In response to Open Thread #36
Comment author: Alexander 15 March 2017 04:28:33AM 0 points [-]

I am wondering if anyone has suggestions on where to volunteer one's time (not money)

Has this been discussed much by EA people?

In response to Why I left EA
Comment author: Alexander 25 February 2017 06:44:46PM *  1 point [-]

I felt like this post just said that the person had some idiosyncratic reasons they did not like EA, so they left. Well, great, but I'm not sure how that helps anyone else.

Here's a thought I think is more useful. For a long time I have been talking anonymously about politics online. Lately I think this is pointless because it's too disconnected from anything I can accomplish. The tractability of these issues for me is too low. So to encourage myself to think more efficiently, and to think mainly about issues I can do something about, I'm cutting out all anonymous online talk about big social issues. In general, I'm going to keep anonymous communications to a minimum.

Comment author: Alexander 20 February 2017 12:43:57AM *  0 points [-]

Upvoted. I also thought this might be relevant.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 24 February 2016 06:06:45AM 2 points [-]

"But I might not actually differ with your 1% figure by too much-I'd guess a 5% chance that renewable energy prices now are roughly as low as they will ever be."

I'd be willing to bet you $100 at 20-1 odds that levelized costs of solar electricity generation are cheaper in fifteen years. Would you be interested to specify the bet more closely?

"if that 1% materializes, the waste could be huge."

On the other hand if the 99% outcome materialises, the waste will also be huge (not using a resource when it was useful, and leaving it until later when it's obsolete).

Comment author: Alexander 24 February 2016 07:11:37PM *  0 points [-]

There may be non-scientific or engineering advances (maybe coming from economies of scale) that you can take of advantage of and I think an expert can predict that they will be taken advantage of and yes prices will drop.

In fact there seems a decent chance from what I just read online that engineering alone can push the price of solar below current energy prices.

So I have to scrap my claim about prices.

Maybe some folks even claim you can get to 90% renewables usage with engineering alone, although this guy is not an expert. But I don't have much faith in this guy compared with the expert study he criticizes, so I think that renewables cannot exceed half our energy generation without either new science or big rises in energy costs. (This is not only because of prices but because of intermittency.) And I think the chance of never getting new science is at least 5%.

The problem seems to be that given the lag until engineering peters out, you are talking about extremely long bets. Maybe we might be dead. Even so, I think Stuart Armstrong's claim that we will not be constrained by energy is suspect.

If you save all or most of the resource, I agree the cost will be huge. But if you only save a little, if it could somehow be done securely for ages, I'd say it's worth it as insurance.

Added 2/25-This last statement assumes there are actually uses for fossil fuels where it would be economical to pay 1/(5%) = 20 times as much as today's market price. I don't know if there are, or whether they would still exist in a future world.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 23 February 2016 07:40:10AM *  1 point [-]

Can you flesh out what you mean by technological stagnation? The best measure of technological advancement I am aware of is multi-factor productivity growth (in frontier countries).

"So at some point, to say anything useful I think you have to assume that growth tapers off or stops."

Sure, but that's because we should eventually run out of new useful technologies to invent, which is likely thousands of years into the future.

"I also don't really see how the odds can be as low as 1%."

As I said the only way I can see this happening is some kind of global catastrophe, which then would become the principal concern. What short of a disaster could cause people to stop trying to research new ways of doing things, and succeeding in some cases?

Comment author: Alexander 24 February 2016 05:00:45AM *  0 points [-]

Any useful model does not try to analyze growth hundreds or thousands of years in the future. It is not really important for this topic, but anyway you can read the link in my last message if you're interested.

On the definition of scientific stagnation-a decent measure would be that productivity growth stops. (Although maybe better engineering can also improve productivity without better science, but I don't know if this makes a difference.)

Why is there a need for a disaster? Maybe cheap renewable energy turns out to be too hard a problem. Maybe more big scientific discoveries in general is too hard. That would be a departure from trends but trends have not continued enough for us to have absolute confidence in them.

But I might not actually differ with your 1% figure by too much-I'd guess a 5% chance that renewable energy prices now are roughly as low as they will ever be.

Even if you say 1%, however, it's not clear to me that enough is being done on this topic, since if that 1% materializes, the waste could be huge.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 22 February 2016 09:50:26PM *  1 point [-]

"but that other assumptions are random noise and we cannot do any better than to assume stagnation."

Why on Earth would the number 0 be the most probable estimate of future productivity growth? There is no reason at all to think it is.

A much better forecasting method than picking 0, or 1, or 10 just because they are round numbers, is to expect that the future will, on average, look like the long-run average of the past (giving greater weight in the average to more recent history).

I think the odds of long-term technological stagnation or worse - in the absence of some catastrophe which renders it irrelevant, like nuclear war - is around 1%.

The only way we can stagnate is if i) we've run out of possible useful improvements to make to all of our products at once, which would be an astonishing thing, or ii) we stop trying to improve our products, which is also exceedingly unlikely barring a massive social upheaval.

Comment author: Alexander 22 February 2016 11:50:24PM *  0 points [-]


Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 22 February 2016 05:42:59PM *  1 point [-]

Clearly then we would be more likely to face a range of problems, though still have the standard options of increasing the relevant capital stock or redirecting more people to producing natural resource. As I noted it is practical to expand these 2-3 fold if truly necessary.

Long-term stagnation is as much a prediction that needs to be grounded in evidence as any other - and one I think has a low probability indeed.

Comment author: Alexander 22 February 2016 07:18:49PM 0 points [-]

How low? And, the issue is not so much that stagnation will definitely happen but that other assumptions are random noise and we cannot do any better than to assume stagnation.

If we assume a high chance of stagnation, and also that all generations are morally equal, then I think we should cut back fossil fuel use, and employ it only when greatly needed, in order to maximize the total usefulness to future generations. That is, it's better that 50 generations use 1/50 the fuel for vital, truly essential purposes rather than one generation burning everything.

Yes you can increase capital stock and devote more people. But under these assumptions, maybe more resource production, or extraction, is actually neutral or even bad.

One consideration is how much society would be harmed if we ran out of various resources. That's the limiting case. Here's a Quora question on fossil fuels that might be a start.

There seems to be a literature on intergenerational equity and exhaustible resources-probably there are answers there, if a person dug enough. :)

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 22 February 2016 09:24:17AM 1 point [-]

It does rely on solar and storage becoming cheaper. They would have to progress much slower than the trend for us to be seriously energy constrained later this century though:

Comment author: Alexander 22 February 2016 05:29:44PM 0 points [-]

I happen to be quite skeptical of predicting science. Do you know what sort of conclusion you would reach about this post's topic if we assume that, for the foreseeable future, science will not advance much? Or, a case of scientific stagnation.

Comment author: Alexander 22 February 2016 05:17:58PM *  0 points [-]

Nice Vox article on climate change-I felt that the argument was robust. Climate change may not end civilization but if humans lose 5% of their vitality over the next 10,000 years, that is terrible.

Comment author: Alexander 21 February 2016 10:08:45PM 0 points [-]

Stuart Armstrong relies on the price of solar continuing to drop, right? Maybe it will, but I think we would be wise to plan for if it does not. Plus, what about storing the energy? Overall, I would just note that fossil fuels have been proved to be very useful but (without new tech) they will eventually become scarce. So I do think stockpiling them would be good if it could be done securely. But the storage time needed might be extremely long, maybe hundreds of years. On whether any sort of coordination or planning would be effective over that that long a period, I am not too optimistic.

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