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Wei_Dai comments on AALWA: Ask any LessWronger anything - Less Wrong

25 Post author: Will_Newsome 12 January 2014 02:18AM

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Comment author: Wei_Dai 15 March 2014 03:30:08AM *  11 points [-]

I've been getting an increasing number of interview requests from reporters and book writers (stemming from my connection with Bitcoin). In the interest of being lazy, instead of doing more private interviews I figure I'd create an entry here and let them ask questions publicly, so I can avoid having to answer redundant questions. I'm also open to answering any other questions of LW interest here.

In preparation for this AMA, I've updated my script for retrieving and sorting all comments and posts of a given LW user, to also allow filtering by keyword or regex. So you can go to http://www.ibiblio.org/weidai/lesswrong_user.php, enter my username "Wei_Dai", then (when the page finishes loading) enter "bitcoin" in the "filter by" box to see all of my comments/posts that mention Bitcoin.

Comment author: 9kv 11 September 2014 03:00:09PM *  1 point [-]

I'm doing a thesis paper on Bitcoin and was wondering if you, being specifically stated as one of the main influences on Bitcoin by Satoshi Nakamoto in his whitepaper references,could give me your take on how Bitcoin is today versus whatever project you imagined when you wrote "b-money". What is different? What is the same? What should change?

Comment author: Wei_Dai 18 March 2014 06:17:57PM *  3 points [-]

I received this question via email earlier. Might as well answer it here as well.

In bmoney you say the PoW must have no other value. Why is that? Why wouldn't it be a good idea if it were also somehow made valuable like if perhaps protein folding could be made to fit the other required criteria?

In b-money the money creation rate is not fixed, but instead there are mechanisms that give people incentives to create the right amount of money to ensure price stability or maximize economic growth. I specified the PoW to have no other value in order to not give people an extra incentive to create money (beyond what the mechanism provides). But with Bitcoin this doesn't apply since the money creation rate is fixed. I haven't thought about this much though, so I can't say that it won't cause some other problem with Bitcoin that I'm not seeing.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 18 March 2014 08:39:29PM 2 points [-]

I received another question from this same interlocutor:

Also, I understand you haven't read the original bitcoind code but do you have any guess for why the author chose to lift your SHA256 implementation from Crypto++ when the project already required openssl-0.9.8h? Is there anything odd about the OpenSSL implementation that wouldn't be immediately obvious to someone who isn't a crypto expert?

Hmm, I’m not sure. I thought it might have been the optimizations I put into my SHA256 implementation in March 2009 (due to discussions on the NIST mailing list for standardizing SHA-3, about how fast SHA-2 really is), which made it the fastest available at the time, but it looks like Bitcoin 0.1 was already released prior to that (in Jan 2009) and therefore had my old code. Maybe someone could test if the old code was still faster than OpenSSL?

Comment author: frizzers 18 March 2014 02:31:26PM 2 points [-]

The correct pronunciation of your name.

Wei - is it pronounced as in 'way' or 'why'?

And Dai - as in 'dye' or 'day'?

Thank you.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 18 March 2014 06:21:31PM *  7 points [-]

It's Chinese Pinyin romanization, so pronounced "way dye".

ETA: Since Pinyin is a many to one mapping, and as a result most Chinese articles about Bitcoin put the wrong name down for me, I'll take this opportunity to mention that my name is written logographically as 戴维.

Comment author: frizzers 16 March 2014 11:00:02AM 3 points [-]

What do you make of the decision to use C++?

Do you have any opinions of the original coding beyond the 'inelegant but amazingly resilient' meme? Was there anything that stood out about it?

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 March 2014 12:57:42AM 1 point [-]

What do you make of the decision to use C++?

It seems like a pretty standard choice for anyone wanting to build such a piece of software...

Do you have any opinions of the original coding beyond the 'inelegant but amazingly resilient' meme? Was there anything that stood out about it?

No I haven't read any of it.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 16 March 2014 06:14:00AM 4 points [-]

I received a PM from someone at a Portuguese newspaper who I think meant to post it publicly, so I'll respond publicly here.

You have contacted Satoshi Nakamoto. Does it seem to you only one person or a group of developers?

I think Satoshi is probably one person.

Does bitcoin seem cyberpunk project to you? In that case, can one expect they ever disclose identity?

Not sure what the first part of the question means. I don't expect Satoshi to voluntarily reveal his identity in the near future, but maybe he will do so eventually?

In that case, the libertarian motivation wouldn't be a risk to anyone who invest in the community? Like one this gets all formal and legal, it blow?

Don't understand this one either.

Is it important to know right now its origins? The author from the blog LikeinMirrorr, who says the most probable name is Nick Szabo, argues there is a concern on risk: if Szabo/ciberpunk is the source no risk, but it maybe this bubble - pump-and-dump scheme to enrich its original miners - or a project from federal goverment to track underground transactions. What is your view on this?

I'm pretty sure it's not a pump-and-dump scheme, or a government project.

Do you also think Szabo is the most probable name?

No I don't think it's Szabo or anyone else whose name is known to me. I explained why I don't think it's Szabo to a reporter from London's Sunday Times who wrote about it in the March 2 issue. I'll try to find and quote the relevant section.

How long have you start working on your ideas of criptocurrency? Have you used other pseudonyms online? Are you Szabo?

I worked on it from roughly 1995 to 1998. I've used pseudonyms only on rare (probably less than 10) occasions. I'm not Szabo but coincidentally we attended the same university and had the same major and graduated within a couple years of each other. Theoretically we could have seen each other on campus but I don't think we ever spoke in real life.

In your opinion, why has bitcoin succeed?

To be honest I didn't initially expect Bitcoin to make as much impact as it has, and I'm still at a bit of a loss to explain why it has succeeded to the extent that it has. In my experience lots of promising ideas especially in the field of cryptography never get anywhere in practice. But anyway, it's probably a combination of many things. Satoshi's knowledge and skill. His choice of an essentially fixed monetary base which ensures early adopters large windfalls if Bitcoin were to become popular, and which appeals to people who distrust flexible government monetary policies. Timing of the introduction to coincide with the economic crisis. Earlier discussions of related ideas which allowed his ideas to be more readily accepted. The availability of hardware and software infrastructure for him to build upon. Probably other factors that I'm neglecting.

(Actually I'd be interested to know if anyone else has written a better explanation of Bitcoin's success. Can anyone reading this comment point me to such an explanation?)

Finaly, what do you see as future? Wall Street has announced they wil start accepting applications for bitcoin and other digital currency exchanges. How do you see this milestone?

Don't have much to say on these. Others have probably thought much more about these questions over the past months and years and are more qualified than I am to answer.

Comment author: gwern 16 March 2014 06:08:19PM *  3 points [-]

No I don't think it's Szabo or anyone else whose name is known to me. I explained why I don't think it's Szabo to a reporter from London's Sunday Times who wrote about it in the March 2 issue. I'll try to find and quote the relevant section.

I had the article jailbroken recently, and the relevant parts (I hope I got it right, my version has scrambled-up text) are:

Nonetheless, the original bitcoin white paper is written in an academic style, with an index of sources at the end. I go to Wei Dai, an original cypherpunk, the proposer of a late-1990s e-currency called b-moneyand an early correspondent of Satoshi. When, in the first of several late-night chats, I ask him how many people would have the necessary competencies to create something like bitcoin, he tells me:

"Coming up with bitcoin required someone who, a) thought about money on a deep level, and b) learnt the tools of cryptography, c) had the idea that something like Bitcoin is possible, d) was motivated enough to develop the idea into something practical, e) was technically skilled enough to make it secure, f) had enough social skills to build and grow a community around it. The number of people who even had a), b) and c) was really small -- ie, just Nick Szabo and me -- so I'd say not many people could have done all these things."

A sudden frisson. Szabo, an American computer scientist who has also served as law professor at George Washington University, developed a system for "bit gold" between 1998 and 2005, which has been seen as a precursor to Bitcoin. Is he saying that Szabo is Satoshi? "No, I'm pretty sure it's not him." you, then? "No. When I said just Nick and me, I meant before Satoshi" So where could this person have come from? "Well, when I came up with b-money I was still in college, or just recently graduated, and Nick was at a similar age when he came up with bit gold, so I think Satoshi could be someone like that." "Someone young, with the energy for that kind of commitment?" "yeah, someone with energy and time, and that isn't obligated to publish papers under their real name."

...I go back to Szabo's pal, Wei Dai. "Wei," I say, "the other night you said you were sure Nick Szabo wasn't Satoshi. What made you sure?" "Two reasons," he replies. "One: in Satoshi's early emails to me he was apparently unaware of Nick Szabo's ideas and talks about how bitcoin 'expands on your ideas into a complete working system' and 'it achieves nearly all the goals you set out to solve in your b-money paper'. I can't see why, if Nick was Satoshi, he would say things like that to me in private. And, two: Nick isn't known for being a C++ programmer."

Perversely, a point in Szabo's favour. But Wei forwards me the relevant emails, and it's true: Satoshi had been ignorant of Szabo's bit-gold plan until Wei mentioned it. Furthermore, a trawl through Szabo's work finds him blogging and fielding questions about bit gold on his Unenumerated blog on December 27, 2008, while Satoshi was preparing bitcoin to meet the world a week later. Why? Because Szabo didn't know about bitcoin: almost no one outside the Cryptography Mailing List did, and I can find no evidence of him ever having been there. Indeed, by 2011, the bit-gold inventor is blogging in defence of bitcoin, pointing out several improvements on the system he devised.

I actually meant to email you about this earlier, but is there any chance you could post those emails (you've made them half-public as it is, and Dustin Trammell posted his a while back) or elaborate on Nick not knowing C++?

I've been trying to defend Szabo against the accusations of being Satoshi*, but to be honest, his general secrecy has made it very hard for me to rule him out or come up with a solid defense. If, however, he doesn't even know C or C++, then that massively damages the claims he's Satoshi. (Oh, one could work around it by saying he worked with someone else who did know C/C++, but that's pretty strained and not many people seriously think Satoshi was a group.)

* on Reddit, HN, and places like http://blog.sethroberts.net/2014/03/11/nick-szabo-is-satoshi-nakamoto-the-inventor-of-bitcoin/ or https://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/satoshi-nakamoto-is-probably-nick-szabo/ (my response) / http://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/occams-razor-who-is-most-likely-to-be-satoshi-nakamoto/

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 March 2014 12:02:40AM *  2 points [-]

I actually meant to email you about this earlier, but is there any chance you could post those emails (you've made them half-public as it is, and Dustin Trammell posted his a while back)

Sure, I have no objection to making them public myself, and I don't see anything in them that Satoshi might want to keep private, so I'll forward them to you to post on your website. (I'm too lazy to convert the emails into HTML myself.)

elaborate on Nick not knowing C++?

Sorry, you misunderstood when I said "Nick isn't known for being a C++ programmer". I didn't mean that he doesn't know C++. Given that he was a computer science major, he almost certainly does know C++ or can easily learn it. What I meant is that he is not known to have programmed much in C or C++, or known to have done any kind of programming that might have kept one's programming skills sharp enough to have implemented Bitcoin (and to do it securely to boot). If he was Satoshi I would have expected to see some evidence of his past programming efforts.

But the more important reason for me thinking Nick isn't Satoshi is the parts of Satoshi's emails to me that are quoted in the Sunday Times. Nick considers his ideas to be at least an independent invention from b-money so why would Satoshi say "expands on your ideas into a complete working system" to me, and cite b-money but not Bit Gold in his paper, if Satoshi was Nick? An additional reason that I haven't mentioned previously is that Satoshi's writings just don't read like Nick's to me.

Comment author: gwern 01 April 2014 01:26:30AM 2 points [-]

so I'll forward them to you to post on your website.

Done: http://www.gwern.net/docs/2008-nakamoto

(Sorry for the delay, but a black-market was trying to blackmail me and I didn't want my writeup to go live so I was delaying everything.)

Comment author: gwern 18 March 2014 01:15:38AM 2 points [-]

so I'll forward them to you to post on your website.

Thanks.

I didn't mean that he doesn't know C++. Given that he was a computer science major, he almost certainly does know C++ or can easily learn it. What I meant is that he is not known to have programmed much in C or C++, or known to have done any kind of programming that might have kept one's programming skills sharp enough to have implemented Bitcoin (and to do it securely to boot). If he was Satoshi I would have expected to see some evidence of his past programming efforts.

I see. Unfortunately, this damages my defense: I can no longer say there's no evidence Szabo doesn't even know C/C++, but I have to confirm that he does. Your point about sharpness is well-taken, but the argument from silence here is very weak since Szabo hasn't posted any code ever aside from a JavaScript library, so we have no idea whether he has been keeping up with his C or not.

why would Satoshi say "expands on your ideas into a complete working system" to me, and cite b-money but not Bit Gold in his paper, if Satoshi was Nick?

Good question. I wonder if anyone ever asked Satoshi about what he thought of Bit Gold?

An additional reason that I haven't mentioned previously is that Satoshi's writings just don't read like Nick's to me.

I've seen people say the opposite! This is why I put little stock in people claiming Satoshi and $FAVORITE_CANDIDATE sound alike (especially given they're probably in the throes of confirmation bias and would read in the similarity if at all possible). Hopefully someone competent at stylometrics will at some point do an analysis.

Comment author: frizzers 21 March 2014 09:12:23AM 1 point [-]

I've been working hard on this in my book. (Nearly there by the way). I posted this on Like In A Mirror but put it here as well in case it doesn't get approved.

Yes, the writing styles of Szabo and Satoshi are the same.

Apart from the British spelling.

And the different punctuation habits.

And the use of British expressions like mobile phone and flat and bloody.

And Szabo’s much longer sentences.

And the fact that Szabo doesn’t make the same spelling mistakes that Satoshi does.

Ooh and the fact that Szabo’s writing has a lot more humour to it than Satoshi’s.

Szabo is one of the few people that has the breadth, depth and specificity of knowledge to achieve what Satoshi has, agreed. He is the right age, has the right background and was in the right place at the right time. He ticks a lot of the right boxes.

But confirmation bias is a dangerous thing. It blinkers.

And you need to think about the dangers your posts are creating in the life of a reclusive academic.

Satoshi is first and foremost a coder, not a writer. Szabo is a writer first and coder second. To draw any serious conclusions you need to find some examples of Szabo’s c++ coding.

You also need to find some proof a Szabo’s hacking (or anti-hacking) experience. Satoshi has rather a lot of this.

And you need to consider the possibility that Satoshi learnt his English on both sides of the Atlantic. And that English was not his first language. I don’t think it was.

Comment author: gwern 21 March 2014 07:03:30PM 1 point [-]

Yes, the writing styles of Szabo and Satoshi are the same. Apart from the British spelling. And the different punctuation habits. And the use of British expressions like mobile phone and flat and bloody. And Szabo’s much longer sentences. And the fact that Szabo doesn’t make the same spelling mistakes that Satoshi does. Ooh and the fact that Szabo’s writing has a lot more humour to it than Satoshi’s.

Szabo has extensively studied British history for his legal and monetary theories (it's hard to miss this if you've read his essays), so I do not regard the Britishisms as a point against Szabo. It's perfectly easy to pick up Britishisms if you watch BBC programs or read The Economist or Financial Times (I do all three and as it happens, I use 'bloody' all the time in colloquial speech - a check of my IRC logs shows me using it 72 times, and at least once in my more formal writings on gwern.net, and 'mobile phone' pops up 3 or 4 times in my chat logs; yet I have spent perhaps 3 days in the UK in my life). And Satoshi is a very narrow, special-purpose pseudonymic identity which has one and only one purpose: to promote and work on Bitcoin - Bitcoin is not a very humorous subject, nor does it really lend itself to long essays (or long sentences). And I'm not sure how you could make any confident claims about spelling mistakes without having done any stylometrics, given that both Szabo and Satoshi write well and you would expect spelling mistakes to be rare by definition.

Comment author: frizzers 22 March 2014 07:46:07AM 1 point [-]

Points noted. All well made. Mine was a heated rebuttal to the Like IN A Mirror post.

I could only find one spelling mistake in all Satoshi's work and a few punctuation quibbles. It's a word that is commonly spelt wrong - but that Szabo spells right. I don't want to share it here because I'm keeping it for the book

Comment author: mfreis 16 March 2014 09:10:40AM 1 point [-]

Thank you so much Wei Dai.

My idea with second question was to understand if there is like an anarchist motivation around bitcoin that may have some risks in the future. I mean, if somehow when it reaches Wall Street the original developers can do anythink to affect credibility.

You say you don't think it was Szabo. Have you ever try to know who he was? Could you share who is your solid hunch and why?

Is relevant to know Satoshi?

If you know what you know today, would you have patented bmoney? Do you think bitcoin inventers would have done the same?

Kind regards Marta

Comment author: Wei_Dai 16 March 2014 10:21:02AM *  3 points [-]

My idea with second question was to understand if there is like an anarchist motivation around bitcoin that may have some risks in the future.

Ok, I think I see what you're getting at. First of all, crypto-anarchy is very different from plain anarchy. We (or at least I) weren't trying to destroy government, but just create new virtual communities that aren't ruled by the threat of violence. Second I'm not sure Satoshi would even consider himself a crypto-anarchist. I think he might have been motivated more by a distrust of financial institutions and government monetary authorities and wanted to create a monetary system that didn't have to depend on such trust. All in all, I don't think there is much risk in this regard.

You say you don't think it was Szabo. Have you ever try to know who he was? Could you share who is your solid hunch and why?

I haven't personally made any attempts to find out who he is, nor do I have any idea how. My guess is that he's not anyone who was previously active in the academic cryptography or cypherpunks communities, because otherwise he probably would have been identified by now based on his writing and coding styles.

Is relevant to know Satoshi?

I think at this point it doesn't matter too much, except to satisfy people's curiosity.

If you know what you know today, would you have patented bmoney? Do you think bitcoin inventers would have done the same?

No, because along with a number of other reasons not to patent it, the whole point of b-money was to have a money system that governments can't control or shut down by force, so how would I be able to enforce the patent? I don't think Satoshi would have patented his ideas either, because I think he is not motivated mainly to personally make money, but to change the world and to solve an interesting technical problem. Otherwise he would have sold at least some of his mined Bitcoins in order to spend or to diversify into other investments.

Comment author: mfreis 16 March 2014 11:51:11AM 1 point [-]

Thank you so much Wei Dai for all the answers.

You say other previously active member would have been identified base on this writing and coding style. There is exacly what Skye Grey says he/she's doing for matching Szabo with Satoshi on the blog LikeinaMirror - he say's he's 99,9% sure Szabo is Satoshi. https://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2014/03/

Dorian Nakamoto theory may have any ground?

What made you think Satoshi motivation was distrust rather than crypto-anarchy? Someone that have loose money for instance in Lehman Brothers banrupcy? It was also in 2008

Why is anonimity important to crypto community? Just to confirm, Wei Dai is a pseudonym?

Thank you again

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 March 2014 12:38:19AM 2 points [-]

I agree with gwern's answers and will add a couple of my own.

Dorian Nakamoto theory may have any ground?

No, I doubt it.

Why is anonimity important to crypto community?

  1. We think it's cool because the technology falls out of our field of research.
  2. Anonymity provides privacy and security against physical violence, and cryptographers tend to care about privacy and security.
Comment author: gwern 16 March 2014 06:10:13PM *  2 points [-]

There is exacly what Skye Grey says he/she's doing for matching Szabo with Satoshi on the blog LikeinaMirror - he say's he's 99,9% sure Szabo is Satoshi. https://likeinamirror.wordpress.com/2014/03/

Grey's post is worthless. I haven't written a rebuttal to his second, but about his first post, see http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1ruluz/satoshi_nakamoto_is_probably_nick_szabo/cdr2vgu

What made you think Satoshi motivation was distrust rather than crypto-anarchy? Someone that have loose money for instance in Lehman Brothers banrupcy? It was also in 2008

Because he said so. Haven't you done any background reading? (And how many private individuals could have lost money in Lehman Brothers anyway...)

Why is anonimity important to crypto community?

Seriously?

Just to confirm, Wei Dai is a pseudonym?

No, it's real.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 16 March 2014 06:01:35AM 4 points [-]

Since the birth and early growth of Bitcoin, how has your view on the prospects for crypto-anarchy changed (if at all)? Why?

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 March 2014 12:19:31AM *  4 points [-]

Since the birth and early growth of Bitcoin, how has your view on the prospects for crypto-anarchy changed (if at all)? Why?

My views haven't changed very much, since the main surprise of Bitcoin to me is that people find such a system useful for reasons other than crypto-anarchy. Crypto-anarchy still depends on the economics of online security favoring the defense over the offense, but as I mentioned in Work on Security Instead of Friendliness? that still seems to be true only in limited domains and false overall.

Comment author: gsastry 16 March 2014 01:21:39AM 3 points [-]
  1. What do you think are the most interesting philosophical problems within our grasp to be solved?
  2. Do you think that solving normative ethics won't happen until a FAI? If so, why?
  3. You argued previously that metaphilosophy and singularity strategies are fields with low hanging fruit. Do you have any examples of progress in metaphilosophy?
  4. Do you have any role models?
Comment author: Wei_Dai 16 March 2014 05:04:06AM 6 points [-]

What do you think are the most interesting philosophical problems within our grasp to be solved?

I'm not sure there is any. A big part of it is that metaphilosophy is essentially a complete blank, so we have no way of saying what counts as a correct solution to a philosophical problem, and hence no way of achieving high confidence that any particular philosophical problem has been solved, except maybe simple (and hence not very interesting) problems, where the solution is just intuitively obvious to everyone or nearly everyone. It's also been my experience that any time we seem to make real progress on some interesting philosophical problem, additional complications are revealed that we didn't foresee, which makes the problem seem even harder to solve than before the progress was made. I think we have to expect this trend to continue for a while yet.

If you instead ask what are some interesting philosophical problems that we can expect visible progress on in the near future, I'd cite decision theory and logical uncertainty, just based on how much new effort people are putting into them, and results from the recent past.

Do you think that solving normative ethics won't happen until a FAI? If so, why?

No I don't think that's necessarily true. It's possible that normative ethics, metaethics, and metaphilosophy are all solved before someone builds an FAI, especially if we can get significant intelligence enhancement to happen first. (Again, I think we need to solve metaethics and metaphilosophy first, otherwise how do we know that any proposed solution to normative ethics is actually correct?)

You argued previously that metaphilosophy and singularity strategies are fields with low hanging fruit. Do you have any examples of progress in metaphilosophy?

Unfortunately, not yet. BTW I'm not saying these are fields that definitely have low hanging fruit. I'm saying these are fields that could have low hanging fruit, based on how few people have worked in them.

Do you have any role models?

I do have some early role models. I recall wanting to be a real-life version of the fictional "Sandor Arbitration Intelligence at the Zoo" (from Vernor Vinge's novel A Fire Upon the Deep) who in the story is known for consistently writing the clearest and most insightful posts on the Net. And then there was Hal Finney who probably came closest to an actual real-life version of Sandor at the Zoo, and Tim May who besides inspiring me with his vision of cryptoanarchy was also a role model for doing early retirement from the tech industry and working on his own interests/causes.

Comment author: gsastry 24 March 2014 06:53:51PM 2 points [-]

Thanks. I have some followup questions :)

  1. What projects are you currently working on?/What confusing questions are you attempting to answer?
  2. Do you think that most people should be very uncertain about their values, e.g. altruism?
  3. Do you think that your views about the path to FAI are contrarian (amongst people working on FAI/AGI, e.g. you believing most of the problems are philosophical in nature)? If so, why?
  4. Where do you hang out online these days? Anywhere other than LW?

Please correct me if I've misrepresented your views.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 24 March 2014 11:00:31PM 4 points [-]

What projects are you currently working on?/What confusing questions are you attempting to answer?

If you go through my posts on LW, you can read most of the questions that I've been thinking about in the last few years. I don't think any of the problems that I raised have been solved so I'm still attempting to answer them. To give a general idea, these include questions in philosophy of mind, philosophy of math, decision theory, normative ethics, meta-ethics, meta-philosophy. And to give a specific example I've just been thinking about again recently: What is pain exactly (e.g., in a mathematical or algorithmic sense) and why is it bad? For example can certain simple decision algorithms be said to have pain? Is pain intrinsically bad, or just because people prefer not to be in pain?

As a side note, I don't know if it's good from a productivity perspective to jump around amongst so many different questions. It might be better to focus on just a few with the others in the back of one's mind. But now that I have so many unanswered questions that I'm all very interested in, it's hard to stay on any of them for very long. So reader beware. :)

Do you think that most people should be very uncertain about their values, e.g. altruism?

Yes, but I tend not to advertise too much that people should be less certain about their altruism, since it's hard to see how that could be good for me regardless of what my values are or ought to be. I make an exception of this for people who might be in a position to build an FAI, since if they're too confident about altruism then they're likely to be too confident about many other philosophical problems, but even then I don't stress it too much.

Do you think that your views about the path to FAI are contrarian (amongst people working on FAI/AGI, e.g. you believing most of the problems are philosophical in nature)? If so, why?

I guess there is a spectrum of concern over philosophical problems involved in building an FAI/AGI, and I'm on the far end of the that spectrum. I think most people building AGI mainly want short term benefits like profits or academic fame, and do not care as much about the far reaches of time and space, in which case they'd naturally focus more on the immediate engineering issues.

Among people working on FAI, I guess they either have not thought as much about philosophical problems as I have and therefore don't have a strong sense of how difficult those problems are, or are just overconfident about their solutions. For example when I started in 1997 to think about certain seemingly minor problems about how minds that can be copied should handle probabilities (within a seemingly well-founded Bayesian philosophy), I certainly didn't foresee how difficult those problems would turn out to be. This and other similar experiences made me update my estimates of how difficult solving philosophical problems is in general.

BTW I would not describe myself as "working on FAI" since that seems to imply that I endorse the building of an FAI. I like to use "working on philosophical problems possibly relevant to FAI".

Where do you hang out online these days? Anywhere other than LW?

Pretty much just here. I do read a bunch of other blogs, but tend not to comment much elsewhere since I like having an archive of my writings for future reference, and it's too much trouble to do that if I distribute them over many different places. If I change my main online hangout in the future, I'll note that on my home page.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 September 2014 04:30:56PM 2 points [-]

What is pain exactly (e.g., in a mathematical or algorithmic sense) and why is it bad? For example can certain simple decision algorithms be said to have pain? Is pain intrinsically bad, or just because people prefer not to be in pain?

Pain isn't reliably bad, or at least some people (possibly a fairly proportion), seek it out in some contexts. I'm including very spicy food, SMBD, deliberately reading things that make one sad and/or angry without it leading to any useful action, horror fiction, pushing one's limits for its own sake, and staying attached to losing sports teams.

I think this leads to the question of what people are trying to maximize.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 March 2014 03:58:40AM 1 point [-]

Yes, but I tend not to advertise too much that people should be less certain about their altruism, since it's hard to see how that could be good for me regardless of what my values are or ought to be.

One issue is that an altruist has a harder time noticing if he's doing something wrong. An altruist with false beliefs is much more dangerous than an egotist with false beliefs.

Comment author: ESRogs 18 March 2014 07:39:31PM *  2 points [-]

I recall wanting to be a real-life version of the fictional "Sandor Arbitration Intelligence at the Zoo" (from Vernor Vinge's novel A Fire Upon the Deep) who in the story is known for consistently writing the clearest and most insightful posts on the Net.

FWIW, I have always been impressed by the consistent clarity and conciseness of your LW posts. Your ratio of insights imparted to words used is very high. So, congratulations! And as an LW reader, thanks for your contributions! :)

Comment author: Lumifer 16 March 2014 06:19:53PM 2 points [-]

and Tim May

What is he doing, by the way? Wikipedia says he's still alive but he looks to be either retired or in deep cover...

Comment author: frizzers 15 March 2014 10:09:48AM 4 points [-]

Good morning Wei,

Thank you for doing this. It seems like an excellent solution.

My name's Dominic Frisby. I'm an author from the UK, currently working on a book on Bitcoin (http://unbound.co.uk/books/bitcoin).

Here are some questions I'd like to ask.

  1. What steps, if any, did you take to coding up your b-money idea? If none, or very few, why did you go no further with it?

  2. You had some early correspondence with Satoshi. What do you think his motivation behind Bitcoin was? Was it, simply, the challenge of making something work that nobody had made work before? Was it the potential riches? Was it altruistic or political, maybe - did he want to change the world?

  3. In what ways do you think Bitcoin might change the world?

  4. How much of a bubble do you think it is?

  5. I sometimes wonder if Bitcoin was invented not so much to become the global reserve digital cash currency, but to prove to others that the technology can work. It was more gateway rather than final destination – do you have a view here?

That's more than enough to be going on with.

With kind regards

Dominic

Comment author: gwern 16 March 2014 05:56:03PM 0 points [-]

I sometimes wonder if Bitcoin was invented not so much to become the global reserve digital cash currency, but to prove to others that the technology can work. It was more gateway rather than final destination

Have you read Satoshi's original emails?

Comment author: frizzers 17 March 2014 07:50:48PM 0 points [-]

about 70 million times.

Even more times than I've read the Lord of the Rings

Comment author: gwern 17 March 2014 11:05:25PM 0 points [-]

I was asking a serious question.

Comment author: frizzers 18 March 2014 08:42:23AM 0 points [-]

Do you mean the ones on the cryptography mailing list or the ones to Wei Dai?

I've read them both.

Not the ones to Adam Back though

Comment author: Wei_Dai 15 March 2014 08:34:19PM *  3 points [-]

1 - I didn't take any steps to code up b-money. Part of it was because b-money wasn't a complete practical design yet, but I didn't continue to work on the design because I had actually grown somewhat disillusioned with cryptoanarchy by the time I finished writing up b-money, and I didn't foresee that a system like it, once implemented, could attract so much attention and use beyond a small group of hardcore cypherpunks.

2 - It's hard for me to tell, but I'd guess that it was probably a mixture of technical challenge and wanting to change the world.

3 and 4 - Don't have much to say on these. Others have probably thought much more about these questions over the past months and years and are more qualified than I am to answer.

5 - I haven't seen any indication of this. What makes you suspect it?

Comment author: frizzers 16 March 2014 10:10:34AM 1 point [-]

Thanks Wei. You efforts here is much appreciated and your place in heaven is assured.

In reply to your 5.

My suspicion is not based on any significant evidence. It's just a thought that emerged in my head as I've followed the story. It's a psychological thing, almost macho - people like to solve a problem that nobody else has been able to prove something to themselves (and others).

Also from his comment 'we can win a major battle in the arms race and gain a new territory of freedom for several years' I infer that he didn't think it would last foreever .

Anyway THANK YOU WEI for taking the time to do this.

Dominic