A more complicated version: why was Eliezer able to out-predict the bank of Japan? Because the banks policies were set by a couple of Japanese central bankers who had no particular incentive to get things right, and no particular incentive to listen to smarter people correcting them. Eliezer wasnt alone in his prediction he says that Japanese stocks were priced in ways that suggested most investors realized the banks policies were bad. Most of the smart people with skin in the game had come to the same realization Eliezer had. But central bankers are mostly interested in prestige, and for various reasons low money supply (the wrong policy in this case) is generally considered a virtuous and reasonable thing for a central banker to do, while high money supply (the right policy in this case). Their payoff matrix (with totally made-up utility points) looked sort of like this: low money, economy booms: you were virtuous and it paid off, you will be celebrated in song forever (10). Low money, economy collapses: Well, you did the virtuous thing and it didnt work, at least you tried (0). High money, economy booms: you made a bold gamble and it paid off, nice job.
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For example, eliezer and his friends sometimes joke about how really stupid Uber-for-puppies style startups are overvalued. The people investing in these startups are making a mistake big enough for ordinary people like eliezer to notice. But its not exploitable theres no way to short startups, so neither Eliezer nor anyone else can make money by correcting that error. So its not surprising that the error persists. All you need is one stupid investor who thinks Uber-for-puppies is going to be the next big thing, and the startup will get overfunded. All the smart investors in the world cant fix that one persons mistake. The same is true, more tragically, for housing prices. Theres no way to short houses. So if 10 of investors think the housing market will go way up, and 90 think the housing market will crash, those 10 of investors will just keep bidding up shop housing prices against each other. This is why there are so many housing bubbles, and why ordinary people without PhDs in finance can notice housing bubbles and yet those bubbles remain uncorrected.
Weve got a proof that everything should be perfect all the time, and a reality in which a bunch of babies keep dying even though we know exactly how to save them for no extra cost. Eliezer draws on the economics literature to propose three main categories of solution: Theres a toolbox of reusable concepts for analyzing systems I would call inadequate—the causes of civilizational failure, some of which correspond to local opportunities to do better yourself. I shall, somewhat arbitrarily, sort these concepts into three larger categories:. Cases where the decision lies in the hands of people who would gain little personally, or lose out personally, if they did what was necessary to help someone else;. Cases where decision-makers cant reliably learn the information they need to make decisions, even though someone else has that information. Systems that are broken in multiple places eksempel so that no one actor can make them better, even though, in principle, some magically coordinated action could move to a new stable state. The first way evil enters the world is when there is no way for people who notice a mistake to benefit from correcting.
Some babies have malformed digestive systems and need to have nutrient fluid pumped directly into their veins. The nutrient fluid formula used in the us has the wrong kinds of lipids in it, and about a third of babies who get it die of brain or liver damage. Weve known for decades that the nutrient fluid formula has the wrong kind of lipids. We know the right kind of lipids and theyre incredibly cheap and there is no reason at all that we couldnt put them in the nutrient fluid formula. Weve done a bunch of studies showing that when babies get the right nutrient fluid formula, the 33 death rate disappears. But the only fda-approved nutrient fluid formula is the one with writing the wrong lipids, so we just keep giving it to babies, and they just keep dying. Grant that the fda is terrible and ruins everything, but over several decades of knowing about this problem and watching the dead babies pile up, shouldnt somebody have done something to make this system work better?
And finally: For our central example, well be using the United States medical system, which is, so far as i know, the most broken system that still works ever recorded in human history. If you were reading about something in 19th-century France which was as broken as us healthcare, you wouldnt expect to find that it went on working when overloaded with a sufficiently vast amount of money. You would expect it to just not work at all. In previous years, i would use the case of central-line infections as my go-to example of medical inadequacy. Central-line infections, in the us alone, killed 60,000 patients per year, and infected an additional 200,000 patients at an average treatment cost of 50,000/patient. Central-line infections were also known to decrease by 50 or more if you enforced a five-item checklist that included items like wash your hands before touching the line. Robin Hanson has old overcoming bias blog posts on that untaken, low-hanging fruit. But I discovered while re-googling in 2015 that wider adoption of hand-washing and similar precautions are now finally beginning to occur, after many years—with an associated 43 nationwide decrease in central-line infections. Since he doesnt want to focus on a partly-solved problem, he continues to the case of infant parenteral nutrition.
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This proof of Gods omnibenevolence is followed by Eliezers observations that the world seems full of evil. For example: Eliezers wife Brienne had seasonal Affective disorder. The consensus treatment for sad is light boxes, very bright lamps resumes that mimic sunshine and make winter feel more like summer. Brienne tried some of these and they didnt work; her seasonal depression got so bad that she had to move to the southern Hemisphere three months of every year just to stay functional. No doctor had any good ideas about what to do at this point. Eliezer did some digging, found that existing light boxes were still way less bright than the sun, and jury-rigged a much brighter version.
This brighter light box cured Briennes depression when the conventional treatment had failed. Since Eliezer, a random layperson, was able to come up with a better sad cure after a few minutes of thinking than the establishment was recommending to him, this seems kind of like the relevant research community leaving a 20 bill on the ground. Eliezer spent a few years criticizing the bank of Japans macroeconomic policies, which he (and many others) thought were stupid and costing Japan trillions of dollars in lost economic growth. A friend told Eliezer that the professionals at the bank surely knew more than he did. But after a few years, the bank of Japan switched policies, the japanese economy instantly improved, and now the consensus position is that the original policies were deeply flawed in exactly the way eliezer and others thought they were. Doesnt that mean Japan left a trillion-dollar bill on the ground by refusing to implement policies that even an amateur could see were correct?
So science is broken seems like the same kind of statement as a 20 bill has been on the floor of Grand Central Station for a week and nobody has picked. Therefore, modern science isnt broken. Or: suppose you thought that health care is inefficient and costs way too much. But if this were true, some entrepreneur could start a new hospital / clinic / whatever that delivered health care at lower prices and with higher profit margins. All the sick people would go to them, they would make lots of money, investors would trip over each other to fund their expansion into new markets, and eventually they would take over health care and be super rich.
So health care is inefficient and overpriced seems like the same kind of statement as a 20 bill has been on the floor of Grand Central Station for a week and nobody has picked. Therefore, health care isnt inefficient or overpriced. Or: suppose you think that us cities dont have good mass transit. But if lots of people want better mass transit and are willing to pay for it, this is a great money-making opportunity. Entrepreneurs are pretty smart, so they would notice this money-making opportunity, raise some funds from equally-observant venture capitalists, make a better mass transit system, and get really rich off of all the tickets. But nobody has done this. So us cities dont have good mass transit seems like the same kind of statement as a 20 bill has been on the floor of Grand Central Station for a week and nobody has picked. Therefore, us cities have good mass transit, or at least the best mass transit thats economically viable right now.
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But winners will probably be people with access to new ground that hasnt already been analysis covered by other 20-seekers. Either theyll be amazing geniuses, understand a vast scope of cutting-edge material, have access to the latest lab equipment, or most likely all three. But go too far with this kind of logic, and you start accidentally proving that nothing feasibility can be bad anywhere. Suppose you thought that modern science was broken, with scientists and grantmakers doing a bad job of focusing their discoveries on truly interesting and important things. But if this were true, then you (or anyone else with a little money) could set up a non-broken science, make many more discoveries than everyone else, get more nobel Prizes, earn more money from all your patents and inventions, and eventually become so prestigious. There are dozens of government bodies, private institutions, and universities that could do this kind of thing if they wanted. But none of them have.
Maybe were dreaming again? We can take this beyond money-making into any competitive or potentially-competitive field. Consider a freshman biology student reading her textbook who suddenly feels like shes had a deep insight into the structure of dna, easily worthy of a nobel. There are thousands report of research biologists who would like a nobel Prize. For all of them to miss a brilliant insight sitting in freshman biology would be the same failure as everybody missing a 20 on the floor of Grand Central, or all of Wall Street missing an easy opportunity to make money off of google,. So without her finding any particular flaw in her theory, she can be pretty sure that its wrong or else already discovered. This isnt to say nobody can ever win a nobel Prize.
keep buying until theyve driven the price up to the right level. So for google to remain underpriced when your uncle sees it, you have to assume everyone at every wall Street hedge fund has just failed to notice this tremendous money-making opportunity the same sort of implausible failure as a 20 staying on the floor. In the same way, suppose theres a city full of rich people who all love thai food and are willing to pay top dollar for. The city has lots of skilled Thai chefs and good access to low-priced Thai ingredients. With the certainty of physical law, we can know that city will have a thai restaurant. If it didnt, some entrepreneur would wander through, see that they could get really rich by opening a thai restaurant, and do that. If theres no restaurant, we should feel the same confusion we feel when a 20 bill has sat on the floor of Grand Central Station for a week. Maybe the city government banned Thai restaurants for some reason?
If you see a 20 bill lying on the sidewalk, today is your lucky day. If you see a 20 bill lying on the sidewalk in Grand Central Station, and you remember having seen the same bill a week ago, something is wrong. Thousands of people cross Grand Central every week theres no way a thousand people would all pass up a free. Maybe its some kind of weird trick. But theres no way that such a low-hanging piece of money-making fruit would go unpicked for that long. In the same way, suppose your uncle buys a lot of google essay stock, because hes heard google has cool self-driving cars that will be the next big thing. Can he expect to get rich? No if google stock was underpriced (ie you could easily get rich by buying google stock then everyone smart enough to notice would buy. As everyone tried to buy it, the price would go up until it was no longer underpriced.
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Eliezer Yudkowskys catchily-titled, inadequate Equilibria is many house things. Its a look into whether there is any role for individual reason in a world where you can always just trust expert consensus. Its an analysis of the efficient market hypothesis and how it relates to the idea of low-hanging fruit. Its a self-conscious defense of the authors own arrogance. But most of all, its a book of theodicy. If the world was created by the Invisible hand, who is good, how did it come to contain so much that is evil? The market economy is very good at what it does, which is something like exploit money-making opportunities or pick low-hanging fruit in the domain of money-making.