2014-15 New Year review

2014 progress

If someone told me at the beginning of 2014 that I would co-found an organization to mitigate technological risks to humanity, I might not have believed them. Thanks Max, Meia, Anthony and Jaan for the great initiative!

I am almost done with my first research project on variable selection and classification using a Bayesian forest model – I simplified the variable partition in the model, came up with better tree updates, added a hyperprior, sped up the algorithm by an order of magnitude, and started testing on real data. Among the other ambitious projects of the past year are two MIRIx workshops plus writing up the results, and starting this blog.

Improvements in personal effectiveness:

  • started using a daily checklist of morning habits
  • started taking melatonin every night
  • started tagging new thoughts
  • started using FollowUpThen to schedule future tasks without overloading my todo list
  • started using Toggl to track work hours only
  • stopped using Beeminder (too stressful), and replaced it with a combination of 42goals and FollowUpThen (works well)
  • quit as President of the Toastmasters club
  • made a volunteer application form for FLI, so that instead of being inundated with 7 freeform emails per month from interested folks, I get the relevant information in an organized spreadsheet and I’m not required to respond

Random cool things I did:

  • climbing a 5.11a
  • climbing outdoors
  • indoor surfing
  • polar bear swim

2014 resolutions

A year ago, I made a number of New Year resolutions (and assigned a probability of completion for each goal). Here is how they worked out:


  • continue meditation practice (>10 minutes daily, > 120 times) (70%) – did ~200 times
  • start a new research project (70%) – started working with a new advisor, did some background reading, narrowed down a topic, wrote a grant proposal
  • do at least 5 pullups in a row (85%)
  • reading stats blogs
  • go to 3 conferences, including a MIRI workshop (80%) – went to NESS, JSM, NIPS, and two MIRIx workshops
  • give 5 speeches at Toastmasters (75%)
  • give at least 5 LessWrong meetup talks (70%)
  • run comfort zone expansion outings at least twice (80%)
  • start a group project at Citadel (40%) – FLI work groups and MIRIx workshops sort of count for this
  • introduce at least 3 friends to LW meetups (50%)
  • help people achieve their goals – helped run a weekly habit training session at Citadel

Essentially succeeded:

  • publish paper about current research project (90%) – almost done, hope to submit by March 1
  • write at least 5 LW posts (80%) – wrote 4 posts
  • more writing – reflections (did some), stories (sort of), poems (nope), also journals and blog posts

Failed and no longer endorsed:

  • continue to avoid Beeminder debt – didn’t work, then stopped using Beeminder, now use 42goals for goal tracking and FollowUpThen for reminders
  • do consulting for Metamed (60%)
  • read 90% of the LW Sequences (70%) – made progress, but no longer want to read such a high fraction (waiting for the ebook to come out)
  • finish Pearl’s Causality (50%) – read the LW review of the book instead
  • learn more economics and biology


  • low predictions, 40-60%: 2/4 = 50% (perfectly calibrated)
  • high predictions, 70-90%: 7/10 = 70% (overconfident)


  • Reading goals mostly don’t work for me – if I do set them, flexible goals of the form “read some of X” (like stats blogs) do better than more fixed and time-consuming goals like “read most of X” (like the Sequences)
  • The rate of goal disendorsement is 5/19 = 26%.
  • I don’t tend to completely fail on goals I continue to endorse – yay!

2015 goals and habits

Broad categories of goals for the coming year:

  1. Research:
    • wrap up and submit BFC project,
    • start and make a significant progress on 1-2 new projects
  2. FLI:
    • help streamline operations and communication,
    • continue work on AI safety outreach to AI researchers,
    • encourage AI safety research,
    • start projects in risk areas other than AI safety
  3. Self-improvement:
    • reduce weekend/free-time anxiety,
    • increase acceptance of suboptimal situations,
    • improve introspection ability and my model of myself,
    • improve retention of information (using Anki),
    • eliminate cluttery speech pattern

Habits to maintain:

  • daily meditation
  • daily pushups
  • daily melatonin
  • tagging and writing down new thoughts
  • tracking goals in 42goals
  • tracking work hours in Toggl
  • journaling 1-2 times / week

2015 predictions

  1. I will submit the Bayesian Forest Classifier paper for publication (95%)
  2. I will submit another paper besides BFC (40%)
  3. I will present BFC results at a conference (JSM, ICML or NIPS) (40%)
  4. I will get a new external fellowship to replace my expiring NSERC fellowship (50%)
  5. I will skim at least 20 research papers in machine learning (70%)
  6. I will write at least 12 blog posts (70%)
  7. I will climb a 5.12 without rope cheating (50%)
  8. I will lead climb a 5.11a (50%)
  9. I will be able to do 10 pullups in a row (60%)
  10. I will meditate at least 150 times (80%)
  11. I will record at least 150 new thoughts (70%)
  12. I will make at least 100 Anki cards by the end of the year (70%)
  13. I will read at least 10 books (60%)
  14. I will attend Burning Man (90%)
  15. Boston will have a second rationalist house by the end of the year (30%)
  16. FLI will hire a full-time project manager or administrator (80%)
  17. FLI will start a project on biotech safety (70%)

I will update this post if other goals and predictions for the year come to mind before the end of January.

6 thoughts on “2014-15 New Year review

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