Search Results for: lying stimuli

Lying Stimuli

In economic downturns, most economic activity arguably has a positive externality; when A buys services from B, not only do A and B benefit but the downturn is reduced a bit as well.  (In an upturn, extra activity arguably exasperates the boom-bust cycle.)  This fact can justify subsidizing economic activity a bit more (or taxing it a bit less) during a downturn.  But it turns out this isn't the main rationale for "economic stimuli" now being debated; those plans are largely based on the idea that people can be fooled because they are biased.  Tyler Cowen

Let's say government can spend $100 billion today or spend the present expected value of $100 billion, stretched out over time so it is a commitment in perpetuity.  Both spending programs are financed by bonds. … The Keynesian boost to aggregate demand arises because people consider the resulting bonds to be "net wealth" even when they are not. …  People are tricked by the government's fiscal policy, but of course the extent, timing, and nature of the trickery is hard to predict.  Is it easier to trick people "a lot all at once" or "a little bit by bit over time"?  It depends.  If you try to trick them slowly over time, temporal learning and adaptive expectations may work against the policymaker.  But if you try to trick people a lot all at once, the trick may rise over their threshold of attention, perhaps because of media coverage.

Wise taxpayers who get stimuli tax rebate checks should mostly save them, realizing that future taxes must rise to pay for those checks.  For similar reasons, wise taxpayers should also spend less upon hearing about government spending increases.  So with wise taxpayers it is not obvious that tax rebates or government spending increases would help much with the downturn. 

The consensus among macro-economists seems to be that people can in fact be fooled by such stimuli, but as Tyler indicates, it is not clear which policies most fool us.  In particular, the more public attention we give to the stimuli, the less they might work.  We might make people realize that they need to compensate via saving, and the more we scare folks into thinking we need huge stimuli, the more we might scare them away from normal economic activity levels.

So should we stop explaining macro-economics during this crisis, and stop saying how desperately we need stimuli?  After all, similar rationales were offered against allowing financial market short-sales.

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Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization

At least three people have died playing online games for days without rest.  People have lost their spouses, jobs, and children to World of Warcraft.  If people have the right to play video games – and it’s hard to imagine a more fundamental right – then the market is going to respond by supplying the most engaging video games that can be sold, to the point that exceptionally engaged consumers are removed from the gene pool.

How does a consumer product become so involving that, after 57 hours of using the product, the consumer would rather use the product for one more hour than eat or sleep?  (I suppose one could argue that the consumer makes a rational decision that they’d rather play Starcraft for the next hour than live out the rest of their lives, but let’s just not go there.  Please.)

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Long Views Are Coming

One useful way to think about the future is to ask what key future dates are coming, and then to think about in what order they may come, in what order we want them, and how we might influence that order. Such key dates include extinction, theory of everything found, innovation runs out, exponential growth slows down, and most bio humans unemployed. Many key dates are firsts: alien life or civilization found, world government founded, off-Earth self-sufficient colony, big nuclear war, immortal born, time machine made, cheap emulations, and robots that can cheaply replace most all human workers. In this post, I want to highlight another key date, one that is arguably as important as any of the above: the day when the dominant actors take a long view.

So far history can be seen as a fierce competition by various kinds of units (including organisms, genes, and cultures) to control the distant future. Yet while this has resulted in very subtle and sophisticated behavior, almost all this behavior is focused on the short term. We see this in machine learning systems; even when they are selected to achieve end-of-game outcomes, they much prefer to do this via current behaviors that react to current stimuli. It seems to just be much harder to successfully plan on longer timescales.

Animal predators and prey developed brains to plan over short sections of a chase or fight. Human foragers didn’t plan much longer than that, and it took a lot of cultural selection to get human farmers to plan on the scale of a year, e.g., to save grain for winter eating and spring seeds. Today human organizations can consistently manage modest plans on the scale of a few years, but we fail badly when we try much larger or longer plans.

Arguably, competition and evolution will continue to select for units capable of taking longer views. And so if competition continues for long enough, eventually our world should contain units that do care about the distant future, and are capable of planning effectively over long timescales. And eventually these units should have enough of a competitive advantage to dominate.

And this seems a very good thing! Arguably, the biggest thing that goes wrong in the world today is that we fail to take a long view. Because we fail to much consider the long run in our choices, we put a vast great future at risk, such as by tolerating avoidable existential risks. This will end once the dominant units take a long view. At that point there may be fights on which direction the future should take, and coordination failures may lead to bad outcomes, but at least the future will not be neglected.

The future not being neglected seems such a wonderfully good outcome that I’m tempted to call the “Long View Day” when this starts one of the most important future dates. And working to hasten that day could be one of the most important things we can do to help the future. So I hereby call to action those who (say they) care about the distant future to help in this task.

A great feature of this task is that it doesn’t require great coordination; it is a “race to the top”. That is, it is in the interest of each cultural unit (nation, language, ethnicity, religion, city, firm, family, etc.) to figure out how to take effective long term views. So you can help the world by allying with a particular unit and helping it learn to take an effective long term view. You don’t have to choose between “selfishly” helping your unit, or helping the world as a whole.

One way to try to promote longer term views is to promote longer human lifespans. Its not that clear to me this works, however, as even immortals can prioritize the short run. And extending lifespans is very hard. But it is a fine goal in any case.

A bad way to encourage long views is to just encourage the adoption of plans that advocates now claim are effective ways to help in the long run. After all, it seems that one of the main obstacles so far to taking long views is the typical low quality of long-term plans offered. Instead, we must work to make long term planning processes more reliable.

My guess is that a key problem is worse incentives and accountability for those who make long term predictions, and who propose and implement longer term plans. If your five year plan goes wrong, that could wreck your career, but you might make a nice long comfy career our of a fifty year plan that will later go wrong. So we need to devise and test new ways to create better incentives for long term predictions and plans.

You won’t be surprised to hear me say I think prediction markets have promise as a way to create better incentives and accountability. But we haven’t experimented that much with long-term prediction markets, and they have some potential special issues, so there’s a lot of work to do to explore this approach.

Once we find ways to make more reliable long term plans, we will still face the problem that organizations are typically under the control of humans, who seem to consistently act on short term views. In my Age of Em scenario, this could be solved by having slower ems control long term choices, as they would naturally have longer term views. Absent ems, we may want to experiment with different cultural contexts for familiar ordinary humans, to see which can induce such humans to prioritize the long term.

If we can’t find contexts that make ordinary humans take long term views, we may want to instead create organizations with longer term views. One approach would be to release enough of them from tight human controls, and subject them to selection pressures that reward better long term views. For example, evolutionary finance studies what investment organizations free to reinvest all their assets would look like if they were selected for their ability to grow assets well.

Some will object to the creation of powerful entities whose preferences disagree with those of familiar humans alive at the time. And I admit that gives me pause. But if taken strictly that attitude seems to require that the future always remain neglected, if ordinary humans discount the future. I fear that may be too high a price to pay.

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Devil’s Offers

Previously in seriesHarmful Options

An iota of fictional evidence from The Golden Age by John C. Wright:

    Helion had leaned and said, "Son, once you go in there, the full powers and total command structures of the Rhadamanth Sophotech will be at your command.  You will be invested with godlike powers; but you will still have the passions and distempers of a merely human spirit.  There are two temptations which will threaten you.  First, you will be tempted to remove your human weaknesses by abrupt mental surgery.  The Invariants do this, and to a lesser degree, so do the White Manorials, abandoning humanity to escape from pain.  Second, you will be tempted to indulge your human weakness.  The Cacophiles do this, and to a lesser degree, so do the Black Manorials.  Our society will gladly feed every sin and vice and impulse you might have; and then stand by helplessly and watch as you destroy yourself; because the first law of the Golden Oecumene is that no peaceful activity is forbidden.  Free men may freely harm themselves, provided only that it is only themselves that they harm."
    Phaethon knew what his sire was intimating, but he did not let himself feel irritated.  Not today.  Today was the day of his majority, his emancipation; today, he could forgive even Helion's incessant, nagging fears.
    Phaethon also knew that most Rhadamanthines were not permitted to face the Noetic tests until they were octogenerians; most did not pass on their first attempt, or even their second.  Many folk were not trusted with the full powers of an adult until they reached their Centennial.  Helion, despite criticism from the other Silver-Gray branches, was permitting Phaethon to face the tests five years early…

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Protein Reinforcement and DNA Consequentialism

Followup toEvolutionary Psychology

It takes hundreds of generations for a simple beneficial mutation to promote itself to universality in a gene pool.  Thousands of generations, or even millions, to create complex interdependent machinery.

That’s some slow learning there.  Let’s say you’re building a squirrel, and you want the squirrel to know locations for finding nuts.  Individual nut trees don’t last for the thousands of years required for natural selection.  You’re going to have to learn using proteins.  You’re going to have to build a brain.

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