Rationality Workshop: Valuing Choices

There was a period when every day someone¬†would ask me why there wasn’t another HPMOR.

“When is Eliezer going to publish the next chapter? It’s been ages!”

“Stop asking me. I don’t know any more than you do. Maybe he’s busy with his 3 girlfriends- sadly he’s apparently not working on HPMOR every moment of his life. I am not privy to Eliezer’s every thought and daily agenda.”

This person would then generally begin complaining about how there would probably never be another HPMOR while I would begin an internal monologue with my fist of death. Many will never know how I grappled against my dark side for their sake.

Anyway the last time I was in the Bay area I decided to drop in on a rationality workshop at the Center for Applied Rationality to see exactly what it was that Eliezer was up to instead of HPMOR.

My genius friends, even the ones I got into HPMOR, mocked me for going to the rationality workshop.
“They’re going to brainwash you into donating millions to their AI research.”
“Nancy, can I come too so I can rock the boat and mock them for their singularity ideas?”
“Nancy’s going to some rationality class that teaches how to rationalize your crazy beliefs.”

I didn’t know what to expect, because, as far as I could tell, self-described rationalists were not really getting anywhere particularly awesome in any arenas in life; instead according to Isaacson it was the reality-distortionists who were dominating.

But the class was actually totally awesome! The above is a photo of one of the lecturers talking about thought experiments, a topic I’ll write about later. Anna (not pictured) taught us about using numbers to help make decisions.

Anna gave the example of figuring out if you should buy a faster microwave that could shave off 2 minutes a day in cooking time over the course of the microwave’s life, say 2 years. If you value your time at $50 an hour and the cost of getting the faster microwave is less than 2 minutes per day * 2 years * $50 per hour, then you should get the microwave.

Another example is if you are researching airline prices and wondering how much more time you should spend looking for a better deal. If you think you could save $100 if you research for another hour and you value your time at $100/hour, then you should spend less than (probably much less than) 1 more hour looking for a better deal.

Because Dilip had remarked to me that young people shouldn’t think their time was worthless, especially if they planned to be rich, because then one’s time is worth a lot more in expectation, I asked Anna,¬†“If you think you’re going to be making a lot more money in the future, then you should value your current time as higher in expectation?”

Anna said, “Yes. That’s an error many college kids make, not realizing they’re going to be making 6 digits in a year or so and continuing to value their time as though it’s worth $10 an hour.”
“So if I believe I’m going to be a billionaire then I should value my time as crazily high in expectation and buy every new time saving device?”
“…Do you believe you’re going to be a billionaire?”
“That’s kind of hard to do…”
“Maybe just hundreds of millions then.”

As a result of this particular lesson I now feel totally guiltless about owning 2 iPads, 2 iPhone 4S’s, and 7 kindles (each a different model) and extremely guilty about watching silly movies and getting manicures. So yeah, no more nail art and I still haven’t seen Madagascar 3…