# Viliam

Karma: 21,451
• Google fires 28 employees working on cloud and AI services for doing a ten hour sit in where they occupied their boss’s office until the police were eventually involved. And yes, if what you do at work is spend your time blockading your boss’s office until your policy demands are met, it seems like you are going to get fired?

In a company other than Google, I would say: yes, obviously.

But remember, when James Damore wrote his document, and as a reaction other people stopped doing their work in protest, it was he who was fired, not them. How were they supposed to know that this time it will be different?

• Besides math and programming, what are your other skills and interests?

*

I have an idea of a puzzle game, not sure if it would be good or bad, I haven’t done even a prototype. So if anyone is interested, feel free to try… I hope I can explain it sufficiently clearly in words...

The game plan is divided into squares; I imagine a typical level to be between 10x10 and 30x30 squares large. Each square is either empty, or contains an immovable wall, or contains a movable block. The game consists of moving the blocks. Each move = you click a specific block, and try dragging it in one of the 4 directions, and either it is possible or not.

A block cannot move into a wall. A block can push another block. A block does not pull another block. For example, if there are 3 blocks in a horizontal line, and you click the middle one and try dragging it to the left, two blocks will move and the third one (the one on the right) will stay there. So far, it should be completely obvious, like what you would happen if you moved some actual objects.

In addition, each side of a block (or a wall) may be empty, or may contain a colored “magnet” (or perhaps a “lock” is a better metaphor). These add the following constraints for the movement of blocks:

• Magnets of different colors can never touch each other. If one block has a green magnet on the right side, and another has a blue magnet on the left side, you cannot put them next to each other so that the magnets would touch. (If you try to do that, the block refuses to move. Graphically, I imagine that it would move like half the way, and then you would get a visual indicator where is the problem, and when you stop dragging, it will return to its original place.) Though it is okay if the blocks touch on their other sides, where they don’t have magnets.

• Magnets of the same color cannot be connected or disconnected by a move in a perpendicular direction. If one block has a green magnet on the right side, and another has a green magnet on the left side, if you move them next to each other, then when you try moving one of them up or down, it drags the other block along with it. Either both blocks move (in a direction perpendicular to their magnetic connection) or neither does. In a direction parallel to the magnetic connection, either one block pushes the other, or they disconnect if you pull them apart (i.e. the magnets do nothing when moving in a parallel direction).

• A magnet can touch a side without a magnet, doing so has no effect as if the magnet is not there.

Or, to describe it more like a programmer:

1. You choose a block and a direction to move. Now we create a set of “blocks that will move one step in given direction” like this: At first, the set contains the selected block. For each block in the set, a block next to it in the selected direction is also added to the set (pushed by the previous block). For each block in the set, a block next to it in a perpendicular direction is also added to the set if they are connected by magnets of the same color. We keep applying these two rules until we can add no more blocks to the set.

2. Now we check what would happen if blocks in the set moved one step in given direction, and all other blocks stayed at their place. If any block would move into a wall, the entire move is cancelled. (A block cannot move into another block, because by the set creation algorithm, that other block would also be in the set, and thus it would also move.) If two blocks—one that moved, and one that didn’t move—would end up next to each other so that their magnets would touch each other (regardless of their colors), the entire move is cancelled. In both cases, the place that causes the problem is visually indicated to the player. (That is, even if you already know that the move is cancelled, keep checking which other places you also need to highlight. Then move all blocks in the set a few pixels in a given direction, so the player sees which blocks would be pushed along.)

3. If there is no problem, the blocks in the set all simultaneously move one step the given direction.

I think that these rules are time-reversible; whatever move you make, you can revert it by one or more moves. This is a desirable property, because it means you can never get stuck in the game. (It also means you can automatically generate levels by generating a solution and then making a few hundred random moves.)

A magnet can also be on the side of a wall. (The wall is basically a block that cannot be moved.)

The puzzle is solved when each magnet is connected to a magnet of the same color.

For bonus points, include a visual editor, and maybe an export/​import of levels to a text file.

• Oh, I hope so! But I would like to get the perspective of people outside our bubble.

If EA has a bad image, we are not the right people to speculate why. And if we don’t know why, then we cannot fix it. Even if Paul Christiano can convince people that he is okay, it would be better if he didn’t have to do this the next time. Maybe next time he (or some other person associated with EA) won’t even get a chance to talk in person to people who oppose EA for some reason.

• My first guess for bullying was: bullies typical choose a victim who has lower status than them. Of course the person with lower status gets punished more strictly for breaking the rules.

But the explanation “bullies are free to optimize for circumstances that make them less likely to get punished, and have more experience doing so” also makes a lot of sense.

I never want to hear anyone complaining about the use of the term “woke” again

Just because someone else uses the word, doesn’t make it okay for you to use the word. 😛

They follow this motto: [every one should feel safe]

Except for the Israelis, I suppose...

• If in extreme situations the ethical ideas fall apart, it might make sense to add an extra rule to stay away from the extreme situations. Like maybe not forever, but to proceed sufficiently slowly so that we have time to reflect on how we feel about that.

• I like the rest of the article, but...

Cold calls. It’s ok if you have a terrible response rate.

It’s ok for you, but you generate negative externality as a side effect (waste other people’s time and attention).

• Do you think a logarithmic scale makes more sense than a linear scale?

Assuming that this article is a reaction to “Torture vs. Dust Specks”, the hypothetical number of people suffering from dust specks was specified as 3^^^3, which in practice is an unimaginably large number. Big numbers such as “the number of particles in the entire known universe” are not sufficient even to describe its number of digits. Therefore, using a logarithmic scale changes nothing.

Logarithmic scale with a hard cap is an inelegant solution, comparable to a linear scale with a hard cap.

What you probably want instead is some formula like in the theory of relativity, where the speed of a rocket approaches but never reaches a certain constant c. For example, you might claim that if a badness of any specific thing is X, then the badness of this thing happening even to a practically infinite number of people is still only approaching some finite value C*X. (Not sure if C is constant across different kinds of suffering.)

That seems like a nice justification for scope insensitivity. We are not insensitive, it’s just that saving 2,000 birds or saving 200,000 birds really has approximately the same moral value!

The problem with this justification is what qualifies as the “same kind of suffering”. Suppose that infinite people getting a dust speck in their eyes aggregates into 1000 units of badness. If instead, an infinite number people get a dust speck in their left eyes, and an infinite number of different people get a dust speck in their right eyes, does this aggregate into 1000 or 2000 units of badness, and why? What about dusk specks vs sand specks?

Or is this supposed to aggregate over different kinds of suffering? So even an almost infinite number of people, each one mildly discomforted in a unique way, are a less bad outcome than one person suffering horribly?

...shortly, it is not enough to say “in this specific scenario, I would define the proper way to calculate utility this way”, you should provide a complete theory, and then see how well it works in other scenarios.

(Also, you need to consider practically infinitely small numbers of people—that is, people suffering certain fate with a microscopically tiny probability.)

• Wow, this seems like an interesting topic to explore.

The people threatening to resign (are there any? without specific information, this could possibly be entirely made up), could be useful to ask them if they have any objections against Paul Christiano, or just EA in general, and if it is the latter, what sources they got their information from, and perhaps what could possibly change their minds.

• 18 Apr 2024 7:57 UTC
5 points
3

I’m working on this as a full blogpost but figured I would start getting pieces of it out here for now.

Looking forward to specific examples, pretty please.

• I would expect the standards to be high while the practice is new and very controversial and the cases are few… and then gradually the process gets more streamlined.

Protests against assisted suicide are easy to coordinate; protests again removing 1% of the bureaucracy around it are not.

Do we really need 7 witnesses, or is 6 enough? It is okay if the doctor performing the suicide is also one of the witnesses? And his assistant is another one? How clearly must the person speak on the video? What if they can’t speak at all, is it fair to deny someone the “basic human right” of assisted suicide just because their ability to speak is impaired? What if taking someone to the next room would be logistically too difficult, e.g. because they are connected to some kind of life support? … Twenty years later, the doctor checks a box saying “the assisted suicide was done according to the law” on the form, signs it, and that’s it.

• 13 Apr 2024 17:53 UTC
4 points
0

I guess, from certain perspective, my question is “how can I send costly signals of work ethics if I don’t have one?” and the obvious answer is “you can’t (or it is really difficult), because that’s exactly what makes it a costly signal, dummy!” :D

The annoying part about the time-energy/​compensation tradeoff is that it isn’t linear. There is no simple lever I could push to spend 50% of time-energy for 50% compensation and find out how that works for me. (I have explored some options, but if seemed that the drop in compensation was dramatic, something like 50% compensation for 80% of time-energy, which isn’t really the thing I want. It would make much more sense to stay unemployed between jobs.)

There seems to be no convenient way to even explore the landscape of possibilities, because companies do not transparently advertise how e.g. stressful or meaningless the work is. It is supposed to be your responsibility to ask the right kind of questions during the interview, but in my experience that doesn’t work either, because sometimes different departments work differently, and they hire you for one department and after you sign the contract or maybe a few months later they move you to a different department that functions differently. Or a new manager comes and changes the rules.

Even the concept of “work ethics” sounds a bit misleading. It’s not like there is a uniform thing called “work” and you either like it or don’t. You may find some aspects of work okay and other aspects unbearable. For example, as a software developer somewhat on the autistic spectrum, I find “developing software, with clear requirements, without interruptions, in a quiet room” a pleasant experience, but “developing software, with unclear requirements that contradict each other and change all the time, with constant interruptions and task switching, in open space” deeply unpleasant. So it’s not like I fundamentally lack “work ethics”, but rather that I am more compatible with some work conditions and less compatible with others (and sadly the latter seem more popular among managers so the entire industry moves that way).

Also, what is the opposite of “work”? Some people spend their free time watching TV or scrolling on social networks. Other people have hobbies and projects, which can be similar to jobs in complexity and time-energy requirements, it’s just that they do not generate income. If someone does difficult and useful things, but they do not generate profit, does it make sense to accuse them of not having “work ethics”? Basically, the motte-and-bailey fallacy, where we equivocate between “work” and “work for money”.

• 12 Apr 2024 15:52 UTC
4 points
0

My wife does not work in software development, so perhaps if one wants a work-life balance, one needs to start there. Then again, she makes less money than me. And she loves her job. And she is allowed to work part-time with almost unlimited home office. I guess this is all connected somehow. 😂 So basically we are in a situation where if she wanted, she could stay at home, and we could easily handle it economically, but she doesn’t want to. Meanwhile, I would love to stay at home, but we cannot afford to lose my income. Luckily I don’t compare myself to her, I just wish I had more time and energy for my projects.

Home office during covid was so wonderful. No commute. Healthier meals. No open space. Silence (or music of my choice, without having to wear the headphones). During short breaks, I could exercise or do the dishes. During the lunch break, I could take a nap, or go to a supermarket. I could take a break to take my kids home from school and kindergarten, and then continue working while they were playing or watching TV. My everyday life felt much better. Afterwards, the company started slowly pushing back against the home office; every few months, the limit was tightened: 3 days a week, then 10 days a month, then 2 days a week. And I suspect this will continue, perhaps until it finally gets back to zero.

I was joking about the divorce. The point is that wanting a part-time job without having a really good excuse is a bad signal of one’s work ethic. What else could be a good excuse?

• Thanks for empathy. I suppose the proper stoic approach is to remind myself that people during most of human history, and most people today, probably have it worse. I still get free weekends, and when the kids become more independent, I will get free afternoons again.

But I wish I had a better option (one that would be realistically achievable given my skills and character traits). Sometimes it seems that in theory it shouldn’t be so hard, but in practice, it is. I work to get better, but the environment seems to actively work to make it worse, so that compensates for my efforts.

(Also, sexism sucks. For women, many employers provide an opportunity to work part-time. For men, that’s almost impossible to get, at least where I live. It is definitely bad signaling to say at the job interview “hey, I would like to work for your company, but… preferably, as little as possible”, heh. Women can go like “you know, I have small kids, you know how it is”. Perhaps I should divorce and say that I am the primary caretaker.)

• If non-rationalist people knew it all along, there wouldn’t be need to write such books.

I guess a more careful way to put this would be that they talk like this all the time in private, but when giving a speech, most of them freeze and try to do something else, which is a mistake. They should keeping talking like they usually do, and I suppose the course is teaching them that.

With rationalists, it is a bit more complicated, because talking like you normally do is not the optimal way to do speeches.

• 11 Apr 2024 21:40 UTC
6 points
0

Similar here: Changes in motivation seem more related to age (and having kids) than whatever happens out there. When I was younger, I saw my career as an opportunity to learn and achieve something awesome. Now I see it as an endless and pointless necessary evil that devours most of my time and energy. Meaningful things happen in my free time, unless I am too tired for that.

My profession (software development) keeps getting worse. Twenty years ago, I had my own office where I could close the door a focus on my work in silence. Now I work in an open space, interrupted by meetings and random questions by managers all the time; focusing on something is extremely difficult. It’s like the company is paying me to do something, and at the same time trying its best to prevent me from doing that.

It’s funny how covid showed us that seemingly impossible things quickly become possible when there is a strong incentive: work from home, remote communication with government bureaucracy, etc. And it’s depressing to see the attempts to slowly revert all of this. More depressing is reading what people hundred years ago imagined that life would be today (spoiler: they didn’t imagine people working 9-5 five days a week).

I see how politics is bullshit, corporations are bullshit, startups are bullshit. The people on the top mostly succeed by convincingly lying to others. When you are looking forward to something that was promised to you, most likely it was a scam and it won’t happen. Now I am better at recognizing when people are lying to me. But they keep doing it anyway, and sometimes I need to pretend that I believe them. The most meaningful thing at work is interaction with my colleagues. But I would prefer to be somewhere else, interacting with my friends and family instead.

It’s hard to care when nobody cares about me either.

• A specific example (maybe two or three examples of a different kind) could help a lot: what you wanted to do, what do did, where you got stuck.

Trying to remember my early experience, at school people typically some math-like problems, something like “calculate a square root of X using an interpolation method, also check for incorrect inputs” that would basically be one function (or one library in a more complex case) in the program. You either do not program the user interface, or it is something very obvious.

And then the real life is something like: “so, we have been writing these things on paper, and we wonder whether there is a smarter way to do that, like with a computer”, and the space of possible solutions is just so wide you don’t even know where to start… and you suspect that the part where you actually calculate the square root will probably be less than 1% of the entire code. And you have no guidance how to do the remaining 99%.

*

My first advice would be to do a prototype first. Some horribly low-status solution with zero security, just to have a specific example where you can check whether everyone is even talking about the same thing. (Otherwise you risk working hard on a solution that no one actually wants.) When the prototype is ready, tested, and approved, then you can build the actual thing. Or maybe you won’t need to.

Many things can actually be done using a spreadsheet. The advantage is, you usually don’t have to teach people how to use a spreadsheet. You also get functionality like online cooperation, access rights, and using the solution from the smartphone for free. (Yeah, online cooperation can lead to editing conflicts. Don’t worry, this is a prototype. If you need a dynamic number of lines, use 100; increase to 1000 when needed.) From the developer’s perspective, updating a spreadsheet is much easier than updating an application—and you will need to update it a lot, because customers usually talk before they think.

If you work for a small customer (an individual or a small NGO), spreadsheet or some Python script is probably what they need. If you work for a large corporation, they probably have a list of technologies you are supposed to use (you will probably have to integrate with whatever they use for authentication, logging, etc.).

• Something to trigger the rationalists:

The is a thing called Ultraspeaking; they teach you to speak better; David Chapman wrote a positive review recently. Here are some quotes from their free e-book:

In the following chapters we’re going to tackle:
1. Why thinking is the enemy of speaking
2. How to use your brain’s autocomplete feature to answer difficult questions

As we often say: “The enemy of speaking is thinking about speaking.”

Well, as counterintuitive as it may seem, you must learn to speak . . . before you think.

This is provided as an example of a wrong thing to do:

On this particular day, Alex had been climbing the route for several hours and had reached a third of the way up the cliff when he set his foot on a precarious hold and immediately questioned his choice: Will my foot slip?

He was climbing without a rope or safety equipment of any kind. One mistake and he could fall to his death. After a few minutes of thought, Alex decided to turn back and climb down the mountain back to his camp.

Specifically, the wrong thing was not that he climbed the mountain without any safety equipment, but the fact that he realized that it was dangerous!

There’s an incredible opportunity here for you. Ending strong is the low-hanging fruit of speaking under pressure. And it’s entirely in your control.

Another client noted an even more remarkable distinction: “I used to think ending strong meant coming up with a brilliant conclusion. But then I slowly realized that ending strong just means injecting energy and certainty into your final words. I notice that when I say my last sentence with confidence and enthusiasm, people respond especially positively.”

Ending strong is more than just a mindset: it’s a surprisingly simple and effective way to leave a strong lasting impression.

*

Hey, I know that this is supposed to be about System 1 vs System 2, and that you are supposed to think correctly before giving your speech, because trying to do two things at the same time reduces your performance. (Well, unless someone asks you a question. Then, you are supposed to answer without thinking. Hopefully you did some thinking before, and already have some good cached answers.)

But it still feels that the lesson could be summarized as: “talk like everyone outside the rationalist community does all the time”.

EDIT:

This also reminds me of 1984:

It was not the man’s brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words but it was not speech in true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness like the quacking of a duck.

The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness. For the purposes of everyday life it was no doubt necessary, or sometimes necessary, to reflect before speaking, but a Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets.

• I was thinking about a Defense Against Predators Doc, addressing various bad things that already happened in the rationalist community. I wonder whether it should or should not be the same document as the Best Practices Doc. On one hand, those are two quite different topics. On the other hand, there is also some overlap in the form of organizational zealotry (e.g. Leverage, Nonlinear).

Any other Docs that should be written for rationalists? By a Doc I think something that is dramatically shorter than the Sequences, because frankly most people are not going to read the Sequences. As you mentioned in the article, there already are various warnings in the Sequences, but people ignore them. The memes have a life of their own, and in the contrarian environment, the dangerous edgy ideas spread fast, and the warning mostly do not.

• national Ukrainian culture is no less Western than Poland or Czech culture.

I agree. That was kinda my point.

Imagine a parallel universe where the Soviet empire didn’t fall apart. In that universe, some clever contrarian could also use me as an example of a “psychologically alien person who doesn’t share Western values”. The clever contrarian could use the concept of “revealed preferences” to argue that I live in a communist regime, therefore by definition I must prefer to live in the communist regime (neglecting to mention that my actual choices are either to live in the communist regime, or to commit suicide by secret service). -- From my perspective, this would be obvious nonsense, and that is why I treat such statements with skepticism also when they are made about others.