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Notes from Effective Altruism "Global" "x" in Oxford, in 2016

(This is about this thing. The following would work better as a bunch of tweets but seriously screw that: )


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Single lines which do much of the work of a whole talk:

"Effective altruism is to the pursuit of the good as science is to the pursuit of the truth." (Toby Ord)

"If the richest gave just the interest on their wealth for a year they could double the income of the poorest billion." (Will MacAskill)

"If you use a computer the size of the sun to beat a human at chess, either you are confused about programming or chess." (Nate Soares)

"Evolution optimised very, very hard for one goal - genetic fitness - and produced an AGI with a very different goal: roughly, fun." (Nate Soares)

"The goodness of outcomes cannot depend on other possible outcomes. You're thinking of optimality." (Derek Parfit)



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data jobs, tautologies, bullshit, $$$

(c) Tom Gauld (2014)
When physicists do mathematics, they don’t say they’re doing “number science”. They’re doing math. If you’re analyzing data, you’re doing statistics. You can call it data science or informatics or analytics or whatever, but it’s still statistics... You may not like what some statisticians do. You may feel they don’t share your values. They may embarrass you. But that shouldn’t lead us to abandon the term “statistics”.

Karl Broman


what makes data science special and distinct from statistics is that this data product gets incorporated back into the real world, and users interact with that product, and that generates more data: a feedback loop. This is very different from predicting the weather...

– Cathy O'Neil / Rachel Schutt

"Data science" is the latest name for an old pursuit: the attempt to make computers give us new knowledge. * In computing's short history, there have already been about 10 words for this activity (and god knows how many deri…

notable oral noises

Strine (Oz proper n.): that thick Australian accent. Onomatopoeic: just say "Striiine" - "(Au)stralian" - with a long ɒ sound.
curioso (C17th It. n.): Brilliant enthusiast of unusual things. Originally synonymous with virtuoso; a word for a proto-scientist / Renaissance man.
sockdolager (American n.): A finisher; an exceptional thing. Probably from "sock" (punch) and "doxology" (final hymn). Was the last word heard in the theatre before Lincoln was shot amidst laughter.
gunsel (originally Yiddish n.): 1) hoodlum; Player. 2) catamite - from the Yiddish גענדזל, gosling. <3. The derived term "gunselism" has exactly 1 hit and how often do you see that?
green ink letter (n.): A lunatic rant sent in to the Letters page.
cromulent (adj.): blameless; fine. Made up by a Simpsons writer to demonstrate Frege's Context Principle (or Springfield's inbreeding).
Taco Bell Programming (n.): the discipline of solving software engineering problem…

feel for data

"This isn't right. Imagine: we give them a loss function, without a utility function. They can't feel good; only less bad."
"It's the same with us, tho. What we call utility is just the absence of loss."
"I'm not sure that's true. Pride feels to be more than the absence of shame; love is more than absence of loneliness."
"There's a fairly big gap between your two examples. And it's hard to think clearly when strong pleasure or pain is implicated."
"Nevertheless, yours is the view requiring a mass redefinition of natural language to make two entities become one."
"I don't mind. Even if they're not identical, we can still capture most of all value by reducing harm."
"I don't see how you can know that."
"Obvs I don't know it infallibly, but anyway it can't hurt."
"You might be more ambitious than such moral hedging."
"Yes, as soon as possible: tha…

Highlighted passages from Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Something of real consequence was happening. We were at the start of a great renaissance of public shaming. After a lull of almost 180 years (public punishments were phased out in 1837 in the United Kingdom and in 1839 in the United States), it was back in a big way. When we deployed shame, we were utilizing an immensely powerful tool. It was coercive, borderless, and increasing in speed and influence. Hierarchies were being leveled out. The silenced were getting a voice. It was like the democratization of justice. And so I made a decision. The next time a great modern shaming unfolded against some significant wrongdoer—the next time citizen justice prevailed in a dramatic and righteous way—I would leap into the middle of it. I’d investigate it close up and chronicle how efficient it was in righting wrongs.



After the interview was over, I staggered out into the London afternoon. I dreaded uploading the footage onto YouTube because I’d been so screechy. I steeled myself for comments…