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Tiiba comments on The Hero With A Thousand Chances - Less Wrong

63 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 July 2009 04:25AM

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Comment author: Tiiba 31 July 2009 06:22:19AM *  1 point [-]

Am I right in my understanding that the Dust doen't actually evolve? That the old tricks don't work simply because the Counter-Force decides to use something else that day?

And what is the Dust?

Oh, A++ will read again.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 July 2009 06:31:33AM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure what the Dust is, but it is learning. I named it after the scariest thing imaginable. I had in mind something as alien as natural selection, but not actually working that particular way, and with the singleminded focus of a paperclip maximizer.

Comment author: DonGeddis 31 July 2009 08:48:27PM 4 points [-]

"Dust" has been used in SF for nanotech before. And especially runaway nanotech, that is trying to disassemble everything, like a doomsday war weapon that got out of control. I recalled the paperclip maximizer too. Oh, and the Polity/Cormac SF books by Neal Asher, with Jain nodes (made by super AIs) that seem to have roughly the same objective.

Comment author: SilasBarta 31 July 2009 03:11:23PM 10 points [-]

When I was reading, I first thought the Dust was entropy:

"defeated only by luck" --> There's only an infinitesimal chance of beating the law of entropy.

"structureless and empty" --> Entropy is defined by its lack of order.

"Always the Dust is defeated, always it takes a new shape" --> Any destruction of entropy is counterbalanced by its increase somewhere else (e.g. life, control systems).

The "it takes a new shape immune to its last defeat" is a bit harder to explain, but I guess you could say it corresponds to, "you can't burn something twice".

The Counter-Force, then, is Bayescraft, or a "cognitive engine" -- any mechanism by which regularities in the world are identified, thereby creating more irregularity (see above).

And of course, how the hero says the world contains the seeds of its own destruction.

But then, that explanation started to make less sense as the hero seems to think he can permanently stop the expansion of entropy.

Comment author: Emily 31 July 2009 08:34:25PM 4 points [-]

This was my second thought. My first thought was that it was the Dust of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, which ceased to make sense extremely quickly! (Great series, by the way, if anyone hasn't read them. Don't be put off by the fact that they're kids' books. The third contains mountains of stuff that I imagine would sail over most kids' heads.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 01 August 2009 03:53:36AM 3 points [-]

An entropy-like force that acts as the main villain of the story isn't exactly unknown among fantasy literature. (For example, "The Nothing" in The Neverending Story, or "The Unmaker" in Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker series.) However, unlike real entropy, fantasy novel villains generally can be defeated, even if the victory is ultimately temporary and comes at great cost.

Comment author: thomblake 31 July 2009 03:31:53PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I thought it was going the same way for a while.

Comment author: gwern 01 August 2009 08:11:20AM 0 points [-]

"Always the Dust is defeated, always it takes a new shape" --> Any destruction of entropy is counterbalanced by its increase somewhere else (e.g. life, control systems).

Dust, as is, strikes me as underspecified. It may take a shape immune to its last defeater, but nothing there prevents cycles - eg, I defeat it with A, it turns to B, I defeat it with C, it turns back to A...