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

Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Free to Optimize - Less Wrong

25 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2009 01:41AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (80)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 January 2009 04:39:21AM 10 points [-]

Judges go through pretty complicated cognitive algorithms in an absolute sense to make their decisions, but since we can predict them by running similar cognitive algorithms ourselves, the rules look simple - simpler than, say, Maxwell's Equations which have much lower Kolmogorov complexity in an absolute sense. So this is the sense of "predictability" that we're concerned with, but it's noteworthy that a world containing meddling gods - in the sense of their being smarter than human - is less predictable on even this dimension.

Oh, and I should have added earlier that modern legal systems score a nearly complete FAIL on this attribute of Fun Theory - no one human mind can even know all the rules any more, let alone optimize for them. There should be some Constitutional rule to the effect that the complete sum of the Law must be readable by one human in one month with 8 hours of sleep every night and regular bathroom breaks.

Comment author: Carinthium 23 November 2010 05:47:47AM 2 points [-]

Or at the very least, don't have a principle like in Australia that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Comment author: pnrjulius 06 June 2012 08:23:05PM -1 points [-]

Yes, ignorantia non excusat is basically abandoning the entire purpose of Rule of Law and stare decisis. I don't know why more people don't see this; it's basically what Kafka was talking about in The Judgment.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 01:40:20AM -1 points [-]

If that principle was abandoned, there would be every reason to never learn the laws.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 01:39:05AM 0 points [-]

Is there anywhere that doesn't have that principle? It seems like a system of laws where ignorance was a valid excuse would be impossible to manage, and nontrivial even for a superintelligent AI. You would have to be able to peer inside someone else's specific brainstate for awareness of a specific concept, or of their entire past history. And how do you judge someone who had once know the law, but has since forgotten it?

Besides that, abandoning the concept of ignorantia non excusat creates an incentive to never learn the laws. Even with a perfect AI running the judicial system, that's undesirable.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 01:44:31AM 1 point [-]

You would have to be able to peer inside someone else's specific brainstate for awareness of a specific concept, or of their entire past history.

In principle, I suppose. In practice, several real-world legal structures depend on the court deciding, as a question of law, what was going on inside a person's mind at a particular time.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 01:58:14AM -1 points [-]

And are those legal structures actually accurate? I have very strong doubts about the potential accuracy in the absence of overwhelming circumstantial evidence such as statements they made at the time away from witnesses they'd want to conceal the truth from.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 02:34:33AM 1 point [-]

I'm not claiming they're accurate. I'm claiming that our inability to reliably read minds does not in practice prevent us from creating legal structures that depend on the court deciding what was going on in someone's mind, and consequently it is insufficient to explain the "Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse" principle.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 02:45:34AM -1 points [-]

I claim that their (known-but-unquantified) inaccuracy is sufficient to explain it. When you know a tool is flawed, you avoid it wherever possible.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 03:56:55AM 0 points [-]

If the court's known inaccuracy about a defendant's state of mind is sufficient to explain why we don't treat people who break a law differently based on the court's beliefs about their knowledge of the law, it is also sufficient to explain why we don't treat people who break a law differently based on the court's beliefs about other states of mind, such as the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Unfortunately, that second thing turns out to be false... we do treat those people differently.

When an explanation turns out to explain falsehoods just as easily as truths, I don't consider it an adequate explanation for those truths.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 06:33:13AM -1 points [-]

I chose my words carefully: I said "avoid it wherever possible". Some distinctions will naturally fall on the side where it's deemed appropriate/necessary, generally, as in the case of manslaughter, when the difference is of enormous perceived moral significance.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 December 2013 03:26:03PM 0 points [-]

So, if the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" principle were repealed by some culture C, would that surprise you, or would you merely consider it a demonstration that punishing people who are ignorant of the law is of enormous perceived moral significance to members of C?

Comment author: Carinthium 02 December 2013 08:16:55AM 1 point [-]

It's a matter of the best results that can be attained. The legal system can choose between being unambigious (which requires very complicated language) and being understandable to an ordinary person (which requires simple language). It is impossible to have both.

The problem is that any system which chooses the latter option is itself unjust as it will inevitably create ambigious scenarios. You then have to choose between generousness in interpretation whenever an ambigiuity exists, ignorance of the true meaning of the law as an excuse, and having to convict people ignorant of how to interpret the law as there is no correct intepretation to apply to the facts. The alternative of 'the spirit of the law' is illusionary, as shown by the massive amount of bias humans have interpreting such a vague concept.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 May 2011 09:30:10PM 2 points [-]

Oh, and I should have added earlier that modern legal systems score a nearly complete FAIL on this attribute of Fun Theory - no one human mind can even know all the rules any more, let alone optimize for them. There should be some Constitutional rule to the effect that the complete sum of the Law must be readable by one human in one month with 8 hours of sleep every night and regular bathroom breaks.

That's a good idea. Why did no one think of that?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 May 2011 09:59:55PM 4 points [-]

As far as I can tell, it's much easier for people to add rules than to repeal them-- I call this rule rachetting.

Perhaps it's that once a rule exists, people have put work into getting used to it, and don't want to redo their habits.

However, considering that it's hard to get obsolete laws repealed, it's probably a status issue. Repealing a law means that the people in charge have to admit that the group they're affiliated with isn't eternally correct, and that there's some area of activity where the people who are lower status than the government are now going to be trusted to make their own choices.

Comment author: satt 17 May 2011 10:58:52PM 3 points [-]

I expect a lot of people suspect that the law is necessarily more complex than EY's rule would allow, as the law has to cover so many different situations.

Comment author: pnrjulius 06 June 2012 08:25:24PM 6 points [-]

In fact, I think that our laws are made precisely by people who don't want us to go around optimizing our behavior to conform to the laws. Why? Because that prevents them from inserting hidden advantages for the people they like (or more specifically the people who pay them campaign contributions).

There's simply no way to look at, say, the US tax code, or Dodd-Frank, and think, "These are laws designed to be sensible and consistently followed." It's much more obvious from trudging through their verbal muck that these are laws designed to be incomprehensible and strategically broken.

Comment author: pnrjulius 06 June 2012 08:32:01PM *  1 point [-]

I mean, think about it; what's the best possible tax code? It takes about a page:

  • A list of tax-brackets, linked to the GDP deflator, and their (progressive) rates; e.g. "Under $5k: no tax; $5k-$1k: 10%; $10k-$20k: 15%; $20k-$40k: 20%; $40k-$80k: 25%; $80k-$160k: 30%; $160k-$320k: 35%; over $320k: 40%"

  • A list of important deductions, such as charitable donation and capital loss

And... that's about it frankly. This would raise revenue in a simple and fair way, and effectively eliminate the tax-filing and tax-compliance industry. And we could do it tomorrow by an act of Congress. But we won't.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 June 2012 12:28:49AM 0 points [-]

I'd be interested in an example of what you think the specification of a deduction looks like.

Comment author: pnrjulius 07 June 2012 02:20:06AM 0 points [-]

I guess it might take a few more pages to precisely describe what constitutes a "charitable organization" or something... it wouldn't take our whole tax code, that's for sure.

Part of the problem is that we have so many stupid deductions. You get to deduct mortgage interest, and children you have, and student loans... we're shifting incentives all over the place without any awareness of what we're doing.

Comment author: VAuroch 02 December 2013 01:45:15AM 0 points [-]

You underestimate the intentionality of the deduction scheme. The things which are incentivized by the tax code are purposeful. They have knock-on effects that aren't anticipated, but that's true of every policy.

Also, you significantly underestimate how difficult it is to specify all the important aspects of the tax code rigorously enough to be enforceable.

Comment author: gattsuru 02 December 2013 07:51:33AM *  0 points [-]

A list of important deductions, such as charitable donation and capital loss

I expect (> 0.99) that any politically achievable set of important deductions will exceed a page, and predict (> 0.8) that any set of tax structures that you'd actually like to live within will greatly exceed several dozen pages. The Earned Income Tax Credit, for one simple and exceptionally popular example, is several pages on its own.

More fundamentally, how do you define income? Do you allow corporations to exist at all -- not every country does -- and if you do allow them, do you tax them -- not every country does -- and if you tax them, when and to what degree?

Part of this is legal formalism. In the same way that you have to write a whole lot to handle general circumstances with programming code, even for relatively simple programs, any just legal system will need to describe as much of the situation as possible. ((If you don't do it in the statute, it just falls into the court and regulatory system: arguably, the worst complexity in the US system already does this!)). Most victims of the IRS don't need to think about whether the gift boat counts as income, just as most viewers on this web site don't need to think about whether they handle decimal commas or sanitizes input, but if it's not in the statute or code, respectively, things end poorly.

There's a lot of cruft that could be removed even under that, true. Many of these statutes are the legal equivalent of code projects that have accumulated, rather than being designed-as-a-whole. The problem is that the beneficiaries of any particular deduction care very strongly about their particular deduction, while tax-simplifiers care very strongly about a random deduction,

Comment author: PetjaY 08 November 2015 09:22:37AM 0 points [-]

I hope you mean taxing additional income that much, otherwise earning 40k$ instead of 1$ less would make you pay 40k$(25%-20%)=2000$ more in taxes, which means people would have to start checking how much they´ve earned when closing to yearend, and sometimes working less (or asking for less pay) to not go to the next bracket. Why not just use a function? Like, tax rate=lesser of: 0.25earnings,40% or something like that. My personal favourite is basic income+flat tax rate though.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 08 November 2015 10:16:27AM 0 points [-]

I hope you mean taxing additional income that much

That's what tax brackets mean.

Comment author: Vaniver 09 November 2015 03:06:27PM *  2 points [-]
Note that *is a special character in Markdown syntax, and so if you want to use* without italicizing words, you need to type it like this:

Note that is a special character in Markdown syntax, and so if you want to use without italicizing words, you need to type it like this:

Note that \*is a special character in Markdown syntax, and so if you want to use \*without italicizing words, you need to type it like this:

Note that *is a special character in Markdown syntax, and so if you want to use *without italicizing words, you need to type it like this:

(Spaces will also work at differentiating "I want an asterisk" and "I want to italicize this phrase.")