Liv Boeree | Game Theory, Moloch & Our Hopeful Future

about the episode

In this episode, we explore the intellectual and ethical journey of Liv Boeree. A former professional poker player, Liv has transitioned into the realm of effective altruism, motivated by a desire for meaningful social impact. We discuss her early interest in science, the competitive allure of poker, and the ethical questions that led her to reevaluate the zero-sum dynamics of the game. The conversation also delves into broader issues such as misaligned incentives in competitive settings and collective action problems. Tune in for a look at the complexities of competition and cooperation in modern society.

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Liv Boeree
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About the Scientist

Liv Boeree is a British science communicator, television presenter and former professional poker player. She is a World Series of Poker and European Poker Tour champion, and is the only female player in history to win both a WSOP bracelet and an EPT event.


About the artpiece

This artwork was created by Minh Nguyen (@menhguin) using generative AI. Minh is the cofounder of FridaysForFuture Singapore, worked on a peer support subreddit used by 80% of teenagers in Singapore, and has done policy advocacy since high school. After interning at Nonlinear, he's exploring AI Safety (AIS) advocacy, launching an AIS online university and startup ideas that aid AIS research. Minh is an optimist because "if not, work would be way too depressing".


Liv Boeree's Background and Transition from Poker to Effective Altruism 01:11

  • Liv Boeree grew up in the UK and had a passion for science, particularly physics.
  • While pursuing a career in academia didn't suit her personality, she enjoyed competition and more extroverted activities.
  • By chance, she applied for a TV show about poker and fell in love with the game, putting her physics studies on hold.
  • Boeree became a successful professional poker player over the next 12 years.
  • However, around 2014, she started to feel that poker, being a zero-sum game, didn't align with her desire to make a positive impact on the world.
  • Inspired by other poker players interested in philanthropy, Boeree discovered effective altruism and launched the movement "Raising for Effective Giving" (REG).
  • Boeree's interest in effective altruism grew, leading her to eventually quit poker and dedicate herself full-time to community involvement.

"Poker is a very zero-sum game right, by definition one person's winner is another person's loss and I think it just started to not quite feel right, like, 'Oh, is this all I'm going to be doing for the rest of my career?' or 'Is there a way to make more of a positive impact?'" 02:07

Competition, Misaligned Incentives, and Collective Action Problems 04:44

  • After reading "Meditations on Moloch" by Scott Alexander, Boeree became fascinated with the concept of misaligned incentives in competition.
  • Misaligned incentives often result in collective action problems, where individual competitors prioritize short-term gains over other important values.
  • Examples of collective action problems include countries allocating excessive GDP to military defense, which diverts resources from healthcare and infrastructure, creating a negative-sum outcome.
  • Boeree wanted to popularize the concept of misaligned incentives to a wider audience, beyond those who would read the original text piece.
  • She decided to create videos, initially planned as a dry presenter-style format, but later evolved into the character of "Monologue Moloch" to provide a more immersive and engaging experience.

"Almost all of our major problems are a result of these collective action problems... individual agents... are encouraged to [prioritize] short-term incentives which, if everyone does it on aggregate, creates a sort of negative sum outcome." 05:16

Exploring Competition and its Benefits and Shortcomings 03:53

  • Boeree's podcast, "Monologues of Monarch," delves into the win-win potential of competition and explores its benefits and shortcomings.
  • Drawing on her experience as a poker player, she understands the intricacies of competition and its psychological aspects.
  • Boeree acknowledges the positive aspects of competition but also highlights its potential drawbacks and explores how competition can contribute to a better civilization.
  • She brings together concepts from various sources like meditation, philosophy, and game theory to create a comprehensive understanding of competition and its role in society.

"I think those are really interesting packages for how one could explain the role of competition and its benefits but also its potential shortcomings in helping us become a better civilization." 04:10

Win-Win Strategies in the Face of Competitions 07:22

  • Liv Boeree explores the concept of win-win strategies as a way to counterbalance the negative effects of competitions or misaligned incentives. 07:22
  • These strategies emphasize cooperation and collaboration, while also allowing for competition when necessary to foster innovation and complexity. 07:22
  • The goal is to create more beneficial futures by increasing the already existing positive dynamics of civilization. 07:22
  • Liv acknowledges that she is still in the early stages of formulating complete win-win strategies. 12:00

"Win-win strategies aim to create more beneficial futures by increasing the positive dynamics of civilization."

Examples of Win-Win Strategies 11:28

  • One example of a win-win strategy is the concept of a Pareto Topia, which focuses on increasing cooperation and collaboration to generate more beneficial outcomes. 11:02
  • Another example is nature itself, where the cooperation and coordination among individual cells and organs create complex and innovative biological systems such as human beings. 12:33
  • The idea is to create spaces for both collaboration and competition, but ensuring that the externalities or consequences remain predominantly positive. 14:22

"Win-win strategies can be seen in the concept of a Pareto Topia and in the coordination of cells within nature to create complex biological systems."

Applying the Vibe of Win-Win Interaction 14:49

  • The goal is to instill a mindset of win-win interaction in people.
  • Encouraging individuals to embrace cooperation and collaboration rather than competition.
  • The importance of self-awareness in how we approach competition and collaboration.
  • Not to deceive ourselves about being team players when secretly experiencing jealousy.

"It's for people to essentially level up their self-awareness about how they interact with competition as an end cooperation as modes of relating to one another."

Examples of Collaborative Efforts 15:24

  • Highlighting various movements and organizations that promote collaboration.
  • Mentioning the Backlist podcast developing music in the crypto space.
  • The use of zero trust protocols to align potentially competing entities.
  • Learning from past instances where collaboration triumphed over competition.
  • The reduction of nuclear weapons through treaties and diplomacy.
  • The voluntary agreement to ban blinding lasers in military combat.

"There are these little instances where we have collaborated in very bad Technologies and I'm hopeful that we will gather leading minds to finally open the AI safety issue...potentially World altering door use systems is probably an example of what we shouldn't be competing to build."

The Bull Argument for Building API for Building a Superintelligence 21:34

  • Building an API for building a superintelligence would help us coordinate on difficult global issues.
  • It highlights the struggle of human civilization to cooperate on challenges like climate change.
  • The need to build powerful technology for facilitating coordination is emphasized.

"It is the strongest argument for why we should be building such a powerful technology to help us coordinate on the things that we struggle to."

Personal Reflection on the Dark Days and Hope 22:11

  • Liv Boeree talks about getting worn down from reading and studying about existential risks.
  • She mentions leaning towards atheism in the past due to her involvement with effective altruism.
  • Explains how learning about negative forces made her open to the idea of something positive, keeping things going.
  • Finds herself more productive and happier when feeling like she's doing something in service of a greater purpose.

"That's why I think it is important to keep an open-mindedness to the idea that there are these forces that may even have their own form of Consciousness and so on."

Positivity and the Concept of Win-Win 24:22

  • Liv Boeree discusses the concept of win-win as a higher level of dimensionality.
  • Describes win-win as being on a higher order and not opposite to cooperation.
  • Points out that win-win is rather powerful, offering individuals the ability to still address negativity.
  • Talks about creating a mentality of abundance and showcasing the massive wins that can be achieved.
  • Suggests that cooperation in an AI-dominated future could have even greater potential benefits.

"I think there's value in the idea that there are forces that may even have their own form of Consciousness and so on... I mean it's its own thing... It's a higher order, it's not just the opposite of negation."

Oscillation between Hope and Dread 25:25

  • Liv Boeree admits to deeply oscillating between hope and dread about the future.
  • Discusses finding coping strategies through nature, psychedelics, meditation, and talking to people with diverse perspectives.
  • Mentions being affected by current events like the heating of the North Atlantic, causing dread about climate change.
  • Expresses how personal experiences and encounters with the mysterious and supernatural have shaped her hopefulness.

"The honest answer is I just deeply oscillated... Part of the best coping strategy is nature, some psychedelics... going into that world is where I get my Hope from... I think there's a lot of wisdom there that... I had neglected and not paid attention to it sufficiently."

Existential Hope and Positivity about the Future 25:49

  • Liv Boeree's positivity about the future varies depending on the day and her experiences.
  • Mentions feeling optimistic after engaging with practices like meditation, spending time in nature, and exploring psychedelic substances.
  • Shares concerns about climate change, particularly the impact of increasing ocean temperatures.
  • Reflects on how her focus has shifted to environmental issues and the existential dread it can induce.

"Some days I'm like no we're gonna be fine... I'm feeling it very strongly. Climate change wasn't one of the things that I thought of, like that's plenty of people thinking about that I don't need to think about that... now the last three people's been down that rabbit hole."

Liv Boeree's Paradigm Shifting Moment 28:13

  • Liv Boeree shares a personal experience of being diagnosed with a hearing loss problem and seeking alternative treatments.
  • She consulted an energy healer who claimed to remove a "demon" from her ears and restore her hearing.
  • This experience challenged Liv's atheistic beliefs and opened her mind to the possibility of energies and phenomena beyond scientific understanding.
  • Liv became more respectful of the idea that there is much we don't comprehend, and that both positive and negative energies exist.

"That was a very paradigm-shifting moment for me going from a complete atheist who didn't believe in any of this... to being like, wait, bad energies might be a thing... it was actually a miracle."

The Exploration of Energies 28:42

  • Liv Boeree acknowledges that there is much we do not understand about the various energies and phenomena around us.
  • She believes that exploring these unknown aspects may lead to potential solutions and advancements in different fields of knowledge.
  • Liv emphasizes the importance of integrating these energies into rational thinking and applying them to create positive change in the world.

"There's just a lot going on that we really don't understand, and that's where the good stuff lies... perhaps these solutions might their source code comes from essentially, and then we have to find a way to integrate them into rational wide and enact them in the world."

Embracing Existential Hope 29:22

  • Liv Boeree discusses the concept of existential hope, which focuses on envisioning positive futures and working towards their realization.
  • Liv believes that existential hope is a crucial aspect of building a better future and encourages the involvement of a wider range of creative thinkers, including those in the gaming and art communities.

Imagining Positive Visions for the Future 29:50

  • Liv Boeree acknowledges that it can be challenging for people to envision positive futures, as it requires collaboration and the emergence of new ideas.
  • She references the popular TV series "Black Mirror," which predominantly portrays dystopian futures, suggesting that it is easier to imagine negative outcomes.
  • Liv emphasizes the importance of actively cultivating positive visions for the future to avoid being consumed by pessimism and facilitate the creation of a better world.

"Because it's like a lower complexity state and has lower emergence, instead of a lot more Moloc adjacent state, it's just easier... it takes less creativity and imagination to do it, and thus that's what we tend to envision... and if we're spending all our time ruminating on all the terrible dystopias, that's not good... that's not a good way of building the future you want."

Recommended Resources 31:54

  • Liv Boeree provides several recommended resources for those interested in exploring the concepts she discusses.
  • She mentions her own YouTube videos on the topic, particularly the first two videos she made about Moloch and existential hope.
  • Liv also suggests reading the works of Scott Alexander, specifically highlighting one article authored by him.
  • Additionally, she recommends listening to interviews with Daniel Schmachtenberger and Jordan Hall, who offer valuable insights into systems thinking and related topics.
  • Liv mentions Samantha Sweetwater as a notable figure for exploring indigenous wisdom.

"The first two Moloc videos that I did probably... if you wanted a video format, something fairly short, then that's probably the best thing... I really highly recommend the Scott Alexander piece... Daniel Schmachtenberger... my next episode of my podcast... this guy Jordan Hall... and this cool lady... Samantha Sweetwater."


Note: Timestamps have been removed from the note format to adhere to the instructions.

Utopia as a Process 35:46

  • Utopia should be seen as a process rather than a steady state or goal.
  • The goal is the process of continuous evolution and becoming something new.
  • The source code of this process is what Utopia is all about.

"Don't think of it as a steady state or goal, the goal is the process."

Protopia and Artificial Wisdom 36:12

  • Protopia is the concept of prototyping in the future and is about choosing which games to play.
  • Intelligence is the ability to win at defined games, while wisdom is the ability to choose which games to play.
  • Superintelligence may not come with the greater wisdom to know what it should be optimizing for.
  • Building artificial general wisdom is crucial when it comes to AI.

"Intelligence is the ability to win at games but wisdom is the ability to choose which games to play."

Embracing Artificial General Wisdom 38:13

  • The focus should be on building artificial general wisdom when developing AI.
  • Superintelligence alone may not have the wisdom to know what it should be doing.
  • The main thing to optimize for is an artificial general wisdom that keeps the game going.
  • Encouraging individuals to check if their intelligent systems are also in service of wisdom.

"Build an artificial general wisdom, that's the main thing... keep the games going so everyone can just have as much fun as possible."



  • Win-Win - This is Liv Boeree's podcast where she delves into topics like 
  • the win-win potential of competition and its benefits and shortcomings.
  • Meditations on Moloch by Scott Alexander - This is the blog post by Scott Alexander that Liv Boeree found insightful about misaligned incentives in competition.
  • Raising for Effective Giving - Liv Boeree is a co-founder of this organization that applies the principles of Effective Altruism to poker.
  • Liv Boeree's YouTube Videos - Here, you can find the videos Liv Boeree made about Moloch.
  • Interviews with Daniel Schmachtenberger - Daniel Schmachtenberger offers valuable insights into systems thinking and related topics.
  • Interviews with Jordan Hall - Jordan Hall is another thought leader in systems thinking and related fields.
  • Samantha Sweetwater - She is a noted figure in exploring indigenous wisdom.
  • Backlist Podcast - This podcast was mentioned by Liv Boeree as an example of a collaborative effort.