# The Level Above Mine

44 26 September 2008 09:18AM

Followup toThe Proper Use of Humility, Tsuyoku Naritai

(At this point, I fear that I must recurse into a subsequence; but if all goes as planned, it really will be short.)

I once lent Xiaoguang "Mike" Li my copy of "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science".  Mike Li read some of it, and then came back and said:

"Wow... it's like Jaynes is a thousand-year-old vampire."

Then Mike said, "No, wait, let me explain that—" and I said, "No, I know exactly what you mean."  It's a convention in fantasy literature that the older a vampire gets, the more powerful they become.

I'd enjoyed math proofs before I encountered Jaynes.  But E.T. Jaynes was the first time I picked up a sense of formidability from mathematical arguments.  Maybe because Jaynes was lining up "paradoxes" that had been used to object to Bayesianism, and then blasting them to pieces with overwhelming firepower—power being used to overcome others.  Or maybe the sense of formidability came from Jaynes not treating his math as a game of aesthetics; Jaynes cared about probability theory, it was bound up with other considerations that mattered, to him and to me too.

For whatever reason, the sense I get of Jaynes is one of terrifying swift perfection—something that would arrive at the correct answer by the shortest possible route, tearing all surrounding mistakes to shreds in the same motion.  Of course, when you write a book, you get a chance to show only your best side.  But still.

It spoke well of Mike Li that he was able to sense the aura of formidability surrounding Jaynes.  It's a general rule, I've observed, that you can't discriminate between levels too far above your own. E.g., someone once earnestly told me that I was really bright, and "ought to go to college".  Maybe anything more than around one standard deviation above you starts to blur together, though that's just a cool-sounding wild guess.

So, having heard Mike Li compare Jaynes to a thousand-year-old vampire, one question immediately popped into my mind:

"Do you get the same sense off me?" I asked.

Mike shook his head.  "Sorry," he said, sounding somewhat awkward, "it's just that Jaynes is..."

"No, I know," I said.  I hadn't thought I'd reached Jaynes's level. I'd only been curious about how I came across to other people.

I aspire to Jaynes's level.  I aspire to become as much the master of Artificial Intelligence / reflectivity, as Jaynes was master of Bayesian probability theory.  I can even plead that the art I'm trying to master is more difficult than Jaynes's, making a mockery of deference.  Even so, and embarrassingly, there is no art of which I am as much the master now, as Jaynes was of probability theory.

This is not, necessarily, to place myself beneath Jaynes as a person—to say that Jaynes had a magical aura of destiny, and I don't.

Rather I recognize in Jaynes a level of expertise, of sheer formidability, which I have not yet achieved.  I can argue forcefully in my chosen subject, but that is not the same as writing out the equations and saying:  DONE.

For so long as I have not yet achieved that level, I must acknowledge the possibility that I can never achieve it, that my native talent is not sufficient.  When Marcello Herreshoff had known me for long enough, I asked him if he knew of anyone who struck him as substantially more natively intelligent than myself.  Marcello thought for a moment and said "John Conway—I met him at a summer math camp."  Darn, I thought, he thought of someone, and worse, it's some ultra-famous old guy I can't grab.  I inquired how Marcello had arrived at the judgment.  Marcello said, "He just struck me as having a tremendous amount of mental horsepower," and started to explain a math problem he'd had a chance to work on with Conway.

Not what I wanted to hear.

Perhaps, relative to Marcello's experience of Conway and his experience of me, I haven't had a chance to show off on any subject that I've mastered as thoroughly as Conway had mastered his many fields of mathematics.

Or it might be that Conway's brain is specialized off in a different direction from mine, and that I could never approach Conway's level on math, yet Conway wouldn't do so well on AI research.

Or...

...or I'm strictly dumber than Conway, dominated by him along all dimensions.  Maybe, if I could find a young proto-Conway and tell them the basics, they would blaze right past me, solve the problems that have weighed on me for years, and zip off to places I can't follow.

Is it damaging to my ego to confess that last possibility?  Yes.  It would be futile to deny that.

Have I really accepted that awful possibility, or am I only pretending to myself to have accepted it?  Here I will say:  "No, I think I have accepted it."  Why do I dare give myself so much credit?  Because I've invested specific effort into that awful possibility.  I am blogging here for many reasons, but a major one is the vision of some younger mind reading these words and zipping off past me.  It might happen, it might not.

Or sadder:  Maybe I just wasted too much time on setting up the resources to support me, instead of studying math full-time through my whole youth; or I wasted too much youth on non-mathy ideas.  And this choice, my past, is irrevocable.  I'll hit a brick wall at 40, and there won't be anything left but to pass on the resources to another mind with the potential I wasted, still young enough to learn.  So to save them time, I should leave a trail to my successes, and post warning signs on my mistakes.

Such specific efforts predicated on an ego-damaging possibility—that's the only kind of humility that seems real enough for me to dare credit myself.  Or giving up my precious theories, when I realized that they didn't meet the standard Jaynes had shown me—that was hard, and it was real.  Modest demeanors are cheapHumble admissions of doubt are cheap.  I've known too many people who, presented with a counterargument, say "I am but a fallible mortal, of course I could be wrong" and then go on to do exactly what they planned to do previously.

You'll note that I don't try to modestly say anything like, "Well, I may not be as brilliant as Jaynes or Conway, but that doesn't mean I can't do important things in my chosen field."

Because I do know... that's not how it works.

Part of the sequence Yudkowsky's Coming of Age

Next post: "Competent Elites"

Previous post: "My Naturalistic Awakening"

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Comment author: 26 September 2008 09:59:09AM 17 points [-]

In a few years, you will be as embarrassed of these posts as you are today of your former claims of being an Algernon, or that a logical paradox would make an AI go gaga, the tMoL argumentation you mentioned the last days, the Workarounds for the Laws of Physics, Love and Life Just Before the Singularity and so on and so forth. Ask yourself: Will I have to delete this, too ?

And the person who told you to go to college was probably well-meaning, and not too far from the truth. Was it Ben Goertzel ?

Comment author: 26 September 2008 10:16:52AM 20 points [-]

Despite all fallibility of memory, I would be shocked to learn that I had ever claimed that a logical paradox would make an AI go gaga. Where are you getting this from?

Ben's never said anything like that to me. The comment about going to college was from an earnest ordinary person, not acquainted with me. And no, I didn't snap at them, or laugh out loud; it was well-intentioned advice. Going to college is a big choice for a lot of people, and this was someone who met me, and saw that I was smart, and thought that I seemed to have the potential to go to college.

Which is to imply that if there's a level above Jaynes, it may be that I won't understand it until I reach Jaynes's level - to me it will all just look like "going to college". If I recall my timeline correctly, I didn't comprehend Jaynes's level until I had achieved the level of thinking naturalistically; before that time, to achieve a reductionist view of intelligence was my whole aspiration.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 10:25:22AM 2 points [-]

Although I've never communicated with you in any form, and hence don't know what it's like for you to answer a question of mine, or correct a misconception (you have, but gradually), or outright refute a strongly held belief...or dissolve a Wrong Question...

...You're still definitely the person who strikes me as inhumanly genius - above all else.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 10:33:55AM 16 points [-]

Unfortunately for my peace of mind and ego, people who say to me "You're the brightest person I know" are noticeably more common than people who say to me "You're the brightest person I know, and I know John Conway". Maybe someday I'll hit that level. Maybe not.

Until then... I do thank you, because when people tell me that sort of thing, it gives me the courage to keep going and keep trying to reach that higher level.

Seriously, that's how it feels.

Comment author: 08 August 2011 08:13:20AM 4 points [-]

You are the brightest person I know. And I know Dan Dennett, Max Tegmark, Robert Trivers, Marcello, Minsky, Pinker and Omohundro.

Unfortunately, those are non-math geniuses, so that speaks for only some sub-areas of cognition which, less strictly categorizable than the clearly scalable domain of math, are not subject to your proposed rule of "one standard deviation above you they blurr"

Comment author: 08 August 2011 12:40:48PM 1 point [-]

"Know" in the sense EY used it != have read, watched interviews, etc.

I took it to mean more personal interaction (even if through comments online).

Comment author: 08 August 2011 01:22:18PM 2 points [-]

Especially since "know of" exists as a common phrase to cover the meaning "have read, watched interviews, etc."

Comment author: 09 August 2011 03:45:19AM 16 points [-]

I have had classes with them, asked questions. and met them personally. I should have anticipated disbelief. And yes, I didn't notice that I categorized Marcello as non-math, sorry Marcello!

Comment author: 09 August 2011 12:21:13PM 11 points [-]

Oh. Cool! Less disbelief, more illusion of transparency.

If a randomly selected person says, "I know X (academically) famous people." I myself usually assume through impersonal means.

Update'd. Carry on :D

Comment author: 08 August 2011 01:27:07PM 0 points [-]

Non-math geniuses who grok and advocate for unpopular reductionism are in one sense greater than mere superheroes who know the math.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 August 2011 02:33:44PM *  -1 points [-]

In another sense, non-math geniuses advocating for reductionism are no better than the anti-vaccine lobby.

Comment author: 13 November 2011 09:21:16AM 4 points [-]

What sense is that?

Comment author: 08 August 2011 01:46:47PM 1 point [-]

Marcello is non-math?

Comment author: 25 October 2011 02:11:42PM 6 points [-]

For what it's worth, I've worked on a project and had lunch with Conway, and your ideas seem more prescient than his. But being a mathematician, I know people who are in turn far above Conway's level.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 10:56:51AM 8 points [-]

So how does it work, in your opinion? Because “I may not be as brilliant as Jaynes or Conway, but that doesn't mean I can't do important things in my chosen field,” sounds suspiciously similar to how Hamming asserts that it works in “You and Your Research.” I guess you have a different belief about how doing important things in your chosen field works, but I don't see that you've explained that belief here or anywhere else that I've seen.

I don't suppose Marcello is related to Nadja and Josh Herreshoff?

I don't know if it helps, but while I've appreciated the things I've learned from you, my limited interaction with you hasn't made me think you're the brightest person I know. I think of you as more or less at my level — maybe a couple of standard deviations above or below, I can’t really tell. Certainly you're sharp enough that I'd enjoy hanging out with you. (Let me know the next time you're in Argentina.)

P.S. the impugnment of your notability has now been removed from your Wikipedia page, apparently as a result of people citing you in their papers.

Comment author: 24 September 2011 07:50:04PM 1 point [-]

I too would like to hear "how it works," because if I don't know how Eliezer thinks it works, it just sounds like he's defining the problem of Being a Great Researcher in the most intimidating way possible. Whatever way that may be. Inflating the problem like that is bad practice, for much the same reason that cheap gestures of humility are bad practice.

I'm commenting on a two-year-old post, so I guess I shouldn't expect a response, but this post is linked from the getting-started page, so I was a bit disappointed that it ended with what looks a lot like a handwave at humility.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 11:19:30AM 4 points [-]

Wait wait wait wait. Eliezer...are you saying that you DON'T know everything????

~runs off and weeps in a corner in a fetal position~

Comment author: 26 September 2008 11:59:40AM 4 points [-]

CatAI (1998): "Precautions"/"The Prime Directive of AI"/"Inconsistency problem".

My memory may fail me, and the relevant archives don't go back that far, but I recall Ben (and/or possibly other people) suggesting you going to college, or at least enroll for a grad program in AI, on the Extropy chat list around 1999/2000. I think these suggestions were related to, but not solely based on, your financial situation at that time (which ultimately led to the creation of the SIAI, so maybe we should be glad it turned out the way it did, even if, in my opinion, following the advice would have been beneficial to you and your work.)

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:05:08PM 4 points [-]

I was curious how you'd react when you eventually realized you weren't as bright as you thought you were. The journey to full comprehension isn't complete yet, but it's interesting seeing this little bit unfold. For all your disdain of modesty arguments, your life makes for a great demonstration of how one can go wrong if they go unheeded.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 06:41:30PM 15 points [-]

At the very least, his life will be interesting and will have affected a great many people in a positive; that is more than most could claim.

Comment author: 07 January 2011 12:34:51AM 3 points [-]

The question is just how this compares with what he would have done otherwise.

Comment author: 07 January 2011 01:03:27AM 7 points [-]

Hm, Yep sounds as if Eliezer's life is a net loss:

your life makes for a great demonstration of how one can go wrong if they go unheeded.

Not as if his life simply was suboptimal and with considerable opportunity cost.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:14:12PM 10 points [-]

I definitely see the "levels" phenomenon very often. Most people I meet who see me play a musical instrument (or 5 or 10 different ones) think I must be a genius at music - unless they're a musician, then they recognize me as an amateur with enough money to buy interesting instruments and enough skill to get a basic proficiency at them quickly.

And even with standard measures of intellect like rationality or math... I don't know that many of my friends who have read any of this blog would recognize you as being smarter than me, despite the fact that you're enough levels above me that my opinion of you is pretty much what "Not You" said above.

I can keep up with most of your posts, but to be able to keep up with a good teacher, and to be that good teacher, is a gap of at least a few levels. But aspiring to your level (though I may not reach it) has probably been the biggest motivator for me to practice the art. I certainly won't be the one who zips by you, but you've at least pulled me up to a level where I might be able to guide one who will down a useful path.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:14:54PM 0 points [-]

Up to now there never seemed to be a reason to say this, but now that there is:

Eliezer Yudkowsky, afaict you're the most intelligent person I know. I don't know John Conway.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:50:54PM 18 points [-]

Your faith in math is misplaced. The sort of math smarts you are obsessed with just isn't that correlated with intellectual accomplishment. For accomplishment outside of math, you must sacrifice time that could be spent honing your math skills, to actually think about other things. You could be nearly the smartest math type guy anyone you meet know, and still not accomplish if math is not the key to your chosen subject.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:50:59PM 2 points [-]

It's interesting, actually. You're motivated by other peoples' low opinions of you -- this pressure you feel in your gut to prove Caledonian et al wrong -- so you've taken that is probably fairly standard human machinery and tried to do something remarkable with it.

My question is, are you still motivated by the doubt you feel about your native abilities, or have you passed into being compelled purely by your work?

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:52:30PM 0 points [-]

Perhaps the truly refulgent (before they had so become) reached a progression tipping point at which they realized (right or wrong, ironically) that they were essentially beyond comparison, and hence stopped comparing.

Then they could allocate the scarce resources of time and thought exclusively to the problems they were addressing, thus actually attaining a level that truly was beyond comparison.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:55:12PM 2 points [-]

Jaynes was a really smart guy, but no one can be a genius all the time. He did make at least one notable blunder in Bayesian probability theory -- a blunder he could have avoided if only he'd followed his own rules for careful probability analysis.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 01:58:33PM 6 points [-]

You come across as very intelligent when you stick to your areas of expertise, like probability theory, AI and cognitive biases, but some of your more tangential stuff can seem a little naive. Compared to the other major poster on this blog, Robin, I'd say you come across as smarter but less "wise", if that means anything to you. I'm not even a huge fan of the notion of "wisdom", but if there's something you're missing, I think that's it.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 02:21:24PM 3 points [-]

If you haven't read it, Simonton's Origins of Genius draws a nice distinction between mental agility and long-term intellectual significance, and explores the correlation between the two. Not a terribly well-written book, but certainly thought-provoking.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 02:40:04PM 7 points [-]

@EY: We are the cards we are dealt, and intelligence is the unfairest of all those cards. More unfair than wealth or health or home country, unfairer than your happiness set-point. People have difficulty accepting that life can be that unfair, it's not a happy thought. "Intelligence isn't as important as X" is one way of turning away from the unfairness, refusing to deal with it, thinking a happier thought instead. It's a temptation, both to those dealt poor cards, and to those dealt good ones. Just as downplaying the importance of money is a temptation both to the poor and to the rich.

How could the writer of the above words be the writer of today's post? Apparently (as I'm told) you knew from the days of the Northwestern Talent Search that you weren't the smartest of those tested (not to mention all those who were not tested), but certainly one of the smartest. Apparently, you were dealt a straight flush to the king, while some in history received a royal flush. What difference does it make whether someone thinks you are the smartest person they have known, unless you are the smartest person? Does a straight flush to the king meet the threshold required to develop a method for "saving humanity"? If not, why aren't you in the camp of those who wish to improve human intelligence? *awaits clap of thunder from those dealt better hands*

Comment author: 04 December 2012 10:20:34AM 2 points [-]

It's simply dissolving some cognitive illusions he shouldn't have had in the first place, but that most of us have probably had at some point in our lives. If you've got intelligence at 2 standard deviations above average, and you overestimate your own intelligence by one standard deviation (which is probably a pretty common mistake, and if anything underestimates the effect) than you'll see that you're probably the most intelligent person you interact with on a regular basis. If you're out at 3 standard deviations, it may not be until college that you see that some of your fellow students, or at least some of your professors, are indisputably smarter than you. If you're out at 4 or 5 standard deviations, as I imagine Eliezer is (I myself can't honestly peg myself past 3.5 standard deviations, which means I'm probably around 2 standard deviations above average and can't really distinguish beyond 2 standard deviations above my own level), I have some difficulty imagining what that must be like, only that even in the things you read you won't find many minds as formidable as your (perception of) your own, and even rarer will be minds that clearly surpass your own.

But I think he is in the camp of trying to improve human intelligence (or at least human rationality, gwern seems to be the better poster child for improving human intelligence). Hence the sequences.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 07:30:40PM -1 points [-]

Is a home-schooled person well positioned to judge that sort of thing? They're the smartest kind in a class of one.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 08:18:40PM 3 points [-]

Not sure how homeschooling is relevant here, but speaking as a homeschooled person: it goes both ways, you're also the stupidest person in a class of one.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 08:35:33PM 2 points [-]

Sidenote: I'd homeschool my kids if it were allowed where I live.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 09:19:37PM 1 point [-]

(This seems like the wrong thread for a protracted discussion but I'm happy to say more in an open thread or via PM if you want to hear more, although it sounds like it's a moot point for you.)

Comment author: 20 January 2013 09:22:44PM 1 point [-]

(I do want to hear more, go ahead using any means you'd like.)

Comment author: 20 January 2013 11:06:02PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: 26 September 2008 03:50:02PM 9 points [-]

Eliezer, I've been watching you with interest since 1996 due to your obvious intelligence and "altruism." From my background as a smart individual with over twenty years managing teams of Ph.D.s (and others with similar non-degreed qualifications) solving technical problems in the real world, you've always struck me as near but not at the top in terms of intelligence. Your "discoveries" and developmental trajectory fit easily within the bounds of my experience of myself and a few others of similar aptitudes, but your (sheltered) arrogance has always stood out. I wish you continued progress, not so much in ever-sharper *analysis*, but in ever more effective *synthesis* of the leading-edge subjects you pursue.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 03:52:27PM 3 points [-]

How much do you worry about age 40? Is that just based on your father? Conway passed 40 before Marcello was born.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 03:53:27PM 0 points [-]

If not, why aren't you in the camp of those who wish to improve human intelligence?

I'll take this one because I'm almost certain Eliezer would answer the same way.

Working on AI is a more effective way of increasing the intelligence of the space and matter around us than increasing human intelligence is. The probability of making substantial progress is higher.

Comment author: 03 October 2010 05:58:18PM *  1 point [-]

I disagree. Human intelligence is clearly misoptimised for many goals, and I see no clear evidence that it's easier to design a new intelligence from scratch than to optimise the human one.

They have very different possible effects "FOOM!" vs. "We are awaiting GFDCA [Genetics, Food Drugs and Cybernetics Administration] approval of this new implant/chimerism/genehack", so the average impact of human-optimisation may be lower, but my probability estimate for human-improvement tech is much higher.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 03:53:36PM 7 points [-]

Wow, chill out, Eliezer. You're probably among the top 10, certainly in the top 20, most-intelligent people I've met. That's good enough for anything you could want to do. You are ranked high enough that luck, money, and contacts will all be more important factors for you than some marginal increase in intelligence.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 04:34:31PM 1 point [-]

First, same question as Douglas: what is it with the brick wall at 40?

Second: This is another great post, its rare for people to expose their thoughts about theirselves in such an open way. Congratulations!

Regarding your ability, I'm just a regular guy(studied Math in college) but your writings are the most inspiring I've ever read. So much self-reflection about intelligence and the thinking process. The insight about how certain mental processes feel is totally new to me. You have helped me a lot to identify my own blind spots and mistakes. Now I can look back and see exactly where I did go wrong in the past and I see with clarity where there was once confusion. I wish I've read this stuff when I was still 13 years old, maybe this could have prevented a lot of the mistakes I did later in life.

Also one of the things I learned from you is that hard work can substitute for intelligence. Think of evolution, even a stupid person can accomplish great things if he bangs his head long enough against the problem. Well, there is still the need of a basic level of intelligence, but I guess you have that.

Did you read Richard Feynman's biography? AFAIK he was also not the smartest and had moments of great self-doubt in his career where he even thought of giving up. I think this turned out to be a blessing because it forced him to visualize things in a more intuitive manner if my recollection is correct. Hence the invention of the Feynman diagrams.

Regarding College, well I went to one and it was one of the biggest wastes of time in my life, together with school. I wish I had been as smart as you and left school at the age of 12.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 05:20:43PM 4 points [-]

I second Robin's comment.

A friend of mine, Steve Jordan, once asked me just how smart I thought he and I were. I answered that I think that no-one is really as smart as the two of us both think we are. You see, for many many people it is possible to choose a weighting scheme among a dozen or so factors contribute to intellectual work such that they are the best. You simply define the vector to their point on the "efficient aptitude frontier" as "real intelligence". A dozen or so people associated with this blog and/or with SIAI and a smaller number who aren't appear to me to be on points of the "known to Michael Vassar efficient aptitude frontier", though not necessarily equally mission-critical points. For my "save the world dream team" I would pick a 25-year-old Steve Jobs over a 25-year-old Terrance Tao, though I'd like both of course.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 05:54:06PM 9 points [-]

Manuel, "enroll in a grad program for AI" != "you're smart, you should go to college".

Kragen, the short answer is, "It's easy to talk about the importance of effort if you happen to be Hamming." If you can make the ante for the high-stakes table, then you can talk about how little the ante counts for, and the importance of playing your cards well. But if you can't make the ante...

Robin, it's not blind faith in math or math for the sake of impressiveness, but a specific sense that the specific next problems I have to solve, will require more math than I've used up to this point. Not Andrew J. Wiles math, but Jaynes doesn't use Wiles-math either. I quite share your prejudice against math for the sake of looking impressive, because that gets you the wrong math. (Formality isn't about Precision?)

Ken, it's exclusively my work that gives me the motivation to keep working on something for years, but things like pride can give me the motivation to keep working on something for the next minute. I'll take whatever sources of motivation I can get (er, that aren't outright evil, of course).

Douglas, yes, my father changed at 40. But one of my primary sources of hope is that people have been known to do basic research later than this if they changed fields late in life, which suggests that it actually can be a matter of approach/outlook/methodology and avoiding serving on prestigious committees.

Retired, I don't understand the apparent contradiction you see. I participated in the Midwest Talent Search at a young age (not "Northwestern" anything, maybe you're confusing with Northwestern University?) and scored second-best for my grade category, but at that point I'd skipped a grade. But I think I can recall hearing about someone who got higher SAT scores than mine, at age nine. That would be decisive, if the SAT were a perfect noiseless measurement of ability to work on AI.

Vassar: You see, for many many people it is possible to choose a weighting scheme among a dozen or so factors contribute to intellectual work such that they are the best.

Yes, this is the well-known phenomenon where asking someone "How dumb are you?" produces a different answer than "How smart are you?" because they recall a different kind of evidence. But the question I'm trying to answer is "How much potential do you have to solve the remaining FAI problems you know about?" As I said to Robin, I do think this is going to involve taking a step up in math level.

To all commenters who observed that I don't seem to stand out from 10 other smart people they know, either you didn't comprehend the entirety of today's post, or you have very high confidence that you occupy the highest possible rank of human ability.

Comment author: 06 March 2011 09:33:31AM *  17 points [-]

Robin, it's not blind faith in math or math for the sake of impressiveness, but a specific sense that the specific next problems I have to solve, will require more math than I've used up to this point.

I'm curious if this is still your sense, and if so, what kind of math are you talking about?

My sense is that currently the main problems in FAI are philosophical. Skill in math is obviously very useful, but secondary to skill in philosophy, because most of the time it's still "I have no idea how to approach this problem" instead of "Oh, if I can just solve this math problem, everything will be clear".

...or I'm strictly dumber than Conway, dominated by him along all dimensions. Maybe, if I could find a young proto-Conway and tell them the basics, they would blaze right past me, solve the problems that have weighed on me for years, and zip off to places I can't follow.

Marcello observed "In terms of philosophical intuition, you are head and shoulders above Conway." Making progress in FAI theory seems to require a combination of rationality, good philosophical intuition, math talent, motivation, and prerequisite background knowledge. (Am I leaving out anything?) Out of these, perhaps good philosophical intuition is rarest, in large part because we don't know how to teach it (or screen for it at a young age). Is this a problem you've considered?

Comment author: 19 January 2013 01:38:25AM 3 points [-]

I'd be curious to hear the answers to Wei's questions (in the sibling comment)...

Comment author: 20 January 2013 03:46:08AM 5 points [-]

From subsequent discussions, my understanding is that Eliezer doesn't think it's likely that he can recruit/train another FAI researcher with a level of philosophical competence similar to himself, and that he's planning/hoping to solve the main philosophical (as opposed to mathematical) problems himself. I've argued against this plan but I'm guessing that Eliezer is probably still set on this course. Others at SIAI may have more reservations about it.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 05:04:14AM 4 points [-]

I certainly intend to try that recruiting thing (Paul Christiano ain't half bad) but recruiting philosophy seems much less straightforward than recruiting mathematical talent. If I have to resolve it all myself, I wouldn't flinch from trying. It seems like that part should be less difficult in an absolute sense than the rest of the labor, though that might just be comparative advantage talking. The resolutions to philosophical confusions usually seem relatively straightforward once you have them, in my experience so far.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 06:25:36AM 4 points [-]

If I have to resolve it all myself, I wouldn't flinch from trying.

As I asked in the linked comment, if you're the only philosopher in the team, how will others catch your mistakes? I would not trust that when you stop feeling confused, the problem has been correctly solved, or that your feelings of confusion are a reliable indicator of problems existing in the first place.

I certainly intend to try that recruiting thing (Paul Christiano ain't half bad) but recruiting philosophy seems much less straightforward than recruiting mathematical talent.

Having Paul involved certainly makes me feel better, and if you do succeed in recruiting more philosophy talent, then the issue may be moot. But I'm still concerned about your readiness to go it alone, and what that implies about your views, not only of how hard the problems are, but also how much one needs to worry about making philosophical mistakes.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 07:19:29PM 3 points [-]

Do you have some reliable way of recruiting? What's the policy alternative? You do what you gotta do, if ends up being just you, nonetheless, you do what you gotta do. Zero people won't make fewer mistakes than one person.

Comment author: 22 January 2013 10:39:45PM 4 points [-]

Quoting Carl Shulman from about a year ago:

If we condition on having all other variables optimized, I'd expect a team to adopt very high standards of proof, and recognize limits to its own capabilities, biases, etc. One of the primary purposes of organizing a small FAI team is to create a team that can actually stop and abandon a line of research/design (Eliezer calls this "halt, melt, and catch fire") that cannot be shown to be safe (given limited human ability, incentives and bias). If that works (and it's a separate target in team construction rather than a guarantee, but you specified optimized non-talent variables) then I would expect a big shift of probability from "UFAI" to "null."

I'm not sure if he had both math and philosophy in mind when he wrote that or just math, but in any case surely the same principle applies to the philosophy. If you don't reach a high confidence that the philosophy behind some FAI design is correct, then you shouldn't move forward with that design, and if there is only one philosopher on the team, you just can't reach high confidence in the philosophy.

Comment author: 23 January 2013 12:20:47AM 4 points [-]

if there is only one philosopher on the team, you just can't reach high confidence in the philosophy.

This does not sound correct to me. Resolutions of simple confusions usually look pretty obvious in retrospect. Or do you mean something broader by "philosophy" than trying to figure out free will?

Comment author: 23 January 2013 04:30:50AM 11 points [-]

Did you read the rest of that thread where I talked about how in cryptography we often used formalizations of "security" that were discovered to be wrong years later, and that's despite having hundreds of people in the research community constantly trying to attack each other's ideas? I don't see how formalizing Friendliness could be not just easier and less error prone than formalizing security, but so much so that just one person is enough to solve all the problems with high confidence of correctness.

Or do you mean something broader by "philosophy" than trying to figure out free will?

I mean questions like your R1 and R2, your "nonperson predicate", how to distinguish between moral progress and moral error / value drift, anthropic reasoning / "reality fluid". Generally, all the problems that need to be solved for building an FAI besides the math and the programming.

Comment author: 23 January 2013 05:39:28AM 17 points [-]

Yes, formalizing Friendliness is not the sort of thing you'd want one person doing. I agree. I don't consider that "philosophy", and it's the sort of thing other FAI team members would have to be able to check. We probably want at least one high-grade actual cryptographer.

Of the others, the nonperson predicate and the moral-progress parts are the main ones where it'd be unusually hard to solve and then tell that it had been solved correctly. I would expect both of those to be factorable-out, though - that all or most of the solution could just be published outright. (Albeit recent experience with trolls makes me think that no insight enabling conscious simulations should ever be published; people would write suffering conscious simulations and run them just to show off... how confident they were that the consciousness theory was wrong, or something. I have a newfound understanding of the utter... do-anything-ness of trolls. This potentially makes it hard to publicly check some parts of the reasoning behind a nonperson predicate.) Anthropic reasoning / "reality fluid" is the sort of thing I'd expect to be really obvious in retrospect once solved. R1 and R2 should be both obvious in retrospect, and publishable.

I have hopes that an upcoming post on the Lob Problem will offer a much more concrete picture of what some parts of the innards of FAI development and formalizing look like.

Comment author: 23 January 2013 07:40:11AM *  1 point [-]

Resolutions of simple confusions usually look pretty obvious in retrospect.

Can you give some more examples of this, besides "free will"? (I don't understand where your intuitions comes from that certain problems will turn out to have solutions that are obvious in retrospect, and that such feelings of obviousness are trustworthy. Maybe it would help me see your perspective if I got some more past examples.)

Comment author: 23 January 2013 01:26:55PM 0 points [-]

A tree falls in a forest with no-one to hear it. Does it make a sound?

Comment author: 23 January 2013 12:30:14AM *  3 points [-]

Do you have an example in mind where a certain philosophical question claimed to have been solved or dissolved by Eliezer turned out to be not solved after all, or the solution was wrong?

Comment author: 23 January 2013 01:05:31AM 5 points [-]

Do you have an example in mind where a certain philosophical question claimed to have been solved or dissolved by Eliezer turned out to be not solved after all, or the solution was wrong?

Also, instances where Eliezer didn't seem to realize that a problem existed until someone pointed it out to him:

Comment author: 23 January 2013 01:16:02AM 6 points [-]

Order-dependence and butterfly effects - knew about this and had it in mind when I wrote CEV, I think it should be in the text.

Counterfactual Mugging - check, I don't think I was calling TDT a complete solution before then but the Counterfactual Mugging was a class of possibilities I hadn't considered. (It does seem related to Parfit's Hitchhiker which I knew was a problem.)

Solomonoff Induction - again, I think you may be overestimating how much weight I put on that in the first place. It's not a workable AI answer for at least two obvious reasons I'm pretty sure I knew about from almost-day-one, (a) it's uncomputable and (b) it can't handle utility functions over the environment. However, your particular contributions about halting-oracles-shouldn't-be-unimaginable did indeed influence me in toward my current notion of second-order logical natural induction over possible models of axioms in which you could be embedded. Albeit I stand by my old reply that Solomonoff Induction would encompass any computable predictions or learning you could do about halting oracles in the environment. (The problem of porting yourself onto any environmental object is something I already knew AIXI would fail at.)

Comment author: 23 January 2013 07:22:19AM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure if he had both math and philosophy in mind when he wrote that or just math,

Both.

Comment deleted 25 January 2013 08:18:41PM [-]
Comment author: 25 January 2013 03:38:19PM *  -1 points [-]

It seems like that part should be less difficult in an absolute sense than the rest of the labor

You never did any engineering-level mathematical modeling of real system, did you?

The main difficulty is not proving the theorems, it is finding the right axioms to describe the relevant aspects of the system and the properties of interest. And that's where errors often occur.

Now, typical engineering tasks pale in comparison to the task you are trying to undertake: creting a fully specified mathematical model of ethics.

though that might just be comparative advantage talking.

Most likely it's just the Dunning–Kruger effect

The resolutions to philosophical confusions usually seem relatively straightforward once you have them, in my experience so far.

Just like when you "resolved" the interpretation of quantum mechanics? Well, good thing that you are never going to make anything close to an AGI and that AGI risk is probably overrated, otherwise it wouldn't end well...

Comment author: 20 January 2013 05:09:49AM *  1 point [-]

I've argued against this plan but I'm guessing that Eliezer is probably still set on this course. Others at SIAI may have more reservations about it.

For the record: I, too, want an FAI team in which Eliezer isn't the only one with Eliezer-level philosophical ability or better. This is tougher than "merely" finding 1-in-10-million math talents, but still do-able.

What am I doing about it? I wrote a post encouraging a specific kind of philosophical education that I think will be more likely to produce Eliezer-level philosophers than a "normal" philosophical education (or even a CMU or UPitts one). When Louie came up with the idea to write a list of Course recommendations for Friendliness researchers, I encouraged it. Also, one of the reasons I ended up supporting the plan to launch CFAR in 2012 was its potential not only to make people more effective at achieving their goals, but also to learn ways to make some people better philosophers (see my last paragraph here). And there's more, but I can't talk about it yet.

Also, as Eliezer said, Paul Christiano's existence is encouraging.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 08:27:27AM 1 point [-]

CFAR and related are good efforts at raising the sanity waterline (which is an average), not so much for identifying the extreme outliers that could Alan-Turing their way towards an FAI. Those will make waves on their own.

Such grassroots organisations may be good ways of capturing the attention of a wider audience, although second to publishing in the field / personally building a network at conferences.

The time horizon and viability of having a few hundred self-selected college aged students and trying to grow them into a seminal figure of extraordinary capabilities seems prohibitive, especially when there are already exceedingly capable people at Stanford et al, who already bring the oomph and just lack the FAI-motivation.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 08:34:41AM *  0 points [-]

Can you name some older academics that have the requisite philosophical skill? (And if your first line isn't a joke, perhaps you can link me to some of your own philosophical works?)

Comment author: 20 January 2013 12:10:06PM 2 points [-]

Sipser, Russell&Norvig et al are core parts of your proposed philosophical curriculum, Louis' course recommendations reads like my former grad CS reading list.

It follows that, say, many with or pursuing a PhD in Machine Learning and related have also picked up a majority of your desired (per your recommendations) philosophical skills.

I'm not postulating that Bayesian superstars also make the best drummers and fencing masters, but between your analytical CS-style philosophy and Machine Learning groups there is a cross-domain synergy effect that comes with the clarity of designing minds - or advanced algorithms.

(As for myself, the first line was meant as a joke - alas! How sad!)

Comment author: 20 January 2013 06:53:19PM -1 points [-]

It follows that, say, many with or pursuing a PhD in Machine Learning and related have also picked up a majority of your desired (per your recommendations) philosophical skills

No, I wouldn't say that. The problem is that we (humans) don't know how to teach the philosophical skill I'm talking about, so there aren't classes on it, so I can only recommend courses on "the basics" or "prerequisites." I don't know how to turn a math/CS PhD under Stuart Russell into the next Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Comment deleted 20 January 2013 05:28:03PM *  [-]
Comment author: 20 January 2013 06:37:15PM *  6 points [-]

I suspect you and Luke do not share a referent for "better philosophy" here. In particular, I doubt either Luke or Eliezer would agree that the ability to write clearly, or to analyze and formulate arguments for purposes of compellingly engaging with existing arguments in the tradition of analytic philosophy, is the rare skill that Luke is talking about.

Trying to have a conversation about how hard it is to find an X without common referents for X is not likely to lead anywhere productive.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 07:16:45PM *  3 points [-]

You're right, I should say more about what I mean by "Eliezer-level philosophical ability." Clearly, I don't mean "writing clarity," as many of my favorite analytic philosophers write more clearly than Eliezer does.

It'll take me some time to prepare that explanation. For now, let me show some support for your comment by linking to another example of Eliezer being corrected by a professional philosopher.

Comment author: 21 January 2013 01:34:25PM *  0 points [-]

Downvoted because:

• In my experience of philosophy, there are very few philosophers at EY's level.
• You provided no evidence for your claims; and when you edited your comment ...
• ... and the link you gave consists of him clarifying his terminology, and thanking them for interpreting his unclear wording charitably.

Also because it irritates me that this site is scattered with comments at anything from -3 to +15 (not exact figures) that criticize cryonics/ASI/other things lots of us believe in, LW policies, or EY, and then talk about how they're going to get downvoted into oblivion for speaking out against the consensus.

[Edited for formatting.]

Comment author: 21 January 2013 01:58:28PM 5 points [-]

In my experience of philosophy, there are very few philosophers at EY's level.

Can you qualify that with describing your experience with philosophers? E.g. "There are very few philosophers at EY's level, and I've met Philosopher John Conway." Whoever Philosopher John Conway turns out to be.

Comment deleted 21 January 2013 02:18:33PM *  [-]
Comment deleted 02 February 2013 08:28:43AM *  [-]
Comment author: 02 February 2013 05:10:52PM 0 points [-]

Surely low enough not to be overcome by you being impressed or you agreeing with his philosophy

"Here is a very simple example of Bayesian reasoning, that most people are in fact capable of. Suppose we draw a random number between 1 and a million; the prior for any particular number between 1 and a million is straightforwardly very low - one in a million, of course. Now, I have just generated the number 493250 using random.org. Surely this prior of 1 in a million that I have generated any specific number like 493250 is low enough to not be overcome by you being impressed by looking at this comment and see '493250' in it? The prior for you having very special powers of perception of the right number is likewise proportionally low to how very special it is, and so on."

"Here is a very simple example of Bayesian reasoning, that most people are in fact capable of. Suppose we are looking at people who write clip art web comics; the prior for any particular clip art being the best or most popular is straightforwardly very low - one in a million, say, or what ever is your number. Now, we look at http://www.qwantz.com/index.php Surely this prior of 1 in a million is low enough to not be overcome by you being impressed by looking at this Dinosaur Comics? The prior for you having very special powers of perception of clip art is likewise proportionally low to how very special it is, and so on."

The ensuring debates and demands for evidence that something with very low prior isn't true, are particularly illuminating with regards to just how incapable certain self proclaimed Bayesians are of the most basic forms of probabilistic reasoning.

Yes. I agree. Some of these self proclaimed Bayesians cannot even fully specify their examples or prove their arguments or explain the crucial part of what they were probably arguing.

Comment author: 02 February 2013 05:52:52PM *  2 points [-]

"Here is a very simple example of Bayesian reasoning, that most people are in fact capable of. Suppose we are looking at people who write clip art web comics; the prior for any particular clip art being the best or most popular is straightforwardly very low - one in a million, say, or what ever is your number. Now, we look at http://www.qwantz.com/index.php Surely this prior of 1 in a million is low enough to not be overcome by you being impressed by looking at this Dinosaur Comics? The prior for you having very special powers of perception of clip art is likewise proportionally low to how very special it is, and so on."

So, putting the analogy into reverse, the top post is wrong. You can judge N levels above your own.

Comment author: 02 February 2013 06:00:24PM 0 points [-]

I was making the point that Dmytry's claim was flawed in 2 separate ways; 'you can judge N levels above your own' is closer to the point of the random.org example than the DC example. (The DC example was more about neither DC nor EY being a random selection, not the strength of personal judgment.)

Comment deleted 02 February 2013 09:11:09PM [-]
Comment author: 02 February 2013 09:32:09PM -1 points [-]

I would of thought the latter but I now think you're honest given the earlier conversation involving 'crazy' anthropic reasoning of mine which turned out to be favoured by much everyone at SI as well, contrary to your claims.

When did I claim no one at SI held your views? That would've been hard since you refused to use standard terminology like SIA or SSA which I could then go 'ah yes, that's Bostrom's current view'.

If you had some omniscient Omega that had a web interface where you could enter "Pick an 1 in a million - quality philosopher" and it would reply "Eliezer Yudkowsky" and that's how you came around Yudkowsky, then it would have been analogous to that random.org example.

...Prior for the comic is low. You update it away if the choice of comic is very well correlating with what you consider the "best". If you were just shown various clip art at random you'd have a lot of trouble guessing the most popular one, because your eye for popularity certainly won't provide enough evidence.

No, that's not the analogy. The analogy is that there are at least 2 ways in which we are long past a prior of 1 in a million and don't have judgments which are equivalent to random choice, and those were illustrating them: the first is one's own ability to recognize some level of quality in a philosopher, and the second is about looking at a non-random selection at the end of a process with some selection for quality.

Are you making a point that popularity of a philosopher among non philosophers is very correlated to their philosophical ability?

Even a small correlation is enough to move the needle.

What's about lack of recognition by other philosophers, how is that correlated with philosophical ability? What's about Jesus, a dead philosopher who's quite damn popular?

So you cite, in a statistical claim throwing around numbers like 1 in a million, a single example? And I wonder how many people really consider Jesus a philosopher, as opposed to an excuse like GWB to signal their religion and cover up that they don't actually have any preferences as to secular philosophers...

But yeah, popularity is a meaningful index! Go down the list of great philosophers and you'll find they are popular and even appear in pop culture; Zeno, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, Descartes, Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein to name a few off the top of my head are all widely read by laymen and appear in popular culture, and were often world-famous in their own lifetime. Of course it's not a perfect correlation - not all great philosophers will find popularity after their death among non-philosophers (Plotinus or Spinoza or Hume may have been the greatest philosophers of their time but only philosophers read them these days) - but think of how many minor or poor philosophers from those respective time periods remain obscure... Very few of them succeed like Ayn Rand in being a poor philosopher and also popular.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 06:00:38PM 0 points [-]

Vassar - your English is encrypted - more an assumption of intelligence than a sign.

EY - I admire your work. Along with Robin this is the best Show in Town and I will miss it, when it stops.

I actually doubt whether you are accomplishing anything - but this does not seem so important to me, because the effort itself is worthwhile. And we are educated along the way.

This is a youthful blog with youthful worries. From the vantage point of age worrying about intelligence seems like a waste of time and unanswerable to boot.

But those are the stones in your shoes.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 06:26:40PM 0 points [-]

@Jef Allbright:

Can you be concrete and specific about where Eliezer is or has been arrogant?

Comment author: 26 September 2008 06:36:46PM 6 points [-]

"Most intelligent people I've met" is not informative, we need to give quantitative estimates. My estimate is calibrated based on knowing people who passed various screenings, such as math, physics and programming contests (including at international level), test results on screening exams to top universities, performance in hard university courses, people starting to grasp research and programming, etc. Based on population of regions covered by various screenings, and taking age, gender and different background into account, I can approximately rate these people on the "1 in XXX" scale. I'd say that you need to be at a level of 1 in 300 or so to be able to deeply understand any technical field of human knowledge given reasonable effort, and 1 in 100 to be a competent technical specialist. There is a significant difference (which can cash out as, say, 3x speedup at obtaining given level of aptitude) between people who are 1 in 1000 and 1 in 10000. I know too few people beyond 1 in 10000 (about top 30 in a contest over population of 20 million within a 3-year age interval, given average lifespan of 60 and background selection of 1 in 3 top people to enter the contest) to say whether there is a general enough advantage of being there, or if the performance levels off and more rarely occurring extraordinary ability only presents itself on very narrow task, like blasting through programming contests.

People at all levels are stupid at unknown domains, it takes much effort to start demonstrating "raw intelligence" at anything (although in many things skills partially translate between domains). You can't learn to be creative enough if you don't pass a necessary threshold, but on the other hand if you are past it, sufficient effort will make you able to solve any problem other people can solve, although it'll take more time to attain that level and to solve problems once you did that.

The main problem for getting results is that it's very hard to port smart people on a new field of expertise, to convince them to start thinking about something or to actively work on improving their performance in a given domain. So, it seems that the main problem with seeing (or finding) enough brilliant people in any given field or group is not in the rarity of talent, but in the roads they all took, too few of which lead where you look.

People won't risk working on hard important problems or even think too much about exploring which problems could be important, they choose convenient, safe or enjoyable paths, they choose intellectual dynamic, the process, rather than proper understanding of results or appearance. People you hear from are not the smartest there are in a given subject.

I estimate myself to be around 1 in 1000, more specifically a somewhat blinder, slower and faulty-memory version of 1 in 5000 (as I understand, it's not how many other people perceive their limitations). I clearly see the advantages that people with clearer minds get, but as far as I can tell I'm still able to excel at anything if I devote enough attention to it, given enough time. Extraordinary intellectual productivity is a result of taking the right road, which may depend on happenstance beyond your control. Digging yourself from the pit of blind stupidity (relatively), of seeing only a surface level and stopping the investigation there, is the most important thing (which is what the art of rationality is about, not being stupid, using what you've got, while it falls short of understanding intelligence deeper).

From what I've read, I think that Eliezer is somewhere at 1 in 5000 on this scale, given time he devoted to the study of the subjects and results he produced. He stands out in comparison mainly because too few smart enough people engage in the questions he addresses from the same side, and of those who do hardly anybody devoted much serious thought to them and at the same time didn't get lost on a false road. You don't see the absence of talent, but the initial stupidity in unfamiliar domain or entrenched mistakes where there isn't a solid body of knowledge and authority to force them out.

So, I think that his estimate of 1 in 10000-100000 is too high. The problem is more of convincing the right people to work on the problem and pointing them to the right path, rather than of finding the right people at all. Having an introductory text showing the path is a huge asset, so the decision to compose this book might be a fruitful one.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:01:31PM 1 point [-]

My own potential intelligence does worry me fairly often. I am currently studying to become an engineer and hope to work on some of the awesome ideas I read about on sites like this. The thing is though, I wasted the first twenty third years of my life. I am currently at twenty-five years old and I have been forced to pretty much start from scratch on everything from social skills to education and after two years I think I am making some headway. I am even starting to understand what Eliezer talks about in all these posts and apply it to my own life as best I can. The math still escapes me but I managed to make it through about half of the Bayesian explanation before getting completely and utterly lost. So I think it is certainly possible learn a huge amount of things even after young childhood but it is rather less efficient. I have had to really struggle to get to where I am now. And since Eliezer is one of the big reasons I am so excited about getting into science I would like to attempt to work in a similar field of research. Yep.

Comment author: 12 September 2010 03:28:23PM *  2 points [-]

I am in a situation that is practically the same as yours.

As an ex-child prodigy, I identify with the insecurities this thread is about. However, having studied Math at Colege for a year and a half, and having met there people who were so beyond my level that it heavily obstructed communication with them, that they were so far beyond my understanding they could have not been human for all it mattered, I can confidently say that my ambitions of genius-dom have been utterly crushed beyond repair. As I am, I will be very content to be a competent, respected engineer.

This said, I think Eleizer is protesting too much. You shouldn't care how smart you are, only that you are getting your job done: that arrogance of yours needs some serious work, as you know, we know you know, etc. And it seems unfortunate in that regard that exposure to a large amount of far more brilliant minds than yours is an experience that you will have to go seriously out of your way to get, since that is probably the shortest, easiest way to humility.

If you find an alternate path that is not as bitter, please let us know.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:12:39PM -1 points [-]

Let me give a shout out to my 1:50 peeps! I can't even summarize what EY has notably accomplished beyond highlighting how much more likely he is to accomplish something. All I really want is for Google to stop returning pages that are obviously unhelpful to me, or for a machine to disentangle how the genetic code works, or a system that can give absolute top notch medical advice, or something better than the bumbling jackasses[choose any] that manage to make policy in our country. Give me one of those things and you will be one in a million, baby.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:22:25PM 1 point [-]

@Roland

I suppose you could google "(arrogant OR arrogance OR modesty) eliezer yudkowsky" and have plenty to digest. Note that the arrogance at issue is neither dishonest nor unwarranted, but it is an impairment, and a consequence of trade-offs which, from within a broader context, probably wouldn't be taken in the same way.

That's as far as I'm willing to entertain this line of inquiry, which ostensibly neutral request for facts appears to belie an undercurrent of offense.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:39:07PM 0 points [-]

You're probably among the top 10, certainly in the top 20, most-intelligent people I've met. That's good enough for anything you could want to do.

Okay, I realize you're going to read that and say, "It's obviously not good enough for things requiring superhuman intelligence!"

I meant that, if you compare your attributes to those of other humans, and you sort those attributes, with the one that presents you the most trouble in attaining your goal at the top, intelligence will not be near the top of that list for you, for any goal.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:39:48PM 0 points [-]

Eliezer,

what's with the ego?

In other words - why are you so driven?

I gather from your posts that you have metaphysical views which make you believe that solving the FAI problem is the most important thing you should be doing.

But is it really that important that you are the one to bring this work to fruition?

Do you think your life will have been unfulfilled, or your opportunity wasted, if you don't finish this, and finish it as soon as you can?

Would building an exceptional foundation, which future exceptional people can improve on, not be achievement enough?

What does it matter how smart you are, if you are doing what you love, and giving it your best effort?

Perhaps it is the fear of being too late that is causing you distress. Perhaps you fear that humanity is going to be destroyed because you didn't build an FAI soon enough. Perhaps you fear that your life will end some 10,000 years sooner than you'd like.

But it is not your responsibility to save the world. It can be fun if you contribute to the effort. But planets are a dime a dozen, and lives are even cheaper than that. We are not really that important. No one is. In the grand scheme of things, our dramas and concerns are lightweight fun.

One of the problems of always being the top banana is that you never learn to realize that you don't have to be the top banana to be fulfilled in your life.

There's no need to worry so much about being on Jaynes's or Conway's level. Do what you do best, and do it because it's fun. If you've been given what it takes, then this is the fastest way to become the master of your field. And even if you didn't have what it takes - which in your case is unlikely - you would still be making a contribution and having fun.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:47:16PM -2 points [-]

@Jef Allbright:

I suppose you could google "(arrogant OR arrogance OR modesty) eliezer yudkowsky" and have plenty to digest.

Well, I was asking you, not google. But it seems that you are not willing to stand behind your words, making claims then failing to provide evidence when asked. Refering to a third party is an evasive maneuver. Show us your cards!

That's as far as I'm willing to entertain this line of inquiry, which ostensibly neutral request for facts appears to belie an undercurrent of offense.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:53:23PM 0 points [-]

Eliezer, can you clarify what you mean by "You'll note that I don't try to modestly say anything like, "Well, I may not be as brilliant as Jaynes or Conway, but that doesn't mean I can't do important things in my chosen field."

Because I do know... that's not how it works."

Comment author: 25 September 2011 12:41:18PM 0 points [-]

He didn't reply to this, so I'll take a stab at unpacking/justifying that statement.

For the number of people in the world, smaller numbers are more conservative, so suppose that number is 6 billion. For the number of truly distinct things that there are to be good at, larger numbers are more conservative, so let us suppose that number to be 600,000. (I doubt if any reader can come up with even 10,000 such things, even allowing trivial variations like "experimental high energy physicist with subspecialty A" and "experimental high energy physicist with subspecialty B".) Under those conservative assumptions, it is mathematically necessary that AT LEAST 99% of people are not in the top 100 at anything. Further, that boundary only happens with the additional conservative assumptions that 1) literally everyone pursues the exact career (among 600,000 choices!) that an infallible oracle told them they were the best at, and 2) people match careers in such a way that each one is assigned by the oracle to at least 100 people. The farther reality is from those, the more the percentage gets closer to 100%, or the rank required to be at the top of something dips lower than 100.

Because of the preceding argument, it seems likely that most people are not very important to the field to which they are the most important. Therefore, it seems irrational to believe "I am important to my chosen field" without specific, relatively strong evidence that this is the case. Certainly "lots of people say that that's true of everyone" isn't strong enough, since that evidence has the more-plausible alternate explanation that people say that because it's comforting to them to believe it, in ignorance of whether it's actually true.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 07:55:24PM 0 points [-]

Comment author: 26 September 2008 08:12:31PM 2 points [-]

You say 'That's not how it works.' But I think that IS how it works!

If progress were only ever made by people as smart as E.T. Jaynes, humanity would never have gotten anywhere. Even with fat tails, intelligence is still roughly normally distributed, and there just aren't that many 6 sigma events. The vast majority of scientific progress is incremental, notwithstanding that it's only the revolutionary achievements that are salient.

The real question is, do you want Friendly A.I. to be achieved? Or do you just want friendly A.I. to be achieved by YOU? There's no shame in the latter one, but the preclusion of the latter speaks little about progress towards the former (which I happen to think this blog is immensely valuable towards).

Comment author: 26 September 2008 08:37:14PM 2 points [-]

I find myself, except in the case of people with obvious impairments, completely unable to determine how intelligent someone is by interacting with them. Sometimes I can determine who is capable of performing specific tasks, but I have little confidence in my ability to assess "general intelligence".

To some extent, this is because different people have acquired different skills. Archimedes of Syracuse may have been the greatest mathematician in history, but he wouldn't be able to pass the exams in a high school calculus class. Obviously, the reason he couldn't solve these math problems is not that he isn't as intelligent as today's high school students. It's because he never had a calculus textbook.

If you had two black boxes, one of which contained a 14-year-old who scores in the 98th percentile on IQ tests, and the other contained the median college graduate with a degree in some technical field, such as electrical engineering, which black box would appear more intelligent?

It's hard to tell the difference between someone who is actually smarter and someone who has simply learned more. One thing that I learned how to do very well, which contributed greatly to much of my academic success, is translate "word problems" into mathematical equations. There's a systematic way to do this that works on just about any (reasonable) textbook, and it's a task that that I found many of my fellow high school students having trouble with in my science classes.

To what extent is "intelligence" simply a matter of having already learned the best ways to learn?

Comment author: 26 September 2008 08:41:37PM -1 points [-]

Also...

I believe that you don't really understand something until you can explain it to someone else, and have them understand it, too.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 08:55:15PM 0 points [-]

There's basically two reasons to get called arrogant. One is acting like you're better when you aren't. The other is refusing to politely pretend that the inferential chasm is small. Given where E is and where the mass of humanity are, if I had to make blind-guess assignments for 100 accusers picked at random, and I assigned them all into the "inferential distance" bin, I don't think I'd be wrong once. So, a person asking to be put, or to put some accuser into the "undeserved airs" bin, had better show some sharp evidence!

Comment author: 26 September 2008 09:24:33PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: 20 January 2013 05:46:19AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: 20 January 2013 06:00:22AM *  1 point [-]

Why was this down voted? The comic is a take on a fairly prevalent belief, heck, Hardy said it!

I wish more people on this forum would explain why they were down voting something, that on the face of it, seems reasonable.

I'm up voting this.

EDIT: When I posted this, I was of the opinion that the comic was just giving a funny take on the maths is a young man's game thing. Now, after looking it several times, I am of the opinion that it was trying to poke fun of this said misconception. And, giving the benefit of doubt to the original poster, I still stand by my upvote.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 06:48:06AM 5 points [-]

Let's find an archaeologist to exhume the remains of the long since dead reader who downvoted that comment a mere 52 months ago. Who knows what his thought process was? Did he hunt saber-tooths and not appreciate the cave-man like quality of XKCD stick figures? And where did he even get his computer, or did he MacGyver a Turing Machine out of sticks and stones?

Comment author: [deleted] 20 January 2013 10:50:26AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: 20 January 2013 07:03:20AM *  3 points [-]

I did. I didn't want to explain why because it's a long conversation I don't want to have, but basically I think this quote promotes a misleading conception of mathematics. For the record, Hardy is thought to have been suffering from depression when he wrote this.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 11:45:44AM *  1 point [-]

Am I misreading the comic? It appears to be making fun of that quote. Maybe it's more haha only serious than I thought?

EDIT: By the way, I upvoted you even though I think you may have misinterpreted the comic in question, as I am in favor of people explaining their downvotes. Keep up the good work!

Comment author: 20 January 2013 01:28:43PM 0 points [-]

I know, and I've read too, that Hardy was apparently not in the pink when he said this. And in all honesty the comic seems to be making fun of the conception that maths was for the young.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 January 2013 10:52:46AM *  0 points [-]

I wish more people on this forum would explain why they were down voting something, that on the face of it, seems reasonable.

Me too. (Not sure that a link to that xkcd comic in this context “on the face of it, seems reasonable”, though.)

Comment author: 20 January 2013 01:23:42PM 0 points [-]

Does a link to a comic have a place in this forum? I don't know the answer to that, perhaps it is not. That said, my comment was more a reaction to other down votes, this just happened to be the straw I was commenting on.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 January 2013 01:33:28PM 0 points [-]

(I meant “context” not “comment” BTW -- fixed that.)

Does a link to a comic have a place in this forum?

Yes. I've posted such links myself. But that particular one seems to me to have very dubious topicality.

Comment author: 20 January 2013 01:39:38PM 0 points [-]

Really? I think, after staring at it for some time, that the comic is making fun of the thinking that maths is a young man's game.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 09:41:49PM 0 points [-]

"Perhaps it is the fear of being too late that is causing you distress. Perhaps you fear that humanity is going to be destroyed because you didn't build an FAI soon enough. Perhaps you fear that your life will end some 10,000 years sooner than you'd like."

Humanity's alleged demise is not the only possible way he could be too late. I wonder where Eliezer would turn his attention if someone (or some group) solved the problems of FAI before him.

Eliezer has written a number of times about how comparing your intelligence and rationality to those around you is pointless (e.g. it's never good enough to be good in comparison, etc.). This philosophy has thus far been directed at comparing one's self to lower levels of cognition - but I don't see why it shouldn't work bottom up also. Learn from the levels above you, but do not lionize them. As we all aspire to embody the higher levels, I'm sure Jaynes must have also (an old vampire, but not old enough).

Eliezer: I don't think we should worry about our particular positions on the bell curve, or set goals for where we want to be. Don't fret over the possible limitations of your brain, doing so will not change them. Just work hard and try your best, always attempt to advance - push the limitations. Jaynes was struggling against his meat-brain too. It's human - you both surpassed the village idiots and college professors, now the difference in levels becomes more and more negligible with each step approaching the limit. Everybody is working with meat designed by the "idiot god". Push it to the limit, hate the limit, but don't be self-conscious about it.

We all wish we had gotten an earlier start on things. The importance of them is perhaps something you have to learn as you grow.

Comment author: 26 September 2008 11:00:13PM 3 points [-]

Eliezer: It seems to me that uncertainty about your abilities is dwarfed by uncertainty about the difficulty of the problem.

Doug S: The median college graduate in a technical field probably would test in the 95th percentile on most IQ tests and at the 98th percentile on tests weighted heavily towards non-vocabulary crystalline g

Comment author: 27 September 2008 12:09:34AM 1 point [-]

Eliezer: Not sure to what extent this helps or answers your questions, but I increasingly as of late find that much of my current "cached wisdom" seems to be derived from stuff you've said.

As far as as actually finding the next generation or whatever, maybe some people here that know how ought to start some "private school for the gifted" that explicitly is meant to try to act almost like a Bayes Dojo or whatever and otherwise train up people in really precise thinking?

Comment author: 12 September 2010 05:32:21PM 0 points [-]

If such an insitution is ever built, and it is what it claims to be (remember that all causes want to become cults), then, believe me, I'd send my children there as a top priority. Such a school should not be for geniuses only, but for the development of the teaching of the Methods of Rationality to all of humanity. To set an example to be followed by all who wish not to be left behind.

I remeber Aldous Huxley mentioning, in Brave New World Revisited, a similar project by some philantrope, who wished to make children immune to propaganda and manipulation. The authorities shut it down because, they said, it turned the teenagers and young adults too cynical and disobedient to Authority. For example, they were able to calmly analyze the Drill Sergeant's speech as it was given. And obviously, we couldn't have that, could we? I think such a project has considerably greater chances of success nowadays.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 01:22:32AM 7 points [-]

While Conway has a huge jump on you in mathematical ability, and I'm pretty sure you're not going to catch up to him, rest assured that you are not strictly dumber than Conway in every respect.

You should bear in mind how the statement "Maybe anything more than around one standard deviation above you starts to blur together, though that's just a cool-sounding wild guess" might apply to me. If your guess is literally true, then, because math is my strong-suit, high mathematical ability is the smartest kind of smart that I can detect at all. For me, philosophical ability and the like would blur into "go to college"-land sooner.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 02:02:47AM 0 points [-]

Eliezer: Look on the bright side, you haven't yet relegated yourself to being a mere administrator and occasional sounding board for others' AI research projects! Ego subjugation is a bitch, but it can have minor rewards of self-satisfaction when actions driven by pressure-free buckshot mental synthesis actually bear fruit. I don't envy that it's of no help to you that the luxury of being carefree relies on the knowledge that smarter people are doing the heavy lifting, and today you're at the top tier of that brain chain!

Comment author: 27 September 2008 07:02:00AM 0 points [-]

Maksym: We actually do need someone to translate all this OB stuff very badly, though maybe it's desirable to wait for the book. Still, someone should be presenting it. As for convincing smart college students, there are three fairly separate barriers here, those to rationality, those of information and those to action. I recommend working on barriers to rationality and action first and in conjunction, belief second, and let people find the info themselves. Politics is the natural subject to frame as rationality. Simply turn every conversation where politics comes up into an opportunity to discourse on OB. Rules of etiquette are weak at Harvey Mudd, so this should be OK.

Denis: In technical fields? If so, I unhesitatingly deny the data. I suggest you look at Gottfredson. Lynn is far from trustworthy, but may also be summarizing. Do you really think that people who can't pull 600 on the SAT Math can do engineering?

Comment author: 27 September 2008 03:22:00PM 1 point [-]

Dude, you honestly make me ill sometimes. You spoke nothing of the circumstances that got these people to where they are or where they came from. There are people just as "sparkly" and some smarter than these people who have not had the opportunity that these people have. You are blinded by your arrogance and are locked in the present time. You are a smart guy, but you would have a lot to gain in building interpersonal wisdom.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 03:59:00PM 3 points [-]

The sparkle you describe is meaningless; non-sparkling borderline-autistic types do just as fine work as the most invigoratingly sparkling individuals. I choose to sparkle through my work, in quiet solitude, not through swaying my limbs excitedly, motor-mouthing like a sports commentator on amphs.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 04:09:00PM 1 point [-]

Its a benefit for me to read this post having not read your others, because I can give you an untainted view of it. You are too concerned with intelligence. As long as you stay in this state, you are unusable, and pass up opportunities on becoming usable.
Snap out of it. Accept that there are more intelligent people than you, and they are not flailing, they just get on with it.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 05:51:00PM 4 points [-]

Again, I have difficulty understanding why so many people place such a high value on 'intelligence' for its own sake, as opposed to a means to an end. If Eliezer is worried that he does not have enough mathematical intelligence to save the universe from someone else's misdesigned AI, than this is indeed a problem for him, but only because the universe will not be saved. If someone else saves the universe instead, Eliezer should not mind, and should go back to writing sci-fi novels. Why should Eliezer's ego cry at the thought of being upstaged? He should *want* that to happen if he's such an altruist.

I don't really give a damn where my 'intelligence' falls on some scale, so long as I have enough of it to accomplish those things I find satisfying and important TO ME. And if I don't, well, hopefully I have enough savvy to get others who do to help me out of a difficult situation. Hopefully Eliezer can get the help he needs with fAI (if such help even exists and such a problem is solvable).

Also, to those who care about intelligence for its own sake, does the absolute horsepower matter to you, or only your abilities relative to others? IE, would you be satisfied if you were considered the smartest person in the world by whatever scale, or would that still not be enough because you were not omniscient?

Comment author: 27 September 2008 05:58:00PM 11 points [-]

Of course I want there to be someone smarter than me to take over, from an altruistic perspective. Or even from just a selfish perspective of being scared, wanting a vacation, and feeling a bit isolated.

And of course if that actually happened, it would be a severe blow to my ego.

And so long as I can do the expected-utility-maximizing thing and invest the appropriate amount of effort into preparing for the possibility without betting the whole farm on it, I have no intention of hacking at my emotions on either score.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 06:29:00PM 1 point [-]

I know how you feel, in a couple ways. My high-school guidance counselor looked at my middle school transcript and told me I might realistically aspire to go to a UC school (as opposed to a school in the Cal State system). (I ended up going to Harvard and Caltech.) On the other hand, the year I finished my Ph.D. (at the age of 29) one of my college acquaintances, a brilliant mathematician, became one of the youngest full professors in the history of Princeton University, and when my Ph.D. advisor was 29 he had already been a professor at Caltech for several years (after graduating top of his Caltech class, finishing a Ph.D. in three years at Cambridge on a Marshall Scholarship, and doing a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study).

Though I know I'm not (alas) at the highest level, I feel fortunate to be smart enough to know how smart I'm not.

N.B. The introduction contains a small non sequitur unless you happen to know the book's author. Here's a quick edit:

I once lent Xiaoguang "Mike" Li my copy of Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E.T. Jaynes.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 06:32:00PM 1 point [-]

It's a general rule, I've observed, that you can't discriminate between levels too far above your own.

Although I agree with this in general, it seems that there are a few specific counterexamples. For example, it seems that people with very low ability in sports actually can discriminate ability from the local high school level to the international stage.

Do other people agree? If so, what do you propose distinguishes between intelligence/mathematical ability and athletic ability?

Comment author: 27 September 2008 07:06:00PM 2 points [-]

If so, what do you propose distinguishes between intelligence/mathematical ability and athletic ability?

To evaluate athletic ability, you use your judgment. What can you use to evaluate your judgment?

It is possible for a person to produce an accurate evaluation of a subset of their own intellectual skills, but certain skills cannot be evaluated, because presumptions about those skills are required for the evaluation to take place. You should not ask questions about subjects in which you presume you already know the answers, and you cannot ask questions about subjects where answers must be presumed in order to be able to ask at all.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 07:33:00PM 1 point [-]

Lara, I don't think they value it "for its own sake" as opposed to as a means to an end; rather, they see it as a necessary condition for achieving their ends, and are worried they don't have what it takes. Nothing but an anxiety trip.

And of course, there's also the ego thing -- when people build superiority over others into their self-image. This is counterproductive, of course. When someone else demonstrates that they're "smarter" than you by offering unexpected insight, you don't fatalistically wallow in jealous misery; you listen to the content of what they say, in the hope of becoming as smart as they are.

Eliezer of all people ought to realize this (actually I suspect he does).

FWIW, I've met both Eliezer and John Conway, and have spent approximately the same total amount of time with both of them (on the order of 10 hours). I don't know which of them is smarter. Yet I suspect neither is too far above my own level for me to be able to e.g. benefit from listening to a conversation between them.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 08:30:00PM 2 points [-]

Eliezer, Komponisto,

I understand the anxiety issues of, 'Do I have what it takes to accomplish this..."

I don't understand why the existence of someone else who can would damage Eliezer's ego. I can observe that many other people's sense of self is violated if they find out that someone else is better at something they thought they were the best at-- the football champion at HS losing their position at college, etc. However, in order for this to occur, the person needs to 1) in fact misjudge their relative superiority to others, and 2) value the superiority for its own sake.

Now, Eliezer might take the discovery of a better rationalist/fAI designer as proof that he misjudged his relative superiority-- but unless he thinks his superiority is itself valuable, he should not be bothered by it. His own actual intelligence, afterall, will not have changed, only the state of his knowledge of others' intelligence relative to his own.

Eliezer must enjoy thinking he is superior for loss of this status to bother his 'ego'.

Though I suppose one could argue that this is a natural human quality, and Eliezer would need to be superhuman or lying to say otherwise.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 09:02:00PM 6 points [-]

I have no idea if it's a natural human quality. It's surely one of my qualities. It's not that I would permit my mind to think verbal thoughts like "How good it is to be above others." But there's a zest in being the best. It feels good to complete a difficult race and it feels good to win a gold medal; they are separate, different good feelings. I can imagine people who would only care about having completed the challenge, but they wouldn't be me.

Since my mind doesn't want whatever I choose it to want, I accept that both desires are a part of me and that both desires keep me motivated to continue studying. Though even the desire to solve hard problems for yourself, is not without its dangers.

Doesn't fit the stereotype of Deep Wisdom, I know. I would be prouder if I was Gandalf, because that would be, you know, cool. But you see, this isn't about my pride.

Comment author: 27 September 2008 09:38:00PM 1 point [-]

I can imagine people who would only care about having completed the challenge, but they wouldn't be me.

I'm not sure there are any people like this who are capable of occasionally winning. OTOH, the prospect of never winning might force someone to rationalize themselves into this position.

Comment author: 28 September 2008 09:55:00PM 6 points [-]

Some else wrote

"
This is a youthful blog with youthful worries. From the vantage point of age worrying about intelligence seems like a waste of time and unanswerable to boot.
"

and I find this observation insightful, and even a bit understated.

Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability.

Obviously, one reason these sorts of questions about comparative general intelligence are unanswerable is that "general intelligence" is not really a rigorously defined concept -- as you well know! And the rigorous definitions that have been proposed (e.g. in Legg and Hutter's writing, or my earlier writings, etc.) are basically nonmeasurable in practice -- they're only crudely approximable in practice, and the margin of error of these approximations is almost surely large enough to blur whatever distinctions exist between various highly clever humans.

I have no doubt that you're extremely smart, and especially talented in some particular areas (such as mathematics and writing, to give a nonexhaustive list) ... and that you're capable of accomplishing great things intellectually.

As an aside, the notion that Conway, or von Neumann or any other historical math figure is "more intelligent than Eliezer along all dimensions" seems silly to me ... I'm sure they weren't, under any reasonable definition of "dimensions" in this context.

To take a well-worn example: from my study of the historical record, it seems clear that Einstein and Godel were both less transparently, obviously clever than von Neumann. My guess is that von Neumann would have scored higher on IQ tests than either of those others, because he was incredibly quick-minded and fond of puzzle-type problems. However, obviously there were relevant dimensions along which both Einstein and Godel were "smarter" than von Neumann; and they pursued research paths in which these dimensions were highly relevant.

"General intelligence" has more and more meaning as one deals with more and more powerful computational systems. For humans it's meaningful but not amazingly, dramatically meaningful ... what's predictive of human achievement is almost surely a complex mixture of human general intelligence with human specialized intelligence in achievement-relevant domains.

Pragmatically separating general from specialized intelligence in oneself or other humans is a hard problem, and not really a terribly useful thing to try to do.

Achieving great things seems always to be a mixture of general intelligence, specialized intelligence, wise choice of the right problems to work on, and personality properties like persistence ...

-- Ben G

Comment author: 28 September 2008 10:16:00PM 0 points [-]

Achieving great things seems always to be a mixture of general intelligence, specialized intelligence, wise choice of the right problems to work on, and personality properties like persistence ...

With a pinch of being in the right place and the right time, bake on 350 for 10-30 years.

Comment author: 28 September 2008 10:19:00PM 1 point [-]

Ben,
I kind of disagree with you. First, what we call "general intelligence" is itself a form of specialized intelligence: specializing optimizing successful outcomes in real time in our apparent reality. so the mix you recommend in "achieving great things" would itself be "general intelligence", not general intelligence plus something else (other than luck).

Since most people who "achieve great things" seem to me to be playing life at least in part as a poker game (they don't seem to put all their cards out on the table) I think outcomes may be a better measure than propaganda. "Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability." I'm not sure that comes from wisdom, rather than the rationally adjusted propaganda of an older person (look at my status enabled institutional power to achieve) contrasted with that of the younger person (look at my superior capabilities, with a brain at its physical prime).

Comment author: 29 September 2008 01:46:00AM 3 points [-]

Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability.

This definitely happened to me. Between the ages of about 10 - 14, I was utterly obsessed with finding out what my IQ was. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I'd picked up the notion that Smartness in quantity was the most important thing a person could possibly have.

And it drove me frankly batty not knowing how much Smartness I had, because (a) I was insecure and felt like I needed to find out I had a "high enough" number in order to permit myself any sense of self-worth, and (b) I had an idea fixed in my mind that only "geniuses" with IQs 150 or above could have any hope of addressing any of the interesting questions and topics that dominated my thoughts as a geeky little kid: faster-than-light travel, Grand Unified Theories, etc.

I spent a lot of time trying to find any papers/reports/test scores my parents might be hiding away, hoping that I'd be able to discover through doing this some idea of the quantitative value stamp I was convinced must be on my brain somewhere (though not directly viewable by me).

I didn't actually find any of these papers until I was in my late teens, and by then I found with some surprise that I didn't care all that much what they said. At some point between the ages of 14 and 17 I'd managed to get over my IQ obsession and move toward a different brain-related obsession (one considerably less worry-inducing): that of how brains, and in particular mine, worked at all. And in ceasing to be obsessed with quantitative test-based measurements, lo and behold, I found it far easier to actually think about things and just plain learn.

I do now know what my age-4 Weschler score was, and it wasn't 150. Not even close. I took another Weschler (the adult scale) in college, and while that score ended up being quite a bit higher than my age-4 score, it was still lower than I'd originally hoped it would be. But it didn't matter to me in the least from an emotional standpoint by then, because I'd already managed to accomplish things (like getting an A in calculus) that I'd have considered the province of people with far higher IQ scores than I actually had. Not to mention the fact that when I looked at my subtest scores, they were all over the map -- I had a higher than average Block Design, but lower than average Picture Arrangement, for instance.

At this point I tend to see IQ (at least as measured on tests) as being very limited in terms of what information it actually tells you about what someone is capable of doing. E.g., I don't think IQ scores can definitively tell you when someone is going to "hit a wall", so to speak, in terms of what mathematical theorem they will absolutely get stuck on when they encounter it (or what engineering problem they might be able to solve, etc.).

It almost seems like some of these posts are suggesting a desire for much greater predictive ability than any test or ten-minute impression could possibly actually reveal in something as complex and feedback-sensitive as a human individual. And while I'd like as much as anyone for the world and everyone in it not to be destroyed (whether in one great cataclysm or a gradual tragic fade-out), I've come to terms with the fact that, as corny as it sounds, all we can do is our best, and we must do this in the utter absence of perfect knowledge regarding the limits of our individual or collective capacity.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 10:16:00AM 2 points [-]

Eliezer, don't think to yourself that you only have until you are 40. As somebody else noted and you didn't acknowledge, Marcello was not yet born when Conway passed 40. You mentioned your father, and I don't know the specifics, but surely you know that plenty of people have done great work, sometimes their best, past 40, and that with every passing year, due to advances in health, medicine, etc., "youth" extends further and further into our life.

And as another poster mentioned, I have almost no doubt that Von Neumann would have blown Einstein (possibly Godel) out of the water in terms of ability, and at the age of 10 or 11, William James Sidis would have smoked them all (at comparable ages). Even if there is such a thing as general intelligence and even if one has less of it than somebody else, it is still very much possible that one is vastly more talented in particular areas.

Einstein probably didn't have an IQ in the realm of Von Neumann or Newton or Sidis, but what he did have was an incredible physical intuition and the ability to think deeply about the philosophical underpinnings of physics in a way that few others could (or can). As others have said, even if Conway actually is smarter (which you should not just blindly accept, because we all have cognitive biases that might prevent us from making an accurate judgment), it doesn't mean that you don't have profound gifts that will end up being the deciding factor in solving FAI or whatever else you set your mind to.

Looking at Von Neumann at age 24 and Einstein at age 24, NOBODY would have thought it remotely possible that Einstein would be the one who would achieve enough in his field to be considered a successor to Newton. Von Neumann, though he accomplished more than 100 "mere" geniuses could ever hope to accomplish, cannot be said to be a successor to (or in the same league as) a Gauss or somebody of similar stature.

Since you're so fond of quotes, here's one for you:

If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?

- Shantideva (Indian Buddhist philosopher)

Just get on with it. Self-doubt and endless self-analysis do not contribute to the end goal.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 03:09:00PM 0 points [-]

Supporting Ben Goertzel's comment:

Michael Shermer revised his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, to contain a chapter called â€œWhy Smart People Believe Weird Thingsâ€. In it, he quotes studies by Hudson, Getzels, and Jackson showing that â€œcreativity and intelligence are relatively orthogonal (i.e., unrelated statistically) at high levels of intelligence. Intuitively, it seems like the more intelligent people are the more creative they will be. In fact, in almost any profession significantly affected by intelligence, once you are at a certain level among the population of practitioners (and that level appears to be an IQ score of about 125), there is no difference in intelligence between the most successful and the average in that profession. At that point other variables, independent of intelligence, take over, such as creativity, or achievement motivation and the drive to succeed.â€

Comment author: 04 October 2008 03:41:00PM 2 points [-]

Actually RU, that's a good approximation for many/most professions, but not all that good an approximation.
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/Peabody/SMPY/DoingPsychScience2006.pdf
gives more detail, showing a significant marginal impact from, at the least, 99.99th percentile math achievement at age 12 relative to merely 99.8th percentile math achievement at age 12.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 03:47:00PM 2 points [-]

Is this study talking about Nobel Prize winners - or better yet, Fields Medal-winning mathematicians? Or just authors or something? I'm about ready to say "I defy the data; what about von Neumann?" Maybe there are people who can achieve through diligence what others achieve by genius, but to say that genius doesn't help at all... I defy the data.

(If you told me that IQ didn't make a difference past 140, I'd be quite willing to believe that IQ tests don't work past 140. Richard Feynman's measured IQ was 137, which as John K Clark observed, says more about IQ tests than it does about Feynman.)

Comment author: 04 October 2008 04:00:00PM 3 points [-]

Feynman's measured IQ was 123, not 137. And we already know that IQ tests do not measure vitally important aspects of cognition -- in Feynman's case especially, he was quite strong in those aspects while being weak in the aspects measured. (At least, I know that. What the rest of you know is less certain.)

This is one of the primary reasons why people who think we can use IQ scores as a representation for the higher-level aspects we can't measure well (because they're supposedly correlated with IQ) are wrong. (I'm looking at you, Vasser.)

IQ tests do not measure synthetic capacity, imagination, creative potential, or self-restraint / the ability to inhibit low-level drives and impulses. They measure only the ability to complete certain atomic functions in a limited subset of cognitive tasks. That makes them useful -- extremely so -- but not definitive. Not even close.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 09:29:09PM 8 points [-]

Feynman's measured IQ was 123, not 137. And we already know that IQ tests do not measure vitally important aspects of cognition -- in Feynman's case especially, he was quite strong in those aspects while being weak in the aspects measured. (At least, I know that. What the rest of you know is less certain.)

You don't even know that. This sort of thing is why no one here likes you. Here, let me provide some more details about that IQ score you put such weight on as a criticism. To quote a previous comment of mine on this topic:

• Feynman was younger than 15 when he took it, and very near this factoid in Gleick's bio, he recounts Feynman asking about very basic algebra (2^x=4) and wondering why anything found it hard
• the IQ is mentioned immediately before the section on 'grammar school', or middle school, implying that the 'school IQ test' was done well before he entered high school, putting him at much younger than 15. (15 is important because Feynman had mastered calculus by age 15, Gleick says, so he wouldn't be asking his father why algebra is useful at age >15.)
• Given that Feynman was born in 1918, this implies the IQ test was done around 1930 or earlier. Given that it was done by the New York City school district, this implies also that it was one of the 'ratio' based IQ tests - utterly outdated and incorrect by modern standards.
• Finally, it's well known that IQ tests are very unreliable in childhood; kids can easily bounce around compared to their stable adult scores.

So, it was a bad test, which even under ideal circumstances is unreliable & prone to error, and administered in a mass fashion and likely not by a genuine psychometrician.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 09:33:00PM 0 points [-]

This seems awfully hostile for a reply to a post that's more than two years old.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 09:35:39PM 1 point [-]

and originally posted to a different site

Comment deleted 06 January 2011 09:36:29PM [-]
Comment author: 06 January 2011 10:26:34PM 2 points [-]

I would hope that incredibly sloppy thinking, manifested in such things as posting confidently as a knockdown argument a proposition that is anything but and can be revealed as such with just a tiny understanding of psychometrics, is why Caledonian was so often downvoted and criticized by OB/LW - and not because we didn't like his haircut.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 10:34:55PM 0 points [-]

OB didn't have downvoting.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 10:41:27PM 0 points [-]

LW, fortunately, does. And I think Caledonian ultimately wound up being banned, which is a rather extreme downvote from my point of view.

Comment author: 06 January 2011 11:10:04PM 0 points [-]

I don't think he was ever banned (though his comments were sometimes edited and sometimes deleted). In fact, he stuck around on LW for a while, under the username "Annoyance".

Comment author: 06 January 2011 10:25:01PM 6 points [-]

Stupidity is stupidity regardless of whether it was posted 2 seconds or 2 years ago. Funnily enough, people (like me) are still reading old posts...

Comment author: 08 January 2011 01:20:51AM 1 point [-]

to get more upvotes and less downvotes, from me at least, continue to post evidence-based criticisms of other's faulty points, without unnecessary vitriol.

Comment author: 08 January 2011 01:22:34AM 4 points [-]

If 1 line of vitriol followed by >20 lines of 'evidence-based criticisms' is still wrong, then I'm not sure I want to be right.

Comment author: 08 January 2011 01:42:06AM *  4 points [-]

Considering the strong evidence that lesswrong isn't nice enough, unnecessary vitriol should always be removed.

Comment author: 08 January 2011 05:20:59AM 1 point [-]

Considering the strong evidence that lesswrong isn't nice enough, unnecessary vitriol should always be removed.

I'm curious! I updated my views on lesswrong's niceness (based on the top-level post about the issue and giving extra weight to the comments section because this is a case about the lesswrong community) to "I don't have a fucking clue". And if at all possible I would dearly like to have a clue.

Comment author: 08 January 2011 12:55:42PM 1 point [-]

The evidence I saw is that people left because it wasn't nice enough. No one seemed to think it was too nice, and some people saw drawbacks with increased niceness, but this doesn't seem like a case where those drawbacks are significant.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 04:43:00PM 11 points [-]

There's another aspect of the shortcomings of IQ tests that people might not be aware of. Cognition is quite flexible, and abstract problem-solving ability can be met by many combinations of underlying, modular capacities. A person lacking in certain respects can make up for the lack, at the price, perhaps, of thinking a little more slowly.

Take me for an example. On the WISC-III IQ test, my combined score is 145. There are two composite scores that the combined score is made up of, the verbal score (I got 155, the maximum possible on that test) and the performance score (I got 125). There are also a number of different individual capacity scores. On most, I scored above the 95 percentile. On two or three, I scored right in the middle, and in one (visual short term memory) I scored in the first percentile.

Let me repeat that. I scored in the first percentile for the capacity to keep visual information in my short-term memory. (I scored in the 97th for aural short term memory, and 99.9th for linguistic.) How does that change how I solve problems, how I think about the world? Well, I perform many tasks about twice as slowly (but just as accurately) as others with my composite IQ. I have to use other circuits than most people do to solve the same problems, circuits that aren't as efficient. Circuits that may even work slightly differently, giving me a different perspective on problems, which may be superior or inferior, I don't know (likely depending on the individual problem). I strongly suspect that this is a large part of the cause of my intense dislike of school.

(BTW, people with a large difference between performance and verbal IQ are classified as having non-verbal learning disorder. That's right, even really smart people can have learning disorders.)

IQ is not a single number. Even IQ recognizes a large part of the complexity of human intelligence. It's not the psychologists that make the mistake of reducing it to a single number.

Why did I write this long comment on a dead thread? Dunno.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 05:17:00PM 2 points [-]

Gentlemen - Let me propose that the heart of serious intellectual achievement is synthesis, creativity, simplicity.

These are factors that actually increase with age and are not "IQ" or "g" driven. In fact I believe Edward de Bono argued that creativity drops at IQ 125 or so: maybe because people begin to fall into an "expert trap," where they have to maintain their previous work and expert status more than anything else.

Creativity need not decline with age at all - if you can avoid common habit errors.

My objection to Vassar is just that all these "tests" are highly flawed and biased - they consistently disfavor certain people and favor others. They just do, sorry, and this alone invalidates them or at least diminishes their usefulness.

My other comment to you all has to do with Feynman. I once asked another member of the Project, who is a famous emeritus experimentalist, about him. He told me that what distinguished Feynman was his wit and curiosity about things that others didn't think were "on the critical path," so to speak. Wit and curiosity are completely untestable, but if you look at real achievers I believe you'll find these qualities extremely important.

The courage to appear silly to avoid the expert trap - wit - careful avoidance of habit error - constant search for bias - doubting intuitions - deliberately slowing down to allow more time for divergent thought esp. if you are overclocked - synthesis - simplicity - tenacity - the person with these 9 qualities will be a thinker for the ages.

Comment author: 05 January 2013 05:27:54PM 1 point [-]

Why make the assumption at all, and much less so blatantly, that women are not reading your messages or posting on this site?

Comment author: 04 October 2008 05:39:00PM 2 points [-]

I think you're on the right path, frelkins, but this?

all these "tests" are highly flawed and biased - they consistently disfavor certain people and favor others.

How does the latter follow at all? If we had a test that measures everything you think constitutes real intelligence, it would consistently disfavor certain people and favor others. It would disfavor stupid people and favor smart people. That's the point of an intelligence test.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 05:39:00PM 1 point [-]

I don't believe IQ tests measure everything. There's a certain feeling when being creative, and when completing these tests I have not felt it, so I don't think it's measuring it.

Also I am not sure intelligence is general. At the level of ordinary life it certainly is, but geniuses are always geniuses *at* something, e.g. maths, physics, composing. Why aren't they geniuses at everything.

Comment author: 04 October 2008 07:06:00PM 1 point [-]

Does anyone have a reputable source for Feynman's 137? google makes it look very concentrated in this group, probably the result of a single confabulation.

Sykes and Gleick's biographies both give 12x. Sykes quotes Feynman's sister remembering sneaking into the records as a child. This seems important to me: Feynman didn't just fabricate the 12x.

Comment author: 12 October 2008 07:20:00AM 0 points [-]

Math smarts are not the most important thing. Basic reasoning skills are vital (even if they are based on heuristics that are sometimes wrong), management skills are extremely important, intelligence augmentation skills are a must, touchtyping is very useful, etc.

Overall you should think not in terms of competitiveness (whether you are smarter than everybody else), but in terms of co-operation (how you can complement others, how they can contribute their skills to complement yours).

And for the record, I don't think you are the smartest person I know (although you are very smart). I suspect that I may have a better skillset than you do. :)

Comment author: 27 July 2009 07:56:09AM 4 points [-]

Since this is now kinda on-topic... I don't think Eliezer Yudkowsky is considerably more intelligent that I am. I'm aware of Dunning-Kruger effect, but the interesting part is that I simply don't find any way to overcome this. I'm fairly intelligent, but since people around here regard my barely-MENSA(probably not even that) -level of IQ a minium requirement to even read this blog, the situation I'm in is fairly interesting. I see repeated claims of super-intelligence, but I can see just someone who has had few more years to hone his skills and who has wasted less years on doing pointless things.

So, I'm kinda curious: What's it with Elizer Yudkowsky that makes everyone look up to him? I see some fairly interesting all-around posts, but is it that you see something more? I think there is a possibility here that the reason you admire Yudkowsky and I don't is partially because he Seems Deep(in the sense that he makes sense immediatly but seems novel), while I spent my earlier life discovering much the same stuff alone. It lacks novelty(to me), but adds details and strengths which I attribute to experience, and thus I judge Eliezer less "deep", and, consequently, less superhuman? This possibility gains some credibility from the fact that in my own little circles, I have pretty much the same sort of reputation as Eliezer has here(and, I think this is surprisingly much about personality, and thus I assume it's surprisingly rare for people here to be have that reputation), and before I knew of Eliezer, I had plans of becoming something much like he is now.

I presented two possibilites: Should I accept that I'm just incapable of distinguishing the level so much above my own, or should I defy the public opinion and regard Eliezer as "not that smart", because it's more about personality and "seeming deep" than about real difference in mental machinery. However, third option exists: I haven't read the stuff that makes everyone admire Eliezer so.

I'm really interested in manifestations of intelligence, so this issue is of a great importance to me. Especially if it is about Dunning-Kruger, I wanna understand how to overcome that. Maybe it's just that I pass those "technical-seeming" parts that actually demonstrate amazing intellectual stunts, and I should make a better mental notes every time I'm forced to skip some phrase without completely grasping the meaning.

Comment author: 27 July 2009 09:42:32AM *  5 points [-]

On one hand, Eliezer writes extremely good explanations. I'm learning from his style a lot.

On the other hand, many people have pointed out that he doesn't publish novel rigorous results, which kinda detracts from the aura.

On the third hand, he often finds and corrects non-obvious mathematical mistakes made by other people, including me, and he's turned out right every time that I know of.

On the fourth hand, I've seen multiple cases where he made math mistakes of his own, and have discovered a couple of those myself. But that could be attributed to the fact that he publishes so much, and his error frequency is certainly many times lower than mine.

On the fifth hand, he has published novel non-rigorous arguments on real world topics that I don't completely agree with but find pretty important. Biggest of them is the idea of Friendly AI.

The weighting coefficients you give to those considerations are, of course, up to you.

ETA: on an unrelated topic, would you like to write a post on Go? CronoDAS has just turned our attention to something interesting.

Comment author: 27 July 2009 03:15:04PM 0 points [-]

If that had been a novel rigorous result it would not have been wrong. It was just a bit of eyeballing mathematics, which I've done in any number of places.

Comment author: 27 July 2009 03:18:35PM *  0 points [-]

Edited to amend.

Comment author: 28 July 2009 02:13:56AM 0 points [-]

"On one hand, Eliezer writes extremely good explanations. I'm learning from his style a lot."

Yeah, but they are rather verbose he tends to use 5 words when 2 would do.

"On the other hand, many people have pointed out that he doesn't publish novel rigorous results, which kinda detracts from the aura."

If you want to be in science this is a big issue unless your trying to pull a Wolfram and we all know how that turned out.

"On the third hand, he often finds and corrects non-obvious mathematical mistakes made by other people, including me, and he's turned out right every time that I know of."

But the math on this site what little there is tends to be toy problems and very simple. Let's see him find and correct a mistake in some higher order fluid mechanics equations. I would personally like to see him solve a non-trivial second order non-linear partial differential equation.

"On the fourth hand, I've seen multiple cases where he made math mistakes of his own, and have discovered a couple of those myself. But that could be attributed to the fact that he publishes so much, and his error frequency is certainly many times lower than mine."

That's horrifying if you're going to do science you have to control your error rate and that is where peer review comes in. (I recently submitted a paper where I was sloppy on some rounding of some of my results and I got slammed for it, science is all about precision and doing it right) If you don't do the peer review then you may think your idea is good when if you actually had someone else look at it you'd see it was total trash.

"On the fifth hand, he has published novel non-rigorous arguments on real world topics that I don't completely agree with but find pretty important. Biggest of them is the idea of Friendly AI."

But for science and AI this is essentially meaningless since if your goal is to make an FAI then math and rigor is necessary. The ability to write non-technical papers arguing for some idea that is technical is trivial. The challange is getting the technical detail right. This is where I would like to see Eliezer submit some of his work on decision theory show that he is actually making a theory that is properly rigorous.

I think the worst thing would be if people here just wait for Eliezer and he shows up at the end of 10 years with an extremely long non-technical paper that gets us no closer to a real FAI.

But those are just my thoughts.

Comment author: 28 July 2009 04:40:02AM *  1 point [-]

While awesome math ability is a great thing to have, it would only complement whatever skills Eliezer needs to succeed in his AI goals. If Eliezer finds that he lacks the math skills at a certain point to develop some new piece of mathematics, he can find a math collaborator that will be thrilled about having a novel problem to work on.

I'm also not concerned about error rate. You write that the challenge is "getting the technical details right" -- this is simply not true. It's the main, big, mostly correct ideas we need to progress in science, not meticulousness.

(I recently submitted a paper where I was sloppy on some rounding of some of my results and I got slammed for it, science is all about precision and doing it right)

Publication is all about precision and doing it right, and it should be. But don't you feel like the science was done before the more careful rounding?

Comment author: 06 August 2010 08:03:31PM 1 point [-]

That's a lot of hands.

Comment author: 19 April 2010 03:28:02PM 4 points [-]

a friend of mine thought this was relevant: “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” - Conan Doyle

Comment author: 27 June 2012 07:52:03AM *  -2 points [-]

But then there's also the technically mediocre who are talented signalers.

Comment author: 16 March 2011 01:41:10AM 0 points [-]

I find the idea that there are a lot of more intelligent people in the world than me comforting, especially in my chosen fields. Not because I feel this gives me an excuse to slack off and let them do the hard work, but because competition seems to drive me and keep me happier than anything else. Since finding lesswrong and related sites where people discuss AI, programming, and rationality, my efforts have improved considerably. I am far from competing with most of the people here, particularly you, but at least I have mental patterns I can model to improve.

I know people with greater mental horsepower than you, but none of them ever persisted at any problems that are hard enough to test the limits of their abilities.

Comment author: 31 October 2011 05:02:15AM 1 point [-]

I doubt that Jaynes became Jaynes by aspiring to a level. Too bad we can't ask him.

Don't despair of surpassing Jaynes. He, and a great many others, have given you a leg up that Jaynes never had. People seem formidable because they're practiced in mental kung fu that you don't know. Darwin is remembered for an idea you can teach an 8 year old today.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 June 2012 08:01:54PM 3 points [-]

I am blogging here for many reasons, but a major one is the vision of some younger mind reading these words and zipping off past me.

Thank you.