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Comment by mdcaton on Why study the cognitive science of concepts? · 2011-12-04T22:19:18.599Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the discussions at LW about Friendly AI seem to concern defining clear moral rules to program into AIs, but there's another concern about the plausibility of enduring Friendly AI. It's not a stretch to assume AIs will be capable of some form of self-modification - if not to themselves, then to copies of themselves they make - and even if it's not their "intention" to do so, copying is never perfect, so some analogy to evolution will produce versions of AI that are longer-lived or faster-reproducing if they've mutated away their friendliness-constraints. In other words, it's very difficult to see how we can force the very structure of future AI by its nature to be dependent on being nice to humans - friendliness would seem to be at best an irrelevant property to the success of AIs, so eventually we'd expect non-friendly ones to appear. (Cancerous AIs?) And since this will be occurring post-Singularity, we will have little hope of anticipating or understanding such developments.

Comment by mdcaton on Polyhacking · 2011-08-29T22:26:56.772Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right, that's the noise in these questions. Some things have changed since the paleolithic, so are we talking about conventions that fit with old social norms and economic systems, or something less plastic. I don't know that we know yet.

Comment by mdcaton on Polyhacking · 2011-08-29T22:25:32.137Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was unclear on this point. As clarified above, I think you're probably right that 3 parents are better than two, for the kids. But ultimately, it's whether the arrangement is serving the parents' interests that will determine if kids are produced. The same person who loves being in long-term, child-free poly relationships might not want to be in a child-ful poly relationship, and in fact my intuition is that a lower proportion of people who are emotionally cut out for polyamory would eventually want kids. Need data.

Comment by mdcaton on Polyhacking · 2011-08-29T22:21:56.799Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for reading my (long) comment. RE the Laguna Pueblo, I will read up. Certainly it's not something that we've seen often. Whether this is because "things are different than they were before" or something else less plastic is another question.

To be clear, my argument about the correlation between polyamory and child-rearing is not about how effective a poly environment might be at child-rearing. On the contrary, I'd be that a stable poly family would provide access to consistent capital and caretakers that a mono family cannot. However, the question remains of how it's in the individual parents' interests to enter into a given family arrangement. When it's not, they won't have kids, and the eventual parenting outcome remains moot; if moms and dads don't want to do it, it won't happen. My suspicion is that among those individuals so constituted that polyamory is a good match, having kids might not be part of their plan. (Again, early days, data needed, though this could be done with surveymonkey.)

My objections to your comments: my "hey smart poly people, round up the jerks" comment was intended as a humorous way to point out the sanctimoniousness that you also recognize, and which damages the discussion. It wasn't intended as a serious proposal for the Grand High Poly Council to take up. (Note: I also don't really think there's a Grand High Poly Council, but I think we understand each other by now.)

My second objection is to your statement that "[my] theoretical understanding of human sexuality has left [me] ill-prepared for making predictions about real-world cases like this". A less charitable person than myself might react to this as a personal attack. Suffice it to say, I must sadly report that I have a good track record of looking at relationships and identifying tensions that later end them. My predictions aren't based on personality clashes, but rather fundamental supply-demand tensions that would seem to be constant across any kind of arrangement where a person can be happier with one person than another. Maybe I hang out with awful people who act this way, or maybe I've just been around the block enough times to know where cynicism is warranted.

Comment by mdcaton on Polyhacking · 2011-08-28T19:34:31.292Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I always counsel young males with still-healing injuries that will leave scars to think of good stories. As for females, most straight men I know are attracted to signs of toughness that don't otherwise confound the usual health-and-fertility signs (skin and hair), so scars might not always work. But anecdotes from LW commenters are not likely to be representative of the general conversation. Many women I know in SoCal that have impressive degrees from awesome schools hide their credentials for fear of scaring off men, and are surprise than I am surprised. That's still the world we live in.

Comment by mdcaton on Polyhacking · 2011-08-28T19:30:03.843Z · score: 27 (37 votes) · LW · GW

Valuable post. Self-revelation is hard! I commend your account in this kind of forum. There are many considerations here, first and foremost of which is that emotional makeup a) differs greatly between people and b) is more set than we care to admit; i.e. not subject to hacking. If Alicorn's is to this degree, more power to her. Before the rest of my comment (as a mono): this is most emphatically NOT a moral judgment about polyamory. Consenting adults, will defend to the death your right, etc.

Other considerations (for someone like me, which maybe you are or are not):

  • I'm often on the defensive when polys talk to me, because there is a good bit of evangelism and insistence that monos are morally inferior, emotionally immature, etc. I didn't get that at all from Alicorn's post but it's out there, perhaps as a counteroffensive to monos who do express moral judgment. (Smart polys, police this so we can all have a real discussion!)

  • In my personal experience, many of the people who think they're capable of polyamory are not honest with themselves, and once a partner starts seeing someone else, they experience bad jealousy which they're uncomfortable admitting, because after all they're not supposed to; they're poly! Polyamory is going to TEND to favor a) people who become less attached emotionally in relationships; b) people who are very outgoing and popular (i.e. attractive people); c) women at younger ages (mid 20s) and men at later ages (30s onward). Sure, if you're Brad Pitt, be poly! Why not! Think of the population dynamics if everyone was polyamorous. Captains of football teams and cheerleaders as the primaries. The rest of us, gazing adoringly upon them while we wait for our turn on Tuesday night. Then back to the romantic ghetto. That's a bit extreme, but it's a serious thought-experiment about an all-poly-world.

  • Marriage is in large part an economic institution focused on child-rearing. Polyamory is a better arrangement for young non child-producing couples than for people who want kids. Are primary poly relationships, even like Alicorn and MBlume, as stable over time as mono? As good for raising kids, if that choice is made? As happy? (I don't think we know. Data?) And the whole idea of wanting someone as the primary means that, given enough time, you WILL meet a more amazing person years down the road, and one of the primaries will lose when you're overcome by the temptation to upgrade. Because of the way human brains relate attractiveness to fertility differently for different genders, this is going to give men an advantage over time as in c. above. One of MBlume's secondaries is going to knock his socks off and 12 years from now Alicorn might get demoted or fired. Or vice versa, but happens less often that way - again, personal experience, and we need data, but it was Alicorn who changed her lifestyle to be with MBlume, so it seems MBlume is the one with the upper hand, and this will increase over time. (Note: this is the main long-term reason I'm not interested in polyamory, at least for even half-serious relationships.)

  • Explicit symmetrical polyamory has never emerged stably in history so far. It's worth asking why. Maybe this is coincidence; maybe something has changed now that will be more conducive, but I think it's worth pointing out. For example, a higher prevalence of non-child-producing adults. More questions for actual studies.

  • So far I've been discussing polyamory as a hetero practice. I don't know any gay polys but it would certainly be informative to see what's different if anything about gay polys.

  • If you can do away with your emotional need for monogamy, why not do away with the need for mates and reproduction completely? I would frankly love to become asexual so I can think about other things for more than 2 minutes at a time! Not in the cards. (If you know a pill I can take or a meditative technique please hook me up. Then I can be nihilamorous.)

  • Finally, a lot of polys seem to be doing so partly because they get a buzz from being part of an alternative lifestyle community (affective death spiral, anyone?) While that was a bit of a low blow, I do think it's worth examining this in ourselves, especially with regard to whether choices we're presumably making for the rest of our lives are really sustainable. Kind of like diets, but even more important.

Comment by mdcaton on Guessing the Teacher's Password · 2011-08-11T17:04:53.367Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Although this is an old article I came to it from the Theory of Knowledge article (link below). I'm commenting because this crystallizes my objections to a repeated theme at LW: that irrationality comes from unquestioned cached thoughts, and that modern education systems exacerbate this tendency. In other words, I'm questioning whether password-guessing and memorization in education are actually avoidable, even at the highest levels of optimization, and whether this isn't in fact the result of the expansion of knowledge and the limits of human cognition.

I'm not even going to argue whether those are true statements and whether they are bad. But my own background has raised questions about what the solution might be. My idealistic assumptions about how people should learn used to track the predominant ones on LW much more closely. I'm currently in a technical graduate program for a profession that is different from most other types of graduate programs because in this field, the first few years are spent memorizing huge reams of information and taking multiple choice tests (have a guess as to what I'm studying?) My fellow students and I would genuinely love to really understand from a critical perspective all the information that is getting shoveled into our brains. But doing that, rather than memorizing lists of word correspondences, takes time that we just don't have. Therefore in reality our tests are really just exercises in figuring out which bar to press so we get the food pellet. (I like that analogy better than "guessing passwords".) And perhaps most scandalous, once we're "in the system", we students recognize the need for it to be this way even though it's frustrating.

Scandal! Unethical? Stupid? Cynical, at least? Maybe yes to all. But the pragmatic reality is that there's a trade-off. There's such a massive amount of material that no human who ever lived would be able to critically digest it all unless the training lasted far longer than it does, and while the system is certainly not optimized, the body of knowledge itself is so rife with detail not predictable from first principles that until the limits on cognition fundamentally change, this will continue to be the case.

So, regarding the strategy students can adopt, the two ends of the spectrum are: 1) You can just memorize details long enough to regurgitate them in the lever-pressing experiments, and understand nothing critically; or 2) You can insist on trying to critically understand everything, and you will certainly fall behind and fail. You. Yes, you, reading this, because you're human, and this applies to all humans. ("Not me! I'm special! I still care about my fellow man, the human spirit, etc." Sorry, can you tell I've had this conversation before?)

Unfortunately, given the pace the material is presented and tested, you'll end up much closer to #1 than #2. Even if you disagree with my assessment that a body of knowledge can be such that large amounts of memorization are necessary, this still raises the omnipresent problem of how to maximize whatever it is you want to maximize while surrounded by irrational humans (who are running the schools, and who believe that memorization is necessary). If you want to do the thing you're being trained for, you need the piece of paper. To get that paper, you have to pass the tests. To pass the tests you need to just memorize and not think. I guess I could just declare the whole enterprise unethical and forget about this profession and move out in the woods somewhere. So if you can tell me how to maximize career satisfaction and income out in a nice forest away from everyone instead of memorizing reams of B.S., I'm all ears. Seriously.

As knowledge accumulates, this problem is only going to get worse, and extend to more fields. Certainly education has not yet been optimized but all fields are not math and physics, and there's enough unpredictable detail in the world that as knowledge accumulates, so will the memorization required to learn that knowledge. And if we can't always use critical thinking at every step - which we can't - then password-guessing is better than nothing.

Post I came in from: http://lesswrong.com/lw/70d/theory_of_knowledge_rationality_outreach/

Comment by mdcaton on October 2010 Southern California Meetup · 2010-10-24T02:43:21.367Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Was hoping to make it to this one from San Diego but couldn't; can't wait for the next one. Anyone in San Diego who needs a ride next time, hold onto my email, mdcblogs@gmail.com.

Comment by mdcaton on The Threat of Cryonics · 2010-08-05T18:03:12.260Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of the recent discussion of cryonics in the blogosphere is about others' basis for rejecting it. If you want it to become more available that's probably one of the steps to take. But grossly selfish? Or ghoulish, or an affront to nature, or any of those things? Much of medicine today would seem that way to someone living two centuries ago. For my part, I don't oppose it if others want to do it, and I applaud anyone who wants to use technology to improve their lives even if I think they're barking up the wrong tree; I don't plan to do it myself. I'm puzzled as well why people would react so negatively to the idea. In many married couples, one spouse significantly outlives the other. Is that so disturbing to people?

My questions for cryonicists are outlined in a post on my blog (link below) but the main issue is: if you think that you'll one day be thawed out and cured, so that you'll feel better in a better world, a) why wait until you're dead? At worst, there will never be a technology to repair the damage to your brain from the time oxygen stopped coming at death until you were frozen, and at best, it will make it harder for your doctors to revive you. If you really believe this, get frozen while you're still alive. (Think of the people who are currently frozen. No doubt today, less than a half century later, we're already better at treating whatever it is that killed them. But even if we found a way to thaw people out without causing further damage, we still can't cure death.)

Second, if indeed it's centuries before a cure for your terminal disease is found, who's going to be checking on your behalf? Nobody remembers what you look like or your name; nobody loves or cares about you anymore. (This would have to be contractual, but of course if you break a contract with a sleeping person that no one cares about, I think you're safe from consequences for a while.) And when you're revived, what are you going to do in this future economy? Where are you going to live? That's a separate objection but it's one of the reasons I wouldn't want to do it.

My original post: http://speculative-nonfiction.blogspot.com/2010/07/why-do-cryonicists-wait-to-be-frozen.html

Comment by mdcaton on July 2010 Southern California Meetup · 2010-07-09T21:47:00.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gah! I couldn't make meetings in the Bay Area, then I moved to SoCal. Finally a meeting in SoCal, and I'm away today. Is there a calendar?

Comment by mdcaton on Epistemic vs. Instrumental Rationality: Case of the Leaky Agent · 2009-05-08T18:19:08.366Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fixing the leak is the best solution. Much easier and more realistic with a team of one (yourself) than it is with more than one.

While we can all probably give examples from personal experience equivalent to the real estate agent leaking the minimum price, my personal favorite resulted in the current border of California. Ever wonder why the West Coast border between the U.S. and Mexico is between San Diego and Tijuana? At the end of the war that resulted in this border, there were American troops occupying Mexico City. Why draw the line there? Turns out that the U.S. negotiators had a list of must-gets and nice-to-haves. Alta California and Colorado country were must-gets. Baja was viewed as a desert waste and a nice-to-have. The list got leaked to the Mexican delegation by an American personally acquainted with one of the Mexican negotiators, so the Mexican team dug in their heels and wouldn't give up Baja. Point: keep negotiation teams small. Fewer leak-points. One (yourself) is best, because only then do negotiator interests exactly correspond with YOUR interests.

Comment by mdcaton on Degrees of Radical Honesty · 2009-04-01T00:27:25.845Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is this question really so hard? Remind me never to hide from Nazis at your house!

First off, Kant's philosophy was criticized on exactly these grounds, i.e. that by his system, when the authorities come to your door to look for a friend you're harboring, you should turn him in. I briefly scanned for clever Kant references (e.g. "introduce the brownshirts to your strangely-named cat, Egorial Imperative") but found none. Kant clarified that he did not think it immoral to lie to authorities looking to execute your friend.

The larger issue here is the purpose of rationality. We start in medias res and reason is a tool to help us navigate the world better. I imagine that none of us have a commitment to rationality for its own sake, but rather support a clearer world-view out of some initial kind self-interest. Consequently I'm a-okay with engaging in the Dark Arts in cases where even my basic interest (my own and my friend's continued survival) and that of another party totally diverge. Otherwise the joke about the engineer (or atheist) and the guillotine isn't really a joke.

Often the long-term best strategies in game theory are irrational in the short-term; as in, games of chicken, or in punishing wrongdoers even though the cost of punishment is more than letting them off.