Comment author: Benito 01 November 2017 05:38:22AM 5 points [-]

For my own benefit I thought I'd write down examples of markets that I can see are inadequate yet inexploitable. Not all of these I'm sure are actually true, some just fit the pattern.

  • I notice that most charities aren’t cost effective, but if I decide to do better by making a super cost-effective charity I shouldn’t expect to be more successful than the other charities.
  • I notice that most people at university aren’t trying to learn but get good signals for their career, I can’t easily do better in the job market by stopping trying to signal and just learn better
  • I notice most parenting technique books aren't helpful (because genetics), but I probably can’t make money by selling a shorter book that tells you the only parenting techniques that do matter.
  • If I notice that politicians aren’t trying to improve the country very much, I can’t get elected over them by just optimising for improving the country more (because they're optimising for being elected).
  • If most classical musicians spend a lot of money on high-status instruments and spend time with high-status teachers that don’t correlate with quality, you can’t be more successful by just picking high quality instruments and teachers.
  • If most rocket companies are optimising for getting the most money out of government, you probably can’t win government contracts by just making a better rocket company. (?)
  • If I notice that nobody seems to be doing research on the survival of the human species, I probably can’t make it as an academic by making that my focus
  • If I notice that most music recommendation sites are highly reviewing popular music (so that they get advance copies) I can’t have a more successful review site/magazine by just being honest about the music.

Correspondingly, if these models are true, here are groups/individuals who it would be a mistake to infer strong information about if they're not doing well in these markets:

  • Just because a charity has a funding gap doesn't mean it's not very cost-effective
  • Just because someone has bad grades at university doesn't mean they are bad at learning their field
  • Just because a parenting book isn't selling well doesn't mean it isn't more useful than others
  • Just because a politician didn't get elected doesn't mean they wouldn't have made better decisions
  • Just because a rocket company doesn't get a government contract doesn't mean it isn't better at building safe and cheap rockets than other companies Just because an academic is low status / outside academia doesn't mean they're views aren't true
  • Just because a band isn't highly reviewed in major publications doesn't mean it isn't innovative/great

Some of these seem stronger to me than others. I tend to think that academic fields are more adequate at finding truth and useful knowledge than music critics are adequate at figuring out which bands are good.

Comment author: Denkenberger 03 November 2017 05:39:46PM 4 points [-]

As an academic in existential risk, I thought I would comment. In my experience, it is challenging getting interdisciplinary papers published, which is why I think it would be great if someone started an interdisciplinary existential/global catastrophic risk journal. But I would say that mentions of "global catastrophic risk" and "existential risk" appeared to be growing about 40% per year when I tried to analyze Google scholar. This growth is good for citations, and my paper citations have not been bad.

Comment author: Denkenberger 03 November 2017 05:34:47PM 1 point [-]

For the $10/life, were you referring to this? A solution to the low prestige, low citation, but important research is a doubly altruistic researcher who is willing to work for no money and few citations. By the way, I haven't been able to find data, but I think most research is unfunded. This is certainly true in the humanities, but even in STEM, my experience is that most grad students outside the top 50 U.S. universities are unfunded. And professors at colleges with no grad students are many times expected to produce research, typically unfunded.

Comment author: Denkenberger 03 November 2017 05:20:50PM 2 points [-]

What do you think of neglectedness popping up in Owen's model when he was not trying to produce it? And his general logarithmic returns? I do agree with you that even if the cause area is not neglected, there could be cost effective interventions, as I argue here. But I would still say that within interventions, neglectedness is an important indicator of cost effectiveness.

Comment author: Michael_S 30 October 2017 02:02:22PM 4 points [-]

Really exciting work! This seems like an intervention that could potentially be funded with public resources more easily than AI safety research could, which opens up another avenue to funding.

I see how this could be very useful in the event of a nuclear war, but I do have some skepticism about how useful these alternative foods wold be for a less severe shortage. With a 10% reduction in agricultural productivity, why do you think alternative foods that don't need sunlight could be cheaper than simply expanding how much of useable land we devote to agriculture/using land to grow products that are cheaper per calorie?

Comment author: Denkenberger 31 October 2017 03:09:26PM 2 points [-]

As for the funding part of your comment, it is true that the agricultural risks are more mainstream than AI. We have been pursuing public resources (e.g. grants). However, I think EAs with their willingness to change their minds and openness to expected value calculations are ideal candidates to recognize the value of this early on and help get it off the ground.

Comment author: DonyChristie 30 October 2017 07:20:37PM 3 points [-]

Truly one of the most satiating interventions on the menu of causes!

Could you go more into the full list of what the food alternatives look like, and how tractable each of them are?

Comment author: Denkenberger 30 October 2017 09:58:45PM *  4 points [-]

:) There is lots more detail here, but briefly:

1) If the sun is not completely blocked during a global catastrophe, the cooling of the upper layer of the ocean would cause overturning, bringing nutrients to the surface. Over a longer period of time, macronutrient (e.g. nitrogen) fertilization could allow the ramping up of fishing to feed the global population. This might even be economical now. Figuring out how to retrofit ships for fishing would be a good near-term project. We could also harvest deeper fish in a catastrophe that are not economical now.

2) Processes already demonstrated to convert natural gas to edible calories with bacteria are also technically viable. Work here would be figuring out how to retrofit existing breweries and chemical plants.

3) Extracting food from leaves: grinding leaves and extracting leaf protein concentrate: again, figuring out how to scale up quickly.

4) Mushrooms: again scale up investigation.

5) Current cellulosic biofuel techniques with agricultural residues as feedstock produce an intermediate product of sugar. Though there are currently few biofuel plants like this, it may be possible to quickly retrofit existing chemical production plants, as was done with automobile factories in the U.S. to produce airplanes for World War II. Waste from mushrooms consuming wood could then be fed to:

6) ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.) (already been done),

7) cellulose-digesting beetles (needs more research because current insects raised for food are not cellulose-digesting), and

8) rats (needs more research).

Furthermore, bacteria can make fiber digestible by non-cellulose digesters, so this may work for:

9) chickens (needs more research) and

10) as a backup plan even humans (needs more research).

11) Leaves can be eaten directly by ruminants and rabbits (needs more research for common leaves.)

12) The tropics would generally stay unfrozen, but even though crops currently grown outside the tropics would be able to tolerate the lower light, precipitation, and temperature, they generally would not be adapted for the high UV levels. One exception is crops being grown on the Tibetan plateau because of the thin high-altitude atmosphere (more detail here). This needs experiments to confirm.

So basically, some of the alternate foods are already commercialized, but we need to figure out how to scale them up quickly. Other of the foods are more speculative, and would need research and development. I also have a paper (not yet published) that estimates current cost of alternate foods. The most promising ones from this perspective are fish, cellulosic sugar, leaf extract, natural gas digesting bacteria, and Tibetan wheat. Does that answer tractability?

Comment author: Michael_S 30 October 2017 02:02:22PM 4 points [-]

Really exciting work! This seems like an intervention that could potentially be funded with public resources more easily than AI safety research could, which opens up another avenue to funding.

I see how this could be very useful in the event of a nuclear war, but I do have some skepticism about how useful these alternative foods wold be for a less severe shortage. With a 10% reduction in agricultural productivity, why do you think alternative foods that don't need sunlight could be cheaper than simply expanding how much of useable land we devote to agriculture/using land to grow products that are cheaper per calorie?

Comment author: Denkenberger 30 October 2017 04:34:48PM 4 points [-]

Thanks! Good question - for a 10% shortfall, it is more about alternate feed than alternate food. The natural gas digesting bacteria is currently being used as fish feed. We could utilize agricultural residues much better, first extracting edible calories directly, which has been done at both small and large scale. Then we take the left over of that and put it into a cellulosic or second-generation biofuel process that breaks the cellulose into sugar that people could eat. Finally, the leftover from that could be fed to animals. In addition, we might be able to have municipal collection of food waste to feed pigs. Just with agricultural residues, we could save/produce more than 10% of our current food consumption. Another possibility is growing mushrooms on logging residues that normally just decompose and feeding the leftover from that to animals, which has already been done. And we might even want to do some of this now to reduce the environmental impact of animals.

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Should we be spending no less on alternate foods than AI now?

Summary: As part of a Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) grant, I have estimated the cost effectiveness of preparing for agricultural catastrophes such as nuclear winter. This largely involves planning and research and development of alternate foods (roughly those not dependent on sunlight such as mushrooms, natural gas digesting bacteria... Read More
Comment author: DavidNash 20 October 2017 09:01:38AM 2 points [-]

It could be that we are politically engaged and read about every event that happens but the majority of people don't pay much attention to politics. So Trump getting 30%+ is based on a lot of those voters having read 1 or maybe 2 favourable things about him and nothing else, similar with Democrat voters.

For example, Fox news averages 3 million viewers, which is less than 1% of the population.

Comment author: Denkenberger 26 October 2017 05:10:49PM 1 point [-]

I assume this means 3 million viewers at any one time - the total number of people who primarily get their news from Fox would be much larger.

Comment author: Denkenberger 10 October 2017 12:59:52AM 1 point [-]

Does the need to exist of future generations qualify?

Comment author: Denkenberger 24 September 2017 01:33:07AM 1 point [-]

Was there any discussion about effective volunteering?

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