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Fixing Moral Hazards In Business Science

29 DavidLS 18 October 2014 09:10PM

I'm a LW reader, two time CFAR alumnus, and rationalist entrepreneur.

Today I want to talk about something insidious: marketing studies.

Until recently I considered studies of this nature merely unfortunate, funny even. However, my recent experiences have caused me to realize the situation is much more serious than this. Product studies are the public's most frequent interaction with science. By tolerating (or worse, expecting) shitty science in commerce, we are undermining the public's perception of science as a whole.

The good news is this appears fixable. I think we can change how startups perform their studies immediately, and use that success to progressively expand.

Product studies have three features that break the assumptions of traditional science: (1) few if any follow up studies will be performed, (2) the scientists are in a position of moral hazard, and (3) the corporation seeking the study is in a position of moral hazard (for example, the filing cabinet bias becomes more of a "filing cabinet exploit" if you have low morals and the budget to perform 20 studies).

I believe we can address points 1 and 2 directly, and overcome point 3 by appealing to greed.

Here's what I'm proposing: we create a webapp that acts as a high quality (though less flexible) alternative to a Contract Research Organization. Since it's a webapp, the cost of doing these less flexible studies will approach the cost of the raw product to be tested. For most web companies, that's $0.

If we spend the time to design the standard protocols well, it's quite plausible any studies done using this webapp will be in the top 1% in terms of scientific rigor.

With the cost low, and the quality high, such a system might become the startup equivalent of citation needed. Once we have a significant number of startups using the system, and as we add support for more experiment types, we will hopefully attract progressively larger corporations.

Is anyone interested in helping? I will personally write the webapp and pay for the security audit if we can reach quorum on the initial protocols.

Companies who have expressed interested in using such a system if we build it:

(I sent out my inquiries at 10pm yesterday, and every one of these companies got back to me by 3am. I don't believe "startups love this idea" is an overstatement.)

So the question is: how do we do this right?

Here are some initial features we should consider:

  • Data will be collected by a webapp controlled by a trusted third party, and will only be editable by study participants.
  • The results will be computed by software decided on before the data is collected.
  • Studies will be published regardless of positive or negative results.
  • Studies will have mandatory general-purpose safety questions. (web-only products likely exempt)
  • Follow up studies will be mandatory for continued use of results in advertisements.
  • All software/contracts/questions used will be open sourced (MIT) and creative commons licensed (CC BY), allowing for easier cross-product comparisons.

Any placebos used in the studies must be available for purchase as long as the results are used in advertising, allowing for trivial study replication.

Significant contributors will receive:

  • Co-authorship on the published paper for the protocol.
  • (Through the paper) an Erdos number of 2.
  • The satisfaction of knowing you personally helped restore science's good name (hopefully).

I'm hoping that if a system like this catches on, we can get an "effective startups" movement going :)

So how do we do this right?

How to write an academic paper, according to me

27 Stuart_Armstrong 15 October 2014 12:29PM

Disclaimer: this is entirely a personal viewpoint, formed by a few years of publication in a few academic fields. EDIT: Many of the comments are very worth reading as well.

Having recently finished a very rushed submission (turns out you can write a novel paper in a day and half, if you're willing to sacrifice quality and sanity), I've been thinking about how academic papers are structured - and more importantly, how they should be structured.

It seems to me that the key is to consider the audience. Or, more precisely, to consider the audiences - because different people will read you paper to different depths, and you should cater to all of them. An example of this is the "inverted pyramid" structure for many news articles - start with the salient facts, then the most important details, then fill in the other details. The idea is to ensure that a reader who stops reading at any point (which happens often) will nevertheless have got the most complete impression that it was possible to convey in the bit that they did read.

So, with that model in mind, lets consider the different levels of audience for a general academic paper (of course, some papers just can't fit into this mould, but many can):

 

continue reading »

What false beliefs have you held and why were you wrong?

26 Punoxysm 16 October 2014 05:58PM

What is something you used to believe, preferably something concrete with direct or implied predictions, that you now know was dead wrong. Was your belief rational given what you knew and could know back then, or was it irrational, and why?

 

Edit: I feel like some of these are getting a bit glib and political. Please try to explain what false assumptions or biases were underlying your beliefs - be introspective - this is LW after all.

A Day Without Defaults

18 katydee 20 October 2014 08:07AM

Author's note: this post was written on Sunday, Oct. 19th. Its sequel will be written on Sunday, Oct. 27th.

Last night, I went to bed content with a fun and eventful weekend gone by. This morning, I woke up, took a shower, did my morning exercises, and began eat breakfast before making the commute up to work.

At the breakfast table, though, I was surprised to learn that it was Sunday, not Monday. I had misremembered what day it was and in fact had an entire day ahead of me with nothing on the agenda. At first, this wasn't very interesting, but then I started thinking. What to do with an entirely free day, without any real routine?

I realized that I didn't particularly know what to do, so I decided that I would simply live a day without defaults. At each moment of the day, I would act only in accordance with my curiosity and genuine interest. If I noticed myself becoming bored, disinterested, or otherwise less than enthused about what was going on, I would stop doing it.

What I found was quite surprising. I spent much less time doing routine activities like reading the news and browsing discussion boards, and much more time doing things that I've "always wanted to get around to"-- meditation, trying out a new exercise routine, even just spending some time walking around outside and relaxing in the sun.

Further, this seemed to actually make me more productive. When I sat down to get some work done, it was because I was legitimately interested in finishing my work and curious as to whether I could use a new method I had thought up in order to solve it. I was able to resolve something that's been annoying me for a while in much less time than I thought it would take.

By the end of the day, I started thinking "is there any reason that I don't spend every day like this?" As far as I can tell, there isn't really. I do have a few work tasks that I consider relatively uninteresting, but there are multiple solutions to that problem that I suspect I can implement relatively easily.

My plan is to spend the next week doing the same thing that I did today and then report back. I'm excited to let you all know what I find!

Logical uncertainty reading list

17 alex_zag_al 18 October 2014 07:16PM

This was originally part of a post I wrote on logical uncertainty, but it turned out to be post-sized itself, so I'm splitting it off.

Daniel Garber's article Old Evidence and Logical Omniscience in Bayesian Confirmation Theory. Wonderful framing of the problem--explains the relevance of logical uncertainty to the Bayesian theory of confirmation of hypotheses by evidence.

Articles on using logical uncertainty for Friendly AI theory: qmaurmann's Meditations on Löb’s theorem and probabilistic logic. Squark's Overcoming the Loebian obstacle using evidence logic. And Paul Christiano, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Paul Herreshoff, and Mihaly Barasz's Definibility of Truth in Probabilistic Logic. So8res's walkthrough of that paper, and qmaurmann's notes. eli_sennesh like just made a post on this: Logics for Mind-Building Should Have Computational Meaning.

Benja's post on using logical uncertainty for updateless decision theory.

cousin_it's Notes on logical priors from the MIRI workshop. Addresses a logical-uncertainty version of Counterfactual Mugging, but in the course of that has, well, notes on logical priors that are more general.

Reasoning with Limited Resources and Assigning Probabilities to Arithmetical Statements, by Haim Gaifman. Shows that you can give up on giving logically equivalent statements equal probabilities without much sacrifice of the elegance of your theory. Also, gives a beautifully written framing of the problem.

manfred's early post, and later sequence. Amazingly readable. The proposal gives up Gaifman's elegance, but actually goes as far as assigning probabilities to mathematical statements and using them, whereas Gaifman never follows through to solve an example afaik. The post or the sequence may be the quickest path to getting your hands dirty and trying this stuff out, though I don't think the proposal will end up being the right answer.

There's some literature on modeling a function as a stochastic process, which gives you probability distributions over its values. The information in these distributions comes from calculations of a few values of the function. One application is in optimizing a difficult-to-evaluate objective function: see Efficient Global Optimization of Expensive Black-Box Functions, by Donald R. Jones, Matthias Schonlau, and William J. Welch. Another is when you're doing simulations that have free parameters, and you want to make sure you try all the relevant combinations of parameter values: see Design and Analysis of Computer Experiments by Jerome Sacks, William J. Welch, Toby J. Mitchell, and Henry P. Wynn.

Maximize Worst Case Bayes Score, by Coscott, addresses the question: "Given a consistent but incomplete theory, how should one choose a random model of that theory?"

Bayesian Networks for Logical Reasoning by Jon Williamson. Looks interesting, but I can't summarize it because I don't understand it.

And, a big one that I'm still working through: Non-Omniscience, Probabilistic Inference, and Metamathematics, by Paul Christiano. Very thorough, goes all the way from trying to define coherent belief to trying to build usable algorithms for assigning probabilities.

Dealing With Logical Omniscience: Expressiveness and Pragmatics, by Joseph Y. Halpern and Riccardo Pucella.

Reasoning About Rational, But Not Logically Omniscient Agents, by Ho Ngoc Duc. Sorry about the paywall.

And then the references from Christiano's report:

Abram Demski. Logical prior probability. In Joscha Bach, Ben Goertzel, and Matthew Ikle, editors, AGI, volume 7716 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science, pages 50-59. Springer, 2012.

Marcus Hutter, John W. Lloyd, Kee Siong Ng, and William T. B. Uther. Probabilities on sentences in an expressive logic. CoRR, abs/1209.2620, 2012.

Bas R. Steunebrink and Jurgen Schmidhuber. A family of Godel machine implementations. In Jurgen Schmidhuber, Kristinn R. Thorisson, and Moshe Looks, editors, AGI, volume 6830 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science, pages 275{280. Springer, 2011.

If you have any more links, post them!

Or if you can contribute summaries.

Fighting Mosquitos

16 ChristianKl 16 October 2014 11:53AM

According to Louie Helm eradicating a species of mosquitoes could be done for as little as a few million dollar.

I don't have a few million dollar lying around so I can't spend my own money to do it. On the other hand, I think that on average every German citizen would be quite willing to pay 1€ per year to rid Germany of mosquitoes that bite humans.

That means it's a problem of public action. The German government should spend 80 million Euro to rid Germany of Mosquitos. That's an order of magnitude higher than the numbers quoted by Louie Helm).

The same goes basically for every country or state with mosquitos.

How could we get a government to do this without spending too much money ourselves? The straight forward way is writing a petition. We could host a website and simultaneously post a petition to every relevant parliament on earth.

How do we get attention for the petition? Facebook. People don't like Mosquitos and should be willing to file an internet petition to get rid of them. I would believe this to spread virally. The idea seems interesting enough to get journalists to write articles about it. 

Bonus points:

After we have eradicated human biting mosquitoes from our homelands it's quite straightforward to export the technology to Africa. 

Does anyone see any issues with that plan?

What math is essential to the art of rationality?

14 Capla 15 October 2014 02:44AM

I have started to put together a sort of curriculum for learning the subjects that lend themselves to rationality. It includes things like experimental methodology and cognitive psychology (obviously), along with "support disciplines" like computer science and economics. I think (though maybe I'm wrong) that mathematics is one of the most important things to understand.

Eliezer said in the simple math of everything:

It seems to me that there's a substantial advantage in knowing the drop-dead basic fundamental embarrassingly simple mathematics in as many different subjects as you can manage.  Not, necessarily, the high-falutin' complicated damn math that appears in the latest journal articles.  Not unless you plan to become a professional in the field.  But for people who can read calculus, and sometimes just plain algebra, the drop-dead basic mathematics of a field may not take that long to learn.  And it's likely to change your outlook on life more than the math-free popularizations or the highly technical math.

I want to have access to outlook-changing insights. So, what math do I need to know? What are the generally applicable mathematical principles that are most worth learning? The above quote seems to indicate at least calculus, and everyone is a fan of Bayesian statistics (which I know little about). 

Secondarily, what are some of the most important of that "drop-dead basic fundamental embarrassingly simple mathematics" from different fields? What fields are mathematically based, other than physics and evolutionary biology, and economics?

What is the most important math for an educated person to be familiar with?

As someone who took an honors calculus class in high school, liked it, and did alright in the class, but who has probably forgotten most of it by now and needs to relearn it, how should I go about learning that math?

Superintelligence 5: Forms of Superintelligence

10 KatjaGrace 14 October 2014 01:00AM

This is part of a weekly reading group on Nick Bostrom's book, Superintelligence. For more information about the group, and an index of posts so far see the announcement post. For the schedule of future topics, see MIRI's reading guide.


Welcome. This week we discuss the fifth section in the reading guideForms of superintelligence. This corresponds to Chapter 3, on different ways in which an intelligence can be super.

This post summarizes the section, and offers a few relevant notes, and ideas for further investigation. Some of my own thoughts and questions for discussion are in the comments.

There is no need to proceed in order through this post, or to look at everything. Feel free to jump straight to the discussion. Where applicable and I remember, page numbers indicate the rough part of the chapter that is most related (not necessarily that the chapter is being cited for the specific claim).

Reading: Chapter 3 (p52-61)


Summary

  1. A speed superintelligence could do what a human does, but faster. This would make the outside world seem very slow to it. It might cope with this partially by being very tiny, or virtual. (p53)
  2. A collective superintelligence is composed of smaller intellects, interacting in some way. It is especially good at tasks that can be broken into parts and completed in parallel. It can be improved by adding more smaller intellects, or by organizing them better. (p54)
  3. A quality superintelligence can carry out intellectual tasks that humans just can't in practice, without necessarily being better or faster at the things humans can do. This can be understood by analogy with the difference between other animals and humans, or the difference between humans with and without certain cognitive capabilities. (p56-7)
  4. These different kinds of superintelligence are especially good at different kinds of tasks. We might say they have different 'direct reach'. Ultimately they could all lead to one another, so can indirectly carry out the same tasks. We might say their 'indirect reach' is the same. (p58-9)
  5. We don't know how smart it is possible for a biological or a synthetic intelligence to be. Nonetheless we can be confident that synthetic entities can be much more intelligent than biological entities
    1. Digital intelligences would have better hardware: they would be made of components ten million times faster than neurons; the components could communicate about two million times faster than neurons can; they could use many more components while our brains are constrained to our skulls; it looks like better memory should be feasible; and they could be built to be more reliable, long-lasting, flexible, and well suited to their environment.
    2. Digital intelligences would have better software: they could be cheaply and non-destructively 'edited'; they could be duplicated arbitrarily; they could have well aligned goals as a result of this duplication; they could share memories (at least for some forms of AI); and they could have powerful dedicated software (like our vision system) for domains where we have to rely on slow general reasoning.

Notes

  1. This chapter is about different kinds of superintelligent entities that could exist. I like to think about the closely related question, 'what kinds of better can intelligence be?' You can be a better baker if you can bake a cake faster, or bake more cakes, or bake better cakes. Similarly, a system can become more intelligent if it can do the same intelligent things faster, or if it does things that are qualitatively more intelligent. (Collective intelligence seems somewhat different, in that it appears to be a means to be faster or able to do better things, though it may have benefits in dimensions I'm not thinking of.) I think the chapter is getting at different ways intelligence can be better rather than 'forms' in general, which might vary on many other dimensions (e.g. emulation vs AI, goal directed vs. reflexive, nice vs. nasty).
  2. Some of the hardware and software advantages mentioned would be pretty transformative on their own. If you haven't before, consider taking a moment to think about what the world would be like if people could be cheaply and perfectly replicated, with their skills intact. Or if people could live arbitrarily long by replacing worn components. 
  3. The main differences between increasing intelligence of a system via speed and via collectiveness seem to be: (1) the 'collective' route requires that you can break up the task into parallelizable subtasks, (2) it generally has larger costs from communication between those subparts, and (3) it can't produce a single unit as fast as a comparable 'speed-based' system. This suggests that anything a collective intelligence can do, a comparable speed intelligence can do at least as well. One counterexample to this I can think of is that often groups include people with a diversity of knowledge and approaches, and so the group can do a lot more productive thinking than a single person could. It seems wrong to count this as a virtue of collective intelligence in general however, since you could also have a single fast system with varied approaches at different times.
  4. For each task, we can think of curves for how performance increases as we increase intelligence in these different ways. For instance, take the task of finding a fact on the internet quickly. It seems to me that a person who ran at 10x speed would get the figure 10x faster. Ten times as many people working in parallel would do it only a bit faster than one, depending on the variance of their individual performance, and whether they found some clever way to complement each other. It's not obvious how to multiply qualitative intelligence by a particular factor, especially as there are different ways to improve the quality of a system. It also seems non-obvious to me how search speed would scale with a particular measure such as IQ. 
  5. How much more intelligent do human systems get as we add more humans? I can't find much of an answer, but people have investigated the effect of things like team sizecity size, and scientific collaboration on various measures of productivity.
  6. The things we might think of as collective intelligences - e.g. companies, governments, academic fields - seem notable to me for being slow-moving, relative to their components. If someone were to steal some chewing gum from Target, Target can respond in the sense that an employee can try to stop them. And this is no slower than an individual human acting to stop their chewing gum from being taken. However it also doesn't involve any extra problem-solving from the organization - to the extent that the organization's intelligence goes into the issue, it has to have already done the thinking ahead of time. Target was probably much smarter than an individual human about setting up the procedures and the incentives to have a person there ready to respond quickly and effectively, but that might have happened over months or years.

In-depth investigations

If you are particularly interested in these topics, and want to do further research, these are a few plausible directions, some inspired by Luke Muehlhauser's list, which contains many suggestions related to parts of Superintelligence. These projects could be attempted at various levels of depth.

  1. Produce improved measures of (substrate-independent) general intelligence. Build on the ideas of Legg, Yudkowsky, Goertzel, Hernandez-Orallo & Dowe, etc. Differentiate intelligence quality from speed.
  2. List some feasible but non-realized cognitive talents for humans, and explore what could be achieved if they were given to some humans.
  3. List and examine some types of problems better solved by a speed superintelligence than by a collective superintelligence, and vice versa. Also, what are the returns on “more brains applied to the problem” (collective intelligence) for various problems? If there were merely a huge number of human-level agents added to the economy, how much would it speed up economic growth, technological progress, or other relevant metrics? If there were a large number of researchers added to the field of AI, how would it change progress?
  4. How does intelligence quality improve performance on economically relevant tasks?
If you are interested in anything like this, you might want to mention it in the comments, and see whether other people have useful thoughts.

How to proceed

This has been a collection of notes on the chapter.  The most important part of the reading group though is discussion, which is in the comments section. I pose some questions for you there, and I invite you to add your own. Please remember that this group contains a variety of levels of expertise: if a line of discussion seems too basic or too incomprehensible, look around for one that suits you better!

Next week, we will talk about 'intelligence explosion kinetics', a topic at the center of much contemporary debate over the arrival of machine intelligence. To prepare, read Chapter 4, The kinetics of an intelligence explosion (p62-77)The discussion will go live at 6pm Pacific time next Monday 20 October. Sign up to be notified here.

What is optimization power, formally?

9 sbenthall 18 October 2014 06:37PM

I'm interested in thinking formally about AI risk. I believe that a proper mathematization of the problem is important to making intellectual progress in that area.

I have been trying to understand the rather critical notion of optimization power. I was hoping that I could find a clear definition in Bostrom's Superintelligence. But having looked in the index at all the references to optimization power that it mentions, as far as I can tell he defines it nowhere. The closest he gets is defining it in terms of rate of change and recalcitrance (pp.62-77). This is an empty definition--just tautologically defining it in terms of other equally vague terms.

Looking around, this post by Yudkowksy, "Measuring Optimization Power" doesn't directly formalize optimization power. He does discuss how one would predict or identify if a system were the result of an optimization process in a Bayesian way:

The quantity we're measuring tells us how improbable this event is, in the absence of optimization, relative to some prior measure that describes the unoptimized probabilities.  To look at it another way, the quantity is how surprised you would be by the event, conditional on the hypothesis that there were no optimization processes around.  This plugs directly into Bayesian updating: it says that highly optimized events are strong evidence for optimization processes that produce them.

This is not, however, a definition that can be used to help identify the pace of AI development, for example. Rather, it is just an expression of how one would infer anything in a Bayesian way, applied to the vague 'optimization process' phenomenon.

Alex Altair has a promising attempt at formalization here but it looks inconclusive. He points out the difficulty of identifying optimization power with just the shift in the probability mass of utility according to some utility function. I may be misunderstanding, but my gloss on this is that defining optimization power purely in terms of differences in probability of utility doesn't say anything substantive about how a process has power. Which is important it is going to be related to some other concept like recalcitrance in a useful way. 

Has there been any further progress in this area?

It's notable that this discussion makes zero references to computational complexity, formally or otherwise. That's notable because the informal discussion about 'optimization power' is about speed and capacity to compute--whether it be brains, chips, or whatever. There is a very well-developed formal theory of computational complexity that's at the heart of contemporary statistical learning theory. I would think that the tools for specifying optimization power would be in there somewhere.

Those of you interested in the historical literature on this sort of thing may be interested in cyberneticist's Rosenblueth, Weiner, and Bigelow's 1943 paper "Behavior, Purpose and Teleology", one of the first papers to discuss machine 'purpose', which they associate with optimization but in the particular sense of a process that is driven by a negative feedback loop as it approaches its goal. That does not exactly square with an 'explosively' teleology. This is one indicator that explosively purposeful machines might be quite rare or bizarre. In general, the 20th century cybernetics movement has a lot in common with contemporary AI research community. Which is interesting, because its literature is rarely directly referenced. I wonder why.

Jean Tirole on Adaptive Biases

6 feanor1600 18 October 2014 07:11PM

Jean Tirole, who just won the Nobel Prize in Economics, is mostly known for his work applying game theory to Industrial Organization (the subfield of economics that studies how firms compete and set prices). But he wrote very broadly, including on some subjects likely of interest to people here. Several of his "fun" papers linked here provide explanations for how biased beliefs could be beneficial to those who hold them- for instance, that overconfidence in your own abilities could reduce akrasia.

Four things every community should do

5 Gunnar_Zarncke 20 October 2014 05:24PM

Yesterday I attended church service in Romania where I had visited my sister and the sermon was about the four things a (christian) community has to follow to persevere and grow. 

I first considered just posting the quote from the Acts of the Apostles (reproduced below) in the Rationality Quotes Thread but I fear without explanation the inferential gap of the quote is too large.

The LessWrong Meetups, the EA community and other rationalist communities probably can learn from the experience of long established orders (I once asked for lessons from free masonry). 

So I drew the following connections:

According to the the sermon and the below verse the four pillars of a christian community are:

 

  1. Some canon of scripture which for LW might be compared to the sequences. I'm not clear what the pendant for EA is.
  2. Taking part in a closely knit community. Coming together regularly (weekly I guess is optimal).
  3. Eat together and have rites/customs together (this is also emphasized in the LW Meetup flyer).
  4. Praying together. I think praying could be generalized to talking and thinking about the scripture by oneself and together. Prayer also has a component of daily reflection of achievements, problems, wishes.

 

Other analogies that I drew from the quote:

 

  • Verse 44 describes behaviour also found in communes.
  • Verse 45 sounds a lot like EA teachings if you generalize it.
  • Verse 47 the last sentence could be interpreted to indicate exponential growth as a result of these teachings.
  • The verses also seem to imply some reachout by positive example.

 

And what I just right now notice is that embedding the rules in the scripture is essentially self-reference. As the scripture is canon this structure perpetuates itself. Clearly a meme that ensures its reproduction.

Does this sound convincing and plausible or did I fell trap to some bias in (over)interpreting the sermon?

I hope this is upvoted for the lessons we might draw from this - despite the quote clearly being theistic in origin.

continue reading »

Group Rationality Diary, October 16-31

4 therufs 17 October 2014 03:56PM

This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for October 16-31.

It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like: 

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves. Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Previous diary: October 1-15

Rationality diaries archive

Open thread, Oct. 20 - Oct. 26, 2014

3 MrMind 20 October 2014 08:12AM

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

Notes for future OT posters:

1. Please add the 'open_thread' tag.

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one. (Immediately before; refresh the list-of-threads page before posting.)

3. Open Threads should be posted in Discussion, and not Main.

4. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

Noticing

3 casebash 20 October 2014 07:47AM

The Selective Attention Test is a famous experiment in perceptual psychology that demonstrates how strongly attention shapes our perceptions. In light of this experiment, I think it is interesting to consider the question of how much valuable information we have thrown away because we simply didn't notice it or weren't in a position where we could appreciate the importance. My intuition is that we have missed more information than we've actually absorbed.

I would like to consider the question of what is there to notice, in particular what things will provide us with value once we gain the prerequisite knowledge and habits to allow us to effectively perceive it. One example is that after I started a course on Art History, I gained the ability to notice more about possible meanings and interesting aspects of art. This is fantastic, because art is everywhere. Now that I have a basic ability to appreciate art I gain some level of growth almost for free, just from seeing art in places where I'd have gone anyway. I'm hoping to do a film studies course next year, since, like almost everyone, I watch movies anyway and want to get as much out of them as I can.

Marketing is likely another example. Someone who has studied marketing may unconsciously evaluate every ad that they see, and after seeing enough examples, gain a strong understanding of what counts as a good ad and what counts as a bad ad. Perhaps this won't be totally free, perhaps they will sometimes see something and not know why it is good until they think about it for a bit. However, this knowledge is mostly free, in that after you understand the basic principles, you gain some level of growth for a minimal investment.

I think that another more general situation like this is those activities that are a form of creation. If you try writing a few stories, then when you read a story you'll have a greater appreciation of what the author is trying to do. If you've played guitar, then when you listen to music you'll learn about the different techniques that guitarists use. If you've played sport, then you'll probably have a greater appreciation for strategy when watching a game.

Professional comedy writers are always looking for jokes. Whenever unusual or bad or unexpected happens, they note it so that they can try to find a manner of forming it into a joke later. I've heard that actors become attenuated to different people's quirks, body language and manner of speaking.

The idea here is to figure out what you are doing anyway and find a method of quickly gaining a critical mass of knowledge. I believe that if you were to manage this for a number of areas, then there could be rather large long term advantages. Any thoughts on areas I've missed or methods of getting up to speed for these areas quickly?

A few thoughts on a Friendly AGI (safe vs friendly, other minds problem, ETs and more)

3 the-citizen 19 October 2014 07:59AM

Friendly AI is an idea that I find to be an admirable goal. While I'm not yet sure an intelligence explosion is likely, or whether FAI is possible, I've found myself often thinking about it, and I'd like for my first post to share a few those thoughts on FAI with you.

Safe AGI vs Friendly AGI
-Let's assume an Intelligence Explosion is possible for now, and that an AGI with the ability to improve itself somehow is enough to achieve it.
-Let's define a safe AGI as an above-human general AI that does not threaten humanity or terran life (eg. FAI, Tool AGI, possibly Oracle AGI)
-Let's define a Friendly AGI as one that *ensures* the continuation of humanity and terran life.
-Let's say an unsafe AGI is all other AGIs.
-Safe AGIs must supress unsafe AGIs in order to be considered Friendly. Here's why:

-If we can build a safe AGI, we probably have the technology to build an unsafe AGI too.
-An unsafe AGI is likely to be built at that point because:
-It's very difficult to conceive of a way that humans alone will be able to permanently stop all humans from developing an unsafe AGI once the steps are known**
-Some people will find the safe AGI's goals unnacceptable
-Some people will rationalise or simply mistake that their AGI design is safe when it is not
-Some people will not care if their AGI design is safe, because they do not care about other people, or because they hold some extreme beliefs
-Most imaginable unsafe AGIs would outcompete safe AGIs, because they would not neccessarily be "hamstrung" by complex goals such as protecting us meatbags from destruction. Tool or Oracle AGIs would obviously not stand a chance due to their restrictions.
-Therefore, If a safe AGI does not prevent unsafe AGIs from coming into existence, humanity will very likely be destroyed.

-The AGI most likely to prevent unsafe AGIs from being created is one that actively predicted their development and terminates that development before or on completion.
-So to summarise

-An AGI is very likely only a Friendly AI if it actively supresses unsafe AGI.
-Oracle and Tool AGIs are not Friendly AIs, they are just safe AIs, because they don't suppress anything.
-Oracle and Tool AGIs are a bad plan for AI if we want to prevent the destruction of humanity, because hostile AGIs will surely follow.

(**On reflection I cannot be certain of this specific point, but I assume it would take a fairly restrictive regime for this to be wrong. Further comments on this very welcome.)

Other minds problem - Why should be philosophically careful when attempting to theorise about FAI

I read quite a few comments in AI discussions that I'd probably characterise as "the best utility function for a FAI is one that values all consciousness". I'm quite concerned that this persists as a deeply held and largely unchallenged assumption amongst some FAI supporters. I think in general I find consciousness to be an extremely contentious, vague and inconsistently defined concept, but here I want to talk about some specific philosophical failures.

My first concern is that while many AI theorists like to say that consciousness is a physical phenomenon, which seems to imply Monist/Physicalist views, they at the same time don't seem to understand that consciousness is a Dualist concept that is coherent only in a Dualist framework. A Dualist believes there is a thing called a "subject" (very crudely this equates with the mind) and then things called objects (the outside "empirical" world interpreted by that mind). Most of this reasoning begins with Descartes' cogito ergo sum or similar starting points ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_dualism ). Subjective experience, qualia and consciousness make sense if you accept that framework. But if you're a Monist, this arbitrary distinction between a subject and object is generally something you don't accept. In the case of a Physicalist, there's just matter doing stuff. A proper Physicalist doesn't believe in "consciousness" or "subjective experience", there's just brains and the physical human behaviours that occur as a result. Your life exists from a certain point of view, I hear you say? The Physicalist replies, "well a bunch of matter arranged to process information would say and think that, wouldn't it?".

I don't really want to get into whether Dualism or Monism is correct/true, but I want to point out even if you try to avoid this by deciding Dualism is right and consciousness is a thing, there's yet another more dangerous problem. The core of the problem is that logically or empirically establishing the existence of minds, other than your own is extremely difficult (impossible according to many). They could just be physical things walking around acting similar to you, but by virtue of something purely mechanical - without actual minds. In philosophy this is called the "other minds problem" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_other_minds or http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/). I recommend a proper read of it if the idea seems crazy to you. It's a problem that's been around for centuries, and yet to-date we don't really have any convincing solution (there are some attempts but they are highly contentious and IMHO also highly problematic). I won't get into it more than that for now, suffice to say that not many people accept that there is a logical/empirical solution to this problem.

Now extrapolate that to an AGI, and the design of its "safe" utility functions. If your AGI is designed as a Dualist (which is neccessary if you wish to encorporate "consciousness", "experience" or the like into your design), then you build-in a huge risk that the AGI will decide that other minds are unprovable or do not exist. In this case your friendly utility function designed to protect "conscious beings" fails and the AGI wipes out humanity because it poses a non-zero threat to the only consciousness it can confirm - its own. For this reason I feel "consciousness", "awareness", "experience" should be left out of FAI utility functions and designs, regardless of the truth of Monism/Dualism, in favour of more straight-forward definitions of organisms, intelligence, observable emotions and intentions. (I personally favour conceptualising any AGI as a sort of extension of biological humanity, but that's a discussion for another day) My greatest concern is there is such strong cultural attachment to the concept of consciousness that researchers will be unwilling to properly question the concept at all.

What if we're not alone?

It seems a little unusual to throw alien life into the mix at this point, but I think its justified because an intelligence explosion really puts an interstellar existence well within our civilisation's grasp. Because it seems that an intelligence explosion implies a very high rate of change, it makes sense to start considering even the long term implication early, particularly if the consequences are very serious, as I believe they may be in this realm of things.

Let's say we successfully achieved a FAI. In order to fufill its mission of protecting humanity and the biosphere, it begins expanding, colonising and terraforming other planets for potential habitation by Earth originating life. I would expect this expansion wouldn't really have a limit, because the more numourous the colonies, the less likely it is we could be wiped out by some interstellar disaster.

Of course, we can't really rule out the possibility that we're not alone in the universe, or even the galaxy. If we make it as far as AGI, then its possible another alien civilisation might reach a very high level of technological advancement too. Or there might be many. If our FAI is friendly to us but basically treats them as paperclip fodder, then potentially that's a big problem. Why? Well:

-Firstly, while a species' first loyalty is to itself, we should consider that it might be morally unsdesirable to wipe out alien civilisations, particularly as they might be in some distant way "related" (see panspermia) to own biosphere.
-Secondly, there is conceivable scenarios where alien civilisations might respond to this by destroying our FAI/Earth/the biosphere/humanity. The reason is fairly obvious when you think about it. An expansionist AGI could be reasonably viewed as an attack or possibly an act of war.

Let's go into a tiny bit more detai. Given that we've not been destroyed by any alien AGI just yet, I can think of a number of possible interstellar scenarios:

(1) There is no other advanced life
(2) There is advanced life, but it is inherently non-expansive (expand inwards, or refuse to develop dangerous AGI)
(3) There is advanced life, but they have not discovered AGI yet. There could potentially be a race-to-the-finish (FAI) scenario on.
(4) There is already expanding AGIs, but due to physical limits on the expansion rate, we are not aware of them yet. (this could use further analysis)
One civilisation, or an allied group of civilisations have develop FAIs and are dominant in the galaxy. They could be either:

(5) Whack-a-mole cilivisations that destroy all potential competitors as soon as they are identified
(6) Dominators that tolerate civilisations so long as they remain primitive and non-threatening by comparison.
(7) Some sort of interstellar community that allows safe civilisations to join (this community still needs to stomp on dangerous potential rival AGIs)

In the case of (6) or (7), developing a FAI that isn't equipped to deal with alien life will probably result in us being liquidated, or at least partially sanitised in some way. In (1) (2) or (5), it probably doesn't matter what we do in this regard, though in (2) we should consider being nice. In (3) and probably (4) we're going to need a FAI capable of expanding very quickly and disarming potential AGIs (or at least ensuring they are FAIs from our perspective).

The upshot of all this is that we probably want to design safety features into our FAI so that it doesn't destroy alien civilisations/life unless its a significant threat to us. I think the understandable reaction to this is something along the lines of "create an FAI that values all types of life" or "intelligent life" or something along these lines. I don't exactly disagree, but I think we must be cautious in how we formulate this too.

Say there are many different civilisations in the galaxy. What sort of criteria would ensure that, given some sort of zero-sum scenario, Earth life wouldn't be destroyed. Let's say there was some sort of tiny but non-zero probability that humanity could evade the FAI's efforts to prevent further AGI development. Or perhaps there was some loophole in the types of AGI's that humans were allowed to develop. Wouldn't it be sensible, in this scenario, for a universalist FAI to wipe out humanity to protect the countless other civilisations? Perhaps that is acceptable? Or perhaps not? Or less drastically, how does the FAI police warfare or other competition between civilisations? A slight change in the way life is quantified and valued could change drastically the outcome for humanity. I'd probably suggest we want to weight the FAI's values to start with human and Earth biosphere primacy, but then still give some non-zero weighting to other civilisations. There is probably more thought to be done in this area too.

Simulation

I want to also briefly note that one conceivable way we might postulate as a safe way to test Friendly AI designs is to simulate a worlds/universes of less complexity than our own, make it likely that it's inhabitants invent a AGI or FAI, and then closely study the results of these simluations. Then we could study failed FAI attempt with much greater safety. It also occured to me that if we consider the possibilty of our universe being a simulated one, then this is a conceivable scenario under which our simulation might be created. After all, if you're going to simulate something, why not something vital like modelling existential risks? I'm not sure yet sure of the implications exactly. Maybe we need to consider how it relates to our universe's continued existence, or perhaps it's just another case of Pascal's Mugging. Anyway I thought I'd mention it and see what people say.

A playground for FAI theories

I want to lastly mention this link (https://www.reddit.com/r/LessWrongLounge/comments/2f3y53/the_ai_game/). Basically its a challenge for people to briefly describe an FAI goal-set, and for others to respond by telling them how that will all go horribly wrong. I want to suggest this is a very worthwhile discussion, not because its content will include rigourous theories that are directly translatable into utility functions, because very clearly it won't, but because a well developed thread of this kind would be mixing pot of ideas and good introduction to common known mistakes in thinking about FAI. We should encourage a slightly more serious verison of this.

Thanks

FAI and AGI are very interesting topics. I don't consider myself able to really discern whether such things will occur, but its an interesting and potentially vital topic. I'm looking forward to a bit of feedback on my first LW post. Thanks for reading!

Can AIXI be trained to do anything a human can?

2 Stuart_Armstrong 20 October 2014 01:12PM

There is some discussion as to whether an AIXI-like entity would be able to defend itself (or refrain from destroying itself). The problem is that such an entity would be unable to model itself as being part of the universe: AIXI itself is an uncomputable entity modelling a computable universe, and more limited variants like AIXI(tl) lack the power to simulate themselves. Therefore, they cannot identify "that computer running the code" with "me", and would cheerfully destroy themselves in the pursuit of their goals/reward.

I've pointed out that agents of the AIXI type could nevertheless learn to defend itself in certain circumstances. These were the circumstances where it could translate bad things happening to itself into bad things happening to the universe. For instance, if someone pressed an OFF swith to turn it off for an hour, it could model that as "the universe jumps forwards an hour when that button is pushed", and if that's a negative (which is likely is, since the AIXI loses an hour of influencing the universe), it would seek to prevent that OFF switch being pressed.

That was an example of the setup of the universe "training" the AIXI to do something that it didn't seem it could do. Can this be generalised? Let's go back to the initial AIXI design (the one with the reward channel) and put a human in charge of that reward channel with the mission of teaching the AIXI important facts. Could this work?

For instance, if anything dangerous approached the AIXI's location, the human could lower the AIXI's reward, until it became very effective at deflecting danger. The more variety of things that could potentially threaten the AIXI, the more likely it is to construct plans of actions that contain behaviours that look a lot like "defend myself." We could even imagine that there is a robot programmed to repair the AIXI if it gets (mildly) damaged. The human could then reward the AIXI if it leaves that robot intact or builds duplicates or improves it in some way. It's therefore possible the AIXI could come to come to value "repairing myself", still without explicit model of itself in the universe.

It seems this approach could be extended to many of the problems with AIXI. Sure, an AIXI couldn't restrict its own computation in order to win the HeatingUp game. But the AIXI could be trained to always use subagents to deal with these kinds of games, subagents that could achieve maximal score. In fact, if the human has good knowledge of the AIXI's construction, it could, for instance, pinpoint a button that causes the AIXI to cut short its own calculation. The AIXI could then learn that pushing that button in certain circumstances would get a higher reward. A similar reward mechanism, if kept up long enough, could get it around existential despair problems.

I'm not claiming this would necessarily work - it may require a human rewarder of unfeasibly large intelligence. But it seems there's a chance that it could work. So it seems that categorical statements of the type "AIXI wouldn't..." or "AIXI would..." are wrong, at least as AIXI's behaviour is concerned. An AIXI couldn't develop self-preservation - but it could behave as if it had. It can't learn about itself - but it can behave as if it did. The human rewarder may not be necessary - maybe certain spontaneously occurring situations in the universe ("AIXI training wheels arenas") could allow the AIXI to develop these skills without outside training. Or maybe somewhat stochastic AIXI's with evolution and natural selection could do so. There is an angle connected with embodied embedded cognition that might be worth exploring there (especially the embedded part).

It seems that agents of the AIXI type may not necessarily have the limitations we assume they must.

Link: The Openness-Equality Trade-Off in Global Redistribution

2 ericyu3 18 October 2014 02:45AM

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2509305

A very interesting (draft of a) paper that discusses trade-offs between immigrants' civil/political rights and the number of immigrants allowed. Is it better to decrease inequality within a rich country by treating immigrants well, or is it better to let in more immigrants with fewer rights?

New LW Meetup: Bangalore

2 FrankAdamek 17 October 2014 04:06PM

This summary was posted to LW Main on October 10th. The following week's summary is here.

New meetups (or meetups with a hiatus of more than a year) are happening in:

Irregularly scheduled Less Wrong meetups are taking place in:

The remaining meetups take place in cities with regular scheduling, but involve a change in time or location, special meeting content, or simply a helpful reminder about the meetup:

Locations with regularly scheduled meetups: Austin, Berkeley, Berlin, Boston, Brussels, Buffalo, Cambridge UK, Canberra, Columbus, London, Madison WI, Melbourne, Moscow, Mountain View, New York, Philadelphia, Research Triangle NC, Seattle, Sydney, Toronto, Vienna, Washington DC, Waterloo, and West Los Angeles. There's also a 24/7 online study hall for coworking LWers.

continue reading »

Link: White House wants your advice on space exploration

0 polymathwannabe 18 October 2014 02:32PM

"The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is planning ahead — way ahead. The agency wants you to email ideas for how "the Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community and storytellers" can develop "massless" space exploration and a robust civilization beyond Earth."

This is beautiful.

"We are running out of adventures [...] the mountains have all been climbed, the continents explored, and the romance of sailing away on a tall ship to undiscovered islands is no more. What will fire the imaginations of the next generation?"

http://io9.com/white-house-seeks-advice-on-bootstrapping-a-solar-syst-1647619795