Improving group rationality

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John Salvatier

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May 4, 2011, 10:49:09 PM5/4/11
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Hi guys, 

This is something I would like to discuss at the next meeting. I hope to eventually post this to the discussion or main, but I'd first like to discuss this with you guys.

Judging by the number of upvotes, Brandon Reinhart's analysis of SIAI's financial filings is valuable to quite a few people (http://lesswrong.com/lw/5il/siai_an_examination/). Similar analysis' of Alcor and the Cryonics Institute would be quite valuable. Will someone step forward and do this? Perhaps, but I wouldn't bet on it. There are many projects like this; some get done, but I think we can do better.

Many people would get a moderate amount of benefit from such projects, but only one person (or a couple of people) will end up putting in the hard work to make them happen. 

There are also lots of reasons why the people most enthusiastic about a given project may not be the best people to work on the project. Perhaps they have very time consuming jobs or have a hard time being objective about the topic (e.g. Cryonics) or have too many other projects already or perhaps they are intellectually motivated but not emotionally motivated by the project (which might make it difficult to Get Things Done). 

This problem seems like it should be fixable, we have a relatively small community of smart and prosocial people. It is a failure of group rationality that such projects go undone. 

So I would like to look for ways to channel group willingness to contribute to a project into focused individual willingness to work on a project.

I have two ideas, but in the interest of Holding Off On Proposing Solutions, I'd first like to discuss features of the problem space that seem relevant before suggesting solutions to the problem.

I'll go first: 
  • Money is sometimes a good motivator, though in a social setting it can kill non-cash motivation. I am willing to contribute significant money to some projects, I've contributed small amounts in the past. I bet other people would be willing to pitch in too. 
  • Karma is already have a system of conferring small amounts of status on people.
What relevant issues do you see?

John Salvatier

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May 4, 2011, 10:51:23 PM5/4/11
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I should say, I want to discuss this at the next meet-up, but I thought I would start the discussion early, so feel free to add your observations.

Ben Schwyn

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May 4, 2011, 11:48:54 PM5/4/11
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How important do the projects *feel* vs. how important are the actual jobs?

How interesting or intimidating do the projects look in a thought? (I mean that in the same way as "at a glance.")

Who are your targets for people who would be good at completing these problems?

Who can do what? What skills are needed?

How far should leadership and delegation be taken? Instigation vs. delegation. 

Ben Schwyn

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May 4, 2011, 11:55:23 PM5/4/11
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Non-symbolic motivators:
Peer incentive: It can be highly effective but must be used with care.
Bartering---money can be converted into goods, but straight goods seem more shiny to some people.

John Salvatier

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May 5, 2011, 2:26:34 AM5/5/11
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@Ben 

Could you elaborate your questions a bit? I can't parse how much they are directed at me specifically or just general questions to be answered, and in either case I could use more detail about what answers would look like.

Good motivator suggestions. I would add that peer incentive could be difficult with a large group of people through the internet.

On Wed, May 4, 2011 at 8:48 PM, Ben Schwyn <ben.s...@gmail.com> wrote:

Ben Schwyn

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May 5, 2011, 2:40:18 AM5/5/11
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They were general things to think about, and not directed towards you. Before I write more I have a question: When 'not proposing solutions' does that just mean don't decide on a course of action? Is it still ok to say things like "Well, X actions would probably have Y effects and A actions could have Q or zeta effects?

John Salvatier

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May 5, 2011, 3:18:30 AM5/5/11
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I can't claim expertise in this area. Yudkowsky's post on this is http://lesswrong.com/lw/ka/hold_off_on_proposing_solutions/. Come to think of it, I would be interested in learning more details about relevant research. 

I think you are trying to frame whatever you do say as a description of the problem at hand rather than as a possible thing you could do. I *think* what you're trying to do is avoid having peoples brains hear a solution and say "ok that sounds pretty good, lets do that" and then stop looking at the problem or get emotionally invested in a particular solution before all the details are as clear as they're going to get.

If you can describe something as just a description of the problem at hand, then that's best. I suppose some features of the problem space are bound to be inherently 'actions', in which case I think you want to avoid talking about them like possible solutions. Instead of saying 'we could buy cheetos' you say 'I really like cheetos and they cost $2.65/bag; freetos are only so so and they cost 2.45 a bag'; you describe things that affect what you might and try to avoid suggest things you could do.

Does that help?

Kenneth Chen

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May 5, 2011, 11:12:48 AM5/5/11
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Regarding Alcor, there was a long discussion on this subject lately.
http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/343/suspended_animation_inc_accused_of_incompetence/310r

Alcor actually published a quite detailed analysis of it's finances,
linked in the above comment. From what I can gather, it seems Alcor's
current pricing model isn't sustainable. It's worth a read.
http://www.alcor.org/Library/pdfs/EconometricModelOfAlcorFinances.pdf


On Wed, 4 May 2011 19:49:09 -0700, John Salvatier wrote:
> Hi guys, 
>
> This is something I would like to discuss at the next meeting. I hope
> to eventually post this to the discussion or main, but I'd first like
> to discuss this with you guys.
>
> Judging by the number of upvotes, Brandon Reinhart's analysis of
> SIAI's financial filings is valuable to quite a few people

> (http://lesswrong.com/lw/5il/siai_an_examination/ [1]). Similar

> * Money is sometimes a good motivator, though in a social setting it


> can kill non-cash motivation. I am willing to contribute significant
> money to some projects, I've contributed small amounts in the past. I
> bet other people would be willing to pitch in too. 

> * Karma is already have a system of conferring small amounts of


> status on people.
>
> What relevant issues do you see?
>

> Links:
> ------
> [1] http://lesswrong.com/lw/5il/siai_an_examination/

Ben Schwyn

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May 5, 2011, 6:54:09 PM5/5/11
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John---yes, that helps. I'll get back to this tomorrow.

Stephan T. Lavavej

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May 5, 2011, 7:07:48 PM5/5/11
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> From what I can gather, it seems Alcor's current pricing model isn't sustainable.

 

On the other hand, their Patient Care Trust (i.e. the one part that must not fail) is extremely conservative, assuming a 2% real yield.  In my retirement planning, where I'm trying to be very conservative, I assume that I can get a 5% real yield.  Basically, the fact that they've gone with a "permanent endowment fund" model for this is extremely encouraging all by itself.

 

(Hi, I'm Luke's best friend. I live in Redmond without a car, though, which makes getting to Seattle obnoxious, on top of my busy day job.  On LW, I'm playing the metagame of trying to get a ridiculously high karma/comment ratio - currently 5.82.  Someday I may try to write a top-level post.)

 

STL

Brandon Reinhart

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May 5, 2011, 7:11:30 PM5/5/11
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Did you calculate your karma/comment ratio yourself, or is there a tool?
--
Brandon Reinhart / GreenMarine

Stephan T. Lavavej

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May 5, 2011, 7:15:11 PM5/5/11
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I did it myself - I don't have a fancy way of automating it beyond grep.

 

This metagame encourages me to avoid making chatty and/or flippant comments, instead keeping my powder dry for comments that I think are valuable.

 

STL

John Salvatier

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May 5, 2011, 7:58:00 PM5/5/11
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Nice to meet you STL.

Morgan Catha

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May 6, 2011, 1:30:53 AM5/6/11
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Brandon Reinhart

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May 6, 2011, 2:09:43 AM5/6/11
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That is really cool Morgan!

Ben Schwyn

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May 8, 2011, 3:03:53 PM5/8/11
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In some more detail:

Peer incentives---I used the word incentive rather than pressure to sound less negative and I wasn't sure of a better word. You can get peer pressure effects just by having a group of people who are having fun working on a project or who are interested in what you are doing.

We have seen people having coding clubs where they get together and work on specific projects for a day, similar to a knitting club. This can either make working more fun---by having periods of talking intermingled with work. This is probably less efficient than people working by themselves, though it depends on the atmosphere. If you are trying to get lots done then you would need to monitor the atmosphere and keep it focused, perhaps with short breaks of socializing.

Personal request---If you know of a specific person who would be good for a job, then you can say "Hey Joe, you did great work on X and I have a job for you, would you be interested in X?" Just asking is putting a small amount of pressure, since Joe may wish to increase his perceived usefulness and status within the group and this is an opportunity. Or he may not wish to take on any more work. In that case it is our job to be aware of people's attitudes.

One issue I could see coming up is people agreeing to take on a project but then not completing it. It could be the initial status boost of everyone saying "oh that's wonderful that you are helping out!" that causes this, or people underestimating their own interest or available time. Personally, I find that if I am working on something without a deadline if I get stuck just a tiny bit then it is very easy to stop. Here is where I think pressure from other people can be most dangerous since you don't want to nag.

A question to John specifically: Are you looking for discussion on getting people to do financial analysis, any possible future projects, or a set of specific projects including the already mentioned finance projects?


How important do the projects *feel* vs. how important are the actual jobs?
How interesting or intimidating do the projects look in a thought? (I mean that in the same way as "at a glance.")
Who are your targets for people who would be good at completing these problems?
Who can do what? What skills are needed?

These are things to think about when you are trying to get people interested. I was thinking about what makes me want to put in the effort to work on something. It needs to feel like something where I am the right person for it, or something that I am interested in, or be easy. Some more things: Are they drudgery? Research oriented? Writing? Can anyone do them or are there a select few that can? Can the skills that are needed to do the job be easily learned? Different types of incentives might work better for different types of projects.



How far should leadership and delegation be taken? Instigation vs. delegation.

 Talking about money and karma incentives made me think of this and the similarity it could have to a business, with people taking on jobs to get small amounts of cash or other benefits. By leadership and delegation I was thinking of if one person was to monitor people who took on jobs and getting them through their blocks. Example---calling people and asking how their project is going. "Hey Sally, how are you doing on project X? Is there anything I can help with?..." When I said instigation vs. delegation I was thinking of instigating to mean just bringing up ideas and letting other people choose to work on them if they wish, compared to choosing people and saying "hey, could you work on Y?" I meant leadership and delegation to mean how hierarchical a structure of people working on different things could be. With a leader meaning someone who acts like a boss and has the responsibility (takes on the responsibility) of helping people complete their projects and get through bumps.


I was thinking that many volunteer organizations have similar issues of trying to get people to take on projects and complete them. I could not figure out which google keywords would return information on this.

I do not think I will be able to come tonight. Have fun!

If I could still be more clear or if people have suggestions on organizing writing and ideas, that is something that I will always be open to.

Ben

John Salvatier

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May 8, 2011, 3:13:50 PM5/8/11
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Q: Are you looking for discussion on getting people to do financial analysis, any possible future projects, or a set of specific projects including the already mentioned finance projects?
A: I am looking for discussion on getting people do projects where there are many people who have moderate interest/motivation but not people who have intense interest/motivation. In other words dispersed interest/motivation. 

John Salvatier

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May 8, 2011, 3:50:41 PM5/8/11
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Good stuff. 

I've tried to distill the insights I got from this (comments in parentheses):
  1.  Working groups or otherwise close contact sometimes increase people's motivations via peer pressure.
  2. Personally requesting someone work on a project can increase their motivation to do so.
  3. With certain kinds of motivation you often get people agreeing to work on a project and then getting slightly stuck and delaying it indefinitely. (patri friedman has given one reason why this might happen http://lesswrong.com/lw/z8/image_vs_impact_can_public_commitment_be/)
  4. Different incentives might work better/worse for different kinds of projects. 
  5. Monitoring project progress could help motivation (it might also have other benefits, such as knowing when to rethink the project or to find another person to work on it).
"I do not think I will be able to come tonight." Too bad! 

John

Morgan Catha

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May 8, 2011, 6:55:02 PM5/8/11
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I'd like to discuss this article today, if anyone is interested:
 
-Morgan C

John Salvatier

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May 8, 2011, 7:08:02 PM5/8/11
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Anything about it in particular?

Morgan Catha

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May 8, 2011, 7:29:27 PM5/8/11
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Pretty much the whole thing.
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