Category Archives: rationality

2017-18 New Year review

2017 progress

Research/career:

FLI / other AI safety:

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Takeaways from self-tracking data

I’ve been collecting data about myself on a daily basis for the past 3 years. Half a year ago, I switched from using 42goals (which I only remembered to fill out once every few days) to a Google form emailed to me daily (which I fill out consistently because I check email often). Now for the moment of truth – a correlation matrix!

The data consists of “mood variables” (anxiety, tiredness, and “zoneout” – how distracted / spacey I’m feeling), “action variables” (exercise and meditation) and sleep variables (hours of sleep, sleep start/end time, insomnia). There are 5 binary variables (meditation, exercise, evening/morning insomnia, headache) and the rest are ordinal or continuous. Almost all the variables have 6 months of data, except that I started tracking anxiety 5 months ago and zoneout 2 months ago.

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2016-17 New Year review

2016 progress

Research / career:

  • Got a job at DeepMind as a research scientist in AI safety.
  • Presented MiniSPN paper at ICLR workshop.
  • Finished RNN interpretability paper and presented at ICML and NIPS workshops.
  • Attended the Deep Learning Summer School.
  • Finished and defended PhD thesis.
  • Moved to London and started working at DeepMind.

FLI:

  • Talk and panel (moderator) at Effective Altruism Global X Boston
  • Talk and panel at the Governance of Emerging Technologies conference at ASU
  • Talk and panel at Brain Bar Budapest
  • AI safety session at OpenAI unconference
  • Talk and panel at Effective Altruism Global X Oxford
  • Talk and panel at Cambridge Catastrophic Risk Conference run by CSER

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Using humility to counteract shame

u0sm9wx“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”

Uncle Iroh, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”

 

Shame is one of the trickiest emotions to deal with. It is difficult to think about, not to mention discuss with others, and gives rise to insidious ugh fields and negative spirals. Shame often underlies other negative emotions without making itself apparent – anxiety or anger at yourself can be caused by unacknowledged shame about the possibility of failure. It can stack on top of other emotions – e.g. you start out feeling upset with someone, and end up being ashamed of yourself for feeling upset, and maybe even ashamed of feeling ashamed if meta-shame is your cup of tea. The most useful approach I have found against shame is invoking humility.

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2015-16 New Year review

2015 progress

Research:

  • Finished paper on the Selective Bayesian Forest Classifier algorithm
  • Made an R package for SBFC (beta)
  • Worked at Google on unsupervised learning for the Knowledge Graph with Moshe Looks during the summer (paper)
  • Joined the HIPS research group at Harvard CS and started working with the awesome Finale Doshi-Velez
  • Ratio of coding time to writing time was too high overall

FLI:

  • Co-organized two meetings to brainstorm biotechnology risks
  • Co-organized two Machine Learning Safety meetings
  • Gave a talk at the Shaping Humanity’s Trajectory workshop at EA Global
  • Helped organize NIPS symposium on societal impacts of AI

Rationality / effectiveness:

  • Extensive use of FollowUpThen for sending reminders to future selves
  • Mapped out my personal bottlenecks
  • Sleep:
    • Tracked insomnia (26% of nights) and sleep time (average 1:30am, stayed up past 1am on 31% of nights)
    • Started working on sleep hygiene
    • Stopped using melatonin (found it ineffective)

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Systems I have tried: an overview

I have used various organization and productivity systems in the past few years – this is an overview of what worked and what didn’t.

Main systems I currently use:

  1. Follow Up Then: Sends an email to a future self, with the date and time specified in the email address, e.g. fri6pm@fut.io. I use it for delaying tasks, recurring reminders, and following up on email threads. This reduces clutter in my todo list, calendar and inbox, and frees my working memory. Lately, I noticed myself remembering a thing shortly before receiving a follow up about it – probably due to the same mechanism that sometimes wakes me up a few minutes before the morning alarm.
  2. Complice: Daily to-do list organized according to goals, with archives and regular reviews. Helpful for specifying the next action to take at a given time, and for tracking progress on individual goals. Downside: I sometimes hesitate to enter tasks into the list, because entered tasks cannot be erased, and leaving a task unfinished is aversive, so often end up entering tasks after they are done instead.
  3. Workflowy: Nested list structure – searchable, with collapsible and sharable sublists. I keep my ongoing todo list (in GTD form) and most of my notes here. Downside: doesn’t work for goal factoring, since it only supports tree structures.
  4. Google Calendar: Self-explanatory. I have recently started adding tentative meeting slots, indicated by a question mark, e.g. “dinner with Janos?”. This has been helpful for keeping track of which time slots I’ve offered to someone. I also added a calendar that shows Facebook events that I’ve been invited to, which is handy.
  5. 42 Goals: Goal tracking with summary graphs and cute symbols. I use this for tracking habits (like exercise and meditation) and other random things (like insomnia occurrences). The graphs are useful – this is how I know that I have the most insomnia on Mondays! Downsides: doesn’t allow non-binary categories, and the phone app is so unreliable that I never use it – if you know good alternative tracking systems, let me know!

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Hamming questions and bottlenecks

The CFAR alumni workshop on the first weekend of May was focused on the Hamming question. Mathematician Richard Hamming was known to approach experts from other fields and ask “what are the important problems in your field, and why aren’t you working on them?”. The same question can be applied to personal life: “what are the important problems in your life, and what is stopping you from working on them?”.

Over the course of the weekend, the twelve of us asked this question of ourselves and each other, in many forms and guises: “if Vika isn’t making a major impact on the world in 5 years, what would have stopped her?”, “what are your greatest bottlenecks?”, “how can we actually try?”, etc. The intense focus on mental pain points was interspersed with naps and silly games to let off steam. On the last day, we did a group brainstorm, where everyone who wanted to receive feedback took a turn in the center of the circle, and everyone else speculated on what they thought were the biggest bottlenecks of the person in the center. By this time, we had mostly gotten to know each other, and even the impressions from those who knew me less well were surprisingly accurate. I am very grateful to everyone at the workshop for being so insightful and supportive of each other (and actually caring).

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