Maybe we can perform the "Mary's Room" thought experiment 2015-04-14T09:19:37.561Z
SciAm article about rationality corresponding only weakly with IQ 2014-12-27T20:56:25.686Z
Thoughts on How Consciousness Can Affect the World 2014-03-20T08:32:09.473Z
Consciousness affecting the world 2013-12-06T19:37:27.685Z
Why the singularity is hard and won't be happening on schedule 2011-10-13T19:51:33.063Z
Private Manned Moonbase in the 1990s, Yet Another Planning Fallacy 2011-10-05T00:09:10.104Z
What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences? 2011-09-04T01:51:04.248Z
That cat: not dead and alive 2011-08-30T08:23:22.578Z


Comment by DavidPlumpton on Astrobiology III: Why Earth? · 2016-10-07T06:33:06.388Z · LW · GW

Have you ever seen this paper that claims a complexity analysis of the Viking lander experiment results can't be explained by chemistry alone? Interesting stuff...

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Neutralizing Physical Annoyances · 2016-09-21T07:35:36.251Z · LW · GW

I found a trick somewhere on the net for clearing a blocked nose (even very blocked). Hold your nose, inhale deeply, then repeat tipping your head back for four seconds, and then forward for four seconds. Breath out slowly. Then hold your breath as long as you can, still tipping forward and back every four seconds and holding your nose. Eventually you inhale and all the gunk just sort of flows out of your nasal cavity. Warning... much gagging, spluttering and spitting at this point. But it's worth it.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on How could one (and should one) convert someone from pseudoscience? · 2015-10-06T19:44:32.274Z · LW · GW

Possibly asking something like "you're good at finding points that back up your beliefs, but you also need to spend time thinking about points that might contradict your beliefs. How many contradictory points can you think of over the next five minutes?"

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Monty Hall Sleeping Beauty · 2015-09-18T21:40:28.210Z · LW · GW

Usually "Monty Hall"?

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Stupid Questions August 2015 · 2015-08-03T06:18:31.398Z · LW · GW

Well there is this little classic that is apparently being made into a movie

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Probability of coming into existence again ? · 2015-03-02T08:51:13.615Z · LW · GW

I think you are making an unjustified assumption, e.g. "... that I will pop into existence again...", that there is an "I". There is a pattern of information that feels that it experiences qualia, and then later possibly there is another pattern of information that feels that it experiences qualia, and possibly with additional information representing memories corresponding to the first set of information. Shifting to this viewpoint dissolves the question. If we accept that qualia is an illusion then we still have an interesting question about how the illusion occurs, but many other tricky issues go away.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Discussion of concrete near-to-middle term trends in AI · 2015-02-09T07:07:11.087Z · LW · GW

Advanced quickly for a while due to a complete change in algorithm, but then we seem to have hit a plateau again. It's still an enormous climb to world champion level. It's not obvious that this will be achieved.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on SHRDLU, understanding, anthropomorphisation and hindsight bias · 2014-04-08T09:48:43.259Z · LW · GW

Looking at SHRDLU output just trying to recreate that looks pretty challenging for the modern coder, let alone decades ago. A little Lisp goes a long way.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Thoughts on How Consciousness Can Affect the World · 2014-03-20T19:12:23.838Z · LW · GW

If you are trying to be all formal about it, it's good to start by defining your terminology. What do you mean by Consciousness and what do you mean by existence?

I'm trying to be slightly formal, but without getting too bogged down. Instead I would prefer to take a few shortcuts to see if the road ahead looks promising at all. So far I feel that the best I've managed is to say "If a system seems to itself to experience consciousness in the same way that we seem to experience it, then we can call it conscious".

I am pretty sure you have no firm understanding of what you are talking about,

Not as sure as I am ;-) But I am trying to improve my understanding, and have no intention of writing philosophy papers.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Timeless Physics · 2013-10-25T01:56:31.981Z · LW · GW

So it sounds like you're saying the details may all be correct but the high level interpretation of the results is significantly overreaching. Not too unexpected, I guess.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Timeless Physics · 2013-10-24T20:02:18.683Z · LW · GW

It seems there may actually be some experimental evidence in this area, with the experiment details at

It blows my mind that there could be anything experimentally detectable, even in principle.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on How sure are you that brain emulations would be conscious? · 2013-08-29T02:31:11.725Z · LW · GW

Any WBE could in theory be simulated by a mathematical function (as far as I can see). So what I really want to know is: can a mathematical function experience qualia? (and/or consciousness) By experience I mean that whatever experiencing qualia is to us it would have something directly analogous (e.g. if qualia is an illusion then the function has the same sort of illusion).

Conscious functions possible? Currently I'm leaning towards yes. If true, to me the implication would be that the "me" in my head is not my neurons, but the information encoded therein.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Does Checkers have simpler rules than Go? · 2013-08-14T02:54:55.741Z · LW · GW

Here are some details

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Common sense as a prior · 2013-08-13T05:30:10.649Z · LW · GW

In computer science an elite coder might take 6 months to finish a very hard task (e.g. create some kind of tricky OS kernel), but a poor coder will never complete the task. This makes the elite coder infinitely better than the poor coder. Furthermore the poor coder will ask many questions of other people, impacting their productivity. Thus an elite coder is transfinitely more efficient than a poor coder ;-)

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Does Checkers have simpler rules than Go? · 2013-08-13T05:20:34.494Z · LW · GW

Chinese rules for Go are quite simple. Japanese rules are quite complex (to the point where a world championship level match had a rule disagreement that resulted in a player agreeing to being forced to play a certain move in return for a promise that the rule would get changed in the future. Ouch.)

Comment by DavidPlumpton on The Fermi paradox as evidence against the likelyhood of unfriendly AI · 2013-08-01T20:43:29.473Z · LW · GW

Maybe interstellar travel is really, really hard--no matter what your level of technology.

Maybe 99% of the habitable planets in the galaxy have been sterilized by unfriendly AI and we owe our current existence to the anthropomorphic principle.

Maybe highly rational entities decide large-scale interstellar travel is suboptimal.

Probably a bunch more possibilities here...

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Many Weak Arguments and the Typical Mind · 2013-06-08T01:13:44.754Z · LW · GW

Relying on a small number of strong arguments (or even one) has a clear drawback. Change. A new discovery can invalidate a single argument that seemed very strong in that past. Many weaker arguments have more stability.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Seeking examples of people smarter than me who got hung up · 2013-01-15T08:42:08.600Z · LW · GW

Charles Babbage against Organ Grinders.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on The "Scary problem of Qualia" · 2012-12-20T19:32:39.273Z · LW · GW

If it's a pencil line then it's got carbon atoms ;-)

Comment by DavidPlumpton on The Evil AI Overlord List · 2012-11-22T00:47:30.074Z · LW · GW

Don't explode when somebody says, "Why?"

Comment by DavidPlumpton on [LINK] AI-boxing Is News, Somehow · 2012-10-20T08:09:04.571Z · LW · GW

Whatever happened with that (Russian?) movie based on the idea?

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Firewalling the Optimal from the Rational · 2012-10-07T23:55:29.297Z · LW · GW

But of course this whole post is really about playing Go... ;-)

Comment by DavidPlumpton on [SEQ RERUN] On Being Decoherent · 2012-04-19T20:44:16.606Z · LW · GW

Well, true, a graph implies a discreteness that does not correlate closely to a continuous configuration space. I actually think of it as the probability of finding yourself in that volume of configuration space being influenced by "significant" amplitudes slowing from more than one other volume of configuration space, although even that is not a great explanation as it suggests a ticking of a discrete time parameter. A continuously propagating wavefront is probably a much better analogy. Or we can just go into calculus mode and consider boxes of configuration space which we then shrink down arbitrarily while taking a limit value. But sometimes it's just easier to think "branches" ;-)

Comment by DavidPlumpton on [SEQ RERUN] On Being Decoherent · 2012-04-19T09:11:13.948Z · LW · GW

Does anybody else not like the general phrasing "The system is in the superposition STATE1 + STATE2" ?

The way I'm thinking of it there is no such thing as a superposition. There is simply more than one configuration in the (very recent) past that contributes a significant amount of amplitude to the "current" configuration.

Have I got this wrong?

Comment by DavidPlumpton on [SEQ RERUN] On Being Decoherent · 2012-04-19T08:58:19.913Z · LW · GW

"Everything needs to line up" is the key point, and it once you understand it it's really quite simple. It just means that there is more than one way to get to the same configuration state. Think about history seeming to branch out in a tree-like way, as most people tend to imagine. But if two branching paths are not far apart (e.g. differing by just a single photon) then it is easy for then to come back together. History changes from a tree to a graph. Being a graph means that some point has two history paths (actually every point has an infinite amount of ancestry but most of it cancels out). When you more than one history path both constructive and destructive interference can take place, and destructive means that the probability of some states goes down, i.e. some final states no longer happen (you no longer see a photon appearing in some places).

Is this making it clearer or have I made it worse? ;-)

Comment by DavidPlumpton on What is life? · 2012-04-03T09:52:45.063Z · LW · GW

It seems to me that both a genotype and phenotype is needed to qualify for labelling something as alive. It's difficult to see how any form of natural selection could operate on inheritance and variation without a genotype. So that would rule out crystals and so forth.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Criticisms of intelligence explosion · 2011-11-24T02:01:20.261Z · LW · GW

What phrase would you use to describe the failure to produce an AGI over the last 50 years? I suspect that 50 years from now we will might be saying "Wow that was hard, we've learnt a lot, specific kinds of problem solving work well, and computers are really fast now but we still don't really know how to go about creating an AGI". In other words the next 50 years might strongly resemble the last 50 from a very high level view.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on The ethics of randomized computation in the multiverse · 2011-11-23T04:45:25.325Z · LW · GW

Free the Everett Branches!

Comment by DavidPlumpton on [LINK] Signalling and irrationality in Software Development · 2011-11-21T20:29:37.586Z · LW · GW

My experience is that the majority of such signalling is around the time that will be needed. You look at a new project and think to yourself it's probably about 6 months work. Your manager tells you that it "has to" go live in 2 months. And then somehow you end up saying "Okay, we'll try" instead of "That seems very unlikely". Even if the previous overdue project was quite similar.

Technical people are not comfortable asserting a realistic schedule to management and management is not comfortable asserting it to shareholders.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Whole Brain Emulation: Looking At Progress On C. elgans · 2011-10-30T07:19:12.697Z · LW · GW

IBM claims to be doing a cat brain equivalent simulation at the moment, albeit 600 time slower and not all parts of the brain.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on A pessimistic view of quantum immortality · 2011-10-28T03:03:50.602Z · LW · GW

If the Copenhagen interpretation was real then Russian Roulette would get you soon enough. But if Many Worlds is true then all other observers see you die with normal frequency, but you perceive your existence continuing 100% of the time (but your head may be bleeding/brains still thinking while splattered on the wall, etc.).

Actually, I'm still trying to wrap my brains around that last part (ha ha). What if you die, but are spontaneously recreated a billion years later, does that count? I can't figure out a way to tell the difference...

Comment by DavidPlumpton on A pessimistic view of quantum immortality · 2011-10-27T19:50:38.543Z · LW · GW

It's not just suicide attempts. We should also consider aging. Image 1000 years from now. You are still alive but no other human has ever lived past 130 or so. It would be time for you (the you in that Many Worlds branch) to conclude that Many Worlds is true and you're in for a bumpy eternity.

I could not follow why living longer raised the chance that the universe would contain an AI that would save you, however.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Is quantum physics (easily?) computable? · 2011-10-18T19:38:06.412Z · LW · GW

Just a quick question in case anybody knows... the complex amplitude value that each point in configuration space contributes to the amplitude of some future point in configuration space... the phase can be any value, but is the magnitude variable too? Or are there just lots of vector additions of the same sized vectors pointing in different directions?

Comment by DavidPlumpton on A few analogies to illustrate key rationality points · 2011-10-10T06:59:15.905Z · LW · GW

Perhaps underpromotion is the rarest move of all.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2011-10-09T19:26:09.068Z · LW · GW

The compelling reason is that this is what geologists believe, i.e. Peak Oil. Previous centuries of predictions are not relevant as they do not relate to decline (or not) in the production rate of the today's dominant power sources.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2011-10-09T09:06:52.981Z · LW · GW

Here's a picture of the double slit experiment

I think achieving Human level intelligence is tough but doable. I suspect that self-improvement may be very difficult. But either way I strongly suspect that the power required to keep society ticking along will not be sustained. I think an AGI is 30 years away and that society does not have 30 years up its sleeve. I hope I am wrong.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on 9/11 as mindkiller · 2011-10-06T19:47:10.337Z · LW · GW

Yikes. But then the two Koreas are technically still at war IIRC.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on On self-deception · 2011-10-05T20:04:13.140Z · LW · GW

I've noticed this sort of thing with documentaries about the JFK assassination. One documentary will seem to produce very strong and reasonable evidence that Oswald did it, and the next documentary seems to have a similar strength argument that he did not. Sigh. The real world is confusing some times; when smart people are trying to make you more confused then life is hard.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Examples of mysteries explained *away* · 2011-10-02T08:16:19.691Z · LW · GW

Spontaneous Human Combustion. Somebody living alone gets drunk/has stroke/heart attack spills alcohol/perfume on themselves and a cigarette ignites a fire. The body slumps onto carpet and the body fat together with clothing and carpet form a candle wick effect and a small high temperature fire burns for some hours. Parts of the body with low fat levels (e.g. lower legs) often remain unburned. It's a simple experiment to do with a pig carcass.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Decision Fatigue · 2011-09-18T21:17:27.030Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the warning... I've removed it.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on 9/11 as mindkiller · 2011-09-13T01:27:33.090Z · LW · GW

At least WW2 ended.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on [Question] Do you know a good game or demo for demonstrating sunk costs? · 2011-09-09T00:58:36.535Z · LW · GW

A couple of years ago there was an online auction site that a number of people semi-seriously described as "pure evil". Items would appear for sale, and you could bid a small amount, maybe $5 for a stereo or something. But you gave up that $5 there and then. People would eventually buy a $300 item for $60 or so, but the site would take in $1000 for that $300 item. Wish I could remember the name of that site...

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Prisoner's Dilemma Tournament Results · 2011-09-06T00:51:10.653Z · LW · GW

Having a known number of rounds seems like a problem to me. Everybody wants to defect on the last round. It might be interesting to retry with a number of rounds chosen randomly from 100 to 110 or where after 100 each round has a 25% chance of being the final round. However a large number of matches might be needed to offset the advantages of playing in some matches with a higher than average number of rounds.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences? · 2011-09-04T20:27:18.729Z · LW · GW

Oil does not need to become super scare to cause major problems. Right now the total supply and demand are quite closely matched. Reduce the supply just 10% and big problems happen.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences? · 2011-09-04T04:34:56.212Z · LW · GW

I can see that I'm not convincing you, but I find your counterpoints very unconvincing. Where is any plant in the world today (or even in the near future) turning out significant amounts of energy from an "alternate" source? It's just not happening in significant amounts.

Starvation rates in the third world rose significantly following food price rises in 2007-2008. It's not something that won't happen; it's already happening.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences? · 2011-09-04T04:30:55.472Z · LW · GW

I understand the point about more details lowering the probability, but I just can't see how we can get halfway down the list and have it turn into "and we all lived happily ever after". The greatest sources of uncertainty in the probabilities seem to be can we invent some new technology, can we reduce energy needs for a few years without collapsing too much, etc. Everything else has a probability of very close to 1 if the earlier steps are agreed.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences? · 2011-09-04T04:23:16.808Z · LW · GW

Can you cite any evidence that is clearer than the geological evidence that oil is being exhausted just enough for production rates to begin declining?

Comment by DavidPlumpton on What is the most rational view of Peak Oil and its near term consequences? · 2011-09-04T04:07:55.112Z · LW · GW

I think we are in trouble even if the markets are very efficient (although inefficient markets would be even worse). If all forms of energy were to increase in cost the markets can't do much to save us. So the real questions to me are still unchanged.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on Do you expect a singularity within your life time? · 2011-08-30T08:35:42.159Z · LW · GW

No, sadly. If we make a brain by simulating neurons then we will end up with a brain that can't understand itself well enough to make improvements, just like ours. Writing a program to be intelligent to a level similar to a human seems to be something we've made no progress on for 50 years (all the impressive progress has been in very niche areas). It seems highly likely to me that we won't know how to do this 20 to 30 years from now either. And then of course it would still need to be self-improving.

Then over this period of time (and likely much less) we still have the major challenge of keeping civilization ticking along at all. Resource production rates are falling and will start falling at increasing rates. There don't seem to be any magical/technological solutions to dropping power rates. Economies all over the world are already suffering. Computers don't work well without electricity.

So close, and yet so far.

Comment by DavidPlumpton on A History of Bayes' Theorem · 2011-08-25T23:07:28.867Z · LW · GW

Can anybody give a URL or show a simple practical worked example similar to the applications described here? It all sounds awesome but I have little idea how to apply it to estimating the mass of Saturn and my artillery shelling is suffering somewhat.

Actually a fun example might be the probability that the Nickel/Hydrogen low energy fusion system being developed by Rossi is real or bogus. Points in favour: several tricky to fake successful demonstrations in front of scientists and the president of a skeptics society. Points against: no public disclosure of the secret catalyst, previous convictions for fraud, and cancelling the contract with the company that was going to manufacture the system.