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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023Author

See https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yT22RcWrxZcXyGjsA/how-to-have-polygenically-screened-children for why I think this is predictive enough to be valuable now.

I think "may promote eugenic ideologies" is a kind of an unfair boo light, see https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/galton-ehrlich-buck for the sketch of an argument.

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I'd like to hear you explain why it's a bad thing.

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I'd hazard a guess that Emil isn't a big fan of certain (racial) demographics being sterilized/killed against their will.

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That seems to be a very different thing from embryo selection.

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But it's undeniably part of eugenic ideologies (https://wikipedia.org/wiki/eugenics), whose promotion is the thing he described as the aforementioned 'bad thing'.

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Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023

I do deny that individual selection promotes top-down sterilization. Scott cited this as an example of the "worst argument in the world" https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yCWPkLi8wJvewPbEp/the-noncentral-fallacy-the-worst-argument-in-the-world

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Good for you, that has nothing to do with what we wrote though. Not sure if you’re trolling or if English is a second language but just in case it’s the latter, when someone writes:

“using IQ and EA genetic predictors for embryo selection may promote eugenic ideologies (which I hope I don't need to explain why that may be a bad thing).”

the “that” refers to the sentence as a whole (“using IQ and EA genetic predictors for embryo selection may promote eugenic ideologies”) not just the “using IQ and EA genetic predictors for embryo selection” part.

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This is so irrelevant. If you go in with your partner to select which embryo gets implanted then ALL those embryos have the same racial makeup so this application doesn't affect this in the slightest.

That someone else who believes bad things believes something doesn't make it bad.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

Whatever critique you have about the effectiveness of PGS for EA, you must acknowledge that it's better than chance at predicting EA, even among non-European groups.

One could similarly argue that not wanting to help women make the most informed reproductive choice possible could promote anti-choice ideologies. What concern is "eugenics" if it means better informed reproductive choices that are consensual and improve human wellbeing?

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"Better than chance" isn't the same thing as "would ever be action guiding". If Emil above is to be believed, the <<15% of the variance explained between embryos from a couple is unlikely to overwhelm information about the relative healthspans of candidate embryos. I'm open to quantitative arguments showing that the probability that embryo choice would be affected by this information -- given reasonable assumptions about number of embryos to choose and relative weights assigned to healthspan and intelligence -- is sufficiently high to justify the project, but the point is that the argument has to be made, and "better than chance" doesn't cut it

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My point is in response to the critique that it is bad/worthless/unethical to even try to use this information. Whether using EA will be more important than health information is a second question that relies on certain assumptions about what makes a good life as well as expectations about the future. I expect some diseases to be basically cured in the next half century, and so I see selection on the basis of psychological characteristics as more worthwhile. Of course, it invovles certain trade offs, and I would not totally dismiss longevity. Investigating the possible returns is worthwhile, and in an instance in which two embryos have similar estimated lifespans, EA could serve as a tie breaker. It's not really an one or the other type situation.

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welp, I've independently read 40-80% genetic causality estimates for educational attainment.

And anyway, even if it's 25%, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Information > no information.

Re: it is eugenics, yes, but it's not unethical. You *do* have to explain why it is bad.

Re: unique difficulties for this problem - just because something is difficult, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

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EA being heritable at 40-80% doesn't mean that we actually have predictors to estimate EA to that accuracy.

"Information > no information" is only true if there's enough content in the information to guide choices between embryos, and there isn't in current best EA PGSs

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Imagine I give you 6 siblings. You must estimate who has the highest EA. I have a piece of paper in an envelope with their EA PGSs. Would you throw the envelope away? Obviously, not. It would help inform your choice.

In the case of embryos, you can imagine that you value health 5x as much as EA and traits like that. STILL, you would want to know EA because it can help inform your choice even if the variance explained by the PGS is low. For example, imagine you see the healthiest embryo but the EA PGS is extremely extremely low. Should you disregard that information? I think now. You are at risk of having a psychologically impaired child. If you think there is a low risk of that, you can weigh that risk to factor into your decision. Throwing out information is not useful.

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Educational Attainment as a proxy for IQ.

So if I have an undergraduate degree in Gender Studies I'm Officially Smart, am I?

When I consider the amount of "pshhh, stupid dumb liberal arts degrees" sniping that goes on here, clearly only Real Eggheads Do Real Degrees That Are Hard Science is the measure everyone means for educational attainment and IQ.

But go right ahead guys, select your future Queering Glaciers Via Indigenous Ways Of Knowing degree students with this great new tool, what could possibly go wrong?

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This is a very obnoxious response.

Not all highly educated people have the traits of gender studies majors. Selecting for EA will be generally good, even if not all highly educated people have good ideas. Extremely high levels of intelligence would, in my view, move us away from stuff like gender theory.

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A curious question might be whether EA is a better or worse proxy than how rich you are. Scott himself gives one way the two are conflated in https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/why-match-school-and-student-rank; coming from the other side, commenters in this very substack have in the past unironically suggested that we skip the research bit and just straight up pay rich people to donate to sperm banks, because in a just world there must obviously be correlation between how rich one is and heritable qualities people might desire for their children.

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EA as a proxy for IQ is a blunt instrument. Back when getting a college degree was unusual and mostly for the very smart but poor, or for the sons of the gentry, then having a degree = smart/well-off tracked.

Nowadays, there's a push for 'everyone must go to college'. By brute EA measurement, using the kinds of questions used in sample tests and studies: "high school dropout? College graduate? PhD? Etc", means that a degree is a degree is the same, be it a BA in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Studies from Evergreen State College or a BSc in Statistics from Harvard.

Of course people will refine that down to "this university is better than that university" and "this course is better than that course" but if you're selecting embryos, you're not selecting "STEM degree versus Arts degree".

Jeff Bezos is smart; he graduated from Princeton with a BSc in Engineering. What did he make his fortune from? Selling things online. If you're selecting for "EA = success in life", again, you have no idea where the locus for "will become a billionaire" versus "will remain poor as church mouse but does fascinating research into beetle wings" is located when you're checking the genes.

It's the same problem as AI - what you *think* you're asking for, and what you *get* out of it, are not necessarily the same things.

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When you write of heritability within families do you just mean the proportion of variance within that family explained by genetic variance?

This might not be correct, but considering the case of intra-offspring variance (which seems relevant in this case) and taking heritability to mean narrow-sense heritability, I think we can take the intra-offspring additive genetic variance to be half the total additive variance (i.e., the Mendelian sampling variance) and so, uncharitably assuming all other variances remain as large as in the general population, we can take a intra-offspring heritability of $\frac{h^2}{2-h^2}$ (i.e. where $\frac{h^2}{2-h^2}$ is the proportion of intra-offspring variance explained by additive genetic variance).

Given the apparently quite large heritabilities of educational achievement and scores on IQ tests, the intra-sibling values remain substantial. The relative sizes of the heritabilities are bounded below by 1/2 – even in the worst case, the intra-sibling heritability is at least half the population heritability.

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Actually, I am not sure I quite understood what you meant, when you say that the heritability drops substantially within families, do you just mean the SNP estimates of heritability?

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Not to mention the costs and risks associated with IVF/PGT and resulting pregnancies and the disparities in access it would exacerbate because it most certainly would not be covered by insurance.

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Let's say a bunch of what you find is pure confounders. Ok, so what? It's effectively random noise so it shouldn't hurt or harm either way.

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These are some terrible ideas which will result in massive deadweight loss.

If we had examples of people fleeing capitalist countries for communist ones, you might have a point about avoiding each extreme, but net population movement is instead always from communist to capitalist ones.

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Arbitrary wealth cap would only provoke elaborate holding-company schemes, dividing everything up into chunks just below the cap and obfuscating ultimate ownership - that sort of thing already happens, even with far less extreme incentive gradients. Georgist land value tax and UBI is a far better solution.

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I probably can't help directly, but I would happily throw (a middle-class amount of) money at encouraging it.

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Hello! DM me @freeshreeda / email shreedashreeda at gmail dot com!!! I have a team working on an MVP right now. Happy to share details :)

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Donations def welcome as well

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Did you read what Scott said? Unwise to compete with us at manifold.love 😛

More seriously — happy to chat and trade ideas. Especially interested in the marketing aspect.

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Sure let's chat. Shoot me a message

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It would be unwise if we were *primarily* building for rationalists, which we're not. Our thesis is we need a bigger cross-section of subcultures for a meaningful enough seed market to beat the cold start problem. Though incentive design is an important factor in designing dating products (that modern dating apps fail to fulfill), it won't work for branding either, i.e. gives a lot of people the ick.

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Nice. Sent you a message!

Of course. Our marketing won't center on prediction markets.

Our biggest insight is actually having a public directory of profiles. It sounds like it wouldn't work because people value privacy, but that's not actually true, or not completely true anyway.

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I can also help, and it is an area of interest for the company I'm forming (the goal of the company is to create services whose metric for success is people feeling closer to friends/family, and feeling more satisfied and contented at the end of using the service for any extended period of time).

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Hello! DM me @freeshreeda / email shreedashreeda at gmail dot com!!! I have a team working on an MVP right now. Happy to share details :)

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I'd love to work on this too!

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Hello! DM me @freeshreeda / email shreedashreeda at gmail dot com!!! I have a team working on an MVP right now. Happy to share details :)

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Commented on the master thread with some details but would absolutely love your help!

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I used 2011 OKC. It was full of women looking for single men near them...for new friends. After a week of messaging, you'd ask someone out and they'd say "uuuuhhhhhhhhh, that's really fast, I dunno, I'm uncomfortable, you're weird for asking." The longform text thing was just used by women to list their ever-growing sexualities and gender identities. And all this was before the Geek Blood War.

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I also used 2011 OKC (okay it was probably more like 2013). The long form text definitely wasn't just for queer identity lists, and I successfully got a nerdy girlfriend out of it. No offense, but based on the tone of your comment, I suspect you just failed the vibe check with most of these "week of messaging" and they just weren't interested. Dating as a man just sucks, but OKC at least sucked less for having conversation starters.

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There was A Geek Blood War? Who won, and what were the spoils?

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I've met a wife and two partners on OKCupid. The last was maybe 4-5 years ago.

Yes, it was really, really grindy. And OKC has gone downhill since then. But as dating sites go, it was better than any other site I've used. (Which, perhaps, isn't saying much, I admit.)

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Some thoughts:

Cluster people. If you're in the bottom 20% (exact cluster sizes aren't important), you only see other users in the bottom 20%. Clustering is performed by evaluating the ratio of messages sent, to the ratio of messages responded to (plus some minimum threshold of messages, and possibly additionally some minimum level of "effort invested", as measured by, for example, matching questions answered), and is separated by gender. This discourages mass-messaging people, and encourages women to message men (as otherwise they're left in the default cluster). Also plausibly helps set people's expectations more reasonably.

Simultaneously, limit the number of new conversations per day; 5 is probably a good target.

If the goal is to avoid becoming yet another Dating App: open-source the project. Possibly host it in a P2P network; if so, encrypt everything at the user level.

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This sounds like a great idea, but it also sounds like you'd need a lot of people to make it work. The big challenge is getting the first few hundred people (ideally playing off of some kind of existing connection. Facebook started out on college campuses, for example.)

I'd love to see an open source generic connection matching app. It doesn't have to be just for dating. I worked a very long while back for MyMuse which was like a dating site but for artistic collaboration. It didn't seem to go anywhere, but it had prepared a nice hard launch. ... I kindof wonder why it foundered, but suspect it was for technical reasons.

The URL is still up and claims to be 'by invitation only.' So... maybe it eventually launched?

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Clustering could still create a problem of best-within-a-cluster getting overwhelmed. If you're going to limit who can contact who, better fix would be to have a slightly different range for each user - can't proactively contact someone more than one standard deviation away, for example.

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Hello! I'm building manifold.love. Reach out to me at james@manifold.markets

Happy to hear suggestions, but especially interested in solving the marketing problem of getting more users for our site if anyone has any thoughts.

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I could help out anyone taking #1.

I don’t have the bandwidth to do it myself, but a lot of experience analyzing EEG data and could help out with analysis or connect to people who could.

One idea would also be to reach out to the folks at MUSE (https://choosemuse.com) and ask them if they’re willing to help with infrastructure and even finding somebody to do this.

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I also have a lot of professional experience working with EEG data, and possibly access to hardware. Happy to collaborate on this, and organize efforts if needed.

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I would be interested in helping out with this project. My experience with EEG only comes from a university intro class but recently I've been looking for projects where I could delve deeper into it. With some guidance, I'd be happy to take up any work throughout this project.

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Nov 8, 2023·edited Nov 8, 2023

Are there any consumer grade EEG devices (MUSE?) that a person can use to determine their own alpha brain rhythm? I'm interested doing a little citizen science on my own, but I'm not entirely clear on whether MUSE presents you with the data you need to extrapolate that.

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In principle MUSE can measure alpha; https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.11.02.466989v1.full

In practice you have to hack the device. The default app itself doesn’t offer that information.

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For EEG bands/caps, consider:

https://zeto-inc.com/ or

https://ceribell.com/

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Hey Jona, I'm taking lead on the EEG project: check out Scott Alexander's announcement on Open Thread #304 (https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/open-thread-304)

Could you please give me your email so I can get in touch with you? Perhaps the easiest way to do so is simply dropping me a short email to the email address provided in my intro google doc (linked by Scott in the OT#304 announcement, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SGwxQ_vdIkzM1ppVcpNxgqYnXTDNerPFgyWLBQzFa1g/edit?usp=sharing )

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Hi Sasha,

I went through the entire thread and request/funding page, and it seems that everything you are looking for just can be found at Neiry.

https://neiry.ru/

https://startupbubble.news/startup-showcase-neiry-revolutionizing-neurotech-for-a-better-future/

- They produce their own EEG devices, which are more advanced than MUSE's.

- They provide data through an API for your own experiments, and they have an impressive lab with a superior R&D track record with top scientists.

- They are open and actually offer collaboration in the form of an Accelerator. They actually publicly call and encourage scientists/engineers to play with their devices/data, build your own product based on what they developed so far.

They might provide you with both data and hardware to boost your research and attempts to build something with their help.

Just check them out.

Also, their founder, Alexandr Panov, is an amazing guy and is open to requests from any interested and talented researchers. I highly recommend getting in touch with him, his TG channel is

https://t.me/itakblet

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Hey, thanks for the link! Definitely looks interesting and I subscribed to the telegram channel but their EEG system seems to record the data only from 4 electrodes and not the ones we want (the ones we want for entrainment are in the back of the head)

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Hey,

I'm not an expert in this field, so I might miss something here. But since I've been following them for a few years, it seems absolutely worth it to get in contact with them for a few reasons:

They might have other devices or prototypes of devices not currently announced on their website or ready for retail, as they've spent years on hardware.

Regarding the zones to interact on the back of the head: again, I suggest contacting them directly. Through communication, you might change your opinion on which electrodes you need. They might supply you with some new data, or they might even have a data library that will help you with your research, etc.

As a bottom line, it seems you've made a whole way down to Scott's announcements and funding, so at least talking with the company who is your focus directly is something more than worth doing.

Best of luck with it anyway.

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Yeah, I agree that there is very little downside and a lot of upside in reaching out, so I'll almost certainly will do it! Thanks for the links!

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re: 4. My crazy idea for language teaching

I've recently bumped into the idea at one Giacomo Miceli's website:

https://www.jamez.it/project/the-adventures-di-pinocchio/

I've written him to ask about the prospects but never got an answer. His other finished projects suggest he is up the challenge skillwise, I suppose labour is the only thing left to invest. Perhaps if you wrote him as well he would be more inclined to follow through.

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This looks amazing. If Giacomo Miceli is currently an Italian teacher or tutor, it would be interesting to get his thoughts on using this type of text as a teaching tool. Could it replace standard grammar/drills/memorization? Or is it more of a supplement?

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I was also fascinated by it. He is nothing of this sort, however. From his site's bio:

"Giacomo Miceli is a creative coder, entrepreneur and computer scientist originally from Rome, Italy. Currently viator maximus in the Orion Arm, he enjoys visual exploration and semantic amazement. He doesn’t enjoy writing in the third person."

Anyhow, I think any input could replace all of those, though memorization and learning explicit grammar rules helps.

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Hi Mark - Giacomo here. Thanks for mentioning my project here. I never got your message, please send it again.

About the language teaching idea -- it doesn't work practically. It would only work if you had thousands and thousands of pages because, especially in the beginning, in-context learning takes a lot of content to make sense.

It did make for a pretty book though.

If anyone is interested, I think sentence-level and word level contextual translation, both audio and textual, could go a long way. I haven't done a survey of the app landscape recently, but back when I wrote this in 2016 there was nothing of the like. https://www.jamez.it/blog/2016/12/30/idea-for-a-frictionless-bilingual-reader-my-way/

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I agree. I think it's one thing to figure out the meaning of a word where it's substituted in a context that makes it easy (where it carries little Shannon information), but this decoding is short of learning the word proper, which would likely still be unfamiliar when encountered in a surprising context.

Still, it could work, but as you say, the text would have to be long. Even if it was not any long text but one engineered to facilitate the process, still it would be very long.

There's a kind of natural instance of this process, spanning generation rather than one individual's life. I suppose the transition from Old through Middle to Modern English was akin to this. At the edges you have languages whose speakers would not understand each other, but along the way was a gradient of speakers who understood their contemporaries.

My message was rather short, I might as well stick it here:

Awesome projects that you are working on.

Will The Adventures Di Pinocchio be available to the public by any means at any time? I'd be very interested.

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Indeed, semantic drift is all around us, always!

Thank you for your kind words. I'm (slowly) setting up a shop on my website to sell, among other things, that book. I'll shoot you a message once it's ready.

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Please do!

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Nov 24, 2023·edited Nov 24, 2023

Hi Giacomo, I would also love to buy your Pinocchio book! If it ever happens (I read you only now start setting up a shop) I would immediatley place an order. It resonates exactly with how I talk italo-english with a friend.

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Hi elnicc, did you send me an email by any chance? Your username looks familiar. Short version - I'm collecting email addresses of people interested that I can notify once everything is up and running. Write me on jamez at jamez dot it.

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I used to encourage my English students to pick up a book they loved in their home language, preferably from their early teens, and read it in English translation. Read it aloud. Ignore words you don't know, don't look them up. You already know the story well, know the characters and what is going to happen, so do your best reading for enjoyment. These days, you can listen to popular novels, so it's easy to to practice listening and reading, self correction.

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I think you may have an incorrect understanding of how time consuming software engineering is. 😁 Your estimates remind me of estimates made by junior engineers who imagine everything will go perfectly on the first try and they will not run into any problems.

Sadly, the reality is that if you want an actual production piece of software (meaning something that is packaged up and can actually be used by real people, not just your dev buddies) it takes orders of magnitude longer than the "happy path" estimate. 😢

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To be fair, building a website used to be a weekend's work 15-20 years ago. I distinctly remember how easy it was to toss together some HTML designs and javascript into a few PHP pages and have a functioning website. The modern web is many things but it is not quick to develop for I will agree there.

As for the "reusable piece of software" I think plenty of people in a community like this are willing to go through *some* technical steps for a good piece of software. Heck, see most stable diffusion installs. The open source EA project could for example be more "dev buddy" leaning.

My point is I agree on the website ones, less so on the discrete algorithm ones.

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> building a website used to be a weekend's work 15-20 years ago

With the advent of web 2.0, the definition of ”website” largely changed from ”text file” to ”dynamic application with a backing db.” You can still make a static site in a couple hours, but that’s usually not what’s being asked for.

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For clarity to anyone following along, the initial publishing of this article had more specific numbers for the programming tasks. The current revision is a bit more vague, which helps significantly. 😄

I was imagining that the psychological test would be something that you could distribute to people (maybe online) and they would be able to use it, or have a website where people can easily generate tests. However, I suppose maybe the target audience is a few highly motivated people running psychology experiments who are willing to put in some elbow grease in order to get things up and running.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

> With the advent of web 2.0, the definition of ”website” largely changed from ”text file” to ”dynamic application with a backing db.” You can still make a static site in a couple hours, but that’s usually not what’s being asked for.

PHP could do dynamic content and access the DB. I was not describing a static site. While you are right the change of the definition of website from text page to dynamic application is part of the issue. The text file days were not necessarily that static, static is a different thing.

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Maybe it should have been said outright — 20 years ago we talked about an explicit category of advanced users, people who wouldn't want to learn the exact strictures necessary for many-many-thousands-of-lines programming, but were willing to read and understand ten pages of relevant text at once before trying the software, if given a compelling reason. They also could be convinced to ignore the visuals when the functionality matched their needs and reliabilty were acceptable.

If the target audience is «Scott Alexander's writing is not too long» intersected with «annoyed that ACX Substack is more modern-Web than SSC», maybe it is a good idea to target the estimates given and cut down the mission creep?

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Pro-tip: the tools to quickly create websites still exist. Contrary to common belief, not every website must be designed to scale to millions of concurrent users, run on AWS, be based on bloated JS libraries, have a microservice architecture and be backed by a NoSQL database.

Even the latest browsers with their fancy JS engines and GPU support will still be able to render https://blog.fefe.de/ quite well.

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That looks super conservative to me? Let's look at the dating site one -> 100s of hours and thousands for hosting cost?

With free-tier cloud services you don't need to pay _any_ cloud costs. 100s of hours for a software engineer? You can build a pretty involved website with that.

This would only be inflated if your engineer is a junior with no experience.

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For the genetic testing for education attainment thing, I think that the main work will be figuring out the correlations and creating a simple proof of concept CLI program which just prints a few probability estimates.

I agree that this is commonly the end result of open source software developed by hobbyists (certainly for my projects). Investing time to make it usable for the masses of Windows users which are unwilling to do a git clone and follow a few lines of compilation instructions sounds a lot less rewarding.

Luckily, the transition from arcane CLI utility to website usable by anyone can be accomplished by throwing money at the problem. The results for "turn this tool into a website" seem to me way more predictable than "study correlations between genome and EdAt, and see if you can predict the latter" (which sounds more like a master thesis or something). Given that Scott clearly cares about that project, I think that he might be willing to spend a few thousand euros to create and host a single-purpose website, as well as coping with the "How a website tries to create the world of Gattaca" stories which will inevitably appear.

For the IAT, I think that building a basic version using java script is probably not all that hard for proficient web devs. Making it so that people can upload their own tests would be a bit more work, but "upload a zip file with four directories, A, not-A, B, not-B with images and word lists" seems a compromise between "the modal internet user can probably do this" and avoiding having to implement a full-blown editor with image support and everything. (The real problem with the IAT is see is hosting a site where everyone can post pictures. Someone will intentionally create tests which are offensive on purpose, so you want to have moderators or something.)

For dating websites, user interfaces are of course more central than that. But I don't think people generally go "this website is using less than four javascript libraries. I can even load it on my five year old phone. This is horrible." Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter and so on all started small. The bloat will come on its own.

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My impression is that part of the difficulty of creating modern websites is that they need to run on multiple platforms, including cell phones.

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This is definitely a notable time sink. The easiest way is to make it work on a relatively small device, in which case it will "work" on the larger device (but just be super annoying because it wastes a huge amount of screen space). Ideally though, you would build something that properly scales up and down based on available resolution like you suggest, but this is a quite time consuming process to get right.

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I gather that it can't be automated, and if it could be automated, the requirements would change soon enough that the automation wouldn't work any more.

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There are definitely people who are building tools to make it easier to build responsive websites (websites that work on all resolutions), and things have improved greatly over the years. I suspect things will continue to improve, but at the moment it still takes at least some thought and effort to build a proper responsive webpage.

You can half-ass it (like most people do) and get something that works at like 2 resolutions ("phone" and "desktop"). This is notably less work than something that works at all resolutions and it is often considered "good enough". This website is an example of such a thing, it works at a few resolutions and it feels "bad" at others but not too terrible.

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A laypersons's question: Is #1 somehow related to neurofeedback?

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Technically different things. Neurofeedback involves giving someone a readout of their own brain activity in real-time so they can try to alter it towards a certain goal. #1 involves measuring someone's brain activity and altering the external stimuli to match it. The former is internal change, the latter is external change.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

Based on how much latin and ancient greek I've picked up just from reading acoup.blog every week, and how I enjoy reading sci-fi or fantasy with passages in constructed languages, I feel like the language teaching novel is a great idea. It would require a lot of skill to do well though, not just in both languages but also a literary sensibility.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

Absolutely. We have examples in fiction of intelligent systems that optimise presentation of material to enhance learning (e.g. the AI in Enders Game, or the Young Ladies Illustrated Primer from the Diamond Age). It seems that if we take what we know about learning and spaced repetition, throw in a dash of AI to make it hang together and gamification to enhance motivation, we should be able to create something really outstanding for getting people to fulfill their learning potential.

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I'm keen on this too, but current life situation doesn't really allow me to work on it. It's something I hope to get to at some point, or that someone else will build it and I'll get to use it.

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I am definitely interested in this sort of thing.

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I'm interested and have bandwidth to work on it.

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I am definitely interested in working on this. Actually I am currently trying to work on something like this for my job as a physics and math teacher.

However, I have to admit I am rather skeptical whether this would ever become a revolutionary technology. The reason for this is: There are already people creating games, movies, and various apps for the sole purpose of entertainment. 99% of these fail, for the simple reason that they are competing against other, slightly more entertaining games. If you were to make an educational system, whether it would be like a game or something like TikTok it would still have to compete against actual games and actual TikTok. With the handicap of having to be educational for real you would almost certainly lose.

Now, with my main point of skepticism stated clearly, how do one volunteer for this project?

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Nov 4, 2023·edited Nov 4, 2023

This is an extremely good point. There are mitigating factors though - while such a system should aim to be as motivating as the best games/movies/apps, there is a level of motivation that comes from learning too that those games/movies/apps don't generally have access to. Another factor is that what counts as success - while what I envisage would aim to make profit, it wouldn't necessarily have to make profit at the level of a hits based industry, it'd be aiming at something a bit longer term. Finally, within reason I think such a system shouldn't worry too much about cloning what works - in most entertainment, too obvious a clone is something to be ashamed of and some level of pushing the boundaries is expected, but if the entertainment is only one part of the goal, I think that cloning successful mechanics is more acceptable.

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Rather than "educational for real" being a handicap, a pill whose foul taste the rest of the meal is obligated to conceal, think of it as a potential spice in its own right, key ingredient for reaching an under-served demographic: people who are currently making a conscious choice to avoid TikTok and similar because, while tempted by the empty rhythms of entertainment, they want to actually be learning things.

If entertainment can survive having "offensive content" excluded, or being bound to various political agendas, it can surely also cope with a requirement to convey particular scientific knowledge. "Edutainment" got a bad name because of a principle-agent problem between the schools or parents making purchasing decisions, and the kids who'd actually end up using it.

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For whatever it's worth, there has been a paper that looked into the utilization of machine learning for the optimization of flash card presentation (trading off number of repetitions with long-term retention) which another person implemented as an add-on for Anki. You feed your Anki history into it, it spits out a vector of parameters which you then put back into the add-on's config file.

https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3534678.3539081?cid=99660547150

https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/759844606

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Don't we need the chunks first, though?

Given that Wiki Walk is a pretty real cognitohazard for a large enough chunk of people for initial prototyping, like how do we construct topic-specific hypertexts to use it for good?

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Some gamified wiki setup that rewards people with points and badges for contributing snippets of knowledge? But it also needs some scoring/rating system for accuracy and understandability.

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Apparently even without badges people end up tracking the stats one way or another. Not simplifying things to Wikipedia's «article quality», but separating accuracy, «level», and maybe «text quality» — that sounds like a good idea.

Probably different levels could be useful, but unclear how to structure them to avoid duplication of accuracy checks…

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Separating writing quality and technical-detail accuracy seems like it could be reasonably straightforward, but rather than "level" as a scalar value, I'd recommend laying it out as a directed graph of prerequisite subjects: "this explanation assumes you already know X" and "once you think you've got this figured out, see Y for more advanced aspects."

Specialists are notoriously bad at judging how many steps their specialty is from genuinely common knowledge, https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/2501:_Average_Familiarity ...but mapping out immediately adjacent parts of the tech tree seems like a much easier problem, and then those can congeal into a wider map.

Another useful feature could be explicit tagging for different degrees of epistemic rigor. Rather than categorically excluding original research, make that flow naturally from someone reaching the end of a documented prerequisite chain and realizing they know what ought to come next.

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Actually, there's a thought: the sum total of a subject (say, Maths) probably shouldn't look like a long page of serial prose and pics, ie a textbook.

Is it more like a vast directed graph of info snippets?

If so, what are the nodes in this graph? Can we do better than plaintext - declare subtypes like "concepts", "techniques" and so on?

How would procedural knowledge and other non-text stuff fit into it?

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Wiki walks live exactly on the non-serial nature, and yes I find them desirable.

Nodes are probably pieces of explanation, and getting granularity right is probably hell. Depending on the background, people need different amount of details, but might also prefer different points of view on the same facts…

Procedural knowledge is kind of a trap; procedural knowledge like «what is a proof and what is not» is still not easy to transfer without human feedback, but it kind of needs to be learned once… the easier to define procedural knowledge is often needs replacement anyway (e.g. guiding symbolic-algebra systems is a different skill than computing derivatives by hand, and we are not good at defining the former yet)…

So maybe «how to replace textbooks with something less linear» is an unbounded enough project not to think about the not-text-with-images part yet. Of course if there a picture can be easily made parametric and someone volunteers, that's a cool contribution, but this improvement is not aiming at the core of the non-text-stuff issue.

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I often think about how computer based learning for kids has mostly been a wash in term of results, and how I'd fix it. When I see kids use the software it looks like a flash intro from 2001.

Imagine if we created a reading or Math program that was as well designed and cost as much to make as a triple-A game. How awesome would it be?

I think you need to use game dynamics to get people to learn, very high reward values for leveling up, competition with your friends. Teams to create social dynamics where you want to succeed. You'll need to use AI to understand where they are and help them achieve mastery. You need large scale to run A/B tests to see what gets kids learning faster and more reliably. There i

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They were obviously not designed for that end, but regular computer games in a foreign language (the more text the merrier) already accomplish that. That's how I learned most of my English. I'm sure I'm not alone. Luckily many games today are released with localisation to major languages.

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I've used YouTube shorts for that, I guess these are equivalent. They are short, loop by default and often have transliteration on the screen. When it's only marginally eluding your comprehension, after a few times you understand it completely, a few words to lookup notwithstanding.

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Another key feature that distinguished 2011 OKCupid from what followed is the thumbnail display of profiles, sorted by match percentage. It enabled you to "browse" instead of being pushed into making a binary decision one random profile at a time.

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Yes, this is key.

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On language learning (#4) -- There are web plugins that substitute foreign vocabulary words into your webpages as you read, with a slider for how far down the vocabulary list you want to replace. Since most of the page is still in English, you pick up the meaning of the words by context. Since I mostly just want to be able to read foreign languages, and the hardest part of that is vocabulary (you can mostly just ignore word-ending changes) I find this pretty useful.

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Anything usable on android?

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Could you send the plugin? This seems pretty cool!

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The main issue with the language learning idea I think is that it’s fundamentally a translation learning style, which is not how polyglots tend to recommend learning languages. Instead you want to think of a language as a tool that you use on the world. Japanese is not just English but with a different vocabulary and grammar style, it’s an entirely different way of conceptually interacting with the world.

I do think this might be useful for learning more vocabulary within the same language; though. Chapter 1 uses basis vocabulary, chapter two starts replacing “good” with “excellent” and so on.

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Typos and can’t edit on my phone: “basic” not “basis”

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> it’s an entirely different way of conceptually interacting with the world.

It may be that, but it's not clear to me that existing teaching methods really give you any of that either. And even if you don't get it directly, most people aren't trying to be polyglots, they just want basic translational and understanding skills.

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I think the low end of language learning will probably be replaced by AI tools. Anyone that isn’t committed to the massive project of learning another language will just use a quick translation tool.

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> most people aren't trying to be polyglots, they just want basic translational and understanding skills

This is a false dichotomy, and the largest group slips through the cracks. Most language learners are learning a single second language, and while they don’t expect to become fluent, they do want to be able to perform basic social interactions and have simple conversations.

And this modest goal is incredibly hard to acheive. It absolutely requires the language-as-tool framing Kiefer is proposing.

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I'm not so sure - if there was a way to have basic translation even without a different conceptualization of the world, I think a lot of people would use it, especially if it was easier than existing methods. Though to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what you're claiming is preventing people from having basic conversations using "just" translations. Do you mean something about the culture, like levels of formality in Japanese?

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You can’t learn to play basketball from watching tape. You have to practice running, dribbling, jumping, shooting, and critically, you have to get real world feedback from your actions. Language is the same.

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Ah, so even if you are able to make it to the end of the book, you aren't going to be able to speak it properly? I see what you mean.

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I’m skeptical that you *would* make it to the end of the book. It would be like trying to learn a single piece of music - but never practicing scales, never improvising, never listening to new songs. If it’s any harder than three blind mice, you’ll probably never learn the song. And even if you did, it wouldn’t generalize.

We already know how to learn languages - spend hours and hours on every aspect, most importantly conversation. (This is expensive, but eg italki is really your best bet.)

If you want to accelerate language learning, that’s great. But what is missed by Scott (and Duolingo for that matter) is that you have to have some grasp of what actually works.

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Given that English is my second language I can (anecdotally) affirm that using a foreign language to order some food/ask for something/etc/etc basic kindergarten stuff doesn’t require one to use another’s language conceptualisation

Basically if you speak somewhat similar language (I speak Russian, for example) natively, then it’s possible for you to have simple communications translating a phrase in your native language word-by-word. It doesn’t give you much of a conceptual understanding but definitely allows you to have all sorts of basic conversations

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Also, the things that startle me in my-second-language written by my-fourth-language native speakers are traceable to vocabulary (two things being expressible by the same word aren't always even considered close in the target language…). Sure, it's all European languages, though.

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Well, yeah

I happen to know some hebrew and it doesn’t seem too hard to use the same “translate everything verbatim and dgaf about syntax”, but sometimes I wonder would I be able to do so in, say, Chinese or some African languages

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Nov 4, 2023·edited Nov 4, 2023

Sometimes translations done by non-first language speakers are technically correct, but um...

My two favourite examples of this come from old foreign language movies with subs done in English.

One was a Chinese martial arts/historical fantasy movie. The group of heroes gets beaten up by the baddies until New Guy turns up to assist them and turn the battle. Afterwards, they're injured, so he invites them back to his house for medical attention:

"Come back with me and get plastered!"

That's - not the correct phrase in this context, though I see where you're going 😁

(Get plastered, in Irish/British English, means "get drunk". I'm presuming they meant to convey he was inviting them back to get sticking plasters,* or mustard plasters**, or plaster of Paris for casts and the like for their wounds and injuries).

*https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sticking-plaster

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_plaster

Second is an old Tamil language mythological/devotional movie, where the god Shiva is speaking with his spouse Parvati about how pleased he is with her devotion and his general state of contentment:

"I'm feeling groovy".

Probably very current English at the time this was being translated, but again - not what we'd use for this context.

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And, I guess, the dichotomy is very real, there is a barrier between being understood and being able to phrase something in a way that’s possible for other speaker to understand verbatim.

There is no discrete threshold for that, I suppose, since you sorta gradually learn what the appropriate grammar is, etc, but it seemingly makes sense to distinguish speaking other language with extra signals (e.g. hand waves) and word-by-word translations from speaking other language while staying completely or almost completely in syntactic norms

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I had five years of English classes at school, but what actually really taught me English was reading books, fanfiction and watching movies in English, all completely passive activities with no language-as-a-tool component. Yes, speaking lacked elegance and flow and I only got better at that (and oh, pronunciation! stress patterns!) when I started regularly having conversations in English, but 90% of my skill is from media consumption.

I've long wanted translations in the style that Scott describes. I think some people approach language learning as a vocabulary memorization game and the flow, style, idiosyncrasies of the language as unimportant (and sure, it is, if all you need is to get very basic points across - but it's the best part of another language!)

I think what I want to get at here is that it's less of a translation than usual translations, because they translate the stuff that gives a feel for the language and the grammar first, and the vocabulary last. It gives you sentences like you'd create in that language, but with vocabulary you're familiar with. That's taking out most of the things that are harmful at translation-focused language learning.

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I agree about translation based learning being sub optimal but I have thought for a while that it should be possible to use LLMs and generative AI to come up something that actually simulates full immersion. Like imagine a star dew valley type experience, basic graphics, where you are repeatedly forced to interact with characters who speak no English. It progresses you through various contrived situations from initially just naming and pointing at objects, or actions, repeating back selections of words people offer, then recounting basic stories etc. basically simulating the process a child goes through to learn a language - sense data -> language instead of language -> language.

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Something similar has already been done with no graphics at all https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gostak#Interactive_fiction so I'm cautiously optimistic. Maybe something a bit more like Factorio, but with no useful option for violence? NPCs chat and trade among themselves, only way to stop them from stealing what you build involves asking politely, but fancier structures provoke stricter standards for eloquence.

Ideally, mastering complex grammar would also let you offer beneficial deals, which they'd accept when appropriate, or else give coherent, contextually-grounded reasons for refusing. That might require alarmingly agentic AI to properly implement, though.

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I'd enjoy a 4-like book even if it didn't, in the strict sense, "work" for "teaching language". Actual fluency is more effort than I feel like expending (even watered-down stuff like dicking around on Duolingo takes effort), but it'd be cool to, like...be able to watch anime without subtitles. Lots of experience avenues open up even with just a passing level of interpretation.

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I also wanted to point out that my Substack is something an attempt to educate people on the breadth and history of art and aesthetics, as most art /architecture magazines are very uncritical of contemporary aesthetics and art styles. Any change in this area starts with education, as “I like old architecture” or “art used to be more beautiful” is generally too vague to be actionable.

For example, here’s a guide to distinguishing Art Nouveau from Art Deco: https://onthearts.com/p/art-nouveau-vs-art-deco

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That was great, thanks!

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Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

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Love this and your essay on immersive vs isolated arts! You got a subscription from me :)

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thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it and thanks for subscribing.

I need to get working on Part 2 of that isolated vs. integrated essay...

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

I have a team that is working on the dating site more or less as Scott described (for everyone, not just rationalists). I have a data science/machine learning background so we will try to take a data-driven approach to solving the social engineering problems. If you're interested in getting involved (especially re: funding) contact me at tmoldwin[at]gmail .

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For us young'uns, can someone explain what OKC2011 was on how it differs from today?

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It is more "okc before 2012". ;) Difference: a) it was not yet sold to a company that felt the natural need to make money out of it. b) it was used mostly on laptops/desktops, NOT on smartphones, and that has made all the difference: Writing longer texts about yourself and even more reading those of potential partners got way less comfy - same with longer letters - so people did less of that. On a big screen it is fine to see several pics of potential matches even with added data (age/place ...) . Not on a smartphone

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You would write a profile several paragraphs long and publicly answer many yes/no and multiple choice questions about yourself (it was common for people to answer >100), and the website would estimate your compatibility score with everyone else based on your answers. A man would message a woman and wait for a response (didn't need to "match" with or be "liked" by her first) instead of swiping right on her and waiting for a match.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023

I am a data scientist, and I wanted to work on #2. However, the best datasets, e.g. the UK Biobank, are locked for "legitimate researchers" and take particular care NOT to allow this specific thing. If I tell them that I have no degree and I want to use the dataset for correlating genes with IQ, they won't even answer my email.

So what I'm getting at is - if anyone reading this is associated with a research institution and wants to make this happen (apply for access to UK Biobank), I am willing to do the data side of this for free. petar.istev@gmail.com.

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I think the barrier is access to data and the size of data. Raben, Lello, Widen, and Hsu tried looking at different machine learning methods and found they performed about as good as LASSO (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-37580-5). Might be good to reach out to Steve Hsu on this, Scott. :)

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Generally I agree, data is king. However, the authors of this paper only tested linear algorithms.

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Others have tested deep neural nets and haven't found large gains from them. In general, there seem to be good theoretical and empirical reasons to believe that linear models are accurate for the purposes of predicting individual traits. Hsu has some papers on this.

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Agree. And a lot of non-linear models wouldn't be practical. Not enough data. There are too many possible interactions.

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I don't know anything about the task of analyzing genetic datasets, not even the sample size and number of covariates, but: the kind of problem you describe seems perfectly suited for Bayesian regression methods, BART (Bayesian Additive Regression Trees) in particular. It has a hierarchical prior giving more weights to main effects, less to second order interactions, and so on. As far as Very Bayesian methods go, it's quite fast and scalable. I'd expect it to perform much better than LASSO. There exists a variant of BART called DART which does variable selection with shrinkage. The only question then is if the dataset is too large for the level of optimization of current implementations, which is not that good yet. Could you tell me what are p and n, and what's the type signature of the covariates?

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Nov 4, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023

I think it’s 500K participants, ~3 billion base pairs which can be G,C,T, or A (edit: not that many base pairs, just SNP genotypes)

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I'm afraid that is against the rules of the UK Biobank. When one applies (as a researcher at an approved institution), one states what data one wants to work with and why, and that is provided via their system, the Research Analysis Platform. Researchers are not supposed to be doing stuff which isn't what they said they would do in the application - and if the system is the same as it used to be, it's actually not possible to access data not originally requested (ie if I am researching cancer, and I don't ask for participants' educational attainment data, I won't have it in the data I am provided with for that project). The same is true for All of Us, the American database, although submitting a new plan is easier in that setup, and you don't have to specify which data you need beforehand.

Your possession of a degree is irrelevant. You need to be vouched for by a trusted system, and according to the UK Biobank website, what they want is affiliation with a bona-fide research institute which has previously conducted health-related research. Most universities across the world will count for this. But they aren't handing out personal genetic data to just anyone, and they take care to ensure that their users know not to do that as well.

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And how exactly can I have an affiliation with a bone-fide research institution if I don't have a degree? I'm basically subhuman for academia and bureaucrats.

Even if I did, this specifically, the correlation between IQ and genetics, is explicitly forbidden to investigate.

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That (first point) is a problem you will have to work out yourself, I'm afraid, since I don't know your situation. If you can find a research group with an interest which matches yours, and you are really committed to this project, it would be worth asking if they have space and cash to hire a data scientist. However, cash is always scarce in academia. But you might get lucky.

As to the second point, the UK Biobank publications include two which mention heritability of IQ/educational attainment, so I think you may be exaggerating somewhat, but it isn't my field:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166432818302419

https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.20040462

Anyway, what you are talking about is not a simple thing, it's a full-fledged project. I would guess it would take a year at minimum, with support. If you have never worked with human genetic data before, and I'm guessing from your post that you haven't, don't underestimate how annoying biology is.

Also, the reason these datasets are closely guarded is because data are not free. Are you, personally, willing to stick your genome online to let anyone play with it? If so, good on you - that's pretty impressive (and if you haven't already, please check out the relevent local big database and volunteer). If not, then you are in the same boat as the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who have contributed their data to the various big health databases around the world. They are promised privacy and due care. That means doublechecking all those who want to work with the data, and if you want access to that very personal information, you have to pay the dues.

Or start working with mice. They don't care about privacy. But the connection between EA and genetics would be rather harder work in mice, I suspect!

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Good comment.

You're absolutely correct on all of these.

However, I still feel pretty confident that this is a very doable project, and not a year-long endeavour.

Let me modify my offer: if anyone reading this is associated with a research institution and wants to make this happen, I am willing to do the data side of this for free.

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Have you done the estimates for how much of the variance in EA you could explain with the biobank's 500k sample? Hsu did this for height last decade (unsure which paper, but you could dig it up)

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That sounds like the sort of situation where the harder you try to circumvent the rules, the worse trouble you'll end up in. https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1494:_Insurance

I'd recommend settling for some lower-quality dataset which is accessible without any felonies. If there's truth to be had, some of it will still be in there, and if the service is worthwhile, better data will become available to refine the model as time goes on.

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FWIW, pharma companies can also access UKB (I work in one and have access to it, having only an undergrad degree in a relevant field). So, maybe look for a rationalist or effective altruists owned company that can convince UKB they're doing a pharma research?

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#2: Whenever people here start talking about selecting for higher IQ I pipe up in favor of a couple of alternatives, and I'm doing it again here. Assuming it was possible to identify genetic contributors to either of the following, I think it would benefit our species more to select for them:

-Mental health, especially a low risk for depression. While depression, except for the fairly rare godawful kind, is less disabling than schizophrenia & bipolar illness, it is MUCH more common. Even if your sole goal is to increase productivity and speed up scientific advances I think you might come out ahead there by reducing the population's burden of chronic sadness and inertia, rather than raising average IQ.

-High empathy and a low propensity for violence -- argument in favor is similar to the one for low vulnerability to depression.

Also note also that both of the above are much better candidates for reducing human suffering than increased IQ is.

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Nov 6, 2023·edited Nov 6, 2023

Mental health, high empathy, and particularly low propensity for violence are positively correlated with IQ, so any selection on IQ selects for these traits as well. And generally, embryo selection can optimize for a variety of traits without much loss of selection power. For example, if you have 4 SD of selection power total and two completely independent traits X and Y you're optimizing for, then you can apply 4/sqrt(2) = 2sqrt(2) SDs of selection power for both X and Y, rather than 2 each (once again, the effective power is even greater if X and Y are positively correlated, which most beneficial traits are)

Another reason to optimize for IQ is that measuring it is much easier than measuring other traits. My understanding is that IQ is the most reliably measured psychometric variable, with other tests being noisier and less reliable. This has benefits in constructing accurate predictors.

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There have been lots of studies of the relationship between mental illness and IQ, with results all over the map, some studies finding a positive relationship and some a negative one.. My impression is that the later and better studies find no relationship. Here's a good one: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5014225/

IQ is the most easily measured trait -- far easier than creativity, sociability, etc. But depression is not a trait, it's an illness, and is not difficult to measure. The gold standard is diagnostic interview with very clear criteria where you get high test-retest reliability and high inter-rater reliability. I and someone I was working with on a study trained in administering the diagnostic interview and had inter-rater reliability of about 0.90.

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So I agree with you that selection for other things besides IQ would be a good thing to do.

And fortunately, it is already being done! Genomic Prediction includes risk of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder in their health index that is currently being used to select embryos.

I agree that empathy and low propensity for violence would also be good to select for, though the issue there is lack of phenotype data. You could likely get a lot of genetic data from prisoners arrested for violent crimes and form a fairly strong predictor. But this is one of the areas where there is almost no research being done, for what I believe are mostly political reasons. There is a very strong belief among some academics that genetics have no or little effect on human behavior, so any study that could undermine that narrative is not especially popular in funding committees.

While I would agree that reducing depression and mental health risk would be more effective at reducing suffering for the treated individual, my best guess is that increasing IQ would likely have a larger effect on society as a whole via an increased rate of scientific innovations like better medical treatments.

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FL-Teacher here (German). I remember your "crazy idea for language teaching" and "can’t think of any reason this would work" ;) - See: Foreign language teaching in US-schools (+other countries) is pretty broken (as Bryan Caplan declares so often), and this may explain why you people come up with most of the "crazy new ideas" for FLT (during my Master, I learned about a couple of them, including a group-therapy-approach). Thing is: FLT is not broken. With good course-material, a reasonable schedule and a competent teacher: it actually works mostly fine.

As I am a) kinda qualified - b) underworked - c) an "embarrassing fanboy" d) actually believing this approach might have some use with German for English-speakers (Japanese: ... less so ...)

my g m a i l is m k r o d e

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

I am a native German speaker, and have a background in teaching and education (not FL, though), as well as in translation. I am interested in this project as well. If you want to connect, let me know as a comment and I can shoot you an email.

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Gerne.

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Btw. I do think starting with a German graded reader (A2) a more promising approach than "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften". Also, there is a text that tries to teach Grammar ("Die Schöne ist angekommen" Grammatik-Krimi) - and the exact thing Scott thinks about, but for heavily simplified orthography of German (English could use that even more), where the author introduces one new simplification each chapter: "fom winde ferfeelt" by Zé do Rock

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I'm going to try the language learning idea for learning Estonian -- while reading ACX.

I'll process all next ACX posts with ChatGPT, will probably make a browser extension to do it automatically. Here is the prompt:

************************************

I'm trying to use a new method to learn Estonian language. I'm going to read a text in English, which shown below. Please replace some of the English words with Estonian words. Just simple ones at first, ones that were obvious from context.

===

I’ll be starting a new round of ACX Grants sometime soon [...]

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and the result:

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I’ll be starting a new round of ACX Grants sometime soon. Ma ei saa garanteerida I’ll fund all these projects - some of them are more like vanity projects than truly effective. But ma võin fund some of them, and others might be teostatav without funding. Nii if you’re feeling left out and want a põhjus to devote your life to, here are some lisad.

Replicate aju entrainment learning results.

Osused needed: familiarity with EEG

Eelarve: A few thousand dollars for machines, plus a few hundred hours of your aeg?

Tasu: Inimesed can learn things several times faster?

In 2022, a meeskond at Cambridge found that experimental subjects õppisid faster when stimuli were presented at their brain’s unique alpha rhythm. The teadlased monitored their brain waves to figure out exactly what each subject’s alpha rhythm was (usually a pattern of flashes about a dozen times per second), then presented a flashing pattern that hit the trough of each alpha wave, then asked subjects to solve tough visual recognition problems. They found the alpha entrainment helped them õppida faster:

************************************

The result is quite good, it's exactly what I need on my current Estonian level.

My goal is to learn words -- I don't care much about grammar. From my experience with learning English, grammar is relatively easy to grasp after having a large enough vocabulary. Knowing only very basic grammar, you can improve it from reading and listening. Also, Estonian grammar is so weird that it's impossible to transform English into it's resemblance anyway.

Main problem is that I can't control how many words ChatGPT is replacing. If I add more instructions to the prompt like: "Replace at least 1 word in each sentence", "Replace 50% of words", it replaces all words, doing a full translation.

Maybe someone talented in prompt engineering can help?

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As a native estonian speaker most of the replaced words felt quite normal to read in an english text, especially for nouns and verbs. For words like "so" it doesn't work that well due to the different grammar. So judging by this example it does seem like a fun and interesting way to learn new vocabulary. For estonian you do have to keep in mind that there aren't any prefixes but instead the word endings change. So if in english you have "in a car" and "into a car" then in estonian it is "autos" and "autosse". Same applies for past, present and future for verbs. That might make learning vocabulary a lot harder, especially since there are 14 different forms for nouns.

Also ChatGPT might have made a typo, the word for "skills" is "oskused" not "osused". That is quite a big difference in pronunciation.

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Isn’t the answer to 8 just lobbying? In practical terms, get a bunch of money and hire a k-street outfit that draws from whatever regulator or political tendencies in congress are on your side.

In gears-level terms, you need to connect your reform to the interests of the people who can make it happen, then increase its salience. For congress, that’s donations and lobby connections to reps who have sway and/or are on the relevant committees. For regulators, that’s industry connections and and getting plum bookers to make it a hobby horse through connections.

The missing moods in your take are image/action distinctions and patronage. In the US, where individual politicians fates aren’t wholly tied to their parties, get lots of credit for grandstanding (sponsoring bills, endorsing things), not much for doing things (passing laws). Make something popular, and everyone will introduce laws to do it but no-one will achieve anything because that’s too far downstream of anything you get credit for with the electorate if you’re not the president.

Patron-client relations are how things actually work; in summary, people align with someone important and do them favours, on the basis that that person (more likely, their other clients) will do things for them. The patron is basically a co-ordinator, much of whose influence comes from their clients.

Lobbyists are patrons for profit; they can donate to campaigns (politicians) and find people jobs (everyone, including civil servants), as well as acting as a favour clearing house in the normal way. They don’t have to promise anyone anything, but you know they’ve got your back because you’re their client (in the patronage sense, not the customer who foots the bill).

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I’m really interested in #3, #4, #7, and #8, and willing to contribute to any of them if anyone takes them up, although, as an otherwise unremarkable ‘guy who graduated in polsci from a top uni and is into old architecture as a hobby’, I wouldn’t be outstandingly useful for any of those. I’ll have a look into #8, at least :-)

Very interesting post, btw

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I am looking for something related to #8: a primer on ethical, effective methods of political persuasion. With your background in poly sci, can you suggest anything?

Everybody seems to know George Lakoff's work relating linguistics to politics, but linguistics isn't everything. Research in areas such as cognitive biases, marketing, and political science should be relevant, but I've had trouble finding this sort of thing.

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I hadn’t actually heard of Lakoff, seems very interesting, thank you. I think Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, made a broadly similar argument that conservatives and liberals had distinct values and that it was interesting to study those differences. The thing it most directly reminds me of is all those social psychology papers that claim that conservatives are conservatives because they’re anxious, and it makes them want authority more, or whatever. Probably an inkling of truth in there (in times of distress, people do tend to turn back toward the ingroup, in a somewhat more conservative manner), but quite biased, of course. But none of that is the same as "effective methods of political persuasion", and I’m not fully sure what those would be? I assume that, while Scott was asking for "how to convince the government to move", you’re asking "how to convince a member of the public to change their views on something"… and that’s something a degree in polsci focuses much less on. I’m also interested in psychology, in people believing in weird conspiracy theories, etc., however, and you might want to look that way for part of the answer. Basically, if you want to convince your uncle that the Illuminatis aren’t actually responsible for the socks he’s lost in the wash, you have to befriend him, accept that he actually believes what he does, and go from there, by helping him question, himself, all the details that aren’t quite right in his narrative. A bit like what this guy does: https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

or more generally like that :

https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Street_Epistemology

But neither of those things is exactly what you’re looking for, I think?

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Thank you for your helpful reply! Knowing what political scientists say that is related to my question helps me find what I am looking for. Knowing what they don’t say prevents me from barking up the wrong tree.

I have read Haidt’s Righteous Mind and a book by Hetherington and Weiler on authoritarianism in politics. The black guy talking to the KKK and Street Epistemology are new to me. Thank you.

I recently asked someone with a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology about this. She recommended the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini, which I have just started to read. This is a wise but not at all obvious choice. The book is not about politics, but the political implications are obvious.

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4 sounds a lot like https://donquixote.fun/ (which has content in Spanish, Italian, German and French) except that it progresses one sentence at a time. (When I last saw it, it was actually using Don Quixote as the text, but people didn't like the archaic language https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26601643 )

⸻ ⸻

After self-experimenting with various language-learning methods over the years, my current favorite is to do lots of dictation exercises (to force the foreign language through my head) until I know a few thousand words, then start reading comics (consuming at my own pace + pictures to aid with understanding).

For dictation, the simplest option is to take an existing Anki deck with audio files and modify the card templates to have a "type answer" field; slightly more complex is to start with https://commonvoice.mozilla.org/en/datasets sorted by word frequency and construct an Anki deck from that; my most elaborate attempt so far is https://github.com/Yorwba/alphabet-soup but the scheduling algorithm would require significant performance optimization to be useful as a web service, so I've mostly left it to rot for now.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

From my amateur viewpoint, #8 (A good primer on political change) sounds like it'd be right up the alley of either our own AshLael (https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/pbgeqo/comment/hadqka9/?utm_source=reddit&utm_medium=web2x&context=3), or r/NeoLiberal's FireDistinguishers (https://www.reddit.com/r/neoliberal/comments/p4ctc6/congress_509_how_to_lobby_with_an_internet/).

Even if you don't get them, I'll just copy down their advice here, it's invaluable:

"AshLael

2 years ago

Context: I have worked as an advisor to 3 different (Australian) Senators.

I would say if you want to maximise political impact-for-effort, the best method is probably:

Form a lobby group. You can literally do this with a handful of friends. Give yourselves some sort of name that sounds like you might represent someone, appoint people office holders, adopt a constitution. The group doesn't need to do anything, it exists purely for you to be its representative.

Call up politician's offices and ask for appointments to express your concerns about some bill that's coming up. Some will meet with you, some will have their advisors meet with you, some will ignore you. But you'll get a much higher strike rate than you expect.

Take the meetings, sit down with legislators or advisors, tell them what you like or don't like about the proposed law and how you would like to see it changed. Literally no one will ask how many people you actually represent or why they should listen to you.

Most importantly, *rinse and repeat*. Find any opportunity you can to call around and ask for new meetings. You will build relationships over time, and legislators will learn and begin to internalise your concerns.

Why this works:

Politicians and political advisors spend a large percentage of their time having meetings with concerned interest groups. You're not asking them to take time out of their normal schedule to talk with you, you're slotting into their normal operations. It's not at all hard to get a meeting. I've seen professional lobbyists who make careers from "getting access" for corporate clients. It's pure grift, the client could have just called and asked for the meeting directly.

Politicians use the number of times people come and meet with them over an issue as a rough proxy for how important that issue is. Just by repeatedly badgering them on X issue, you can create an impression that people really care about X.

Politicians get most of their claims and talking points from interest groups (which is a part of why they so often say things that are so misleading). They do very little research of their own. There is no better way to put the salient facts in front of them, or for those facts to become a part of the public debate..."

&

"CONGRESS 509: HOW TO LOBBY WITH AN INTERNET CONNECTION AND A $3 POSTCARD

FireDistinguishers

2 years ago

...

REDUCED WORKLOAD > MONEY

When I first got my job as an LC I worked for a minimum of 40 hours a week. I don't mean I was at work for 40 hours a week. I was at work maybe 50 hours a week, of which I spent 40 hours working, 2.5 hours eating, and 7.5 hours goofing off. If there was a national crisis those numbers could double. The volume of things that need to happen on the Hill is unparalleled. So if someone comes up to me and says "Hey I can take care of that," and it turns out they legitimately can, then it's a wrap. I said it in the last post, having someone else write something that my LA was fine with circulating is *the closest thing to a bribe I've ever gotten.*

...

FOLLOWING UP MEANS MORE THAN REACHING OUT

Everybody says "follow up after your meeting" but the amount of people who take that to mean "write a thank you and never talk to them again" is astounding.

Yes, write a thank you note. Like I said we're all very busy, we took time for you, we like when you acknowledge that. Pro tip, send in thank you mail, a thoughtful letter might be something that the staffer holds on to, reminding them that you mean business. *The best thank you mail is a postcard...*"

Lots of good stuff like that from those two, they're the best answers I've seen to a similar question that got asked on the subreddit a while ago: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/12j3hqd/comment/jfx2edr/

"Aahdin

7 months ago

Sorry if this is a naive question but is there any sort of FAQ or anything on ways for rationalists to impact government? If I got like 20 people to email this to my congressperson would anyone read it? Have people in congress pretty much already heard all of these arguments before and don't care?"

BONUS EDIT: It might also be worth studying Dominic Cummings... whatever you think of his (lack of) morality, there's no doubt he was effective (albeit at referendums rather than legislative politics). At the very least he seems to be one of the most open about how exactly he did what he did: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/dominic-cummings-how-the-brexit-referendum-was-won (Dominic Cummings: how the Brexit referendum was won) -- an abridged summary for Effective Altruists, written up in the wake of the Carrick Flynn debacle, is available at https://trevorklee.substack.com/p/how-to-win-an-election-in-10-easy?sd=fs (How to win an election in 10 easy steps: an effective altruist's guide)

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Also sharing this link which is similarly good https://www.maximumnewyork.com/p/political-capital-savings-plan. They use to run a school but now the link is broken.

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“A good primer on political change”

I was a bit surprised to see this. I would rather see a good primer on social change, including the sorts of changes that can start small and grow exponentially, like a startup or a fad or a disease; the sort of changes that ignore politics, ooze around it; the sort of changes that by comparison make ineffective solutions look as ineffective as they are.

I suppose a charitable reading might include in a good primer on politics methods for finding and repealing bad solutions, or creating reforms that allow people to modify bad solutions by learning from experience.

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It seems like no one really knows how to induce social change, whereas lots of people can and do induce political change.

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Well, as long as we're wishing...

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A dating site that doesn't suck is a good idea. One that is old OKC is a bad idea, because old OKC wasn't good and no one but a couple weird rats liked it.

All the bring back OKC crowd have failed at answering a simple question: if it was so good, why did Tinder eat their lunch? As soon as tinder existed OKC fell off a cliff, so why would you think women would come back? You need a good explanation for why they wouldn't hate it this time just as much.

(BTW, all the normie-ish women i know hate dating docs. Not the current population of people who have them, the idea and structure. Like you show them one and they freak out and say things like "why would anyone write anything like this??? This is so unappealing to do or read!" Before you bring back long text profiles maybe figure out why women hate that? I don't understand it either but I'm not telling everyone OKC is the best solution.)

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>why did Tinder eat their lunch

Perverse incentives. It was terrible and useless, so people spent much more time on, it bringing in that sweet ad money.

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It was shitty and therefore they chose it over something that worked better? Doesn't play.

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Nah, tinder just had more money, bought them out and made it shittier as well.

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Do women hate text-based profiles? or do normies (women included) dislike them? Because naively I would expect men to be even more picture-focused.

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This is counterintuitive I agree! Yet women abandoned okcupid en masse. (I don't claim to know what normie-ish men think of dating docs.)

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My guess is that OKCupid was for people who were serious enough about dating to write a giant profile and answer dozens of questions. Tinder et. al. have a much lower barrier to entry and become more "eh, why not? can't hurt." Thus, millions more people installed Tinder and only kinda sorta half-heartedly look through it.

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Re #4, as a native Portuguese speaker with experience teaching English as a foreign language (and Science) I think I have the skills for this. Still I wouldn't do it for free as quite honestly, interesting as it seems, it doesn't seem better than either traditional methods employed by a good teacher or Duolingo used by a motivated learner.

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I had similar thoughts! Except that I'm a Latin teacher. No Latin teachers are fluent in Latin, but we all have access to students to use as guinea pigs, so there might actually be a chance at cross-comparison. I started a grant proposal for #4, then read the end of the blog post and thought - "Wait , are we just supposed to mention general interest in the comments? Should we all get together and have a Hunger-Games-style elimination first to decide whose language to try it with?" I saw Dutch mentioned earlier in the comments, and a couple others have expressed interest. I hope Scott lets us all apply. It would validate this vanity project!

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>No Latin teachers are fluent in Latin

A bit off topic but I've always wondered this: do you think anyone in the Vatican speaks fluent Latin?

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Yes. For sure, but not a ton.

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You're right, they can be pretty good! But I guess I'm niggling about "fluency." The type of Latin that classicists speak (even the ones in the Vatican, or the ones you mention in the comment below who rented the apartment, etc.) is not the Latin that the Romans spoke. Written Latin is highly artificial, and we know that even the vocabulary was often different, based on the way that words developed from spoken Latin into the Romance languages. By the way, I'm in complete awe of the few people who can train themselves to communicate successfully in classical Latin. But it's not the same as being fluent in a natural language.

Out of curiosity, have you used diglot weaves for teaching Latin before? I've seen them around, but they always look to me as if they go too slowly for the average student, so I've never really used them. And I've seen nothing (at least in print) that scales up the way Scott is envisioning.

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Too slow. I only use such a weave incidentally.

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#4 I know several Latin teachers who are truly fluent in Latin (they rented an apartment in Rome and only spoke Latin for a couple of years before returning stateside. Myself and a colleague communicate in Latin in front of students in order to induct them in our future Hive. I myself am not fluent enough to read the highest level texts without vocab help.

I use GPT4 (3.5 can't do languages well!) almost daily to practice Spanish, German, and Finnish. It's solid at Latin, but not as involved in rhetorical flourishes as Seneca or Cicero or the classical corpus, which is an interesting fact in itself (I would like to know the training data volumes).

I have tried several methods for teaching Latin in my time. Something like what Scott says works, however, it's very slow. I think we underestimate how many moving parts there are in languages and how slow vocabulary acquisition would be using this method. Really, once a word or grammatical form is introduced in the Tale of Genji, it would need to be changed everywhere in one's experience of text.

What I would want is an API that runs on top of everything you engage with on your phone and computer and increases the "filter-strength" a little more based upon your progress in the Tale of Genji (or heck, an Anki deck or grammar book).

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I'm the cofounder of Tract (https://buildwithtract.com/), a startup trying to make it easier to reason about planning risk. One of the things I'd like to prototype, and which might dovetail rather nicely with §7, is a modern approach to visual preferences survey: a 'Tinder for buildings', somewhere local communities can vote on and discuss various architectural styles. We can use generative AI methods to slot new facades into existing streetscapes, analyse the data, and see if we can find meaningful clusters that pin down quantitively what a 'local vernacular' actually consists of.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

Regarding the OkCupid clone: my sense is that it should not try to make any money – I'm normally definitely not opposed to people getting rich from their product, but I don't see it working out in this case. My first point is that maintaining an OkCupid-like site should have very moderate running costs. As I understand it, it's mostly a text-based website that doesn't need to have a lot of throughput. I think running costs could be covered by donations like Wikipedia does (in fact Wikipedia asks for way too much money; they're trying to set up an endowment fund).

Another problem with a for-profit OkCupid clone is that the company behind it will be very tempted to endlessly tinker with it in order to increase profits. This seems very unnecessary for such a site. I think once the software is written, it only occasionally needs to be slightly modified to keep up with new web technologies. There is a risk here that the site will look outdated after a while (similar to how Wikipedia looks maybe outdated), but I think that would be fine? You'd maybe need a few part time programmers for this, but most of the modifications should come from open source contributors. (As you're not making money off this software, there is no reason not to make it open source.)

The main question then is, who would be willing to fund the creation of the software if there are no profits to be made? And I think this can only be solved by a funder with public goods in mind (as might be happening here).

If someone was serious about funding this, I would maybe recommend structuring it as a competition with two (or three) rounds: multiple teams start to write software, then when everyone has a prototype, judges determine who goes to the next round and gets funding for developing it further; at the end, one team's software wins and the team gets paid to extend until it has reached feature-completeness.

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I think that the usefulness of a dating website scales with the number of potential partners in your target demographic much more than other social media: I can interact with people on ACX, LW or the motte just fine even though almost all people in my country are not on them. By contrast, a dating website which, say, only includes a small part of the ratsphere will probably not be very useful outside the Bay Area, and of limited use even within. Dating websites are natural oligopolies.

Wikipedia succeeded because it had a first-movers advantage, and it is a fundamentally altruistic project: AOL had no incentive to set up their own encyclopedia wiki, and even if they had, few authors would have wanted to write articles for the benefit of AOL.

The dating website market today is very well established. I also do not see participating in a dating website as a deeply altruistic action.

I agree that user interests and company interests are rarely aligned for websites (see: reddit, twitter, etc) and often lead to what is technically known as enshittification.

I like simple black-on-white-with-blue-links old school websites. But then I am an aging male computer nerd. Like most of these, I do not want to date other aging male computer nerds. I think if you want to attract the sort of people essential to running a successful heterosexual dating website (that is, women), it would be a good idea if the website is shiny and has some fancy "app". If it requires people to use mediawiki or github syntax, it will fail.

I don't see a not-for-profit succeeding in that field, but would be happy to be proven wrong.

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Are women who do happen to be nerdy satisfied with their options for finding dating prospects who can understand their interests (those women who want such)? Because if not, this gap can probably be within reach of a non-profit project… The results might not scale, but also might not require as much annoying polishing work.

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 7, 2023

Am currently developing a dating app. Similar to Tinder, but you CANNOT chat, just schedule a date and meet.

Pretty much the opposite of what Scott suggests. I feel like rationality/autism types always focus on the matchmaking algorithm whereas I think that that's all bullshit, except for the aspect described in "Sadly Porn" where people like having a "big other" saying that you are "compatible"

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Do you need help on your dating app?

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yes I do, let's get in touch

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please find me on telegram or write me a mail on alexej.gerstmaier@gmail.com

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Nov 3, 2023·edited Nov 3, 2023

I've definitely had language learning books similar to #4 advertised to me in my Facebook feed. They're illustrated children's books, IIRC, and they start by swapping in a handful of foreign words and you can work out what they are from the pictures, and then they gradually increase the density. I can't remember the name now, but I'll come back and update if I see them again.

Also worth mentioning the Lingua Latina series, which does something roughly similar for Latin, except it doesn't bother with any English. It starts with a map labelled in Latin and very simple sentences that explain in Latin the relationship between the places on the map, like "Roma in Italia est. Italia in Europa est." and builds up the vocabulary and complexity from there.

https://www.amazon.com/Familia-Romana-Lingua-Latina-Book-ebook/dp/B012HTEEDU/ref=sr_1_1

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