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Article about LW: Faith, Hope, and Singularity: Entering the Matrix with New York’s Futurist Set

31 Post author: malo 25 July 2012 07:28PM

Faith, Hope, and Singularity: Entering the Matrix with New York’s Futurist Set

To my knowledge LessWrong hasn't received a great deal of media coverage. So, I was surprised when I came across an article via a Facebook friend which also appeared on the cover of the New York Observer today. However, I was disappointed upon reading it, as I don't think it is an accurate reflection of the community. It certainly doesn't reflect my experience with the LW communities in Toronto and Waterloo. 

I thought it would be interesting to see what the broader LessWrong community thought about this article. I think it would make for a good discussion.

Possible conversation topics:

  • This article will likely reach many people that have never heard of LessWrong before. Is this a good introduction to LessWrong for those people?
  • Does this article give an accurate characterization of the LessWrong community?

Edit 1: Added some clarification about my view on the article.

Edit 2: Re-added link using “nofollow” attribute.

Comments (231)

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 26 July 2012 01:11:23PM 25 points [-]

For a little historical perspective, here are some examples of journalistic coverage of Extropians in the 1990s: June 1993. October 1994. March 1995. April 1995. Also 1995.

Comment author: advancedatheist 26 July 2012 05:40:07PM 1 point [-]

Transhumanism seems to hold people's interests until around the time they turn 40, when the middle-aged reality principle (aging and mortality) starts to assert itself. It resembles going through a goth phase as a teenager.

BTW, I find it interesting that Peter Thiel's name keeps coming up in connection with stories about the singularity, as in the New York Observer one, when he has gone out of his way lately to argue that technological progress has stagnated. Thiel has basically staked out an antisingularity position.

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 26 July 2012 05:51:49PM 25 points [-]

That position is "antisingularity" only in the Kurzweilian sense of the word. I wouldn't be surprised if e.g. essentially everyone at the Singularity Institute were "antisingularity" in this sense.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 July 2012 09:21:16PM 15 points [-]

Yep.

Comment author: mej10 26 July 2012 06:40:17PM 11 points [-]

Saying that we haven't made much progress recently isn't the same as not wanting a positive singularity event. These are orthogonal. Thiel has directly supported singularity related organizations and events, while also being pessimistic on our technology progress. These are most certainly related.

Comment author: bentarm 26 July 2012 08:13:57PM 19 points [-]

I don't think it is an accurate reflection of the community. It certainly doesn't reflect my experience with the LW communities in Toronto and Waterloo.

It is also not an accurate depiction of the community in London or Edinburgh (UK). However, I think it is pretty close to exactly what I would expect a tabloid summary of the Berkeley community to look like, based on my personal experience. The communities in Berkeley and NY really are massively different in kind to those pretty much anywhere else in the world (again, from personal experience).

And, as Kevin says, it is remarkably nice - they could have used exactly the same content to write a much more damning piece.

Comment author: Manfred 25 July 2012 08:49:43PM *  16 points [-]

Saying Eliezer has (or had) an "IQ of 143" is a bit silly - to be blunt: who cares? Maybe it was contextualized in some way and then the context got edited out? Dunno. By comparison, characterizing him as messianic is down-to-earth and relevant :D

And boy howdy, this gal was interested in our sex lives.

Comment author: Raemon 25 July 2012 08:51:49PM 11 points [-]

And boy howdy, this guy was interested in our sex lives.

Girl. But yes.

Comment author: Manfred 25 July 2012 09:16:55PM 4 points [-]

Thanks, fix'd,

Comment author: Raemon 26 July 2012 07:32:07PM 5 points [-]

Wouldn't want to misrepresent anything now.

Comment author: Cyan 26 July 2012 07:35:07PM *  3 points [-]

I'm really glad that the line about EY's IQ links to the video in which EY makes that claim -- I can't conceive that anyone could watch that video all the way through and come away with the impression that EY is a phyg leader.

Comment author: Xachariah 27 July 2012 06:58:43AM 2 points [-]

She could have used this source material.

Comment author: shokwave 27 July 2012 12:59:07PM 26 points [-]

There are limited categories for groups to be placed in by the media: we scored 'risque' instead of 'nutjob', so this piece is a victory, I'd say.

Comment author: Kevin 26 July 2012 01:52:24PM 24 points [-]

I think this article is exceptionally nice for a hit piece on us by a gossip rag. Take it for what it is, let it go, give up on it, and don't waste your time debating it.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 26 July 2012 02:11:15AM 18 points [-]

Just read the article. I thought it was very nice! It takes us seriously, it accurately summarizes many of the things that LWers are doing and/or hope to do, and it makes us sound like we're having a lot of fun while thinking about topics that might be socially useful while not hurting or threatening anyone. How could this possibly be described as trolling? I think the OP should put the link back up -- the Observer deserves as much traffic as we can muster, I'd say.

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2012 05:50:00PM *  13 points [-]

At my middle school there was a sweet kid who had probably had pretty serious Aspergers. He was teased quite a bit but often it would take him a while to figure out that the other kids were sarcastically mocking him and not being friendly. He'd pick up on it eventually but by then he had replied the wrong way and looked stupid, leading to even more teasing.

No offense, but if you thought the article was taking us seriously you are somewhat socially tone-deaf.

Comment author: komponisto 26 July 2012 06:49:08PM 32 points [-]

I wouldn't say it was taking us seriously, but journalists of this type tend not to take anything "seriously". Only "hard-news" journalists write in a style that suggests their subjects are of status equal to or higher than their own.

I think many are failing to appreciate just how much respect is shown by the fact that almost nothing in the piece is false. That's an incredible achievement for a fluff journalist writing about...pretty much anything, let alone this kind of subject matter.

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2012 08:29:48PM *  6 points [-]

The Observer isn't the Times... but it also isn't the Inquirer or World Net Daily. But your point is taken. Still, while you're going to get the "wow, these people sure are weird" reaction no matter what but what you want is a "... but maybe have they have point" graf or at least not get called "unhinged". I don't really have anything against the writer-- she does what she does well (the writing is really excellent, I think). And I do think she probably likes the Less Wrong crowd she met. But I think it made the image problem really clear and explicit.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 26 July 2012 08:26:03PM 9 points [-]

No offense taken! I was that kid in middle school, but I've grown a lot since then. I've learned to read people very well, and as a result I've been able to win elections in school clubs, join a fraternity, date, host dinner parties, and basically have a social life that's as active and healthy as anyone else's.

I think often we assume that people are criticizing us because we are starting out from a place of insecurity. If you suspect and worry and fear that you deserve criticism, then even a neutral description of your characteristics can feel like a harsh personal attack. It's hard to listen to someone describe you, just like it's hard to listen to an audiotape of your voice or a videotape of your face. We are all more awkward in real life than we imagine ourselves to be; this is just the corollary of overconfidence/optimism bias, which says that we predict better results for ourselves than we are likely to actually obtain. It's OK, though. Honest, neutral feedback can be uncomfortable to hear, and still not be meant as criticism, much less as trolling.

Are there thousands of narrow-minded people who will read the article and laugh and say, "Haha, those stupid Less Wrongers, they're such weirdos?" Of course. But I don't think you can blame the journalist for that -- it's not the journalist's job to deprive ignorant, judgy readers of any and all ammunition, and, after all, we are a bit strange. If we weren't any different from the mainstream, then why bother?

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2012 08:44:47PM 3 points [-]

I'm not blaming the journalist. The problem is that the image that was projected (and I'm not close enough to the situation to be comfortable attributing any blame, thus the passive voice) wasn't worth taking seriously.

Comment author: XFrequentist 26 July 2012 09:50:25PM 5 points [-]

In the article's comments, the author states that she "found the people [she] met and talked to charming, intelligent, and kind."

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 29 July 2012 04:22:16AM *  2 points [-]

Writers that tend to get articles published in popular magazines tend to write things that people that read popular magazines tend to want to read. This may or may not be identical to the actual beliefs or feelings of the author.

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2012 09:58:48PM *  3 points [-]

Which a) is a perspective that could have shown through a bit more in the article and b) is entirely independent of whether or not she or the article takes Less Wrong or SI seriously.

But I did read that earlier and mellowed a bit. Again, I don't fault a gossip writer for writing gossip. That's a separate question from whether or not the story counts as good press.

Comment author: iceman 25 July 2012 09:08:02PM 32 points [-]

I know that this article is more than a bit sensationalized, but it covers most of the things that I donate to the SIAI despite, like several members' evangelical polyamory. Such things don't help the phyg pattern matching, which already hits us hard.

Comment author: mej10 26 July 2012 05:33:46PM *  15 points [-]

The "evangelical polyamory" seems like an example of where Rationalists aren't being particularly rational.

In order to get widespread adoption of your main (more important) ideas, it seems like a good idea to me to keep your other, possibly alienating, ideas private.

Being the champion of a cause sometimes necessitates personal sacrifice beyond just hard work.

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2012 05:57:48PM 21 points [-]

Probably another example: calling themselves "Rationalists"

Comment author: private_messaging 28 July 2012 10:15:47AM *  -2 points [-]

Yeah.

Seriously, why should anyone think that SI is anything more than "narcissistic dilettantes who think they need to teach their awesome big picture ideas to the mere technicians that are creating the future", to paraphrase one of my friends?

This is pretty damn illuminating:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/9gy/thesingularityinstitutesarroganceproblem/5p6a

re: sex life, nothing wrong with it per se, but consider that there's things like psychopathy checklist where you score points for basically talking people into giving you money, for being admired beyond accomplishments, and for sexual promiscuity also. On top of that most people will give you fuzzy psychopathy point for believing the AI to be psychopathic, because typical mind fallacy. Not saying that it is solid science, it isn't, just outlining how many people think.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 28 July 2012 12:14:33PM 1 point [-]

On top of that most people will give you fuzzy psychopathy point for believing the AI to be psychopathic, because typical mind fallacy. Not saying that it is solid science, it isn't, just outlining how many people think.

This doesn't seem to happen when people note that when you look at corporations as intentional agents, they behave like human psychopaths. The reasoning is even pretty similar to the case for AIs, corporations exhibit basic rational behavior but mostly lack whatever special sauce individual humans have that makes them be a bit more prosocial.

Comment author: private_messaging 28 July 2012 01:01:18PM -2 points [-]

Well, the intelligence in general can be much more alien than this.

Consider an AI that, given any mathematical model of a system and some 'value' metric, finds optimum parameters for object in a system. E.g. the system could be Navier-Stokes equations and a wing, the wing shape may be the parameter, and some metric of drag and lift of the wing can be the value to maximize, and the AI would do all that's necessary including figuring out how to simulate those equations efficiently.

Or the system could be general relativity and quantum mechanics, the parameter could be a theory of everything equation, and some metric of inelegance has to be minimized.

That's the sort of thing that scientists tend to see as 'intelligent'.

The AI, however, did acquire plenty of connotations from science fiction, whereby it is very anthropomorphic.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 28 July 2012 02:05:38PM 1 point [-]

Those are narrow AIs. Their behavior doesn't involve acquiring resources from the outside world and autonomously developing better ways to do that. That's the part that might lead to psychopath-like behavior.

Comment author: private_messaging 28 July 2012 02:31:21PM *  1 point [-]

Specializing the algorithm to outside world and to particular philosophy of value does not make it broader, or more intelligent, only more anthropomorphic (and less useful, if you dont believe in friendliness).

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 28 July 2012 02:48:02PM 2 points [-]

The end value is still doing the best possible optimization for the parameters of the mathematical system. There are many more resources to be used for that in the outside world than what is probably available for the algorithm when it starts up. So the algorithm that can interact effectively with the outside world may be able to satisfy whatever alien goal it has much better than one who doesn't.

(I'm a bit confused if you want the Omohundro Basic AI Drives stuff explained to you here or if you want to be disagreeing with it.)

Comment author: private_messaging 28 July 2012 03:02:37PM *  1 point [-]

Having specific hardware that is computing an algorithm actually display the results of computation in specific time is outside the scope of 'mathematical system'.

Furthermore, the decision theories are all built to be processed using the above mentioned mathematics-solving intelligence to attain real world goals, except defining real world goals proves immensely difficult. edit: also, if the mathematics solving intelligence was to have some basic extra drives to resist being switched off and such (so that it could complete its computations), then the FAI relying on such mathematics solving subcomponent would be impossible. The decision theories presume absence of any such drives inside their mathematics processing component.

Omohundro Basic AI Drives stuff

If the sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, the arguments about "sufficiently advanced AI system" in absence of actual definition what it is, are indistinguishable from magical thinking.

Comment author: Larks 26 July 2012 09:01:11PM 12 points [-]

Agreed. I don't want to have to hedge my exposure to crazy social experiments; I want pure-play Xrisk reduction.

Comment author: Sly 26 July 2012 03:18:50AM 14 points [-]

"evangelical polyamory"

Very much agree with this in particular.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 July 2012 07:26:59PM 9 points [-]

Who's being evangelical about it?

Comment author: iceman 26 July 2012 10:05:55PM *  47 points [-]

Maybe the word "evangelical" isn't strictly correct. (A quick Google search suggests that I had cached the phrase from this discussion.) I'd like to point out an example of an incident that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

(Before anyone asks, yes, we’re polyamorous – I am in long-term relationships with three women, all of whom are involved with more than one guy. Apologies in advance to any 19th-century old fogies who are offended by our more advanced culture. Also before anyone asks: One of those is my primary who I’ve been with for 7+ years, and the other two did know my real-life identity before reading HPMOR, but HPMOR played a role in their deciding that I was interesting enough to date.)

This comment was made by Eliezer under the name of this community in the author's notes to one of LessWrongs's largest recruiting tools. I remember when I first read this, I kind of flipped out. Professor Quirrell wouldn't have written this, I thought. It was needlessly antagonistic, it squandered a bunch of positive affect, there was little to be gained from this digression, it was blatant signaling--it was so obviously the wrong thing to do and yet it was published anyway.

A few months before that was written, I had cut a fairly substantial cheque to the Singularity Institute. I want to purchase AI risk reduction, not fund a phyg. Blocks of text like the above do not make me feel comfortable that I am doing the former and not the later. I am not alone here.

Back when I only lurked here and saw the first PUA fights, I was in favor of the PUA discussion ban because if LessWrong wants to be a movement that either tries to raise the sanity waterline or maximizes the probability of solving the Friendly AI problem, it needs to be as inclusive as possible and have as few ugh fields that immediately drive away new members. I now think an outright ban would do more harm than good, but the ugh field remains and is counterproductive.

Comment author: juliawise 27 July 2012 06:11:11PM 13 points [-]

When you decide to fund research, what are your requirements for researchers' personal lives? Is the problem that his sex life is unusual, or that he talks about it?

Comment author: Bugmaster 27 July 2012 10:20:33PM 18 points [-]

My feelings on the topic are similar to iceman's, though possibly for slightly different reasons.

What bothers me is not the fact that Eliezer's sex life is "unusual", or that he talks about it, but that he talks about it in his capacity as the chief figurehead and PR representative for his organization. This signals a certain lack of focus due to an inability to distinguish one's personal and professional life.

Unless the precise number and configuration of Eliezer's significant others is directly applicable to AI risk reduction, there's simply no need to discuss it in his official capacity. It's unprofessional and distracting.

(in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I am not planning on donating to SIAI any time soon, so my points above are more or less academic).

Comment author: iceman 27 July 2012 09:19:12PM 21 points [-]

My biggest problem is more that he talks about it, sometimes in semiofficial channels. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't be squicked out if I learned about it, but I wouldn't see it as a political problem for the SIAI.

The SIAI isn't some random research think tank: it presents itself as the charity with the highest utility per marginal dollar. Likewise, Eliezer Yudkowsky isn't some random anonymous researcher: he is the public face of the SIAI. His actions and public behavior reflect on the SIAI whether or not it's fair, and everyone involved should have already had that as a strongly held prior.

If people ignore lesswrong or don't donate to the SIAI because they're filtered out by squickish feelings, then this is less resources for the SIAI's mission in return for inconsequential short term gains realized mostly by SIAI insiders. Compound this that talking about the singularity already triggers some people's absurdity bias; there needs to be as few other filters as possible to maximize usable resources that the SIAI has to maximize the chance of positive singularity outcomes.

Comment author: juliawise 27 July 2012 09:48:21PM 1 point [-]

It seems there are two problems: you trust SIAI less, and you worry that others will trust it less. I understand the reason for the second worry, but not the first. Is it that you worry your investment will become worth less because others won't want to fund SIAI?

Comment author: private_messaging 28 July 2012 07:06:15PM *  9 points [-]

That talk was very strong evidence that the SI is incompetent at PR, and furthermore, irrational. edit: or doesn't possess stated goals and beliefs. If you believe the donations are important for saving your life (along with everyone else's), then you naturally try to avoid making such statements. Though I do in some way admire straight up in your face honesty.

Comment author: AndrewH 27 July 2012 04:55:59AM 7 points [-]

I can only give you one upvote, so please take my comment as a second.

Comment author: philh 28 July 2012 02:59:01AM 8 points [-]

On the other hand - while I'm also worried about other people's reaction to that comment, my own reaction was positive. Which suggests there might be other people with positive reactions to it.

I think I like having a community leader who doesn't come across as though everything he says is carefully tailored to not offend people who might be useful; and occasionally offending such people is one way to signal being such a leader.

I also worry that Eliezer having to filter comments like this would make writing less fun for him; and if that made him write less, it might be worse than offending people.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 July 2012 02:50:43AM *  11 points [-]

Some people would say that if a New York City gossip rag thinks that expressing opinions about your sex life will sell magazines, that means you've "arrived" or some such. Still, it can't be particularly comfortable for the people named. :-(

Comment author: beoShaffer 25 July 2012 08:26:40PM 16 points [-]

The welcome thread indicates at least one person has joined because of the article.

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 26 July 2012 08:27:53AM 3 points [-]

This community came with much more ad hoc strange habits than newbies suppose. If journalists talk innacurate descriptions of that habits, then policing their apparition here is justified. But, I remember one strategical point of the median term goals: public image. If SI don't have stomach to consider lowest quality external talks, or being minimal argumentative, then it's time to be not so public. Maybe LW + HPMOR is sufficient.

Comment author: kajro 26 July 2012 01:59:47AM 3 points [-]

Someone in the future is going to read one of the social interaction scenes in a Charles Stross novel and marvel at the eerily accurate depiction...

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 25 July 2012 11:18:14PM 6 points [-]

I'm still waiting for some social scientist to write their thesis on us, as Elana Clift did for pick up artists.

Comment author: Jack 26 July 2012 12:13:50AM 8 points [-]

About that Communications Director...

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 25 July 2012 10:32:39PM 10 points [-]

Though it's possible the reporter has twisted your words more than I manage to suspect, I'll say:

Wow, some of the people involved really suck at thinking (or caring to think) about how they make the scene look. I think I'm able to pretty well correct for the discrepancy between what's reported and what's the reality behind it, but even after the correction, this window into what the scene has become has further lowered my interest in flying over there to the States to hang out with you, since it seems I might end up banging my head against the wall in frustration for all the silliness that's required for this sort of reporting to get it's source material.

(Though I do also think that it's inevitable that once the scene has grown to be large and successful enough, typical members will be sufficiently ordinary human beings that I'd find their company very frustrating. Sorry, I'm a dick that way, and in a sense my negative reaction is only a sign of success, though I didn't expect quite this level of success to be reached yet.)

(By the previous I however do not mean to imply that things would have been saner 10 years ago (I certainly had significant shortcomings of my own), but back when nobody had figured much anything out yet or written Sequences about stuff, the expected level of insanity would have been partly higher for such reasons.)

Comment author: Kevin 26 July 2012 01:56:13PM *  37 points [-]

This was a private party announced via a semi-public list. A reporter showed up and she talked to people without telling them she was a reporter. This is not a report, it is a tabloid piece. Intentional gossip.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 July 2012 07:21:26AM 18 points [-]

Wow, some of the people involved really suck at thinking (or caring to think) about how they make the scene look.

Or, contrariwise, scandal-sheet reporters are good at making people look scandalous?

(Don't think of a beautiful blue beetle.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 26 July 2012 04:48:01AM 17 points [-]

My experience with the NY Less Wrong group, of which I had been a part, is that we are, indeed, a bunch of silly people who like to do things that are silly, such as cuddle-piling, because they're fun to do and we don't care that much about appearing dignified in front of each other. If silliness bothers you, then you might very well be right in concluding that you wouldn't enjoy hanging out with them in person.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 July 2012 09:27:50PM 16 points [-]

Though it's possible the reporter has twisted your words more than I manage to suspect

D'you think? You'll understand better after being reported-on yourself; and then you'll look back and laugh about how very, very naive that comment was. It's the average person's incomprehension of reporter-distorting that gives reporters their power. If you read something and ask, "Hm, I wonder what the truth was that generated this piece?" without having personal, direct experience of how very bad it is, they win.

I think the winning move is to read blogs by smart people, who usually don't lie, rather than anything in newspapers.

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 26 July 2012 10:57:44PM 10 points [-]

Actually, I feel that I have sufficient experience of being reported on (including in an unpleasant way), and it is precisely that which (along with my independent knowledge of many of the people getting reported on here) gave me the confidence to suspect that I would have managed to separate from the distortions an amount of information that described reality.

That said, there is a bit of fail with regard to whether I managed to communicate what precisely impacted me. Much of it is subtle, necessarily, since it had to be picked up through the distortion field, and I do allow for the possibility that I misread, but I continue to think that I'm much better at correcting for the distortion field than most people.

One thing I didn't realize, however, is that you folks apparently didn't think the gal might be a reporter. That's of course a fail in itself, but certainly a lesser fail than behaving similarly in the presence of a person one does manage to suspect to be a reporter.

Comment author: ciphergoth 02 August 2012 09:01:17PM *  4 points [-]

Just for fun, here's my villification at the hands of the tabloid press. Naturally the majority of it is rubbish. It's striking how they write as if they hadn't spoken to us, when we actually spoke to them at length. For one thing they could have asked us if we were students - we weren't...

Comment author: arundelo 04 August 2012 12:24:36AM 2 points [-]

That is just blatant. It's like a parody of bad journalism.

Comment author: arundelo 26 December 2012 04:10:58AM 0 points [-]

Today I went to show this to a friend. I remembered reading a more detailed version of the story somewhere and after some searching I found the copy hosted by the good folks at archive.org, which I'm posting here for reference: "How To Be Notorious or Attack of the Tripehounds"

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 December 2012 01:42:13PM 1 point [-]

Oh that's great! Thank you arundelo, thank you Wayback Machine!

Comment author: evand 27 July 2012 01:39:31AM 4 points [-]

What sample size are you generalizing from?

My personal experience is that I have been reported on in a personal capacity zero times. I've had family members in small human-interest stories twice that I recall off hand. I've read stories about companies I worked for and had detailed knowledge of the material being reported on several times; I don't have an exact number.

My experience with those things does not line up with yours. I conclude from this that the normal variance of reporting quality is higher than either of us has personal experience with.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 July 2012 07:13:29AM 12 points [-]

Data point: I was reported-on three times, by a serious newspaper. Most information was wrong or completely made up. Luckily, once they forgot to write my name, and once they wrote it wrong, so it was easier for me to pretend that those two articles were not about me.

Comment author: Manfred 25 July 2012 11:28:50PM *  8 points [-]

(I'm assuming that your complaint is about the interview quality on LW topics, rather than the physical intimacy, which we can assume is present but was amplified in the writing process. Honestly there are several things I think your comment could be about, so fortunately my problems with it are general)

I think this comment is uncharitable. Which you kind of knew already. And which, by itself, isn't so bad.

But unfortunately, you fall into the fundamental attribution error here, and explain other peoples' failings as if they were inherent properties of those people - and not only do you mentally assign people qualities like "sucks at explaining," you generalize this to judge them as whole people. Not only is this a hasty conclusion, but you're going to make other people feel bad, because people generally don't like being judged.

I can understand the impulse "I would have done much better," but I would much rather you kept things constructive.

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 26 July 2012 12:52:08PM 5 points [-]

The starting point for my attitude was people doing things like intervening in front of a reporter to stop discussion of a topic that looks scandalous, or talking about Singularity/AI topics in a way that doesn't communicate much wisdom at all.

Being silly with regard to physical intimacy and in general having a wild party is all well and good by itself, if you're into that sort of thing, but I react negatively when that silliness seems to spill over into affecting the way serious things are handled.

(I'll partly excuse being light on the constructiveness by having seen some copy-pastes that seem to indicate that what I'm concerned about is already being tackled in a constructive way on the NYC mailing list. The folks over there are much better positioned to do the contructive things that should be done, and I wasn't into trying to duplicate their efforts.)

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Comment author: shminux 25 July 2012 10:11:52PM 4 points [-]

The impression I would get from the article is that they are a bunch of weirdo techno-hippies, similar to the derogatory term "Yudkowskians" one occasionally finds online.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 July 2012 04:02:37PM 3 points [-]

Eliezer's OkCupid profile (as included in the titular link) provides some really good dating advice!

I've noticed that a lot of aspiring-rationalist females seem very shy and underconfident for one reason or another; so let me state here you shouldn't worry about disqualifying yourself or thinking that I'm not accessible to you. Don't decide on other people's behalf that they'll say no to you. Just decide whether you'd say yes yourself. Test experimentally what happens when you try asking directly for what you want - that's Empiricism. This advice applies any time you prefer the state of affairs where you sleep with a guy to not sleeping with him, and also to life in general.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2012 05:36:10PM *  2 points [-]

According to OkC, EYudkowsky would be an 86% match with me. Wow. (But we're both straight guys and we're 10,035 km apart.)

Comment author: drethelin 27 July 2012 06:03:31PM 1 point [-]

Match percentage ignores gender/distance. It's entirely based on how you answer questions and weight them. Eliezer is a 99 percent match with me.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2012 09:12:06PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I know. (BTW, much (most?) of that 14% is due to our different attitudes with alcohol.)

Comment author: scientism 26 July 2012 06:51:06PM 11 points [-]

Here's some dating advice: Don't use the sentence "you shouldn't worry about disqualifying yourself or thinking that I'm not accessible to you" anytime anywhere, let alone on your dating profile. Some career advice: If your day job supposedly involves ethics, you should probably tone down the publicly-available dating profile where you advertise yourself as a polyamorous sadist who welcomes the casual advances of women who "want to sleep with me once so you can tell your grandchildren" (provided they don't "disqualify" themselves by thinking you're not "accessible", I suppose).

I'm hoping the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek...? (If so, it's merely the product of poor judgment, rather than terrifying.)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 July 2012 07:17:23AM 15 points [-]

Career advice, simplified: If your day job requires having a good image, you should care about having a good image.

(Note: It's not about ethics, only about perceptions. But the perceptions are important.)

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2012 05:46:44PM 3 points [-]

Feynman used to hang in topless bars, didn't he?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 04 August 2012 03:26:38PM 5 points [-]

Did he also believe that he increases the existential risk by doing so?

Comment author: [deleted] 04 August 2012 05:17:29PM 2 points [-]

Good point.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 July 2012 11:58:25PM *  17 points [-]

If your day job supposedly involves ethics, you should probably tone down the publicly-available dating profile where you advertise yourself as a polyamorous sadist

If Eliezer ever does a complete reversal of his ethical position and starts advocating the 3^^^^3 dust-specks over the quantitatively negligible torture because "I mean wow doesn't that just turn you on?" I'll start to be concerned.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 July 2012 11:54:33PM 11 points [-]

Here's some dating advice: Don't use the sentence "you shouldn't worry about disqualifying yourself or thinking that I'm not accessible to you" anytime anywhere, let alone on your dating profile.

As hard as you have tried to misrepresent the profile through cherrypicking it still doesn't sound so bad. Eliezer's profile is actually a close-to-optimal combination of signalling and screening for someone of Eliezer's strengths and weaknesses. His advice is good, yours is bad---or at least naive and poorly generalised from advice that would be useful for PUA amateurs with a very specific persona and target audience in mind.

who welcomes the casual advances of women who "want to sleep with me once so you can tell your grandchildren"

An excellent conclusion. I almost quoted that too (but chose to emphasize the advice part instead.)

I'm hoping the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek...? (If so, it's merely the product of poor judgment, rather than terrifying.)

Terrifying? I don't believe you. I believe this was just a word that sprung to mind when you searched for "word with negative connotations that I can use to attempt to discredit Eliezer". Pjeby's commentary of your reply seems spot on.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2012 12:25:09AM *  9 points [-]

Terrifying? I don't believe you. I believe this was just a word that sprung to mind when you searched for "word with negative connotations that I can use to attempt to discredit Eliezer". Pjeby's commentary of your reply seems spot on.

I suspect that a lot the disagreement in this thread actually stems from what sets off peoples' "squick" reflexes and how strong the reaction is in different individuals. It seems like you and pjeby don't get a strong "squick" reaction from what Eliezer wrote on his profile, whereas scientism does. Compare scientism's and pjeby's reactions--scientism calls the profile "a new level of squeamishness," where pjeby says that this description is "lacking in any explanation for the connotation applied." To people like scientism, it feels obvious that this kind of squickiness is just bad and ugly-looking, but to yourself and pjeby, it doesn't seem so apparent.

Stepping down from the meta-level and returning to the original point: I don't think "terrifying" is necessarily hyperbole. Some people do actually react so strongly to squick that it makes them physically uncomfortable, and uncomfortableness (to whatever degree) is probably what motivated the arguments scientism made, especially the ones that you consider harsh or misrepresentational. (Note that this isn't a defense of those arguments, just speculation about their origin and why you don't agree with them.)

Comment author: pjeby 27 July 2012 02:50:18AM *  14 points [-]

To people like scientism, it feels obvious that this kind of squickiness is just bad and ugly-looking, but to yourself and pjeby, it doesn't seem so apparent.

To be clear: I haven't actually read the profile, only the excerpts posted here. But I'm quite confused as to why Eliezer openly stating an interest in sadism or polyamory would be a problem in any event.

Rationally speaking, the best way to find a partner with matching preferences is to be open and upfront about what it is your preferences are, just in case your potential partner(s) aren't being upfront enough for you to find them.

What's more, societal double standards being what they are, it's generally less costly for a male to state his preferences up front than for a female... not to mention that it's time-saving for all the females who don't share his preferences. Frankly, being as honest and upfront as possible is an altruistic and highly ethical stance to take, because it benefits all of the women who view a person's profile with an eye to dating its author.

And that's is why I'm so utterly baffled by the mudslinging that seems to imply it's, um, unethical? or something.

Edited to add: Just read the actual profile, and I am now updated even more in the direction that I have no clue WTF people are thinking. The sexual bits seem pure and innocent as the driven snow (at least to my own corrupt mind), and even the excessive citation of other people's finding him impressive came off more as insecurity than arrogance. WTF are people complaining about, besides, "some people won't like it"? "Some people won't like it" is a fully general counterargument against doing or saying anything, anywhere, anytime, ever.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2012 03:25:02AM *  15 points [-]

I think you're barking up the wrong tree by engaging the specific arguments scientism is making rather than looking at what motivated these arguments in the first place. See this comment by scientism:

It's not so much the content as the presentation. The tone is incredibly self-absorbed and condescending. I thought the whole thing was a joke until I encountered the above quoted paragraph with its apparent sincerity. Presumably some of the content is intended to be tongue-in-check and some of it posturing, but it's difficult to separate. There's a compounding weirdness to the whole thing.

I don't think this is actually about Eliezer's preferences being unethical or anything like that, and it's certainly not about broader things like the optimal way of finding a partner with matching preferences. This is about a subset of the population reading Eliezer's profile and thinking oh god this is weird ew ew get it away from me ick ick ick and then writing these kinds of arguments as a reaction. This might sound like I'm being uncharitable to scientism, accusing him/her of giving nontrue rejections, but I think it's accurate because a) the comment I quoted about indicates that this is largely about squick rather than ethics, and b) I also experienced a very strong squick reaction upon reading Eliezer's profile, so I'm somewhat sympathetic to freaking out about it.

Comment author: scientism 27 July 2012 11:50:58PM 5 points [-]

I think I've made it clear that I don't find offence in any of the particular lifestyle choices expressed in the profile (i.e., sadomasochism and polyamory), but I think it's more than an issue of mere presentation or the squick factor. My point is that the profile offers some insight into where following LW/SIAI/CFAR recommendations might take you. When somebody sets themselves up as an ethics and rationality expert their own lifestyle and character are going to be subject to especial scrutiny and rightly so. That isn't to say that people should be alarmed at sadomasochism or polyamory; what I tried to convey was that everything together - the quirks, the presentation, the personality - painted a picture of something altogether bizarre. That combined with the fact that this person is offering advice on how to live your life was the source of potential terror.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 July 2012 01:17:00AM *  5 points [-]

Based on your previous comment, I had guessed that you were squicked out by the presentation rather than Eliezer's actual lifestyle choices; thank you for clarifying. As I indicated above, I had a similar emotional reaction to the presentation.

I'm curious as to what underlying psychological factors caused us to react this way, and what subset of the population would also feel this kind of squick.

Comment author: scientism 28 July 2012 02:17:00AM 6 points [-]

I guess what I want to emphasise is that I don't think the reaction is illicit or even particularly subjective. One of the ways a system of ethics can fail is that it's impoverished. It doesn't capture everything we want to say about the subject. When you encounter a person or group who are living their life according to a particular ethical system and you have the sense of things spiralling away from normalcy, that's a legitimate cause for concern. It's a sense that something might be missing here. That's why I said it could almost serve as a reductio. It's similar to performing a long calculation and being left with the sense that the answer is an order of magnitude out.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 28 July 2012 05:53:05AM 5 points [-]

Imagine replacing the polyamory with homosexuality, and imagine it is a few decades ago when homosexuality was as risque as polyamory is currently. Do you have the same reaction? If not, what is different? If so, do you condone that reaction?

Comment author: aelephant 28 July 2012 05:26:27AM 10 points [-]

To me, what society considers "normal" is terribly unethical, so "spiraling away from normalcy" isn't a cause for concern, but perks my curiosity.

"Maybe he's on to something..."

Comment author: fubarobfusco 28 July 2012 12:39:36AM 2 points [-]

You seem to be saying that the fact that "a picture of something altogether bizarre" was painted has something particular to do with the LW community — that there is something that the LW community could have covered up, or done differently, that would have prevented that picture from being painted.

But the writer in question is in the business of gossip-mongering: providing entertainment in the form of bizarre pictures of social groups. This is not a truth-tracking endeavor. An effective gossip-monger can find something kinky and kooky about any group deemed sufficiently important to write about. Moreover, hiding your bi-poly-switch-trans-cuddle-nudist tendencies is not effective against gossip-mongers: if they can't call you an oversexed pervert, they will call you a sexually-repressed virgin who can't get laid.

Comment author: shminux 26 July 2012 07:19:02PM 10 points [-]

Here's some dating advice

It seems to me that EY does not need your dating advice.

you advertise yourself as a polyamorous sadist who welcomes the casual advances of women

Why is it bad ethics? And why is it bad for EY's career? He does not seem to be interested in soliciting donations from social conservatives.

Comment author: scientism 26 July 2012 09:03:47PM 12 points [-]

It's not so much the content as the presentation. The tone is incredibly self-absorbed and condescending. I thought the whole thing was a joke until I encountered the above quoted paragraph with its apparent sincerity. Presumably some of the content is intended to be tongue-in-check and some of it posturing, but it's difficult to separate. There's a compounding weirdness to the whole thing. Fetishes or open relationships or whatever aren't in themselves causes for concern but when somebody is trying to advocate for rationalism and a particular approach to ethics, the sense that you're following them somewhere very strange isn't good to have.

Let me try to make that clearer: Utilitarianism already has the problem of frequently sounding as if sociopaths are discussing ethics as something entirely abstract. Applying that to relationships, in the form of evangelical polyamory, takes it to another level of squeamishness (as others here have indicated). Seeing those ideas put into practice in the context of the dating profile of a self-professed sadist (who has been accused of wanting to take over the world, no less), replete with technical terminology ("primary", "dance card", etc), condescending advice to prospective conquests to help them overcome their fear of rejection and a general tone of callousness, sends it over the edge. Read straight, the profile could almost serve as a reductio for SIAI-brand ethics and rationality.

I'm also worried about who the intended audience is. Since I can't imagine anyone not deeply immersed in the Less Wrong community responding positively to it, I was left with the sense that perhaps our community's figurehead is (ab)using his position in ways that, as some else put it, "don't help the phyg pattern matching." It's basically an advertisement saying, "I'm a leader in small community x and I'm open to your sexual advances, so don't be shy."

Comment author: pjeby 26 July 2012 10:26:32PM 12 points [-]

"I'm a leader in small community x and I'm open to your sexual advances, so don't be shy."

And the problem with this is what, exactly? AFAIK, that's simply the male equivalent to a cleavage photo.

This bit is quite similar to the rest of your comment: a denotative description with negative connotation, but lacking in any explanation for the connotation applied.

More precisely your criticism appears to all be of the form, "this is weird, and weird is bad." There isn't any explanation of "bad", not even bad for whom or what goals, let alone how it is expected to be bad.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 July 2012 06:04:36AM *  9 points [-]

More precisely your criticism appears to all be of the form, "this is weird, and weird is bad."

Less Wrong is already weird enough without the blatant weirdness in EY's OKCupid profile. I'm seriously disappointed and worried by the fact that it's still public, to be honest...

I think we're all committing the typical mind fallacy by assuming that random other people are like us in that they'll actually evaluate the ideas behind something instead of just superficially judging the people describing the ideas. Yes, we should try to get people to actually evaluate ideas as much as possible, but we should also try to appear as normal as possible for people who don't instinctively actually evaluate ideas. See http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/01/dear-young-eccentric.html

As far as I can tell, a large part of the reason PR departments exist in the first place is to control superficial impressions. I think this sends a bad superficial impression (and possibly even a worrisome non-superficial impression, i.e. on reflection maybe we don't want to have someone who would write what EY wrote as a high-status figure in the aspiring rationalist community).

Comment author: wedrifid 27 July 2012 12:24:24AM 2 points [-]

And the problem with this is what, exactly? AFAIK, that's simply the male equivalent to a cleavage photo.

The latter is a somewhat stronger signal in as much as it is hard to fake. You have to have cleavage if you wish to show it off in a crudely overt way. Writing that you have status requires nothing.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2012 05:52:17PM *  1 point [-]

[A cleavage photo] is a somewhat stronger signal [than what EY wrote in his profile] in as much as it is hard to fake.

  1. Push-up bras. Photoshop. Or even uploading a picture of someone else.

  2. I can't imagine someone with an IQ of 90 able to come up with what EY wrote. Even the lack of spelling or grammar errors would be unusual for such a person. And his position within SIAI is easily googleable.

Comment author: wedrifid 27 July 2012 06:29:53PM 2 points [-]

I can't imagine someone with an IQ of 90 able to come up with what EY wrote. Even the lack of spelling or grammar errors would be unusual for such a person.

Pjeby was referring to a specific, fairly simple sentence. The most complex part was the single comma. The sentence is rather less impressive than even moderately endowed cleavage displays.

I agree that the overall profile is a strong signal. If I recall correctly I described it in a cousin comment as an approximately optimal combination of signalling and screening given Eliezer's strengths and weaknesses. Someone else attempting to convey the same message would require non-trivial amounts of intelligence and an awful lot of familiarity with Eliezer's culture.

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 26 July 2012 10:29:16PM *  12 points [-]

As someone who had read Eliezer's OkCupid profile sometime not very recently, I was actually gonna reply to this with something like "well, scientism goes maybe a bit too far, but he does actually have a point"

...but then I just went and reread the OkCupid profile, and no, actually it's wonderfully funny and I have no worries similar to scientism's, unlike earlier when the profile didn't explicitly mention sadism.

Obviously Eliezer is a very unusual and "weird" person, but the openness about it that we observe here is a winning move, unlike the case where one might sense that he might be hiding something. Dishonesty and secrecy is what the evil phyg leaders would go for, whereas Eliezer's openness invites scrutiny and allows him to emerge from it without the scrutinizers having found incriminating evidence.

Also, where are you seeing evangelical polyamory? I'm very much not polyamorous myself, and haven't ever felt that anyone around here would be pushing polyamory to me.

Comment author: aelephant 28 July 2012 05:35:19AM 3 points [-]

I was going to post: "What makes it evangelical polyamory as opposed to just plain old polyamory?"

It seems to me the "evangelical" part was just added to make it seem worse without actually giving any valid reasons.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 August 2012 12:00:07AM 11 points [-]

I think there's a strong effect wherein "open non-ashamed polyamory wherein you mention any positive reason why you like it" = "evangelical polyamory", or even just "open polyamory" = "evangelical polyamory", for the same reasons as "evangelical atheism" and "evangelical homosexuality".

Comment author: common_law 04 September 2012 10:13:43PM *  0 points [-]

The article is obviously embarrassing to E.Y. If he didn't want to see this essay's Google rating improve, it wasn't about some general principle regarding "trolling." That's a pretty pathetic attempt at an excuse. It was something about this article. But what? Everyone thinks it's the "moral" aspect. That may be part of his worry: if so, it suggests that the SIAI/Less Wrong complex has a structure of levels--like say, Scientology--where the behavior of the more "conscious" is hidden from less-conscious followers.

But let me point out a specific revelation, not so prominent in the article but really more important for assessing SIAI and LW.

The messianic Mr. Yudkowsky also helped attract funding from his friend Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and noted libertarian billionaire whom Forbes pegs as the 303rd richest person in America. The Thiel Foundation, Mr. Thiel’s philanthropic group, has donated at least $1.1 million to SIAI, more than four times its next largest donor. (The nonprofit’s Form 990 from 2010 shows assets of $462,470.)

  1. How do more leftwing members of the SIAI establishment feel about building an organization funded by (to realists, read "controlled by") an ultrarightwing billionaire? (It raises questions like is the "politics is mindkiller" trope in place to avoid alienating Mr. Thiel, who would be unimpressed by the anti-libertarianism of a considerable minority on LW.)

  2. E.Y. has built a mystique about himself. Here's this self-schooled prodigy who has somehow managed to build a massive rationalist community and to preside over a half-million dollar nonprofit, living the good life of working only 4 hours per day (per LukeProg) and in that time, performing only tasks he likes to do, while being paid handsomely? It's a success story that's impressive. Even if you don't think E.Y. is a great philosopher, you have to admire him (at least the way Arnold Schwartzeneger once said he admired Hitler). It does the Yudkowsky myth no service to learn that he had the help of a billionaire, who almost singlehandedly funded his operations. If I've puzzled for years about the secret of E.Y. success, now I know it. He has a billionaire friend.

Caveat Unlike many others here, I don't like that there are billionaires. They've made a mockery of American politics, and their whimsical "charitable" support to intellectual factions will make a mockery of American intellectual life.