[Question] What would you need to be motivated to answer “hard” LW questions?

Edit: Sig­nifi­cantly rewrit­ten. Origi­nal ques­tion was more speci­fi­cally ori­ented around money-as-a-mo­ti­va­tor.

One of the ques­tions (ha) that we are ask­ing our­selves on the LW team is “can the ques­tions fea­ture be boot­strapped into a scal­able way of mak­ing in­tel­lec­tual progress on things that mat­ter.”


In­trin­sic vs Extrinsic

I’d cluster most knobs-to-turn here into “in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion” and “ex­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion.”

In­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion cov­ers things like “the ques­tion is in­ter­est­ing, and speci­fied in a way that is achiev­able, and fun to an­swer.”

Ex­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion can in­clude things like “karma re­wards, fi­nan­cial re­wards, and other things that ex­plic­itly yield higher sta­tus for

(Things like “I feel a vague warm glow be­cause I an­swered the ques­tion of some­one I re­spect and they liked the an­swer” can blur the line be­tween in­trin­sic and ex­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion)

Im­prov­ing In­trin­sic Motivation

Right now I think there’s room to im­prove the flow of an­swer­ing ques­tions:

  • New fea­tures such as the abil­ity to spawn re­lated ques­tions that break down a con­fus­ing ques­tion into an eas­ier.

  • Bet­ter prac­tices/​cul­ture, such as as a clearer idea of how to spec­ify ques­tions such that they com­mu­ni­cate what one needs to do to solve them (or, have a set of com­mon prac­tices among an­swer­ers such that this is eas­ier to figure out).

  • A com­bi­na­tion (wherein best prac­tices are com­mu­ni­cated via tooltips or some-such)

Boun­ties and Reli­a­bil­ity

A lot of ques­tions are just hard to an­swer – re­al­is­ti­cally, you need a lot of time, at least some of the time won’t be in­trin­si­cally fun, and the warm glow of suc­cess won’t add up to “a few days to a few months worth of work.”

So we’re think­ing of adding some more offi­cial sup­port for boun­ties. There have been some pretty suc­cess­ful bounty-driven con­tent on LW (such as the AI Align­ment Prize, the Weird Aliens Ques­tion, and Un­der­stand­ing In­for­ma­tion Cas­cades), which have mo­ti­vated more at­ten­tion on ques­tions.

Costly sig­nal­ing of value

They show­case that the au­thor of the ques­tion cares about the an­swer. Even if the money is still rel­a­tively minor, it reaf­firms that if you work on the ques­tion, some­one will ac­tu­ally de­rive value from it, which can be an ac­tual im­por­tant part of in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion (as well as a some­what leg­ible-but-ar­tifi­cial sta­tus game you to more eas­ily play, which I’d clas­sify as ex­trin­sic)

Se­ri­ous times re­quires liv­able-money

In some cases you just ac­tu­ally need to put se­ri­ous time into solv­ing it to suc­ceed, which means you ei­ther need to have already ar­ranged your life such that you can spend se­ri­ous time an­swer­ing ques­tions on LW, or you need “an­swer­ing hard ques­tions on LW” to ac­tu­ally provide you with enough fi­nan­cial sup­port to do so.

This re­quires not just “enough” money, but enough re­li­a­bil­ity of money that “quit your day job” (or get a day job that pays-less-but-gives-more-flex­iblity) is a an ac­tual op­tion.

What would it take?

So, with all that in mind...

What would it take for you (you, per­son­ally), to start treat­ing “an­swer se­ri­ous LW ques­tions” as a thing you do semi-reg­u­larly, and/​or put se­ri­ous time into?

My as­sump­tions (pos­si­bly in­cor­rect) here are that you need a few things (in some com­bi­na­tion)

  • A clear enough frame­work for an­swer­ing ques­tions, that re­lies on skills you already have (and/​or a clear path to­wards gain­ing them)

  • A sense that the ques­tions matter

  • Enough money (and rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion of earn­ing it) for a given ques­tion that work­ing on it is worth the hours spent di­rectly on it, if you’re do­ing work that’s de­mand­ing enough that it doesn’t funge against other hobby ac­tivi­ties.

  • Enough re­li­a­bil­ity of such ques­tions show­ing up in your browser that you can build a habit of do­ing so, such that you re­al­lo­cate some chunk of your sched­ule (that for­mally went ei­ther to an­other pay­ing job, or per­haps some in­tel­lec­tual hobby that trades off eas­ily against ques­tion an­swer­ing)

Some types of in­tel­lec­tual la­bor I’m imag­in­ing here (which may or may not all fit neatly into the “ques­tions” frame­work).

  • Take an sci­en­tific pa­per that’s writ­ten in con­fus­ing aca­demic-speak PDF for­mat, and trans­late it into “plain en­glish blog­post.”

    • bonus points/​money if you can do ex­tra in­ter­pre­tive work to high­light im­por­tant facts in a way that lets me use my own judg­ment to in­ter­pret them

  • Do a liter­a­ture re­view on a topic

  • If you already know a given field, provide a handy link to the pa­per that ac­tu­ally an­swers a given ques­tion.

  • Figure out the an­swer to some­thing that in­volves research

    • (can in­clude con­tribut­ing to small steps like ‘iden­tify a list of ar­ti­cles to read’ or ‘sum­ma­rize one of those ar­ti­cles’ or ‘help figure out what re­lated sub-ques­tions are in­volved’)

  • Con­duct a sur­vey or psych ex­per­i­ment (pos­si­bly on me­chan­i­cal turk)

“Se­ri­ous” ques­tions could range from “take an af­ter­noon of your time” to “take weeks or months of re­search”, and I’m cu­ri­ous what the ac­tual go­ing rate for those two ends of the spec­trum are, for LW read­ers who are a plau­si­ble fit for this type of dis­tributed work.