Research update: AAMAS 2023, Nonlinear funding

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Ram Rachum

Jun 26, 2023, 4:30:00 AM6/26/23

Hi everyone!

Retrospective on goals for last month

In last month's update I outlined a list of goals. Here's my update on these goals:

  1. Co-chair and present at the RaD-AI workshop: ✅ Done

    After 6 months of planning, it finally happened. I arrived at the ExCeL conference center in the morning and met some of my co-chairs: Reuth, David Aha and Kantwon Rogers. There were about 7 other workshops happening side-by-side with ours, each workshop being assigned a different room. We set up some of the logistics as people slowly began gathering. There were about 30 people all in all. I gave my talk, which went smoothly. The Q&A session was a little nervous for me, but I didn't embarrass myself. Joel Leibo gave a talk as an invited speaker, so I introduced him and managed his Q&A session. I was a bit shy about that, because I've never done the "I'm honored to introduce our next speaker, so-and-so who is widely known for having done such-and-such" bit.

    The talks were interesting, and I'm likely to continue co-chairing this workshop next year as well.

  2. Attend AAMAS: ✅ Done

    AAMAS started with a reception in the evening, right after the RaD-AI workshop was over. After 8-10 hours of talking about research at the workshop, I was done. I love research... But that really is a full work day for me. At the reception, they gave out "free" alcohol. I downed a glass of wine with Kantwon, and I was helping myself to a beer. I assumed that everyone was as done with research as I was.

    Not so. I found Edgar excitedly talking to three grad students. He was explaining about the major transitions of evolution, a monumental book that I have previously given up on after 10 pages. People in other circles were also still talking about research. I'm trying to kill brain cells here, and people are still spreading knowledge.

    This became a theme for the rest of the conference: Most of the attendees' capacities and patience for talking about research far outweigh my own.

    The reception was on the second day out of five. Not everyone stayed for the entire five days, but I figured since I came all the way to London, I'm going to tough it out. I did, and it was so difficult. This isn't an AAMAS problem, it's a me problem. The way that academics present their research is difficult for me to digest. The general narrative is similar to that of talks in industry conferences: They present some problem, existing solutions, issues with the existing solutions, their new solutions, how it works, advantages and disadvantages, etc. But the way that problem and solution are formulated are just so foreign to me.

    I'm hoping that with more practice, I'll be happy to get the hang of it.

    Here's a video of stroll through the poster session.

  3. Have fun at Lisbon: ✅ Done

    I said I'll try staying at a youth hostel, hoping I'm not too old to be sharing a room with a bunch of people. I got cold feet and went to a hotel instead. I guess I am too old for hostels after all.

    Lisbon was okay, though not so different from eastern Europe, and much more expensive.

    The highlight of the Lisbon trip was that I went and did a 5 minute set at an open mic standup event (Photo). I've been wanting to do standup for years now, but it's so scary. It was easier to do it abroad, because I knew that if I made a fool of myself, no one will know about it. Maybe I could do this in Israel now too.

    It's interesting that standup, academic talks and tech talks are all different forms of public speaking. We put them in mental categories that are so far away from each other, but the basic premise of "person talks to crowd" is, in my opinion, the salient one. For that matter, this mailing list isn't too far from public speaking; I guess it can be called "public writing".

Stuff I've done beyond the monthly goals

Nonlinear gave me a grant!

Right on the heels of the ALTER funding, I've gotten an additional, smaller grant from Nonlinear. Thanks to David Manheim for alerting me about this opportunity. Nonlinear is an Effective Altruism fund that gives additional funding to researchers who are currently being funded by SFF, who themselves are funding ALTER.

Thanks Nonlinear!

Ivan Chase's substack about dominance hierarchies

Last month I started talking with Ivan Chase. Ivan is one of the world's leading experts on the study dominance hierarchies in animals. He is a professor emeritus at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. Ivan has been generously advising me as I'm learning the basics of dominance hierarchies.

Ivan has recently started a substack where he posts about dominance hierarchies. He made the first post a couple of weeks ago, where he explains how dominance hierarchies work in a beginner-friendly, conversational style. If you're interested in dominance hierarchies, I recommend that you check it out and sign up.

My goals for this month

  1. Make progress on the dominance hierarchies paper.

    I've gotten a few rounds of feedback from Reuth, Yonatan and ChatGPT. Now I need to process all of them and make a new revision of the dominance hierarchies paper. It's possible that I'm going to change the punchline of the paper to be about drawing parallels between dominance hierarchies in biological life to those in RL agents, rather than the current punchline of meme-like transmission of dominance hierarchies.

  2. Attend the CAIF summer school, present a poster on dominance hierarchies.

    Last month I told you that I was accepted to the CAIF summer school. In a couple of weeks I'll fly out to London again for this three-day event. I'm going to present my work on dominance hierarchies as a poster session, so I need to prepare that poster as well.

Bonus meme.

That's it for now. See you next month!


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