Adam Zerner

Using blinders to help you see things for what they are

In basketball, people are often, well, biased in favor of one player over another. For example:

There's no way that Khris Middleton is better than Kyrie Irving.

Kyrie is widely perceived as an ultra-talented superstar, while Middleton is perceived as a nice sidekick, maybe even a very good sidekick, but not a true hero.

"And then the really smart people," Draco said, his face now serious, "went off and had a little discussion by themselves..."

HPMoR, Chapter 19

In basketball, something the smart people do in these little discussions is pose questions like the following:

Player A scores 22 points per 75 possessions on +9% efficiency relative to league average.

Player B scores 26 pp75 on +3% efficiency.

Who's better?

It's a pretty good debiasing technique. It'll often lead to uncomfortable conclusions, like "Middleton is better than Kyrie", or "Ginobili is better than McGrady".

I'd like to see this technique used more widely.

It's not quite the same thing, but consider the following.

The consensus opinion of experts is that there is this event that will happen. They don't know when it is going to happen, but they are in agreement that it is going to happen, and that it is going to lead humanity to either utopia or extinction.

What is the chance of utopia vs extinction? Maybe 60-40. It's hard to say.

When do they think it will happen? Maybe between 2030 and 2080. Also hard to say.

Do they think we can do anything to stop it from happening? Nope. It's pretty much inevitable.

Do they think we can do anything to, y'know, push us closer to utopia and further from extinction? Yeah, for sure!

Are we currently doing any of that stuff? Nah, not really. There are a couple of organizations with budgets of a few million dollars, but that's it.

If such a thing were true, how would you expect civilization to react?

I dunno. Maybe some politicians would make a move on it. Not all, but some. Maybe concerned citizens would start Facebook groups. Maybe there'd be documentaries, like we have for climate change. Maybe Vice would write some articles about it. Maybe universities and research groups would be attacking it with some force. Maybe people would spend more mental energy worrying about it than their 401k.

Well, such a thing is true. It's called the singularity. And to my knowledge, civilization is not reacting like I would have expected.

Perhaps using that debiasing technique of applying "blinders" would make it more clear how big of a deal the singularity is. Perhaps the fact that it sounds like science fiction is making it hard for us to take it seriously. In the same way that Kyrie's flashiness and Middleton's mundane style makes it hard for us to take seriously the idea that Middleton is a better player.

If you have any thoughts, I'd love to discuss them over email:

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