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> What you fear is not true. The probability is almost zero.

Care to elaborate?

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1) We can find cases where the AI does what we said, not what we want, on toy problems.

2) Given our progress in making AI, it seems highly likely that sooner or later we will have very intelligent AI.

3) Godlike beings are highly unlikely to exist. Aliens don't seem to have visited so far and have had billions of years to do so, strongly suggesting that aliens prone to interfering on earth don't exist. Future smart AI is highly likely to exist.

I think you are misusing "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" if you think AI doom is that extraordinary. Sure, the evidence we have is a bit more ambiguous hints, not vast and overwhelming the way the evidence for evolution is. So if you start with really really low priors, you don't update to AI doom. I think the problem there is the low priors. (I also suspect you aren't familiar with all the various arguments)

Do you think that a smart AI that acts by itself and wishes harm on humanity.

a) Is impossible. (Strongly implies human brains are magic, as some fairly smart independent and malicious humans have existed)

b) Is possible, but will never be built.

c) Couldn't do that much harm. (Requires believing that humans are near the limit, there isn't that much supertech we could invent if we were smarter. Being able to duplicate yourself and have many copies work together isn't that powerful. ...)

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Beautifully written!

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"Bigness is inherently ugly. There’s never been a beautiful skyscraper. Every single one of them is an atrocity. The fact that people still pretend otherwise tells you how conditioned we’ve become to disregard our own nature and our own natural longings." -Tucker Carlson, January 5, 2022

Very silly stuff. Skyscrapers are badass dude

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author

I agree with you ethically and philosophically, I just can't make myself feel it.

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People give Scott shit for supposedly being a conservative or a racist or what have you but his real sin is not being an urbanist.

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Maybe it's that people have different thresholds for certain labels that are mood dependent then tie them to their identity.

Maybe we take ourselves too seriously.

[agree - prob not an urbanist]

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Didn't you know? "Conservative" and "racist" are just other ways of saying "not urban."

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That is of course nonsense, Phil. Have you read Tim Urban's latest book?

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Could something, one single time, please just not be a coincidence.

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I'm reading the book now and often find myself responding to posts with what I'm currently reading - like a hammer looking for nails - if that helps. [an inevitable systematic intersection??] : )

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Singapore is pretty urban, and pretty conservative by some measures.

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023

Singapore is half size of London with a unique history. Dalio(2021) referred to it as a boutique country - like Switzerland. Singapore was fortunate to have Lee Kuan Yew at the right time(and he, the opportunity, imo). I'm sure it's a great place to live.

That said, wealth, prosperity and urban living tend to turn cities liberal/progressive over time.

---

Let me underscore that from the original post that Conservative is NOT synonymous with "racist" and not all rural folks are staunch conservatives. Many are moderates of the right and some left.

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Not to be the preachy urbanist in the comments, but urbanism is definitely not about liking glass-box skyscrapers.

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Beat me to it....I am a lifelong enthusiastic urbanist who also did some time in the burbs and knows what the real differences are. It ain't skyscrapers. Skyscrapers are a _result_ of urbanism.

(Which is not to say that all skyscrapers are aesthetically the same, there are ugly ones and beautiful ones just like with any other type of built structure.)

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Sure, but what do you mean by "urbanism"? I was thinking of it as a preference or lifestyle, but your use of the word "about" makes it sound more like a movement.

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I mean preference.

(The "smart-growth" movement does exist, in a previous job I gained some professional level knowledge of it actually. But it's always struck me as fairly incoherent and shallow.)

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I wouldn't say Skyscrapers are necessary for Urbanism. OTOH that doesn't mean more or less Urbanist.

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Urbanism? You mean that thing that makes hundreds of millions of people miserable and single and childless across Asia?

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I have often thought of urbanism as a particularly Western affliction that shoe-horns people together in close physical proximity while they tend to lead socially isolated and lonely lives.

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"I agree with you ethically and philosophically, I just can't make myself feel it."

You like no skyscrapers at all? Of most skyscrapers (and/or collections of skyscrapers) just aren't your thing?

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Many skyscrapers are beautiful as artifacts, just as many teapots are beautiful as artifacts, but if I found myself living in a forest of 500-foot-high teapots I would constantly feel like I was in a weird fever dream and needed to get back to somewhere normal with trees and lawns, and this is how I feel about skyscrapers too.

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Come to Europe, we have cities without skyscrapers.

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I grew up in Hong Kong - and to me, skyscrapers are both beautiful and normal, while lawns, though pleasing in their own way, seem contrived and unnatural.

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Maybe they're prettier once they reach a critical density, and look like a geological formation.

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I grew up with lawns, but I have to agree that they're unnatural. I think it's A) that they actually are very contrived and unnatural and B) that despite all the green, suburban areas aren't really possible to survive in if you don't have a car to take you to the grocery store all the time. They feel weirdly like a desert when I walk through them without owning a home.

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IMHO, lawns are much prettier if you let the "weeds" grow. An expanse of nothing but mowed grass is a kind of wasteland.

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This is true in the new world, but most of Europe is a different beast. Medium sized cities tend to be quite walkable and survivable without a car. Possibly because they were born before cars existed.

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You realize that most gardens contain things other than tightly cropped grass, right?

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Move to the suburbs bro. Driving everywhere isn't so bad. A car is like a little house you can take with you wherever you go.

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Ah yes, the suburbs. Where your kids are trapped in a special kind of hell, because they can't go anywhere or do anything without you taking them there.

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Only if you move to a shit suburb. Move to a well-designed suburb, one with walkability and good public transport connections.

To be fair, I'm not sure if any good suburbs actually exist in California. But it bugs me when people observe that the suburbs around them are shit and blame suburbia in general when they should be blaming their local governments for designing such shit suburbs.

The US needs fewer urbanists and more suburbanists -- people focused on figuring out how to make suburbs better without sacrificing backyards and driveability.

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My kids walked to school from kindergarten through 6th grade, with crossing guards and stuff. Clubs and whatnot met at the school grounds, or sometimes at the public ball parks and tennis courts, which you could get to with a bike ride, half of which was on bike path through park, and half along roads with nice wide bike lanes. They could walk to their friends' houses, or take the bike. Best of all, the chances of them being accosted by a meth-head or having to step around a pile of human shit were zero. Maybe you're referring to a specially degenerate type of suburb?

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"because they can't go anywhere or do anything without you taking them there."

Because playing with other children in their yards is now illegal (in some jurisdictions).

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023

I grew up in a suburb, we even had stroads and all the things urbanists hate. I remember walking all the way to the nearby city on nothing but green, trafficless public green space, and riding bikes to the mall.

Suburbs are specifically built for parents and their kids, if the suburb you live in is hell for kids, and this is a common practice - perhaps it's not an urban design problem but a parenting one.

Specifically, parents in the 50s and 60s at Peak Suburb Meme wanted private space and a yard, but also wanted to make sure their kid could get around, because the idyllic white picket fence life included hoodlum teenagers and lemonade stands on the sidewalk. Some combo of stranger danger and UMC striverism made that less of a priority.

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Ah yes, my childhood was hell. Hanging out with the neighbor kids, swimming in our pools, playing baseball and basketball in our cul de sac street with almost no traffic, spending most of our day unsupervised with no real threat to our safety, having dogs and yards for them to live and play in, building billy carts and riding tthem around the street etc.

Where and what are all these kids doing in the city by themselves?

Cities aren't for kids, and living there makes people not want to have kids, and that's supremely self-destructive for a society.

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Just pretend you're in Bryce Canyon, or Muir Woods.

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I think the Sears Tower in Chicago is my favorite. Less geometrically simple than most.

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Then maybe you should get back to trees and lakes and ponds (and real Detroit pizza) here in MI. What will you really miss not witnessing the end of the world? Witness the world as it is now. It’s lovely this time of year (the world and MI both).

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I suggest living somewhere that makes you feel happy. Job be damned.

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What we need are small skyscrapers to put on shelves and tables. If you could pour tea out of them, even better.

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What we need is a toy skyscraper that turns into a robot.

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Mar 22, 2023·edited Mar 22, 2023

Too true. A mountain range is beautiful from a distance, but I wouldn't want to be twenty thousand feet up Mount Everest with my teeth chattering in the cold, my nose and fingers turning black with frostbite, and peering over a ten thousand foot sheer drop!

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You are attempting to get a group of people who have defiantly rejected the possibility of human values outside of the rational to understand the idea of an aesthetic preference. They ain't gonna get there.

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People who like skyscrapers have defiantly rejected the possibility of human values outside of the rational?

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It's the principle of charity. One must assume that there is a sensible justifation for a position, even when it appears on the surface that the opposition just has really bad taste ;)

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You mean the "rationalists"? yeah I don't think that's fair to them.

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On what planet are urbanists and YIMBYists fair to anyone that disagrees with them? In this very thread someone is talking nonsense about suburbs being "a special kind of hell" for kids.

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We have both skyscrapers and plenty of trees and other greenery in glorious Singapore.

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Plenty of trees on top of skyscrapers too, which I kinda like.

Still not sure I'd call Singapore my ideal balance between skyscrapers and green space.

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Ah yes, glorious singapore, a society so healthy that that they have the second lowest fertility of any country in the world. A true urbanist utopia....

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Fertility is low here, though the better comparison is probably to other global cities, not to other countries.

I'm not sure I'd use fertility as a proxy for healthy, though. Many of the places with the highest fertility are amongst the least healthy. Both in a literal health sense, but also in a more metaphorical sense.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependencies_by_total_fertility_rate

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I remember when US right-wingers were big fans of Singapore...not so much anymore, I guess?

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Imagine the horror of living at the top of this hideous monstrosity:

https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/article/skinniest-skyscraper

And that's when the elevator is working. If it was out of balance, the whole building might be quivering and shaking like a leaf:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11887385/NYCs-new-One-Vanderbilt-skyscraper-evacuated-huge-SHAKE-rippled-it.html

Or it could fail entirely, so one might have to lug arms full of grocery bags up a hundred flights of stairs!

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Or you could open the window, and skydive to work.

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The United States Courthouse Annex in Salt Lake City looms like a Borg cube over traffic. It's horrific.

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truly disgusting

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Growing up in NYC, I've always found the city skyline to be absolutely beautiful, particularly when viewed from across the river at night. I find them rather less appealing up close, though.

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Agree about skyscrapers etc. Bigness in nature isn't inherently ugly, though, right? -- mountains, 200 foot waterfalls, and the poor megafauna who were so happy and unacquainted with fear they just stood there and let us kill them. I have miseries in cities too.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

When I was fairly young my parents took me on a trip that took us through Houston. My main memory of Houston was the awe inspiring and seemingly endless mass of pipes and tanks associated, I assume, with the chemical and petroleum industry. I was "wowed" by it.

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I admire the technology of them, and some of them are aesthetically appealing. But more of them are nothing but crude phalluses, there's no denying it. I mean, if you have no money, you draw a dick on the wall of the public toilet, if you have all the money, you do the same on the skyline.

Also, tigers are majestic, but I'd prefer living somewhere not too close to them. Preferably separated by a large deep body of water, just in case. Some beauty is better observed when I'm not the part of it.

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"But more of them are nothing but crude phalluses, there's no denying it."

I deny it.

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They guy who drew it on the wall of the toilet would deny it too. And yet...

Some of them are beautiful. But more of them... are not.

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What non-phallic substitute would you use for “make efficient use of a city block”? It kind of has to be tall and slender-ish. It’s like complaining that rockets or cigars are phallus shaped. I mean they are, but it’s a functional shape.

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I'm not complaining exactly, especially not about the function. I mean, I know where it comes from. But that doesn't make me ignore they are ugly. I recognize the fact. How to make it not ugly? Well, the same way you write good poetry, or good music, or paint a beautiful painting - just make it not ugly. There are examples, it's possible. Yes, it'd cost more money and effort. That doesn't change the evaluation of the result though.

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Surely saying they are essentially the same thing as drawing a dick on a bathroom wall is a rather stronger statement than “I just find them ugly”?

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They don't have to be as slender as they are. Making a whole city block one building would make them a lot less phallic. Going the full arcology route (with the streets underneath as tunnels) would be even more efficient.

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Also Paris has basically no skyscrapers and manages to be one of the densest cities outside Asia, so you can pack people tight even without going hundred of stories up into the sky

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I'm pushing back against your use use of the phrase "there's no denying it."

We're talking about aesthetic preferences here.

You seem to be stating your aesthetic preference and then saying not only that people should share your preference but that it's not really possible that anyone else can have a different preference.... that it can't be denied that your opinion is correct.

I'm here to tell you that it *can* be denied. That it *is* in fact possible for someone with different preferences than yours to look at a bunch of skyscrapers without seeing a bunch of dicks.

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Psychiatrist (showing patient a picture of a square):

"what does that make you think of?"

Patient: Sex.

Psychiatrist (circle): "What does that ..."

Patient: "Sex."

Psychiatrist (Cross): "What ..."

Patient "Sex."

Psychiatrist: "I think you have a problem."

Patient: "What do you mean I have a problem? You're the one showing me the dirty pictures."

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+5 Funny

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I feel like this says more about the eye of the beholder than about the actual thing.

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Made me laugh.

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What a weird thing to say in a world where the Chrystler Building exists. Hell, the Carbide and Carbon building in Chicago is glorious.

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Hell, Albert Kahn’s Detroit has some lovely ones and Scott was right there.

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Coming from NYC I have always just wanted their to be 10x as many sky scrapers and for them to be more diverse in appearance

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Make Manhattan as tall as it is wide

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Truly, SF's skyscraper game is pitiful compared to NYC's. There are some decent Art-Deco-era buildings if you know where to look, but the big modern efforts like Transamerica Pyramid and Salesforce Tower show much more grandiosity than taste.

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It's weird not to project a very small handful of buildings onto the majority?

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I can't say I agree with Tucker on this one. There's beautiful skyscrapers, it's just that none of them is in San Francisco.

The Transamerica Pyramid has a certain charm, but everything else is generic filler. It's the boring buildings you get in SimCity to persuade you to pay for the DLC.

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IMO "generic filler" can look quite pleasant if it's well designed...i.e. if a neighbourhood consists just of typical "boring" modern apartment buildings, but has lots of greenspace, pedestrian zones, and shops/restaurants etc. then it's a pleasant place to live in and visit...

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Aren’t castles kinda like skyscrapers? Wonder how much more palatable traditionalists would find large condo towers if they had a pointy top of some sort

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I'd certainly be fine with living in a building that looks like a castle. I mean, now I'm spoiled and I want my own house with the backyard, but back when I was young and lived in apartments, I'd certainly consider it very cool if it were made to look like a castle.

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I am the opposite...modern (apartment) buildings that look like castles are not just tacky, but kind of unsettling IMO...

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

When I think of San Francisco, I don't think of skyscrapers. I imagine part of the problem is that there are a lot of modern ones, which don't have the same style as the Art Deco ones. Look at this skyline. How... inspiring (though of what, I will refrain from mentioning):

https://www.skyscrapercenter.com/city/san-francisco

As to building castles out of towers, there was a monarch who tried that and it ended with him going (if not already) crazy and bankrupting his personal fortune, but on the other hand it is undeniable that it did wonders for the tourist trade in later years:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_II_of_Bavaria

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdo6SQvlwe8

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I lived in and around SF for 20+ years and you are right - though the City is only 49 square miles, just a small nub of that is skyscrapers. The rest of it is so ...not skyscraper.

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I don't think that fact really makes the feeling of not liking being around skyscrapers any less real. Castles are a large defensive fortification intended to intimidate. Some are beautifully designed and decorated, but no peasant in 12th century France would like to be surrounded by castles. That would be a threat on all sides. A castle is much less claustrophobia inducing because there is just one, and you can run from it.

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A pointy top would help, but the main issue is the giant glass box part. We should at least be building them with beautiful stone facades.

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If Tucker Carlson had a more poetic frame of mind, I wonder what he would say about a people grown so distant from beauty that when seeking a word to set up opposite 'ugly', the best they could come up with is 'badass' - a conjunction of not-good and the place of defecation.

Really makes you think, as they say.

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Really makes me think you're a mensa member.

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"It's easier to be gigantic than to be beautiful" - Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner.

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The Grand Coulee Dam is gigantic. The Hoover Dam is gigantic and beautiful.

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As much as I disagree with the anti-skyscraper thing, "bigness is inherently ugly" is a way broader statement, and way wronger.

"Big" things include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Hubble Deep Field (and Extreme Deep Field, Ultra Deep Field...), ... Even for manmade stuff - the cathedrals of Europe, the Golden Gate Bridge ...

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This could be a case of Simpson’s paradox, where we notice things only when they are elegant or big. Since it’s harder to be both and we ignore small ugly things we hallucinate an anticorrelation.

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This is a novel and brilliant explanation and bears further thinking about. Also, you mean Berkson's paradox.

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Yes, you are right it’s Berkson’s.

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Re anti-skyscraper: I find it interesting that the two groups most opposed to skyscrapers in the modern world seem to be "traditionalist" conservatives and "de-growth" leftists...maybe the horseshoe theory is correct after all?

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The only problem with the horseshoe theory is that it posits that moderates are somehow intermediate between the two, whereas in any sane metric space of political viewpoints, the left and right would be clustered together way off in a corner.

They're both conflict theorists, radical revolutionaries, Hegelians aiming to drag the world closer to perfection, and dogmatists who believe they alone possess absolute truth, and that thus tolerance of or compromise with other views is a sin. Both believe the ends justify any means, thrive on hate, and hate individualism, free speech, debate, reason, and science. Both believe anyone who opposes them in any way is evil and sub-human. Both force innocent moderates to profess absurd beliefs to prove their submission. Historically, both have gained power over unwilling majorities by seizing control of institutions, especially educational institutions, and taking away everyone's guns.

The use of "left" and "right" is a con game to fool the majority into believing those are their only options, which has worked very well at giving both of these two small groups enormous political power.

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This is an interesting take...seems like you agree with the horseshoe theory though?

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Inasmuch as it says the left and right are similar, yes.

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Brings up memories of the song by The Animals, "We gotta get outta this place."

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As with much of what Tucker writes, I wonder if he really means it or is just pandering to his viewers, most of whom live in suburban or rural areas.

As to human nature, man is a social animal and the denser a place is the more people relatively close by. One of the reason it sucks to live in a small town is that you often have to leave that town, and your friends and family, to get a good job somewhere else. The denser an area is, the more potential friends, romantic partners, businesses, and employers in any given distance, though past a point it starts becoming more difficult to reach places if you don't have a car.

If you imagine better tech and wave a magic wand and solve the present problems with cities, the NIMBYism, the public sector unions, the mentally ill homeless people, the criminally inclined classes few want to live near,(even if they won't admit it) you get the futuristic image of the city that you usually see if you google "futuristic scene."

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Not to rain on your parade, but I lived in Seoul as a foreigner for a substantial amount of time. Korea has basically zero crime and while Seoul has a homeless problem I saw orders of magnitude less aggressive pandering than in any western city. I suspect their government had an easier time fighting NIMBY sentiment at least in the Park dictatorship period, during which massive growth and urbanization took place. Moreover, public transportation is excellent and cheap. Still, it sucked to live in such a massively crowded place. I would feel better for a while when I flew to Taipei, which is still a crowded city but not at that level. Noise, lights always on at night, the absence of gardens and even balconies, the inability to see the sky except for a small solid angle above my head, the general absence of space killed me.

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Those futuristic cities are disgusting. They're ugly, cold and souless, even when they try and make it pretty with tree covered skyscrapers. And it's truly sad that the future people people desire is one where every city is indistinguishable from any other with it's gross shiny skyscrapers and abject lack of national character or idenity.

And like Eh says below, what you describe is similar to places like Seoul. Seoul is extremely crowded and is literally home to the least fertile people on earth, and South Korea ranks a lowly 59 in the world for happiness.

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"ugly, cold and souless"...you could say this about most American suburbs. Or even "traditional" European cities (to me, Edinburgh looks quite "cold" in terms of architecture compared to Miami, despite being much older...).

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Suburbs are soulless indeed. Conversely, certain parts of Seoul have a strong character: the strip running from Hongdae to Ewha women’s university is a 24/7 student playground, Itaewon is the American expat place, Myeongdong the tourist-friendly chinatown, Gangnam the fake luxury hub, etc. Still something in my reptile brain would tell me to run away from it all to a place where my eyes could rest on some vegetation, something that was hours away by public transportation. I liked the city the first year or so. After a few more years I began to feel trapped. Having a tiny apartment did not help. I remember going out at 3AM to look for space, only to bump into more people. Once I walked all the way to gyeonggi-do along the river to reach the limit of the city. At least they couldn’t build on the water. People go to convenience stores and cafes just to have some space. It’s not rational- I was safe, well fed and on very friendly terms with the locals all the time; still it was stressful.

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I doubt that too many readers of this Substack live in rural areas...

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Holy crap! I actually agree with Tucker Carlson on something! Unbelievable. The evidence is clear, it's End Times for sure.

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Mar 21, 2023·edited Mar 21, 2023

>"Bigness is inherently ugly"

What would this person say about the Great Pyramid of Giza? It was considered the greatest Wonder of the World for millennia (the only of the seven still standing), and mostly because it was far bigger than anything else build by humankind at least until the late Middle Ages.

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Agree

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Nothing in nature makes me feel the way even mediocre skyscrapers do. I get no sense of wonder from natural occurrences. They are just "there". The fact that a group of people are able to build skyscrapers fills me with feelings of hope and admiration. There is no place on Earth more beautiful to me than the middle of a major American or Asian city's financial district.

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I'm curious because this is so different from my personal experience-- what natural places have you been? Might have phrased that a bit directly for the internet, so please take it as an honest question and not a challenge. Skyscrapers and the effort effort required to construct them are definitely awe-inspiring, but it's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact someone would look at a natural arch or something and feel nothing. But I can also be wowed by, like... a big tree, so my bar is not terribly high. Being in the presence of something massively larger and older than oneself can temporarily recalibrate your sense of size and time in a very humbling way.

You could say skyscrapers make me cognizant of humanity's amazing achievements, and natural structures remind me my own life is in some ways very short and small.

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I've been all over the world. I'm not saying that nature isn't pretty or that I don't like it, it's just that I don't have that visceral reaction to it that I do with man-made structures. Take something like Machu Picchu for example. If it was just the mountains, it wouldn't have made an impact on me. It would have been a feeling of "oh look, more pretty mountains, just like all the other pretty mountains." But the fact that there were man made structures up there made it one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I was in complete awe that something like that could be done with the technology they had.

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I think I understand a little more where you're coming from. Thanks for taking the time to explain!

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The fact that these frequently very ugly and unappealing buildings were deliberately designed that way fills me with disgust, whereas natural processes often beyond our comprehension built things vastly more beautiful.

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So people are different in terms of their tastes...I personally like skyscrapers (despite being from Europe and therefore culturally from a region where people think "traditional architecture" is superior and have an opinion about high-rises similar to yours, even if they are not right-wing). But I also like natural features, such as mountains, canyons, cliffs, trees...so I guess you can like both natural and man-made objects. I don't see a contradiction here...

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An oblique maybe congratulations here if I’m reading between lines.

If it is of any consolation that may or may not be needed, there has always been darkness and there has always been courage rising up to throw it back.

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It's a lovely sentiment, but, I mean, tell it to the dinosaurs watching the Chicxulub asteroid approach.

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Eh, it’s less touchy feely than that. The best way to die is to stand still and do nothing when you know something awful is going to happen. Courage is always necessary. There’s never some wizard who is going to come along and say “you specifically are destined to go and do this.” There’s only you saying “well, shit, I guess it’s me.” And mostly being wrong, but caring enough to try.

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Love your bit along these lines:

"Come on, children, you’re acting like children

"Every generation thinks it’s the end of the world"

https://www.mattball.org/2023/02/greta-thunbergs-misery-is-result-of.html

Happy first day of spring, everyone. If you're reading this blog, your future will be be good compared to 99.9...% of all sentient beings in history.

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Eventually, someone’s going to be right.

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"A horse which has been often driven along a certain road resists the attempt to drive him in a different direction. Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken."

http://www.ditext.com/russell/rus6.html

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And yet we're now living in 2023, and not in 4500.

Anthropic argument is nightmare fuel.

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No, don't worry, the anthropic argument (the "Doomsday Argument") is just silly and wrong. You weren't some floating soul who randomly selected one human out of all of history to inhabit. Making a new human creates a new observer. When you correct for this, the statistics become completely unsurprising (tautological, even) and the Doomsday Argument falls apart.

To put it in another way: of course you can't get "free" information about whether or not the world will end tomorrow (A or ~A) solely based on the fact that you're living in it today (B). B is true for both A and ~A, so gives exactly 0 information.

Note that the anthropic argument does work when applied to events in the past - just not for producing magical predictions about the future.

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This famous counteragument, called the self-indication assumption, has a famous counter-counterargument: the presumptuous philosopher. Let's say that astronomers have two plausible competing theories about the universe. According to one, the universe is very big and has a trillion observers; according to the other, the universe is very very big and has a trillion trillion observers. The astronomers are about to collect 5 years of observational data to see which theory is right. The presumptuous philosopher barges in and says "wait! You're wasting your time! I already know, to trillion-to-one odds, that the universe is very very big."

The astronomers ignore the philosopher and collect their data, which show unambiguously that the universe is "only" very big (p=0.000000001). The philosopher barges in again and says "wait! You might think that's a really good p value, but you forgot to multiply it by a trillion, and if you do, you find that the very very big theory is still overwhelmingly favored!"

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It's only called the "Self-Indication Assumption" by proponents of the Doomsday Argument. People who aren't drinking the kool-aid just call it basic logic. The thing that frustrates me is that, if you're decent at math, it's honestly not hard to understand both the Argument and why it's wrong, which is why the Wikipedia article uses a lot of ten-dollar words to make it sound like it's a Serious Philosophical Theory and not a math error.

The Argument: You have two vases filled with balls numbered 1 to N, one with 1000 balls and one with a trillion. You pick a random vase then you pick a random ball out of it. It's numbered 398. Now you know with near-certainty that you picked the 1000-ball vase.

Why It's Wrong: Every new human is an observer - you're not the One True Human who chose a random body to inhabit in a world of p-zombies. So, actually, you (human #398) just pointed to the vase and asked "is there a ball numbered 398 in this vase?" and I said "yes". You still have no information on which vase you chose.

You can dress this up with obscure philosophical language and call it the Self-Indication Assumption and write out some complicated Bayesian equations and multiply them out, but at the end of it you'll notice the odds of which vase you chose are still 50-50. There's no surprise to this result - it's very boring. True things often are.

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What if you pick two balls from the same vase? And you get #398 and #6. In that case it seems to me the odds that you picked the 1000-ball vase are a lot better than 50/50.

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You're not picking two balls. You have one observation (that you, human #398, exists). You can never have another, because you're not anyone else. :)

EDIT: Sorry, I think there's still a misconception here. You're NOT actually "picking" a ball. That's the problem. You're just noticing that you exist, which in the analogy is noticing that the Ball #398 is in the vase. (Which it always is, regardless of the vase you choose.)

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Your arrogant tone and your ad-hominem attacks don't make you more convincing, and neither does the fact that your comment has nothing to do with the self-indication assumption itself.

"at the end of it you'll notice the odds of which vase you chose are still 50-50."

No, it is not. If you repeat the experiment many times and use the simple rule "if I pick a number less than 1000, I guess vase 1; otherwise, I guess vase 2", you'll be right 100% of the times when the real answer is vase 1, and 99.9999999% of the time when the real answer is vase 2. That's a remarkably high success rate if the rule isn't useful!

Another way is to ask: out of all repeats of the experiment where a ball less than 1000 is drawn, what percentage of those draws came from vase 1? In N repeats, you'd get N/2 balls less than 1000 from vase 1, and N/2 * 1e3/1e12 balls less than 1000 from vase 2. Therefore, 1/(1+1e-9)= 0.999999999 of the draws less than 1000 come from vase 1.

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Yes, I'm aware of how the Argument works. As I said in my comment, in the first scenario the odds of picking vase 1 are indeed much higher. Your calculations are correct. It's just that the first scenario is a bad analogy - it's the second scenario that applies, where the odds are indeed 50/50. (EDIT: rewrote this to be less confrontational.)

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So, ok, let me take a step back. You're right that I'm using a condescending tone here. I apologize for that.

This is a personal bugbear of mine, something that seriously frustrates me. I first encountered the "Carter Catastrophe" in a sci-fi novel by Robert J. Sawyer, and it bothered me to no end until I sat down, worked through it, and saw why it was wrong. But the Argument didn't go away - it just morphed into a less-easy-to-understand form, so that it could better propagate as a meme. Nowadays it has a highly credulous Wikipedia article, lots of proponents everywhere, even more SF novels that mention it, and worst of all, Scott took it seriously in one of his posts about future risks.

As a theory it really doesn't go any deeper than the summary I gave above - there's no fascinating philosophical argument here, just a lot of clever obfuscation around something simple and wrong. (Kind of like all the clever arguments used by the Flat Earth society, although I'm pretty sure those are just done for fun and almost nobody takes them seriously.) It has the same relationship to serious (and difficult!) anthropic arguments as astrology has to astronomy.

I think the Doomsday Argument is, far and away, the clearest example of a plainly-incorrect belief that is somehow still popular among the rationalist community. What can I do better in the fight to defeat it? I don't want to argue as if both sides have merit, because they don't. (I wouldn't argue that way with someone claiming "0.999... isn't 1" on sci.math, either.)

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Here, let me try one more analogy that I hope really explains the root of what's going on in these anthropic arguments and also shows the assumptions required for the Doomsday Argument to actually work.

You're a God. You've created two deterministic Universes with humans in them, both from exactly the same initial conditions, except that one you let run until 1000 humans exist and then you stop it, and the second you let run until 1 trillion humans exist and then you stop it. This is a cartoonishly simple Metaverse, where humans have a 50-50 prior probability of flourishing. (Note that the "apocalypse" in the first Universe is totally arbitrary, but that's actually kind of appropriate - the Doomsday Argument says nothing about what the apocalypse would look like.)

Later, you look back on the Universes, and notice with some amusement that Human #398 discovered the Doomsday Argument, and argued that there almost certainly won't be a trillion humans. One of the Human #398s was right (for bad reasons), and the other was wrong. From each #398's perspective, the correct odds were actually 50-50 - unsurprisingly, the same as the priors.

Ok, let's try to figure out how to make the Doomsday Argument actually work. So, it turns out all these humans are p-zombies - not observers at all! In fact, you as God created just one Soul that experiences qualia. Then you took all the humans in your Multiverse and picked one at random, then plunked the Soul into it (which turns out to be a #398, which is unlikely but not impossible). Now the one true observer, as Human #398, discovers the Doomsday Argument, and ... oops, well, it's still wrong. Because there are two #398s, and one is in the small Universe and one is in the big Universe. The odds from the perspective of the Soul are still 50/50. D'oh.

Ok, one last try. As God you instead create one Soul, and then you randomly pick one of the two Universes to drop it into, and then FROM THAT UNIVERSE you randomly pick a human (#398) for it to inhabit. Only now is the Soul finally correct in its belief that it's overwhelmingly likely to be in the small Universe.

So, this is what the Doomsday Argument requires. Not just that (a) observers are detached from humans, but that (b) for some reason the Universe must be picked _before_ the random selection of a human in that Universe.

I think most rationalists would disagree with (a) (basically the argument that there's an unmeasurable Soul divorced from the physical body). So intellectual consistency means that such rationalists should also disagree with the Doomsday Argument. But, even if you agree with (a) philosophically, (b) is an actual math error. Probability is a measure over the (lowercase u) universe of possibilities, which for you, as a human, consists of all humans in all possible Universes. Constraining the concept to one pre-selected Universe, an awkward step, means you're no longer talking about "probability", the math concept with centuries of cachet behind it, but some sort of "philosophical probability" which looks similar but is basically made up for this Argument only.

I really don't like calling the argument against (b) the Self-Indication Assumption, because it makes it sound like this is a Serious Named Criticism of a Serious Named Theory. But it's not honestly even a clever criticism - it's just pointing out a logical error, after which you return to the unsurprising result that (to quote rationalwiki) "it doesn't make sense to argue from something that is 100% true (regardless of future events) to something uncertain in the future."

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I stopped worrying about the Doomsday Argument a long time ago, when I tried to generalize it to /all/ possible shapes of population trajectories [and not just exponentially rising curves with hard dropoffs ("doomsdays") at the right end] and realized it just generalized to "All other things being equal, you are more likely to have been born at a time when birth rates are high".

And, well, duh, yeah.

It's easy to predict a doomsday scenario when the only population trajectories you're considering assume an inevitable doomsday baked right into the model.

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if this is how good you are at writing cyberpunk, pls kindly switch to that ~entirely

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Check out his webnovel Unsong if you haven't.

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i've read it when it came out

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Gotcha. I too wish Scott wrote more of this stuff. Makes me feel things I didn't know I could feel

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Yeah, he really shines when he breaks into prose poetry

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Is there a definitive Scott approved paper version to get?

A quick search finds this promising one, should I choose it?

https://www.lulu.com/shop/scott-alexander/unsong/paperback/product-1q2qer8g.html?page=1&pageSize=4

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Cyberpunk is no longer a genre, it has blended too much with real life.

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On the one hand, we've got cryptocurrency, higher inequality, new recreational drugs,(fentanyl, kratom, synthetic marijuana) smartphones, hacktivist groups, less social conservatism, homeless encampments, and robots you can have a coherent conversation with.

On the other hand, there are some things present in the cyberpunk novels of 1975-1985 that are missing today. Cyberpunk was largely urban, while America has gone through short periods of mild urbanization followed by periods of mild de-urbanization. I feel like cyberpunk was predicting that a larger proportion of Americans would live in places like NYC. Cyberpunk largely missed one of the most consequential developments of the past half century, the rise in credentialism and academic inflation. Cyberpunk seemed to portray a "grow up faster" world, similar to blighted urban areas where you drop out of high school and enter the workforce(or crime) at age 17. Ours is more of a "grow up slower" world where you need more credentials to get jobs and more people live with their parents. (And people say kids are less mature, though that's hard to prove or disprove.) And the kind of inequality is different from the cyberpunk portrayal, which was more a clear, meat-and-potatoes kind of inequality. Some people have money, others don't, and everyone knows which side of it they're on. Instead, our kind of inequality is more concerned with education and status, such that a plumber can be "low class" even if he's making more than his college educated office drone neighbor. The phenomenon of the 30K millionaire posting fake vacation pics on Instagram is not something cyberpunk anticipated.

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Cyberpunk was a futuristic reflection on 80's japan, even when the story was set in the US.

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I'm feeling like it's a battle between Rudy Rucker and Peter Watts -- I'm just waiting to spot a vampire wearing a Happy Cloak while munching on a haunch of Wendy (if we're lucky, Rudy's more correct).

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Yes, this felt extremely Gibson-esque.

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Digital TV spoiled Neuromancer for me. Whenever I read the first paragraph I wonder why the sky would be saturated green.

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I’ve been feeling down about the SF real estate market for months. This is the reassurance I’ve been looking for. Thank you!

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*hugs* Hope you feel better.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

"I once thought about naming my daughter Saffron in its honor."

Are you and your wife expecting? If so, congrats!

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No, I've been thinking about what to name kids for at least the past ten years.

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"I'm just mad about Saffron" 😁

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmkwet9ZUCY

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I understand it works well as a dye, but a little expensive.

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founding

So, name her Yolanda or Bridget and wait?

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A man who obsessively ruminates upon children's names is a fool every day except for one. Or maybe two point one depending on his demographics.

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Not true. He can pass those names out to the needy, like the ant and the grasshopper.

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5 in my case. Though I still think the 5th got a fine but less than perfect name. - "thinking about" = "obsessively ruminating"? since when? - anyways: "S.A.S., shall his offspring outnumber the starlink-satellites in the sky!"

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Sidenote, do you actually enjoy the flavor of saffron? To me it tastes of honey squirted into swimming pool water.

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I am curious if that was actual Saffron or the imitation stuff.

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Actual saffron. Very clearly crocus stamens. I've cooked it myself and also had it in a fancy restaurant.

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Are all such possibilities conveniently memorable anagrams, or are you hoping something will shake out stochastically? If you don't mind humouring.

(Best pseudonymous name for a son: Grant Anonama.)

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Thank you.

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What's the pulse here now, is Kurzweil early or late with 2029 for the singularity/AGI/the end of the world?

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023Author

“A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

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As I recall, Gandalf was much later than the hobbits had been expecting him, so I'll take that as an esoterically promising answer.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

He was also in general much later than he should have been, though fortunately not too late to lose everything. I mean, when your main antagonist has a sentient artifact of immense power that has been lost, and that is known to have a will to try and return itself to him, any artifact even remotely resembling it suddenly showing up in the field should have triggered all the alarms. And the question of "how do we recognize The One Ring of Power among many other rings" should have been asked and answered centuries before by the interested parties. And yet it was ignored for 60 years. Good enough for government work, I guess?

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The resident expert on Rings of Power, and Gandalf's boss, was busy assuring everyone that the ring had been lost in the sea long ago, while he worked in secret to take control himself. By this reading all of Eliezer's AI alignment work is a ruse designed to slow down everyone else while he builds his own world-dominating technogod.

Presumably Palantir's role in both stories is exactly the same.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

Well, a Wizard shouldn't be duped as easily, I think. If someone who spent a lot of time researching AI risk suddenly comes out and says "folks, there's no AI risk at all, let's forget about it completely and dig into gender studies and enumerating all possible pronouns" - I think some people would suspect maybe he got a large investment in one of the new and rising AI startups going? I mean, that's why we have conspiracy nuts around, don't we? Yet, nobody suspected anything.

Also, I guess, that's one example why "Trust The Experts!"(TM) is not such a good idea as it seems?

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Well, Tolkien's whole narrative philosophy required the Good Guys to be dumb and incompetent enough to end up in position to have to snatch an unlikely victory from the jaws of defeat. He called it 'the eucatastrophe'. I'd say that it worked decently enough in The Hobbit, a fanciful silly tale that it is, but a reprise in the ostensibly more serious LotR definitely strains the suspension of disbelief.

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It wouldn’t be surprising to see a selection of AI ethics and similar arguments used to promote legislation whose real aim is cementing the market position of incumbents by building a regulatory moat. The current incumbents being Microsoft and OpenAI we know from whom to expect the push for more regulation.

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I haven't reread it recently enough, but was it actually known to gandalf that Sauron's power came from a ring? It definitely wasn't common knowledge. Furthermore, when did gandalf become aware that Sauron was still alive?

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"Alive" is not a good term, as Sauron was never dead, and couldn't possibly be ever dead. He's an angelic spirit, to use Christian-aligned analogy, so the gift of death is not available to him. Not that his disembodied formless existence outside of the material world is a lot of fun. Gandalf knew that Sauron is, so to say, re-coalescing for a while by the time of LOTR events. And it had to be expected, given without destroying The Ring his links to the material world could never be entirely severed and he was bound to return. And yes, it was widely known what The Ring is for (it's not exactly that all Sauron's power came from it - it's just a very significant part of it was invested into it) at least during the Second Age - the whole Isildur story is based on it, the Elves wanted Isildur to destroy The Ring (thus ending the link of Sauron to the material world and expelling him forever) but he wanted the power of the Ring to himself (that's how the Ring worked - the more powerful the owner was, the more they wanted to keep the Ring, that's why Gandalf or Elrond or Galadriel refused to even touch it) so he kept it. It did not end well, predictably. But then the Ring stayed lost for so long, everybody just kinda fell into the routine of considering it lost forever, even though it's not a good strategy with a sentient super-powerful artifact. In part, the supervisory role of Istari (the Wizards) was to kinda keep the long view on things, but they were also prone to going native. Tolkien has never been shy of depicting his characters as flawed, with all humanly faults and biases.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

"Tolkien has never been shy of depicting his characters as flawed, with all humanly faults and biases."

Indeed:

"But in this 'mythology' all the 'angelic' powers concerned with this world were capable of many degrees of error and failing between the absolute Satanic rebellion and evil of Morgoth and his satellite Sauron, and the fainéance of some of the other higher powers or 'gods'. The 'wizards' were not exempt, indeed being incarnate were more likely to stray, or err. Gandalf alone fully passes the tests, on a moral plane anyway (he makes mistakes of judgement). For in his condition it was for him a sacrifice to perish on the Bridge in defence of his companions, less perhaps than for a mortal Man or Hobbit, since he had a far greater inner power than they; but also more, since it was a humbling and abnegation of himself in conformity to 'the Rules': for all he could know at that moment he was the only person who could direct the resistance to Sauron successfully, and all his mission was vain. He was handing over to the Authority that ordained the Rules, and giving up personal hope of success.

That I should say is what the Authority wished, as a set-off to Saruman. The 'wizards', as such, had failed; or if you like: the crisis had become too grave and needed an enhancement of power. So Gandalf sacrificed himself, was accepted, and enhanced, and returned. 'Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.' Of course he remains similar in personality and idiosyncrasy, but both his wisdom and power are much greater. When he speaks he commands attention; the old Gandalf could not have dealt so with Théoden, nor with Saruman. He is still under the obligation of concealing his power and of teaching rather than forcing or dominating wills, but where the physical powers of the Enemy are too great for the good will of the opposers to be effective he can act in emergency as an 'angel' – no more violently than the release of St Peter from prison. He seldom does so, operating rather through others, but in one or two cases in the War (in Vol. III) he does reveal a sudden power: he twice rescues Faramir. He alone is left to forbid the entrance of the Lord of Nazgûl to Minas Tirith, when the City has been overthrown and its Gates destroyed — and yet so powerful is the whole train of human resistance, that he himself has kindled and organized, that in fact no battle between the two occurs: it passes to other mortal hands. In the end before he departs for ever he sums himself up: 'I was the enemy of Sauron'. He might have added: 'for that purpose I was sent to Middle-earth'. But by that he would at the end have meant more than at the beginning. He was sent by a mere prudent plan of the angelic Valar or governors; but Authority had taken up this plan and enlarged it, at the moment of its failure. 'Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done'. Sent back by whom, and whence? Not by the 'gods' whose business is only with this embodied world and its time; for he passed 'out of thought and time'. Naked is alas! unclear. It was meant just literally, 'unclothed like a child' (not discarnate), and so ready to receive the white robes of the highest. Galadriel's power is not divine, and his healing in Lórien is meant to be no more than physical healing and refreshment."

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I have it on good authority that negotiations between the Eagles and the FAA dragged on for most of that and eventually he just had to give up and start off on foot. Only a last-minute executive order allowed the Eagles to perform the extraction.

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Ah, the famous "why they just didn't use Eagles" question. Everybody asks it. The FAA take is probably the funniest one I've heard for a while.

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Though I appreciate Tolkien's own answer:

https://youtu.be/1-Uz0LMbWpI

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People who wanted to do LOTR film adaptations (animated and live action) did tend to over-use the Eagles and Tolkien was against it:

(1) "An abridgement by selection with some good picture-work would be pleasant, & perhaps worth a good deal in publicity; but the present script is rather a compression with resultant over-crowding and confusion, blurring of climaxes, and general degradation: a pull-back towards more conventional 'fairy-stories'. People gallop about on Eagles at the least provocation; Lórien becomes a fairy-castle with 'delicate minarets', and all that sort of thing."

(2) "Here we meet the first intrusion of the Eagles. I think they are a major mistake of Z, and without warrant.

The Eagles are a dangerous 'machine'. I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit of their credibility or usefulness. The alighting of a Great Eagle of the Misty Mountains in the Shire is absurd; it also makes the later capture of G. by Saruman incredible, and spoils the account of his escape. (One of Z's chief faults is his tendency to anticipate scenes or devices used later, thereby flattening the tale out.) Radagast is not an Eagle-name, but a wizard's name; several eagle-names are supplied in the book. These points are to me important.

...At the bottom of the page, the Eagles are again introduced. I feel this to be a wholly unacceptable tampering with the tale. 'Nine Walkers' and they immediately go up in the air! The intrusion achieves nothing but incredibility, and the staling of the device of the Eagles when at last they are really needed. It is well within the powers of pictures to suggest, relatively briefly, a long and arduous journey, in secrecy, on foot, with the three ominous mountains getting nearer.

Z does not seem much interested in seasons or scenery, though from what I saw I should say that in the representation of these the chief virtue and attraction of the film is likely to be found. But would Z think that he had improved the effect of a film of, say, the ascent of Everest by introducing helicopters to take the climbers half way up (in defiance of probability)? It would be far better to cut the Snow-storm and the Wolves than to make a farce of the arduous journey."

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Oh wow, I didn't realize Tolkien himself was salty about being better at linguistics than plot.

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For the better part of that I thought you were talking about Kurzweil.

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Bilbo was very secretive about the ring, gave conflicting stories about how he came to have it, and in general Gandalf only had rare opportunities to examine it; mostly he was aware that it was *a* magic ring, but what sort he wasn't sure, and he gauged it by its effect on Bilbo (which was not "oh crap he has just turned into a Nazgul" but "mostly he uses it to dodge his annoying relatives and I can't blame him for that").

There were all kinds of magical rings floating around, not all made by Sauron, and it was a case of "think horses, not zebras". It was only after thinking about it for a long time and doing independent research when he could (and Denethor wasn't any more eager than Saruman to let Gandalf poke his nose around) that he came to the conclusion that it was, indeed, the One Ring.

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Well, yes, he didn't examine it much. But if he *really* wanted to, he would get all the access he needed. It's not like Bilbo could resist a Wizard, and there's not much coercion that would be required either - a stern look probably would do it. He knew it's a magic ring - and he should have known "throw it into the fire" trick by then, which he neglected to research until much later - and that should have been enough to ID it. Yes, he thought horses, not zebras - which is OK to do except in the case where there's a human-eating superpowerful zombie zebra that might be lurking nearby and if you miss it, the whole world is going to be ruined. In that case, occasional thought of zebras may be warranted.

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Mar 20, 2023·edited Mar 20, 2023

Well, they already *had* the human-eating superpowerful zombie zebra on the doorstep, with the Necromancer setting up shop in Dol Guldur in Southern Mirkwood.

It's not like Gandalf and the White Council had nothing better to do all that time than gossip over tea! "Oh great, the One Ring has just turned up again? Well why the fiddlesticks not, throw some more gunpowder on the bonfire!"

"It's not like Bilbo could resist a Wizard, and there's not much coercion that would be required either - a stern look probably would do it."

And that is the *one* absolute forbidden thing for the Wizards, they are *not* permitted to coerce *any* being, even by stern looks. That's part of Saruman's fall - wanting to make others do things his way 'for their own good' and eventually making his own Orcs and Uruk-hai to control with his own will. Interference with any being's free will, even for 'their own good', is a big no-no and if you remember Tolkien was Catholic, you will understand why:

"Why they should take such a form is bound up with the 'mythology' of the 'angelic' Powers of the world of this fable. At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, and so that they should do what they were primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strengths; and not just to do the job for them. They thus appeared as 'old' sage figures."

And from a brief description of Gandalf the White:

"He is still under the obligation of concealing his power and of teaching rather than forcing or dominating wills,"

". But since in the view of this tale & mythology Power – when it dominates or seeks to dominate other wills and minds (except by the assent of their reason) – is evil, these 'wizards' were incarnated in the life-forms of Middle-earth, and so suffered the pains both of mind and body. They were also, for the same reason, thus involved in the peril of the incarnate: the possibility of 'fall', of sin, if you will. The chief form this would take with them would be impatience, leading to the desire to force others to their own good ends, and so inevitably at last to mere desire to make their own wills effective by any means. To this evil Saruman succumbed. Gandalf did not. "

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that in Tolkien's set-up, Gandalf could certainly have *asked* Bilbo to let his see and test the ring, but if Bilbo refused, Gandalf could not over-ride his refusal. Even just by a stern look.

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From what Gandalf says, while none of the rings were made by Sauron except the One, he had a hand in all great and lesser rings but the Three. Even if it's a lesser ring, it's basically a cursed object that Gandalf should probably have been more concerned about Bilbo continuing to possess.

Gandalf also says that he first "began to guess" before the Battle of Five Armies, and that he "wondered often how Gollum came by a Great Ring". Leaving aside when he found out that all the Great Rings but the One had gems, if he a) knew that it was a Great Ring, and b) knew that it wasn't one of the Three (whose disposition he knew), that doesn't leave any good alternatives just based on the rhyme "long known in Elven lore".

Best case is it's a Dwarven Ring, which was still under Sauron's influence and still not good for its owners, but at least wasn't on record as turning Dwarves into wraiths or slaves. Gandalf's assessment of Hobbit toughness may have led him to think they'd be more like Dwarves than Men on that score. But it still seems like sharing what he knew earlier (even if that wasn't everything) would have been better for Bilbo.

Though of course it raises the question what to do then. It presumably won't go uncollected, and Gandalf doesn't trust himself or the other Wise with it. So leaving it in Bilbo's hands while he tried to learn more may have seemed like the least worst thing he can do.

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Gandalf didn't exactly do *wrong* - all the actions you describe make sense. Except that he took way too long to do it - maybe because he was an immortal angel for whom the passage of time is not a serious limitation, maybe because there were other things he thought are more important at the time. Thus I think the line of "the Wizard is never late" may have to be understood a bit ironically - this particular Wizard is late so often it may be a habit.

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Iirc Kurzweil thinks AGI by 2029 and then the singularity by 2045. Where either date by itself is plausible, but the conjunction of them isn't (barring big governance interventions).

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Why not? Both are vague concepts, with wide latitudes for interpretations. For instance, some claim that the current crop of multimodal LLMs like PaLM-E and GPT-4 already qualify as weak AGIs, but the path from here to superintelliegnce isn't at all clear.

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Or for the "book is better" purists:

'Mithrandir! Mithrandir!’ men cried. ‘Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!’

‘It is upon you,’ said Gandalf. ‘I have ridden on its wings.'

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Gandalf really does live up to his name of 'Stormcrow' by the kind of encouraging things he says 😁

'Hush!' said Gandalf from the shadows at the back of the porch. 'Evil things do not come into this valley; but all the same we should not name them. The Lord of the Ring is not Frodo, but the master of the Dark Tower of Mordor, whose power is again stretching out over the world! We are sitting in a fortress. Outside it is getting dark.'

'Gandalf has been saying many cheerful things like that,' said Pippin. 'He thinks I need keeping in order. But it seems impossible, somehow, to feel gloomy or depressed in this place. I feel I could sing, if I knew the right song for the occasion.'

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Gandalf makes note: "Take Pippin to even scarier places to get him to take things seriously."

Pippin makes note: "Toss stone into well in the middle of orc-filled dungeon, steal wizard-ball and talk to Dark Lord, then address most powerful mortal ruler in Middle Earth en tutoyant."

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Maybe a little early. But surprisingly close, given the prediction's magnitude.

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2029 is right in the mark for the fastest take off, 11 years early for the median guess

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Very unsong like

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I expected "This is the kabbalah. The rest is just commentary." somewhere there!

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"...certainly they’re not so real that if you inscribe every word ever written onto a piece of glass then the glass comes to life and kills you. That’s just an urban legend." Loved this line.

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Same. The best references are the ones that you have to read twice and no normie will ever get.

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I got the reference to AIs trained on the contents of the Internet, but I don’t know which urban legend is being referred to. Care to enlighten me?

The legend of the Golem came to mind, but that was just one word, not every word ever written. There’s an Asimov short story about a group of monks writing out all the names of God, but it doesn’t quite fit either. So I got nothin’.

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My interpretation was that glass = silicon = computers and the "urban legend" is just straightforwardly "predictions of AI doom".

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Clarke, I think.

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Not Asimov but Clarke, "The Nine Billion Names of God", where Tibetan monks get the help of computer scientists to set up and run a computer that will calculate all the permutations of the possible names, and once this task is complete, then the Universe will end (having performed the task for which it was created).

Spoiler ending for any who have not read the story: look away now

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The swift night of the high Himalayas was now almost upon them. Fortunately, the road was very good, as roads went in that region, and they were both carrying torches. There was not the slightest danger, only a certain discomfort from the bitter cold. The sky overhead was perfectly clear, and ablaze with the familiar, friendly stars. At least there would be no risk, thought George, of the pilot being unable to take off because of weather conditions. That had been his only remaining worry.

He began to sing, but gave it up after a while. This vast arena of mountains, gleaming like whitely hooded ghosts on every side, did not encourage such ebullience. Presently George glanced at his watch.

"Should be there in an hour," he called back over his shoulder to Chuck. Then he added, in an afterthought: "Wonder if the computer's finished its run. It was due about now."

Chuck didn't reply, so George swung round in his saddle.

He could just see Chuck's face, a white oval turned toward the sky.

"Look," whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.)

Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

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Having read it, I wasn't spoiled; but for future reference, you can draw a more effective curtain for spoilers by rot-13ing them.

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