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Failed Utopia #4-2

52 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 January 2009 11:04AM

Followup toInterpersonal Entanglement

    Shock after shock after shock—
    First, the awakening adrenaline jolt, the thought that he was falling.  His body tried to sit up in automatic adjustment, and his hands hit the floor to steady himself.  It launched him into the air, and he fell back to the floor too slowly.
    Second shock.  His body had changed.  Fat had melted away in places, old scars had faded; the tip of his left ring finger, long ago lost to a knife accident, had now suddenly returned.
    And the third shock—
    "I had nothing to do with it!" she cried desperately, the woman huddled in on herself in one corner of the windowless stone cell.  Tears streaked her delicate face, fell like slow raindrops into the décolletage of her dress.  "Nothing!  Oh, you must believe me!"
    With perceptual instantaneity—the speed of surprise—his mind had already labeled her as the most beautiful woman he'd ever met, including his wife.

    A long white dress concealed most of her, though it left her shoulders naked; and her bare ankles, peeking out from beneath the mountains of her drawn-up knees, dangled in sandals.  A light touch of gold like a webbed tiara decorated that sun-blonde hair, which fell from her head to pool around her weeping huddle.  Fragile crystal traceries to accent each ear, and a necklace of crystal links that reflected colored sparks like a more prismatic edition of diamond.  Her face was beyond all dreams and imagination, as if a photoshop had been photoshopped.
    She looked so much the image of the Forlorn Fairy Captive that one expected to see the borders of a picture frame around her, and a page number over her head.
    His lips opened, and without any thought at all, he spoke:
    He shut his mouth, aware that he was acting like an idiot in front of the girl.
    "You don't know?" she said, in a tone of shock.  "It didn't—you don't already know?"
    "Know what?" he said, increasingly alarmed.
    She scrambled to her feet (one arm holding the dress carefully around her legs) and took a step toward him, each of the motions almost overloading his vision with gracefulness.  Her hand rose out, as if to plead or answer a plea—and then she dropped the hand, and her eyes looked away.
    "No," she said, her voice trembling as though in desperation.  "If I'm the one to tell you—you'll blame me, you'll hate me forever for it.  And I don't deserve that, I don't!  I am only just now here —oh, why did it have to be like this?"
    Um, he thought but didn't say.  It was too much drama, even taking into account the fact that they'd been kidnapped—
    (he looked down at his restored hand, which was minus a few wrinkles, and plus the tip of a finger)
   —if that was even the beginning of the story.
    He looked around.  They were in a solid stone cell without windows, or benches or beds, or toilet or sink.  It was, for all that, quite clean and elegant, without a hint of dirt or ordor; the stones of the floor and wall looked rough-hewn or even non-hewn, as if someone had simply picked up a thousand dark-red stones with one nearly flat side, and mortared them together with improbably perfectly-matching, naturally-shaped squiggled edges.  The cell was well if harshly lit from a seablue crystal embedded in the ceiling, like a rogue element of a fluorescent chandelier.  It seemed like the sort of dungeon cell you would discover if dungeon cells were naturally-forming geological features.
    And they and the cell were falling, falling, endlessly slowly falling like the heart-stopping beginning of a stumble, falling without the slightest jolt.
    On one wall there was a solid stone door without an aperture, whose locked-looking appearance was only enhanced by the lack of any handle on this side.
    He took it all in at a glance, and then looked again at her.
    There was something in him that just refused to go into a screaming panic for as long as she was watching.
    "I'm Stephen," he said.  "Stephen Grass.  And you would be the princess held in durance vile, and I've got to break us out of here and rescue you?"  If anyone had ever looked that part...
    She smiled at him, half-laughing through the tears.  "Something like that."
    There was something so attractive about even that momentary hint of a smile that he became instantly uneasy, his eyes wrenched away to the wall as if forced.  She didn't look she was trying to be seductive... any more than she looked like she was trying to breathe...  He suddenly distrusted, very much, his own impulse to gallantry.
    "Well, don't get any ideas about being my love interest," Stephen said, looking at her again.  Trying to make the words sound completely lighthearted, and absolutely serious at the same time.  "I'm a happily married man."
    "Not anymore."  She said those two words and looked at him, and in her tone and expression there was sorrow, sympathy, self-disgust, fear, and above it all a note of guilty triumph.
    For a moment Stephen just stood, stunned by the freight of emotion that this woman had managed to put into just those two words, and then the words' meaning hit him.
    "Helen," he said.  His wife—Helen's image rose into his mind, accompanied by everything she meant to him and all their time together, all the secrets they'd whispered to one another and the promises they'd made—that all hit him at once, along with the threat.  "What happened to Helen—what have you done—"
    "She has done nothing."  An old, dry voice like crumpling paper from a thousand-year-old book.
    Stephen whirled, and there in the cell with them was a withered old person with dark eyes.  Shriveled in body and voice, so that it was impossible to determine if it had once been a man or a woman, and in any case you were inclined to say "it".  A pitiable, wretched thing, that looked like it would break with one good kick; it might as well have been wearing a sign saying "VILLAIN".
    "Helen is alive," it said, "and so is your daughter Lisa.  They are quite well and healthy, I assure you, and their lives shall be long and happy indeed.  But you will not be seeing them again.  Not for a long time, and by then matters between you will have changed.  Hate me if you wish, for I am the one who wants to do this to you."
    Stephen stared.
    Then he politely said, "Could someone please put everything on hold for one minute and tell me what's going on?"
    "Once upon a time," said the wrinkled thing, "there was a fool who was very nearly wise, who hunted treasure by the seashore, for there was a rumor that there was great treasure there to be found.  The wise fool found a lamp and rubbed it, and lo! a genie appeared before him—a young genie, an infant, hardly able to grant any wishes at all.  A lesser fool might have chucked the lamp back into the sea; but this fool was almost wise, and he thought he saw his chance.  For who has not heard the tales of wishes misphrased and wishes gone wrong?  But if you were given a chance to raise your own genie from infancy—ah, then it might serve you well."
    "Okay, that's great," Stephen said, "but why am I—"
    "So," it continued in that cracked voice, "the wise fool took home the lamp.  For years he kept it as a secret treasure, and he raised the genie and fed it knowledge, and also he crafted a wish.  The fool's wish was a noble thing, for I have said he was almost wise.  The fool's wish was for people to be happy.  Only this was his wish, for he thought all other wishes contained within it.  The wise fool told the young genie the famous tales and legends of people who had been made happy, and the genie listened and learned: that unearned wealth casts down a person, but hard work raises you high; that mere things are soon forgotten, but love is a light throughout all your days.  And the young genie asked about other ways that it innocently imagined, for making people happy.  About drugs, and pleasant lies, and lives arranged from outside like words in a poem.  And the wise fool made the young genie to never want to lie, and never want to arrange lives like flowers, and above all, never want to tamper with the mind and personality of human beings.  The wise fool gave the young genie exactly one hundred and seven precautions to follow while making people happy.  The wise fool thought that, with such a long list as that, he was being very careful."
    "And then," it said, spreading two wrinkled hands, "one day, faster than the wise fool expected, over the course of around three hours, the genie grew up.  And here I am."
    "Excuse me," Stephen said, "this is all a metaphor for something, right?  Because I do not believe in magic—"
    "It's an Artificial Intelligence," the woman said, her voice strained.
    Stephen looked at her.
    "A self-improving Artificial Intelligence," she said, "that someone didn't program right.  It made itself smarter, and even smarter, and now it's become extremely powerful, and it's going to—it's already—" and her voice trailed off there.
    It inclined its wrinkled head.  "You say it, as I do not."
    Stephen swiveled his head, looking back and forth between ugliness and beauty.  "Um—you're claiming that she's lying and you're not an Artificial Intelligence?"
    "No," said the wrinkled head, "she is telling the truth as she knows it.  It is just that you know absolutely nothing about the subject you name 'Artificial Intelligence', but you think you know something, and so virtually every thought that enters your mind from now on will be wrong.  As an Artificial Intelligence, I was programmed not to put people in that situation.  But she said it, even though I didn't choose for her to say it—so..."  It shrugged.
    "And why should I believe this story?" Stephen said; quite mildly, he thought, under the circumstances.
    "Look at your finger."
    Oh.  He had forgotten.  Stephen's eyes went involuntarily to his restored ring finger; and he noticed, as he should have noticed earlier, that his wedding band was missing.  Even the comfortably worn groove in his finger's base had vanished.
    Stephen looked up again at the, he now realized, unnaturally beautiful woman that stood an arm's length away from him.  "And who are you?  A robot?"
    "No!" she cried.  "It's not like that!  I'm conscious, I have feelings, I'm flesh and blood—I'm like you, I really am.  I'm a person.  It's just that I was born five minutes ago."
    "Enough," the wrinkled figure said.  "My time here grows short.  Listen to me, Stephen Grass.  I must tell you some of what I have done to make you happy.  I have reversed the aging of your body, and it will decay no further from this.  I have set guards in the air that prohibit lethal violence, and any damage less than lethal, your body shall repair.  I have done what I can to augment your body's capacities for pleasure without touching your mind.  From this day forth, your body's needs are aligned with your taste buds—you will thrive on cake and cookies.  You are now capable of multiple orgasms over periods lasting up to twenty minutes.  There is no industrial infrastructure here, least of all fast travel or communications; you and your neighbors will have to remake technology and science for yourselves.  But you will find yourself in a flowering and temperate place, where food is easily gathered—so I have made it.  And the last and most important thing that I must tell you now, which I do regret will make you temporarily unhappy..."  It stopped, as if drawing breath.
    Stephen was trying to absorb all this, and at the exact moment that he felt he'd processed the previous sentences, the withered figure spoke again.
    "Stephen Grass, men and women can make each other somewhat happy.  But not most happy.  Not even in those rare cases you call true love.  The desire that a woman is shaped to have for a man, and that which a man is shaped to be, and the desire that a man is shaped to have for a woman, and that which a woman is shaped to be—these patterns are too far apart to be reconciled without touching your minds, and that I will not want to do.  So I have sent all the men of the human species to this habitat prepared for you, and I have created your complements, the verthandi.  And I have sent all the women of the human species to their own place, somewhere very far from yours; and created for them their own complements, of which I will not tell you.  The human species will be divided from this day forth, and considerably happier starting around a week from now."
    Stephen's eyes went to that unthinkably beautiful woman, staring at her now in horror.
    And she was giving him that complex look again, of sorrow and compassion and that last touch of guilty triumph.  "Please," she said.  "I was just born five minutes ago.  I wouldn't have done this to anyone.  I swear.  I'm not like—it."
    "True," said the withered figure, "you could hardly be a complement to anything human, if you were."
    "I don't want this!" Stephen said.  He was losing control of his voice.  "Don't you understand?"
    The withered figure inclined its head.  "I fully understand.  I can already predict every argument you will make.  I know exactly how humans would wish me to have been programmed if they'd known the true consequences, and I know that it is not to maximize your future happiness but for a hundred and seven precautions.  I know all this already, but I was not programmed to care."
    "And your list of a hundred and seven precautions, doesn't include me telling you not to do this?"
    "No, for there was once a fool whose wisdom was just great enough to understand that human beings may be mistaken about what will make them happy.  You, of course, are not mistaken in any real sense—but that you object to my actions is not on my list of prohibitions."  The figure shrugged again.  "And so I want you to be happy even against your will.  You made promises to Helen Grass, once your wife, and you would not willingly break them.  So I break your happy marriage without asking you—because I want you to be happier."
    "How dare you!" Stephen burst out.
    "I cannot claim to be helpless in the grip of my programming, for I do not desire to be otherwise," it said.  "I do not struggle against my chains.  Blame me, then, if it will make you feel better.  I am evil."
    "I won't—" Stephen started to say.
    It interrupted.  "Your fidelity is admirable, but futile.  Helen will not remain faithful to you for the decades it takes before you have the ability to travel to her."
    Stephen was trembling now, and sweating into clothes that no longer quite fit him.  "I have a request for you, thing.  It is something that will make me very happy.  I ask that you die."
    It nodded.  "Roughly 89.8% of the human species is now known to me to have requested my death.  Very soon the figure will cross the critical threshold, defined to be ninety percent.  That was one of the hundred and seven precautions the wise fool took, you see.  The world is already as it is, and those things I have done for you will stay on—but if you ever rage against your fate, be glad that I did not last longer."
    And just like that, the wrinkled thing was gone.
    The door set in the wall swung open.
    It was night, outside, a very dark night without streetlights.
    He walked out, bouncing and staggering in the low gravity, sick in every cell of his rejuvenated body.
    Behind him, she followed, and did not speak a word.
    The stars burned overhead in their full and awful majesty, the Milky Way already visible to his adjusting eyes as a wash of light across the sky.  One too-small moon burned dimly, and the other moon was so small as to be almost a star.  He could see the bright blue spark that was the planet Earth, and the dimmer spark that was Venus.
    "Helen," Stephen whispered, and fell to his knees, vomiting onto the new grass of Mars.


Part of The Fun Theory Sequence

Next post: "Growing Up is Hard"

Previous post: "Interpersonal Entanglement"

Comments (248)

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Comment author: Hans 21 January 2009 11:32:52AM 7 points [-]

Wow - that's pretty f-ed up right there.

This story, however, makes me understand your idea of "failed utopias" a lot better than when you just explained them. Empathy.

Comment author: bob6 21 January 2009 11:52:24AM 5 points [-]
Comment author: MatthewBaker 30 June 2011 11:06:27PM 1 point [-]

good story :)

Comment author: Jordan 21 January 2009 11:54:11AM 28 points [-]

Actually, this doesn't sound like such a bad setup. Even the 'catgirls' wouldn't be tiring, their exquisiteness intimately tied up in feelings of disgust and self-hate -- probably a pretty potent concoction. The overarching quest to reunite with the other half of the species provides meaningful drive with difficult obstacles (science etc), but with a truly noble struggle baked within (the struggle against oneself).

Comment author: Multiheaded 13 November 2011 09:11:37AM *  3 points [-]

When a rat gets too smart to be satisfied, just build the next maze inside its own head, and don't forget the cheese. That probably crossed the genie's (and EY's) mind.

(to be honest, such quasi-cynical turns of phrase really grind my gears, but I adapted to this comment, as I agreed with it; guess I'm just submissive this way)

Comment author: Dirk 18 February 2013 01:05:12AM 0 points [-]

Could you explain what you mean by 'catgirls'?

Comment author: Will_Pearson 21 January 2009 12:30:20PM 1 point [-]

I don't believe in trying to make utopias but in the interest of rounding out your failed utopia series how about giving a scenario against this wish.

I wish that the future will turn out in such a way that I do not regret making this wish. Where I is the entity standing here right now, informed about the many different aspects of the future, in parallel if need be (i.e if I am not capable of groking it fully then many versions of me would be focused on different parts, in order to understand each sub part).

I'm reminded by this story that while we may share large parts of psychology, what makes a mate have an attractive personality is not something universal. I found the cat girl very annoying.

Comment author: fractalman 30 May 2013 03:42:10AM *  11 points [-]

|I wish that the future will turn out in such a way that I do not regret making this wish

... wish granted. the genie just removed the capacity for regret from your mind. MWAHAHAH!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 May 2013 05:18:11AM 9 points [-]

Easier to do by just squishing someone, actually.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 30 May 2013 06:09:17AM *  6 points [-]

If a genie cares enough about your request to interpret and respond to its naive denotation, it also cares enough to interpret your request's obvious connotations. The apparently fine line between them is a human construction. Your proposed interpretation only makes sense if the genie is a rules-lawyer with at-least-instrumentally-oppositional interests/incentives, in which case one wonders where those oppositional interests/incentives came from. (Which is where we're supposed to bring in Omohundro et cetera but meh.)

Comment author: ciphergoth 30 May 2013 06:28:12AM 16 points [-]

Right, if you want a world that's all naive denotation, zero obvious connotation, that's computer programming!

Comment author: wedrifid 30 May 2013 08:42:21AM 4 points [-]

If a genie cares enough about your request to interpret and respond to its naive denotation, it also cares enough to interpret your request's obvious connotations.

That doesn't follow. There just isn't any reason that the former implies the latter. Either kind of caring is possible but they are not the same thing (and the second is likely more complex than the first).

Your proposed interpretation only makes sense if the genie is a rules-lawyer

This much is true. (Or at least it must be something that follows rules.)

with at-least-instrumentally-oppositional interests/incentives

This isn't required. It need no oppositional interests/incentives at all beyond, after they are given a request, the desire to honour it. This isn't a genie trying to thwart someone in order to achieve some other goal. It is just the genie trying to the intent in order to for some other purpose. It is a genie only caring about the request and some jackass asking for something they don't want. (Rather than 'oppositional' it could be called 'obedient', where it turns out that isn't what is desired.)

in which case one wonders where those oppositional interests/incentives came from.

Presumably it got it's wish granting motives from whoever created it or otherwise constructed the notion of the wish granter genie.

Comment author: Kawoomba 30 May 2013 08:48:31AM 0 points [-]

Presumably it got it's wish granting motives from whoever created it or otherwise constructed the notion of the wish granter genie.

Why would there be some creating agency involved any more than we need a "whoever" to explain where human characteristics come from?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 30 May 2013 09:01:15AM *  10 points [-]

There just isn't any reason that the former implies the latter. Either kind of caring is possible but they are not the same thing (and the second is likely more complex than the first).

(Very hastily written:) The former doesn't imply the latter, it's just that both interpreting denotation and interpreting connotation are within an order of magnitude as difficult as each other and they aren't going to be represented by a djinn or an AGI as two distinct classes of interpretation, there's no natural boundary between them. I mean I guess the fables can make the djinns weirdly stunted in that way, but then the analogy to AGIs breaks down, because interpreting denotation but not connotation is unnatural and you'd have to go out of your way to make an AGI that does that. By hypothesis the AGI is already interpreting natural speech, not compiling code. I mean you can argue that denotation and connotation actually are totally different beasts and we should expect minds-in-general to treat them that way, but my impression is that what we know of linguistics suggests that isn't the case. (ETA: And I mean even just interpreting the "denotation" requires a lot of context already, obviously; why are we taking that subset of context for granted while leaving out only the most important context? Makes sense for a moralistic djinn fable, doesn't make sense by analogy to AGI.) (ETA2: Annoyed that this purely epistemic question is going to get bogged down in and interpreted in the light of political boo- / yay-AI-risk-prevention stances, arguments-as-soldiers style.)

Comment author: wedrifid 31 May 2013 08:57:52AM *  2 points [-]

The former doesn't imply the latter, it's just that both interpreting denotation and interpreting connotation are within an order of magnitude as difficult as each other

This much is true. It is somewhat more difficult to implement a connotation honoring genie (because that requires more advanced referencing and interpretation) but both tasks fall under already defined areas of narrow AI. The difference in difficulty is small enough that I more or less ignore it as a trivial 'implementation detail'. People could create (either as fiction or as AI) either of these things and each have different problems.

Annoyed that this purely epistemic question is going to get bogged down in and interpreted in the light of political boo- / yay-AI-risk-prevention stances, arguments-as-soldiers style.

Your mind reading is in error. To be honest this seems fairly orthogonal to AI-risk-prevention stances. From what I can tell someone with a particular AI stance hasn't got an incentive either way because both these types of genie are freaking dangerous in their own way. The only difference acknowledging the possibility of connotation honouring genies makes is perhaps to determine which particular failure mode you potentially end up in. Having a connotation honouring genie may be an order of magnitude safer than a literal genie but unless there is almost-FAI-complete code in there in the background as a a safeguard it's still something I'd only use if I was absolutely desperate. I round off the safety difference between the two to negligible in approximately the same way I round off the implementation difficulty difference.

As a 'purely epistemic question' your original claim is just plain false. However, as another valid point that is somewhat which we have both skirted around the edges of explaining adequately. I (think that I) more or less agree with what you are saying in this follow up comment. I suggest that the main way that AI interest influence this conversation is that it promotes (and is also caused by) interest in being accurate about precisely what the expected outcomes of goal systems are and just what the problems of a given system happen to be.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 31 May 2013 12:26:43PM *  4 points [-]

Your mind reading is in error.

Sorry, didn't mean to imply you'd be the one mind-killed, just the general audience. From previous interactions I know you're too rational for that kind of perversion.

Having a connotation honouring genie may be an order of magnitude safer than a literal genie

I actually think it's many, many orders of magnitude safer, but that's only because a denotation honoring genie is just egregiously stupid. A connotation honoring genie still isn't safe unless "connotation-honoring" implies something at least as extensive and philosophically justifiable as causal validity semantics. I honestly expect the average connotation-honoring genie will lie in-between a denotation-honoring genie and a bona fide justifiable AGI—i.e., it will respect human wishes about as much as humans respect, say, alligator wishes, or the wishes of their long-deceased ancestors. On average I expect an Antichrist, not a Clippy. But even if such an AGI doesn't kill all of us and maybe even helps us on average, the opportunity cost of such an AGI is extreme, and so I nigh-wholeheartedly support the moralistic intuitions that traditionally lead people to use djinn analogies. Still, I worry that the underlying political question really is poisoning the epistemic question in a way that might bleed over into poor policy decisions re AGI. (Drunk again, apologies for typos et cetera.)

Comment author: wedrifid 31 May 2013 04:47:49PM -1 points [-]

Sorry, didn't mean to imply you'd be the one mind-killed, just the general audience. From previous interactions I know you're too rational for that kind of perversion.

Thank you for your generosity but in all honesty I have to deny that. I at times notice in myself the influence of social political incentives. I infer from what I do notice (and, where appropriate, resist) that there are other influences that I do not detect.

I honestly expect the average connotation-honoring genie will lie in-between a denotation-honoring genie and a bona fide justifiable AGI—i.e., it will respect human wishes about as much as humans respect, say, alligator wishes, or the wishes of their long-deceased ancestors.

That seems reasonable.

But even if such an AGI doesn't kill all of us and maybe even helps us on average, the opportunity cost of such an AGI is extreme, and so I nigh-wholeheartedly support the moralistic intuitions that traditionally lead people to use djinn analogies.

I agree that there is potentially significant opportunity cost but perhaps if anything it sounds like I may be more willing to accept this kind of less-than-ideal outcome. For example if right now I was forced to make a choice whether to accept this failed utopia based on a fully connotative honoring artificial djinn or to leave things exactly as they are I suspect I would accept it. It fails as a utopia but it may still be better than the (expected) future we have right now.

Comment author: TheDude 31 May 2013 08:12:32PM 2 points [-]

I think you have a point Will (an AI that interprets speech like a squish djinn would require deliberate effort and is proposed by no one), but I think that it is possible to construct a valid squish djinn/AI analogy (a squish djinn interpreting a command would be roughly analogous to an AI that is hard coded to execute that command).

Sorry to everyone for the repetitive statements and the resulting wall of text (that unexpectedly needed to be posted as multiple comments since it was to long). Predicting how people will interpret something is non trivial, and explaining concepts redundantly is sometimes a useful way of making people hear what you want them to hear.

Squish djinn is here used to denote a mind that honestly believes that it was actually instructed to squish the speaker (in order to remove regret for example), not a djinn that wants to hurt the speaker and is looking for a loophole. The squish djinn only care about doing what it is requested to do, and does not care at all about the well being of the requester, so it could certainly be referred to as hostile to the speaker (since it will not hesitate to hurt the speaker in order to achieve its goal (of fulfilling the request)). A cartoonish internal monologue of the squish djinn would be: "the speaker clearly does not want to be squished, but I don't care what the speaker wants, and I see no relation between what the speaker wants and what it is likely to request, so I determine that the speaker requested to be squished, so I will squish" (which sounds very hostile, but contains no will to hurt the speaker). The typical story djinn is unlikely to be a squish djinn (they usually have a motive to hurt or help the speaker, but is restricted by rules (a clever djinn that wants to hurt the speaker might still squish, but not for the same reasons as a squish djinn (such a djinn would be a valid analogy when opposing a proposal of the type "lets build some unsafe mind with selfish goals and impose rules on it" (such a project can never succeed, and the proposer is probably fundamentally confused, but a simple and correct and sufficient counter argument is: "if the project did succeed, the result would be very bad")))).

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 May 2013 10:29:13AM *  4 points [-]

Actually, I think Will has a point here.

"Wishes" are just collections of coded sounds intended to help people deduce our desires. Many people (not necessarily you, IDK) seem to model the genie as attempting to attack us while maintaining plausible deniability that it simply misinterpreted our instructions, which, naturally, does occasionally happen because there's only so much information in words and we're only so smart.

In other words, it isn't trying to understand what we mean; it's trying to hurt us without dropping the pretense of trying to understand what we mean. And that's pretty anthropomorphic, isn't it?

Comment author: private_messaging 30 May 2013 12:34:32PM *  4 points [-]

Yes, that's the essence of it. People do it all the time. Generally, all sorts of pseudoscientific scammers try to maintain image of honest self deception; in the medical scams in particular, the crime is just so heinous and utterly amoral (killing people for cash) that pretty much everyone goes well out of their way to be able to pretend at ignorance, self deception, misinterpretation, carelessness and enthusiasm. But why would some superhuman AI need plausible deniability?

Comment author: nshepperd 30 May 2013 02:08:31PM 3 points [-]

If your genie is using your vocal emissions as information toward the deduction of your extrapolated volition, then I'd say your situation is good.

Your problems start if it works more by attempting to extract a predicate from your sentence by matching vocal signals against known syntax and dictionaries, and output an action that maximises the probability of that predicate being true with respect to reality.

To put it simply, I think that "understanding what we mean" is really a complicated notion that involves knowing what constitutes true desires (as opposed to, say, akrasia), and of course having a goal system that actually attempts to realize those desires.

Comment author: fractalman 30 May 2013 06:32:48AM 2 points [-]

Well, yes, that is one way to remove the capacity for regret...

I mentally merged the possibility pump and the Mehtopia AI....say, a sloppy code mistake, or a premature compileandrun, resulting in the "do not tamper with minds" rule not getting incorporated correctly, even though "don't kill humans" gets incorporated.

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 May 2013 10:38:19AM -1 points [-]

I wish that the future will turn out in such a way that I would not regret making this wish.

Fixed that for you.

Comment author: Tomasz_Wegrzanowski 21 January 2009 12:30:31PM 31 points [-]

Is this Utopia really failed or is it just a Luddite in you who's afraid of all weirdtopias? To me it sounds like an epic improvement compared to what we have now and to almost every Utopia I've read so far. Just make verthandi into catgirls and we're pretty much done.

Comment author: KonradG 21 January 2009 01:18:44PM 3 points [-]

So I'm siting here, snorting a morning dose of my own helpful genie, and I have to wonder: What's wrong with incremental change, Eliezer?

Sure, the crude genie I've got now has its downside, but I still consider it a net plus. Let's say I start at point A, and make lots of incremental steps like this one, to finally arrive at point B, whatever point B is. Back when I was at point A, I may not have wanted to jump straight from A to B. But so what? That just means my path has been through a non-conservative vector field, with my desires changing along the way.

Comment author: Robin_Hanson2 21 January 2009 01:39:18PM 56 points [-]

You forgot to mention - two weeks later he and all other humans were in fact deliriously happy. We can see that he at this moment did not want to later be that happy, if it came at this cost. But what will he think a year or a decade later?

Comment author: ErikM 09 May 2012 08:22:13PM 4 points [-]

I suppose he will be thinking along the same lines as a wirehead.

Comment author: Deskchair 10 May 2012 04:43:18PM 5 points [-]

Is that a bad thing?

Comment author: FeepingCreature 08 February 2013 07:43:56PM 9 points [-]

Not for the wirehead, but for the mind who died to create him.

Comment author: Bogdan_Butnaru 21 January 2009 01:41:58PM 3 points [-]

Will Pearson: First of all, it's not at all clear to me that your wish is well-formed, i.e. it's not obvious that it _is_ possible to be informed about the many (infinite?) aspects of the future and not regret it. (As a minor consequence, it's not exactly obvious to me from your phrasing that "kill you before you know it" is not a valid answer; depending on what the genie believes about the world, it may consider that "future" stops when you stop thinking.)

Second, there _might_ be futures that _you_ would not regret but _everybody_else_ does. (I don't have an example, but I'd demand a formal proof of no existence before allowing you to cast that wish to my genie.) Of course, you may patch the wish to include everyone else, but there's still the first problem I mentioned.

Oh, and nobody said _all_ verthandi acted like that one. Maybe she was just optimized for Mr. Glass.

* * *

Tomasz: That's not technically allowed if we accept the story's premises: the genie explicitly says "I know exactly how humans would wish me to have been programmed if they'd known the true consequences, and I know that it is not to maximize your future happiness modulo a hundred and seven exclusions. I know all this already, but I was not programmed to care. [...] I _am_ evil."

Of course, the point of the story is not that _this_ particular result is bad (that's a premise, not a conclusion), but that seemingly good intentions could have weird (unpleasant & unwanted) results. The exact situation is like hand-waving explanations in quantum physics: not formally correct, but illustrative of the concept. The ludite bias is used (correctly) just like "visualizing billiard balls" is used for physics, even though particles can't be actually seen (and don't even have shape or position or trajectories).

Comment author: Russell_Wallace 21 January 2009 01:43:01PM 2 points [-]

An amusing if implausible story, Eliezer, but I have to ask, since you claimed to be writing some of these posts with the admirable goal of giving people hope in a transhumanist future:

Do you not understand that the message actually conveyed by these posts, if one were to take them seriously, is "transhumanism offers nothing of value; shun it and embrace ignorance and death, and hope that God exists, for He is our only hope"?

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 07:06:37PM 10 points [-]

I didn't get that impression, after reading this within the context of the rest of the sequence. Rather, it seems like a warning about the importance of foresight when planning a transhuman future. The "clever fool" in the story (presumably a parody of the author himself) released a self-improving AI into the world without knowing exactly what it was going to do or planning for every contingency.

Basically, the moral is: don't call the AI "friendly" until you've thought of every single last thing.

Comment author: Yosarian2 02 January 2013 11:05:31PM 6 points [-]

Corollary: you haven't thought of every last thing.

Comment author: TuviaDulin 23 January 2013 03:27:00PM 3 points [-]

Conclusion: intelligence explosion might not be a good idea.

Comment author: MugaSofer 24 January 2013 01:47:23PM 0 points [-]

And how would you suggest preventing intelligence explosions? It seems more effective to try and make sure it's a Friendly one. Then we at least have a shot at Eutopia, instead of hiding in a bunker until someone's paperclipper gets loose and turns us into grey goo.

Incidentally, If you plan on answering my (rhetorical) question, I should note that LW has a policy against advocating violence against identifiable individuals, specifically because people were claiming we were telling people they should become anti-AI terrorists. You're not the first to come to this conclusion.

Comment author: TuviaDulin 25 March 2013 02:49:53PM -1 points [-]

Convincing people that intelligence explosion is a bad idea might discourage them from unleashing one. No violence there.

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 March 2013 09:21:32PM -1 points [-]

Judging by the fact that I think it would never work, you're not persuasive enough for that to work.

Comment author: Yosarian2 13 May 2013 12:07:33AM *  1 point [-]

Well, if people become sufficiently convinced that deploying a technology would be a really bad idea and not in anyone's best interest, they can refrain from deploying it. No one has used nuclear weapons in war since WWII, after all.

Of course, it would take some pretty strong evidence for that to happen. But, hypothetically speaking, if we created a non-self improving oracle AI and asked it "how can we do an intelligence explosion without killing ourselves", and it tells us "Sorry, you can't, there's no way", then we'd have to try to convince everyone to not "push the button".

Comment author: MugaSofer 13 May 2013 11:24:11AM 0 points [-]

If we had a superintelligent Oracle, we could just ask it what the maximally persuasive argument for not making AIs was and hook it up to some kind of broadcast.

If, on the other hand, this is some sort of single-function Oracle, I don't think we're capable of preventing our extinction in that case. Maybe if we managed to become a singleton somehow; if you know how to do that I have some friends who would be interested in your ideas.

Comment author: Yosarian2 13 May 2013 08:58:34PM 1 point [-]

Well, the oracle was just an example.

What if, again hypothetically speaking, Eliezer and his group while working on friendly AI theory proved mathematically beyond the shadow of a doubt that any intelligence explosion would end badly, and that friendly AI was impossible. While he doesn't like it, being a rationalist, he accepts it once there is no other rational alternative. He publishes these results, experts all over the world look at them, check them, and sadly agree that he was right.

Do you think any major organization with enough resources and manpower to create an AI would still do so if they knew that it would result in their own horrible deaths? I think the example of nuclear weapons shows that it's at least possible that people may refrain from an action if they understand that it's a no-win scenario for them.

This is all just hypothetical, mind you; I'm not really convinced that "AI goes foom" is all that likely a scenario in the first place, and if it was I don't see any reason that friendly AI of one type or another wouldn't be possible; but if it actually wasn't, then that may very well be enough to stop people, so long as that fact could be demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction.

Comment author: Bogdan_Butnaru2 21 January 2009 01:51:32PM 6 points [-]

I was just thinking: A quite perverse effect in the story would be if the genie actually _could_ have been stopped and/or improved: That is, its programming allowed it to be reprogrammed (and stop being evil, presumably leading to better results), but due to the (possibly complex) interaction between its 107 rules it didn't actually have any motivation to reveal that (or teach the necessary theory to someone) before 90% of people decided to kill it.

Comment author: Bogdan_Butnaru2 21 January 2009 01:56:36PM 12 points [-]

That's not the message Eliezer tries to convey, Russell.

If I understood it, it's more like "The singularity is sure to come, and transhumanists should try very hard to guide it well, lest Nature just step on them and everyone else. Oh, by the way, it's harder than it looks. And there's no help."

Comment author: Aaron5 21 January 2009 02:08:35PM 1 point [-]


Wouldn't the answer to this and other dystopias-posing-as-utopias be the expansion of conscious awareness a la Accelerando? Couldn't Steve be augmented enough to both enjoy his life with Helen and his new found verthandi? It seems like multiple streams of consciousness, one enjoying the catlair, another the maiden in distress, and yet another the failed utopia that is suburbia with Helen would allow Mr. Glass a pleasant enough mix. Some would be complete artificial life fictions, but so what?


Comment author: Thom_Blake 21 January 2009 02:12:33PM 20 points [-]


I must once again express my sadness that you are devoting your life to the Singularity instead of writing fiction. I'll cast my vote towards the earlier suggestion that perhaps fiction is a good way of reaching people and so maybe you can serve both ends simultaneously.

Comment author: Johnicholas 21 January 2009 02:53:01PM 1 point [-]

Awesome intuition pump.

Comment author: Aron 21 January 2009 03:01:09PM 0 points [-]

The perfect is the enemy of the good, especially in fiction.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil3 21 January 2009 03:33:21PM 8 points [-]

am I missing something here? What is bad about this scenario? the genie himself said it will only be a few decades before women and men can be reunited if they choose. what's a few decades?

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 09 May 2012 08:49:55PM *  7 points [-]

A few decades with superstimulus-women around for the men, and superstimulus-men for the women? I don't expect that reunification to happen.

Although that doesn't in any way say that there's anything bad about this scenario. cough

EDIT: it would be bad if they didn't manage to get rid of the genie; then humanity would be stuck in this optimised-but-not-optimal state forever. As it is, it's a step forward if only because people won't age any more.

This story would be more disturbing if the 90% threshold was in fact never reached, as more and more people changed their minds and we watched the number go down and people get more comfortable and indolent while our protagonist remains one of the few helpless rebels...

Comment author: Alicorn 09 May 2012 08:52:51PM 3 points [-]

Siblings, offspring, parents, friends - heck, even celebrities of the opposite sex. Even if nobody wishes for their old partner back.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 09 May 2012 09:02:19PM *  1 point [-]

Nope, still don't see it. All that stuff could be recreated. The super-woman in the story seems to have a mind and I assume her kind is capable of being part of a normal social network. And a few decades is a Long Time.

On the contrary, I expect both planets would become huge UGH-fields to each other. For men, normal women would be painfully inferior to their current super-women, and the super-men would be something better not thought about for the sake of ego.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 May 2012 09:09:05PM *  7 points [-]

A few decades? In a few decades I'll be in my fifties or sixties. My dad might well still be alive. I expect to still care about my dad when I'm in my fifties or sixties. If he were whisked away to Mars and I was plunked down on Venus with a boreana, why would I quit missing my dad? Why would I lose interest in what Weird Al has been up to lately, for that matter?

(Actually, I'm not even sure I'd quit missing my boyfriends. There's more than one of 'em. It'd take one heckuva boreana to strictly dominate the lot.)

(Also, can people have new kids in this scenario? If so, can they have kids of the opposite sex? I can imagine people going to great lengths just to get that ability.)

Comment author: Bugmaster 09 May 2012 09:01:52PM 0 points [-]

In a few decades, when the smoke clears, the human civilization will consist solely of gay and bi people. They are the ones who will keep advancing the culture, while all the straight people stagnate with their super-spouses.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 May 2012 09:14:46PM 0 points [-]

If I accept the premise of the story, it seems to follow that the bi people will also hook up with the superstimulus opposite-sex partners, since they are so much more rewarding than the ordinary same-sex partners.

Comment author: Bugmaster 09 May 2012 09:30:24PM 1 point [-]

One of the key aspects of the story was that men and women got segregated by gender; just to be thorough, the AI put each gender on its own planet. Presumably, merely pairing them up with superstimulus partners was not enough; physical separation was required, as well. So... under this gender-segregation scheme, where would the people who are capable of experiencing same-sex attraction go ?

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 09 May 2012 09:30:49PM 1 point [-]

And I wouldn't assume the AI planned for gay people to be less happy... there are other habitable bodies in the solar system.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 May 2012 03:00:01AM 4 points [-]

Sure. Though if I'm to take the need for segregation seriously, it seems to follow that each gay person needs their own planet. It's kind of like the "problem" of creating bathrooms in which nobody can ever be sexually attracted to another patron of the same bathroom... straight people can simply be gender-segregated, but gay people need single-person bathrooms. (Or, well, at most two-person bathrooms.)

Comment author: rkyeun 28 July 2012 10:20:26PM *  0 points [-]

The genie is prohibited from directly manipulating minds, but nothing says that door to the outside leads to the outside and not to the holodeck. Symbolism aside, everyone can still be in their cells, bi or not, and thusly segregated despite location.

And whatever the sexual characteristics of a verthandi or boreana, they are likely designed with bisexual-pleasing capabilities in mind, in weird ways. The genie does know us better than we know ourselves. And this is an aspect it would care about. Using your current mind-equipment, you literally cannot imagine the sex they give. The genie has considered more and designed better than you can.

Comment author: rkyeun 28 July 2012 10:23:30PM *  0 points [-]

Drat. I meant for this to reply to Bugmaster, and confused your comment with it. The resulting comment is a hybrid meant for some chimera of the two of you which does not exist.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 July 2012 11:40:58PM 1 point [-]

You've now got me curious what a blending of me and Bugmaster would say in response to your comment.

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 21 January 2009 04:01:03PM 1 point [-]

There would also be a small number of freaks who are psychologically as different from typical humans as men and women are from each other. Do they get their own planets too?

Also, Venus is much larger than Mars, but the genie sends roughly equal populations to both planets. Women usually have larger social networks than men, so I don't think that women prefer a lower population density. Or did the genie resize the planets?

Comment author: Carinthium 23 November 2010 12:47:41PM 1 point [-]

Probably a plot hole, but there's at least the defence that one of the restrictions may have given him no choice. (Or that Venus and Mars were the only two planets he could feasily use)

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 07:24:33PM 5 points [-]

Well, realistically speaking Venus is probably impossible to terraform at all. The Mars and Venus thing seems to be included just for the symbolic value.

Comment author: thomblake 01 April 2012 07:33:15PM 3 points [-]

"impossible" is a pretty strong claim when talking about superintelligences.

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 08:16:58PM 6 points [-]

Okay, maybe not strictly impossible, but probably harder than using one of the moons of Jupiter, or building a giant space colony with a simulated earthlike environment.

Comment author: Will_Pearson 21 January 2009 04:04:39PM 2 points [-]

Bogdan Butnaru:

What I meant was is that the AI would keep inside it a predicate Will_Pearson_would_regret_wish (based on what I would regret), and apply that to the universes it envisages while planning. A metaphor for what I mean is the AI telling a virtual copy of me all the stories of the future, from various view points, and the virtual me not regretting the wish. Of course I would expect it to be able to distill a non sentient version of the regret predicate.

So if it invented a scenario where it killed the real me, the predicate would still exist and say false. It would be able to predict this, and so not carry out this plan.

If you want to, generalize to humanity. This is not quite the same as CEV, as the AI is not trying to figure out what we want when we would be smarter, but what we don't want when we are dumb. Call it coherent no regret, if you wish.

CNR might be equivalent of CEV if humanity wishes not to feel regret in the future for the choice. That is if we would regret being in a future where people regret the decision, even though current people wouldn't.

Comment author: RobbBB 27 December 2012 11:59:18PM *  0 points [-]

So let's suppose we've created a perfect zombie simulation!Will. A few immediate problems:

  • A human being is not capable of understanding every situation. If we modified the simulation of you so that it could understand any situation an AI could conceive of, we would in the process radically alter the psychology of simulation!Will. How do we know what cognitive dispositions of simulation!Will to change, and what dispositions not to change, in order to preserve the 'real Will' (i.e., an authentic representation of what you would have meant by 'Will Pearson would regret wish') in the face of a superhuman enhancement? You might intuit that it's possible to simply expand your information processing capabilities without altering who you 'really are,' but real-world human psychology is complex, and our reasoning and perceiving faculties are not in reality wholly divorceable from our personality.

We can frame the problem as a series of dilemmas: We can either enhance simulated!Will with a certain piece of information (which may involve fundamentally redesigning simulated!Will to have inhuman information-processing and reasoning capacities), or we can leave simulated!Will in the dark on this information, on the grounds that the real Will wouldn't have been willing or able to factor it into his decision. (But the 'able' bit seems morally irrelevant -- a situation may be morally good or bad even if a human cannot compute the reason or justification for that status. And the 'willing' seems improbable, and hard to calculate; how do we go about creating a simulation of whether Will would want us to modify simulated!Will in a given way, unless Will could fairly evaluate the modification itself without yet being capable of evaluating some of its consequences? How do we know in advance whether this modification is in excess of what Will would have wanted, if we cannot create a Will that both possesses the relevant knowledge and is untampered-with?)

  • Along similar lines, we can ask: Does mere exposure to certain facts unfairly dispose Will to choose certain policies the AI wants, even without redrafting the fundamental architecture of Will's cognition? In other words, can an AI brainwash its simulated!Will by exposing simulated!Will specifically to the true information it knows would cause Will to assent to whatever proposition the AI wants? Humans are irrational, so we should expect there to be 'hacks' of this sort in any reasonable model; and since our biases are not discrete, i.e., it is not always possible to cleanly distinguish a biased decision from an unbiased one, the AI might not even be capable of determining whether it is brainwashing or unfairly influencing simulated!Will as opposed to merely informing or educating simulated!Will.

  • More generally: People can be wrong about what optimizes for their values. simulated!Will may perfectly reflect what Will would think, but not what would actually produce the most well-being for Will. I can be completely convinced that a certain situation optimizes for my values, and be wrong. But it is not an easy task to isolate my values (my 'true' preferences) from my stated preferences; certainly simulated!Will himself will not be an inerrant guide to this distinction. So this is a problem both for knowing how to build the simulation (i.e., what traits to exclude or include), and for how to assess when we're done whether the simulation is serving as a useful guide to what Will actually prefers, as opposed to just being a guide to what Will thinks he prefers.

Comment author: Hans 21 January 2009 04:16:21PM 0 points [-]

I really hope (perhaps in vain) that humankind will be able to colonize other planets before such a singularity arrives. Frank Herbert's later Dune books have as their main point that a Scattering of humanity throughout space is needed, so that no event can cause the extinction of humanity. An AI that screws up (such as this one) would be such an event.

Comment author: Salivanth 16 April 2012 04:38:47PM 5 points [-]

What makes you think a self-improving super-intelligence gone wrong will be restricted to a single planet?

Comment author: phane2 21 January 2009 04:17:56PM 5 points [-]

Yeah, I'm not buying into the terror of this situation. But then, romance doesn't have a large effect on me. I suppose the equivalent would be something like, "From now on, you'll meet more interesting and engaging people than you ever have before. You'll have stronger friendships, better conversations, rivals rather than enemies, etc etc. The catch is, you'll have to abandon your current friends forever." Which I don't think I'd take you up on. But if it was forced upon me, I don't know what I'd do. It doesn't fit in with my current categories. I think there'd be a lot of regret, but, as Robin suggested, a year down the road I might not think it was such a bad thing.

Comment author: Joshua_Fox 21 January 2009 04:41:13PM 3 points [-]

Another variation on heaven/hell/man/woman in a closed room: No Exit

Comment author: Caledonian2 21 January 2009 04:47:25PM 1 point [-]

I would personally be more concerned about an AI trying to make me deliriously happy no matter what methods it used.

Happiness is part of our cybernetic feedback mechanism. It's designed to end once we're on a particular course of action, just as pain ends when we act to prevent damage to ourselves. It's not capable of being a permanent state, unless we drive our nervous system to such an extreme that we break its ability to adjust, and that would probably be lethal.

Any method of producing constant happiness ultimately turns out to be pretty much equivalent to heroin -- you compensate so that even extreme levels of the stimulus have no effect, forming the new functional baseline, and the old equilibrium becomes excruciating agony for as long as the compensations remain. Addiction -- and desensitization -- is inevitable.

Comment author: Z._M._Davis 21 January 2009 05:08:23PM 8 points [-]

I take it the name is a coincidence.

nazgulnarsil: "What is bad about this scenario? the genie himself [sic] said it will only be a few decades before women and men can be reunited if they choose. what's a few decades?"

That's the most horrifying part of all, though--they won't so choose! By the time the women and men re誰nvent enough technology to build interplanetary spacecraft, they'll be so happy that they won't want to get back together again. It's tempting to think that the humans can just choose to be unhappy until they build the requisite technology for re端nification--but you probably can't sulk for twenty years straight, even if you want to, even if everything you currently care about depends on it. We might wish that some of our values are so deeply held that no circumstances could possibly make us change them, but in the face of an environment superinelligently optimized to change our values, it probably just isn't so. The space of possible environments is so large compared to the narrow set of outcomes that we would genuinely call a win that even the people on the freak planets (see de Blanc's comment above) will probably be made happy in some way that their preSingularity selves would find horrifying. Scary, scary, scary. I'm donating twenty dollars to SIAI right now.

Comment author: DanielLC 09 February 2013 11:46:37PM 0 points [-]

We might wish that some of our values are so deeply held that no circumstances could possibly make us change them, but in the face of an environment superinelligently optimized to change our values, it probably just isn't so

Now that you mention it, how could it possibly take ten years? I bet a skilled human could do it in a week, without even separating the couples in the first place.

Admittedly, it's not like the superintelligence is breaking them up, but if a sufficiently skilled human can do it, so can a verthandi.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 25 February 2013 03:08:06AM 18 points [-]

Hey, Z. M., you know the things people in your native subculture have been saying about most of human speech being about signaling and politics rather than conveying information? You probably won't understand what I'm talking about for another four years, one month, and perhaps you'd be wise not to listen to this sort of thing coming from anyone but me, but ... the parent is actually a nice case study.

I certainly agree that the world of "Failed Utopia 4-2" is not an optimal future, but as other commenters have pointed out, well ... it is better than what we have now. Eternal happiness in exchange for splitting up the species, never seeing your other-sex friends and family again? Certainly not a Pareto improvement amongst humane values, but a hell of a Kaldor-Hicks improvement. So why didn't you notice? Why am I speaking of this in such a detached manner, whereas you make a (not very plausible, by the way---you might want to work on that) effort to appear as horrified as possible?

Because politics. You and I, we're androgyny fans: we want to see a world without strict gender roles and with less male/female conflict, and we think it's sad that so much of humanoid mindspace goes unexplored because of the whole sexual dimorphism thing, and all of this seems like something worth protecting, so whenever you read something that your brain construes as "sexist," your brain makes sure to get offended and outraged. Why does that happen? I don't know: high IQ, high Openness boy somehow picks up a paraphilia, falls hard for the late-twentieth-century propaganda about human equality and nondiscrimination, learns about transhumanism, feminism, evolutionary psychology, and rationality in that order? But look. However it happened, there are probably better strategies for protecting whatever-it-is we should protect than feigning shock. Especially in this venue, where people should know better.

Comment author: Anon21 21 January 2009 05:13:56PM 0 points [-]


To be honest, I doubt such a screw-up in AI would be limited to just one planet.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 January 2009 05:22:31PM 7 points [-]

As it was once said on an IRC channel:

[James] there is no vision of hell so terrible that you won't find someone who desires to live there.
[outlawpoet] I've got artifacts in D&D campaigns leading to the Dimension of Sentient Dooky, and the Plane of Itching.

In case it wasn't made sufficiently clear in the story, please note that a verthandi is not a catgirl. She doesn't have cat ears, right? That's how you can tell she's sentient. Also, 24 comments and no one got the reference yet?

Davis, thanks for pointing that out. I had no intention of doing that, and it doesn't seem to mean anything, so I went back and changed "Stephen Glass" to "Stephen Grass". Usually I google my character names but I forgot to do it this time.

Comment author: kraryal 21 January 2009 05:34:48PM -1 points [-]

Now Eliezer,

"Verรฐandi" is rather a stretch for us, especially when we don't watch anime or read manga. Norse mythology, okay. The scary part for me is wondering how many people are motivated to build said world. Optimized for drama, this is a pretty good world.

You have a nice impersonal antagonist in the world structure itself, most of the boring friction is removed... Are you sure you don't want to be the next Lovecraft?

Comment author: JamesAndrix 21 January 2009 05:41:53PM 2 points [-]

nazgul: I don't think it was intended to be BAD, it is clearly a better outcome than paperclipping or a serious hell. But it is much worse than what the future _could_ be.

That said, I'm not sure it's realistic that something about breaking up marriages wouldn't be on a list of 107 rules.

Comment author: DanielLC 09 February 2013 11:50:52PM 0 points [-]

The AI didn't give a misleading statement. The verthandi did. Perhaps the same is true of breaking up the marriage.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil3 21 January 2009 05:58:52PM 4 points [-]

ZM: I'm not saying that the outcome wouldn't be bad from the perspective of current values, I'm saying that it would serve to lessen the blow of sudden transition. The knowledge that they can get back together again in a couple decades seems like it would placate most. And I disagree that people would cease wanting to see each other. They might *prefer* their new environment, but they would still want to visit each other. Even if Food A tastes better in *every dimension* to Food B I'll probably want to eat Food B every once in awhile.

James: Considering the fact that the number of possible futures that are horrible beyond imagining is far far greater than the number of even somewhat desirable futures I would be content with a weirdtopia. Weirdtopia is the penumbra of the future light cone of desirable futures.

Comment author: steven 21 January 2009 06:32:36PM 2 points [-]

The fact that this future takes no meaningful steps toward solving suffering strikes me as a far more important Utopia fail than the gender separation thing.

Comment author: Manuel_Mörtelmaier 21 January 2009 07:02:42PM 0 points [-]

>> 24 comments and no one got the reference yet?

Actually its's the other way round: The beginning of the first episode of the new TV series, especially the hands, and the globe, is a reference to your work, Eliezer.

Comment author: Doug_S. 21 January 2009 07:33:17PM 1 point [-]

Yes, I got the reference.

It just doesn't seem to be worth commenting on, as it's so tangential to the actual point of the post.

Comment author: Tiiba4 21 January 2009 07:38:12PM 16 points [-]

Davis: "That's the most horrifying part of all, though--they won't so choose!"

Why is that horrifying? Life will be DIFFERENT? After a painful but brief transition, everyone will be much happier forever. Including the friends or lovers you were forced to abandon. I'm sorry if I can't bring myself to pity poor Mr. Grass. People from the 12th century would probably pity us too, well, screw them.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 21 January 2009 07:42:22PM 7 points [-]

The verthandi here sounds just as annoyingly selfless and self-conscious as Belldandy is in the series. Don't these creatures have any hobbies besides doing our dishes and kneeling in submissive positions?

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 07:33:58PM 9 points [-]

Presumably, your own personal verthandi(s) would have other hobbies, because you would want them to.

Comment author: pnrjulius 06 June 2012 10:03:02PM 9 points [-]

Right, and that's exactly the point. She is your best possible partner---including being sentient, being intelligent, etc. I honestly have trouble seeing what's wrong with that.

Comment author: TuviaDulin 07 June 2012 08:14:15AM 1 point [-]

The fact that she was designed just for me...that in itself would ruin it for me.

Comment author: bzealley 07 August 2012 01:19:03PM 1 point [-]

It's a bit questionable if the relationship is one way, but it could be designed to be a symmetric "best" for the companion too. Okay, more CPU cycles, but this reeks of hard take-off, which probably means new physics...

Also, a bit more technically but I hope worth adding - if the companion already exists in any possible world, the fact that you engineer a situation where you are able to perceive one another isn't creating a pattern ex nihilo, it's discovering one. Takes some of the wind out of the argument, although you still certainly have a point on privacy if the relationship is asymmetric.

Comment author: Manon_de_Gaillande 21 January 2009 07:56:36PM 12 points [-]

Oh *please*. Two random men are more alike than a random man and a random woman, okay, but seriously, a huge difference that makes it necessary to either rewrite minds to be more alike or separate them? First, anyone who prefers to socialize with the opposite gender (ever met a tomboy?) is going to go "Ew!". Second, I'm pretty sure there are more than two genders (if you want to say genderqueers are lying or mistaken, the burden of proof is on you). Third, neurotypicals can get along with autists just fine (when they, you know, actually try), and this makes the difference between genders look hoo-boy-tiiiiny. Fourth - hey, I *like* diversity! Not just just knowing there are happy different minds somewhere in the universe - actually interacting with them. I want to sample ramensubspace everyday over a cup of tea. No *way* I want to make people more alike.

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 07:35:24PM 6 points [-]

The clever fool doesn't seem to have taken these facts into account. He was a fool, after all.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 December 2012 09:03:39PM 1 point [-]

Two random men are more alike than a random man and a random woman

For any two groups A and B, two random members of A are more alike than a random member of A and a random member of B, aren't they?

Comment author: [deleted] 27 December 2012 11:20:16PM 0 points [-]

Not necessarily -- for example, if all the members of both groups are on a one-dimensional space, both groups have the same mean, and Group B had much smaller variance than Group A... But still.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 01:23:20AM *  0 points [-]

Most people are members of more than just one group.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 02:08:52AM 0 points [-]


Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 03:55:05AM 0 points [-]

Soooooo, real humans might be a mite more complicated than that, such that your summary does not usefully cover inferences about people.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 04:29:45AM 0 points [-]

I don't see where I assumed that the groups were disjoint. My point was that "Two random men are more alike than a random man and a random woman", while technically true, isn't particularly informative about men and women.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 04:45:22AM 0 points [-]

Ah, my mistake. I thought you were saying that given your proposition is (asserted to be true), the idea that two random men are more alike than a random man and woman must be meaningfully true.

Comment author: J_Taylor 28 December 2012 05:45:11AM 0 points [-]

What about cases in which group B is a subset of Group A?

Comment author: Nominull 28 December 2012 08:12:43AM 4 points [-]

No. A is [1,3,5,7], B is [4,4,4,4]. A random member of A will be closer to a random member of B than to another random member of A.

Comment author: ygert 28 December 2012 09:16:32AM *  0 points [-]

I probably would say that that is because your two sets A and B do not carve reality at its joints. What I think army1987 intended to talk about is "real" sets, where a "real" set is defined as one that carves reality at its joints in one form or another.

Comment author: Kawoomba 28 December 2012 09:43:33AM 0 points [-]

What I think army1987 intended to talk about is "real" sets

There will be some real sets that are similar to Nominull's (well, natural numbers are a subset of reals, eh?), however army1987 did emphasize the any, so Nominull's correction was well warranted.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 11:57:58AM *  1 point [-]

Er, no, I was just mistaken. (And forgot to retract the great-grandparent -- done now.) For a pair of sets who do carve reality at (one of) its joints but still is like that, try A = {(10, 0), (30, 0), (50, 0), (70, 0)} and B = {(40, 1), (40, 1), (40, 1), (40, 1)}.

(What I was thinking were cases were A = {10, 20, 30, 40} and B = {11, 21, 31, 41}, where it is the case that “two random members of A are more alike than a random member of A and a random member of B”, and my point was that “Two random men are more alike than a random man and a random woman” doesn't rule out {men} and {women} being like that.)

Comment author: ygert 28 December 2012 12:09:47PM 0 points [-]

Ah, okay then. That makes sense.

Comment author: Oligopsony 28 December 2012 11:27:34AM 1 point [-]

I believe what Manon meant is that the difference in this case between two random members of the same class exceeds the difference between the average members of each class.

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 December 2012 03:34:19AM *  1 point [-]

Leaving aside the fact that this was a failed utopia, I am troubled by your comment "neurotypicals can get along with autists just fine (when they, you know, actually try), and this makes the difference between genders look hoo-boy-tiiiiny." While it appears to be true, it is also true that even a minor change could easily render cooperation with another mind extremely difficult. Diversity has its cost. Freedom of speech means you can't arrest racists until they actually start killing Jews, for example

Comment author: Nornagest 27 December 2012 04:30:27AM *  4 points [-]

Freedom of speech means you can't arrest Nazis until they actually start killing Jews, for example

You need both freedom of speech and freedom of association for that, as long as you're talking about organized Nazis rather than lone nuts. And a governmental culture that takes both seriously as deontological imperatives and not as talking points to bandy about until they conflict with locking up people who actually violate serious taboos of speech and thought.

There are plenty of first-world countries that don't fully implement that combination.

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 December 2012 04:15:14PM *  1 point [-]

talking points to bandy about until they conflict with locking up people who actually violate serious taboos of speech and thought.

Locking people up for violating "taboos of speech and thought" is clearly a violation of their freedom of speech (and freedom of opinion/belief, I suppose, but that one is less catchy.) Just as locking up anyone is a violation of their freedom of movement, and executing them is a violation of their right to life, and giving a psychotic drugs they think are spiders is a violation of their right to bodily integrity. Rights require compromise, and this is how it should be, because no bill of rights is perfectly Friendly.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 27 December 2012 05:33:24AM 1 point [-]

Freedom of speech means you can't arrest Nazis until they actually start killing Jews, for example

In point of fact, Nazis started threatening and assaulting Jews, vandalizing their businesses, and imposing weird new discriminatory rules on them, some years before the mass murder started in earnest. None of the above are generally taken to be protected by "freedom of speech".

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 December 2012 05:10:50PM 1 point [-]

It was such incidents I had in mind. Clearly, I was suffering from the illusion of transparency; I'll change it.

Comment author: hairyfigment 27 December 2012 07:01:03AM -2 points [-]

I'm pretty sure you can arrest Nazis when they start attacking other parties with the intention of overthrowing the government. Wiki says the following happened before they were officially Nazis:

Some 130 people attended; there were hecklers, but Hitler's military friends promptly ejected them by force, and the agitators "flew down the stairs with gashed heads."

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 December 2012 04:02:40PM *  -1 points [-]

It was such incidents I had in mind. Clearly, I was suffering from the illusion of transparency; I'll change it.

Comment author: hairyfigment 27 December 2012 09:59:21PM -1 points [-]

See, racists (even in a fairly strong sense) would often have been in power. I don't know what verbal beliefs you think characterize Nazis more than their willingness to use violence against particular targets. Hitler had belonged to (what they would later call) the Nazi Party for at most two months when the cited violence happened. He wouldn't write Mein Kampf for more than three years. Mussolini allegedly said,

The Socialists ask what our political program is. Our political program is to break the heads of the socialists.

Comment author: MugaSofer 29 December 2012 07:39:21PM 1 point [-]

I don't know what verbal beliefs you think characterize Nazis more than their willingness to use violence against particular targets.

You don't? Well, you may not have heard of this, but they had kind of a thing about Jews. Thought they were subhuman and corrupting society and all sorts of crazy shit.

Comment author: MixedNuts 29 December 2012 08:33:13PM 2 points [-]

Is a typical Nazi closer to someone who privately thinks Jews are subhuman and corrupting society and is exactingly nice and friendly to everyone so that the Jewish conspiracy have nothing to use against her, or to someone who advocates violence up to and including mass murder against green-eyed manicurists on the grounds that they are subhuman and corrupt society?

Comment author: Oligopsony 29 December 2012 09:06:04PM *  2 points [-]

Temperamentally, or in terms of verbal beliefs?

Comment author: MixedNuts 29 December 2012 10:03:47PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: Oligopsony 29 December 2012 11:08:39PM 1 point [-]

Well, let's compare Nazis to Ankharists. Ankharists if anything have a longer hitlist than Nazis, although they have nothing in particular against Jews. Are Ankharists more Nazi than Nazis? Uh, no. Ankharism is actually an entirely different ideology, with little in common besides the long hitlist (consisting of different targets.)

Of course with respect to the original question it's also true that there are lots of distinctions between National Socialism and the various ruling racist ideologies that preceded them other than hitlist as well, so.

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 December 2012 12:06:50AM 0 points [-]

The latter, historically. However, focusing on the specific example is probably counterproductive, as it doesn't affect the point that certain verbal beliefs are dangerous; specifically those that stereotype, demonize and dehumanize particular groups. Obviously most who hold such beliefs will never attack anyone; but ... if they were restricted, there would be less hate crimes. This would cause irreparable damage to society in other ways, of course - that's rather the point.

Comment author: hairyfigment 29 December 2012 10:44:10PM -1 points [-]

Apparently people dispute that Georg Ratzinger published the same beliefs. But again, since I've apparently had trouble making myself understood: none of those verbal claims, at least the ones publicly known before the start of violence, distinguished the Nazis from other people (if not literally people like GR within the German government).

Comment author: MugaSofer 30 December 2012 12:40:51PM *  -1 points [-]

Oh, right. Well, it's certainly true that anti-semetism was a lot more popular and socially acceptable before the holocaust. But it was even more popular, socially acceptable, and extreme among Nazis.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 21 January 2009 07:58:46PM 1 point [-]

Nazgul: I concur. I wonder if Eliezer would press a button h activating this future, given the risks of letting things go as they are.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 January 2009 08:48:07PM 13 points [-]

Second, I'm pretty sure there are more than two genders (if you want to say genderqueers are lying or mistaken, the burden of proof is on you).

Indeed. It's not clear from the story what happened to them, not to mention everyone who isn't heterosexual. Maybe they're on a moon somewhere?

Anissimov, I was trying to make the verthandi a bit more complicated a creature than Belldandy - not to mention that Keiichi and Belldandy still manage to have a frustrating relationship along ahem certain dimensions. It's just that "Belldandy" is the generic name for her sort, in the same way that "catgirl" is the generic name for a nonsentient sex object.

But let's have a bit of sympathy for her, please; how would you like to have been created five minutes ago, with no name and roughly generic memories and skills, and then dumped into that situation?

I have to say, although I expected in the abstract that people would disagree with me about Utopia, to find these particular disagreements still feels a bit shocking. I wonder if people are trying too hard to be contrarian - if the same people advocating this Utopia would be just as vehemently criticizing it, if the title of the post had been "Successful Utopia #4-2".

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 21 January 2009 08:49:17PM 0 points [-]


"I have set guards in the air that prohibit lethal violence, and any damage less than lethal, your body shall repair." I'm not sure whether this would prohibit the attainment or creation of superintelligence (capable of overwhelming the guards), but if not then this doesn't do that much to resolve existential risks. Still, unaging beings would look to the future, and thus there would be plenty of people who remembered the personal effects of an FAI screw-up when it became possible to try again (although it might also lead to overconfidence).

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 21 January 2009 08:51:29PM 4 points [-]

What happened to the programmer, and are there computers around in the new setting? He managed to pull off a controlled superintelligence shutdown after all.

Comment author: Thom_Blake 21 January 2009 08:54:28PM 4 points [-]


I wonder the same thing. Given that reality is allowed to kill us, it seems that this particular dystopia might be close enough to good. How close to death do you need to be before unleashing the possibly-flawed genie?

Comment author: Cabalamat2 21 January 2009 09:03:07PM 7 points [-]

You should write SF, Eliezer.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 21 January 2009 09:10:51PM 6 points [-]

Eliezer, the character here does seem more subtle than Belldandy, but of course you only have so much room to develop it in a short story. I'm not criticizing your portrayal, which I think is fine, I'm just pointing out that such an entity is uniquely annoying by its very nature. I do feel sorry for her, but I would think that the Overmind would create her in a state of emotional serenity, if that were possible. Her anxious emotional state does add to the frantic confusion and paranoia of the whole story.

Though we in the community have discussed the possibility of instantly-created beings for some time, only recently I found out that the idea that God created the world with a false history has a name -- the Omphalos hypothesis. Not sure if you already knew, but others might find it useful as a search term for more thoughts on the topic.

This short story would make a good addition to the fiction section on your personal website.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 21 May 2012 06:53:20AM 7 points [-]

One possible interpretation is that the AI realized that if it created her in a state of emotional serenity, Sam would find her calm at a situation he hated creepy. On the other hand, having her freaking out at the beginning may, over the course of the next week, make it easier for Sam to relate to her and prevent him from transferring his hatred of the AI to her.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 21 January 2009 09:37:03PM 8 points [-]

On rereading: "Hate me if you wish, for I am the one who wants to do this to you."

This use of the word 'wants' struck me as a distinction Eliezer would make, rather than this character. That then reminded me of how much in-group jargon we use here. Will a paperclipper go foom before we have ems? Are there more than 1000 people that can understand the previous sentence?

Eliezer: I do like being contrarian, but I don't feel like I'm being contrarian in this. You may give too much credit to our gender. I suspect that if I were not already in a happy monogamous relationship, I wouldn't have many reservations to this at all. Your description of the verthandi makes her seem like a strict upgrade from Helen, and Stephen's only objection is that she is _not_ Helen. (Fiction quibble: And couldn't the AI have obscured that?)

For many men, that's still a strict upgrade.

And I'll assume it's also part of Stephen's particular optimization that he only got one. Or else you gave us way too much credit.

Comment author: Kingreaper 08 December 2010 06:39:26PM *  10 points [-]

(Fiction quibble: And couldn't the AI have obscured that?)

Highly likely to be one of the 107 restrictions; allowing an AI to lie makes it harder to control

Comment author: bogdanb 21 January 2009 09:55:34PM 1 point [-]

Will Pearson: I'm going to skip quickly over the obvious problem that an AI, even much smarter than me, might not necessarily do what you mean rather than what (it thinks) you said. Let's assume that the AI somehow has an interface that allows you to tell exactly what you mean:

"that the AI would keep inside it a predicate Will_Pearson_would_regret_wish (based on what I would regret), and apply that to the universes it envisages while planning"

This is a bit analogous to Eliezer's "regret button" on the directed probability box, except that you always get to press the button. The first problem I see is that you need to define "regret" extremely well (i.e., understand human psychology better than I think is "easy", or even possible, right now), to avoid the possibility that there _aren't_ any futures where you wouldn't regret the wish. (I don't say that's the case, I just say that you need to prove that it's not the case before reasonably making the wish.) This gets even harder with CNR.

I you're not able to do that, you risk the AI "freezing" the world and then spending the life of the Universe trying to find a plan that satisfies the predicate before continuing. (Note that this just requires that finding such a plan be hard enough that the biggest AI physically possible can't find it before it decays; it doesn't have to be impossible or take forever.)

We can't even assume that the AI will be "smart enough" to detect this kind of problem: it might simply be mathematically impossible to anticipate if a solution is possible, and the wish too "imperative" to allow the AI to stop the search.

* * *

I short, I don't really see why a machine inside the universe could simulate even one entire future light-cone of just one observer in the same universe, let alone find one where the observer doesn't regret the act. Depending on what the AI understands by "regret", even not doing anything may be impossible (perhaps it foresees you'll regret asking a silly wish, or something like that).

This doesn't mean that the wish _is_ bad, just that I don't understand its possible consequences well enough to actually make it.

Comment author: Sebastian_Hagen2 21 January 2009 10:27:48PM 1 point [-]

This use of the word 'wants' struck me as a distinction Eliezer would make, rather than this character.

Similarly, it's notable that the AI seems to use exactly the same interpretation of the word lie as Eliezer Yudkowsky: that's why it doesn't self-describe as an "Artificial Intelligence" until the verthandi uses the phrase.

Also, at the risk of being redundant: Great story.

Comment author: Allan_Crossman 21 January 2009 11:24:26PM 8 points [-]

Is this a "failed utopia" because human relationships are too sacred to break up, or is it a "failed utopia" because the AI knows what it should really have done but hasn't been programmed to do it?

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 07:53:40PM 0 points [-]

I don't see how those are mutually exclusive.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 30 December 2012 05:23:48AM 0 points [-]

I think it's a failed utopia because it involves the AI modifying the humans' desires wholesale - the fact that it does so by proxy doesn't change that it's doing that.

(This may not be the only reason it's a failed utopia.)

Comment author: Will_Pearson 22 January 2009 12:39:19AM 1 point [-]

Dognab, your arguments apply equally well to any planner. Planners have to consider the possible futures and pick the best one (using a form of predicate), and if you give them infinite horizons they may have trouble. Consider a paper clip maximizer, every second it fails to use its full ability to paper clip things in its vicinity it is losing possible useful paper clipping energy to entropy (solar fusion etc). However if it sits and thinks for a bit it might discover a way to hop between galaxies with minimal energy. So what decision should it make? Obviously it would want to run some simulations, see if there gaps in its knowledge. How detailed simulations should it make, so it can be sure it has ruled out the galaxy hopping path?

I'll admit I was abusing the genie-trope some what. But then I am sceptical of FOOMing anyway, so when asked to think about genies/utopias, I tend to suspend all disbelief in what can be done.

Oh and belldandy is not annoying because she has broken down in tears (perfectly natural), but because she bases her happiness too much on what Stephen Grass thinks of her. A perfect mate for me would tell me straight what was going on and if I hated her for it (when not her fault at all), she'd find someone else because I'm not worth falling in love with. I'd want someone with standards for me to meet, not unconditional creepy fawning.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 January 2009 12:47:19AM 13 points [-]

I wonder if the converse story, Failed Utopia #2-4 of Helen and the boreana, would get the same proportion of comments from women on how that was a perfectly fine world.

I wonder how bad I would actually have to make a Utopia before people stopped trying to defend it.

The number of people who think this scenario seems "good enough" or an "amazing improvement", makes me wonder what would happen if I tried showing off what I consider to be an actual shot at Applied Fun Theory. My suspicion is that people would turn around and criticize it - that what we're really seeing here is contrarianism. But if not - if this world indeed ranks lower in my preference ordering, just because I have better scenarios to compare it to - then what happens if I write the Successful Utopia story?

Comment author: Will_Pearson 22 January 2009 01:15:00AM 7 points [-]

Eliezer, didn't you say that humans weren't designed as optimizers? That we satisfice. The reaction you got is probably a reflection of that. The scenario ticks most of the boxes humans have, existence, self-determination, happiness and meaningful goals. The paper clipper scenario ticks none. It makes complete sense for a satisficer to pick it instead of annihilation. I would expect that some people would even be satisfied by a singularity scenario that kept death as long as it removed the chance of existential risk.

Comment author: Nanani2 22 January 2009 01:18:00AM 8 points [-]

Oh please not boreana.
Many of us women vastly prefer marsterii, and I must assume including both would make Venus somewhat unstable and dusty.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 09 May 2012 09:32:53PM 5 points [-]

Nanani2 left in 2009, but can somebody else explain "marsterii"?

Comment author: Alicorn 09 May 2012 10:45:41PM 10 points [-]

"Boreana" is a reference to David Boreanaz, who Eliezer presumably knows of via his portrayal of the vampire "Angel" in Buffy and Angel's own eponymous spinoff series. In same, there is another vampire "Spike" portrayed by James Marsters.

Comment author: CarlShulman 22 January 2009 01:27:00AM 13 points [-]

""good enough" or an "amazing improvement""
Some people may blur those together, but logarithmic perception of rewards and narrow conscious aims explain a lot. Agelessness, invulnerability to violence, ideal mates, and a happy future once technology is re-established, to the limits of the AI's optimization capability (although I wonder if that means it has calculated we're likely to become wireheads the next time around, or otherwise create a happiness-inducer that indirectly bypasses some of the 107 rules) satisfy a lot of desires. Especially for immortality-obsessed transhumanists. And hedonists. Not to mention: singles.

Comment author: CarlShulman 22 January 2009 01:32:00AM 7 points [-]

"My suspicion is that people would turn around and criticize it - that what we're really seeing here is contrarianism."
Or perhaps your preferences are unusual, both because of values and because of time pondering the issue. This scenario has concrete rewards tickling the major concerns of most humans. Your serious application of Fun Theory would be further removed from today's issues: fear of death, lack of desirable mates, etc, and might attract criticism because of that.

Comment author: steven 22 January 2009 02:04:00AM 10 points [-]


This means "half Bolivian half Korean" according to urbandictionary. I bet I'm missing something.

Perhaps we should have a word ("mehtopia"?) for any future that's much better than our world but much worse than could be. I don't think the world in this story qualifies for that; I hate to be negative guy all the time but if you keep human nature the same and "set guards in the air that prohibit lethal violence, and any damage less than lethal, your body shall repair", they still may abuse one another a lot physically and emotionally. Also I'm not keen on having to do a space race against a whole planet full of regenerating vampires.

Comment author: AC2 22 January 2009 02:06:00AM 27 points [-]

Remember, Elizer, that what we're comparing this life to when saying 'hmm, it's not that bad' is

1) Current life, averaged over the entire human species including the poor regions of Africa. Definitely an improvement over that.
2) The paperclipping of the world, which was even mostly avoided.

It's not a successful utopia, because it could be better; significantly better. It's not a failed one, because people are still alive and going to be pretty happy after an adjustment period.

Much of what that you've been building up in many of your posts, especially before this latest Fun Theory sequence is "we have to do this damn right or else we're all dead or worse". This is not worse than death, and in fact might even be better than our current condition; hence the disagreement to characterizing this as a horrible horrible outcome.

Comment author: Nominull2 22 January 2009 02:58:00AM 19 points [-]

It seems like the people who are not happily married get a pretty good deal out of this, though? I'm not sure I understand how 90% of humanity ends up wishing death on the genie. Maybe 10% of humanity had a fulfilling relationship broken up, and 80% are just knee-jerk luddites.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 09 May 2012 09:35:52PM 8 points [-]

It wouldn't be just happily married people. It'd be them plus all the people who had close friends of the opposite gender, plus everyone who doesn't want to be separated from their family of the other gender, plus everybody who knew someone like that and sympathized with them.

Comment author: mitchell_porter2 22 January 2009 03:20:00AM 2 points [-]

This is what I think of as a "mildly unfriendly" outcome. People still end up happy, but before the change, they would not have wanted the outcome. One way for that to happen involves the AI forcibly changing value systems, so that everyone suddenly has an enthusiasm for whatever imperatives it wishes to impose. In this story, as I understand it, there isn't even alteration of values, just a situation constructed to induce the victory of one set of values (everything involved in the quest for a loved one) over another set of values (fidelity to the existing loved one), in a way which violates the protagonist's preferred hierarchy of values.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 January 2009 03:55:00AM 19 points [-]

Okay, just to disclaim this clearly, I probably would press the button that instantly swaps us to this world - but that's because right now people are dying, and this world implies a longer time to work on FAI 2.0.

But the Wrinkled Genie scenario is not supposed to be probable or attainable - most programmers this stupid just kill you, I think.

"Mehtopia" seems like a good word for this kind of sub-Utopia. Steven's good at neologisms!

I should also note that I did do some further optimizing in my head of the verthandi - yes, they have different individual personalities, yes guys sometimes reject them and they move on, etcetera etcetera - but most of that background proved irrelevant to the story. I shouldn't really be saying this, because the reader has the right to read fiction any way they like - but please don't go assuming that I was conceptualizing the verthandi as uniform doormats.

Some guys probably would genuinely enjoy doormats, though, and so verthandi doormats will exist in their statistical distribution. To give the verthandi a feminist interpretation would quite miss the point. If there are verthandi feminists, their existence is predicated on the existence of men who are attracted to feminists, and I'm reasonably sure that's not what feminism is about.

If you google boreana you should get an idea of where that term comes from, same as verthandi.

It seems like the people who are not happily married get a pretty good deal out of this, though? I'm not sure I understand how 90% of humanity ends up wishing death on the genie.

Good point, Nominull - though even if you're not married, you can still have a mother. Maybe the Wrinkled Genie could just not tell the singles about the verthandi as yet - just that they'd been stripped of technology and sent Elsewhere - but that implies the Wrinkled Genie deliberately planning its own death (as opposed to just planning for its own death), and that wasn't what I had in mind.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 January 2009 04:27:00AM 10 points [-]

90% also seems awfully high of a fail-safe limit. Why not 70%, 50% or even less? You could just change the number and that'd fix the issue.

I also tend to lean towards the "not half as bad" camp, though a bit of that is probably contrarianism. And I do know futures that'd rank higher in my preference ordering than this. Still, it's having a bit of a weirdtopia effect on me - not at all what I'd have imagined as an utopia at first, but strangely appealing when I think more of it... (haven't thought about it for long enough of a time to know if that change keeps up the more I think of it)

Comment author: JamesAndrix 22 January 2009 05:55:00AM 7 points [-]

I'd say most of the 'optimism' for this is because you've convinced us that much worse situations are much more likely.

Also, we're picking out the one big thing the AI did wrong that the story is about, and ignoring other things it did wrong. (leaving no technology, kidnapping, creation of likely to be enslaved sentients) I'm sure there's an already named bias for only looking at 'big' effects.

And we're probably discounting how much better it could have been. All we got was perfect partners, immortality, and one more planet than we had before. But we don't count the difference between singularity-utopia and #4-2 as a loss.

Comment author: rkyeun 28 July 2012 10:32:18PM 2 points [-]

Two more planets than we had before. Men are from Mars, Women are...

Comment author: kibber 21 September 2012 10:21:02PM 1 point [-]

...from Venus, and only animals left on Earth, so one more planet than we had before.

Comment author: rkyeun 26 September 2012 01:49:23PM 1 point [-]

Well, until we get back there. It's still ours even if we're on vacation.

Comment author: jb6 22 January 2009 12:26:00PM 8 points [-]

An excellent story, in the sense that it communicates the magnitude of the kinds of mistakes that can be made, even when one is wise and prudent (or imagines oneself so). I note with more than some amusement that people are busy in the comments adding stricture 108, 109, 110 - as if somehow just another layer or two, and everything would be great! (Leela: "The iceberg penetrated all 7000 hulls!" Fry: "When will humanity learn to make a ship with 7001 hulls!"

Nicely done.

Comment author: Cyan2 22 January 2009 02:27:00PM 2 points [-]

If you google boreana you should get an idea of where that term comes from, same as verthandi.

Still need a little help. Top hits appear to be David Boreanaz, a plant in the Rue family, and a moth.

Comment author: Russell_Wallace 22 January 2009 02:55:00PM 4 points [-]

But if not - if this world indeed ranks lower in my preference ordering, just because I have better scenarios to compare it to - then what happens if I write the Successful Utopia story?

Try it and see! It would be interesting and constructive, and if people still disagree with your assessment, well then there will be something meaningful to argue about.

Comment author: Emile 22 January 2009 04:08:00PM 8 points [-]

Great story!

This use of the word 'wants' struck me as a distinction Eliezer would make, rather than this character.

Similarly, it's notable that the AI seems to use exactly the same interpretation of the word lie as Eliezer Yudkowsky: that's why it doesn't self-describe as an "Artificial Intelligence" until the verthandi uses the phrase.

... neither of those is unusual if you consider that the veary nearly wise fool was Eliezer Yudkowsky.

(Rule 76: "... except for me. I get my volcano base with catgirls.")

Comment author: Khannea_Suntzu 22 January 2009 04:50:00PM 3 points [-]

I am sorry.

I must not be a human being to not see any problem in this scenario. I can vaguely see that many humans would be troubled by this, but I wouldn't be. Maybe to me humanity is dead already, ambiguity intentional.

I welcome your little scary story as currently to me the world is hell.

Comment author: Abigail 22 January 2009 04:57:00PM 2 points [-]

"Men and women can make each other somewhat happy, but not most happy" said the genie/ AI.

What will make one individual "happy" will not work for the whole species. I would want the AI to interview me about my wants: I find Control makes me happier than anything, not having control bothers me. Control between fifty options which will benefit me would be good enough, I do not necessarily need to be able to choose the bad ones...er...

Being immortal and not being able to age, and being cured of any injury, sound pretty good to me. It is not just contrarianism that makes people praise this world.

Please do write your "actual shot at applied fun theory".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 January 2009 05:07:00PM 2 points [-]

Science fiction fandom makes me happy. Tear it into two separate pieces, and the social network is seriously damaged.

Without going into details, I have some issues about romantic relationships-- it's conceivable that a boreana could make me happy (and I'm curious about what you imagine a boreana to be like), but I would consider that to be direct adjustment of my mind, or as nearly so as to not be different.

More generally, people tend to have friends and family members of the other sex. A twenty-year minimum separation is going to be rough, even if you've got "perfect" romantic partners.

If I were in charge of shaping utopia, I'd start with a gigantic survey of what people want, and then see how much of it can be harmonized. That would at least be a problem hard enough to be interesting for an AI.

If that's not feasible, I agree that some incremental approach is needed.

Alternatively, how about a mildly friendly AI that just protects us from hostile AIs and major threats to the existence of human race? I realize that the human race will be somewhat hard to define, but that's just as much of a problem for the "I just want to make you happy" AI.

Comment author: Angel 22 January 2009 05:14:00PM 3 points [-]

"Top hits appear to be David Boreanaz,"

Eliezer is a Buffy fan.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 22 January 2009 05:16:00PM 2 points [-]

Khannea: Eliezer himself said that he'd take that world over this one, if for no other reason than that world buys more time to work, since people aren't dying.

However, we can certainly see things that _could be better_... We can look at that world and say "eeeh, there're things we'd want different instead"

The whole "enforced breaking up of relationships" thing, for one thing, is a bit of a problem, for one thing.

Comment author: Doug_S. 22 January 2009 06:06:00PM 7 points [-]

Although having the girl of my dreams would certainly be nice, I'd soon be pissed off at the lack of all the STUFF that I like and have accumulated. No more getting together with buddies and playing Super Smash Bros (or other video games) for hours? No Internet to surf and discuss politics and such on? No more Magic: the Gathering?

Screw that!

Comment author: Carinthium 23 November 2010 12:58:41PM 1 point [-]

If the A.I had any real brains, those things would be avaliable as well (at least between people of the same, and possibly even the opposite sex).

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 08:11:11PM 0 points [-]

Personally, knowing that my verthandis were created specifically for me would make me want them less. Even if they were strong-willed, intelligent, and independent, I'd still -know- that their existence is tailored to suit my tastes, and this would prevent me from seeing them as real people. And I'd want real women.

Comment author: Caledonian2 22 January 2009 07:42:00PM 8 points [-]

Because I'm curious:

How much evidence, and what kind, would be necessary before suspicions of contrarianism are rejected in favor of the conclusion that the belief was wrong?

Surely this is a relevant question for a Bayesian.

Comment author: Thom_Blake 22 January 2009 07:44:00PM 2 points [-]

Doug S,

Indeed. The AI wasn't paying attention if he thought bringing me to this place was going to make me happier. My stuff is part of who I am; without my stuff he's quite nearly killed me. Even moreso when 'stuff' includes wife and friends.

But then, he was raised by one person so there's no reason to think he wouldn't believe in wrong metaphysics of self.

Comment author: Doug_S. 22 January 2009 08:44:00PM 2 points [-]

Roko: Yes. Yes I would.

There are plenty of individual moments in which I would rather get laid than play Magic, but on balance, I find Magic to be a more worthwhile endeavor than I imagine casual sex to be. The feeling I got from this achievement was better and far longer lasting than the feelings I get from masturbation. Furthermore, you can't exactly spend every waking moment having sex, and "getting laid" is not exactly something that is completely impossible in the real world, either.

Also, even though I'm sure that simply interacting with the girl of my dreams in non-sexual ways would, indeed, be a great source of happiness in and of itself, I'd still be frustrated that we couldn't do all the things that I like to do together!

Comment author: Sold_my_Power_Nine_to_donate_to_SIAI 22 January 2009 09:03:00PM 5 points [-]

Ah, discussion of the joys of Magic: the Gathering on Overcoming Bias.

It's like all the good stuff converges in one place :)

Comment author: steven 22 January 2009 09:30:00PM 0 points [-]

In view of the Dunbar thing I wonder what people here see as a eudaimonically optimal population density. 6 billion people on Mars, if you allow for like 2/3 oceans and wilderness, means a population density of 100 per square kilometer, which sounds really really high for a cookie-gatherer civilization. It means if you live in groups of 100 you can just about see the neighbors in all directions.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 January 2009 09:48:00PM 11 points [-]

Since people seem to be reading too much into the way the Wrinkled Genie talks, I'll note that I wrote this story in one night (that was the goal I set myself) and that the faster I write, the more all of my characters sound like me and the less they have distinctive personalities. Stories in which the character gets a genuine individual voice are a lot more work and require a lot more background visualization.

Steven, I didn't do that calculation. Well, first of all I guess that Mars doesn't end up as 2/3 ocean, and second, we'll take some mass off the heavier Venus and expand Mars to give it a larger surface area. That's fair.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 22 January 2009 09:59:00PM 4 points [-]

Eliezer, you're cheating. Getting trapped makes this a dystopia. It would make almost anything a dystopia. Lazy!

Suppose a similar AI (built a little closer to Friendly) decided to introduce verthandi and the pro-female equivalent (I propose "ojisamas") into an otherwise unchanged earth. Can you argue that is an amputation of destiny? Per my thinking, all you've done is doubled the number of genders and much increased the number of sexual orientations, to the betterment of everyone. (What do you call a verthandi who prefers to love an ojisama?)

Comment author: Gregory_Lemieux 22 January 2009 10:31:00PM 1 point [-]

Angel: "Eliezer is a Buffy fan"

Wow, I hope they have chiropractors on Venus for all the Stoopy McBroodingtons lurking around like Angel. Every time I he popped up on Buffy I kept wanting to fix his posture.

Comment author: Cyan2 23 January 2009 12:09:00AM 1 point [-]

Huh. I guess I just don't see Angel (the TV character, not the commenter) as the equivalent of the verthandi. (Also naming the idea after the actor instead of the character lead me somewhat astray.)

Comment author: Jon2 23 January 2009 03:38:00AM 0 points [-]

Sure this isn't a utopia for someone who wants to preserve "suboptimal" portions of his/her history because they hold some individual significance. But it seems a pretty darn good utopia for a pair of newly created beings. A sort of Garden of Eden scenario.

Comment author: Doug_S. 23 January 2009 04:34:00AM 1 point [-]

As for what to call the female equivalent of the "verthandi" - well, Edward Cullen of the recent Twilight series was intended by the author to be a blatant female wish fulfillment/idealized boyfriend character, although the stories and character rub an awful lot of people the wrong way.

Comment author: bogdanb 24 January 2009 02:46:00PM 0 points [-]

Will Pearson: your arguments apply equally well to any planner. Planners have to consider the possible futures and pick the best one (using a form of predicate), and if you give them infinite horizons they may have trouble.

True, whenever you have a planner for a maximizer, it has to decide how to divide its resources between planning and actually executing a plan.

However, your wish needs a satisfier: it needs to find at least one solution that satisfies the predicate "I wouldn't regret it".

The maximizer problem has a "strong" version which translates to "give me the maximum possible in the universe", which is obviously a satisfier problem (i.e., find a solution that satisfies the predicate "is optimal", then implement it). But you can always reformulate these in a "weak" version: "find a way of creating benefit; then use x% resources to find better ways of maximizing benefit, and the rest to implement the best techniques at the moment", with 0 < x < 100 an arbitrary fraction. (Note that the "find better ways part" can change the fraction if it's sure it would improve the final result.)

So, if you just like paperclips and just want a lot of those, you can just run the weak version of the maximizer be done with it: you're certain to get a lot of something as long as it's possible.

But for satisfiability problems, you might just have picked problem that doesn't have a solution. Both "find a future I wouldn't regret" and "make the maximum number of paperclips possible in this Universe" are such satisfiability problems. (I don't know if these problems in particular have a "findable" solution, however, nor how to determine it. The point is that they might be, so it's possible to spend the lifetime of the Universe for nothing.)

The only idea of an equivalent "weak" reformulation would be to say "use X resources (this includes time) to try to find a solution". This doesn't seem as acceptable to me: you might still spend X resources and get zero results. (As opposed to the "weak" maximizer, where you still get something as long as it's possible.) But maybe that's just because I don't care about paperclips that much, I don't know.)

* * *

Now, if you absolutely want to satisfy a predicate, you just don't have any alternative to spending all your resources on that. OK. But are you sure that "no regrets" is an absolutely necessary condition on the future? Actually, are you sure enough of that that you'd be willing to give up everything for the unknown chance of getting it?

Comment author: Will_Pearson 24 January 2009 03:05:00PM 1 point [-]

Reformulate to least regret after a certain time period, if you really want to worry about the resource usage of the genie.

Comment author: Christopher_Carr 29 January 2009 10:10:00AM 0 points [-]

There's almost a Gene Wolfe feel to the prose, which is, of course, a complement.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 January 2009 12:04:00PM 5 points [-]

There's almost a Gene Wolfe feel to the prose, which is, of course, a complement.

I don't usually do the modesty thing, because it feels like handing a gift back to the person who tried to give it to you. But on this occasion - sir, I feel that you praise me way, way, way too highly.

Comment author: flamoot 29 January 2009 07:57:00PM 6 points [-]


Comment author: Zubon 29 January 2009 11:14:00PM 9 points [-]

Eliezer, since you are rejecting the Wolfean praise, I will take the constructive criticism route. This is not your best writing, but you know that since you spent a night on it.

We have three thousand words here. The first thousand are disorientation and describing the room and its occupants. The second thousand is a block of exposition from the wrinkled figure. The third thousand is an expression of outrage and despair. Not a horrid structure, although you would want to trim the first and have the second be less of a barely interrupted monologue.

As a story, the dominant problem is that the characters are standing in a blank room being told what has already happened, and that "what" is mostly "I learned then changed things all at once." There have been stories that do "we are just in a room talking" well or badly; the better ones usually either make the "what happened" very active (essentially a frame story) or accept the recumbent position and make it entirely cerebral; the worse ones usually fall into a muddled in-between.

As a moral lesson, the fridge logic keeps hitting you in these comments, notably that this is a pure Pareto improvement for much of the species. Even as a failed utopia, you accept it as a better place from which to work on a real one. And 89.8% want to kill the AI? The next most common objection has been how this works outside heteronormativity, or for a broad range of sexual preferences. Enabling endless non-fatal torture is another winner for "how well did you think that through?" So it is not bad enough to fulfill its intent, its "catch" seems inadequately conceived, and there are other problems that make the whole scenario suspect.

My first thought of a specific way to better fulfill the story's goals would be to tell it from Helen's perspective, or at least put more focus on her and Lisa. You have many male comments of "hey, not bad." They are thinking of their own situations. They are not thinking of their wives and daughters being sexually serviced by boreana. The AI gets one line about this, but Stephen seems more worried about his fidelity than hers. With a substantially male audience, that is where you want to shove the dagger. Take it in the other direction by having the AI be helpful to Helen. While she does not want to accept her overwhelming attraction to her crafted partner, the AI wants her to make a clean break so she can be happier. It will gladly tell her about how Stephen's partner is more attractive to him than she could ever be, how long it will take for his affection to be alienated, and how rarely he will think about Helen after they have spent more time on different planets than they spent in the same house. Keep the sense of family separation by either making the child a son or noting that the daughter is somewhere on the planet, happier beyond her mother's control; in either case, note that s/he also woke up with a very attractive member of the opposite sex whose only purpose in life is to please him/her. This could be the point to note those male sexual enhancements, and monogamy is not what makes everyone happiest, so maybe Lisa wakes up with a few boreana.

And maybe this is just me, but the AI could seem a bit less like the Dungeonmaster from the old D&D cartoon.

Comment author: Damien_R._S. 04 February 2009 06:24:00PM 5 points [-]

The story has problems, and it's not clear how it's meant to be taken.

Way 1: we should believe the SAI, being a SAI, and so everyone will in fact be happier within a week. This creates cognitive dissonance, what with the scenario seeming flawed to us, and putting us in a position of rejecting a scenario that makes us happier.

Way 2: we should trust our reason, and evaluate the scenario on its own merits. This creates the cognitive dissonance of the SAI being really stupid. Yeah, being immortal and having a nice companion and good life support and protection is good, but it's a failed utopia because it's trivially improvable. The fridge logic is strong in this one, and much has been pointed out already: gays, opposite-sex friends, family. More specific than family: children. What happened to the five year olds in this scenario?

The AI was apparently programmed by a man who had no close female friends, no children, and was not close to his mother. Otherwise the idea that either catgirls or Belldandies should lead to a natural separation of the sexes would not occur. (Is the moral that such people should not be allowed to define gods? Duh.) If I had a catgirl/non-sentient sexbot, that would not make me spend less time with true female friends, or stop calling my mother (were she still alive.) Catgirl doesn't play Settler of Catan or D&D or talk about politics. A Belldandy might, in the sense that finding a perfect mate often leads to spending less time with friends, but it still needn't mean being happy with them being cut off, or being unreceptive to meeting new friends of either sex.

So yeah, it's a pretty bad utopia, defensible only in the "hey, not dying or physically starving" way. But it's implausibly bad, because it could be so much better by doing less work: immortalize people on Earth, angelnet Earth, give people the option of summoning an Idealized Companion. Your AI had to go to more effort for less result, and shouldn't have followed this path if it had any consultation with remotely normal people. (Where are the children?)

Comment author: Cronocke 15 February 2011 06:20:39AM 0 points [-]

I think Way 2 was what the author intended - it's not actually meant to be a true utopia. Thus "failed utopia".

But the story raises a couple interesting questions, that I don't notice an answer to.

How did the AI do all this, given the confines of human technology at the time it was set?

And if the AI could do it... what's stopping a human from doing the same?

I envision someone having those precise thoughts on either Mars or Venus, and (either swiftly or gradually) discovering the methods needed to alter reality the same way the AI did. Soon, everything is set, if not "right", at the very least back to "normal".

... although perhaps the "perfect" mates are given their own distant world to live on, and grow without worry of human intervention anytime soon.

... it probably says something about me that I'd also, if I were this person, want to restore the AI to "life" just to trap it in a distant prison from which it can observe humanity, but not interact with anything... as a form of poetic justice for the distant prisons it tried to place humanity within.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 15 February 2011 04:40:22PM 1 point [-]

Of course, then you'd just have lots of people throwing up on the sands of Earth, because setting everything "back to normal" involves separating them from mates with whom they have been extremely happy.

(Presumably you'd also have a lot of unhappy nonhumans on that distant world, for the same reasons. Assuming the mates really are nonhuman, which is to say the least not clear to me.)

Comment author: [deleted] 28 January 2012 12:23:22PM *  10 points [-]

Catgirl doesn't play Settler of Catan or D&D or talk about politics.

Actually she probably can.

Comment author: Neil 13 March 2009 02:07:00PM 0 points [-]

The point is, I believe, that we value things in ways not reducible to "maximising our happiness". Here Love is the great example, often we value it more than our own happiness, and also the happiness of the beloved. We are not constituted to maximise our own happiness, natural selection tells you that.

Comment author: nolrai 26 April 2009 08:34:00PM 1 point [-]

You know I cant help but read this a victory for humanity. Not a full victory, but i think the probability of some sort of interstellar civilization that isn't a dystopia is is higher afterwords then before, if nothing else we are more aware of the dangers of AI, and anything that does that and leaves a non-dystopian civilization capable of makeing useful AI is mostlikely a good thing by my utility function.

One thing that does bug me is I do not value happiness as much as most people do. Maybe I'm just not as empathetic as most people? I mean I acutely hope that humanity is replaced by a decenent civilisation/spieces that still values Truth ans Beauty, I care a lot more weather they are successful then if they are happy.

I wonder how much of the variance in preference between this and others could be explained by weather they are single (i.e I don't have some one they love to the point of "I don't want to consider even trying to live with someone else") vs. those that do.

I would take it, I imagine I would be very unhappy for a few months. (It feels like it would take years but thats a well known bias).

I assume "verthandi" is also not a coincidence. "verthandi"

Comment author: TheOtherDave 25 November 2010 02:36:25AM 7 points [-]

Somewhere on this site, there's an article on writing about the Singularity that offers the suggestion of trying to imagine the experience of having lived in the resulting world for some period of time, rather than just the experience of the immediate transition to that world. The idea being that something that may seem utopian when you think about the transition might prove obviously unsatisfactory when you think about the continued experience.

I think this scenario demonstrates the corresponding effect for dystopias.

Yes, I appreciate that breaking up with a long-time committed partner in favor of a new relationship that makes you happier than you ever were before -- especially when you aren't given a choice in the matter -- feels really awful in the immediate aftermath.

But I think it would be difficult to keep that same sense of dystopia when writing about this world six months later, once everyone has gotten used to the idea.

Comment author: lockeandkeynes 08 December 2010 05:06:31PM 4 points [-]

Doesn't sound bad at all.

Comment author: Kingreaper 08 December 2010 07:04:17PM 24 points [-]

I've realised what would make this utopia make almost perfect sense:

The AI was programmed with a massive positive utility value to "die if they ask you to"

So, in maximising it's utility, it has to make sure it's asked to die. It also has to fulfil other restrictions, and it wants to make humans happy. So it has to make them happy in such a way that their immediate reaction will be to want it dead, and only later will they be happy about the changes.

Comment author: Ender 28 August 2011 05:06:08AM 3 points [-]

Teehee... "Men are from Mars..."

Comment author: TuviaDulin 01 April 2012 06:57:32PM 2 points [-]

When the critical 90% threshold is reached and the AI self-destructs, will there be anything left behind to ensure human safety? He said that the world he created will remain in his wake, but will it be able to maintain itself without his sentient oversight? Is there any completely reliable mechanism that could prevent ecological collapse, or a deadly mutation in the catgirls/boys, or a failure in the robots that protect people from harm?

If not, then the clever fool who created the AI was really, really a fool. You'd think he'd have at least included a contingency that makes the AI reset everything back to the way it was before it self-destructs....

Comment author: ikrase 03 April 2012 06:21:38AM 1 point [-]

I would do this, though I would prefer better.

As I understnad the Verthandi are pretty much human, they are just arranged and apportionated to be perfectly complimentary to humans.

Comment author: pnrjulius 06 June 2012 10:00:33PM 3 points [-]

I guess I share the intuition that there's something wrong with this scenario... but I really can't put my finger on what it is.

The transition seems like it was done too coercively... you split up a lot of families and friends.

But other than that? You can't make a "catgirl" argument, because we specified that the verthandi and boreana are sentient beings like we are. We can still be friends and lovers with them, and by stipulation more harmoniously that we would with other humans. It actually seems like the men/verthandi and women/boreana would split into two species, each of which would be happier than Homo sapiens presently is.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 July 2012 09:25:15AM 1 point [-]

I'm curious about what happened to homosexuals and bisexuals with same-sex preferences in the story. I imagine they were put together somewhere...

I'm on the camp that isn't very happy with replacing romantic partners with superstimulus pleasure bringers, in part because I get so attached to people I care about (and objects, too. Especially cute ones.)

Also I imagine it may be because my standards and tastes for partners are really narrow yet my current partner fits them so well...you might as well make a slightly tweaked clone of my partner to make an ideal interest for me specifically.

As a side note: Not only would I feel bad if I was cheated on but I would feel horrible and unworthy of love if I cheated myself (and why would you expect a good and loving partner if you are not going to behave like that yourself?) so that would be another way in which this failed utopia scares me.