I’m Gavin, a PhD candidate in AI at Bristol. 18 I like technical solutions to philosophical problems.

Technically an EA blog, though I don’t consider this a blog. (Blogging is more speech than writing.)

If you want to talk, get in touch by email, or anonymously here, or extremely privately (via PGP) here.

### Research

I'm interested in keeping an eye on AI. By sheer good fortune my advisor is Laurence Aitchison. Pubs and code and teaching here.

Some things I'm working on:

• The emergence of emotion-like behaviour in ordinary RL agents.

• Better ways to communicate preferences to RL agents.

• The cost-effectiveness of anti-COVID measures.

• How inductive logic programming measures up in terms of other ML paradigms

### Change my mind

I offer bounties for errors:

• $1 for nitpicks (typos, ambiguities, misreadings, exceptions, technicalities). •$10 for an error which falsifies a sentence.

### Giving

I'm a member of Giving What We Can, people who pledge substantial amounts of their lifetime income to the most effective charitable causes. I'm donating 5% this year, aiming at 50% overall 2. My reasoning on the most important causes, and my present basket of charities is forthcoming.

I am cause-neutral (in the sense that I will support whatever is highest value, to the extent that objective evaluation is possible) and cause-sceptical (in the sense that we don't really know what the best thing to do is).

### Books

I try to review every book I read.

Most book reviews are vacuous, blocklike expressions of approval or disapproval. There is nothing in them except the reviewer, their squeals. I do some of those, but I try to do some of the other kind too.

### Favourite books

 Ficciones (1944) by Jorge Luis Borges What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014) by Randall Munroe Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo (2004) by Werner Herzog The Precipice (2020) by Toby Ord Terra Ignota (2016 - 2021) by Ada Palmer Brewer's Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages (2002) by William Donaldson Factfulness (2018) by Hans Rosling Doing Good Better (2015) by William MacAskill Library of Scott Alexandria (2015) by Scott Alexander Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung (1987) by Lester Bangs Poems of the Late T'ang (1965) by A.C. Graham Oxford Book of Essays (1991) by John Gross Right Ho, Jeeves (Jeeves, #6) (1934) by P.G. Wodehouse Famine, Affluence, and Morality (1972) by Peter Singer Save Yourself, Mammal!: A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Collection (2011) by Zach Weinersmith Incerto: Antifragile, The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, The Bed of Procrustes (2011) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb The God That Failed (1949) by Richard Crossman Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1) (1989) by Terry Pratchett Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs (2004) by John Pilger The Book of Disquiet (1982) by Fernando Pessoa What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire (1999) by Charles Bukowski Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (2006) by Christopher M. Bishop Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) by Ted Chiang Tales from Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #5) (2001) by Ursula K. Le Guin The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995) by Ted Honderich Computing machinery and intelligence (1950) by Alan Turing Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall (1995) by Jeremy Bernstein Whereabouts: Notes on Being a Foreigner (1987) by Alistair Reid Blindsight (Firefall, #1) (2006) by Peter Watts Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999) by David Foster Wallace The Hedonistic Imperative (2015) by David Pearce The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life When Robots Rule the Earth (2016) by Robin Hanson The Patrick Melrose Novels (2012) by Edward St. Aubyn Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) by Herman Melville Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life (2018) by Kevin Simler Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West (1985) by Cormac McCarthy The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975) by Ursula K. Le Guin What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night (2014) by John Brockman Collected Poems (1988) by Czesław Miłosz How to Actually Change Your Mind (2018) by Eliezer Yudkowsky Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (2007) by Clive James Reliable Essays: The Best of Clive James (2001) by Clive James Excession (1996) by Iain Banks Travels With Myself and Another (1979) by Martha Gellhorn Collected Poems (1988) by Philip Larkin

### Epigram

It is equally fatal to the spirit to have a system and to not have a system.
One will likely have to combine the two. 1
— Friedrich Schlegel

...there is in men and women a motivation stronger even than love or hatred or fear. It is that of being interested — in a body of knowledge, in a problem, in a hobby, in tomorrow’s newspaper.
— George Steiner

### Site

I love making this site better. I'm no designer but I enjoy the results, and the feedback (n=6 friends) is good. Here's a list of my design decisions.

The title is an Iain Banks allusion: his powerful protagonists tease pompous people by taking names with as little gravitas as possible. To take the arg min of something is to find the thing which results in its lowest value.

### Psychology

Morality as Co-operation (questionnaire):
(Really not a fan of evolved morality.)

Oxford Utilitarianism Scale
• Impartial Beneficence: 33 out of 35
• Instrumental Harm: 21 out of 28

Intrinsic Values Test

Moral Foundations:

The Big Five

### Coding

I've been employed to code for 6.5 years 5. Of which, I've been employed in machine learning for 3.9 years.

It is some career. So far I have worked on a precision methadone pump, a website generator for bed & breakfasts, secure off-site credit card storage, procurement streamlining for e.g. 'aerospace' companies, a metre-precise 3D model of Britain's rivers, a performance dashboard for use by secondary school teachers, medical risk scoring models, countermeasures against machine-learning model extraction...

### Experience with

Antagonism between language communities is a really clear example of how strong identities cause perversities.

I have written production code in
• Python (raw, SciPy/Pandas, PySpark): 9
• C# 11
• Typescript 12
• nodeJS 13
• Pig Latin 14
• bash 15
• Oozie XML 16
• PHP 17
I also have side projects in
• Java : All my Master's degree work: Game of Life, Vigenere cipher, .
• Scala : Just Project Euler so far.
• Rust : Just Project Euler so far.
• Powershell: e.g. a web scraper (before Python was provisioned).
• bash : An archiver for hyperlinks.
• Jekyll : this itself.

### Frameworks, tools, stacks, hardware

Stored as JSON here.

### Endorsements

Utterly charming. In the nature of such lists, one does not expect to agree with every, single one---of course not. But the lists exhibit a lively and critical mind, unwilling to follow the usual party lines.
– Deirdre McCloskey 6

I'm honoured to be on your list [of favourite books].
– Robin Hanson 7

Nice image, young man. You may be a writer.
– Will Self 8

Also, my mum says I'm cool.

### Identity

I try not to identify as things. My premises, projects and preferences say overwhelmingly more about me than my social identity does.

### Tone

I'm sometimes told I'm too strident. I'll accept this, because constant hedging is unreadable, more annoying than authoritativeness. Also because strong claims galvanise opposition: as long as they're reasonable as well as strong, hopefully this stimulus creates value.

Anyway I'm not as sure as I sound: there's a comment box under every piece, call me out.

### Why so many quotations?

Well, they're the densest store of insight. We are not empiricists by nature or by culture, so they are my concession to the apeish narrative side of mind. That quotes page is like a message digest of 10 years of me reading and learning.

I sometimes regret my instinctual distrust of Twitter: a lot of contemporary aphorists must be whiling away the years on there.

### Metrics

Here are scales for rating all kinds of things.

### Loss function

Above all I hope to beat the trend spotted by Robin Hanson about independent scholars:

over time amateurs blow their lead by focusing less and relying on easier, more direct methods. They rely more on informal conversation as analysis method, they prefer personal connections over open competitions in choosing people, and they rely more on a perceived consensus among a smaller group of fellow enthusiasts. As a result, their contributions just don’t appeal as widely or as long.

### Illnesses

I suffer from degenerative DNA scrambling, increasingly lazy cells, irreversible methylation, terribly tangled proteins, disappearing stem-cell nooks, and ultimately oxygen poisoning, like everyone.

### What's with all these accordions?

Information hiding is a basic condition of good large software; these accordions are a prose analogue. The hope is that, by tucking away wires, I can write long things without triggering anyone's TL;DR reflex.

It also sort of simulates a dialogue with the reader: I plant a question, and then they prompt for the response.
1. Es ist gleich tödlich für den Geist, ein System zu haben, und keins zu haben. Es wird sich also wohl entschließen müssen beides zu verbinden.
2. (or an equivalent value of my labour.)
3. If you count SAS. (If you do, I was employed to code before I learned to Code.)