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Kaj Sotala
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People sometimes point to how fast social progress has been as an encouraging thing. For instance, the way that it only took around five decades (depending on your jurisdiction) to go from the point where sodomy was a crime, to gay marriage being legal and the idea of criminalizing homosexuality being an opinion outside all respectable discourse.

And it is indeed encouraging. But at the same time, this also feels deeply scary, in that it suggests that public opinion and morality are highly fickle, and that even strongly entrenched views can quickly reverse themselves. If it took such a short time for views to change in a better direction, how can we know that it won't take an equally short time for views to become drastically worse again?

It might seem unimaginable now, but then think of how far-fetched gay marriage must have seemed in the 1970s, let alone the 1920s.

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> Qiao Jie [...] a fertility specialist and president of Peking University Third Hospital in Beijing [...] jumps to the topic at hand: spreading awareness of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a procedure that helps couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) to avoid passing on genetic mutations that could cause disease or disability in their children. Qiao typically refuses interview requests, but she’s concerned that people aren’t getting the message about PGD fast enough. “Now, more and more diseases can be stopped — if not immediately, in the generation after next,” she says. [...]

> The clinics are huge and growing. Qiao’s centre carried out 18,000 IVF procedures in 2016. The biggest clinic, the Reproductive and Genetic Hospital CITIC-Xiangya in Changsha, recorded 41,000 IVF procedures in the same year. That’s roughly one-quarter of the annual number for the entire United States. [...]

> Chinese researchers are also looking for more disease-associated gene variants, specifically to expand the impact of PGD. The most concentrated efforts are being orchestrated by He Lin, a geneticist at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He has set out an ambitious project: to pin down all the mutations in all the genes that cause diseases and put them into a single database. “We just do them one by one until we get the whole set,” he says, referring to the roughly 6,000 known genetic diseases. As disease–gene links are verified, they could be added to the list of things that PGD can screen for. [...]

> In the West, PGD still raises fears about the creation of an elite genetic class, and critics talk of a slippery slope towards eugenics, a word that elicits thoughts of Nazi Germany and racial cleansing. In China, however, PGD lacks such baggage. The Chinese word for eugenics, yousheng, is used explicitly as a positive in almost all conversations about PGD. Yousheng is about giving birth to children of better quality. Not smoking during pregnancy is also part of yousheng. [...]

> To many fertility specialists, what’s most striking about China’s adoption of PGD is the speed and organization of its uptake. [...] This could be a boon for the country, given the economic arguments for PGD. For instance, one study has compared the average costs of the PGD procedure needed to avoid cystic fibrosis — US$57,500 — with the medical costs incurred in a lifetime by an average patient, which amounted to $2.3 million [...] Already the procedure is much cheaper in China — about one-third of what it costs in the United States. Cheaper tests will make it more palatable for national insurance coverage, something Qiao has already started pushing for.
China’s embrace of embryo selection raises thorny questions

"Fertility centres are making a massive push to increase preimplantation genetic diagnosis in a bid to eradicate certain diseases.

... Early experiments are beginning to show how genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR might one day fix disease-causing mutations before embryos are implanted. But refining the techniques and getting regulatory approval will take years. PGD has already helped thousands of couples. And whereas the expansion of PGD around the world has generally been slow, in China, it is starting to explode.

... Genetic screening during pregnancy for chromosomal abnormalities linked to maternal age has taken off throughout the country, and many see this as a precursor to wider adoption of PGD.

Although Chinese fertility doctors were late to the game in adopting the procedure, they have been pursuing a more aggressive, comprehensive and systematic path towards its use there than anywhere else. The country’s central government, known for its long-term thinking, has over the past decade stepped up efforts to bring high-quality health care to the people, and its current 5-year plan has made reproductive medicine, including PGD, a priority ...

Comprehensive figures are difficult to come by, but estimates from leading PGD providers show that China’s use of the technique already outpaces that in the United States, and it is growing up to five times faster.

... there are concerns about the push to select for non-disease-related traits, such as intelligence or athletic ability. The ever-present spectre of eugenics lurks in the shadows. But in China, although these concerns are considered, most thoughts are focused on the benefits of the procedures.

... And the centres with licences to do PGD have created a buzz in their race to claim firsts with the technology. In 2015, CITIC-Xiangya boasted China’s first “cancer-free baby”. The boy’s parents had terminated a prior pregnancy after genetic testing showed the presence of retinoblastoma, a cancer that forms in the eyes during early development and often leads to blindness. In their next try, the couple used PGD to ensure that the gene variant that causes retinoblastoma wasn’t present. Other groups have helped couples to avoid passing on a slew of conditions: short-rib-polydactyly syndrome, Brittle-bone disease, Huntington’s disease, polycystic kidney disease and deafness, among others. ...

Joe Leigh Simpson, a medical geneticist at Florida International University in Miami, and former president of the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis International Society, is impressed by the quality and size of the Chinese fertility clinics. They “are superb and have gigantic units. They came out of nowhere in just 2 or 3 years,” he says. ...

People in China seem more likely to feel an obligation to bear the healthiest child possible than to protect an embryo. The Chinese appetite for using genetic technology to ensure healthy births can be seen in the rapid rise of pregnancy testing for Down’s syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. Since Shenzhen-based BGI introduced a test for Down’s syndrome in 2013, it has sold more than 2 million kits; half of those sales were in the past year.

... The Chinese word for eugenics, yousheng, is used explicitly as a positive in almost all conversations about PGD. Yousheng is about giving birth to children of better quality. Not smoking during pregnancy is also part of yousheng. ..."

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+Joanna Price: "Identifying Nazis from pics of #charlottesville is easy to get behind but I guarantee that every single time there's an investigation by social media, innocent people have to hide."

> A counterprotester at the white supremacist march had posted a picture of a man with a beard and light brown hair, the same color as Quinn's, the school official said. The man was wearing a T-shirt that said "Arkansas Engineering." The official said someone on social media put Quinn's name to the picture.

> "I thought, you know ... 'This is completely ridiculous,' " Quinn says. "I didn't really understand exactly what was going to happen in the days to come."

> His Twitter account and email were inundated with people cursing at him, threatening him and his wife. The university was getting phone calls and emails encouraging it to fire Quinn.

> "It got to the point then, on Saturday night, where they had tweeted our home address," he says. [...] Quinn and his wife hid out at a friend's house. They were frightened — it was like being chased by a mob. [...]

> It's not the first time this sort of thing has happened. In one incident, users on Reddit and other sites combed through photos and other leads after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. One result was a New York Post cover that falsely suggested two men in a photo were suspects. There also were false accusations against a missing Brown University student.

Apparently when it's late in the evening and I'm getting tired, I easily get stuck doing repeating whatever behaviors I was engaging in before. Especially if they're small things that are easy to repeat and don't require much effort.

If it's aimless Facebook browsing, then I get stuck doing that.

But... apparently if the previous behavior was doing small work-related tasks that can be done in small chunks, then I get stuck doing work.


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In 2009, Nick Bostrom brought up the possibility of dealing with moral uncertainty with a "parliamentary model" of morality. Suppose that you assign (say) 40% probability to some form particular of utilitarianism being correct, and 20% probability to some other form of utilitarianism being correct, and 20% probability to some form of deontology being true. Then in the parliamentary model, you imagine yourself as having a "parliament" that decides on what to do, with the first utilitarian theory having 40% of the delegates, the other form having 20%, and the deontological theory having 20%. The various delegates then bargain with each other and vote on different decisions. Bostrom explained:

> The idea here is that moral theories get more influence the more probable they are; yet even a relatively weak theory can still get its way on some issues that the theory think are extremely important by sacrificing its influence on other issues that other theories deem more important. For example, suppose you assign 10% probability to total utilitarianism and 90% to moral egoism (just to illustrate the principle). Then the Parliament would mostly take actions that maximize egoistic satisfaction; however it would make some concessions to utilitarianism on issues that utilitarianism thinks is especially important. In this example, the person might donate some portion of their income to existential risks research and otherwise live completely selfishly.

As I noted, the model was proposed for dealing with a situation where you're not sure of which ethical theory is correct. I view this somewhat differently. I lean towards the theory that the parliamentary model itself is the most correct ethical theory, as the brain seems to contain multiple different valuation systems that get activated in different situations, as well as multiple competing subsystems that feed inputs to these higher-level systems. (E.g. there exist both systems that tend to produce more deontological judgments, and systems that tend to produce more consequentialist judgments.)

Over time, I've settled upon something like a parliamentary model for my own decision-making. Different parts of me clearly tend towards different kinds of ethical frameworks, and rather than collapse into constant infighting, the best approach seems to go for a compromise where the most dominant parts get their desires most of the time, but less dominant parts also get their desires on issues that they care particularly strongly about. For example, a few days back I was considering the issue of whether I want to have children; several parts of my mind subscribed to various ethical theories which felt that the idea of having them felt a little iffy. But then a part of my mind piped up that clearly cared very strongly about the issue, and which had a strong position of "YES. KIDS". Given that the remaining parts of my mind only had ambivalent or weak preferences on the issue, they decided to let the part with the strongest preference to have its way, in order to get its support on other issues.

There was a time when I had a strong utilitarian faction in my mind which did not want to follow a democratic process and tried to force its will on all the other factions. This did not work very well, and I've felt much better after it was eventually overthrown.

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Interesting: several people have remarked that today's deep learning boom in AI is mostly driven by hardware catching up to the point where there's enough computing power to apply decades-old ideas effectively. Turns out that this was the case with the previous AI hype wave too, as evidenced by this Fortune article from 1984:

> The blossoming of interest in the field and the outpouring of investment dollars have created the impression that scientific breakthroughs have suddenly opened the way for countless new applications for expert systems. Yet Minsky and Schank contend that today’s systems are largely based on 20-year-old programming techniques that have merely become practical as computer power got cheaper. Truly significant advances in computer intelligence, they say, await future breakthroughs in programming.

What's the next AI breakthrough wave that we already have the ideas for, but which is waiting for the sufficient hardware?

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Six Ways To Get Along With People Who Are Totally Wrong:

> 1. Remember that you might be wrong
> Hard as it is to keep in mind when you're talking to someone who strongly disagrees with you, it is always possible that they have good points to make that would change your mind, at least a bit. Most claims are only ‘partially true or false’, and there is almost always something valuable you can learn from someone who disagrees with you, even if it is just an understanding of how they think. [...]

> 2. Be polite, doubly so if your partner is not
> Being polite will make both the person you are talking to, and onlookers, more likely to come around to your view. It also means that you're less likely to get into a fight that will hurt others and absorb your precious time and emotional energy. [...]

> 3. Don't infer bad motivations
> While humans often make mistakes in their thinking, it's uncommon for them to be straight out uninterested in the welfare of others or what is right, especially so in this movement. Even if they are, they are probably not aware that that is the case. And even if they are aware, you won't come across well to onlookers by addressing them as though they have bad motivations. [...]

> 4. Stay cool
> Even when people say things that warrant anger and outrage, expressing anger or outrage publicly will rarely make the world a better place. Anger being understandable or natural is very different from it being useful, especially if the other person is likely to retaliate with anger of their own. [...]

> 5. Pick your battles
> Not all things are equally important to reach a consensus about. For good or ill, most things we spend our days talking about just aren't that 'action relevant'. If you find yourself edging towards interpersonal conflict on a question that i) isn't going to change anyone's actions much; ii) isn't going to make the world a much better place, even if it does change their actions; or iii) is very hard to persuade others about, maybe it isn't worth the cost of interpersonal tension to explore in detail. [...]

> 6. Let it go

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> The field is small, but it is growing. As OpenAI and DeepMind build teams dedicated to A.I. safety, so too is Google’s stateside lab, Google Brain. Meanwhile, researchers at universities like the U.C. Berkeley and Stanford University are working on similar problems, often in collaboration with the big corporate labs.

> In some cases, researchers are working to ensure that [AI] systems don’t make mistakes on their own, as the Coast Runners boat did. They’re also working to ensure that hackers and other bad actors can’t exploit hidden holes in these systems. Researchers like Google’s Ian Goodfellow, for example, are exploring ways that hackers could fool A.I. systems into seeing things that aren’t there. [...]

> Another big worry is that A.I. systems will learn to prevent humans from turning them off. If the machine is designed to chase a reward, the thinking goes, it may find that it can chase that reward only if it stays on. This oft-described threat is much further off, but researchers are already working to address it.

> Mr. Hadfield-Menell and others at U.C. Berkeley recently published a paper that takes a mathematical approach to the problem. A machine will seek to preserve its off switch, they showed, if it is specifically designed to be uncertain about its reward function. This gives it an incentive to accept or even seek out human oversight.

> Much of this work is still theoretical. But given the rapid progress of A.I. techniques and their growing importance across so many industries, researchers believe that starting early is the best policy.

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This seems potentially valuable:

> Events that happen on a regular schedule lower the energy it takes to be social. Things like church every Sunday, a dance that's every 1st Saturday, or a dinner with friends on 2nd and 4th Wednesdays. In general, I think people would probably be happier if they had more things like this in their lives. [1] To help with this, I made a site

> The site lets you create an event, and then invite people [...] Or you can send them the link and they can join themselves. Everyone who is a member of the event will get an email reminder prompting them to RSVP, a few days before each event [...]

> The overall goal is to be very light-weight, just something to handle reminding people about the recurring event and collecting RSVPs. Kind of like Doodle is for scheduling one-off events.

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> Here’s how I think about free speech. I see four levels of “wrongness” of speech, each of which merits a different reaction — none, individual social consequences, official social consequences, and legal consequences. [...]

> The most common disagreement that I have with people over free speech tends to involve them putting speech in category 3 [official social consequences] that I think should be in category 2 [individual social consequences]. Think of Twitter mobs calling for a CEO to be fired because he voted for Trump.
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