still contain only a tiny fraction of the Internet's technical expertise.

The situation is even worse among the diaspora; for example, at SSC, if Scott's readers want something new out of the interface, it must be implemented either by Scott himself or his agents. That doesn't scale.

One of the major benefits of a standardized, open infrastructure is that your developer base is no longer limited to a single community. Any software written by any member of any community backed by the same communication standard is yours for the using. Additionally, the developers are competing for the attention of readers, not admins; you can expect the reader-facing feature set to improve accordingly. If readers want different UI functionality, the community admins don't need to be involved at all.

A Real Web Client

When I wrote the intro to this sequence, the most common thing people insisted on was this: Any system that actually gets used must allow links from the web, and those links must reach a web page.

I completely, if grudgingly, agree. No matter how insightful a post is, if people can't link to it, it will not spread. No matter how interesting a post is, if Google doesn't index it, it doesn't exist.

One way to achieve a common interface to an otherwise-nonstandard forum is to write a gateway program, something that answers NNTP requests and does magic to translate them to whatever the forum understands. This can work and is better than nothing, but I don't like it -- I'll explain why in another post.

Assuming I can suppress my gag reflex for the next few moments, allow me to propose: a web client.

(No, I don't mean write a new browser. The Browser Is Not Your Client.4)

Real NNTP clients use the OS's widget set to build their UI and talk to the discussion board using NNTP. There is no fundamental reason the same cannot be done using the browser's widget set. Google did it. Before them, Deja News did it. Both of them suck, but they suck on the UI level. They are still proof that the concept can work.

I imagine an NNTP-backed site where casual visitors never need to know that's what they're dealing with. They see something very similar to a web forum or a blog, but whatever software today talks to a database on the back end, instead talks to NNTP, which is the canonical source of posts and post metadata. For example, it gets the results of a link to http://lesswrong.com/posts/message_id.html by sending ARTICLE message_id to its upstream NNTP server (which may be hosted on the same system), just as a native client would.

To the drive-by reader, nothing has changed. Except, maybe, one thing. When a regular reader, someone who's been around long enough to care about such things, says "Hey, I want feature X," and our hypothetical web client doesn't have it, I can now answer:

Someone wrote something that does that twenty years ago.

Here is how to get it.



  1. Meta-meta: This post took about eight hours to research and write, plus two weeks procrastinating. If anyone wants to discuss it in realtime, you can find me on #lesswrong or, if you insist, the LW Slack.

  2. The possibility of "universal clients" that understand multiple APIs is an interesting case, as with Pidgin for IM services. I might talk about those later.

  3. Ironically, despite my nostalgia for Usenet, I was a part of said September; or at least its aftermath.

  4. Okay, that was a little shoehorned in. The important thing is this: What I tell you three times is true.

Turning the Technical Crank

43 Error 05 April 2016 05:36AM

A few months ago, Vaniver wrote a really long post speculating about potential futures for Less Wrong, with a focus on the idea that the spread of the Less Wrong diaspora has left the site weak and fragmented. I wasn't here for our high water mark, so I don't really have an informed opinion on what has socially changed since then. But a number of complaints are technical, and as an IT person, I thought I had some useful things to say.

I argued at the time that many of the technical challenges of the diaspora were solved problems, and that the solution was NNTP -- an ancient, yet still extant, discussion protocol. I am something of a crank on the subject and didn't expect much of a reception. I was pleasantly surprised by the 18 karma it generated, and tried to write up a full post arguing the point.

I failed. I was trying to write a manifesto, didn't really know how to do it right, and kept running into a vast inferential distance I couldn't seem to cross. I'm a product of a prior age of the Internet, from before the http prefix assumed its imperial crown; I kept wanting to say things that I knew would make no sense to anyone who came of age this millennium. I got bogged down in irrelevant technical minutia about how to implement features X, Y, and Z. Eventually I decided I was attacking the wrong problem; I was thinking about 'how do I promote NNTP', when really I should have been going after 'what would an ideal discussion platform look like and how does NNTP get us there, if it does?'

So I'm going to go after that first, and work on the inferential distance problem, and then I'm going to talk about NNTP, and see where that goes and what could be done better. I still believe it's the closest thing to a good, available technological schelling point, but it's going to take a lot of words to get there from here, and I might change my mind under persuasive argument. We'll see.

Fortunately, this is Less Wrong, and sequences are a thing here. This is the first post in an intended sequence on mechanisms of discussion. I know it's a bit off the beaten track of Less Wrong subject matter. I posit that it's both relevant to our difficulties and probably more useful and/or interesting than most of what comes through these days. I just took the 2016 survey and it has a couple of sections on the effects of the diaspora, so I'm guessing it's on topic for meta purposes if not for site-subject purposes.

Less Than Ideal Discussion

To solve a problem you must first define it. Looking at the LessWrong 2.0 post, I see the following technical problems, at a minimum; I'll edit this with suggestions from comments.

  1. Aggregation of posts. Our best authors have formed their own fiefdoms and their work is not terribly visible here. We currently have limited support for this via the sidebar, but that's it.
  2. Aggregation of comments. You can see diaspora authors in the sidebar, but you can't comment from here.
  3. Aggregation of community. This sounds like a social problem but it isn't. You can start a new blog, but unless you plan on also going out of your way to market it then your chances of starting a discussion boil down to "hope it catches the attention of Yvain or someone else similarly prominent in the community." Non-prominent individuals can theoretically post here; yet this is the place we are decrying as moribund.
  4. Incomplete and poor curation. We currently do this via Promoted, badly, and via the diaspora sidebar, also badly.
  5. Pitiful interface feature set. This is not so much a Less Wrong-specific problem as a 2010s-internet problem; people who inhabit SSC have probably seen me respond to feature complaints with "they had something that did that in the 90s, but nobody uses it." (my own bugbear is searching for comments by author-plus-content).
  6. Changes are hamstrung by the existing architecture, which gets you volunteer reactions like this one.

I see these meta-technical problems:

  1. Expertise is scarce. Few people are in a position to technically improve the site, and those that are, have other demands on their time.
  2. The Trivial Inconvenience Problem limits the scope of proposed changes to those that are not inconvenient to commenters or authors.
  3. Getting cooperation from diaspora authors is a coordination problem. Are we better than average at handling those? I don't know.

Slightly Less Horrible Discussion

"Solving" community maintenance is a hard problem, but to the extent that pieces of it can be solved technologically, the solution might include these ultra-high-level elements:

  1. Centralized from the user perspective. A reader should be able to interact with the entire community in one place, and it should be recognizable as a community.
  2. Decentralized from the author perspective. Diaspora authors seem to like having their own fiefdoms, and the social problem of "all the best posters went elsewhere" can't be solved without their cooperation. Therefore any technical solution must allow for it.
  3. Proper division of labor. Scott Alexander probably should not have to concern himself with user feature requests; that's not his comparative advantage and I'd rather he spend his time inventing moral cosmologies. I suspect he would prefer the same. The same goes for Eliezer Yudkowski or any of our still-writing-elsewhere folks.
  4. Really good moderation tools.
  5. Easy entrance. New users should be able to join the discussion without a lot of hassle. Old authors that want to return should be able to do so and, preferably, bring their existing content with them.
  6. Easy exit. Authors who don't like the way the community is heading should be able to jump ship -- and, crucially, bring their content with them to their new ship. Conveniently. This is essentially what has happened, except old content is hostage here.
  7. Separate policy and mechanism within the site architecture. Let this one pass for now if you don't know what it means; it's the first big inferential hurdle I need to cross and I'll be starting soon enough.

As with the previous, I'll update this from the comments if necessary.

Getting There From Here

As I said at the start, I feel on firmer ground talking about technical issues than social ones. But I have to acknowledge one strong social opinion: I believe the greatest factor in Less Wrong's decline is the departure of our best authors for personal blogs. Any plan for revitalization has to provide an improved substitute for a personal blog, because that's where everyone seems to end up going. You need something that looks and behaves like a blog to the author or casual readers, but integrates seamlessly into a community discussion gateway.

I argue that this can be achieved. I argue that the technical challenges are solvable and the inherent coordination problem is also solvable, provided the people involved still have an interest in solving it.

And I argue that it can be done -- and done better than what we have now -- using technology that has existed since the '90s.

I don't argue that this actually will be achieved in anything like the way I think it ought to be. As mentioned up top, I am a crank, and I have no access whatsoever to anybody with any community pull. My odds of pushing through this agenda are basically nil. But we're all about crazy thought experiments, right?

This topic is something I've wanted to write about for a long time. Since it's not typical Less Wrong fare, I'll take the karma on this post as a referendum on whether the community would like to see it here.

Assuming there's interest, the sequence will look something like this (subject to reorganization as I go along, since I'm pulling this from some lengthy but horribly disorganized notes; in particular I might swap subsequences 2 and 3):

  1. Technical Architecture
    1. Your Web Browser Is Not Your Client
    2. Specialized Protocols: or, NNTP and its Bastard Children
    3. Moderation, Personal Gardens, and Public Parks
    4. Content, Presentation, and the Division of Labor
    5. The Proper Placement of User Features
    6. Hard Things that are Suddenly Easy: or, what does client control gain us?
    7. Your Web Browser Is Still Not Your Client (but you don't need to know that)
  2. Meta-Technical Conflicts (or, obstacles to adoption)
    1. Never Bet Against Convenience
    2. Conflicting Commenter, Author, and Admin Preferences
    3. Lipstick on the Configuration Pig
    4. Incremental Implementation and the Coordination Problem.
    5. Lowering Barriers to Entry and Exit
  3. Technical and Social Interoperability
    1. Benefits and Drawbacks of Standards
    2. Input Formats and Quoting Conventions
    3. Faking Functionality
    4. Why Reddit Makes Me Cry
    5. What NNTP Can't Do
  4. Implementation of Nonstandard Features
    1. Some desirable feature #1
    2. Some desirable feature #2
    3. ...etc. This subsequence is only necessary if someone actually wants to try and do what I'm arguing for, which I think unlikely.

(Meta-meta: This post was written in Markdown, converted to HTML for posting using Pandoc, and took around four hours to write. I can often be found lurking on #lesswrong or #slatestarcodex on workday afternoons if anyone wants to discuss it, but I don't promise to answer quickly because, well, workday)

[Edited to add: At +10/92% karma I figure continuing is probably worth it. After reading comments I'm going to try to slim it down a lot from the outline above, though. I still want to hit all those points but they probably don't all need a full post's space. Note that I'm not Scott or Eliezer, I write like I bleed, so what I do post will likely be spaced out]

Fake Amnesia

8 Gram_Stone 03 April 2016 09:23PM

Followup to: Tonic Judo

Related to: Correspondence Bias

Imagine that someone you know has a reaction that you consider disproportionate to the severity of the event that caused it. If your friend loses their comb, and they get weirdly angry about it, and you persuade them into calming down with rational argument, and then it happens again, say, many months later, and they get just as angry as they did the first time, is that person unteachable? Is it a waste of your time to try to persuade them using rationality?

I think a lot of people would have an expectation that the friend would not have another outburst, and that when the friend had another outburst, that expectation would be violated.

And for some reason, at this turn, it seems like a lot of people think, "I tried to teach this person once, and it didn't work. They're the kind of person who can't be persuaded. I should direct my efforts elsewhere." Maybe you even make it look more 'rational' by name-dropping expected utility.

Or maybe it doesn't feel like stubbornness; maybe it feels like they just forgot. Like they were pretending to listen when they looked like they were listening to your arguments, but really they were just waiting for you to finish talking.

That does happen sometimes, if you fail to emotionally engage someone or if you're hanging out with all the wrong kinds of people.

But most of the time, when you're dealing with the majority of the human race, with all of the people who care about how they behave, the right way to go is to realize that a violation of expectations is a sign that your model is wrong.

You made your first rational argument with the implicit expectation that it would prevent all future outbursts over combs. But it happens again. You shouldn't stop at your first attempt. It may be that circumstances are different this time and an outburst is warranted, or it may be that your friend is not in a state in which your previous arguments are at the level of their attention. Or maybe they feel righteous anger and you need to get them to have less self-confidence and more confidence in you, and maybe you need to encourage them to control that in the future, instead of only the previous object-level impulse.

The point is, you expected your first argument to generalize more than it actually did. People often respond to situations like this as though the fact that their first attempt to instill a very general behavior in another person is strong evidence that the person can never be made to instill that general behavior. It's only strong evidence that your first attempt to instill a general behavior was less successful than you expected it to be.

The idea is to keep up your rational arguments, to give them enough feedback to actually learn the complicated thing that you're trying to teach them. From the fact that you see that your arguments generalize in certain situations, it does not follow that you have successfully given others the ability to see the generalizations that you can see.

(Content note: Inspired by this comment by user:jimmy. Highly recommended reading.)

Happy Notice Your Surprise Day!

14 Vaniver 01 April 2016 01:02PM

One of the most powerful rationalist techniques is noticing your surprise

It ties in to several deep issues. One of them relates to one of my favorite LW comments  (the second highest upvoted one in Main):

One of the things that I've noticed about this is that most people do not expect to understand things. For most people, the universe is a mysterious place filled with random events beyond their ability to comprehend or control. Think "guessing the teacher's password", but not just in school or knowledge, but about everything.

Such people have no problem with the idea of magic, because everything is magic to them, even science.

--pjeby

For the universe to make sense to you, you have to have a model; for that model to be useful, you have to notice what it says, and then you need to act on it. I've done many things the wrong way in my life, but the ones I remember as mistakes are the ones where some part of me *knew* it was a problem, and instead of having a discussion with that part of me, I just ignored it and marched on.

It is good to notice your surprise. But that's only the first step.

--Douglas_Knight

 

So any stories, of tricks you noticed, didn't notice, or successfully pulled?

Common Misconceptions about Dual Process Theories of Human Reasoning

12 Gram_Stone 19 March 2016 09:50PM

(This is mostly a summary of Evans (2012); the fifth misconception mentioned is original research, although I have high confidence in it.)

It seems that dual process theories of reasoning are often underspecified within the rationalist community, so I will review some common misconceptions about these theories in order to ensure that everyone's beliefs about them are compatible. Briefly, the key distinction (and it seems, the distinction that implies the fewest assumptions) is the amount of demand that a given process places on working memory.

(And if you imagine what you actually use working memory for, then a consequence of this is that Type 2 processing always has a quality of 'cognitive decoupling' or 'counterfactual reasoning' or 'imagining of ways that things could be different', dynamically changing representations that remain static in Type 1 processing; the difference between a cached and non-cached thought, if you will. When you are transforming a Rubik's cube in working memory so that you don't have to transform it physically, this is an example of the kind of thing that I'm talking about from the outside.)

The first common confusion is that Type 1 and Type 2 refer to specific algorithms or systems within the human brain. It is a much stronger proposition, and not a widely accepted one, to assert that the two types of cognition refer to particular systems or algorithms within the human brain, as opposed to particular properties of information processing that we may identify with many different algorithms in the brain, characterized by the degree to which they place a demand on working memory.

The second and third common confusions, and perhaps the most widespread, are the assumptions that Type 1 processes and Type 2 processes can be reliably distinguished, if not defined, by their speed and/or accuracy. The easiest way to reject this is to say that the mistake of entering a quickly retrieved, unreliable input into a deliberative, reliable algorithm is not the same mistake as entering a quickly retrieved, reliable input into a deliberative, unreliable algorithm. To make a deliberative judgment based on a mere unreliable feeling is a different mistake from experiencing a reliable feeling and arriving at an incorrect conclusion through an error in deliberative judgment. It also seems easier to argue about the semantics of the 'inputs', 'outputs', and 'accuracy' of algorithms running on wetware, than it is to argue about the semantics of their demand on working memory and the life outcomes of the brains that execute them.

The fourth common confusion is that Type 1 processes involve 'intuitions' or 'naivety' and Type 2 processes involve thought about abstract concepts. You might describe a fast-and-loose rule that you made up as a 'heuristic' and naively think that it is thus a 'System 1 process', but it would still be the case that you invented that rule by deliberative means, and thus by means of a Type 2 process. When you applied the rule in the future it would be by means of a deliberative process that placed a demand on working memory, not by some behavior that is based on association or procedural memory, as if by habit. (Which is also not the same as making an association or performing a procedure that entails you choosing to use the deliberative rule, or finding a way to produce the same behavior that the deliberative rule originally produced by developing some sort of habit or procedural skill.) When facing novel situations, it is often the case that one must forego association and procedure and thus use Type 2 processes, and this can make it appear as though the key distinction is abstractness, but this is only because there are often no clear associations to be made or procedures to be performed in novel situations. Abstractness is not a necessary condition for Type 2 processes.

The fifth common confusion is that, although language is often involved in Type 2 processing, this is likely a mere correlate of the processes by which we store and manipulate information in working memory, and not the defining characteristic per se. To elaborate, we are widely believed to store and manipulate auditory information in working memory by means of a 'phonological store' and an 'articulatory loop', and to store and manipulate visual information by means of a 'visuospatial sketchpad', so we may also consider the storage and processing in working memory of non-linguistic information in auditory or visuospatial form, such as musical tones, or mathematical symbols, or the possible transformations of a Rubik's cube, for example. The linguistic quality of much of the information that we store and manipulate in working memory is probably noncentral to a general account of the nature of Type 2 processes. Conversely, it is obvious that the production and comprehension of language is often an associative or procedural process, not a deliberative one. Otherwise you still might be parsing the first sentence of this article.

Link: Evidence-Based Medicine Has Been Hijacked

17 Anders_H 16 March 2016 07:57PM

John Ioannidis has written a very insightful and entertaining article about the current state of the movement which calls itself "Evidence-Based Medicine".  The paper is available ahead of print at http://www.jclinepi.com/article/S0895-4356(16)00147-5/pdf.

As far as I can tell there is currently no paywall, that may change later, send me an e-mail if you are unable to access it.

Retractionwatch interviews John about the paper here: http://retractionwatch.com/2016/03/16/evidence-based-medicine-has-been-hijacked-a-confession-from-john-ioannidis/

(Full disclosure: John Ioannidis is a co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), where I am an employee. I am posting this not in an effort to promote METRICS, but because I believe the links will be of interest to the community)

Look for Lone Correct Contrarians

20 Gram_Stone 13 March 2016 04:11PM

Related to: The Correct Contrarian Cluster, The General Factor of Correctness

(Content note: Explicitly about spreading rationalist memes, increasing the size of the rationalist movement, and proselytizing. I also regularly use the word 'we' to refer to the rationalist community/subculture. You might prefer not to read this if you don't like that sort of thing and/or you don't think I'm qualified to write about that sort of thing and/or you're not interested in providing constructive criticism.)

I've tried to introduce a number of people to this culture and the ideas within it, but it takes some finesse to get a random individual from the world population to keep thinking about these things and apply them. My personal efforts have been very hit-or-miss. Others have told me that they've been more successful. But I think there are many people that share my experience. This is unfortunate: we want people to be more rational and we want more rational people.

At any rate, this is not about the art of raising the sanity waterline, but the more general task of spreading rationalist memes. Some people naturally arrive at these ideas, but they usually have to find them through other people first. This is really about all of the people in the world who are like you probably were before you found this culture; the people who would care about it, and invest in it, as it is right now, if only they knew it existed.

I'm going to be vague for the sake of anonymity, but here it goes:

I was reading a book review on Amazon, and I really liked it. The writer felt like a kindred spirit. I immediately saw that they were capable of coming to non-obvious conclusions, so I kept reading. Then I checked their review history in the hope that I would find other good books and reviews. And it was very strange.

They did a bunch of stuff that very few humans do. They realized that nuclear power has risks but that the benefits heavily outweigh the risks given the appropriate alternative, and they realized that humans overestimate the risks of nuclear power for silly reasons. They noticed when people were getting confused about labels and pointed out the general mistake, as well as pointing out what everyone should really be talking about. They acknowledged individual and average IQ differences and realized the correct policy implications. They really understood evolution, they took evolutionary psychology seriously, and they didn't care if it was labeled as sociobiology. They used the word 'numerate.'

And the reviews ranged over more than a decade of time. These were persistent interests.

I don't know what other people do when they discover that a stranger like this exists, but the first thing that I try to do is talk to them. It's not like I'm going to run into them on the sidewalk.

Amazon had no messaging feature that I could find, so I looked for a website, and I found one. I found even more evidence, and that's certainly what it wasThey were interested in altruism, including how it goes wrong; computer science; statistics; psychology; ethics; coordination failures; failures of academic and scientific institutions; educational reform; cryptocurrency, etc. At this point I considered it more likely than not that they already knew everything that I wanted to tell them, and that they already self-identified as a rationalist, or that they had a contrarian reason for not identifying as such.

So I found their email address. I told them that they were a great reviewer, that I was surprised that they had come to so many correct contrarian conclusions, and that, if they didn't already know, there was a whole culture of people like them.

They replied in ten minutes. They were busy, but they liked what I had to say, and as a matter of fact, a friend had already convinced them to buy Rationality: From AI to Zombies. They said they hadn't read much relative to the size of the book because it's so large, but they loved it so far and they wanted to keep reading.

(You might postulate that I found a review by a user like this on a different book because I was recommended this book and both of us were interested in Rationality: From AI to Zombies. However, the first review I read by this user was for a book on unusual gardening methods, that I found in a search for books about gardening methods. For the sake of anonymity, however, my unusual gardening methods must remain a secret. It is reasonable to postulate that there would be some sort of sampling bias like the one that I have described, but given what I know, it is likely that this is not that. You certainly could still postulate a correlation by means of books about unusual gardening methods, however.)

Maybe that extra push made the difference. Maybe if there hadn't been a friend, I would've made the difference.

Who knew that's how my morning would turn out?

As I've said in some of my other posts, but not in so many words, maybe we should start doing this accidentally effective thing deliberately!

I know there's probably controversy about whether or not rationalists should proselytize, but I've been in favor of it for awhile. And if you're like me, then I don't think this is a very special effort to make. I'm sure sometimes you see a little thread, and you think, "Wow, they're a lot like me; they're a lot like us, in fact; I wonder if there are other things too. I wonder if they would care about this."

Don't just move on! That's Bayesian evidence!

I dare you to follow that path to its destination. I dare you to reach out. It doesn't cost much.

And obviously there are ways to make yourself look creepy or weird or crazy. But I said to reach out, not to reach out badly. If you could figure out how to do it right, it could have a large impact. And these people are likely to be pretty reasonable. You should keep a look out in the future.

Speaking of the future, it's worth noting that I ended up reading the first review because of an automated Amazon book recommendation and subsequent curiosity. You know we're in the data. We are out there and there are ways to find us. In a sense, we aren't exactly low-hanging fruit. But in another sense, we are.

I've never read a word of the Methods of Rationality, but I have to shoehorn this in: we need to write the program that sends a Hogwarts acceptance letter to witches and wizards on their eleventh birthday.

Genetic "Nature" is cultural too

7 Stuart_Armstrong 18 March 2016 02:33PM

I'll admit it: I am confused about genetics and heritability. Not about the results of the various twin studies - Scott summarises them as "~50% of the variation is heritable and ~50% is due to non-shared environment", which seems generally correct.

But I am confused about what this means in practice, due to arguments like "contacts are very important for business success, rich people get much more contacts than poor people, yet business success is strongly correlated with genetic parent wealth" and such. Assuming that genetics strongly determines... most stuff... goes against so many things we know or think we know about how the world works. And by "we" I mean lots of different people with lots of different political views - genetic determinism means, for instance, that current variations in regulation and taxes are pretty unimportant for individual outcomes.

Now, there are many caveats about the genetic results, particularly that they measure the variance of a factor rather than its absolute importance (and hence you get results like variation in nutrition being almost invisible as an explanation for variation in height), but it's still hard to figure out what this all means.

Then we have Scott's latest post, which points out that "non-shared environment" is not the same as "nurture", since it includes, for instance, dumb luck.

However, "heritable" is not the same as as "nature", either. For instance, sexism and racial prejudices, if they are widespread, come under the "heritable" effects rather than the "environment" ones. And then it gets even more confusing.

 

Widespread prejudice is not "environment". Rarer prejudice is.

For instance, imagine that we lived in a very sexist society where women were not allowed to work at all. Then there would be an extremely high, almost perfect, correlation between "having a Y chromosome" and "having a job". But this would obviously be susceptible to a cultural fix.

Obviously racial effects can have the same effect. It covers anything visible. So a high heritability is compatible with genetics being a cause of competence, and/or prejudice against visible genetic characteristics being important ("Our results indicate that we either live in a meritocracy or a hive of prejudice!").

Note that as prejudices get less widespread, they move from showing up on the genetic variation, to showing up in the environmental variation side. So widespread prejudices create a "nature" effect, rarer ones create a "nurture" effect. Evenly reducing the magnitude of a prejudice, however, doesn't change the side it will show up on.

 

Positional genetic goods: Beauty... and IQ?

Let's zoom in on one of those visible genetic characteristics: beauty. As Robin Hanson is fond of pointing out, beautiful people are more successful, and are judged as more competent and cooperative than they actually are. Therefore if we have a gene that increases both beauty and IQ, we would expect it's impact on success to be high. In the presence of such a gene, the correlation between IQ and success would be higher than it should objectively be. This suggest a (small) note of caution on the "mutation load" hypotheses; if reducing mutation load increases factors such as beauty, then we would expect increased success without necessarily increased competence.

But is it possible that IQ itself is in part a positional good? Consider that success doesn't just depend on competence, but on social skills, ability to present yourself well in an interview, and how managers and peers judge you. If IQ affects or covaries with one or another of those skills, then we would be overemphasising the importance of IQ in competence. Thus attempts to genetically boost IQ could give less impact than expected. The person whose genome was changed would benefit, but at the (partial) expense of everyone else.

Do people know of experiments (or planned experiments) that disentangle these issues?

On Making Things

11 Gram_Stone 05 March 2016 03:26AM

(Content note: This is basically just a story about how I accidentally briefly made something that I find very unfun into something very fun, for the sake of illustrating how surprising it was and how cool it would be if everyone could do things like this more often and deliberately. You also might get a kick out of this story in the way that you might get a kick out of How It's Made, or many of Swimmer963's posts on swimming and nursing, or Elo's post on wearing magnetic rings. If none of that interests you, then you might consider backing out now.)

I'm learning math under the tutelage of a friend, and I go through a lot of paper. I write a lot of proofs so there can be plenty of false starts. I could fill a whole sheet of paper, decide that I only need one result to continue on my way, and switch to a blank sheet. Since this is how I go about it, I thought that a whiteboard would be a really good idea. The solution is greater surface area and practical erasure.

I checked Amazon; whiteboards are one of those products with polarized reviews. I secretly wondered if ten percent of all whiteboards manufactured don't just immediately permanently stain. Maybe I was being a little risk-averse, but I decided to hold off on buying one.

Then I remembered that I make signs for a living, and I realized that I could probably just make a whiteboard myself.

I had a good rapport with my supervisor. I have breaks and lunch time, and the boundaries are kind of fuzzy, so the time wouldn't be an issue. I didn't have to print anything, so I wouldn't be taking up time on the printers or using ink.

Maybe everyone knows what 'vinyl' is and I don't need to explain this, but the stuff that 'PVC pipes' (PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride) are made out of can be formed into thin elastic sheets. Manufacturers apply adhesive and paper backing to these sheets and sell them to people so they can pull off the paper and stick the vinyl to stuff. You can print on some of it too. It comes on long rolls, typically 54 in. or 60 in., sort of like tape or paper towels. If you ever see a vehicle that belongs to a business with all sorts of art all over it, then it's probably printed on vinyl.

It's kind of hard to print on a really short roll without everything going horribly awry, so we have tons of rolls with like 10 ft. by 54 in. sheets on them that just get thrown away.

If you scratch a vinyl print, the ink will come right off. So we laminate the vinyl before we apply it. Most of our products are laminated with a laminate by the enigmatic name of '8518', but today we happened to be using a very particular and rarely used dry erase laminate. So naturally I ran one of those extra sheets of vinyl through the laminator after I finished the job that I was really supposed to be doing.

And we keep these things called 'drops', which are just sheets of substrate material, stuff that you might apply vinyl to or print on, that were cut off from other things that were made into signs, and then never touched again. Sometimes you can make a sign out of one. People forget about them and don't like to use them because they're usually dirtier and more damaged than stock substrate, so we have a ton of them. It might be corrugated plastic (like cardboard, but plastic), or foamboard (two pieces of paper glued to a sheet of foam), or much thicker, non-elastic PVC.

And this is when I started to think that this was becoming a kind of important experience.

I looked at the drops lined up on the shelf. I definitely didn't want to use foamboard; it's extremely fragile, you can't pull the vinyl off if you mess up, it would dent when I pressed too hard with the marker, and it most generally sucks in every way possible except cost. Corrugated plastic is also quite fragile, and it has linear indentations between the flutes that vinyl would conform to; I wanted the board to be flat. PVC is a better alternative than both, but drops can sit for a long time, and large sheets of PVC warp under their own weight; I wanted a relatively large board and I didn't want it to be warped. So I went for a product that we refer to as 'MaxMetal'; two sheets of aluminum sandwiched around a thicker sheet of plastic. It's much harder to warp, and I could be confident that it would be a solid writing surface. PVC is solid, but it's not metal.

I was looking through the MaxMetal drops, trying to find the right one, realizing that I hadn't decided what dimensions I wanted the board to be, and I felt a little jump in my chest. That was me finally noticing how much fun I was having. And immediately after that, I realized that even though I had implicitly expected to do everything that I had done, I was surprised at how much fun I was having. I had failed to predict how much fun I would have doing those things. It seemed like something worth fixing.

I finally chose a precisely cut piece that was approximately 30 in. wide by 24 in. high. And then I made the board. I separated some of the vinyl from the backing, and I cut off a strip of backing, and I applied part of the vinyl sheet to one edge of the board. I put the end of the sheet with the strip of stuck vinyl between two mechanical rollers, left the substrate flat, flipped the vinyl sheet over the top of the machine and past the top of the substrate sheet, pulled up more of the backing, and rolled it through to press the two sheets together while I pulled the backing off of the vinyl. I put the product on a table, turned it upside down, cut off the excess vinyl with my trusty utility knife, and rounded the corners off by half an inch for safety and aesthetics. I took an orange Expo marker to it, and made a giant signature, and it worked. A microfiber rag erased it just fine even after letting it sit for half an hour. I cut off some super heavy duty, I-promise-this-is-safe double-sided tape, rolled it up, and took it home, so I could mount the board to my bedroom wall. I made a pretty snazzy whiteboard for myself. It was cool.

There probably aren't a lot of signmakers on LessWrong, but there are a lot of programmers. I don't see them talk about this experience a lot, but I figure it's pretty similar; what it feels like to use something that you made, or watch it work. And I'm sure there are other people with other things.

But it seems worth saying explicitly, "Maybe you should make stuff because it's fun."

That was my main explanation for how fun it was, for awhile. But there were a lot of other things when I thought about it more.

I technically had to solve problems, but they were relatively simple and rewarding to solve.

It felt a little forbidden, doing something creative for yourself at work when you're really only there to stay alive. Even a lame taboo is usually a nice kick.

And my time was taken up by responsibility, I was doing real work between all of those steps, so I could look forward to the next step in the creation process while doing something that I normally drag myself through. The day flew by when I started making that thing. When could I fit in some time for my whiteboard?

And it was fun because the meta-event was interesting; I never thought that I could do exactly the same work activity, and a small context change would change it from boring, old work to fun. I was laminating vinyl and fetching drops and rounding corners, but it wasn't for a vehicle wrap, or a sign, or a magnet; it was for my whiteboard, and that changed everything. I was glad that I noticed that, and hopeful that I could find a way to deliberately apply it in the future.

And I was using non-universal, demanded skills, that many people could acquire, but not instantly. It was cool to feel like I was being resourceful in a very particular way that most people never would.

And there weren't too many choices, and the choices weren't ambiguous. The dimensions of the board, including thickness, were limited to the dimensions of the drops, and I'd have to make very precise cuts through a hard material if I wanted a board that wasn't the size of an existing one. A whiteboard is mostly a plain white surface, there isn't much design to be done. I only had quarter-inch and half-inch corner rounders; it's one of those or square corners. What if I had more choices, either about the design of the board, or in a different domain with way more choices by default? I might be a human and regret every choice that I actually make because all of those other foregone choices combined are so much more salient.

And it seems helpful that the whiteboard was being made for a noble purpose: so that I could conserve paper and continue to study mathematics at the same time, and do so much more conveniently. I think it would have been less fun if I was making a whiteboard so that I could see what it's like to snap a whiteboard in half with cinder blocks and a bowling ball, or if I was making one because I just thought it would be cool to have one.

And instead of paying $30-$50, I paid nothing. It felt like I won.

I've thought for quite a while, but not on this level, that there should be an applied fun theory; that it seemed a bit strange that you wouldn't go further with the idea that you could find deliberate ways to make your world more fun, and try to make the present more fun, as opposed to just the distant future. And not in the way where you critically examine the suggestions that people usually generate when you ask for a list of activities that are popularly considered fun, but in the way where you predict that things are fun because you understand how fun works, and your predictions come true. Hopefully I offered up something interesting with respect to that line of inquiry.

But of course, fun seems like just the sort of thing that you could easily overthink. At the very least it's not the sort of domain where you want deep theories that don't generate practical advice for too long. But I still think it seems worth thinking about.

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