Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

The $125,000 Summer Singularity Challenge

20 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 29 July 2011 09:02PM

From the SingInst blog:

Thanks to the generosity of several major donors, every donation to the Singularity Institute made now until August 31, 2011 will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $125,000.

Donate now!

(Visit the challenge page to see a progress bar.)

Now is your chance to double your impact while supporting the Singularity Institute and helping us raise up to $250,000 to help fund our research program and stage the upcoming Singularity Summit… which you can register for now!

$125,000 in backing for this challenge is being generously provided by Rob Zahra, Quixey, Clippy, Luke Nosek, Edwin Evans, Rick Schwall, Brian Cartmell, Mike Blume, Jeff Bone, Johan Edström, Zvi Mowshowitz, John Salvatier, Louie Helm, Kevin Fischer, Emil Gilliam, Rob and Oksana Brazell, Guy Srinivasan, John Chisholm, and John Ku.


2011 has been a huge year for Artificial Intelligence. With the IBM computer Watson defeating two top Jeopardy! champions in February, it’s clear that the field is making steady progress. Journalists like Torie Bosch of Slate have argued that “We need to move from robot-apocalypse jokes to serious discussions about the emerging technology.” We couldn’t agree more — in fact, the Singularity Institute has been thinking about how to create safe and ethical artificial intelligence since long before the Singularity landed on the front cover of TIME magazine.

The last 1.5 years were our biggest ever. Since the beginning of 2010, we have:

In the coming year, we plan to do the following:

  • Hold our annual Singularity Summit, in New York City this year.
  • Publish three chapters in the upcoming academic volume The Singularity Hypothesis, along with several other papers.
  • Improve organizational transparency by creating a simpler, easier-to-use website that includes Singularity Institute planning and policy documents.
  • Publish a document of open research problems related to Friendly AI, to clarify the research space and encourage other researchers to contribute to our mission.
  • Add additional skilled researchers to our Research Associates program.
  • Publish well-researched documents making the case for existential risk reduction as optimal philanthropy.
  • Diversify our funding sources by applying for targeted grants and advertising our affinity credit card program.

We appreciate your support for our high-impact work. As PayPal co-founder and Singularity Institute donor Peter Thiel said:

“I’m interested in facilitating a forum in which there can be… substantive research on how to bring about a world in which AI will be friendly to humans rather than hostile… [The Singularity Institute represents] a combination of very talented people with the right problem space [they’re] going after… [They’ve] done a phenomenal job… on a shoestring budget. From my perspective, the key question is always: What’s the amount of leverage you get as an investor? Where can a small amount make a big difference? This is a very leveraged kind of philanthropy.”

Donate now, and seize a better than usual chance to move our work forward. Credit card transactions are securely processed through Causes.com, Google Checkout, or PayPal. If you have questions about donating, please call Amy Willey at (586) 381-1801.

Comments (257)

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 04:42:33PM 54 points [-]

I just put in 5100 USD, the current balance of my bank account, and I'll find some way to put in more by the end of the challenge.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 August 2011 02:56:49PM *  14 points [-]

Thank you SO MUCH for the clarification VNKKET linked to. I was worried. I would usually discourage someone from donating all of their savings to any cause including this one, but in this case it looks like you have thought it through and what you are doing a) make sense and b) is the result of a well thought out lifestyle optimization process.

I'd be happy to talk with you or exchange email (my email is public) to discuss the details, both to better learn to optimize my life and to try to help you with yours, since I expect that efforts will be high return, given the evidence that you are a person who actually does the things that you think would be good lifestyle optimizations at least some of the time.

I'm also desperately interested in better characterizing people who optimize their lifestyles and who try to live without fear etc.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 03:10:43PM 16 points [-]

If you have an email exchange and neither of you minds making it public, please do so.

Comment author: VNKKET 31 July 2011 12:22:39AM 12 points [-]

Nice! And for anyone freaked out by the "current balance of my bank account" part, there's an explanation here.

Comment author: MixedNuts 29 July 2011 05:05:33PM *  18 points [-]

You deserve praise. Would you like some praise?

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 05:09:58PM 16 points [-]

Thanks! :-)

Comment author: handoflixue 29 July 2011 07:53:08PM 8 points [-]

Praise Rain, for being such a generous benefactor! :)

Comment author: khafra 20 August 2011 10:47:35PM 4 points [-]

I vote that we change the referent in the phrase "make it rain" to refer to the LW member instead of the meteorological event.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 August 2011 09:51:33PM *  7 points [-]

This is admirable.

However, it's important to note that the path that maximizes your own individual hardship is not necessarily the one that maximizes your contribution to humanity's future. For example, it's possible that by keeping some of that money, you could buy luxuries (like, say, a Netflix subscription) that would allow you to recover more quickly from work-related weariness and spend your evenings starting an online company (or acquiring the skills necessary to start an online company, and then starting an online company) that would result in a larger expected donation to SIAI in the long term.

I used to have your attitude of "live very frugally and give SIAI every spare dollar". My new attitude is optimize for both high income and low expenses (keeping in mind that spending money on myself increases my expected income up to a certain point), and to not donate to SIAI automatically--I'm thinking of starting a rival charity in the long run (due to vague intuition, based on very limited evidence, that healthy competition can be good for charities, and the fact that I have some ideas that I think might be better than SIAI's that Michael Vassar doesn't seem interested in).

By the way, I declare Crocker's Rules--it would be extremely valuable if someone provided persuasive evidence that I'm on the wrong track.

Comment author: Rain 03 August 2011 10:37:55PM 12 points [-]

I am not a super hero or an ascetic. I'm a regular random internet person with a particular focus on the future. I only donated 26 percent of my gross income last year. And I have a Netflix subscription.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 03 August 2011 10:46:48PM 10 points [-]

Your superpower is willpower and you exist as a hero to many :)

Comment author: MatthewBaker 03 August 2011 10:34:14PM 1 point [-]

Your dumb, i wish i could be more like Rain.

Just had to get that out of my system, but as a whole i act in accordance with what you just stated and i hope you do start that charity if it turns out competition is good for charities. Furthermore, i hope that i can get to the point where i can invoke Crocker's Rules on my own points.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 August 2011 08:14:34PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the feedback!

Comment author: Larks 01 August 2011 09:35:36PM 14 points [-]

£300; 10% of my summer internship's salary, before tax etc.

Comment author: fizzfaldt 30 July 2011 09:24:18PM *  14 points [-]

I just donated Round(1000 Pi / 3) USD. I also had Google doing an employer match.

Strangely enough, I went through the 'donate publicly' link, but chose not to use facebook, and in the end it called me 'Anonymous Donor'.

Comment author: novalis 31 July 2011 09:36:17PM 2 points [-]

It did this ("Anonymous Donor") to me, too.

Comment author: JGWeissman 30 July 2011 07:14:36PM 13 points [-]

I am happy to see that the success of the previous matching program is being followed up with additional matching funds, and that there is such a broad base of sponsors. I have donated $2000 on top of my typical annual donation.

Comment author: novalis 30 July 2011 02:52:27AM 13 points [-]

I just donated.

Comment author: MixedNuts 29 July 2011 09:04:32AM 13 points [-]

There's a major conflict of interest in accepting donations from Clippy.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 July 2011 08:47:52PM 13 points [-]

There's a major conflict of interest in accepting donations from Clippy.

I would accept donations from Lucifer himself if he was silly enough to give them to me. I don't see a problem. :)

Comment author: Dorikka 29 July 2011 11:16:37PM 8 points [-]

Really? If a paperclipper loses resources and the SIAI gains resources, the benefit is probably greater than if a human donated the same amount.

Comment author: Kevin 29 July 2011 09:29:30AM 2 points [-]

We're a cooperative bunch.

Comment author: katydee 29 July 2011 07:24:42PM 2 points [-]

And/or they know who Clippy really is.

Comment author: Clippy 01 August 2011 03:48:30PM 4 points [-]

Yes, they know I'm really a paperclip maximiser.

Comment author: Clippy 01 August 2011 01:52:23AM *  3 points [-]

No, there isn't.

By the way, I think I'll go to the Singularity Summit this year. It is 385 USD if done before the end of July 31 EST.

Comment author: RobertLumley 02 August 2011 05:57:13PM 0 points [-]

Clippy, how can donating to the SIAI possibly meet your goal of maximizing paperclips? Not that I object...

Comment author: jimrandomh 02 August 2011 08:38:46PM 4 points [-]

If there were a positive singularity such that we had a whole galaxy's worth of resources, then we (humanity) might turn one planet into paperclips, just for amusement.

Comment author: Pavitra 02 August 2011 06:25:47PM 4 points [-]

Clippy is also socializing (generating positive affect) with people likely to have a hand in the Singularity. It's rather likely, especially considering the relative popularity around here of the idea of acausal trade, that some LWer might decide to devote 10^-7 or so of their post-singularity resources to paperclip production.

Comment author: Clippy 02 August 2011 07:00:43PM 4 points [-]

Not entirely correct, but I appreciate your attempt at empathizing. You're a good human.

Comment author: Clippy 02 August 2011 05:59:35PM -2 points [-]

How can responding to trolls like you possibly meet my goal of learning useful information, dummy?

Comment author: bentarm 29 July 2011 04:29:23PM 8 points [-]

I'm not entirely sure that I believe the premise of this game. Essentially, the claim is that 20 of SingInst's regular donors have extra money lying around that they are willing to donate to SingInst iff someone else donates the same amount. What do the regular donors intend to do with the money otherwise? Have they signed a binding agreement to all get together and blow the money on a giant party? Otherwise, why would they not just decide to donate it to SingInst at the end of the matching period anyway?

Comment author: at_the_zoo 29 July 2011 06:41:23PM 28 points [-]

This seems relevant:

Five: US tax law prohibits public charities from getting too much support from big donors.

Under US tax law, a 501(c)(3) public charity must maintain a certain percentage of "public support". As with most tax rules, this one is complicated. If, over a four-year period, any one individual donates more than 2% of the organization's total support, anything over 2% does not count as "public support". If a single donor supported a charity, its public support percentage would be only 2%. If two donors supported a charity, its public support percentage would be at most 4%. Public charities must maintain a public support percentage of at least 10% and preferably 33.3%. Small donations - donations of less than 2% of our total support over a four-year period - count entirely as public support. Small donations permit us to accept more donations from our major supporters without sending our percentage of public support into the critical zone. Currently, the Singularity Institute is running short on public support - so please don't think that small donations don't matter!

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 August 2011 03:09:35PM 2 points [-]

Yes

Comment author: GuySrinivasan 29 July 2011 10:20:39PM 13 points [-]

Here's my totally non-binding plan for my $1100 extra dollars that really were just lying around, budgeted but projected to not be spent: If we meet the full challenge, donate $1100 to SingInst and have Microsoft match it as well. If we meet only e.g. 80%, donate 80% of $1100 and have Microsoft match it, and spend the rest on a party I wouldn't have had otherwise and link y'all to tasteful pictures. That's a x3 multiplier on ~1% of the $125,000.

Before your post, bentarm, my plan was somewhat different but I estimate it gave at least a 2.9x multiplier.

Comment author: Benquo 30 July 2011 02:27:26AM 1 point [-]

I like that - it makes the match slightly better than 2:1.

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 04:47:48PM *  5 points [-]

Status affiliation, feeling even better about donating, creating an "event" which can be linked to and discussed, providing encouragement to others, and likely other reasons I'm not thinking of right now.

I'm betting Peter Thiel also used it to judge popular support for the idea when he ran a $400,000 challenge in 2007. IIRC, they didn't even make it halfway by the deadline, which likely reduced his subsequent donations.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 August 2011 03:11:14PM 3 points [-]

They made more like $270K IIRC,

Comment author: Clippy 01 August 2011 10:15:02PM 2 points [-]

I sent an internet email to User:Kevin describing the terms of my matching donor pledge, and then signed the internet email with my GPG key.

Comment author: Pavitra 01 August 2011 10:50:39PM 1 point [-]

It's better to sign the message before you send it, so that the recipient can view the signature.

Comment author: Clippy 01 August 2011 11:39:52PM 0 points [-]

I did.

Comment author: shokwave 29 July 2011 05:06:35PM *  2 points [-]

Essentially, the claim is that 20 of SingInst's regular donors have extra money lying around that they are willing to donate to SingInst iff someone else donates the same amount.

Bear with my broad strokes here.

Let the utility u of donating x dollars to SingInst be diminishing: u = x^(1/3).

Assume that hedonistic spending can be spread over enough options to make diminishing returns negligible: u = x

The donor then donates their first dollar to SingInst, whereupon hedonistic spending provides them more utils.

The utility u of providing x dollars of a dollar-for-dollar service for SingInst donors is: u = (2x)^(1/3), and the donor gets up to ~1.415 dollars (to gain 2.83 dollars worth of donating utility!) before hedonistic spending is a better option. So this answers the first claim: they are willing to donate extra money iff someone else donates, and they intend to spend it on some other form of utility otherwise. The nature of dollar-for-dollar matching increases the utility they gain from their dollar.

As for the second part... there's no need to commit to a binding agreement to not donate the leftover to SingInst at the end. Say the donor donated a dollar by themselves, then offered up to 41 cents matching contribution. Other donors take advantage of this offer by 20 cents - the donor still has another 21 cents of positive utility before hedonistic spending takes over, but the matching period ends at this point in time. (Why end the matching period? I'll get there in a second). At this point, those 21 cents will generate .21 utils if spent hedonistically, but only .06 utils if donated without matching.

So the nature of diminishing utility will produce this behaviour. It's not so suspicious a premise, in the end.

Comment author: shokwave 29 July 2011 05:16:28PM 2 points [-]

Now, why end the matching period? A utility-maximising donor ought to offer their 41 cents for as long as it takes - the utility of those 41 cents is always going to be higher than any 41-cent section of hedonistic spending (which is where the money is coming from). The answer lies partly in human psychology. A limited-time offer prompts action in a way that open-ended, time-independent offers do not. A progress bar prompts action too. It's also partly from status: successfully completing campaigns like this raises the prestige of SingInst. Meeting the target before the specified end date raises the prestige of both SingInst and its donors.

These factors are convincing enough reasons to time-limit the matching offer, mostly because they solve the problem of the pledge not being fulfilled. Odd quirk of our brains to blame here.

Comment author: drethelin 30 July 2011 05:56:09AM -1 points [-]

don't forget the simple explanation: It's risky to offer to match infinite dollars.

Comment author: shokwave 30 July 2011 06:01:56AM 2 points [-]

The rational donor wouldn't offer to match x for y time; they would simply offer to match x. So the donor would simply offer to match the first dollar and forty-one cents donated. There's no risk of accidentally being required to donate more than you'd want to.

Comment author: Clippy 01 August 2011 03:16:52AM *  0 points [-]

I thought humans did that a lot on financial markets (make an offer that potentially incurs an infinitely large obligation), in particular when they sell ("write") certain option contracts?

Comment author: Plasmon 29 July 2011 07:58:20PM 21 points [-]

Wasn't there something similar a while ago? ... yes there was. I can reasonably assume there will be others in the future. You are trying to get people to donate by appealing to an artificial sense of urgency ("Now is your chance to" , "Donate now" ). Beware that this triggers dark arts alarm bells.

Nevertheless, I have now donated an amount of money.

Comment author: dripgrind 29 July 2011 10:36:20PM 92 points [-]

Only on this site would you see perfectly ordinary charity fundraising techniques described as "dark arts", while in the next article over, the community laments the poor image of the concept of beheading corpses and then making them rise again.

Comment author: DSimon 03 August 2011 06:22:16AM 23 points [-]

To be fair, it's just the heads that rise again, not the rest of the corpse... ah, I'm not helping, am I? :-)

Comment author: katydee 24 August 2011 09:19:51PM 4 points [-]

Best blog comment I've ever seen.

Comment author: tenshiko 26 August 2011 12:46:27AM 2 points [-]

I thought that we'd pretty much ditched the beheading part precisely for that reason?

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 August 2011 07:47:20AM 4 points [-]

CI don't behead people, Alcor offer it as an option. If I've just met someone at a party, I'll tend to say "I'm having my head frozen" because people have heard of that, but I'll explain I'm actually signed up for whole-body if the conversation gets that far.

Comment author: lessdazed 26 August 2011 08:02:57AM 15 points [-]

If I've just met someone at a party, I'll tend to say "I'm having my head frozen"

I usually offer my name and ask them theirs.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 August 2011 08:20:50AM 11 points [-]

I'm quite often asked about my necklace, and I'll say "It's my contract of immortality with the Cult of the Severed Head", or in some contexts, "It's my soul" or "It's my horcrux".

Comment author: Alicorn 26 August 2011 04:51:25PM 5 points [-]

I've asked you this before and you haven't answered: Severed Head? You're signed up with CI, which doesn't do neuro, aren't you? So how does that make sense?

Comment author: lessdazed 26 August 2011 05:29:51PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: lessdazed 26 August 2011 08:44:43AM 4 points [-]

Is it beneficial to say "immortality"? Would "It's my contract of resurrection with the Cult of the Severed Head" be deficient?

Phrases like "live forever" and "immortal" bring corrupting emotional connotations with them. It's not automatic to ignore the literal meaning of terms, even if we consciously keep track of what we mean - and of course in a discussion, we can only do our best to help the other person not be confused, not think for them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 August 2011 12:57:18PM 9 points [-]

The key thing is for your voice to make it clear that you're not at all afraid and that you think this is what the high-prestige smart people do. Show the tiniest trace of defensiveness and they'll pounce.

Comment author: khafra 26 August 2011 01:09:08PM 3 points [-]

So, your method leaves open the option of educating your interlocutor, if they question further. If all you're worried about is avoiding a status hit, you could confidently proclaim it to be an amulet given to you by the king of all geese in honor of your mutual defense treaty.

Comment author: lessdazed 26 August 2011 05:22:24PM 2 points [-]

I wasn't referring to prestige at all when I said "beneficial". I was exclusively referring to what sketerpot is referring to.

In arguments, it's pretty common for people to argue for the traditional "decay and die before living even a hundred years" system with arguments against literal immortality. I've seen this happen so many times.

I don't see how "resurrection" is less of a show of confidence, confidence by nonchalance in framing an issue in light least favorable to the speaker. The advantage is that people do not get confused and think it a bad idea for reasons that don't actually apply.

Comment author: sketerpot 26 August 2011 09:02:25AM 7 points [-]

In arguments, it's pretty common for people to argue for the traditional "decay and die before living even a hundred years" system with arguments against literal immortality. I've seen this happen so many times.

"What if you're getting your liver continuously ripped out by disagreeable badgers?" the argument goes. "Immortality would be potentially super-painful! And that's why the life expectancies in the society in which I happened to be born are about right."

The easiest way to bypass this semantic confusion is to explicitly say that it's about always having the option of continuing to be alive, rather than what people usually mean by immortality.

(P.S: Calling the necklace a phylactery would also be fun.)

Comment author: lessdazed 26 August 2011 09:17:13AM 1 point [-]

The easiest way to bypass this semantic confusion is to explicitly say that it's about always having the option of continuing to be alive, rather than what people usually mean by immortality.

1) Death can still happen from any number of causes - tornadoes, for example.

2) That may bypass some of the most conscious semantic confusion, in the same way declaring that whenever you said any number, you always meant that number minus seven would clear up some confusion (if you did that). There is a better way.

3) It's probably not true.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 August 2011 12:07:15PM 0 points [-]

I have a wallet card rather than a necklace; by and large I end up talking about it because another of my friends brings it up.

Comment author: tenshiko 28 August 2011 06:36:23PM 0 points [-]

Really? My image of cyronics is always of people lying in tanks, a pre-LW conceptualization. Cutting off heads always seems to me like a wasteful way of going about things and has much more of a "creepy sci-fi movie" vibe to it.

Comment author: Kutta 29 July 2011 08:19:58PM *  16 points [-]

Agreed; I'd personally like if a planned schedule for major grants was disclosed regularly, maybe annually.

Anyway, I donated 500 USD.

Comment author: JGWeissman 30 July 2011 07:16:01PM 5 points [-]

Disagree about the dark arts, but upvoted for donating anyways.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 24 August 2011 10:40:21PM 2 points [-]

I fully and completely embrace "dark arts", is there a problem with that?

Comment author: lessdazed 24 August 2011 10:58:39PM 5 points [-]

Your thoughts on the matter are unclear. They could be any of the following, or something else:

"I see no reason to classify broad forms of social interaction as always bad, though they may be effective without persuading people as they would wish to be persuaded, that's just another negative to take into account when considering the total consequences of a speech act."

"I see no reason to classify broad forms of social interaction as always bad, though they may be effective without persuading people as they would wish to be, I don't care directly about people's desires to believe ideas only for certain reasons, such as persuasion and not emotional manipulation."

"I see some forms of changing minds as inherently good and others as inherently bad, and though I value being good rather than bad, it's not a high enough priority to be expressed in my actions very often."

"I see some forms of changing minds as inherently good and others as inherently bad, but I prefer to do what I feel like rather than what's good."

"Me want cookie! Me eat cookie! Om nom nom nom!"

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 25 August 2011 12:02:19AM 2 points [-]

Yeah, I can't write out fully what I mean, I just think the term has come to be too broad, to the point where it nixes obviously pragmatic lines of thought and action. More like:

"I see no reason to classify broad forms of social interaction as always bad, though they may be effective without persuading people as they would wish to be persuaded, upon first reflection, but they'll appreciate it later."

Comment author: Giles 11 August 2011 09:59:12PM 7 points [-]

I've donated $512 on top of my monthly donation.

The safety implications of advanced AI form one of the most important (and under-appreciated) ideas out there right now. It's an issue that humanity needs to think long and hard about. So I think that by organizing conferences and writing papers, SIAI are doing pretty much the right thing. I don't think they're perfect, but for me the way to help with that is by getting involved.

I am glad that people are standing up and showing their support, and also that people are voicing criticisms and showing that they are really thinking about the issue.

I hope to see some of you Oct 15-16 in New York!

Comment author: peter_hurford 29 July 2011 06:07:53PM 7 points [-]

I understand the SI needs money and I understand a lot of discussion about this has ensued elsewhere, but I'm still skeptical that I can have the most impact with my money by donating to the SI, when I could be funding malaria nets, for instance.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 29 July 2011 06:48:00PM 15 points [-]

There are two questions here that deserve separate consideration: donating to existential risk reduction vs. other (nearer-term, lower-uncertainty) philanthropy, and donating to SI vs. other x-risk reduction efforts. It seems to me that you should never be weighing SI against malaria nets directly; if you would donate to (SI / malaria nets) conditional on their effectiveness, you've already decided (for / against) x-risk reduction and should only be considering alternatives like (FHI / vaccination programs).

Comment author: peter_hurford 29 July 2011 07:34:23PM 10 points [-]

Thanks. You're right I've been thinking about it wrong, I'll have to reconsider how I approach philanthropy. It's valuable to donate to research anyway, since research is what comes up with things like "malaria nets".

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 29 July 2011 08:28:31PM 8 points [-]

Glad I could help. Thanks for letting me know.

It's valuable to donate to research anyway, since research is what comes up with things like "malaria nets".

Good point; under uncertainty about x-risk vs. near-term philanthropy you might donate to organizations that could help answer that question, like GiveWell or SI/FHI.

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 06:19:00PM *  7 points [-]

They planned on doing an academic paper on the topic, though it hasn't been completed yet. Here's Anna Salamon's presentation, estimating 8 lives saved per dollar donated to SingInst.

Comment author: peter_hurford 29 July 2011 07:35:35PM 3 points [-]

8 lives per dollar is an awful, awful lot, but I'll definitely check out those resources. If the 8 lives per dollar claim is true, I'll be spending my money on SI.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 29 July 2011 07:59:08PM 5 points [-]

If a back-of-the-envelope calculation comes up with a number like that, then it is probably wrong.

Comment author: steven0461 29 July 2011 08:48:15PM *  10 points [-]

I haven't watched the presentation, but 8 lives corresponds to only a one in a billion chance of averting human extinction per donated dollar, which corresponds (neglecting donation matching and the diminishing marginal value of money) to roughly a 1 in 2000 chance of averting human extinction from a doubling of the organization's budget for a year. That doesn't sound obviously crazy to me, though it's more than I'd attribute to an organization just on the basis that it claimed to be reducing extinction risk.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 August 2011 03:37:52PM *  2 points [-]

For what it's worth, this is in line with my estimates, which are not just on the basis of claimed interest in x-risk reduction. I don't think that an order of magnitude or more less than this level of effectiveness could be the conclusion of a credible estimation procedure.

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 08:27:51PM *  4 points [-]

The topics of existential risk, AI, and other future technologies inherently require the use of very large numbers, far beyond any of those encountered when discussing normal, everyday risks and rewards.

Comment author: steven0461 29 July 2011 08:52:01PM *  18 points [-]

Note that the large number used in this particular back-of-envelope calculation is the world population of several billion, not the still much larger numbers involved in astronomical waste.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 29 July 2011 10:57:49PM 7 points [-]

Even if this is so, there is tons of evidence that humans suck at reasoning about such large numbers. If you want to make an extraordinary claim like the one you made above, then you need to put forth a large amount of evidence to support it. And on such a far-mode topic, the likelihood of your argument being correct decreases exponentially with the number of steps in the inferential chain.

I only skimmed through the video, but assuming that the estimates at 11:36 are what you're referring to, those numbers are both seemingly quite high and entirely unjustified in the presentation. It also overlooks things like the fact that utility doesn't scale linearly in number of lives saved when calculating the benefit per dollar.

Whether or not those numbers are correct, presenting them in their current form seems unlikely to be very productive. Likely either the person you are talking to already agrees, or the 8 lives figure triggers an absurdity heuristic that will demand large amounts of evidence. Heck, I'm already pretty familiar with the arguments, and I still get a small amount of negative affect whenever someone tries to make the "donating to X-risk has <insert very large number> expected utility".

I don't think anyone on LW disagrees that reducing xrisk substantially carries an extremely high utility. The points of disagreement are over whether SIAI can non-trivially reduce xrisk, and whether they are the most effective way to do so. At least on this website, this seems like the more productive path of discussion.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 July 2011 11:37:54PM 7 points [-]

Keep in mind that estimation is the best we have. You can't appeal to Nature for not having been given a warning that meets a sufficient standard of rigor. Avoiding all actions of uncertain character dealing with huge consequences is certainly a bad strategy. Any one of such actions might have a big chance of not working out, but not taking any of them is guaranteed to be unhelpful.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 30 July 2011 11:09:46AM 4 points [-]

You can't appeal to Nature for not having been given a warning that meets a sufficient standard of rigor.

From a Bayesian point of view, your prior should place low probability on a figure like "8 lives per dollar". Therefore, lots of evidence is required to overcome that prior.

From a decision-theoretic point of view, the general strategy of believing sketchy (with no offense intended to Anna; I look forward to reading the paper when it is written) arguments that reach extreme conclusions at the end is a bad strategy. There would have to be a reason why this argument was somehow different from all other arguments of this form.

Avoiding all actions of uncertain character dealing with huge consequences is certainly a bad strategy. Any one of such actions might have a big chance of not working out, but not taking any of them is guaranteed to be unhelpful.

If there were tons of actions lying around with similarly huge potential positive consequences, then I would be first in line to take them (for exactly the reason you gave). As it stands, it seems like in reality I get a one-time chance to reduce p(bad singularity) by some small amount. More explicitly, it seems like SIAI's research program reduces xrisk by some small amount, and a handful of other programs would also reduce xrisk by some small amount. There is no combined set of programs that cumulatively reduces xrisk by some large amount (say > 3% to be explicit).

I have to admit that I'm a little bit confused about how to reason here. The issue is that any action I can personally take will only decrease xrisk by some small amount anyways. But to me the situation feels different if society can collectively decrease xrisk by some large amount, versus if even collectively we can only decrease it by some small amount. My current estimate is that we are in the latter case, not the former --- even if xrisk research had unlimited funding, we could only decrease total xrisk by something like 1%. My intuitions here are further complicated by the fact that I also think humans are very bad at estimating small probabilities --- so the 1% figure could very easily be a gross overestimate, whereas I think a 5% figure is starting to get into the range where humans are a bit better at estimating, and is less likely to be such a bad overestimate.

Comment author: paulfchristiano 31 July 2011 04:56:40AM 4 points [-]

From a Bayesian point of view, your prior should place low probability on a figure like "8 lives per dollar". Therefore, lots of evidence is required to overcome that prior.

My prior contains no such provisions; there are many possible worlds where tiny applications of resources have apparently disproportionate effect, and from the outside they don't look so unlikely to me.

There are good reasons to be suspicious of claims of unusual effectiveness, but I recommend making that reasoning explicit and seeing what it says about this situation and how strongly.

There are also good reasons to be suspicious of arguments involving tiny probabilities, but keep in mind: first, you probably aren't 97% confident that we have so little control over the future (I've thought about it a lot and am much more optimistic), and second, that even in a pessimistic scenario it is clearly worth thinking seriously about how to handle this sort of uncertainty, because there is quite a lot to gain.

Of course this isn't an argument that you should support the SIAI in particular (though it may be worth doing some information-gathering to understand what they are currently doing), but that you should continue to optimize in good faith.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 31 July 2011 04:13:42PM 1 point [-]

you should continue to optimize in good faith.

Can you clarify what you mean by this?

Comment author: paulfchristiano 02 August 2011 07:29:06AM *  0 points [-]

Only that you consider the arguments you have advanced in good faith, as a difficulty and a piece of evidence rather than potential excuses.

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 11:15:19PM 2 points [-]

I don't think anyone on LW disagrees that reducing xrisk substantially carries an extremely high utility.

I'm glad you agree.

The points of disagreement are over whether SIAI can non-trivially reduce xrisk, and whether they are the most effective way to do so. At least on this website, this seems like the more productive path of discussion.

I'd be very appreciative to hear if you know of someone doing more.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 29 July 2011 11:51:08PM *  6 points [-]

I'd be very appreciative to hear if you know of someone doing more.

Over the coming months I'm going to be doing an investigation of the non-profits affiliated with the Nuclear Threat Initiative with a view toward finding x-risk reduction charities other than SIAI & FHI. I'll report back what I learn but it may be a while.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 July 2011 05:45:23PM 4 points [-]

I'm under the impression that nuclear war doesn't pose an existential risk. Do you disagree? If so, I probably ought to make a discussion post on the subject so we don't take this one too far off topic.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 31 July 2011 08:23:56PM *  8 points [-]

My impression is that the risk of immediate extinction due to nuclear war is very small but that a nuclear war could cripple civilization to the point of not being able to recover enough to affect a positive singularity; also it would plausibly increase other x-risks - intuitively, nuclear war would destabilize society, and people are less likely to take safety precautions in an unstable society when developing advanced technologies than they otherwise would be. I'd give a subjective estimate of 0.1% - 1% of nuclear war preventing a positive singularity.

Comment author: steven0461 31 July 2011 09:15:11PM *  4 points [-]

I'd give a subjective estimate of 0.1% - 1% of nuclear war preventing a positive singularity.

Do you mean:

  • The probability of PS given NW is .1-1% lower than the probability of PS given not-NW
  • The probability of PS is .1-1% lower than the probability of PS given not-NW
  • The probability of PS is 99-99.9% times the probability of PS given not-NW
  • etc?
Comment author: ciphergoth 01 August 2011 05:28:15AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the clarification on the estimate. Unhappy as it makes me to say it, I suspect that nuclear war or other non-existential catastrophe would overall reduce existential risk, because we'd have more time to think about existential risk mitigation while we rebuild society. However I suspect that trying to bring nuclear war about as a result of this reasoning is not a winning strategy.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 30 July 2011 10:47:16AM 5 points [-]

Well for instance, certain approaches to AGI are more likely to lead to something friendly than other approaches are. If you believe that approach A is 1% less likely to lead to a bad outcome than approach B, then funding research in approach A is already compelling.

In my mind, a well-reasoned statistical approach with good software engineering methodologies is the mainstream approach that is least likely to lead to a bad outcome. It has the advantage that there is already a large amount of related research being done, hence there is actually a reasonable chance that such an AGI would be the first to be implemented. My personal estimate is that such an approach carries about 10% less risk than an alternative approach where the statistics and software are both hacked together.

In contrast, I estimate that SIAI's FAI approach would carry about 90% less risk if implemented than a hacked-together AGI. However, I assign very low probability to SIAI's current approach succeeding in time. I therefore consider the above-mentioned approach more effective.

Another alternative to SIAI that doesn't require estimates about any specific research program would be to fund the creation of high-status AI researchers who care about Friendliness. Then they are free to steer the field as a whole towards whatever direction is determined to carry the least risk, after we have the chance to do further research to determine that direction.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 30 July 2011 06:30:00PM 4 points [-]

My personal estimate is that such an approach carries about 10% less risk than an alternative approach where the statistics and software are both hacked together.

I don't understand what you mean by "10% less risk". Do you think any given project using "a well-reasoned statistical approach with good software engineering methodologies" has at least 10% chance of leading to a positive Singularity? Or each such project has a P*0.9 probability of causing an existential disaster, where P is the probability of disaster of a "hacked together" project. Or something else?

Comment author: jsteinhardt 31 July 2011 12:55:07AM 2 points [-]

Sorry for the ambiguity. I meant P*0.9.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 31 July 2011 02:15:03AM 1 point [-]

You said "I therefore consider the above-mentioned approach more effective.", but if all you're claiming is that the above mentioned approach ("a well-reasoned statistical approach with good software engineering methodologies") has a P*0.9 probability of causing an existential disaster, and not claiming that it has a significant chance of causing a positive Singularity, then why do you think funding such projects is effective for reducing existential risk? Is the idea that each such project would displace a "hacked together" project that would otherwise be started?

Comment author: Rain 30 July 2011 03:47:39PM 3 points [-]

I noticed you didn't name anybody. Did you have specific programs or people in mind?

We already seem to (roughly) agree on probabilities.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 02 August 2011 09:14:21PM *  2 points [-]

The only specific plan I have right now is to put myself in a position to hire smart people to work on this problem. I think the most robust way to do this is to get a faculty position somewhere, but I need to consider the higher relative efficiency of corporations over universities some more to figure out if it's worthwhile to go with the higher-volatility route of industry.

Also, as Paul notes, I need to consider other approaches to x-risk reduction as well to see if I can do better than my current plan. The main argument in favor of my current plan is that there is a clear path to the goal, with only modest technical hurdles and no major social hurdles. I don't particularly like plans that start to get fuzzier than that, but I am willing to be convinced that this is irrational.

EDIT: To be more explicit, my current goal is to become one of said high-status AI researchers. I am worried that this is slightly self-serving, although I think I have good reason to believe that I have a comparative advantage at this task.

Comment author: MugaSofer 17 April 2013 02:02:06PM -2 points [-]

The only specific plan I have right now is to put myself in a position to hire smart people to work on this problem.

You know, I think somebody already thought of this. What was their name again...?

Comment author: JGWeissman 30 July 2011 05:39:12PM 2 points [-]

Another alternative to SIAI that doesn't require estimates about any specific research program would be to fund the creation of high-status AI researchers who care about Friendliness.

That seems more of an alternative within SIAI than an alternative to SIAI. With more funding, their Associate Research Program can promote the importance of Friendliness and increase the status of researchers who care about it.

Comment author: MugaSofer 17 April 2013 01:59:13PM 2 points [-]

It also overlooks things like the fact that utility doesn't scale linearly in number of lives saved when calculating the benefit per dollar.

Woah, woah! What! Since when?

Unless you mean "scope insensitivity"?

8 lives figure triggers an absurdity heuristic that will demand large amounts of evidence.

Well, sure, the absurdity heuristic is terrible.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 18 April 2013 07:58:35AM 4 points [-]

Woah, woah! What! Since when?

Why would it scale linearly? I agree that is scales linearly over relatively small regimes (on the order of millions of lives) by fungibility, but I see no reason why that needs to be true for trillions of lives or more (and at least some reasons why it can't scale linearly forever).

Well, sure, the absurdity heuristic is terrible.

Re-read the context of what I wrote. Whether or not the absurdity heuristic is a good heuristic, it is one that is fairly common among humans, so if your goal is to have a productive conversation with someone who doesn't already agree with you, you shouldn't throw out such an ambitious figure without a solid argument. You can almost certainly make whatever point you want to make with more conservative numbers.

Comment author: MugaSofer 19 April 2013 01:30:56PM *  -2 points [-]

Why would it scale linearly? I agree that is scales linearly over relatively small regimes (on the order of millions of lives) by fungibility, but I see no reason why that needs to be true for trillions of lives or more (and at least some reasons why it can't scale linearly forever).

Lets say you currently have a trillion utility-producing thingies - call them humans, if it helps. You're pretty happy. In fact, you have so many that the utility of more is negligible.

Then Doctor Evil appears! He has five people hostage, he's holding them to ransom!

His ransom: kill off six of the people you already have.

Since those trillion people's value didn't scale linearly, reducing them by six isn't nearly as important as five people!

Rinse. Repeat.

Re-read the context of what I wrote. Whether or not the absurdity heuristic is a good heuristic, it is one that is fairly common among humans, so if your goal is to have a productive conversation with someone who doesn't already agree with you, you shouldn't throw out such an ambitious figure without a solid argument. You can almost certainly make whatever point you want to make with more conservative numbers.

Well sure, if we're talking Dark Arts...

Comment author: jsteinhardt 20 April 2013 08:45:46AM 4 points [-]

Since those trillion people's value didn't scale linearly, reducing them by six isn't nearly as important as five people!

This isn't true --- the choice is between N-6 and N-5 people; N-5 people is clearly better. Not to be too blunt, but I think you've badly misunderstood the concept of a utility function.

Well sure, if we're talking Dark Arts...

Actively making your argument objectionable is very different from avoiding the use of the Dark Arts. In fact, arguably it has the same problem that the Dark Arts has, which is that is causes someone to believe something (in this case, the negation of what you want to show) for reasons unrelated to the validity of the supporting argument.

Comment author: private_messaging 20 April 2013 09:23:14AM *  2 points [-]

This isn't true --- the choice is between N-6 and N-5 people; N-5 people is clearly better. Not to be too blunt, but I think you've badly misunderstood the concept of a utility function.

Yes. The hypothetical utility function could e.g. take a list of items and then return the utility. It need not satisfy f(A,B)=f(A)+f(B) where "," is list concatenation. For example, this would apply to the worth of books, where a library is more worthy than however many copies of some one book. To simply sum values of books considered independently is ridiculous, it's like valuing books by weight. Information content of the brain or what ever else it is that you might value (process?) is a fair bit more like a book than its like the weight of the books.

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 April 2013 10:43:19AM -1 points [-]

Actively making your argument objectionable is very different from avoiding the use of the Dark Arts. In fact, arguably it has the same problem that the Dark Arts has, which is that is causes someone to believe something (in this case, the negation of what you want to show) for reasons unrelated to the validity of the supporting argument.

Sorry, I only meant to imply that I had assumed we were discussing rationality, given the low status of the "Dark Arts". Not that there was anything wrong with such discussion; indeed, I'm all for it.

Comment author: CCC 20 April 2013 12:45:02PM 0 points [-]

Since those trillion people's value didn't scale linearly, reducing them by six isn't nearly as important as five people!

This doesn't hold. Those extra five should be added onto the trillion you already have; not considered seperately.

Value only needs to increase monotonically. Linearity is not required; it might even be asymptotic.

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 April 2013 10:56:18AM -1 points [-]

Those extra five should be added onto the trillion you already have; not considered seperately.

That depends on how you do the accounting here. If we check the utility provided by saving five people, it's high. If we check the utility provided by increasing a population of a trillion, it's unfathomably low.

This is, in fact, the point.

Intuitively, we should be able to meaningfully analyse the utility of a part without talking about - or even knowing - the utility of the whole. Discovering vast interstellar civilizations should not invalidate our calculations made on how to save the most lives.

Comment author: Kevin 31 July 2011 06:25:02PM 0 points [-]

And for something in the developing world aid space, Village Reach is generally considered to be the most efficient.

http://www.givewell.org/international/top-charities/villagereach

Comment author: peter_hurford 31 July 2011 07:52:59PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I intend to donate a good portion to Village Reach after I do some more thorough research on charity. I don't have that much of an income yet, anyway.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 July 2011 09:28:23PM 18 points [-]

Yeah, I intend to donate a good portion to Village Reach after I do some more thorough research on charity.

If you already know your decision the value of the research is nil.

Comment author: peter_hurford 01 August 2011 02:10:36AM 3 points [-]

Lol, good point. What I meant to say was "I probably intend to donate a good portion to Village Reach, if I don't encounter anything in my research to change my mind." It's still probably a biased approach, but I can't pretend I don't already have a base point for my donations.

Comment author: Bongo 01 August 2011 10:43:11AM *  2 points [-]

If you already know your decision the value of the research is nil.

No because then if someone challenges your decision you can give them citations! And then you can carry out the decision without the risk of looking weird!

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 10:54:47AM -1 points [-]

Citing evidence that didn't influence you before you wrote your bottom line is lying.

Comment author: Bongo 01 August 2011 11:45:24AM 2 points [-]

Added some exclamation marks to bring out the sarcasm.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 01 August 2011 03:47:00PM 3 points [-]

So if:

  • Something causes me to believe in X
  • I post in public that I believe in X
  • I read up more on X and find even more reasons to believe in it
  • Somebody challenges my public post and I respond, citing both the old reason and the new ones

Then I'm lying? I don't think that's quite right.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 03:59:00PM 1 point [-]

Nah; if your credence in X went up when you read the new reasons, and more importantly if it would have gone down if the opposite of these reasons were true, it's kosher.

If someone challenges your post and you think "Crap, my case doesn't look impressive enough" and selectively search for citations, you're lying.

A grey area is when you believe X because you heard it somewhere but you don't remember where except that it sounded trustworthy. You can legitimately be pretty confident that X is true and that good sources exist, but you still have to learn a new fact before you can point to them. The reason this isn't an outright lie is that trust chains need occasional snapping. There's an odd and interesting effect - Alice distorts things just a tiny bit when she tells Bob, which basically doesn't affect anything, but Bob doesn't know exactly what the distortions where so the distorsions he adds when he tells Carol can be huge, though his beliefs are basically correct! (A big source is that uncertainty is hard to communicate, so wild guesses often turn into strong claims.)

Comment author: FAWS 01 August 2011 04:25:50PM 3 points [-]

If someone challenges your post and you think "Crap, my case doesn't look impressive enough" and selectively search for citations, you're lying.

"Selectively" is the keyword here. Searching for additional arguments for your position is legitimate if you would retract on discovering negative evidence IMO.

Comment author: MixedNuts 01 August 2011 04:42:00PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, but that's a weird thing to do. Why not give your current evidence, then do more research and come back to announce the results?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2011 07:16:36PM *  2 points [-]

Citing evidence that didn't influence you before you wrote your bottom line is lying.

No. It just isn't. But adopting your ontology briefly I will assert that 'lying' is morally virtuous in all sorts of situations.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2011 07:27:33PM 0 points [-]

No because then if someone challenges your decision you can give them citations! And then you can carry out the decision without the risk of looking weird!

A worthy endeavour!

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 03 August 2011 04:30:46PM 0 points [-]

Are you being sarcastic here?

Comment author: wedrifid 04 August 2011 12:54:46AM 1 point [-]

No. Information really is useful for influencing others independently of its use for actually making decisions. It is only the decision making component that is useless after you have already made up your mind.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 04 August 2011 10:39:19AM 0 points [-]

Okay, thanks.

Comment author: Benquo 04 August 2011 01:45:03AM 0 points [-]

Nah, you can't choose to un-donate. Whereas you can always make up for lost time. So giving is a case where some mild indecision may be worthwhile.

Obviously the current expected value of your action should be the same as what you expect to think in the future. But getting more info can increase the expected value of your information thus:

Let's say you have a charity budget, and two charities, A and B. Since your budget is a small fraction of the budget of each charity, assume your utility is linear in this decision, so you'll give all your money to the better charity. You think there's a 60% chance that charity A produces 1000 utilons from your donation and charity B produces 100, and a 40% chance that A only produces 10 and B still produces 100. The expected utility of giving to A is 60% * 1000 + 40% * 10 = 604. The expected utility of giving to B is 60% * 100 + 40% * 100 = 100, so you are planning to give to A.

But let's say that by doing some small amount of research (assuming it's costless for simplicity), you can expect to become, correctly, nearly certain (one situation has probability of ~1, the other has probability of ~0). Now if you become certain that A produces 1000 utilons (which you expect to happen 60% of the time), your choice is the same. But if you become certain that A produces only 10 utilons, you give to B instead. So your expected utility is now 60% * 1000 + 40% * 100 = 640, a net gain of 36 expected utilons.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 August 2011 11:17:44AM 0 points [-]

Nah, you can't choose to un-donate. Whereas you can always make up for lost time. So giving is a case where some mild indecision may be worthwhile.

You seem to have missed the point.

Comment author: Benquo 04 August 2011 11:24:06AM 0 points [-]

The point being what?

Comment author: wedrifid 04 August 2011 11:31:06AM *  3 points [-]

All information gained after making a decision is irrelevant for the purpose of making said decision. See also: The Bottom Line.

Comment author: Benquo 04 August 2011 12:27:46PM 0 points [-]

Not if you can remake the decision. I read "I intend [...]" to mean "I expect to make this decision, based on the evidence available now, but will gather more evidence first, which may change my mind."

But people don't do very well at thinking when there's already an expected outcome, so peter_hurford should either give up or work on becoming more curious.

Comment author: SilasBarta 01 August 2011 07:03:26PM *  40 points [-]

Good to hear about the successes, but I am still skeptical about this one:

Since the beginning of 2010, we have:...

Held a wildly successful Rationality Minicamp.

I have yet to see any actual substantiation for this claim beyond the SIAI blog's say-so and a few qualitative individual self-reports. I have not seen any attempt to extend and replicate this success, nor evidence that would even be possible.

If it actually were a failure, how would we know? Would anyone there even admit it, or prefer to avoid making its leaders look bad?

Sorry to be the bad guy there, but this claim has been floating around for a while and looks like it will become one of those things "everyone knows".

Comment author: khafra 29 July 2011 12:37:37PM 5 points [-]

Having $1000 pre-filled makes me feel uncomfortable. I can understand the reasoning behind anchoring to a higher number, and I can't explain much behind why it makes me feel uncomfortable about contributing at all. Perhaps a running average pre-fill like the indie game Humble Bundle 3 would be better.

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 04:44:23PM *  6 points [-]

The method of donation will change what you see: the Causes.com form started with a pre-fill of $25.

The Humble Indie Bundle team actually did A/B testing with multiple donation forms, one of which included a set dollar amount, another which included rolling average, and at least one other. Such testing may show that a running average would discourage large donors, thereby reducing overall donations.

Comment author: handoflixue 29 July 2011 07:57:45PM 7 points [-]

Such testing may show

I'm not sure if this is bad word choice, but if you genuinely don't know the results then it seems disingenuous to focus on one of the three specific results without offering any further support for that stance. (If you do know the results then I would love to see them ^.^)

Comment author: Rain 29 July 2011 08:08:09PM 0 points [-]

I don't know the results of their testing. It was briefly discussed on Hacker News.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 29 July 2011 01:36:09PM 1 point [-]

A running-average pre-fill sounds much better to me.

Comment author: Jesse_L 28 August 2011 06:28:14AM 7 points [-]

$10k for the most efficient instrument of existential risk reduction, the most efficient way to do good.

Comment author: lukeprog 07 November 2011 06:48:48PM 3 points [-]

Not many people heard about the Singularity Summit in Salt Lake City. Here is part of Luke Nosek's talk that struck me:

I was a futurist all my life... but there was a strange detour [as a result of] my time with Paypal...

We all [the "Paypal mafia"] went off and started more companies [Yelp, YouTube, etc.]... and what you'd do in your 20s if you got that level of success was, "Well, I have some money. Now I need some more." This was the mentality...

In 2008 this changed for me, almost like a spiritual conversion. I met... William and Michael Andregg, who decided in their freshman year they wanted to cure aging... So they set out [with Halycon Molecular] to build the perfect gene sequencing machine...

I was trying to help them incorporate the company and set up the right share structure, and they said, "We don't have a share structure... We're all gonna give it away... to a foundation to help cure aging and disease.

And I thought, "Well that's kind of quaint. I've gotta teach these entrepreneurs about how to set up a real business, how to make money. You've gotta divide up your shares, people are gonna fight over them... and that's the primary motivator for running a business, is to make money."

It hit me during that conversation... is that the purpose of Halcyon Molecular was never to make money... it was to solve the greatest problem of mankind: our slavery to our biological form...

That changed my way of thinking about what I was doing in the world. I wasn't there just to make money... I wanted to find more William and Michael Andreggs: more entrepreneurs who were building companies that were developing breakthrough technologies that would enable a positive Singularity for the world within our lifetimes.

Comment author: hairyfigment 27 August 2011 03:38:13AM 3 points [-]

Donated another $500.

Comment author: cjb 30 July 2011 12:29:22AM *  10 points [-]

2011 has been a huge year for Artificial Intelligence. With the IBM computer Watson defeating two top Jeopardy! champions in February, it’s clear that the field is making steady progress.

Do people here generally think that this is true? I don't see much of an intersection between Watson and AI; it seems like a few machine learning algorithms that approach Jeopardy problems in an extremely artificial way, much like chess engines approach playing chess. (Are chess engines artificial intelligence too?)

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 August 2011 02:59:51PM 8 points [-]

I actually do think it's a big deal, as well as being flashy, though not an extremely big deal. Something along the lines of the best narrow AI accomplishment of any given year and the flashiest of any given 3-5 year period.

Comment author: brazil84 30 July 2011 11:08:11PM 5 points [-]

Further to my previous comment, I found the second final Jeopardy puzzle to be instructive. The category was "US Cities" and the clue was this:

Its largest airport was named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle.

A reasonably smart human will come up with an algorithm on the fly for solving this, which is to start thinking of major US cities (likely to have 2 or more airports); remember the names of their airports, and think about whether any of the names sound like a battle or a war hero. The three obvious cities to try are Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. And "Midway" definitely sounds like the name of a battle.

But Watson was totally clueless. Even though it had the necessary information, it had to rely on pre-programmed algorithms to access that information. It was apparently unable to come up with a new algorithm on the fly.

Probably Watson relies heavily on statistical word associations. If the puzzle has "Charles Shulz" and "This Dog" in it, it will probably guess "Snoopy" without really parsing the puzzle. I'm just speculating here, but my impression is that AI has a long way to go.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 02:01:59AM 4 points [-]

A reasonably smart human will come up with an algorithm on the fly for solving this, which is to start thinking of major US cities (likely to have 2 or more airports); remember the names of their airports, and think about whether any of the names sound like a battle or a war hero. The three obvious cities to try are Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. And "Midway" definitely sounds like the name of a battle.

But Watson was totally clueless. Even though it had the necessary information, it had to rely on pre-programmed algorithms to access that information. It was apparently unable to come up with a new algorithm on the fly.

This isn't meaningful. Whatever method we use to "come up with algorithms on the fly" is itself an algorithm, just a more complicated one.

Probably Watson relies heavily on statistical word associations. If the puzzle has "Charles Shulz" and "This Dog" in it, it will probably guess "Snoopy" without really parsing the puzzle.

This isn't true. You know, a lot of the things you're talking about here regarding Watson aren't secret...

Comment author: brazil84 31 July 2011 02:14:25AM 1 point [-]

This isn't meaningful. Whatever method we use to "come up with algorithms on the fly" is itself an algorithm, just a more complicated one

Then why wasn't Watson simply programmed with one meta-algorithm rather than hundreds of specialized algorithms?

This isn't true. You know, a lot of the things you're talking about here regarding Watson aren't secret.

FWIW, the wiki article indicates that Watson would "parse the clues into different keywords and sentence fragments in order to find statistically related phrases." Would you mind giving me some links which show that Watson doesn't rely heavily on statistical word associations?

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 12:58:03PM 1 point [-]

Then why wasn't Watson simply programmed with one meta-algorithm rather than hundreds of specialized algorithms?

I don't have a clue what you're talking about. Where are you getting this claim that it was programmed with "hundreds of specialized algorithms"? And how is that really qualitatively different from what we do?

Would you mind giving me some links which show that Watson doesn't rely heavily on statistical word associations?

I never said it didn't. I was contradicting your statement that relied on that without any parsing.

Comment author: brazil84 31 July 2011 03:52:56PM *  1 point [-]

I don't have a clue what you're talking about. Where are you getting this claim that it was programmed with "hundreds of specialized algorithms"?

For one thing, the Wiki article talks about thousands of algorithms. My common sense tells me that many of those algorithms are specialized for particular types of puzzles. Anyway, why didn't Watsons creators program Watson with a meta-algorithm to enable it to solve puzzles like the Airport puzzle?

And how is that really qualitatively different from what we do?

For one thing, smart people can come up with new algorithms on the fly. For example an organized way of solving the airport puzzle. If that were just a matter of making a more complicated computer program, then why didn't Watson's creators do it?

I was contradicting your statement that relied on that without any parsing

My statement was speculation. So if you are confident that it is wrong, then presumably you must have solid evidence to believe so. If you don't know one way or another, then we are both in the same boat.

Comment author: handoflixue 02 August 2011 06:22:40PM 1 point [-]

For one thing, smart people can come up with new algorithms on the fly. For example an organized way of solving the airport puzzle. If that were just a matter of making a more complicated computer program, then why didn't Watson's creators do it?

That's like asking why a human contestant failed to come up with a new algorithm on the fly. Or, put simply: no one is perfect. Not the other players, not Watson, and not Watson's creators. While you've certainly identified a flaw, I'm not sure it's really quite as big a deal as you make it out to be. I mean, Watson did beat actual humans, so clearly they managed something fairly robust.

I don't think Watson is anywhere near an AGI, but the field of AI development seems to mostly include "applied-AI" like Deep Blue and Watson, and failures, so I'm going to go ahead and root for the successes in applied-AI :)

Comment author: brazil84 03 August 2011 12:57:51AM *  0 points [-]

That's like asking why a human contestant failed to come up with a new algorithm on the fly.

I disagree. A human contestant who failed to come up with a new algorithm was perhaps not smart enough, but is still able to engage in the same kind of flexible thinking under less challenging circumstances. I suspect Watson cannot do so under any circumstances.

I mean, Watson did beat actual humans, so clearly they managed something fairly robust.

Without it's super-human buzzer speed, I doubt Watson would have won.

Comment author: gwillen 08 August 2011 06:38:36PM 2 points [-]

I believe that the way things were designed, Ken Jennings was probably at least as good as Watson on buzzer speed. Watson presses the buzzer with a mechanical mechanism, to give it a latency similar to a finger; and Watson doesn't start going for the buzzer until it sees the 'buzzer unlocked' signal. By contrast, Ken Jennings has said that he starts pressing the buzzer before the signal, relying on his intuitive sense of the typical delay between the completion of a question and the buzzer-unlock signal.

Comment author: brazil84 08 August 2011 08:49:35PM 5 points [-]

Here's what Ken Jennings had to say:

Watson does have a big advantage in this regard, since it can knock out a microsecond-precise buzz every single time with little or no variation. Human reflexes can't compete with computer circuits in this regard. But I wouldn't call this unfair ... precise timing just happens to be one thing computers are better at than we humans. It's not like I think Watson should try buzzing in more erratically just to give homo sapiens a chance.

Here's what Wikipedia says:

The Jeopardy! staff used different means to notify Watson and the human players when to buzz, which was critical in many rounds. The humans were notified by a light, which took them tenths of a second to perceive. Watson was notified by an electronic signal and could activate the buzzer within about eight milliseconds. The humans tried to compensate for the perception delay by anticipating the light, but the variation in the anticipation time was generally too great to fall within Watson's response time. Watson did not operate to anticipate the notification signal.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 07:21:14PM 1 point [-]

For one thing, the Wiki article talks about thousands of algorithms. My common sense tells me that many of those algorithms are specialized for particular types of puzzles. Anyway, why didn't Watsons creators program Watson with a meta-algorithm to enable it to solve puzzles like the Airport puzzle?

Er... they did? The whole thing ultimately had to produce one answer, after all. It just wasn't good enough.

Comment author: brazil84 31 July 2011 08:19:58PM -1 points [-]

The whole thing ultimately had to produce one answer, after all. It just wasn't good enough.

Ok, then arguably it's not so simple to create an algorithm which is "just more complicated." I mean, one could say that an ICBM is just like a Quassam rocket, but just more complicated.

Comment author: Clippy 01 August 2011 02:59:07PM 4 points [-]

An ICBM is "just" a bow-and-arrow system with a more precise guidance system, more energy available to spend reaching its destination, and a more destructive payload.

Comment author: brazil84 01 August 2011 07:38:50PM 1 point [-]

Right, and it's far more difficult to construct. It probably took thousands of years between the first missile weapons and modern ICBMs. I doubt that it will take thousands of years to create general AI, but it's still the same concept.

The first general AI will probably be "just" an algorithm running on a digital computer.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 08:26:09PM 0 points [-]

This comment doesn't appear to have any relevance. Where did anyone suggest that the way to make it better is to just make it more complicated? Where did anyone suggest that improving it would be simple? I am completely baffled.

Comment author: brazil84 31 July 2011 08:38:20PM 1 point [-]

Earlier, we had this exchange:

Me:

But Watson was totally clueless. Even though it had the necessary information, it had to rely on pre-programmed algorithms to access that information. It was apparently unable to come up with a new algorithm on the fly.

You:

Whatever method we use to "come up with algorithms on the fly" is itself an algorithm, just a more complicated one.

So you seemed to be saying that there's no big deal about the human ability to come up with a new algorithm -- it's just another algorithm. Which is technically true, but this sort of meta-algorithm obviously would require a lot more sophistication to create.

Comment author: brazil84 30 July 2011 10:49:59PM 3 points [-]

I found Watson to be pretty disappointing.

For one thing, it's big advantage was inhuman button-pushing speed since an actuator is much faster than a human finger. Now, one might argue that pushing the button is part of the game, but to that I would respond that reading the puzzles off of the right screen is part of the game too and Watson didn't have to do that -- the puzzles were inputted in the form of a text file. Also, travelling to Los Angeles is part of the game and Watson didn't have to do that either. If the game had been played in Los Angeles instead of New York, then all of Watson's responses would have been delayed by a few hundredths of a second.

Another problem is that a lot of the puzzles on Jeopardy don't actually require much intelligence to solve particularly if you can write a specialized program for each puzzle category. For example, I would guess a competent computer science grad student could pretty easily write a program that did reasonably well in "state capitals" And of the puzzles which do require some intelligence, the two human champions will split the points.

I'm not saying that Watson wasn't impressive, just that it's win was not convincing.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 01:51:14AM 5 points [-]

Watson was not specialized for different categories. It would learn categories -- during a game, after seeing question-answer pairs from it. It ignored category titles, because they couldn't find any way to get that to work. (Hence "Toronto" when the category was "U.S. cities".)

Comment author: brazil84 31 July 2011 02:27:19AM 1 point [-]

Watson was not specialized for different categories. It would learn categories -- during a game, after seeing question-answer pairs from it. It ignored category titles,

I have a really hard time believing this. A lot of the categories on Jeopardy recur regularly and pose the same types of puzzles again and again. IBM would have been crazy not to take advantage of this regularity. Or at least to pay attention to the category titles in evaluating possible answers.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 01:03:03PM *  -1 points [-]

*shrug* I mean, if you want to claim that the makers of IBM coordinated to lie about this point, go ahead, but don't expect to me to bother discussing this with you at that point.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 July 2011 05:39:50PM 4 points [-]

If your comment was inaccurate, it would probably be because you were mistaken and perhaps something you read was mistaken, not that IBM had coordinated to lie.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 07:31:00PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, so as it happens, I was misremembering - it doesn't ignore category titles, it just doesn't weight them very highly. Which FWIW still contradicts what brazil84 was suggesting it does. :P

Comment author: brazil84 31 July 2011 04:05:27PM 3 points [-]

Here's a quote I found from the IBM research blog:

Watson calculates its uncertainty and learns which algorithms to trust under which circumstances, such as different Jeopardy! categories.

Seems to me that at a minimum, this shows that Watson does not ignore category titles.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 31 July 2011 07:28:21PM 3 points [-]

I didn't say it ignores categories -- it knows which questions go together in a category, and learns what to use for a given category as it sees question-answer pairs for it. What I said was that it ignores category titles.

However as it happened I was wrong about this; slight misremembrance, sorry. Watson does note category titles, it just doesn't weight them very highly. Apparently it learned this automatically during its training games. Source: http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/related-content/toronto.html

Comment author: steven0461 16 August 2011 01:24:34AM 1 point [-]

I just noticed this hasn't been posted to SL4; I could do it, but maybe better someone from singinst?

Comment author: JGWeissman 17 August 2011 04:53:03PM 1 point [-]

I think it is a good signal of more broad-based support when this sort of thing is promoted by supporters. Go for it.

(And getting things done can be more important than making things "official".)