Increments

Increments

Vaden Masrani, a PhD student in machine learning at UBC and Ben Chugg, a research fellow at Stanford Law School, get into trouble arguing about everything except machine learning and law. Coherence is somewhere on the horizon. Love, bribes, suggestions, and hate-mail all welcome at incrementspodcast@gmail.com.... Show More

Episodes

February 1, 2021 90 min

Back in the ring for round two on longtermism! We (Ben somewhat drunkenly) respond to some of the criticism of episode #17 and our two essays (Ben's, Vaden's) We touch on: 

  • Ben's hate mail from his piece on cliodynamics
  • Longtermism as implying altruistic portfolio shuffling
  • What the hell is Bayesian epistemology 
  • The Pasadena game
  • Authoritarianism and the danger of seeking perfection 
  • Arrow's theorem
  • Alternative decision t...
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    January 14, 2021 34 min

    Bit of a personal episode this one is! Ben learns how to be a twitter warrior while Vaden has a full-on breakdown during quarantine. Who knew work addiction was actually a real thing? And that there are 12 step programs for people who identify as being "powerless over compulsive work, worry, or activity"? And that mathematics can create compulsive behavior indistinguishable from drug addiction? Vaden does, now.

    People mentio...

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    December 18, 2020 90 min

    Well, there's no avoiding controversy with this one. We explain, examine, and attempt to refute the shiny new moral philosophy of longtermism. Our critique focuses on The Case for Strong Longtermism by Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill.

    We say so in the episode, but it's important to emphasize that we harbour no animosity towards anyone in the effective altruism community. However, we both think that longtermism is pretty f...

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    Vaden comes battle-hardened and ready to debate and is met with ... a big soft hug from Ben. Ben repents his apocalyptic sins and admits that Vaden changed his mind. Again. God dammit this is getting annoying. To his credit, Vaden only gloats for 10 minutes.  Eventually we touch on some other topics: 

  • technology as filling niches
  • when is outrage appropriate? 
  • the upsides of social media 
  • conversation as a substitute for violence 
  • Much l...

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    Alright spiders, point this at your brain. Ben and Vaden do a deep dive into the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and have a genuine debate, just like the good ol' days.  Topics touched:

  • Why Vaden dislikes documentaries, and this one in particular
  • Is reliance on social media a problem?
  • The advertisement model
  • The relationship between social media and mental health
  • ... and political polarization
  • ... and outrage in general
  • ...
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    The third in the Conjectures and Refutations series, we cover Chapter 16: Prediction And Prophecy in the Social Sciences. There's a bit more Hitler stuff in this one than usual (retweets  ≠ endorsements), but only because he provides a clear example of the motherlode of all bad ideas - historicism. We discuss:

  • What historicism is and why it sucks
  • Prediction vs prophecy
  • Differences between the physical sciences and social sciences
  • T...
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    October 15, 2020 61 min

    Stephen is back for round two! In this episode we learn that Vaden wants to live in a panopticon and Ben in a high tech surveillance state. Also, we're all going to use Bing from now on. 

    Stephen Caines is a research fellow at Stanford law school's CodeX centre for legal informatics, where he specializes in the domestic use of facial recognition technology. He received a J.D. from  the University of Miami  with a concentrat...

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    In the lead up to the American presidential election, one of the largest and most consequential expressions of public opinion, Ben and Vaden do what they always do and ask: "What does Popper say about this?" The second in the Conjectures and Refutations series, we cover Chapter 17: Public Opinion and Liberal Principles.  Largely irrelevant and probably unhelpful, we touch 

  • A thesis that the far left and right are converging ...
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    September 16, 2020 89 min

    Vaden's arguments against Bayesian philosophy and existential risk are examined by someone who might actually know what they're talking about, i.e., not Ben. After writing a critique of our conversation in Episode 7, which started off a series of blog posts, our good friend Mauricio kindly agrees to come on the podcast and try to figure out who's more confused. Does Vaden convert?

    Mauricio studies political science, eco...

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    August 13, 2020 75 min

    Traditions, what are you good for? Absolutely nothing? In this episode of Increments, Ben and Vaden begin their series on Conjectures and Refutations by looking at the role tradition plays in society, and examine one tradition in particular - the critical tradition. No monkeys were harmed in the making of this episode.


    References:
    - C&R, Chapter 4: Towards a Rational Theory of Tradition


    Podcast shoutout:
    - Jennifer Doleac and Rob ...

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    The talented Stephen Caines punctures the cloud of confusion that is Ben and Vaden's conception of facial recognition technology. We talk about the development and usage of facial recognition in the private and public spheres, the dangers and merits of the technology, and Vaden's plan to use it a bars. For God's sake don't give that man a GPU.

    Stephen is a legal technologist with a passion for access to justice. He ...

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    On the same page at last! Ben comes to the philosophical confessional to announce his probabilistic sins. The Bayesians will be pissed (with high probability). At least Vaden doesn't make him kiss anything. After too much agreement and self-congratulation, Ben and Vaden conclude the mini-series on the philosophy of probability, and "announce" an upcoming mega-series on Conjectures and Refutations.


    References:
    - My Bayesi...

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    Back down to earth we go! Or try to, at least. In this episode Ben and Vaden attempt to ground their previous discussion on the philosophy of probability by focusing on a real-world example, namely the book The Precipice by Toby Ord, recently featured on the Making Sense podcast. Vaden believes in arguments, and Ben argues for beliefs.

    Quotes
    "A common approach to estimating the chance of an unprecedented event with earth-shakin...

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    Don't leave yet - we swear this will be more interesting than it sounds ...

    ... But a drink will definitely help. Ben and Vaden dive into the interpretations behind probability. What do people mean when they use the word, and why do we use this one tool to describe different concepts. The rowdiness truly kicks in when Vaden releases his pent-up critique of Bayesianism, thereby losing both his friends and PhD position. But at le...

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    In their first somber episode, Ben and Vaden discuss the protests and political tensions surrounding the murder of George Floyd. They talk about defunding the police, the importance of philosophy in politics, and honest conversation as the only peaceful means of error-correction. 

    References:  

  • https://8cantwait.org/
  • https://www.8toabolition.com/
  • Study which found that body cameras did not have a statistically significant effect. 
  • Errat...

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    Are computer scientists recklessly applying their methods to other fields without sufficient thoughtfulness? What are computer scientists good for anyway? Ben, in true masochistic fashion, worries that computer scientists are overstepping their bounds. Vaden analysis his worries with a random forest and determines that they are only 10% accurate, but then proceeds to piss of his entire field by arguing that we're nowhere close ...

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    Ben persuades Vaden that all prisoners should be let loose. Vaden convinces Ben that he shouldn’t use the word “vista” so regularly. At least they stay on topic this time. 

    References: 

  • What is the PIC? What is Abolition?, Critical Resistance. 
  • Is Prison Necessary? NY Times piece covering Ruth Wilson Gilmore. 
  • What is Prison Abolition, The Nation. 
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    An attempt to clean up the mess we made last episode. Ben still doesn't figure out how not to yell into his microphone, and Vaden finally realizes what Ben was saying and it was … perhaps not so interesting in the first place? Ben, all too pleased with himself, starts yammering on about future generations. Should we care? God — we promise that next week we’ll try to stick to whichever subject we pick. 

    References: 

  • Why the long-t...
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    We attempt to talk about Epistemic Modesty: broadly, the idea that one should be modest in their beliefs when other people (with similar credentials) disagree with them. Vaden however, entirely immodestly, tries abandoning the subject because he’s scared of Ben’s forceful arguments and derails the conversation on to the entirely uncontroversial subject of which systems of moral decision making are best suited for moral progress. A ...

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    May 19, 2020 8 min

    Ben and Vaden attempt to justify why the world needs another podcast, and fail.  

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