Discover more from Links
I keep on linking Haidt’s new Substack because I keep on being stunned by the analysis and conclusions. We’re at a very interesting point in history; hopefully the future isn’t too dystopian:
What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning). Greg hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT. […]
Greg and I decided to expand our original essay into a book in which we delved into the many causes of the sudden change in campus culture. Our book focused on three “great untruths” that seemed to be widely believed by the students who were trying to shut down speech and prosecute dissent:
1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
2. Always trust your feelings
3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
There are at least two ways to explain why liberal girls became depressed faster than other groups at the exact time (around 2012) when teens traded in their flip phones for smartphones and the girls joined Instagram en masse. The first and simplest explanation is that liberal girls simply used social media more than any other group. Jean Twenge’s forthcoming book, Generations, is full of amazing graphs and insightful explanations of generational differences. In her chapter on Gen Z, she shows that liberal teen girls are by far the most likely to report that they spend five or more hours a day on social media (31% in recent years, compared to 22% for conservative girls, 18% for liberal boys, and just 13% for conservative boys). Being an ultra-heavy user means that you have less time available for everything else, including time “in real life” with your friends. Twenge shows in another graph that from the 1970s through the early 2000s, liberal girls spent more time with friends than conservative girls. But after 2010 their time with friends drops so fast that by 2016 they are spending less time with friends than are conservative girls. So part of the story may be that social media took over the lives of liberal girls more than any other group, and it is now clear that heavy use of social media damages mental health, especially during early puberty.
But I think there’s more going on here than the quantity of time on social media. Like Filipovic, Yglesias, Goldberg, and Lukianoff, I think there’s something about the messages liberal girls consume that is more damaging to mental health than those consumed by other groups.
How the downfall of one intelligence agent revealed the astonishing depth of Chinese industrial espionage.
In case you missed it, GPT-4 is out…and I suppose it is about as impressive as everyone expected:
We’ve created GPT-4, the latest milestone in OpenAI’s effort in scaling up deep learning. GPT-4 is a large multimodal model (accepting image and text inputs, emitting text outputs) that, while less capable than humans in many real-world scenarios, exhibits human-level performance on various professional and academic benchmarks.
Someone asks: why is “Jap” a slur? It’s the natural shortening of “Japanese person”, just as “Brit” is the natural shortening of “British person”. Nobody says “Brit” is a slur. Why should “Jap” be? […]
This story shows that slurs are hyperstitions.
A hyperstition is a belief which becomes true if people believe it’s true. For example, “Dogecoin is a great short-term investment and you need to buy it right now!” is true if everyone believes it is true; lots of people will buy Dogecoin and it will go way up. “The bank is collapsing and you need to get your money out right away” is likewise true; if everyone believes it, there will be a run on the bank. […]
So one thing I think about a lot is: when do I join the cascade?
I can’t never join the cascade. I’m not going to refer to the Japanese as “Japs” out of some kind of never-joining-hyperstitious-slur-cascade principle. This would be the dumbest possible hill to die on. I would lose all my social credibility and maybe even actually sadden one or two real Japanese people.
And if I’m the last person to join a hyperstitious slur cascade, then I’ll probably do pretty badly. I don’t think we’ve reached 100% fixation on nobody-uses-Confederate-flags-innocently. A relative of mine who lives in the South and has no known political opinions still has a Confederate flag sticker in his room. But I wouldn’t want to emulate him, even if I had some good reason to like Southernness.
On the other hand, the people who want to be the first person in a new cascade, like USC’s social work department, are contemptible. And the people who join when it’s only reached 1% or 5%, out of enthusiastic conformity or pre-emptive fear, are pathetic.
On May 22, 2022, I began an experiment. I unplugged everything in my apartment, with the goal of drawing zero power from the electric grid for one month. I had no idea how I would make it past a few days.
Nevertheless, I opened the main circuit, disconnecting my apartment from the grid and committing myself to solving what problems arose as they came. As I type these words in January, I’m in my eighth month. My Con-Ed bills continue to show zero kilowatt-hours.
Ars Technica readers undoubtedly want to know about my equipment. We’ll get there, but first let me share my history, motivation, and constraints.
A century ago, Thomas Midgley Jr. was responsible for two phenomenally destructive innovations. What can we learn from them today?
Over the last week, three U.S. banks have failed. More banks are under extreme stress. This stress is not new and was not unknown but is becoming common knowledge rapidly. We may be in the early stages of a banking crisis.
“Crisis” is a bit of a strong word, even when invoked as a potential outcome, and I try to be fairly sober-minded. I’d like to explain how we got here, how the relevant institutions are generally expected to work, what seems to be different this time, and what smart people who are not normally professionally engaged in this might find relevant to know about the infrastructure that we all depend on.
Chatrooms taught me everything I needed to know about what real people were like before I had to grow up and become one of them.
I’m taking the gondola down too, but not because I’m hurt. I’m two hours into a daylong mission to ride a chairlift from first chair to last, 9 A.M. to 4 P.M., and interview everyone I encounter. That’s roughly 30 seven-minute interviews on the ride up, plus anyone I meet on the ride down. My editor wants me to take the lift both ways, I think because he hopes to torture me for comedic effect. He mentioned, a little too gleefully, that I should bring a warm jacket in case I’m on the chair for eight hours in a blizzard.
Five pieces on AI. I think this is important. Feel free to skip forward if you disagree. First up, Steven Pinker (via an e-mail exchange with Richard Hanania):
While I defend the existence and utility of IQ and its principal component, general intelligence or g, in the study of individual differences, I think it’s completely irrelevant to AI, AI scaling, and [existential risk from AI]. It’s a measure of differences among humans within the restricted range they occupy, developed more than a century ago. It’s a statistical construct with no theoretical foundation, and it has tenuous connections to any mechanistic understanding of cognition other than as an omnibus measure of processing efficiency (speed of neural transmission, amount of neural tissue, and so on). It exists as a coherent variable only because performance scores on subtests like vocabulary, digit string memorization, and factual knowledge intercorrelate, yielding a statistical principal component, probably a global measure of neural fitness.
Next, Scott Aaronson:
Every week now, it seems, events on the ground make a fresh mockery of those who confidently assert what AI will never be able to do. […]
On a trip to the Bay Area last week, my rationalist friends asked me some version of the “why aren’t you more terrified?” question over and over. Often it was paired with: “Scott, as someone working at OpenAI this year, how can you defend that company’s existence at all? Did OpenAI not just endanger the whole world, by successfully teaming up with Microsoft to bait Google into an AI capabilities race—precisely what we were all trying to avoid? Won’t this race burn the little time we had thought we had left to solve the AI alignment problem?”
Scott Aaronson again:
Mostly my reaction has been: how can anyone stop being fascinated for long enough to be angry? […]
I should mention that, when I’ve discussed the “shut it all down” position with my colleagues at OpenAI … well, obviously they disagree, or they wouldn’t be working there, but not one has sneered or called the position paranoid or silly. To the last, they’ve called it an important point on the spectrum of possible opinions to be weighed and understood.
Now Scott Alexander:
But science and technology aren’t perfect bets. Gain-of-function research on coronaviruses was a big loss. Leaded gasoline, chlorofluorocarbon-based refrigerants, thalidomide for morning sickness - all of these were high-tech ideas that ended up going badly, not to mention all the individual planes that crashed or rockets that exploded.
Society (mostly) recovered from all of these. A world where people invent gasoline and refrigerants and medication (and sometimes fail and cause harm) is vastly better than one where we never try to have any of these things. I’m not saying technology isn’t a great bet. It’s a great bet!
But you never bet everything you’ve got on a bet, even when it’s great. Pursuing a technology that could destroy the world is betting 100%.
Finally, Ezra Klein:
In 2018, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google — and not one of the tech executives known for overstatement — said, “A.I. is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.”
Try to live, for a few minutes, in the possibility that he’s right. There is no more profound human bias than the expectation that tomorrow will be like today. It is a powerful heuristic tool because it is almost always correct. Tomorrow probably will be like today. Next year probably will be like this year. But cast your gaze 10 or 20 years out. Typically, that has been possible in human history. I don’t think it is now.
As usual, I am unconvinced by Hanania while finding his argument interesting:
Is the Bukele crackdown justified in cost-benefit terms? One can’t answer this question from first principles in the way that human rights activists and many in the media would like. […]
This would mean that in El Salvador, under the current crackdown, you would have something like a 1 in 200 chance of being locked up as an innocent person. Recall from above that when Bukele took power, El Salvador had a murder rate equivalent to that of Detroit, while now it’s in the ballpark of the US average. We can therefore put the question like this: would you take a 1 in 200 chance of being innocently locked up in order to go from living in a random neighborhood in Detroit to living in an American city with a crime rate close to the national average?
I would take this tradeoff without thinking twice.
Although not everybody knows what Silicon Valley Bank is, they are not what one Business Insider columnist called “a little known California bank.” Silicon Valley Bank is one of the 20 largest banks on the planet. It provides banking services specifically tailored to VC funds and start-ups. It’s also not one of the neo-banks that’s popped up in the last 5 years. It’s a storied bank that began in 1982 and has dutifully provided start-ups the banking they need to grow while traditional banks stayed away from the cash-strapped, unprofitable customers. […]
Pining for views and clicks like saplings clamoring for the sun in a forest, our fear mongering “fintech gurus” began calling SVB’s move a liquidity crisis and predicting the end of the bank. Words like “fire sale” were incorrectly used as clickbait and sparked fear in an industry of cash-strapped stressed out founders.
This is important. To grasp the significance of what is happening here, we have to rewind to the 1980s. This is when the phrase “take economic construction as the central task” [以经济建设为中心] was first introduced to the Communist lexicon. Phrases like these are extremely important to Communist Party politics and policy. Governing a party with more than 90 million members presents a dizzying coordination program. One way in which the Center manages this challenge is through the promulgation of slogans—also known by their Chinese term, tifa [提法]. The goal of a slogan is to package leadership priorities, strategic assessments, historical judgments, and policy programs in a phrase small enough to circulate throughout propaganda system. The ideal tifa is vague enough for cadres to easily adapt to their own sphere of responsibility but specific enough unify the work priorities of millions of party cadres and state bureaucrats.
When Ke Huy Quan appeared in the most hotly anticipated film of my sixth grade existence, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I was horrified by his Short Round character. The day after its opening in late May of 1984, I knew my friends were going to want me to do the accent, to approximate the enthusiasm when I ran the lines. I knew this because John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles had opened earlier that month, and the week following it was full of my friends slanting their eyes and yelling “What’s happening, hot stuff?” at me in their best Long Duk Dong. I wasn’t being bullied; I was being recognized as a reflection of the only Asian representation available in American popular culture. Prior to that 1984 season of Hollywood giving, the most common salvos at me from friend and foe alike were Bruce Lee’s yips and some variation of “ancient Chinese secret.” In the pre-Internet before a’la carte viewing habits, the monoculture provided precious little relief.
Once depositors are allowed to take losses, both individuals and institutions will adjust their deposit behavior, and they probably would do so relatively quickly. Smaller banks would receive many fewer deposits, and the giant “too big to fail” banks, such as JP Morgan, would receive many more deposits. Many people know that if depositors at an institution such as JP Morgan were allowed to take losses above 250k, the economy would come crashing down. The federal government would in some manner intervene – whether we like it or not – and depositors at the biggest banks would be protected.
In essence, we would end up centralizing much of our American and foreign capital in our “too big to fail” banks. That would make them all the more too big to fail. It also might boost financial sector concentration in undesirable ways.
To see the perversity of the actual result, we started off wanting to punish banks and depositors for their mistakes. We end up in a world where it is much harder to punish banks and depositors for their mistakes.
Even though you’re probably already familiar with silent letters, you might not realize just how many words in English actually use them. To demonstrate just how common these silent letters actually are, we quietly gathered up a list of as many examples of silent letters as we could find.
If you live in any sort of winter climate, you have, at one time or another, wrestled with the two great mysteries of cold weather life:
1. Why does 50°F in the fall make you want to bundle up while 50°F in the spring makes you want to go for a walk in short sleeves?
2. Why the hell do kids wear shorts during the winter or go without coats when it’s literally freezing out? Like seriously, what the hell?
This short video answers both questions with one magical substance: brown fat.
It is notable for its unique groundwater ecosystem abundant in hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, but low in oxygen. Life in the cave has been separated from the outside for the past 5.5 million years and it is based completely on chemosynthesis rather than photosynthesis.