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In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war continued by other means

18 Eneasz 21 October 2014 07:39PM

(cross-posted from my blog)

I. PvE vs PvP

Ever since it’s advent in Doom, PvP (Player vs Player) has been an integral part of almost every major video game. This is annoying to PvE (Player vs Environment) fans like myself, especially when PvE mechanics are altered (read: simplified and degraded) for the purpose of accommodating the PvP game play. Even in games which are ostensibly about the story & world, rather than direct player-on-player competition.

The reason for this comes down to simple math. PvE content is expensive to make. An hour of game play can take many dozens, or nowadays even hundreds, of man-hours of labor to produce. And once you’ve completed a PvE game, you’re done with it. There’s nothing else, you’ve reached “The End”, congrats. You can replay it a few times if you really loved it, like re-reading a book, but the content is the same. MMORGs recycle content by forcing you to grind bosses many times before you can move on to the next one, but that’s as fun as the word “grind” makes it sound. At that point people are there more for the social aspect and the occasional high than the core gameplay itself.

PvP “content”, OTOH, generates itself. Other humans keep learning and getting better and improvising new tactics. Every encounter has the potential to be new and exciting, and they always come with the rush of triumphing over another person (or the crush of losing to the same).

But much more to the point – In PvE potentially everyone can make it into the halls of “Finished The Game;” and if everyone is special, no one is. PvP has a very small elite – there can only be one #1 player, and people are always scrabbling for that position, or defending it. PvP harnesses our status-seeking instinct to get us to provide challenges for each other rather than forcing the game developers to develop new challenges for us. It’s far more cost effective, and a single man-hour of labor can produce hundreds or thousands of hours of game play. StarCraft  continued to be played at a massive level for 12 years after its release, until it was replaced with StarCraft II.

So if you want to keep people occupied for a looooong time without running out of game-world, focus on PvP

II. Science as PvE

In the distant past (in internet time) I commented at LessWrong that discovering new aspects of reality was exciting and filled me with awe and wonder and the normal “Science is Awesome” applause lights (and yes, I still feel that way). And I sneered at the status-grubbing of politicians and administrators and basically everyone that we in nerd culture disliked in high school. How temporary and near-sighted! How zero-sum (and often negative-sum!), draining resources we could use for actual positive-sum efforts like exploration and research! A pox on their houses!

Someone replied, asking why anyone should care about the minutia of lifeless, non-agenty forces? How could anyone expend so much of their mental efforts on such trivia when there are these complex, elaborate status games one can play instead? Feints and countermoves and gambits and evasions, with hidden score-keeping and persistent reputation effects… and that’s just the first layer! The subtle ballet of interaction is difficult even to watch, and when you get billions of dancers interacting it can be the most exhilarating experience of all.

This was the first time I’d ever been confronted with status-behavior as anything other than wasteful. Of course I rejected it at first, because no one is allowed to win arguments in real time. But it stuck with me. I now see the game play, and it is intricate. It puts Playing At The Next Level in a whole new perspective. It is the constant refinement and challenge and lack of a final completion-condition that is the heart of PvP. Human status games are the PvP of real life.

Which, by extension of the metaphor, makes Scientific Progress the PvE of real life. Which makes sense. It is us versus the environment in the most literal sense. It is content that was provided to us, rather than what we make ourselves. And it is limited – in theory we could some day learn everything that there is to learn.

III. The Best of All Possible Worlds

I’ve mentioned a few times I have difficulty accepting reality as real. Say you were trying to keep a limitless number of humans happy and occupied for an unbounded amount of time. You provide them PvE content to get them started. But you don’t want the PvE content to be their primary focus, both because they’ll eventually run out of it, and also because once they’ve completely cracked it there’s a good chance they’ll realize they’re in a simulation. You know that PvP is a good substitute for PvE for most people, often a superior one, and that PvP can get recursively more complex and intricate without limit and keep the humans endlessly occupied and happy, as long as their neuro-architecture is right. It’d be really great if they happened to evolve in a way that made status-seeking extremely pleasurable for the majority of the species, even if that did mean that the ones losing badly were constantly miserable regardless of their objective well-being. This would mean far, far more lives could be lived and enjoyed without running out of content than would otherwise be possible.

IV. Implications for CEV

It’s said that the Coherent Extrapolated Volition is “our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished to be, hard grown up farther together.” This implies a resolution to many conflicts. No more endless bickering about whether the Red Tribe is racist or the Blue Tribe is arrogant pricks. A more unified way of looking at the world that breaks down those conceptual conflicts. But if PvP play really is an integral part of the human experience, a true CEV would notice that, and would preserve these differences instead. To ensure that we always had rival factions sniping at each other over irreconcilable, fundamental disagreements in how reality should be approached and how problems should be solved. To forever keep partisan politics as part of the human condition, so we have this dance to enjoy. Stripping it out would be akin to removing humanity’s love of music, because dancing inefficiently consumes great amounts of energy just so we can end up where we started.

Carl von Clausewitz famously said “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  The correlate of “Politics is the continuation of war by other means” has already been proposed. It is not unreasonable to speculate that in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war continued by other means. Which, all things considered, is greatly preferable to actual war. As long as people like Scott are around to try to keep things somewhat civil and preventing an escalation into violence, this may not be terrible.

Comment author: Eneasz 07 October 2014 03:17:42PM *  1 point [-]

Barring catastrophe, I shall indeed be there!

Petrov Day Reminder

8 Eneasz 26 September 2014 01:57PM

9/26 is Petrov Day. It is the time of year where we celebrate the world not being destroyed. Let your friends and family know.

 

Comment author: Eneasz 23 September 2014 02:22:47AM 9 points [-]

Has anyone posted about Seth Dickinson yet? I don't keep up on the open threads as much as I'd like, but my google-fu says no.

Last year I was blown away by a short story by Seth Dickinson called A Plant (Whose Name is Destroyed). Recently I went and checked out Seth Dickinson's other works. I've read over half of them now, and I gotta say - I STRONGLY recommend this author. Many of his works have a very strong transhumanist message, and some could be called rationalist. I'm kinda surprised I haven't already heard his name brought up on LessWrong, or SlateStarCodex, or /r/rational. I'm fixing that this week.

A few of my favorite stories:

Economies of Force - A post-GAI story where humanity made AI that almost captures our values, but not quite, and it results in the sort of utopia you might expect from that sort of failure. Shades of Amputation of Destiny and Bostrom's Empty Disneyland. If anyone can figure out the significance of the name "Loom", please let me know. It must have been chosen for a reason, but I'm not making the connection.

Sekhmet Hunts the Dying Gnosis: A Computation - A rather literal take on Meditations on Moloch, and/or An Alien God

Morrigan in the Sunglare - Like Bayesians vs Barbarians, told from the PoV of the Barbarians (sort of).

Kumara - a seriously beautiful post-singularity transhumanist story. Just... really beautiful. And murderous.

Comment author: VAuroch 12 September 2014 08:37:48PM 4 points [-]

A lot of fiction which is popular when it is contemporary is not read 200 years later, but that's not a sign that fiction is contemporary and loses perceived value over time, it's a corollary of Sturgeon's Law. 90% of everything is crap, and that extends to 'fiction which is currently popular'. No one thinks that Twilight will be popular and lasting; the penny-dreadfuls and most Victorian novels weren't. Dickens was, though. Most of the plays of the Elizabethan era were bland and samey, and other than Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, only Shakespeare has had any lasting popularity.

What exactly will be lasting and popular from our time, I don't know; it probably won't include Eliezer or Harry Potter. But some things will; that's reliably true.

Comment author: Eneasz 15 September 2014 02:02:07AM -1 points [-]

Yeah, but honestly, try reading Dickens or Shakespeare today. Maybe I'm just an uncultured philistine, but it's not what I would call good. If they weren't so highly regarded I'd never choose to read them myself, and certainly wouldn't recommend them to friends.

Comment author: Azathoth123 06 September 2014 04:53:34AM 5 points [-]

But why would I want to read one of Margaret Atwood's books? Although there might be some humor value in contrasting her estimates about what the target audience for her books will be like with how history actually turns out.

Comment author: Eneasz 06 September 2014 05:48:44AM 1 point [-]

200 years from now, you probably wouldn't even want to read any of Eliezer's books (or whoever your favorite author is right now). I'm fairly convinced all fiction is contemporary and fades in relevance in a matter of decades. But would a promise today of another Eliezer work in the future motivate you to sign up for cryo?

A reason to see the future

16 Eneasz 05 September 2014 07:33PM

I just learned of The Future Library project. In short, famous authors will be asked to write new, original fiction that will not be released until 2114. First one announced was Margaret Atwood, of The Handmaiden's Tale fame.

I learned of this when a friend posted on Facebook that "I'm officially looking into being cryogenically frozen due to The Future Library project. See you all in 2114." She meant it as a joke, but after a couple comments she now knows about CI, and she didn't yesterday.

What's one of the most common complaints we hear from Deathists? The future is unknown and scary and there won't be anything there they'd be interested in anyway. Now there will be, if they're Atwood fans.

What's one of the ways artists who give away most of their work (almost all of them nowadays) try to entice people to pay for their albums/books/games/whatever? Including special content that is only available for people who pay (or who pay more). Now there is special content only available for people who are around post-2113.

Which got me to thinking... could we incentivize seeing the future? I know it sounds kinda silly ("What, escaping utter annihilation isn't incentive enough??"), but it seems possible that we could save lives by compiling original work from popular artists (writers, musicians, etc), sealing it tight somewhere, and promising to release it in 100, 200, maybe 250 years. And of course, providing links to cryo resources with all publicity materials.

Would this be worth pursuing? Are there any obvious downsides, aside from cost & difficulty?

Comment author: MumpsimusLane 09 August 2014 07:58:12PM 4 points [-]

I liked this post overall. Minor nitpick: I found the use of "guy who VERBs" to be a little jarring. Saying "person who VERBs" would be more inclusive.

Comment author: Eneasz 11 August 2014 03:53:21PM 4 points [-]

That's a good point, and you're right. I wish "person" didn't feel so formal though. I'm having trouble thinking of a gender-neutral word that conveys the same casualness of "guy."

Roles are Martial Arts for Agency

128 Eneasz 08 August 2014 03:53AM

A long time ago I thought that Martial Arts simply taught you how to fight – the right way to throw a punch, the best technique for blocking and countering an attack, etc. I thought training consisted of recognizing these attacks and choosing the correct responses more quickly, as well as simply faster/stronger physical execution of same. It was later that I learned that the entire purpose of martial arts is to train your body to react with minimal conscious deliberation, to remove “you” from the equation as much as possible.

The reason is of course that conscious thought is too slow. If you have to think about what you’re doing, you’ve already lost. It’s been said that if you had to think about walking to do it, you’d never make it across the room. Fighting is no different. (It isn’t just fighting either – anything that requires quick reaction suffers when exposed to conscious thought. I used to love Rock Band. One day when playing a particularly difficult guitar solo on expert I nailed 100%… except “I” didn’t do it at all. My eyes saw the notes, my hands executed them, and no where was I involved in the process. It was both exhilarating and creepy, and I basically dropped the game soon after.)

You’ve seen how long it takes a human to learn to walk effortlessly. That's a situation with a single constant force, an unmoving surface, no agents working against you, and minimal emotional agitation. No wonder it takes hundreds of hours, repeating the same basic movements over and over again, to attain even a basic level of martial mastery. To make your body react correctly without any thinking involved. When Neo says “I Know Kung Fu” he isn’t surprised that he now has knowledge he didn’t have before. He’s amazed that his body now reacts in the optimal manner when attacked without his involvement.

All of this is simply focusing on pure reaction time – it doesn’t even take into account the emotional terror of another human seeking to do violence to you. It doesn’t capture the indecision of how to respond, the paralysis of having to choose between outcomes which are all awful and you don’t know which will be worse, and the surge of hormones. The training of your body to respond without your involvement bypasses all of those obstacles as well.

This is the true strength of Martial Arts – eliminating your slow, conscious deliberation and acting while there is still time to do so.

Roles are the Martial Arts of Agency.

When one is well-trained in a certain Role, one defaults to certain prescribed actions immediately and confidently. I’ve acted as a guy standing around watching people faint in an overcrowded room, and I’ve acted as the guy telling people to clear the area. The difference was in one I had the role of Corporate Pleb, and the other I had the role of Guy Responsible For This Shit. You know the difference between the guy at the bar who breaks up a fight, and the guy who stands back and watches it happen? The former thinks of himself as the guy who stops fights. They could even be the same guy, on different nights. The role itself creates the actions, and it creates them as an immediate reflex. By the time corporate-me is done thinking “Huh, what’s this? Oh, this looks bad. Someone fainted? Wow, never seen that before. Damn, hope they’re OK. I should call 911.” enforcer-me has already yelled for the room to clear and whipped out a phone.

Roles are the difference between Hufflepuffs gawking when Neville tumbles off his broom (Protected), and Harry screaming “Wingardium Leviosa” (Protector). Draco insulted them afterwards, but it wasn’t a fair insult – they never had the slightest chance to react in time, given the role they were in. Roles are the difference between Minerva ordering Hagrid to stay with the children while she forms troll-hunting parties (Protector), and Harry standing around doing nothing while time slowly ticks away (Protected). Eventually he switched roles. But it took Agency to do so. It took time.

Agency is awesome. Half this site is devoted to becoming better at Agency. But Agency is slow. Roles allow real-time action under stress.

Agency has a place of course. Agency is what causes us to decide that Martial Arts training is important, that has us choose a Martial Art, and then continue to train month after month. Agency is what lets us decide which Roles we want to play, and practice the psychology and execution of those roles. But when the time for action is at hand, Agency is too slow. Ensure that you have trained enough for the next challenge, because it is the training that will see you through it, not your agenty conscious thinking.

 

As an aside, most major failures I’ve seen recently are when everyone assumed that someone else had the role of Guy In Charge If Shit Goes Down. I suggest that, in any gathering of rationalists, they begin the meeting by choosing one person to be Dictator In Extremis should something break. Doesn’t have to be the same person as whoever is leading. Would be best if it was someone comfortable in the role and/or with experience in it. But really there just needs to be one. Anyone.

cross-posted from my blog

Comment author: Eneasz 04 August 2014 03:22:46PM 18 points [-]

I've written a short fiction piece that has been accepted for publication. My first ever professional publication will appear in February's issue of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine.

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