- Vi är inte rustade att möta de extrema risker vi står inför heter den debattartikel med Max Tegmark och Anders Sandberg som vi fick in i Göteborgs-Posten i torsdags, den 15 september. I förhållande till den engelskspråkiga litteraturen om globala katastrofrisker har vi inte så mycket nytt att komma med utöver en försiktig anpassning till svenska förhållanden av de rekommendationer som Toby Ord, Angus Mercer och Sophie Dannreuther gör för Storbritannien i deras rapport Future Proof, men ämnet är ohyggligt viktigt och det vi säger om behovet av förebyggande arbete tål att upprepas.
- Idag släppte den irländske filosofen John Danaher del 12 av sin podcast The Ethics of Academia med rubriken Olle Häggström on Romantics vs Vulgarists in Scientific Research - finns där poddar finns. Vi tar i vårt samtal avstamp i min text Vetenskap på gott och ont (finns även i engelsk översättning med rubriken Science for good and science for bad) och den lite karikatyrartade uppdelning av gängse forskningsetiska synsätt jag gör när jag kontrasterar de akademisk-romantiska mot de ekonomistisk-vulgära. Istället för att välja mellan dessa två förespråkar jag ett tredje synsätt som till skillnad mot de två andra tar vederbörlig hänsyn till de risker eventuella forskningsframsteg kan föra med sig.
tisdag 20 september 2022
torsdag 8 september 2022
The presumptuous philosopher
It is the year 2100 and physicists have narrowed down the search for a theory of everything to only two remaining plausible candidate theories: T1 and T2 (using considerations from super-duper symmetry). According to T1 the world is very, very big but finite and there are a total of a trillion trillion observers in the cosmos. According to T2, the world is very, very, very big but finite and there are a trillion trillion trillion observers. The super-duper symmetry considerations are indifferent between these two theories. Physicists are preparing a simple experiment that will falsify one of the theories. Enter the presumptuous philosopher: ''Hey guys, it is completely unnecessary for you to do the experiment, because I can already show you that T2 is about a trillion times more likely to be true than T1!''
Another presumptuous philosopher
It is the year 2100 and humanity has succeeded in the twin feats of (a) establishing that we are alone in the universe, and (b) once and for all solving xrisk, so that there is no longer any risk for permature extinction of humanity: our civilization will persist until the end of time. Physicists are on the verge of accomplishing a third feat, namely (c) finding the true and final theory of everything. They have narrowed down the search to only two remaining plausible candidate theories: T1 and T2 (using considerations from super-duper symmetry). According to T1 the world will last for a very, very long but finite amount of time, and there will be a total of a trillion trillion observers in the cosmos. According to T2, the world will last for a very, very, very long but finite amount of time, and there will be a trillion trillion trillion observers. The super-duper symmetry considerations are indifferent between these two theories. Physicists are preparing a simple experiment that will falsify one of the theories. Enter the SSA-adhering presumptuous philosopher: ''Hey guys, it is completely unnecessary for you to do the experiment, because I can already show you that T1 is about a trillion times more likely to be true than T2!''
2) I am here glossing over what ''random'' means (typically a uniform distribution, either over observers or so-called observer-moments), and even more so the meaning of ''relevant'', but the reader can rest assured that both Bostrom and 20 years of commentators treat these issues at length.
3) Olum (2002) suggests, for the same purpose, a different modification of Bostrom's original thought experiment. Here, super-duper symmetry comes with a vaguely Occam-like principle where, a priori, a theory of everything has probability inversely proportional to the size of the resulting universe. Bostrom and Cirkovic (2003), however, dismiss the example as far-fetched. I am not sure I find that dismissal convincing, but be that as it may, I still hope the modification I propose here is more to their taste.
onsdag 7 september 2022
- The Hinge of History means, roughly, the most important time in the entire human history (past, present and future), in which we either get our act together or do something really bad that destroys all or most of future value. This can be made more precise in various ways discussed in the preprint. An increasingly popular idea is that the Hinge of History is now. Will MacAskill pushes back against this idea in a recent paper called Are we Living at the Hinge of History?, and in my preprint I push back against his pushback.
- Longtermism, in the words of MacAskill in his recent book What We Owe the Future, is ''the idea that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time''.
- Talk of urgent vs patient longtermism refers to whether this positive influence is best achieved via concrete object-level action now or via saving resources for such action at later times.
- The media attention around What We Owe the Future has been stupendous, not only in intellectually oriented and/or effective altruism-adjacent outlets such as Astral Codex Ten and podcasts by Tyler Cowen, Sean Carroll and Sam Harris, but also in mainstream media such as The New Yorker, Time Magazine, The Guardian and the BBC. I share the wide-spread enthusiasm for the book, and intend soon to help fix the relative shortage of reviews in Swedish.
- It has been pointed out that MacAskill sometimes defends far-reaching positions in academic papers and backs down to more moderate stances in his book, an example being how in a paper with Hilary Greaves he lays out the case for strong longtermism defined as the view that ''far-future effects are the most important determinant of the value of our options [today]'', but is content in the book with the somewhat more watered-down longtermism defined as above. Another example of this is his defense of patient longtermism in Are we Living at the Hinge of History, which is toned down in What We Owe the Future almost to the point of pressing the mute button. One may raise an eyebrow at this inconsistency, but in my opinion it is perfectly reasonable to explore principled positions in theoretical discussions taking place in seminar rooms and the academic literature, while choosing not to defend them in broader contexts.
onsdag 24 augusti 2022
- Onsdagen den 14 september 2022 klockan 17:30-19:00 ger jag ett föredrag med rubriken Longtermism, Astrid Lindgren, the Unabomber and AI Alignment. Lokal är Litteraturhuset, Wergelandsveien 29, och det hela är ett arrangemang av Effektiv Altruisme Norge.
- Torsdagen den 15 september 2022 klockan 12.00-13:00 talar jag på BI (Norwegian Business School) Campus Oslo över ämnet AI Risk and AI Alignment at the Hinge of History.
måndag 1 augusti 2022
lördag 30 juli 2022
A stranger approaches you in a bar and offers a game. This situation recurs again and again in Andrew Elliot’s book What are the Chances of that? How to Think About Uncertainty, which attempts to explain probability and uncertainty to a broad audience. In one of the instances of the bar scene, the stranger asks how many pennies you have in your wallet. You have five, and the stranger goes on to explain the rules of the game. On each round, three fair dice are rolled, and if a total of 10 comes up you win a penny from the stranger, whereas if the total is 9 he wins a penny from you, while all other sums lead to no transaction. You then move on to the next round, and so on until one of you is out of pennies. Should you accept to play?
To analyze the game, we first need to understand what happens in a single round. Of the 63=216 equiprobable outcomes of the three dice, 25 of them result in a total of 9 while 27 of them result in a total of 10, so your expected gain from each round is (27-25)/216 = 0.009 pennies. But what does this mean for the game as a whole? More on this later.
The point of discussing games based on dice, coin tosses, roulette wheels and cards when introducing elementary probability is not that hazard games are a particularly important application of probability, but rather that they form an especially clean laboratory in which to perform calculations: we can quickly agree on the model assumptions on which to build the calculations. In coin tossing, for instance, the obvious approach is to work with a model where each coin toss, independently of all previous ones, comes up heads with probability 1/2 and tails with probability 1/2. This is not to say that the assumptions are literally true in real life (no coin is perfectly symmetric, and no croupier knows how to pick up the coin in a way that entirely erases the memory of earlier tosses), but they are sufficiently close to being true that it makes sense to use them as starting points for probability calculations.
The downside of such focus on hazard games is that it can give the misleading impression that mathematical modelling is easy and straightforward – misleading because in the messy real world such modelling is not so easy. This is why most professors, including myself, who teach a first (or even a second or a third) course on probability like to alternate between simple examples from the realm of games and more complicated real-world examples involving plane crashes, life expectancy tables, insurance policies, stock markets, clinical trials, traffic jams and the coincidence of encountering an old high school friend during your holiday in Greece. The modelling of these kinds of real-world phenomena is nearly always a more delicate matter than the subsequent step of doing the actual calculations.
Elliot, in his book, alternates similarly between games and the real world. I think this is a good choice, and the right way to teach probability and stochastic modelling regardless of...
måndag 18 juli 2022