Ok. But under this schema what you are able to learn is dictated by the territory instead of by your own will.
I want to be able to learn anything I set my mind to, not just whatever happens to come easily to me.
Its like red-teaming, but better.
I’ve gotten very little out of books in this area.
It is a little afield, but strongly recommend the basic NVC book: Nonviolent Communication: A Language for Life. I recommend that at minimum, everyone read at least the first two chapters, which is something like 8 pages long, and has the most content in the book. (The rest of the book is good too, but it is mostly examples.)
Also, people I trust have gotten value out of How to Have Impossible Conversations. This is still on my reading stack though (for this month, I hope), so I don’t personally recommend it. My expectation, from not having read it yet, is that it will cover the basics pretty well.
[I wrote a much longer and more detailed comment, and then decided that I wanted to think more about it. In lieu of posting nothing, here’s a short version.]
I mean I did very little facilitation one way or the other at that event, so I think my counterfactual impact was pretty minimal.
In terms of my value added, I think that one was in the bottom 5th percentile?
In terms of how useful that tiny amount of facilitation was, maybe 15 to 20th percentile? (This is a little weird, because quantity and quality are related. More active facilitation has a quality span: active (read: a lot of) facilitation can be much more helpful when it is good and much more disruptive / annoying / harmful, when it is bad, compared to less active backstop facilitation,
Overall, the conversation served the goals of the participants and had a median outcome for that kind of conversation, which is maybe 30th percentile, but there is a long right tail of positive outcomes (and maybe I am messing up how to think about percentile scores with skewed distributions).
The outcome that occured (“had an interesting conversation, and had some new thoughts / clarifications”) is good but also far below the sort of outcome that I’m ussually aiming for (but often missing), of substantive, permanent (epistemic!) change to the way that one or both of the people orient on this topic.
Can I tag something as “yo, programmers, come build this”?
TL;DR: I’m offering to help people productively have difficult conversations and resolve disagreements, for free. Feel free to email me if and when that seems helpful. elitrye [at] gmail.com
Over the past 4-ish years, I’ve had a side project of learning, developing, and iterating on methods for resolving tricky disagreements, and failures to communicate. A lot of this has been in the Double Crux frame, but I’ve also been exploring a number of other frameworks (including, NVC, Convergent Facilitation, Circling-inspired stuff, intuition extraction, and some home-grown methods).
As part of that, I’ve had a standing offer to facilitate / mediate tricky conversations for folks in the CFAR and MIRI spheres (testimonials below). Facilitating “real disagreements”, allows me to get feedback on my current conversational frameworks and techniques. When I encounter blockers that I don’t know how to deal with, I can go back to the drawing board to model those problems and interventions that would solve them, and iterate from there, developing new methods.
I generally like doing this kind of conversational facilitation and am open to doing a lot more of it with a wider selection of people.
I am extending an offer to help mediate tricky conversations, to anyone that might read this post, for the foreseeable future. [If I retract this offer, I’ll come back and leave a note here.]
I’m open to trying to help with a wide variety of difficult conversations, but the situations where I have been most helpful in the past have had the following features:
Two* people are either having some conflict or disagreement or are having difficulty understanding something about what the other person is saying.
There’s some reason to expect the conversation to not “work”, by default: either they’ve tried already, and made little progress etc. or, at least one person can predict that this conversation will be tricky or heated.
There is enough mutual respect and/or there is enough at stake that it seems worthwhile to try and have the conversation anyway. It seems worth the time to engage.
Here are some (anonymized) examples of conversations that I’ve facilitated in the past years.
Two researchers work in related fields, but in different frames / paradigms. Try as they might, neither person can manage to see how the other’s claims are even plausible.
Two friends are working on a project together, but they each feel inclined to take it in a different direction, and find it hard to get excited about the other’s proposal, even having talked about the question a lot.
John and Janet are EAs. John thinks that the project that Janet has spent the past year on, and is close to launching, is net negative, and that Janet should drop it entirely. Janet feels exasperated by this and generally feels that John is overly-controlling.
Two rationalists Laura and Alex, are each in some kind of community leadership role, and have a lot of respect for each other, but they have very different takes on a particular question of social mores: Laura thinks that there is a class of norm enforcement that is normal and important, Alex thinks that class of “norm enforcement” behavior is unacceptable and corrosive to the social fabric. They sit down to talk about it, but seem to keep going in circles without clarifying anything.
Basically, if you have a tricky disagreement that you want to try to hash out, and you feel comfortable inviting an outside party, feel free to reach out to me.
(If there’s some conversation or conflict that you have in mind, but don’t know if it falls in this category, feel free to email me and ask.)
*- I’m also potentially open to trying to help with conflicts that involve more than two people, such as a committee that is in gridlock, trying to make a decision, but I am much less practiced with that.
If everyone involved is open to a third person (me) coming in to mediate, shoot me an email at elityre [at] gmail.com, and we can schedule a half hour call to discuss your issue. After discussing it a bit, I’ll tell you if I think I can help or not. If not, I might refer you to other people resources that might be more useful.
If it seems like I can help, I typically prefer to meet with both parties one-on-one, as much as a week before we meet together, so that I can “load up” each person’s perspective, and start doing prep work. From there we can schedule a conversation, presumably over Zoom, for all three (or more) of us to meet.
In the conversation itself, I would facilitate, tracking what’s happening and suggesting particular conversational moves or tacts, and possibly recommending and high-level framework.
[I would like to link to an facilitation-example video here, but almost all of the conversations that I’ve facilitated are confidential. Hopefully this post will lead to one or two that can be public.]
Individual cases can vary a lot, and I’m generally open to considering alternative formats.
Currently, I’m doing this free of charge.
I think this is a domain in which deep mastery is possible. I don’t consider myself to be a master, but I am aspiring to mastery.
My (possibly biased impression), is that the median outcome of my coming to help with a conversation is “eh, that was moderately helpful, mostly because having a third person to help hold space, freed up our working memory to focus on the object level.”
Occasionally (one out of every 10 conversations?), I think I’ve helped dramatically, on the order of “this conversation was not working at all, until Eli came to help, and then we had multiple breakthroughs in understanding.”
(I’ve started explicitly tracking my participants’ estimation of my counterfactual impact, following conversations, so I hope to have much better numbers for assessing how useful this work is in a few months. Part of my hope in doing more of this is that I will get a more accurate assessment of how much value my facilitation in particular provides, and how much I should be investing in this general area.)
(I asked a number of people who I’ve done facilitation work in the past to give me a short honest testimonial, if they felt comfortable with that. I included the blurb from every person who sent me something, though this is still a biased sample, since I mostly reached out to people who I expected would give a “positive review”.)
I’ve found Eli quite helpful with a varied set of tricky conversations over the years. Some details:
- It helps that he can be tracking whether we are understanding each other, vs whether it is time to paraphrase;
- It helps that he can be tracking whether we are speaking to a “crux” or are on an accidental tangent/dead-end (I can do many of these things too, but when Eli is facilitating I can trust him to do some of this, which leaves me with more working memory for understanding the other party’s perspective, figuring out how to articulate my own, etc.)
- It helps that he can help track the conversational stack, so that e.g. if I stop to paraphrase my conversation partner’s point, that doesn’t mean we’ll never get back to the thing I was trying to keep track of.
- It has sometimes helped that he could paraphrase one or the other of us in ways the other party couldn’t, but could then hear [after hearing his paraphrase];
- I have seen him help with both research-like/technical conversational topics, and messy cultural stuff.
- He can often help in cases where many folks would intuitively assume that a conversation is just “stuck,” e.g. because it boils down to a difference in aesthetics or root empistemological perspectives or similar (Eli has a bunch of cached patterns for sometimes allowing such topics to progress, where a lot of people would not know how)
- I can vouch for Eli’s ability to not-repeat private content that he says he won’t repeat.
- I personally highly value Eli’s literal-like or autistic-like tendency to just actually stick with what is being said, and to attempt to facilitate communication, without guessing ahead of time which party is “mature” or “right” or to-be-secretly-sided with. This is perhaps the area in which I have most noticed Eli’s skills/habits rising above (in my preference-ordering) those of other skilled facilitators I’ve worked with.
- He responds pretty well to feedback, and acts so as to try to find out how to actually aid thinking/communication rather than to feel as though he is already doing so.
I once went to a workshop and participated in a fishbowl double crux on the second to last day. That day went so well that we basically replaced all of the last day’s schedule with continuing the conversation, and that day went so well that we canceled plane tickets and extended the workshop. This experience made me very optimistic about what can be accomplished with a facilitated double crux.
Later, when asked to give a talk at a different workshop, I declined and suggested that talks were boring and we should replace several talk slots with fishbowl double cruxes. We tried it. It was a failure, and I don’t think much of value came out of any of the resulting conversations.
As far as I can tell, the second largest contributor to the relative failure was regression to the mean. The first largest was not having Eli there.
I really appreciate Eli’s facilitation and I think that the hard conversations I’ve had with Eli facilitating would have been essentially impossible without good facilitation. I do think that trusting the facilitator is very important, but if you know and trust Eli as I do, I would definitely recommend his facilitation if you have a need for it.
I’ve asked Eli many times over the years to help me facilitate conversations that seemed particularly important and difficult. For most of these, having them happen at all without Eli seems quite difficult, so simply the presence of his willingness to facilitate, and to be reasonably well-known to be reasonable in his facilitation, provided a substantial amount of value.
He is also pretty decent at facilitation, as far as I can tell, or at least I can’t really think of anyone who is substantially more skilled at it.
It’s kind of hard for me to give a super clear review here. Like, facilitation isn’t much of a commodity, and I don’t think there is a shared standard of what a facilitator is supposed to do, so it’s hard for me to straightforwardly evaluate it. I do think what Eli has been doing has been quite valuable to me, and I would recommend reasonably strongly that other people have more conversations of the type that Eli tends to facilitate.
In 2017 I was engaged in a complicated discussion with a collaborator that was not progressing smoothly. Eli joined the discussion, in the role of facilitator, and the discussion markedly improved.
Other people who have some experience with my facilitation style, feel free to put your own thoughts in the comments.
As noted, this is an open research-ish project for me, and I obviously cannot guarantee that I will be helpful, much less that I will be able to resolve or get to the bottom of a given disagreement. In fact, as stated, I, personally, am most interested in the cases where I don’t know how to help, because those are the places where I’m most likely to learn the most, even if they are the places where I am least able to provide value.
You are always welcome to invite me to try and help, and then partway through, decide that my suggestions are less-than helpful, and say that you don’t want my help after all. (Anna Salamon does this moderately frequently.)
I do my best to keep track of a map of relevant skills in this area, and which people around have more skill than me in particular sub-domains. So it is possible that when you describe your situation, I’ll either suggest someone else who I think might be better to help you than me, or who I would like to bring in to co-facilitate with me (with your agreement, of course).
Note that this is one of a number of projects, involving difficult conversations or facilitation, that I am experimenting with lately. Another is here and another is to be announced.
If you’re interested in training sessions on Double Crux and other Conversational Facilitation skills, join my Double Crux training mailing list, here. I have vague plans to do a 3-weekend training program, covering my current take on the core Double Crux skill, but no guarantees that I will actually end up doing that any time soon.
if for some reason post-apocalyptic worlds rarely get simulated
To draw out the argument a little further, the reason that post-apocalyptic worlds don’t get simulated is because most (?) of the simulations of our era are a way to simulate super intelligences in other parts of the multiverse, to talk or trade with.
(As in the basic argument of this Jan Tallinn talk)
If advanced civilization is wiped out by nuclear war, that simulation might be terminated, if it seems sufficiently unlikely to lead to a singularity.
I feel like this is a very important point that I have never heard made before.
Mathematics shares with a small fraction of other related disciplines and games the quality of unambiguous objectivity. It also has the ~unique quality that you cannot bullshit your way through it. Miss any link in the chain and the whole thing falls apart.
Isn’t programming even more like this?
I could get squidgy about whether a proof is “compelling”, but when I write a program, it either runs and does what I expect, or it doesn’t, with 0 wiggle room.
I’ve decided that I want to to make more of a point to write down my macro-strategic thoughts, because writing things down often produces new insights and refinements, and so that other folks can engage with them.
This is one frame or lens that I tend to think with a lot. This might be more of a lens or a model-let than a full break-down.
There are two broad classes of problems that we need to solve: we have some pre-paradigmatic science to figure out, and we have have the problem of civilizational sanity.
There are a number of hard scientific or scientific-philosophical problems that we’re facing down as a species.
Most notably, the problem of AI alignment, but also finding technical solutions to various risks caused by bio-techinlogy, possibly getting our bearings with regards to what civilization collapse means and how it is likely to come about, possibly getting a handle on the risk of a simulation shut-down, possibly making sense of the large scale cultural, political, cognitive shifts that are likely to follow from new technologies that disrupt existing social systems (like VR?).
Basically, for every x-risk, and every big shift to human civilization, there is work to be done even making sense of the situation, and framing the problem.
As this work progresses it eventually transitions into incremental science / engineering, as the problems are clarified and specified, and the good methodologies for attacking those problems solidify.
(Work on bio-risk, might already be in this phase. And I think that work towards human genetic enhancement is basically incremental science.)
To my rough intuitions, it seems like these problems, in order of pressingness are:
Human genetic enhancement
Social, political, civilizational collapse
…where that ranking is mostly determined by which one will have a very large impact on the world first.
So there’s the object-level work of just trying to make progress on these puzzles, plus a bunch of support work for doing that object level work.
The support work includes
Operations that makes the research machines run (ex: MIRI ops)
Recruitment (and acclimation) of people who can do this kind of work (ex: CFAR)
Creating and maintaining infrastructure that enables intellectually fruitful conversations (ex: LessWrong)
Developing methodology for making progress on the problems (ex: CFAR, a little, but in practice I think that this basically has to be done by the people trying to do the object level work.)
So we have a whole ecosystem of folks who are supporting this preparadgimatic development.
I think that in most worlds, if we completely succeeded at the pre-paradigmatic science, and the incremental science and engineering that follows it, the world still wouldn’t be saved.
Broadly, one way or the other, there are huge technological and social changes heading our way, and human decision makers are going to decide how to respond to those changes, possibly in ways that will have very long term repercussions on the trajectory of earth-originating life.
As a central example, if we more-or-less-completely solved AI alignment, from a full theory of agent-foundations, all the way down to the specific implementation, we would still find ourselves in a world, where humanity has attained god-like power over the universe, which we could very well abuse, and end up with a much much worse future than we might otherwise have had. And by default, I don’t expect humanity to refrain from using new capabilities rashly and unwisely.
Completely solving alignment does give us a big leg up on this problem, because we’ll have the aid of superintelligent assistants in our decision making, or we might just have an AI system implement our CEV in classic fashion.
I would say that “aligned superintelligent assistants” and “AIs implementing CEV”, are civilizational sanity interventions: technologies or institutions that help humanity’s high level decision-makers to make wise decisions in response to huge changes that, by default, they will not comprehend.
I gave some examples of possible Civ Sanity interventions here.
Also, think that some forms of governance / policy work that OpenPhil, OpenAI, and FHI have done, count as part of this category, though I want to cleanly distinguish between pushing for object-level policy proposals that you’ve already figured out, and instantiating systems that make it more likely that good policies will be reached and acted upon in general.
Overall, this class of interventions seems neglected by our community, compared to doing and supporting preparadigmatic research. That might be justified. There’s reason to think that we are well equipped to make progress on hard important research problems, but changing the way the world works, seems like it might be harder on some absolute scale, or less suited to our abilities.
One countervailing thought: I want AGI to be developed in a high trust, low-scarcity, social-pyshoclogical context, because that seems like it matters a lot for safety.
Slow growth enough and society as a whole becomes a lot more bitter and cutthroat?
I spend a lot of time trying to build skills, because I want to be awesome. But there is something off about that.
I think I should just go after things that I want, and solve the problems that come up on the way. The idea of building skills sort of implies that if I don’t have some foundation or some skill, I’ll be blocked, and won’t be able to solve some thing in the way of my goals.
But that doesn’t actually sound right. Like it seems like the main important thing for people who do incredible things is their ability to do problem solving on the things that come up, and not the skills that they had previously built up in a “skill bank”.
Raw problem solving is the real thing and skills are cruft. (Or maybe not cruft per se, but more like a side effect. The compiled residue of previous problem solving. Or like a code base from previous project that you might repurpose.)
Part of the problem with this is that I don’t know what I want for my own sake, though. I want to be awesome, which in my conception, means being able to do things.
I note that wanting “to be able to do things” is a leaky sort of motivation: because the victory condition is not clearly defined, it can’t be crisply compelling, and so there’s a lot of waste somehow.
The sort of motivation that works is simply wanting to do something, not wanting to be able to do something. Like specific discrete goals that one could accomplish, know that one accomplished, and then (in most cases) move on from.
But most of the things that I want by default are of the sort “wanting to be able to do”, because if I had more capabilities, that would make me awesome.
But again, that’s not actually conforming with my actual model of the world. The thing that makes someone awesome is general problem solving capability, more than specific capacities. Specific capacities are brittle. General problem solving is not.
I guess that I could pick arbitrary goals that seem cool. But I’m much more emotionally compelled by being able to do something instead of doing something.
But I also think that I am notably less awesome and on a trajectory to be less awesome over time, because my goals tend to be shaped in this way. (One of those binds whereby if you go after x directly, you don’t get x, but if you go after y, you get x as a side effect.)
I’m not sure what to do about this.
Maybe meditate on, and dialogue with, my sense that skills are how awesomeness is measured, as opposed to raw, general problem solving.
Maybe I need to undergo some deep change that causes me to have different sorts of goals at a deep level. (I think this would be a pretty fundamental shift in how I engage with the world: from a virtue ethics orientation (focused on one’s own attributes) to one of consequentialism (focused on the states of the world).)
There are some exceptions to this, goals that are more consequentialist (although if you scratch a bit, you’ll find they’re about living an ideal of myself, more than they are directly about the world), including wanting a romantic partner who makes me better (note that “who makes me better is” is virtue ethics-y), and some things related to my moral duty, like mitigating x-risk. These goals do give me grounding in sort of the way that I think I need, but they’re not sufficient? I still spend a lot of time trying to get skills.
Anyone have thoughts?
I want to give a big thumbs up of positive reinforcement. I thinks its great that I got to read an “oops! That was dumb, but now I’ve changed my mind.”
Thanks for helping to normalize this.
Not a perfect solution, but a skilled facilitator can pick up some of the slack here: https://musingsandroughdrafts.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/using-the-facilitator-to-make-sure-that-each-persons-point-is-held/
But yeah, learning to put your point aside for a moment, without loosing the thread of it, is an important subskill.
This is not really a response, but it is related: A Taxonomy of Cruxes.
This makes me feel like whenever I “take a stance”, it’s an athletic stance with knees bent.
I might steal this metaphor.