# You Have Four Words

Epistemic Sta­tus: all num­bers are made up and/​or sketchily sourced.

If you want to co­or­di­nate with one per­son on a thing, you can spend as much time as you want talk­ing to them – an­swer­ing ques­tions in re­al­time, ad­dress­ing con­fu­sions as you no­tice them.

You prob­a­bly speak at around 100 words per minute. That’s 6,000 words per hour. If you talk for 3 hours a day, ev­ery work­day for a year, you can com­mu­ni­cate 4.3 mil­lion words worth of nu­ance.

You can have a real con­ver­sa­tion with up to 4 peo­ple.

(Last year the small or­ga­ni­za­tion I work at con­sid­ered hiring a 5th per­son. It turned out to be very costly and we de­cided to wait, and I think the rea­sons were re­lated to this phe­nomenon)

If you want to co­or­di­nate with, say, 10 peo­ple, you re­al­is­ti­cally can ask them to read a cou­ple books worth of words. A book is maybe 50,000 words, so you have maybe 200,000 words worth of nu­ance.

Alter­nately, you can monologue at peo­ple, scal­ing a con­ver­sa­tion past the point where peo­ple re­al­is­ti­cally can ask ques­tions. Either way, you need to hope that your books or your monologues hap­pen to ad­dress the par­tic­u­lar con­fu­sions your 10 team­mates have.

If you want to co­or­di­nate with 100 peo­ple, you can ask them to read a few books, but chances are they won’t. They might all read a few books worth of stuff, but they won’t all have read the same books. The in­for­ma­tion that they can be co­or­di­nate on is more like “sev­eral blog­posts.” If you’re try­ing to co­or­di­nate nerds, maybe those blog­posts add up to one book be­cause nerds like to read.

If you want to co­or­di­nate 1,000 peo­ple… you re­al­is­ti­cally get one blog­post, or maybe one blog­post worth of jar­gon that’s hope­fully self-ex­plana­tory enough to be use­ful.

If you want to co­or­di­nate thou­sands of peo­ple...

You have four words.

This has ram­ifi­ca­tions on how com­pli­cated a co­or­di­nated effort you can at­tempt.

What if you need all that nu­ance and to co­or­di­nate thou­sands of peo­ple? What would it look like if the world was filled with com­pli­cated prob­lems that re­quired lots of peo­ple to solve?

I guess it’d look like this one.

• “Donate to Effec­tive Char­i­ties.”

“AI will kill us.”

“Con­sider Earn­ing to Give.”

“EA is Ta­lent Con­strained.”

• I’ll prob­a­bly re­fer peo­ple to this post when try­ing to ex­plain why you to­tally need com­plex net­works when you are try­ing to co­or­di­nate about ab­solutely any­thing more com­pli­cated than what you can ex­press in 4 words.

(Also: One friend pointed to­ward the fact that the word hi­er­ar­chy comes from or­gani­sa­tion co­or­di­nat­ing effort of more than a billion of peo­ple across long time hori­zons)

• This post in­spired by a con­ver­sa­tion (con­ver­sa­tion part­ner can re­veal them­selves if they so choose), who origi­nally claimed (I think off-the-cuff) that that you had four words if you needed to co­or­di­nate 100,000 peo­ple (re­sult­ing in highly sim­plified strate­gies).

I up­dated my own es­ti­mate down­wards (of the num­ber of peo­ple you need to be co­or­di­nat­ing to face the four word limit), af­ter ob­serv­ing that EA only has some­where-on-the-or­der-of-a-thou­sand peo­ple in­volved and im­por­tant con­cepts of­ten lose their nu­ance. (Although, to be fair, this is at least in part be­cause there’s mul­ti­ple con­cepts that are all nu­anced that all need to be kept track of, each of which need to get boiled down to a sim­ple jar­gon term)

• My in­tu­ition is that at least 1000 EAs have in com­mon a book length amount of read­ing on EA. Here at the EA Ho­tel, we can of­ten dis­cuss things at a high level in groups as there is a lot of com­mon knowl­edge of EA con­cepts (and the same goes for EA Globals).

• Me, I think? I re­call lament­ing about how the “game of tele­phone” im­plied by memetic dy­nam­ics re­duces any nu­anced mes­sage to about 4 or 5 words.

(In gen­eral & broadly: you’re wel­come to name me as an “in­spired by” con­ver­sa­tion part­ner with­out ask­ing. If you’re in­ter­ested in para­phras­ing my views, you can check the para­phrase with me.)

• Nod. My mo­ti­va­tion to write the post came in a brief spurt and I wanted to just get it out with­out sub­ject­ing it to a re­view pro­cess, so I erred on the side of word­ing it the way I en­dorsed and let­ting you take credit if you wanted.

• (Btw, al­ter­nate ti­tles for this post were “you have about 5 words”, “you only have 5 words”, and “you have less than seven words.”) :P