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Kaj Sotala
Works at Machine Intelligence Research Institute
Attended University of Helsinki
Lives in Helsinki
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Kaj Sotala

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“People were always talking about how mean this guy was who lived on our block. But I decided to go see for myself. I went to his door, but he said he wasn’t the mean guy, the mean guy lived in that house over there. ‘No, you stupid idiot,’ I said, ‘ that’s my house.’” -- Jack Handey
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Some studies claim that parenthood makes you happier, others that it hurts your happiness. The truth is... that it's complicated. It depends on:

* CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PARENT: "...middle-aged and older parents tend to be as happy or happier than their childless peers, while parents younger than 25 seem to experience less happiness [...] Fatherhood is consistently associated with more benefits to well-being, though the results for motherhood have been mixed. [...] The authors emphasize that more research is needed in order to draw strong conclusions about the relationship between parenting style and parental happiness. So far, the results are mixed [...] parents who do not feel secure in relationships seem to be more susceptible to declines in their relationship with their spouse during the transition to parenthood. Though more research is also needed here, the researchers suggest that this marital decline could, in turn, lead to less happiness in parenthood."

* CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHILD: "Not surprisingly, parents seem to experience lower well-being when they have a child with a difficult or sensitive temperament [...] Some evidence suggests that parents of young children are less happy than parents of older children. [...] Consistent with that finding, studies have found that parents of young children (up to age seven) report spending more time on housework and feel less able than non-parents to complete tasks and meet their goals. [...] However, the research paints a different picture for parents once their kids grow up, particularly when they have positive relationships with those kids."

* FAMILY SITUATION AND CONTEXT: "Overall, parents with greater sources of social support tend to experience greater well-being. The importance of being employed is less clear-cut [...] Interestingly, studies also suggest that people of higher socioeconomic status benefit less from being parents because they often have goals of personal achievement that conflict with the time burdens of parenthood. [...] Married parents also tend to experience greater well-being than single parents [...] Parents who do not have custody of their children also tend to experience lower well-being than parents who have custody. [...] Finally, some studies suggest that biological parents tend to be as happy or happier than adoptive or stepparents, while studies also suggest that adoptive and stepparents are happier during the transition to parenthood."
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The obesity epidemic: it's not just humans. A number of different animals show weight gain over the several past decades, including laboratory animals with carefully controlled diets. One of the many pieces of evidence suggesting that the common-sense story of "people are getting obese because they get less exercise and eat more" is incorrect.

> Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats. The consistency of these findings among animals living in varying environments, suggests the intriguing possibility that the aetiology of increasing body weight may involve several as-of-yet unidentified and/or poorly understood factors (e.g. viral pathogens, epigenetic factors). [...]

> Our findings reveal that large and sustained population increases in body weights can occur in mammalian populations, just as they have occurred among human populations, even in the absence of those factors that are typically conceived of as the primary determinants of the human obesity epidemic via their influence on diet (e.g. access to vending machines) and physical activity (e.g. less physical education classes in schools). Though results were not statistically significant in every population (11 out of 24 are statistically significant for per cent increase in weight per decade, and 7 out of 24 are statistically significant for odds of obesity), viewed as an ensemble, the fact that nearly all independent time-trend coefficients were in the positive direction for both weight gain and for the odds of obesity, is overwhelmingly statistically significant. [...]

> There are multiple conceivable explanations for these observations. Feral rats could be increasing in weight because of selective predation on smaller animals [22,23] or because just as human real wealth and food consumption have increased in the United States, rats which presumably largely feed on our refuse, may also be essentially richer. But these factors cannot account for the findings in the laboratory animals that are on highly controlled diets, which have varied minimally over the last several decades. These animals are typically fed ad libitum, so if weight increases are attributable to increases in food consumption (which is possible), it is difficult to understand why animals in controlled environments on diets of constant composition are consuming more food today than in past decades. By contrast, one could hypothesize that better veterinary or husbandry care in laboratory and companion animals and better medical care in humans could be contributing to population level increases in body weight, but this cannot explain weight increases in feral rats. Our finding of greater weight gain among laboratory animals could also be explained by changes in animal husbandry standards, such as those imposed by the Animal Welfare Act, over the past 30 years. Though it is certainly not necessary that there be a single explanation for all of these population level increases nor even a single explanation for each individual population, it is intriguing to consider whether there are any factors that could conceivably account for weight increases in all of these populations.

> One set of putative contributors to the human obesity epidemic is the collection of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (endocrine-disruptors), widely present in the environment [24]. Another conceivable explanation is obesity of infectious origin. Infection with adenovirus-36 (AD36) leads to obesity in multiple experimental models [7,25] and antibodies to AD36 are correlated with obesity in humans [26]. These observations suggest that AD36 and conceivably other infectious agents could be contributing to obesity within populations. Other explanations may include epigenetic-mediated programming of growth and energy-allocation patterns owing to any number of environmental cues such as stressors, resource availability, release from predation or climate change [27–31].
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PCA on dresses! I guess this could be called "fashion geekery". :D Interestingly, this could be used to come up with a system to recommend new dresses to you based on your actual taste, not just the normal "other customers who bought dresses like X also bought dresses like Y".
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+1 for geekiness and potential for design automation.
-1 for neglecting the importance of context to preferences and "favorites".
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Several entire massacred villages have been found of the people who brought agriculture to Europe circa 5000 BC.

> "It's about finding patterns. One mass grave was spectacular, but it was just a single grave. But when several such sites are found from the same period, then a pattern emerges," said Meyer.

> In their article, the authors suggested that "the new evidence ... in conjunction with previous results, indicates that massacres of entire communities were not isolated occurrences but rather were frequent features of the last phases of the LBK."

> Chris Scarre, an archaeologist at the University of Durham, England, who wasn't involved in the study, said its conclusions seemed well supported by the evidence.

> "What is particularly interesting is the level of violence. Not just the suppression of a rival community — if that is what it was — but the egregious and systematic breaking of the lower legs," said Scarre. "It suggests the use of terror tactics as part of this inter-community violence."
BERLIN (AP) — Scientists say they have found rare evidence of a prehistoric massacre in Europe after discovering a 7,000-year-old mass grave with skeletal remains from some of the continent's first farmers bearing terrible wounds.
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Jari, as the article says, they don't:

"Intriguingly, the sites have all been dated toward the end of the LBK's 600-year presence, suggesting that members of this culture — which is thought to have developed in what is now Hungary and spread along the Danube River — may have turned on each other."

It could easily have been one of the displaced peoples.

Also interesting is the absence of fertile young women from the grave.
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[What sets the Machine Intelligence Research Institute​ apart from other people working on AI safety issues? One difference is that they're working on a different sort of problem than e.g. most academics, who focus more on short- and medium-term questions:]

> In MIRI’s Approach I spoke of two different classes of computer science problem. Class 1 problems involve figuring out how to do, in practice and with reasonable amounts of computing power, things which we know how to do in principle. Class 2 problems involve figuring out how to do in principle things that we can’t even do in principle yet.

> Our current approach to alignment research is to try to move problems from Class 2 to Class 1. This kind of research has been pursued successfully in other areas in the past, and in the context of AI alignment I believe that it deserves significantly more attention than it is receiving.

> Industry is traditionally best suited for the first problem class. Academia, too, also often focuses on the first class of problems instead of the second class — especially in the field of AI, for reasons related to point 1. It is common for academics to take some formalization of something like probability theory and then explore and extend the framework, figuring out where it applies and developing practical approximations of intractable algorithms and so on. It’s much rarer for academics to create theoretical foundations for problems that cannot yet be solved even in principle, and this tends to happen only when someone is searching for new theoretical foundations on purpose. For reasons discussed above, most academics aren’t attempting this sort of research yet when it comes to AI alignment.

> This is what MIRI brings to the table: a laser focus on the relevant technical challenges.

[If you want to support them, MIRI's summer fundraiser is still going on: https://intelligence.org/donate/ ]
Last week, we received several questions from the effective altruist community in response to our fundraising post. Here’s Maxwell Fritz: […] My snap reaction to MIRI’s pitches has typically been, “yeah, AI is a real concern. But I have no idea whether MIRI are the right people to work on it, or if their approach... Read more »
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Kaj Sotala

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In this post, Rob Bensinger​ of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute​ (MIRI), a research group devoted to the problem of safe AI, explains why someone concerned with AI safety in general might want to donate to MIRI in particular. Specifically, he answers the questions of:

* How can non-specialists assess MIRI’s research agenda and general competence?
* What kinds of accomplishments can we use as measures of MIRI’s past and future success?
* And lastly: If a lot of people take this cause seriously now, why is there still a funding gap?

[If you want to support them, MIRI's summer fundraiser is still going on: https://intelligence.org/donate/ ]
We’ve received several thoughtful questions in response to our fundraising post to the Effective Altruism Forum and our new FAQ. From quant trader Maxwell Fritz: My snap reaction to MIRI’s pitches has typically been, “yeah, AI is a real concern. But I have no idea whether MIRI are the right people to work on it,... Read more »
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> In this freshman calculus-based physics course, students worked through weekly experiments in lab sections as most physics students do. But the researchers tried a little something different a couple years ago when a fresh class of 130 students came in. In their early lab sections, the students were guided through comparisons between multiple experimental datasets and between experimental datasets and mathematical models.

> By applying some statistics they were gradually learning, they grappled with why their comparisons came out the way they did. Rather than simply chalking up mismatches to “we’re just students, and our measurements probably aren’t perfect," as students often do, they considered modifying their experiments. How could they reduce their error bars? Were the data telling them the mathematical model was incorrect?

> The idea was to foster the kind of thinking scientists use. With practice, the students should start to get an appreciation for interpreting real-world data and sometimes be confident enough to challenge models when they have high-quality data that demands it. [...]

> The improvement was significant, with the experimental class 12 times as likely to modify their experiment and four times as likely to challenge an incorrect model in their final activity. [...] Interestingly, the researchers tracked the same students into the sophomore physics course that a third of the freshmen had advanced into. Even there, they still saw improvements, despite the fact that none of the critical thinking instructions were repeated in that course.
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> Scientists at The Ohio State University have developed a nearly complete human brain in a dish that equals the brain maturity of a five-week-old fetus.

> The brain organoid, engineered from adult human skin cells, is the most complete human brain model yet developed, said Rene Anand, professor of biological chemistry and pharmacology at Ohio State.

> The lab-grown brain, about the size of a pencil eraser, has an identifiable structure and contains 99 percent of the genes present in the human fetal brain. Such a system will enable ethical and more rapid and accurate testing of experimental drugs before the clinical trial stage and advance studies of genetic and environmental causes of central nervous system disorders.

Also, Julian Savulescu on the ethical implications of this: http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2015/08/brain-in-a-vat-5-challenges-for-the-in-vitro-brain/
Scientists at The Ohio State University have developed a nearly complete human brain in a dish that equals the brain maturity of a five-week-old fetus. The brain organoid, engineered from adult human skin cells, is the most complete human brain model yet developed, said Rene Anand, professor of biological chemistry and pharmacology at Ohio State.
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> I have been out as an agender, or genderless, person for about a year now. To me, this simply means having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary. I wear what I want to wear, and do what I want to do, because it is absurd to limit myself to certain activities, behaviours or expressions based on gender. People don’t know what to make of me when they see me, because they feel my features contradict one another. They see no room for the curve of my hips to coexist with my facial hair; they desperately want me to be someone they can easily categorise. My existence causes people to question everything they have been taught about gender, which in turn inspires them to question what they know about themselves, and that scares them. Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn’t.
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The book Ancillary Justice made me desperate to know this about characters, while forcing the realization that it was completely, totally irrelevant.

By the end of the book the curiosity was gone.
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Antidepressants are awesome. (At least they were for me.)

It's now been about a year since I started on SSRIs. Since my prescription is about to run out, I scheduled a meeting with a psychiatrist to discuss whether to stay on them. Since my health care provider has changed, I went to my previous one and got a copy of my patient records to bring to the new one.

And wow. It's kinda shocking to read them: my previous psychiatrist has written down things like: "Patient reports moments of despair and anguish of whether anything is going to lead to anything useful, and is worried for how long this will last. Recently there have been good days as well, but isn't sure whether those will keep up."

And the psychologist I spoke with has written down: "At times has very negative views of the future, afraid that will never reach his goals."

And the thing is, reading that, I remember saying those things. I remember having those feelings of despair, of nothing ever working out. But I only remember them now, when I read through the records. I had mostly forgotten that I even did have those feelings.

When I dig my memory, I can find other such things. A friend commenting to me that, based on her observations, I seem to be roughly functional maybe about half the time. Me posting on social media that I have a constant anxiety, a need to escape, being unable to really even enjoy any free time I have. A feeling that taking even a major risk for the sake of feeling better would be okay, because I didn't really have all that much to lose. Having regular Skype sessions with another friend, and feeling bad because he seemed to be getting a lot of things done, and my days just seemed to pass by without me managing to make much progress on anything. Having regular Skype sessions with another friend, and feeling bad because he seemed to be getting a lot of things done, and my days just seemed to pass by without me managing to make much progress on anything.

All of that had developed so gradually and over the years that it had never really even occurred to me that it wasn't normal. And then, after I got the antidepressants, those helped me get back on my feet, and then things gradually improved until I no longer even remembered the depths of what I had thought was normal, a year back.

Change blindness. It's a thing.
Antidepressants are awesome. (At least they were for me.) It's now been about a year since I started on SSRIs. Since my prescription is about to run out, I scheduled a meeting with a psychiatrist t...
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I'm glad you're demonstrably feeling better! :)
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> They say only Good can create, whereas Evil is sterile. Think Tolkien, where Morgoth can’t make things himself, so perverts Elves to Orcs for his armies. But I think this gets it entirely backwards; it’s Good that just mutates and twists, and it’s Evil that teems with fecundity.

> Imagine two principles, here in poetic personification. The first is the Goddess of Cancer, the second the Goddess of Everything Else. If visual representations would help, you can think of the first with the claws of a crab, and the second a dress made of feathers of peacocks.

> The Goddess of Cancer reached out a clawed hand over mudflats and tidepools. She said pretty much what she always says, “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER.” Then everything burst into life, became miniature monsters engaged in a battle of all against all in their zeal to assuage their insatiable longings. And the swamps became orgies of hunger and fear and grew loud with the screams of a trillion amoebas...
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Work
Employment
  • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    Research Associate, 2013 - present
  • Finn Lectura
    Software Developer, 2013 - 2014
  • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    Research Fellow, 2012 - 2013
  • Machine Intelligence Research Institute
    Research Associate, 2012 - 2012
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Helsinki
Previously
Turku, Finland
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Wrote three non-fiction books
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  • University of Helsinki
    Cognitive Science (BA), 2006 - 2011
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