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MarsColony_in10years comments on Complex Novelty - Less Wrong

26 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 December 2008 12:31AM

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Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 15 November 2015 12:02:21AM 0 points [-]

A world without complex novelty would be lacking. But so would a world without some simple pleasures. There are people who really do enjoy woodworking. I can't picture a utopia where no one ever whittles. And a few of them will fancy it enough to get really, really good at it, for pretty much the same reason that there are a handful of devoted enthusiasts. Even without Olympic competitions and marathons, I'd bet there would still be plenty of runners, who did so purely for it's own sake, rather than to get better or to compete, or for novelty. Given an infinite amount of time, everyone is likely to spend a great deal of time on such non-novel things. So, what's most disturbing about carving 162,329 table legs is that he altered his utility function to want to do it.

(As best I can grasp the Law, there are insights you can't understand at all without having a brain of sufficient size and sufficient design. Humans are not maximal in this sense, and I don't think there should be any maximum—but that's a rather deep topic, which I shall not explore further in this blog post. Note that Greg Egan seems to explicitly believe the reverse—that humans can understand anything understandable—which explains a lot.)

Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me that any mind capable of designing a turning-complete computer can, in principle, understand any class of problem. I say "class of problem", because I doubt we can even wrap our brains around a 10x10x10x10 Rubik's Cube. But we are aware of simpler puzzles of that class. (And honestly, I'm just using an operational definition of "classes of problem", and haven't fleshed out the notion.) There will always be harder logic puzzles, riddles, and games. But I'm not sure there exist entirely new classes of problems, waiting to be discovered. So we may well start running out of novelty of that type after a couple million years, or even just a couple thousand years.

Comment author: Nomad 15 November 2015 10:10:12AM 1 point [-]

There are people who really do enjoy woodworking. I can't picture a utopia where no one ever whittles.

That really expresses something I've been mulling over to myself for a while: that failed utopias in fiction, or at least a large class of such, only appear to work because they lack certain types of people. The Culture, ironically, has no transhumanists, people who look at the Minds and say, "I want to be one of those." Certain agrarian return-to-nature fantasies lack people like me, who couldn't psychologically survive outside of a city and who derive literally no pleasure from so-called 'beautiful dioramas'. And of course, any utopia I would try to write probably would fall into the same trap, most likely because I wouldn't include people who want to whittle.

Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 15 November 2015 06:42:20PM 0 points [-]

Good point. It seems like we 1) value an incredibly diverse assortment of things, and 2) value our freedom to fixate on any particular one of those things. So, any future which lacks some option we now have will be lacking. Because at some point we have to choose one future over another, perhaps we will always have a tiny bit of nostalgia. (Assuming that the notion of removing that nostalgia from our minds is also abhorrent.)

I'll also note that after a bit more contemplation, I've shifted my views from what I expressed in the second paragraph of my comment above. It seems plausible that certain classes of problems tickle a certain part of our brain. Visual stimuli excite our visual cortex, so maybe Rubik's Cubes excite the parts of our brain involved in spatial reasoning. It seems plausible, then, that we could add entire new modules to our minds for solving entire new classes of problems. Perhaps neuroplasticity allows us to already do this to a degree, but it also seems likely that a digital mind would be much less restricted in this regard.