I've recently started a podcast with renowned futurist Thomas Frey, and when possible I've been scheduling luminaries in AI Safety, AGI, and mathematics.
Most of the content won't be new to regular LWians, but I thought it couldn't hurt to share a few links. Like and subscribe for future interviews, in the months ahead we've got leading experts in economics, one of the founders of the Santa Fe Institute, the brain behind one of the most popular social networks, and a bunch more.
Here is our interview with Dr. Roman Yampolsiy (spoiler: he admits to being Satoshi Nakamoto). Before this interview I hadn't heard of 'intellectology', but it's his proposal for a new field that studies the structure and limitations of different cognitive architectures:
We spoke with the director of the Icelandic Institute for Intelligent Machines about his proposed design of a fully generally intelligent system. I don't know if he's cracked that nut, but he's definitely given it deep, serious thought:
My good friend Erik Istre is an expert in nonclassical foundations for mathematics. In our interview with him we really get into the weeds on paraconsistent logic and what it does/doesn't mean, plus its potential applications to AI Safety and metaphysics:
Finally, David Jilk is well-known in AI Safety circles, and in this interview we talk about different approaches to the topic and whether there's any connection to quantum computing:
I'm looking for a really short introduction to light therapy and a rig I can put in my basement-office. Over the years I've noticed my productivity just falls off a goddamn cliff after sundown during the winter months, and I'd like to try to do something about it.
After the requisite searching I see a dozen or so references across lesswrong, and was wondering if someone could just tell me how the story ends and where I can shop for bulbs.
For the most part I was thinking about just making things brighter, but I'm open to trying red-light therapy too if people have had success with that.
A post-mortem isn't quite the same thing. Mine has a much more granular focus on the actual cognitive errors occurring, with neat little names for each of them, and has the additional step of repeatedly visualizing yourself making the correct move.
Different reasons, none of them nefarious or sinister.
I emailed a technique I call 'the failure autopsy' to Julia Galef, which as far as I know is completely unique to me. She gave me a cheerful 'I'll read this when I get a chance" and never got back to me.
I'm not sure why I was turned down for a MIRIx workshop; I'm sure I could've managed to get some friends together to read papers and write ideas on a whiteboard.
I've written a few essays for LW the reception of which were lukewarm. Don't know if I'm just bad at picking topics of interest or if it's a reflection of the declining status of this forum.
To be clear: I didn't come here to stamp my feet and act like a prissy diva. I don't think the rationalists are big meanies who are deliberately singling me out for exclusion. I'm sure everyone has 30,000 emails to read and a million other commitments and they're just busy.
But from my perspective it hardly matters: the point is that I have had no luck building contacts through the existing institutions and channeling my desire to help in any useful way.
You might be wondering whether or not I'm just not as smart or as insightful as I think I am. That's a real possibility, but it's worth pointing out that I also emailed the failure autopsy technique to Eric S. Raymond -- famed advocate of open source, bestselling author, hacker, philosopher, righteous badass -- and he not only gave me a lot of encouraging feedback, he took time out of his schedule to help me refine some of my terminology to be more descriptive. We're actually in talks to write a book together next year.
So it might be me, but there's evidence to indicate that it probably isn't.
I gave that some thought! LW seems much less active than it once was, though, so that strategy isn't as appealing. I've also written a little for this site and the reception has been lukewarm, so I figured a book would be best.
That's not a bad idea. As it stands I'm pursuing the goal of building a dedicated group of people around these ideas, which is proving difficult enough as it is. Eventually I'll want to move forward with the institute, though, and it seems wise to begin thinking about that now.
I have done that, on a number of different occasions. I have also tried for literally years to contribute to futurism in other ways; I attempted to organize a MIRIx workshop and was told no because I wasn't rigorous enough or something, despite the fact that on the MIRIx webpage it says:
"A MIRIx workshop can be as simple as gathering some of your friends to read MIRI papers together, talk about them, eat some snacks, scribble some ideas on whiteboards, and go out to dinner together."
Which is exactly what I was proposing.
I have tried for years to network with people in the futurist/rationalist movement, by offering to write for various websites and blogs (and being told no each and every single time), or by trying to discuss novel rationality techniques with people positioned to provide useful feedback (and being ignored each and every single time).
While I may not be Eliezer Yudkowsky the evidence indicates that I'm at least worth casually listening to, but I have had no luck getting even that far.
I left a cushy job in Asia because I wanted to work toward making the world a better place, and I'm not content simply giving money to other people to do so on my behalf. I have a lot of talent and energy which could be going towards that end; for whatever reason, the existing channels have proven to be dead ends for me.
But even if the above were not the case, there is an extraordinary amount of technical talent in the front range which could be going towards more future-conscious work. Most of these people probably haven't heard of LW or don't care much about it (as evinced by the moribund LW meetup in Boulder and the very, very small one in Denver), but they might take notice if there were a futurist institution within driving distance.
Approaching from the other side, I've advertised futurist-themed talks on LW numerous times and gotten, like, three people to attend.
I'll continue donating to CFAR/MIRI because they're doing valuable work, but I also want to work on this stuff directly, and I haven't been able to do that with existing structures.
So I'm going to build my own. If you have any useful advice for that endeavor, I'd be happy to hear it.
You're right. Here is a reply I left on a Reddit thread answering this question:
This institution will essentially be a formalization and scaling-up of a small group of futurists that already meet to discuss emerging technologies and similar subjects. Despite the fact that they've been doing this for years attendance is almost never more than ten people (25 attendees would be fucking woodstock).
I think the best way to begin would be to try and use this seed to create a TED-style hub of recurring discussions on exactly these topics. There's a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked in the service of this goal. For example I recently convinced the organizer for the futurist group to switch to a regular spot at the local library instead of the nigh-impossible-to-find hackerspace at which they were doing it before. I've also done things like buy pizza for everyone.
Once we get to where we have a nice, clean, well-lit venue and have at least 20 people regularly attending, I'd like to start reaching out to local businesses, writers, artists, and academics to have them give talks to the group. As it stands it probably wouldn't be worth their time just to speak to 8 people.
TEDxMileHigh does something vaguely like this, but it isn't as focused and only occurs once per year.
Once I get that lined out, I'd like the group's first 'product' to be a near-comprehensive 'talent audit' for the Denver/Boulder region. If I had a billion dollars and wanted to invest it in the highest-impact companies and research groups I'd have no idea of where to get started. Here are some questions I'd like to answer:
What are the biggest research and investment initiatives currently happening? Is there more brainpower in nanotech or AI? In neurotech or SENS-type fields? AFAICT nobody knows. Who is doing the most investing? What kind of capital is there available from hedgefunds or angel investors? What sorts of bridges exist between academia, the private sector, think tanks, and investment firms? How can I strengthen them?
So we'll start by aping TED and then try to figure out what kind of talent pool we have to work with. These two goals alone will surely require several years, and there's more than one avenue to monetization (ticket sales; subscriptions to the talent audit)
Beyond this horizon things get fuzzier because it's hard for me to say what direction the institute will take because I need to answer other questions first.
For example, I'm very interested in superintelligent AI and related ethical issues. I have even thought of a name for a group devoted to research in the field: 'the Superintelligence Research Group', S.I.R.G (pronounced 'surge').
But is there enough AI/mathematics/computation brainpower around to make such a venture worthwhile? I mean there's more than one computing research group just in Boulder, but are they doing the kind of worked that could be geared toward SAI work?
If so maybe I'll maneuver in that direction; if not, it would probably make more sense to focus on other things.
So that's one possibility. Another is either providing consulting to investors wanting to work with companies in the front range, or angel investing in those companies myself.
But if I'm publishing a newsletter about investment opportunities in the Front Range would I even be allowed to personally invest in companies (i.e. is there any legal conflict of interest or whatever involved)? Would the decision to make the institute an LLC or a 501C3 impact future financial maneuvering?
So you have a short-term, concrete answer to your question and a long-term, speculative answer to your question.
(1) The world does not have a surfeit of intelligent technical folks thinking about how to make the future a better place. Even if I founded a futurist institute in the exact same building as MIRI/CFAR, I don't think it'd be overkill.
(2) There is a profound degree of technical talent here in central Colorado which doesn't currently have a nexus around which to have these kinds of discussions about handling emerging technologies responsibly. There is a real gap here that I intend to fill.
That hadn't even occurred to me, thank you! Do you think it'd be inappropriate? This isn't a LW specific meetup, just a bunch of tech nerds getting together to discuss this huge tech project I just finished.
Thanks! I suppose I wasn't as clear as I could have been: I was actually wondering if there are any people who are reading it currently, who might be grappling with the same issues as me and/or might be willing to split responsibility for creating Anki cards. This textbook is outstanding, and I think there would be significant value in anki-izing as much of it as possible.
So a semi-related thing I've been casually thinking about recently is how to develop what basically amounts to a hand-written programming language.
Like a lot of other people I make to-do lists and take detailed notes, and I'd like to develop a written notation that not only captures basic tasks, but maybe also simple representations of the knowledge/emotional states of other people (i.e. employees).
More advanced than that, I've also been trying to think of ways I can take notes in a physical book that will allow a third party to make Anki flashcards or evernote entries based on my script. It has to be extremely dense to fit in the margins of a book, and must capture distinct commands like "make a single cloze deletion card for this sentence" and "make four separate cards for this sentence, cloze deleting a different piece of information for each card but otherwise leaving everything intact" and so on.
I think there'd be value in just listing graduate programs in philosophy, economics, etc., by how relevant the research already being done there is to x-risk, AI safety, or rationality. Or by whether or not they contain faculty interested in those topics.
For example, if I were looking to enter a philosophy graduate program it might take me quite some time to realize that Carnegie Melon probably has the best program for people interested in LW-style reasoning about something like epistemology.
Data point/encouragement: I'm getting a lot out of these, and I hope you keep writing them.
I'm one of those could-have-beens who dropped mathematics early on despite a strong interest and spent the next decade thinking he sucked at math before he rediscovered numerical proclivites in his early 20's because FAI theory caused him to peek at Discrete Mathematics.
Agreed. I think in light of the fact that a lot of this stuff is learned iteratively you'd want to unpack 'basic mathematics'. I'm not sure of the best way to graphically represent iterative learning, but maybe you could have arrows going back to certain subjects, or you could have 'statistics round II' as one of nodes in the network.
It seems like insights are what you're really aiming at, so maybe instead of 'probability theory' you have a node for 'distributions' and 'variance' at some early point in the tree then later you have 'Bayesian v. Frequentist reasoning'.
This would help also help you unpack basic mathematics, though I don't know much about the dependencies either. I hope too, soon :)
My two cents: I studied math pretty intensively on my own and later started programming. To my pleasant surprise, the thinking style involved in math transmitted almost directly over into programming. I'd imagine that the inverse is also true.
I'm sorry I missed this and hope it went well. Work has been chaotic lately, but I absolutely support a LW presence in Denver. I've tried once before to get a similar group off the ground, and would be happy to help this one along with presentations, planning, rationalist game nights, whatever.
I think I'm basically prepared for that line of attack. MIRI is not a cult, period. When you want to run a successful cult you do it Jim-Jones-style, carting everyone to a secret compound and carefully filtering the information that makes it in or out. You don't work as hard as you can to publish your ideas in a format where they can be read by anyone, you don't offer to publicly debate William Lane Craig, and you don't seek out the strongest versions of criticisms of your position (i.e. those coming from Robin Hanson).
Eliezer hasn't made it any easier on himself by being obnoxious about how smart he is, but then again neither did I; most smart people eventually have to learn that there are costs associated with being too proud of some ability or other. But whatever his flaws, the man is not at the center of a cult.
"Note that AI is certainly not a great filter: an AI would likely expand through the universe itself"
I was confused by this, what is it supposed to mean? Off the top of my head it certainly seems like there is sufficient space between 'make and AI that causes the extinction of the human races or otherwise makes expanding into space difficult' and 'make an AI that causes the extinction of the human race but which goes on to colonize the universe' for AI to be a great filter.
This comment is a poorly-organized brain dump which serves as a convenient gathering place for what I've learned after several days of arguing with every MIRI critic I could find. It will probably get it's own expanded post in the future, and if I have the time I may try to build a near-comprehensive list.
I've come to understand that criticisms of MIRI's version of the intelligence explosion hypothesis and the penumbra of ideas around it fall into two permeable categories:
Those that criticize MIRI as an organization or the whole FAI enterprise (people making these arguments may or may not be concerned about the actual IE) and those that attack object-level claims made by MIRI.
1a) Why worry about this now, instead of in the distant future, given the abysmal performance of attempts to predict AI?
1b) Why take MIRI seriously when there are so many expert opinions that diverge?
1c) Aren't MIRI and LW just an Eliezer-worshipping cult?
1d) Is it even possible to do this kind of theoretical work so far in advance of actual testing and experimentation?
1e) The whole argument can be dismissed as it pattern matches other doomsday scenarios, almost all of which have been bullshit.
2a) General intelligence is what we're worried about here, and it may prove much harder to build than we're anticipating.
2g) A self-improvement cascade will likely hit a wall at sub-superintelligent levels.
2h) Divergence Issue: all functioning AI systems have built-in sanity checks which take short-form goal statements and unpack them in ways that take account of constraints and context (???). It is actually impossible to build an AI which does not do this (???), and thus there can be no runaway SAI which is given a simple short-form goal and then carries it to ridiculous logical extremes (I WOULD BE PARTICULARLY INTERESTED IN SOMEONE ADDRESSING THIS).
I've heard the singularity-pattern-matches-religious-tropes argument before and hadn't given it much thought, but I find your analysis that the argument is wrong to be convincing, at least for the futurism I'm acquainted with. I'm less sure that it's true of Kurzweil's brand of futurism.
Good stuff. It took me quite a long time to work these ideas out for myself. There are also situations in which it can be beneficial to let somewhat obvious non-truths continue existing.
Example: your boss is good at doing something but his theoretical explanation for why it works is nonsense. Most of the time questioning the theory is only likely to piss them off, and unless you can replace it with something better, keeping your mouth shut is probably the safest option.
Another nail hit squarely on the head. Your concept of a strange playing field has helped crystallize an insight I've been grappling with for a while -- a strategy can be locally rational even if it is in some important sense globally irrational. I've had several other insights which are specific instances of this and which I only just realized are part of a more general phenomenon. I believe it can be rational to temporarily suspend judgement in the pursuit of certain kinds of mystical experiences (and have done this with some small success), and I believe that it can be rational to think of yourself as a causally efficacious agent even when you know that humans are embedded in a stream of causality which makes the concept of free will nonsensical.
I also wanted to say that your recommendations on which chapters of which books to read in which order (personal communication) are something that many other people would be interested in hearing about.