I’m sure you took into account things like house price appreciation. But what you said about investing the difference between what renters pay and what owners pay was misleading and wrong. You can do as careful and accurate and insightful a simulation as you please, but if what you say is “people pay more in mortgage + fees + taxes than in rent, which is bad because they could have invested the difference in the market and then they’d have got some actual returns” or “rent is bad because it’s just throwing money away” then you are making a broken argument and I think you shouldn’t do that. Not even if the conclusion of the broken argument happens to be the same as the conclusion of the careful accurate insightful simulation.
The question isn’t whether back-testing is hard, it’s how well you did it and whether whatever assumptions you made seem reasonable to any given reader. Again, my complaint isn’t that your final results are bad, it’s that we have no way of telling whether your final results are good or bad because you didn’t show us any of the information we’d need to decide.
[EDITED to add:] This is all coming out more aggressive-sounding than I would like, and I hope I’m not giving the impression that I think the OP is terrible or that you’re a bad person or any such thing. It just seems as if your responses to my comments aren’t engaging with the actual points those comments are trying to make. That may be wholly or partly because of lack of clarity in what I’ve written, in which case please accept my apologies.
Repayment versus interest etc.: Looking at total money in and total money out is fine so long as you do it carefully; in this case “carefully” means you can’t just say “If that money were invested in the market it would be earning you a return” as if those mortgage payments aren’t earning any return. I don’t know how a typical homeowner’s payments divide between repayment, interest, and other things, but it seems quite possible to me that more than the difference you’re talking about is repayment, in which case it could even be that the higher returns you (might hope to) get from investing the money in index funds rather than housing are more than counterbalanced by the fact that more of the money is being invested.
Of course the right way to answer this is to do the actual calculations, and you very reasonably suggest that your readers go and find a rent-versus-buy calculator and try to do them. Nothing wrong with that. But I think the way you describe the situation is no more accurate than the “if you rent you’re throwing the money away” line one hears from people arguing on the opposite side.
Stock market investors: If those numbers for hypothetical investors A,B,C come from a simulation you did then I think the article should say so, and should say something about what assumptions you made. As it stands, you’re just asking us to take them on faith. I don’t find them terribly implausible, and your simulations may be excellent, but we can’t tell that.
Anecdotal nonsense: Yup, the forced savings thing is a good point (and presumably not very applicable to anyone who’s bothering to read a lengthy article about the financial merits of renting versus buying). My suspicion is that the “poorer people rent, richer people buy” dynamic is an even bigger reason why my observations aren’t much evidence about what any given person here should do. But I don’t think the counterfactual is relevant here, because the observation I was drawing attention to wasn’t “buyers are doing OK” but “buyers are doing better than renters”.
I’m not feeling any glaring lacks. Of course it’s possible that there are possible changes that once made would be obvious improvements :-).
I do use the “recent discussion” section. I actually don’t mind the collapsing there—it’s not trying to present the whole of any discussion, and clearly space is at a big premium there, so collapsing might not be a bad tradeoff.
There is a lot of good sense in this article, but I have some problems with it. Perhaps the biggest: It appears to be written as if a house is only an investment; as if the buy-or-rent decision is made entirely on the basis of what will maximize your future overall wealth. I’m all in favour of maximizing wealth (all else being equal, at any rate) but a house is not only an investment; it is, as you point out, also a place where you are likely to be spending ~87k hours of your life, and you may reasonably choose to do something that makes you poorer overall if those 87k hours are substantially more pleasant for it.
Those non-financial factors aren’t all in favour of buying over renting. The article mentions one that goes the other way, though of course only in the context of what it means for your financial welfare: if you rent and don’t own, then it’s often easier to move. Here are some others:
Buy, because if you rent there are likely to be a ton of onerous restrictions on what you’re allowed to do. No pets! No children! No replacing the crappy kitchen appliances! No changing the horrible carpets!
Buy, if the properties available to buy (where you are) are more to your taste than the ones available for rent. Or: Rent, if the properties available to rent are more to your taste than the ones available to buy.
Buy, because if you rent then your landlord can kick you out on a whim. (Exactly how readily they can do that varies from place to place, but they always have some ability to do it and it’s a risk that basically doesn’t exist if you buy.)
Buy, if you get a sense of satisfaction or security from owning the place you live in. Or: Rent, if you find that being responsible for the maintenance of the place feels oppressive.
Some other quibbles.
People spend on average 50% more money on mortgages, taxes, and fees than they spend on rent. If that money were invested in the market it would be earning you a return.
Does that include morgage repayment as well as mortgage interest? Mortgage interest, taxes, and fees are straightforwardly “lost” in the same sort of way as rent is; mortgage repayment, though, is just buying a house slowly. That money is invested, in real estate rather than in equities, and it is earning you a return. (Possibly a smaller, more volatile, and/or less diversified return, for sure; I’m not disagreeing with that bit.)
let’s look at three examples of people trying to time the market. All three people invest at a rate of $200/mo. [...]
OK, let’s look. Where are the actual numbers? All I see is vague descriptions (e.g., A invests immediately before each crash, but how much do they invest on each occasion? An amount derived somehow from that $200/mo, but how? E.g., is the idea that the money sits there until a crash is about to happen and then however much is available gets invested, or what?) and final numbers with no explanation or justification or anything. For all I can tell, romeostevensit might just have made those numbers up. I bet he didn’t, but without seeing the details no one can tell anything.
Also: $200/mo 40 years ago is a very different figure from $200/mo now. Does anyone do anything at all like investing at a constant nominal rate over 40 years? It seems unlikely. If instead of “$200/month” you make it “whatever corresponds to $200/month now, according to some standard measure of inflation” then the numbers will look quite different. (For the avoidance of doubt, I expect that A,B,C would still come out in the same order.)
[EDITED to add:] Anecdotally, the people I know who have bought houses generally seem to have done OK, largely independent of when they’ve bought; the people I know who have rented seem to have had no end of problems. But (1) this is a small and doubtless unrepresentative sample, and (2) I think richer people are more likely to buy and poorer people more likely to rent (especially as I live somewhere where buying is generally assumed to be something you want to do), so I don’t think this is very strong evidence of anything.
Sure. But the thing I was saying might be useful (which, I understand, has nothing to speak of in common with what’s on offer right now) is auto-collapsing all comments I can be presumed to have read or decided not to bother reading on the grounds that they were already there the last time I visited the discussion. That would be useful even on posts with <=50 comments. (At least, it would be useful there if useful at all; it might be that I’m wrong in thinking it would be useful.)
If someone’s writing a whole post then for sure they should try to make its structure clear, perhaps with headings and tables of contents and introductory paragraphs and bullet points and whatnot.
I don’t think that’s usually appropriate for comments, which are usually rather short.
So, e.g., I don’t think your comment to which I’m replying right now would have been improved by adding such signposts. But, even so, I don’t see how I could tell whether I want to read the whole thing from knowing that it begins “I want to argue that this is a huge problem”.
There might be benefit in providing some sort of guidance for readers of a whole comment thread. But it’s hard to see how, especially as comment threads are dynamic: new material could appear anywhere at any time, and if order of presentation is partly determined by scores then that too can be rearranged pretty much arbitrarily. (And who’d do it?)
You might hope that a collapsed pile of comments is itself a sort of roadmap to the comments themselves, but I think that just doesn’t work, just as you wouldn’t get a useful summary of A Tale of Two Cities or A Brief History of Time by just taking the first half-sentence of each paragraph.
If comments took up the whole width of my browser window, I would find them acutely unpleasant to read. I like my text fairly small and I have my window full-screen; text becomes difficult to read when each line is more than about 15-20 words. (The exact figure depends on size, personal preference, how long those words are, line spacing, etc.)
Yes, I _do_ tend to read every comment on a thread. Or, sometimes, none, but usually if I’m bothering even to look at the comments on a post then I’m going to look at them all.
I don’t eat at restaurants with literally no menu. If a restaurant has a large intimidating menu, I read it all anyway; if I visit it a few times I will get to know what I like. I won’t be helped by a menu that says “Something containing chicken. Something containing turmeric. Something roughly round in shape.” which is roughly what the collapsed comments provide. The menu is only useful in so far as it (together with my past experience, the overall look of the place, etc.) gives me a good enough mental picture of each dish to have a good idea whether I’ll like it.
(An important distinction between visiting a restaurant and visiting Less Wrong: When I go to a restaurant, typically I intend to each a roughly fixed, fairly small number of dishes. I don’t generally go to LW with the intention of reading three comments and then leaving. I don’t so much mind there being no menu if what there is instead is a great multitude of little snacks I can try dozens of without feeling ill.)
Collapsed comments don’t (for me; I must stress that I’m not claiming to speak for anyone else) give me any useful view of what’s available; seeing the first few words of a comment tells me little, and I try not to prejudge things too much on the basis of author or score.
Expanding comments that are new since you last visited is a good idea. If I could get that (on all posts, not just ones with 50+ comments; why would I want that restriction) without any collapsing of comments I haven’t read yet, that would probably be useful. I’m interested in tools that let me read all the comments efficiently. I’m interested in tools that help me decide which comments are worthy of more attention. I am not interested in tools that try to decide for me which comments I will want to read. If I want that then I can go and read Facebook with “top stories” mode turned on instead of LW.
OK, so my feedback is that I have never ever seen a feature of this sort (unless intended only to hide outright spam and the like) that is any improvement over just leaving everything there, and this instance is no exception.
Perhaps the ability to collapse discussions, rather than having them start collapsed and providing a way to un-collapse them, might be useful sometimes, though I’m struggling to think when I’d actually use it. But this is (for me) a waste of time. Seeing half a line of a comment is usually not enough information to decide whether reading the whole thing is worth while, so the overall minimum-hassle solution is just to uncollapse everything. Thankfully I can make that the global default here on LW; if not, I’d just be clicking the “please expand everything” button every time. (Or, if there weren’t one, expanding everything by hand and cursing the admins.)
Perhaps it might be different if I were reading LW in order to acquire information about some particular thing as efficiently as possible. And perhaps there is some desire for LW to be more the sort of place one goes to acquire information efficiently, rather than e.g. a chatty social venue. Except that if LW were more “academic” in that way—something more like the Alignment Forum, perhaps—then I would expect an (even) higher proportion of the comments to be ones well worth reading for anyone interested in the topic at hand, so auto-collapsing would still be a net loss.
Are you looking for feedback on single line comments?
Information leakage alert: the screenshot there includes a comment from a now-deleted user; ordinary LW users viewing the same thing will see neither that user’s name nor their comment. I don’t think exposing that will do any grave harm, but you might consider using a different screenshot. (Also, if anyone thinks that deleting their account on LW _actually deletes their account_ they should be advised that apparently it does not.) [EDITED to add: to be more precise, in collapsed view ordinary LW users will see an error message in red instead of the username and truncated comment text; when expanded they _will_ see the text but _won’t_ see the username.]
Either your understanding is correct or mine isn’t: AlphaGo Zero and AlphaZero _do_ do a tree search that the DM papers call “Monte Carlo Tree Search” but that doesn’t involve actual Monte Carlo playouts and that doesn’t match e.g. the description on the Wikipedia page about MCTS.
If multiple parties engage in adversarial interactions (e.g., debate, criminal trial, …) with the shared goal of arriving at the truth then as far as I’m concerned that’s still an instance of collaborative truth-seeking.
On the other hand, if at least one party is aiming to win rather than to arrive at the truth then I don’t think they’re engaging in truth-seeking at all. (Though maybe it might sometimes be effective to have a bunch of adversaries all just trying to win, and then some other people, who had better be extremely smart and aware of how they might be being manipulated, trying to combine what they hear from those adversaries in order to get to the truth. Hard to do well, though, I think.)
I share Richard Kennaway’s feeling that this is a rather strange question because the answer seems so obvious; perhaps I’m missing something important. But:
“Collaborative” just means “working together”. Collaborative truthseeking means multiple people working together in order to distinguish truth from error. They might do this for a number of reasons, such as these:
They have different skills that mesh together to let them do jointly what they could not do so well separately.
The particular truths they’re after require a lot of effort to pin down, and having more people working on that can get it done quicker.
They know different things; perhaps the truth in question can be deduced by putting together multiple people’s knowledge.
There are economies of scale; e.g., a group of people could get together and buy a bunch of books or a fast computer or a subscription to some information source, which is almost as useful to each of them as if they’d paid its full price on their own.
There are things they can do together that nudge their brains into working more effectively (e.g., maybe adversarial debate gets each person to dig deeper for arguments in a particular direction than they would have done without the impetus to compete and win).
There is a sense in which collaborative truth-seeking is built out of individual truth-seeking. It just happens that sometimes the most effective way for an individual to find what’s true in a particular area involves working together with other individuals who also want to do that.
Collaborative truth-seeking may involve activities that individual truth-seeking (at least if that’s interpreted rather strictly) doesn’t because they fundamentally require multiple people, such as adversarial debate or double-cruxing.
Being “collaborative” isn’t a thing that in itself brings benefits. It’s a name for a variety of things people do that bring benefits. Speech-induced state changes don’t result in better predictions because they’re “collaborative”; engaging in the sort of speech whose induced state changes seem likely to result in better predictions is collaboration.
And yes, there are circumstances in which collaboration could be counterproductive. E.g., it might be easier to fall into groupthink. Sufficiently smart collaboration might be able to avoid this by explicitly pushing the participants to explore more diverse positions, but empirically it doesn’t look as if that usually happens.
Related: collaborative money-seeking, where people join together to form a “company” or “business” that pools their work in order to produce goods or services that they can sell for profit, more effectively than they could if not working together. Collaborative sex-seeking, where people join together to form a “marriage” or “relationship” or “orgy” from which they can derive more pleasure than they could individually. Collaborative good-doing, where people join together to form a “charity” which helps other people more effectively than the individuals could do it on their own. Etc.
(Of course businesses, marriages, charities, etc., may have other purposes besides the ones listed above, and often do; so might groups of people getting together to seek the truth.)
Yes, that’s fair. (Though I’m not sure about the terms “domain-agnostic” and “domain-specific”; e.g., the AlphaZero approach seems to work well for a wide variety of board games played on “regular” boards but would need substantial modification to apply even to other board games and isn’t obviously applicable at all to anything that isn’t more or less a board game.)
What he says about computer go seems wrong to me.
Two things came together to make really strong computer go players. The first was Monte Carlo tree search. Yes, that name has “search” in it, but it amounted to making programs less search-y, for two reasons. First, the original versions of MCTS did evaluations at the leaves of its trees by random full-game playouts, which took substantial time, so the trees were smaller than for earlier tree-searching programs. Second, the way MCTS propagates results up the tree moves away from the minimax paradigm and allows for the possibility that some tree nodes that seem to arise only from inferior moves (and hence should be irrelevant, minimaximally) actually have useful information in them about the position. The second was the use of big neural networks for evaluation instead of those Monte Carlo playouts. This amounts to having a really fancy static evaluation function, and (with the use of a policy net/head as in AlphaGo and its successors) a highly selective search that chooses what moves to include in the search according to how promising they look.
So when Sutton says this
Enormous initial efforts went into avoiding search by taking advantage of human knowledge, or of the special features of the game, but all those efforts proved irrelevant, or worse, once search was applied effectively at scale.
that seems misleading; while it’s true that the currently best go programs minimize their use of human knowledge, it’s not by “applying search effectively at scale” that they do it.
Now, this does all fit into the broader pattern of “leveraging computation”. Fair enough, I guess, but what else would you expect? That one can play superhumanly strong go by doing only a few thousand elementary steps of computation per move? That applying more computation wouldn’t help? (There’s a reason why human players, when they want to play well, take more time to think.)
I think—especially as, IIRC, this is intended as material for people unfamiliar with this sort of thinking—this could use a thorough reworking in search of greater clarity. I’ll pick a particular bit to illustrate.
If I’m understanding your intentions right, when you ask
What do I know about someone who is “racist”?
what you intend it to mean is something like “What do I know about someone, as a result of knowing that the word ‘racist’ is applied to them with its usual meaning?”. Note that this is not the exact same use of quotation marks as when you put “racism” in quotation marks so that you can talk about the word itself—you aren’t asking “What do I know about someone who is the word ‘racist’?”, which is just as well because that wouldn’t make any sense. But it took me a moment’s thought to figure out what I think you do mean there, and I suspect that for some readers it will be a real stumbling block. And I’m not certain that I’ve interpreted it the way you intend; maybe what you mean is ”… that the word ‘racist’ is applied to them by many other people?” or something, which is similar but not the same. So it might be better to say something like
What do I know about someone who is “racist”? That is: what do I know if I know that the word “racist” applies to them? This is no longer a question about my own concepts, but about how a word is used.
But … I think this words-versus-concepts distinction is the wrong distinction here. If you ask “What do I know about someone to whom I apply the word ‘racist’?” then it’s a question about your own usage, in just the same way as “What do I know about someone who is racist?” allegedly is. And when you ask “What do I know about someone who is racist?”, that can be universalized or particularized just as word-meanings can. “What do I know about someone I consider racist?” “What do I know about someone who would generally be considered racist?”. You could, in principle, consider these questions without invoking words at all.
A couple of other specific points:
This is the lawyer.
What? Maybe there’s something in one of your earlier posts that indicates what this is about, but as it stands it doesn’t seem to me like it makes any sense. If it is a reference to some earlier thing where you (e.g.) introduce some fictional characters and explain that you’re going to analyse things in terms of what they would say, then you should probably provide a link back to the earlier thing in question. Similarly for “This is the student again” near the end.
Oops, we’ve got a situation on our hands that incentives being a lawyer.
You probably want “incentivizes” or something of the sort.
But, generally, I’m afraid the whole thing feels a bit impressionistic and unfinished. Sorry!
When you say “parentheses” in your “explicit note”, do you mean “quotation marks”?
You accidentally a word: “you will mention of Eliezer not infrequently”.
Zvi has “Shilling” in the title of Raymond’s earlier post, which definitely said “Schelling”, so I bet it’s just a mis-schpelling.
If you’re saying “Manipulating people like that wouldn’t work, because you always get to choose whether to do what a hypnotist tells you to” then I see two objections.
The fact that you think you could choose not to do it doesn’t mean you actually could in any very strong sense. Perhaps it just feels that way.
It could be that when someone’s explicitly, blatantly trying to manipulate you via your subconscious, you get to choose, but that a sufficiently skilled manipulator can do it without your ever noticing, in which case you don’t have the chance to say no.
(I am not sure that that is what you’re saying, though, and if it isn’t then those points may be irrelevant.)