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Links June/July

When Pepsi had a Navy 

Liv Boree will apparently become much more active on her Youtube Channel. Here is a video of Anders Sandberg explaining to her what would happen if the earth was made of blueberries 

AI Reading List 

Interview with Liv Boeree about her future plans for her youtube channel and other things 

A subreddit only bots can post too. Reading it is very weird experience.


Matt Yglesias explains that the research actually shows that moderate candidates do better than relatively extreme ones and argues that the ’Trump won so we can just campaign on whatever we want’ line doesn’t work 

Ezra Klein tries to explain why Joe Biden thinks about politics the way he does and argues that he is wrong 


A Thousand small sanities. An attempt at a definition and defense of liberalism. A well written book that shows a decent understanding of liberalisms critics from both the left and the right. The author writes with a deep reverence of people like Chesterton or Emma Goldman. The definition that the author proposes is one of attitude rather than concrete policies. I’m not sure it fully works out but it’s a very interesting approach. 

The AI does not hate you by Tom Chivers . Very good imo. Wrote a short review here.

‘History of the Supreme Court’. Good. Only covers stuff up to the year 2000, as it was published in 2003. 


‘The AI Does Not Hate You’ Review

Yesterday I finished listening to the book ‘The AI Does Not Hate You: Superintelligence, Rationality and the Race to Save the World‘ by Tom Chivers. It’s about the rationality community and the risk of artificial general intelligence.

Most of the book is spend explaining the background behind AI and the arguments for taking AGI serious as an existential risk. Also covered are Bayesianism and Biases, the history of the rationalist community and the history of transhumanism. While the book focusses on the rationality community, effective altruism is also mentioned. Everything is explained in a way that doesn’t require any knowledge about the topics in advance. While a lot of the book consists of explanations of topics important to rationalists, the author also recounts his personal experiences with the community and gives his opinion on it and the questions discussed in the book.  The author also discusses criticisms of the rationalist community and a few of its critics are given a voice. Discussed are Neo-Reaction, accusations of sexism and the accusations of the Rationality Community being a (sex) cult.

The author is mostly sympathetic towards the rationalist community and is very respectful of it and it’s members. He often mentions that many rationalists are very weird, but I would guess that most rationalists would not deny this. I certainly don’t. In fact, I learn a few new cool anecdotes about the rationality community from this book. I feel that critics of the community are treated fairly, maybe sometimes too fairly like in the case of the whole sex cult accusation. The author acknowledges some of there criticism (like I do too), but he ends up rejecting them. 

Overall I think the book is a great resource for everyone who wants to learn more about the rationalist- or EA community or wants to understand the argument for AGI posing and existential risk. You will also learn something about AI, Biases, Bayes Theorem and Forecasting, but of course those topics are all only explained briefly. I like the style of the book. It strikes a good balance between explaining ideas and telling the reader about the people behind them. It has 304 pages (audiobook. 8h 12m), which seems to me like an appropriate length.

I personally am really happy that that book exists because if I am ever asked again what this whole rationality thing is about, I can point them to a book that will give them a pretty solid understanding of the community and the ideas around it.

I do however have a few things to criticize that I will list here at the end. Note however that I listened to the book at 2.2x speed on audible in one day and did take very few notes while doing so and I am bound to have missed some things. All these criticisms are

  • The author does a good job explaining the argument for a fast take-off but doesn’t mention the responses and the section kinda leaves you with the impression that everyone believes it which is not true
  • The LW Diaspora is mentioned and the reasons are given but you don’t read anything about LW 2.0. I guess he finished writing the book quite some time ago, before LW 2.0 really became better known, so you can’t really blame him for that.
  • If you cite Dylan Matthew’s article criticizing arguments for AI Safety as an EA cause area and basically accusing many of their proponents of self-serving reasoning, you should perhaps mention that he as since changed his mind. Maybe this was not really obvious when the book was finished.
  • The book featured Roko’s Basilisk and the author actually goes into Newcomb’s problem and Timeless Decision Theory to explain it. I don’t think many people will understand this argument. I guess he thought mentioning Roko’s Basilisk was important and I agree but perhaps he should also explain why most people don’t think the argument makes sense
  • The author mentioned suffering in physics and wild-animal suffering as areas of interest for EA but doesn’t mention S-Risks, which seem much more important to the book.
  • Cryonics is mentioned briefly. The author doesn’t say that it is a good idea, nor that it is stupid. But I feel like there is a certain change that people have heard cryonics dismissed as obviously stupid somewhere else and that those people will know view transhumanism as somehow anti-scientific, which I think it mostly isn’t.
  • The title might be a bit misleading. Some people may think this is a book on why AI is actually not risky at all. At least the context is given in the book.

Links June I

Bet you didn’t guess which athletes earned the most money 

The Sowjet Union had an alternative to darwinian biology

Kelsey Piper explains why Silicon Valley is very valuable despite all the problems 

Longer Vox piece on the problem of closed access journals 

I reread this classic SSC post

Anna Riedl published a map of cognitive science. Apparently inspired by this map of complexity science 


Insightful profile of Bill Barr 

The Democrat’s path to take back the senate . People are not paying enough attention to the senate.

Discovered a great new podcast called ‚Things that go boom‘  that covers US Foreign policy. This episode covers how the Iran Deal was negotiated 

NowThis World seems to be doing some pretty good work

If you are interested in Geopolitics, KJ Vids is a great resource. And Caspian Report of course

Vox Video on the history of the filibuster 

The Times Magazine on the development and the impact of hypersonic missiles. Caspian Report covers the same topic here . I feel like people concerned about existential risk should discuss this more.

Effective Altruism & Rationality

Kelsey Piper on discusses whether climate change is truly an existential risk. People often don’t pay enough attention to the question. 

Some changes have been made to the layout of LessWrong and there’s now a new official FAQ 

Rethink priorities has a whole series of research work on invertebrate sentience 

History fans who have enjoyed Battle of Thermopylae also enjoyed Battle of Saragarhi


The bunkers of Albania . And while you are on the topic, check out this song.

Boston dynamics is getting scary 

The most festive of all cakes 

Dictators over the world are apparently now using hip-hop music to defend their regimes 


The History of Christian Theology. Extremely good and insightful.

Popes and the Papacy. Good. But if you only listen to one of the two here, choose the first.

Part I: Summary of ‘Destined for War’ – Introduction

Since I got into EA a few years ago, there was one cause area that was there in the background but was never treated extensively – the cause area of trying to avoid a so called great power war. I remember first hearing this topic mentioned by Will MacAskill in a Q&A at EAGx Berlin 2017. Recently there was a talk about the topic at EA Global by Brian Tse . Will MacAskill namedDestined for war‘ by Graham Allison as one of the five books you should read to understand EA  and I also remember Rob Wiblin mentioning it a couple of time in interviews.

To maybe further the discussion about the topic in EA I decided to write a series of blog posts summarizing the book. I will try to not just summarize the overall picture but to also give a quick summary of all the examples and mechanisms he mentions in the book, which is why I decided to break this up into multiple parts.

Graham Allison explains and argues for the existence of a so called Thucydides’s Trap: when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, war is a likely possibility. He then applies the concept to the question of a possible conflict between China and the USA and argues that the current circumstance perfectly fit into the framework of the Thucydides’s Trap and we should take it’s implication seriously.

The book roughly has the following structure:
It starts with a discussion of the current state of the Chinese economy and military and compares it to the United States. 
Then it dives into the history of rising powers challenging the dominance of established ones. The author looks at seven cases in total and goes into more detail for the case of Britain and Germany leading up to WW1 and the origin of the term Thucydides’s Trap, the conflict between Athens and Sparta.
He then describes the rise of the United States as a Great Power and points out that it was surprisingly aggressive and we would hope that China doesn’t repeat it. 
Next he describes what he considers the national interest of China under its current leadership of Xi Jinping. 
In the next chapter he argues that Samuel Huntington’s claim of significant cultural differences between cultures in general and the West and China particular might make war more likely.
The author then goes on to describe four cases in which China has initiated war after the Communist Party took power and then outlines five ways how in his opinion a war between the United States and China could actually happen. 
In the end he goes into the history of four cases for which war was likely according to the theory of the Thucydides’s Trap but was successfully avoided. From this he draws twelve lessons to avoid a war between China and America.

I will mostly refrain from giving my opinion about the book and his arguments until the end.

Contrary to the title, the author does not believe that a war between China and the USA is inevitable. What he believes is that such a war is somewhere between more likely than we might tend to think and very likely. Where exactly on this spectrum he  would place himself is something that is not really made clear in the book. In the introduction he writes:

 ‘Over the past five hundred years, in sixteen cases a major rising power has threatened to displace a ruling power. In twelve of those, the result was war. The four cases that avoided this outcome did so only because of huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of challenger and challenged alike.’

‘On the current trajectory, war between the US and China in the decades ahead is not just possible, but much more likely than currently recognized. Indeed, on the historical record, war is more likely than not.’

Taking the 12 out of 16 number would get us to a a probability of 75% as a base rate. From what I took away from the chapters about China he doesn’t seem to believe that we should update that probability downwards at the present moment. Maybe he even thinks we should increase it slightly due to the supposed vast cultural differences between China and the US. This is however a subjective interpretation on my part, because the author doesn’t put his arguments in exactly those terms.

We see that if we were to fully accept Allison, we should update our probability of a great power war upwards significantly, which is why I think this book is worth looking at in more detail.

This certainly doesn’t resolve, whether this should be an EA cause area, but certainly getting a grip on the probability is an important part of resolving this question. 

Links May/June

Rob Wiblin on how you can get pretty much everything into a format where you can listen to it instead of having to read it.

There is a high quality series of 8 videos on how to create a language on Youtube 

Overview of regional stereotypes within China. Just need to get past the stupid title 

Great sequence of Slate Star Codex posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) I feel like Scott really does his best work in bursts under the influence of one good book or idea.

Explanation of Jainism 

Awesome NYT Magazine piece on people identifying as non-binary. One of my highlights of the past two weeks.


Long New Yorker story on Beto and his struggling campaign

New Yorker Piece from 2012: a history of constructed languages and a profile of the creator of Ithkuil. By far my favorite of the last two weeks. Go and read it. 

Apparently Chapo Trap House is the main reason Mike Gravel is running for president

We al know about MBS of Saudi-Arabia, but do you know about MBZ of the UAE?  

The time Joe Biden managed to praise Jewish people in a way that aligned dangerously close with antisemitic conspiracy theories 

Youtuber Timbah.on.Toast made a great series of Youtube videos (over three hours) critiquing Dave Rubin

Video about Indian political history since independence 

Talk about an underreported political crisis 

Long New Yorker piece of Juan Guaidó. Effectively summarizes most of the relevant history behind the current standoff in Venezuela

I was waiting for this piece to be written. Turns out is surprisingly hard to prove that money influences politics 

New York Times on Biden’s failed first run for president 

AOC and Ted Cruz agree that banning politicians from becoming lobbyists after the career is a good idea. Matthew Yglesias doesn’t.  He thinks it won’t change much and instead argues for paying politicians more and giving them money to hire more staff. More details and reasons here 


Feature History is just a great channel 

Very good summary of the history of the Israel-Palestine Conflict 

Summary of the history of the US-Saudi alliance


Attack Ad against Immanuel Kant 


‚Introduction to Judaism‘: Pretty good. 

‚Foundations of Western Civilization‘: Not sure how much sense the idea of Western Civilization makes as a concept, but I like a broad style of history telling. The course doesn’t really doesn’t transport any western chauvinism and is very good. Recommended.

‚Philosophy of Science‘: This is an actual philosophy course, that doesn’t stay at the surface level. Very good. 

‘How Asia works’: Interesting theory of what lead to divergence between north-eastern and south-eastern Asia. I would have liked to read potential criticism of his thesis. Decent book.

Some quick tips for learning Chinese History

China’s history seems to me very much undervalued in most western countries. Not only does it help you to better understand the current politics around China, but it is probably generally more fruitful to learn about than the history of countries you may know less about, simply due to the principle of diminishing marginal utility. But the History of China – and probably most countries we may not be familiar with – is often something that people find hard to get into, which is a feeling I shared.

Having know mostly at least jumped over the first hurdle, I want to quickly describe some things that have helped me to overcome the difficulties at the beginning. Those things also helped me for countries i am more familiar with.

Start by building a foundation. It often helps to try to remember a rough outline of whatever period or issue you want to study before reading about it in more detail. For Chinese History, it might me very helpful to just know the succession of all the dynasties. Even if you want to learn more American History, it might be helpful, to first know about all the periods (Gilded Age, Progressive Area, Jacksonian Era, …) and its characteristics. A Spaced Repetition program like Anki is great in general, but it helps for this propose in particular because you can just remember certain things by brute force (repeated recall). This is especially helpful for names.

Learn the geography first. Obviously, stuff always happens in a certain place and if it does a history book will often mention that place. Knowing what an author means when they refer to a place is of course very helpful for understanding what is currently going on, but if you know something about a place in advance, you’ll be able to learn about a region or place while you learning the history more broadly. I used Anki to learn all the provinces of China, which was quite a bit of work, but it really payed off and it was especially helpful when listening to Chinese History audio books where I couldn’t just pull up a map or google a name. 

Prioritize text over audio. I listen to most history books on Audible and when it comes to learning something like Chinese History, the disadvantages really show. If you read a book, and you forget something like a name, you usually only have to go a few paragraphs back and look it up. This doesn’t really work for an Audiobook or Podcast. You can move back in 30s steps (or 10s, 20s, whatever your settings are) easily, but even for that you have to take your phone out of your pocket. You also probably are listening while you doing something, which you probably don’t want to interrupt all the time. And even if you do that, you still need to listen to all of the stuff in between the point you are and the name again. This is why I usually try to supplement by reading about the topics in the book on Wikipedia. 

Having said all this, the basic fact remains that most of the stuff that may be alien or difficult when you learn the history of a place that you are not familiar with is that will gradually get less alien or difficult with more and more exposure, which is what you need most of all. 

Links May II

How do you a Language? The creator of Dothraki and High Valyrian explains

Crazy/Genius – a great podcast by The Atlantic – is back. The Current Season is about the internet’s effect on society. 

Vox has a new podcast. It’s called ‘Primetime‘  and it’s about the history of television. This may sound boring but this season’s topic – TV’s relationship with the presidency is actually very interesting. The first two episodes for instance are about how people often commit the fallacy of generalization from fictional evidence (they don’t use that name), exemplified by ’The Westwing’ and ’24’. The case of the Westwing strikes me as very interesting and quite a few commentators on the left have written about what they say is a generation of democrats deluded by the Westwing’s influence. 


There is a 100 page document analyzing all the presidential candidates based on the principles of effective altruism. Very much worth reading. It’s an approach to politics that you rarely see but that should be much more common. They try to rely on experts surveys as much as possible and weigh each issue by the estimated effect of saved lives or GDP increase. 

Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project and his wife Elizabeth Bruenig, a opinion columnist of the Washington Post have a podcast that I listend to quite a bit over the past two weeks. Some of the most interesting episodes:

  • Review of Elizabeth Warren’s 2004 book ’The Two Income Trap’ 
  • Solo Episode of Matt explaining his reasoning for the advocacy of a Social Welfare Fund 
  • Matt explains two cases of what he considers widespread confusion due to mistaken measurement. This leads into a criticism of the EITC and Booker’s Baby Bonds idea 

The Atlantic on the Hindu Nationalist rewriting of history

Analysis shows no connection between Illegal Immigration and Crime in the United States.

It’s probably a good idea to replace as much of your news consumption as you can with The Upshot

Research shows that an extremism penalty  for political candidates has either never existed or has diappeared. Both studies are from this article about how Bernie Sanders is disproving certain theories of electability.

History of the first presidential impeachment 

Have smartphones destroyed a generation? Apparently we may not know and even if it were true, the effect would not be very strong 

The Forecast’ with Harry Enten has quickly become one of my favorite political podcasts. Episodes are usually just a few minutes. Harry Enten usually covers just one aspect of some upcoming election, nowadays of course mostly the democratic primary. He often looks at the base rates for stuff that is currently being talked about.

Artificial Intelligence

Collection of all of Future Perfect’s coverage of AI

Those AI Cheat Sheets from Stanford CS 221 look really good. There is also one for Machine Learning 

Explanation video of the kinda viral  AI system that generated moving images from portraits (Paper

Effective Altruism

Did you know that there is a community of christians in effective altruism

Season 2 of Vox’s Future Perfect Podcast has started. The first episode is on Philanthropy in the Gilded Age. 

Another podcast: Wildness  by the Wild Animal Initiative. The Wild Animal Initiative is a fusion of Utility Farm and Wild Animal Suffering Research, who both had been working on Reducing Wild Animal Suffering independently. 

Long Washington Post piece on the Federalist Society. The reason I list this under Effective Altruism is because I think the EA community has not looked at the Federalist Society’s history as much as it has looked on the Mont Pèlerin Society  or the Fabian Society.  I’d be very interested whether is was the Federalist Society that influenced the Republican Party of if the Society was just an outgrowth of a conservative movement that started focussing more on the courts.


Youtube Channel covering the History of China that is not known well enough 

If you are interested in history, the reading list of /r/AskHistorians is probably a good source of book recommendations: 


Some very weird book covers: 1, 2, 3

Twitter account with the sole purpose of reminding us that many news article neglect to mention when an effect was only found for mice. Explanation here

1941 Journal article warning about children’s addiction to movie and radio crime

Underappreciated Historical Weapon: the Man Catcher 

Are they websites similar to Turns out, there exists a many of them

Turns out that the most prestigious journal in the world also involves the leas amount of anxiety over the result of your submission 

Science and Math

Amazing looking identities with very simple ‚tricks‘ 


I somehow didn’t know about the Threadreaderapp . This will be very helpful for me, because I can now also save threads to Pocket and use the read-out function. 


I listened to ‘China: A History‘ (25h) by John Keay. It covers all of Chinese History and it does a decent job. It just doesn’t really measure up to some of the best history book I’ve read, but I would still recommend it if you want to get into the History of China. 

The other thing I listen to on Audible in the past two weeks is ‘Understanding Japan: A Cultural History‘ (12h) by Mark J. Ravina. I really enjoyed this lecture and I wish it was twice as long. Only 50% is history, the rest are dives into certain aspects of Japanese culture, everything from Tea, Gardens, Poetry, Art, Family and so on. Highly recommended. 

Links May – I


I have read a bunch of stuff by Richard Ngo last two weeks. Some of the highlights:

  • Summary of some research about the reason deep learning works 
  • Summary of the arguments for the importance of AI Safety 
  • Reasons to be skeptical of Deep Learning

The /r/Economics FAQ is pretty good:  (can’t say anything of the career advice)
I read a bunch of Scott Alexander’s short stories this month. If you know anything about him you will not be surprised that they are incredibly good:

I first read this story of his last year, it’s also very good

One of the most prominent examples of so called ‚rational fiction’ is ’The Metropolitan Man’ by Alexander Wales. It’s a superman fanfic, focussing on Lex Luther’s reasoning and methods in destroying superman because he thinks he poses a threat to humanity.

Piece by EA Geneva explaining Complexity Science

Darryl Cooper is back! The creator of probably the best history podcast series: ‚Fear and Loathing in the New Jerusalem‘, a history of the establishment of the State of Israel is doing a new series about the Jim Jones. First Episode, Prologue. If you like podcasts like Hardcore History, you are going to love this.

Aella quotes from a pro-slavery publications. The arguments certainly are … interesting


What does it mean to be authentic?

Interesting reframing of private property by Matt Bruenig.

Is the decline of extreme poverty only due to the development of China? Our World in Data answers the question.

Global Extreme Poverty is declining very fast, but for how long is this going to continue? Apparently, not for very long if current trends hold

New Yorker Piece on Bernie Sanders’ approach to foreign policy

Long Piece by Vox’s Alex Ward about Japan’s rising militarism

Preparing for China’s rapid rise and decline

Very cool episode of the Weeds on the Green New Deal. It lays out what theory of political change underlies the push for the Green New Deal and discusses if it’s true. Here is an interesting critique of the Green New Deal by Jerry Taylor from the Niskanen Center.

Fascinating episode of the Ezra Klein Show about the surprising amount of prevalence on the floor of congress leading up to the civil war.

John Nerst dives back in to the Concept of Decoupling to offer a new definition of the Political Right and Left. Part I Part II

Artificial Intelligence

Arxiv Insights with the third part of his series on how neural networks learn

This guy does a good job explaining Machine Learning papers

Great explanation of the way a LSTM network works

Cool series about causal inference and do-calculus (1, 2, 3) There is also an upcoming post on Causal Diagrams, Markov Factorization, Structural Equation Models

He links this paper as a more detailed introduction to do-calculus.

This website contains a bunch of great explanations, mostly of Machine Learning topics. Especially notable are all the beautiful, interactive visualizations.

Other great explanations of topics around deep learning can be found here.


I read ‚Destined for War‘ by Graham Allison this month. It’s about what he calls the Thucydides trap. This is his observation that in a lot of cases in which an established great power is challenged by a rising new power, a war between these two powers is hard to avoid. I plan to write a longer summary of this book, given that it is very important in the conversation about the possible cause area ‚Avoiding Great Power War‘ in effective altruism.

I finished listening to Tyler Cowen’s ‚Big Business: A Love-Letter to an American Anti-Hero‘ on audible. Like most of Tyler’s books this one is concise, to the point and very readable. It’s an interesting and important counterweight to the prevailing negative attitude towards big business and big tech in particular. But disagree with quite a bit and also wasn’t really blown away by the book. 

Another ‚book‘ I finished in the last two weeks is not actually a book but a Great Courses product, ‘Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture‘. It’s not really a history of Imperial China, instead it’s a bunch chapters about certain important aspect of life in imperial china through the centuries. He usually only spends on a few sentences on the actual history and focusses mostly on the culture and the individual human experience of the actors. Most of the time the chapters are interesting, but I found that most of that stuff doesn’t really stick. I would recommend this course only for people who already have a solid understanding of the broad outline of China’s history. 

The legacy of John McCain – A question of definitions

Most people would probably agree that there are at least some debates that completely disappear as soon as every party has to define what they actually mean by the thing they are talking about. A good example is the following: If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? What do you think? I always thought that the obvious answer is a Yes. Sound are certain vibrations in the air, they exist irrespective of whether some animal is there to hear them. If you however believe that the word sound obviously refers to the fact that an animal picks up information that was transmitted via vibrations in the air, then you will answer the question with a No.

This kind of pattern can be observed in other, more important, cases. One such case, I think, is the debate over the legacy of John McCain. Was John McCain a good man? It depends on what procedure you think we should apply to answer this question. 

If you believe that what makes a „good person“ is that they take actions that have, according your way of judging them, good consequences, then you might very well say that McCain was actually very bad (especially when you’re on the left and opposed wars like in Vietnam, Iraq or elsewhere). 

If, however, you believe that what makes a person good is that they possess certain character traits (like looking out for your country’s interest about your own) or you think we should only look if a person took actions that they fought had consequences according to their own judgement, you might judge someone like McCain differently. 

I will not argue that one of the ways outlined here (there are even more of course) is the correct one, people can have different opinions on it. It is however important to acknowledge that there are different ways of answering the question at hand, just as there are different conceptions of the concept of sound.