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What useless things did you understand recently?

2 cousin_it 28 June 2017 07:32PM

Please reply in the comments with things you understood recently. The only condition is that they have to be useless in your daily life. For example, "I found this idea that defeats procrastination" doesn't count, because it sounds useful and you might be deluded about its truth. Whereas "I figured out how construction cranes are constructed" qualifies, because you aren't likely to use it and it will stay true tomorrow.

I'll start. Today I understood how Heyting algebras work as a model for intuitionistic logic. The main idea is that you represent sentences as shapes. So you might have two sentences A and B shown as two circles, then "A and B" is their intersection, "A or B" is their union, etc. But "A implies B" doesn't mean one circle lies inside the other, as you might think! Instead it's a shape too, consisting of all points that lie outside A or inside B (or both). There were some other details about closed and open sets, but these didn't cause a problem for me, while "A implies B" made me stumble for some reason. I probably won't use Heyting algebras for anything ever, but it was pretty fun to figure out.

Your turn!

PS: please don't feel pressured to post something super advanced. It's really, honestly okay to post basic things, like why a stream of tap water narrows as it falls, or why the sky is blue (though I don't claim to understand that one :-))

Idea for LessWrong: Video Tutoring

10 adamzerner 23 June 2017 09:40PM

Update 6/28/17: With 14 people currently interested, it does seem that there's enough to get started. However, I'd like to give it a bit more time and see how much overall interest we get.

Idea: we coordinate to teach each other things via video chat.

  • We (mostly) all like learning. Whether it be for fun, curiosity, a stepping stone towards our goals.
  • My intuition is that there's a lot of us who also enjoy teaching. I do, personally.
  • Enjoyment aside, teaching is a good way of solidifying ones knowledge.
  • Perhaps there would be positive unintended consequences. Eg. socially.
  • Why video? a) I assume that medium is better for education than simply text. b) Social and motivational benefits, maybe. A downside to video is that some may find it intimidating.
  • It may be nice to evolve this into a group project where we iteratively figure out how to do a really good job teaching certain topics.
  • I see the main value in personalization, as opposed to passive lectures/seminars. Those already exist, and are plentiful for most topics. What isn't easily accessible is personalization. With that said, I figure it'd make sense to have about 5 learners per teacher.

So, this seems like something that would be mutually beneficial. To get started, we'd need:

  1. A place to do this. No problem: there's Hangouts, Skype, https://talky.io/, etc.
  2. To coordinate topics and times.

Personally, I'm not sure how much I can offer as far as doing the teaching. I worked as a web developer for 1.5 years and have been teaching myself computer science. I could be helpful to those unfamiliar with those fields, but probably not too much help for those already in the field and looking to grow. But I'm interested in learning about lots of things!

Perhaps a good place to start would be to record in some spreadsheet, a) people who want to teach, b) what topics, and c) who is interested in being a Learner. Getting more specific about who wants to learn what may be overkill, as we all seem to have roughly similar interests. Or maybe it isn't.

If you're interested in being a Learner or a Teacher, please add yourself to this spreadsheet.

Thought experiment: coarse-grained VR utopia

15 cousin_it 14 June 2017 08:03AM

I think I've come up with a fun thought experiment about friendly AI. It's pretty obvious in retrospect, but I haven't seen it posted before. 

When thinking about what friendly AI should do, one big source of difficulty is that the inputs are supposed to be human intuitions, based on our coarse-grained and confused world models. While the AI's actions are supposed to be fine-grained actions based on the true nature of the universe, which can turn out very weird. That leads to a messy problem of translating preferences from one domain to another, which crops up everywhere in FAI thinking, Wei's comment and Eliezer's writeup are good places to start.

What I just realized is that you can handwave the problem away, by imagining a universe whose true nature agrees with human intuitions by fiat. Think of it as a coarse-grained virtual reality where everything is built from polygons and textures instead of atoms, and all interactions between objects are explicitly coded. It would contain player avatars, controlled by ordinary human brains sitting outside the simulation (so the simulation doesn't even need to support thought).

The FAI-relevant question is: How hard is it to describe a coarse-grained VR utopia that you would agree to live in?

If describing such a utopia is feasible at all, it involves thinking about only human-scale experiences, not physics or tech. So in theory we could hand it off to human philosophers or some other human-based procedure, thus dealing with "complexity of value" without much risk. Then we could launch a powerful AI aimed at rebuilding reality to match it (more concretely, making the world's conscious experiences match a specific coarse-grained VR utopia, without any extra hidden suffering). That's still a very hard task, because it requires solving decision theory and the problem of consciousness, but it seems more manageable than solving friendliness completely. The resulting world would be suboptimal in many ways, e.g. it wouldn't have much room for science or self-modification, but it might be enough to avert AI disaster (!)

I'm not proposing this as a plan for FAI, because we can probably come up with something better. But what do you think of it as a thought experiment? Is it a useful way to split up the problem, separating the complexity of human values from the complexity of non-human nature?

[Link] S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them

16 Kaj_Sotala 20 June 2017 12:34PM

A (small) critique of total utilitarianism

37 Stuart_Armstrong 26 June 2012 12:36PM

In total utilitarianism, it is a morally neutral act to kill someone (in a painless and unexpected manner) and creating/giving birth to another being of comparable happiness (or preference satisfaction or welfare). In fact if one can kill a billion people to create a billion and one, one is morally compelled to do so. And this is true for real people, not just thought experiment people - living people with dreams, aspirations, grudges and annoying or endearing quirks. To avoid causing extra pain to those left behind, it is better that you kill off whole families and communities, so that no one is left to mourn the dead. In fact the most morally compelling act would be to kill off the whole of the human species, and replace it with a slightly larger population.

We have many real world analogues to this thought experiment. For instance, it seems that there is only a small difference between the happiness of richer nations and poorer nations, while the first consume many more resources than the second. Hence to increase utility we should simply kill off all the rich, and let the poor multiply to take their place (continually bumping off any of the poor that gets too rich). Of course, the rich world also produces most of the farming surplus and the technology innovation, which allow us to support a larger population. So we should aim to kill everyone in the rich world apart from farmers and scientists - and enough support staff to keep these professions running (Carl Shulman correctly points out that we may require most of the rest of the economy as "support staff". Still, it's very likely that we could kill off a significant segment of the population - those with the highest consumption relative to their impact of farming and science - and still "improve" the situation).

Even if turns out to be problematic to implement in practice, a true total utilitarian should be thinking: "I really, really wish there was a way to do targeted killing of many people in the USA, Europe and Japan, large parts of Asia and Latin America and some parts of Africa - it makes me sick to the stomach to think that I can't do that!" Or maybe: "I really really wish I could make everyone much poorer without affecting the size of the economy - I wake up at night with nightmare because these people remain above the poverty line!"

I won't belabour the point. I find those actions personally repellent, and I believe that nearly everyone finds them somewhat repellent or at least did so at some point in their past. This doesn't mean that it's the wrong thing to do - after all, the accepted answer to the torture vs dust speck dilemma feels intuitively wrong, at least the first time. It does mean, however, that there must be very strong countervailing arguments to balance out this initial repulsion (maybe even a mathematical theorem). For without that... how to justify all this killing?

Hence for the rest of this post, I'll be arguing that total utilitarianism is built on a foundation of dust, and thus provides no reason to go against your initial intuitive judgement in these problems. The points will be:

continue reading »

The Rationalistsphere and the Less Wrong wiki

13 Deku-shrub 12 June 2017 11:29PM

Hi everyone!

For people not acquainted with me, I'm Deku-shrub, often known online for my cybercrime research, as well as fairly heavy involvement in the global transhumanist movement with projects like the UK Transhumanist Party and the H+Pedia wiki.

For almost 2 years year now on and off I have been trying to grok what Less Wrong is about, but I've shirked reading all the sequences end to end, instead focused on the most popular ideas transmitted by Internet cultural osmosis. I'm an amateur sociologist and understanding Less Wrong falls within my wider project of understanding the different trends within the contemporary and historical transhumanist movement.

I'm very keen to pin down today's shape of the rationalistsphere and its critics, and the best place I have found do this is on the wiki. Utilising Cunningham's Law at times, I've been building some key navigational and primer articles on the wiki. However with the very lowest hanging fruit now addressed I ask - what next for the wiki?

Distillation of Less Wrong

There was a historical attempt to summerise all major Less Wrong posts, an interesting but incomplete project. It was also approach without a usefully normalised approach. Ideally, every article would have its own page which could be heavily tagged up with metadata such a themes, importance, length, quality, author and such. Is this the goal of the wiki?

Outreach and communications

Another major project is to fully index the Diaspora across Twitter, Blogs, Tumblr, Reddit, Facebook etc and improve the flow of information between the relevant sub communities.

You'll probably want to join one of the chat platforms if you're interested in getting involved. Hell, there are even a few memes and probably more to collect.

Rationalist research

I'll admit I'm ignorant of the goal of Arbital, but I do love me a wiki for research. Cross referencing and citing ideas, merging, splitting, identifying and fully capturing truly interesting and useful ideas from fanciful and fleeting ones is how I've become an expert in a number fields, just by being the first to assemble All The Things.

Certain ideas like the Paper clip maximizer have some popularity beyond just Less Wrong, but Murder Gandhi doesn't - yet. Polishing these ideas with existing and external references (and maybe blogging about them?) is a great way for the community discussion of yore to make its way into the publications of lazy journalists for dissemination. Hell, RationalWiki has been doing it for years now, they're not the only game in town.

 

If you have any ideas in these areas, or others just a technical, let me know either here, on the Less Wrong Slack group, or on my talk page and maybe we can make Wikis Great Again? ;)

Humans are not agents: short vs long term

4 Stuart_Armstrong 09 June 2017 11:16AM

Crossposted at the Intelligent Agents Forum.

This is an example of humans not being (idealised) agents.

Imagine a human who has a preference to not live beyond a hundred years. However, they want to live to next year, and it's predictable that every year they are alive, they will have the same desire to survive till the next year.

This human (not a completely implausible example, I hope!) has a contradiction between their long and short term preferences. So which is accurate? It seems we could resolve these preferences in favour of the short term ("live forever") or the long term ("die after a century") preferences.

Now, at this point, maybe we could appeal to meta-preferences - what would the human themselves want, if they could choose? But often these meta-preferences are un- or under-formed, and can be influenced by how the question or debate is framed.

Specifically, suppose we are scheduling this human's agenda. We have the choice of making them meet one of two philosophers (not meeting anyone is not an option). If they meet Professor R. T. Long, he will advise them to follow long term preferences. If instead, they meet Paul Kurtz, he will advise them to pay attention their short term preferences. Whichever one they meet, they will argue for a while and will then settle on the recommended preference resolution. And then they will not change that, whoever they meet subsequently.

Since we are doing the scheduling, we effectively control the human's meta-preferences on this issue. What should we do? And what principles should we use to do so?

It's clear that this can apply to AIs: if they are simultaneously aiding humans as well as learning their preferences, they will have multiple opportunities to do this sort of preference-shaping.

Bring up Genius

45 Viliam 08 June 2017 05:44PM

(This is a "Pareto translation" of Bring up Genius by László Polgár, the book recently mentioned at Slate Star Codex. I hope that selected 20% of the book text, translated approximately, could still convey 80% of its value, while taking an order of magnitude less time and work than a full and precise translation. The original book is written in an interview form, with questions and answers; to keep it short, I am rewriting it as a monologue. I am also taking liberty of making many other changes in style, and skipping entire parts, because I am optimizing for my time. Instead of the Hungarian original, I am using an Esperanto translation Eduku geniulon as my source, because that is the language I am more fluent in.)

Introduction

Genius = work + luck

This is my book written in 1989 about 15 years of pedagogic experiment with my daughters. It is neither a recipe, nor a challenge, just a demonstration that it is possible to bring up a genius intentionally.

The so-called miracle children are natural phenomena, created by their parents and society. Sadly, many potential geniuses disappear without anyone noticing the opportunity, including themselves.

Many people in history did a similar thing by accident; we only repeated it on purpose.

1. Secrets of the pedagogic experiment

1.1. The Polgár family

The Polgár sisters (Susan, Sofia, Judit) are internationally as famous as Rubik Ernő, the inventor of the Rubik Cube.

Are they merely their father's puppets, manipulated like chess figures? Hardly. This level of success requires agency and active cooperation. Puppets don't become geniuses. Contrariwise, I provided them opportunity, freedom, and support. They made most of the decisions.

You know what really creates puppets? The traditional school system. Watch how kids, eagerly entering school in September, mostly become burned out by Christmas.

Not all geniuses are happy. Some are rejected by their environment, or they fail to achieve their goals. But some geniuses are happy, accepted by their environment, succeed, and contribute positively to the society. I think geniuses have a greater chance to be happy in life, and luckily my daughters are an example of that.

I was a member of the Communist Party for over ten years, but I disagreed with many things; specifically the lack of democracy, and the opposition to elite education.

I work about 15 hours a day since I was a teenager. I am obsessed with high quality. Some people say I am stubborn, even aggressive. I am trying hard to achieve my goals, and I experienced a lot of frustration; seems to me some people were trying to destroy us. We were threatened by high-ranking politicians. We were not allowed to travel abroad until 1985, when Susan was already the #1 in international ranking of female chess players.

But I am happy that I have a great family, happy marriage, three successful children, and my creative work has an ongoing impact.

1.2 Nature or nurture?

I believe that any biologically healthy child can be brought up to a genius. Me and my wife have read tons of books and studies. Researching the childhoods of many famous people that they all specialized early, and each of them had a strongly supportive parent or teacher or trainer. We concluded: geniuses are not born; they are made. We proved that experimentally. We hope that someone will build a coherent pedagogical system based on our hypothesis.

Most of what we know about genetics [as of 1989] is about diseases. Healthy brains are flexible. Education was considered important by Watson and Adler. But Watson never actually received the "dozen healthy infants" to bring up, so I was the first one to do this experiment. These are my five principles:

* Human personality is an outcome of the following three: the gifts of nature, the support of environment, and the work of one's own. Their relative importance depends on age: biology is strongest with the newborn, society with the ten years old, and later the importance of one's own actions grows.

* There are two aspects of social influence: the family, and the culture. Humans are naturally social, so education should treat the child as a co-author of themselves.

* I believe that any healthy child has sufficient general ability, and can specialize in any type of activity. Here I differ from the opinion of many teachers and parents who believe that the role of education is to find a hidden talent in the child. I believe that the child has a general ability, and achieves special skills by education.

* The development of the genius needs to be intentionally organized; it will not happen at random.

* People should strive for maximum possible self-realization; that brings happiness both to them and to the people around them. Pedagogy should not aim for average, but for excellence.

2. A different education

2.1. About contemporary schools

We homeschooled our children. Today's schools set a very low bar, and are intolerant towards people different from the average by their talent or otherwise. They don't prepare for real life; don't make kids love learning; don't instigate greater goals; bring up neither autonomous individuals nor collectives.

Which is an unsurprising outcome, if you only have one type of school, each school containing a few exceptional kids among many average ones and a few feeble ones. Even the average ones are closer to the feeble ones that to the exceptional ones. And the teacher, by necessity, adapts to the majority. There is not enough space for individual approach, but there is a lot of mindless repetition. Sure, people talk a lot about teaching problem-solving skills, but that never happens. Both the teachers and the students suffer at school.

The gifted children are bored, and even tired, because boredom is more tedious than appropriate effort. The gifted children are disliked, just like everyone who differs from the norm. Many gifted children acquire psycho-somatic problems, such as insomnia, headache, stomach pain, neuroses. Famous people often had trouble at school; they were considered stupid and untalented. There is bullying, and general lack of kindness. There are schools for gifted children in USA and USSR, but somehow not in Hungary [as of 1989].

I had to fight a lot to have my first daughter home-schooled. I was afraid school would endanger the development of her abilities. We had support of many people, including pedagogues, but various bureaucrats repeatedly rejected us, sometimes with threats. Finally we received an exceptional permission by the government, but it only applied for one child. So with the second daughter we had to go through the same process again.

2.2. Each child is a promise

It is crucial to awaken and keep the child's interest, convince them that the success is achievable, trust them, and praise them. When the child likes the work, it will work fruitfully for long time periods. A profound interest develops personality and skills. A motivated child will achieve more, and get tired less.

I believe in positive motivation. Create a situation where many successes are possible. Successes make children confident; failures make them insecure. Experience of success and admiration by others motivates and accelerates learning. Failure, fear, and shyness decrease the desire to achieve. Successes in one field even increase confidence in other fields.

Too much praise can cause overconfidence, but it is generally safer to err on the side of praising more rather than less. However, the praise must be connected to a real outcome.

Discipline, especially internal psychological, also increases skills.

I believe the age between 3 and 6 years is very important, and very underestimated. No, those children are not too young to learn. Actually, that's when their brains are evolving the most. They should learn foreign languages. In multilingual environments children do that naturally.

Play is important for children, but play is not an opposite of work. Gathering information and solving problems is fun. Provide meaningful activities, instead of compartmentalized games. A game without learning is merely a surrogate activity. Gifted children prefer games that require mental activity. There is a continuum between learning and playing (just like between work and hobby for adults). Brains, just like muscles, becomes stronger by everyday activity.

My daughters used intense methods to learn languages; and chess; and table tennis. Is there a risk of damaging their personality by doing so? Maybe, but I believe the risks of damaging the personality by spending six childhood years without any effort are actually greater.

When my daughters were 15, 9, 8 years old, we participated in a 24-hour chess tournament, where you had to play 100 games in 24 hours. (Most participants were between age 25 and 30.) Susan won. The success rates during the second half of the tournament were similar to those during the first half of the tournament, for all three girls, which shows that children are capable of staying focused for long periods of time. But this was an exceptional load.

2.3. Genius - a gift or a curse?

I am not saying that we should bring up each child as a genius; only that bringing up children as geniuses is possible. I oppose uniform education, even a hypothetical one that would use my methods.

Public ideas of geniuses is usually one of two extremes. Either they are all supposed to be weird and half-insane; or they are all supposed to be CEOs and movie stars. Psychology has already moved beyond this. They examined Einstein's brain, but found no difference in weight or volume compared with an average person. For me, genius is an average person who has achieved their full potential. Many famous geniuses attribute their success to hard work, discipline, attention, love of work, patience, time.

All healthy newborns are potential geniuses, but whether they become actual geniuses, depends on their environment, education, and their own effort. For example, in the 20th century more people became geniuses than in the 19th or 18th century, inter alia because of social changes. Geniuses need to be liberated. Hopefully in the future, more people will be free and fully developed, so being a genius will become a norm, not an exception. But for now, there are only a few people like that. As people grow up, they lose the potential to become geniuses. I estimate that an average person's chance to become a genius is about 80% at age 1; 60% at age 3; 50% at age 6; 40% at age 12; 30% at age 16; 20% at age 18; only 5% at age 20. Afterwards it drops to a fraction of percent.

A genius child can surpass their peers by 5 or 7 years. And if a "miracle child" doesn't become a "miracle adult", I am convinced that their environment did not allow them to. People say some children are faster and some are slower; I say they don't grow up in the same conditions. Good conditions allow one to progress faster. But some philosophers or writers became geniuses at old age.

People find it difficult to accept those who differ from the average. Even some scientists; for example Einstein's theory of relativity was opposed by many. My daughters are attacked not just by public opinion, but also by fellow chess players.

Some geniuses are unhappy about their situation. But many enjoy the creativity, perceived beauty, and success. Geniuses can harm themselves by having unrealistic expectations of their goals. But most of the harm comes from outside, as a dismissal of their work, or lack of material and moral support, baseless criticism. Nowadays, one demagogue can use the mass communication media to poison the whole population with rage against the representatives of national culture.

As the international communication and exchange of ideas grows, geniuses become more important than ever before. Education is necessary to overcome economical problems; new inventions create new jobs. But a genius provokes the anger of people, not by his behavior, but by his skills.

2.4. Should every child become a celebrity?

I believe in diversity in education. I am not criticizing teachers for not doing things my way. There are many other attempts to improve education. But I think it is now possible to aim even higher, to bring up geniuses. I can imagine the following environments where this could be done:

* Homeschooling, i.e. teaching your biological or adopted children. Multiple families could cooperate and share their skills.

* Specialized educational facility for geniuses; a college or a family-type institution.

Homeschooling, or private education with parental oversight, are the ancient methods for bringing up geniuses. Families should get more involved in education; you can't simply outsource everything to a school. We should support families willing to take an active role. Education works better in a loving environment.

Instead of trying to a find a talent, develop one. Start specializing early, at the age of 3 or 4. One cannot become an expert on everything.

My daughters played chess 5 or 6 hours a day since their age of 4 or 5. Similarly, if you want ot become a musician, spend 5 or 6 hours a day doing music; if a physicist, do physics; if a linguist, do languages. With such intense instruction, the child will soon feel the knowledge, experience success, and soon becomes able to use this knowledge independently. For example, after learning Esperanto 5 or 6 hours a day for a few months, the child can start corresponding with children from other countries, participate at international meet-ups, and experience the conversations in a foreign language. That is at the same time pleasant, useful for the child, and useful for the society. The next year, start with English, then German, etc. Now the child enjoys this, because it obviously makes sense. (Unlike at school, where most learning feels purposeless.) In chess, the first year makes you an average player, three years a great player, six years a master, fifteen years a grandmaster. When a 10-years old child surpasses an average adult at some skill, it is highly motivating.

Gifted children need financial support, to cover the costs of books, education, and travel.

Some people express concern that early specialization may lead to ignorance of everything else. But it's the other way round; abilities formed in one area can transfer to other areas. One learns how to learn.

Also, the specialization is relative. If you want to become e.g. a computer programmer, you will learn maths, informatics, foreign languages; when you become famous, you will travel, meet interesting people, experience different cultures. My daughters, in addition to being chess geniuses, speak many foreign languages, travel, do sports, write books, etc. Having deep knowledge about something doesn't imply ignorance about everything else. On the other hand, a misguided attempt to become an universalist can result in knowing nothing, in mere pretend-knowledge of everything.

Emotional and moral education must do together with the early specialization, to develop a complex personality. We wanted our children to be enthusiastic, courageous, persistent, to be objective judges of things and people, to resist failure and avoid temptations of success, to handle frustration and tolerate criticism even when it is wrong, to make plans, to manage their emotions. Also, to love and respect people, and to prefer creative work to physical pleasure or status symbols. We told them that they can achieve greatness, but that there can be only one world champion, so their goal should rather be to become good chess players, be good at sport, and be honest people.

Pedagogy puts great emphasis on being with children of the same age. I think that mental peers are more important than age peers. It would harm a gifted child to be forced to spend most of their time exclusively among children of the same age. On the other hand, spending most of the time with adults brings the risk that the child will learn to rely on them all the time, losing independence and initiative. You need to find a balance. I believe the best company would be of similar intellectual level, similar hobbies, and good relations.

For example, if Susan at 13 years old would be forced to play chess exclusively with 13 years old children, it would harm both sides. She could not learn anything from them; they would resent losing constantly.

Originally, I hoped I could bring up each daughter as a genius in a different field (e.g. mathematics, chess, music). It would be a more convincing evidence that you can bring up a genius of any kind. And I believe I would have succeeded, but I was constrained by money and time. We would need three private teachers, would have to go each day to three different places, would have to buy books for maths and chess and music (and the music instruments). By making them one team, things became easier, and the family has more things in common. Some psychologists worried that children could be jealous of each other, and hate each other. But we brought them up properly, and this did not happen.

This is how I imagine a typical day at a school for geniuses:

* 4 hours studying the subject of specialization, e.g. chess;

* 1 hour studying a foreign language; Esperanto at the first year, English at the second, later choose freely; during the first three months this would increase to 3 hours a day (by reducing the subject of specialization temporarily); traveling abroad during the summer;

* 1 hour computer science;

* 1 hour ethics, psychology, pedagogy, social skills;

* 1 hour physical education, specific form chosen individually.

Would I like to teach at such school? In theory yes, but in practice I am already burned out from the endless debates with authorities, the press, opinionated pedagogues and psychologists. I am really tired of that. The teachers in such school need to be protected from all this, so they can fully focus on their work.

2.5. Esperanto: the first step in learning foreign languages

Our whole family speaks Esperanto. It is a part of our moral system, a tool for equality of people. There are many prejudices against it, but the same was true about all progressive ideas. Some people argue by Bible that multiple languages are God's punishment we have to endure. Some people invested many resources into learning 2 or 3 or 4 foreign languages, and don't want to lose the gained position. Economically strong nations enforce their own languages as part of dominance, and the speakers of other languages are discriminated against. Using Esperanto as everyone's second language would make the international communication more easy and egalitarian. But considering today's economical pressures, it makes sense to learn English or Russian or Chinese next.

Esperanto has a regular grammar with simple syntax. It also uses many Latin, Germanic, and Slavic roots, so as a European, even if you are not familiar with the language, you will probably recognize many words in a text. This is an advantage from pedagogical point of view: you can more easily learn its vocabulary and its grammar; you can learn the whole language about 10 times easier than other languages.

It makes a great example of the concept of a foreign language, which pays off when learning other languages later. It is known that having learned one foreign language makes learning another foreign language easier. So, if learning Esperanto takes 10 times less time than learning another language, such as English, then if already knowing another foreign language makes learning the second one at least 10% more efficient, it makes sense to learn Esperanto first. Also, Esperanto would be a great first experience for students who have difficulty learning languages; they would achieve success faster.

3. Chess

3.1. Why chess?

Originally, we were deciding between mathematics, chess, and foreign languages. Finally we chose chess, because the results in that area are easy to measure, using a traditional and objective system, which makes it easier to prove whether the experiment succeeded or failed. Which was a lucky choice in hindsight, because back then we had no idea how many obstacles we will have to face. If we wouldn't be able to prove our results unambiguously, the attacks against us would have been much stronger.

Chess seemed sufficiently complex (it is a game, a science, an art, and a sport at the same time), so the risks of overspecialization were smaller; even if children would later decide they are tired of chess, they would keep some transferable skills. And the fact that our children were girls was a bonus: we were able to also prove that girls can be as intellectually able as boys; but for this purpose we needed an indisputable proof. (Although, people try to discount this proof anyway, saying things like: "Well, chess is simple, but try doing the same in languages, mathematics, or music!")

The scientific aspect of chess is that you have to follow the rules, analyze the situation, apply your intuition. If you have a favorite hypothesis, for example a favorite opening, but you keep losing, you have to change your mind. There is an aesthetic dimension in chess; some games are published and enjoyed not just because of their impressive logic, but because they are beautiful in some sense, they do something unexpected. And most people are not familiar with this chess requires great physical health. All the best chess players do some sport, and it is not a coincidence. Also it is organized similarly to sports: it has tournaments, players, spectators; you have to deal with the pain of losing, you have to play fair, etc.

3.2. How did the Polgár sisters start learning chess?

I don't have a "one weird trick" to teach children chess; it's just my general pedagogical approach, applied to chess. Teach the chess with love, playfully. Don't push it too forcefully. Remember to let the child win most of the time. Explain to the child that things can be learned, and that this also applies to chess. Don't worry if the child keeps jumping during the game; it could be still thinking about the game. Don't explain everything; provide the child an opportunity to discover some things independently. Don't criticize failure, praise success.

Start with shorter lessons, only 30 minutes and then have a break. Start by solving simple problems. Our girls loved the "checkmate in two/three moves" puzzles. Let the child play against equally skilled opponents often. For a child, it is better to play many quick games (e.g. with 5-minute timers), than a few long ones. Participate in tournaments appropriate for the child's current skill.

We have a large library of different games. They are indexed by strategy, and by names of players. So the girls can research their opponent's play before the tournament.

When a child loses the tournament, don't criticize them; the child is already sad. Offer support; help them analyze the mistakes.

When my girls write articles about chess, it makes them think deeply about the issue.

All three parts of the game opening, middle game, ending require same amount of focus. Some people focus too much on the endings, and neglect the rest. But at tournament, a bad opening can ruin the whole game.

Susan had the most difficult situation of the three daughters. In hindsight, having her learn 7 or 8 foreign languages was probably too much; some of that time would be better spent further improving her chess skills. As the oldest one, she also faced the worst criticism from haters; as a consequence she became the most defensive player of them. The two younger sister had the advantage that they could oppose the same pressures together. But still, I am sure that without those pressures, they also could have progressed even faster.

Politicians influenced the decisions of the Hungarian Chess Association; as a result my daughters were often forbidden from participation at international youth competitions, despite being the best national players. They wanted to prevent Susan from becoming the worldwide #1 female chess player. Once they even "donated" 100 points to her competitor, to keep Susan at the 2nd place. Later they didn't allow her to participate in the international male tournaments, although her results in the Hungarian male tournaments qualified her for that. The government regularly refused to issue passports to us, claiming that "our foreign travels hurt the public order". Also, it was difficult to find a trainer for my daughters, despite them being at the top of world rankings. Only recently we received a foreign help; a patron from Netherlands offered to pay trainers and sparring partners for my daughters, and also bought Susan a personal computer. A German journalist gave us a program and a database, and taught children how to use it.

The Hungarian press kept attacking us, published fake facts. We filed a few lawsuits, and won them all, but it just distracted us from our work. The foreign press whether writing from the chess, psychological, or pedagogical perspectives was fair to us; they wrote almost 40 000 articles about us, so finally even the Hungarian chess players, psychologists and pedagogues could learn about us from them.

At the beginning, I was a father, a trainer, and a manager to my daughters. But I am completely underqualified to be their trainer these days, so I just manage their trainers.

Until recently no one believed women could play chess on level comparable with men. Now the three girls together have about 40 Guiness records; they repeatedly outperformed their former records. In a 1988 interview Karpov said: "Susan is extraordinarily strong, but Judit... at such age, neither me nor Kasparov could play like Judit plays."

3.3. How can we make our children like chess?

Some tips for teaching chess to 4 or 5 years old children. First, I made a blank square divided into 8x8 little squares, with named rows and columns. I named a square, my daughter had to find it; then she named a square and I had to find it. Then we used the black-and-white version, and we were guessing the color of the named square without looking.

Then we introduced kings, in a "king vs king" combat; the task was to reach the opposing row of the board with your king. Then we added a pawn; the goal remained to reach the opposing row. After a month of playing, we introduced the queen, and the concept of checkmate. Later we gradually added the remaining pieces (knights were the most difficult).

Then we solved about thousand "checkmate in one move" puzzles. Then two moves, three moves, four moves. That took another 3 or 4 months. And only afterwards we started really playing against each other.

To provide an advantage for the child, don't play with less pieces, because that changes the structure of the game. Instead, provide yourself a very short time limit, or deliberately make a mistake, so the child can learn to notice them.

Have patience, if some phase takes a lot of time. On stronger fundamentals, you can later build better. This is where I think our educational system makes great mistakes. Schools don't teach intensely, so children keep forgetting most of what they learned during the long spaces between the lessons. And then, despite not having fully mastered the first step, they move to the second one, etc.

3.4. Chess and psychology

Competitive chess helps develop personality: will, emotion, perseverance, self-discipline, focus, self-control. It develops intellectual skills: memory, combination skills, logic, proper use of intuition. Understanding your opponent's weakness will help you.

People overestimate how much IQ tests determine talent. Measurements of people talented in different areas show that their average is only a bit above the average of the population.

3.5. Emancipation of women

Some people say, incorrectly, that my daughter won the male chess championship. But there is officially no such thing as "male chess championship", there is simply chess championship, open to both men and women. (And then, there is a separate female chess championship, only for women, but that is considered second league.)

I prepared the plan for my children before they were born. I didn't know I would have all girls, so I did not expect this special problem: the discrimination of women. I wanted to bring up my daughter Susan exactly according to the plan, but many people tried to prevent it; they insisted that she cannot compete with boys, that she should only compete with girls. Thus my original goal of proving that you can bring up a genius, became indirectly a goal of proving that there are no essential intellectual differences between men and women, and therefore one can't use that argument as an excuse for subjugation of women.

People kept telling me that I can only bring up Susan to be a female champion, not to compete with men. But I knew that during elementary school, girls can compete with boys. Only later, when they start playing the female role, when they are taught to clean the house, wash laundry, cook, follow the fashion, pay attention to details of clothing, and try getting married as soon as possible when they are expected to do other things than boys are expected to do that has a negative impact on developing their skills. But family duties and bringing up children can be done by both parents together.

Women can achieve same results, if they can get similar conditions. I tried to do that for my daughters, but I couldn't convince the whole society to treat them the same.

We know about differences between adult men and women, but we don't know whether they were caused by biology or education. And we know than e.g. in mathematics and languages, during elementary and high schools girls progress at the same pace as boys, and only later the differences appear. This is an evidence in favor of equality. We do not know what children growing up without discrimination would be like.

On the other hand, the current system also provides some advantages for women; for example the female chess players don't need to work that hard to become the (female) elite, and some of them don't want to give that up. Such women are among the greatest opponents of my daughters.

4. The meaning of this whole affair

4.1. Family value

I am certain that without a good family background the success of my daughters would not be possible. It is important, before people marry, to have a clear idea of what expect from their marriage. When partners cooperate, the mutual help, the shared experiences, education of children, good habits, etc. can deepen their love. Children need family without conflicts to feel safe. But of course, if the situation becomes too bad, the divorce might become the way to reduce conflicts.

To bring up a genius, it is desirable for one parent to stay at home and take care of children. But it can be the father, too.

[Klára Polgár says:] When I met László, my first impression was that he was an interesting person full of ideas, but one should not believe even half of them.

When Susan was three and half, László said it was time for her to specialize. She was good at math; at the age of four she already learned the material of the first four grades. Once she found chess figures in the box, and started playing with them as toys. László was spending a lot of time with her, and one day I was surprised to see them playing chess. László loved chess, but I never learned it.

So, we could have chosen math or foreign languages, but we felt that Susan was really happy playing chess, and she started being good at it. But our parents and neighbors shook their heads: "Chess? For a girl?" People told me: "What kind of a mother are you? Why do you allow your husband to play chess with Susan?" I had my doubts, but now I believe I made the right choice.

People are concerned whether my children had real childhood. I think they are at least as happy as their peers, probably more.

I always wanted to have a good, peaceful family life, and I believe I have achieved that. [End of Klára's part.]

4.2. Being a minority

It is generally known that Jewish people achieved many excellent results in intellectual fields. Some ask whether the cause of this is biologic or social. I believe it is social.

First, Jewish families are usually traditional, stable, and care a lot about education. They knew that they will be discriminated against, and will have to work twice as hard, and that at any moment they may be forced to leave their home, or even country, so their knowledge might be the only thing they will always be able to keep. Jewish religion requires parents to educate their children since early childhood; Talmud requires parents to become the child's first teachers.

4.3. Witnesses of the genius education: the happy children

I care about happiness of my children. But not only I want to make them happy, I also want to develop their ability to be happy. And I think that being a genius is the most certain way. The life of a genius may be difficult, but happy anyway. On the other hand, average people, despite seemingly playing it safe, often become alcoholics, drug addicts, neurotics, loners, etc.

Some geniuses become unhappy with their profession. But even then I believe it is easier for a genius to change professions.

Happiness = work + love + freedom + luck

People worry whether child geniuses don't lose their childhood. But the average childhood is actually not as great as people describe it; many people do not have a happy childhood. Parents want to make their children happy, but they often do it wrong: they buy them expensive toys, but they don't prepare them for life; they outsource that responsibility to school, which generally does not have the right conditions.

And when parents try to fully develop the capabilities of their children, instead of social support they usually get criticism. People will blame them for being overly ambitious, for pushing the children to achieve things they themselves failed at. I personally know people who tried to educate their children similarly to how we did, but the press launched a full-scale attack against them, and they gave up.

My daughters' lives are full of variety. They have met famous people: presidents, prime ministers, ambassadors, princess Diana, millionaires, mayors, UN delegates, famous artists, other olympic winners. They appeared in television, radio, newspapers. They traveled around the whole world; visited dozens of famous places. They have hobbies. They have friends in many parts of the world. And our house is always open to guests.

4.4. Make your life an ethical model

People reading this text may be surprised that they expected a rational explanation, while I mention emotions and morality a lot. But those are necessary for good life. Everyone should try to improve themselves in these aspects. The reason why I did not give up, despite all the obstacles and malice, is because for me, to live morally and create good, is an internal law. I couldn't do otherwise. I already know that even writing this very book will initiate more attacks, but I am doing it regardless.

And morality is also a thing we are not born with, but which needs to be taught to us, preferably in infancy. And we need to think about it, instead of expecting it to just happen. And the schools fail in this, too. I see it as an integral part of bringing up a genius.

One should aim to be a paragon; to live in a way that will make others want to follow you. Learn and work a lot; expect a lot from yourself and from others. Give love, and receive love. Live in peace with yourself and your neighbors. Work hard to be happy, and to make other people happy. Be a humanist, fight against prejudice. Protect the peace of the family, bring up your children towards perfection. Be honest. Respect freedom of yourself and of the others. Trust humanity; support the communities small and large. Etc.

(The book finishes by listing the achievements of the Polgár sisters, and by their various photos: playing chess, doing sports. I'll simply link their Wikipedia pages: Susan, Sofia, Judit. I hope you enjoyed reading this experimental translation; and if you think I omitted something important, feel free to add the missing parts in the comments. Note: I do believe that this book is generally correct and useful, but that doesn't mean I necessarily agree with every single detail. The opinions expressed here belong to the author; of course, unless some of them got impaired by my hasty translation.)

Bet or update: fixing the will-to-wager assumption

26 cousin_it 07 June 2017 03:03PM

(Warning: completely obvious reasoning that I'm only posting because I haven't seen it spelled out anywhere.)

Some people say, expanding on an idea of de Finetti, that Bayesian rational agents should offer two-sided bets based on their beliefs. For example, if you think a coin is fair, you should be willing to offer anyone a 50/50 bet on heads (or tails) for a penny. Jack called it the "will-to-wager assumption" here and I don't know a better name.

In its simplest form the assumption is false, even for perfectly rational agents in a perfectly simple world. For example, I can give you my favorite fair coin so you can flip it and take a peek at the result. Then, even though I still believe the coin is fair, I'd be a fool to offer both sides of the wager to you, because you'd just take whichever side benefits you (since you've seen the result and I haven't). That objection is not just academic, using your sincere beliefs to bet money against better informed people is a bad idea in real world markets as well.

Then the question arises, how can we fix the assumption so it still says something sensible about rationality? I think the right fix should go something like this. If you flip a coin and peek at the result, then offer me a bet at 90:10 odds that the coin came up heads, I must either accept the bet or update toward believing that the coin indeed came up heads, with at least these odds. I don't get to keep my 50:50 beliefs about the coin and refuse the bet at the same time. More generally, a Bayesian rational agent offered a bet (by another agent who might have more information) must either accept the bet or update their beliefs so the bet becomes unprofitable. The old obligation about offering two-sided bets on all your beliefs is obsolete, use this one from now on. It should also come in handy in living room Bayesian scuffles, throwing some money on the table and saying "bet or update!" has a nice ring to it.

What do you think?

New circumstances, new values?

7 Stuart_Armstrong 06 June 2017 08:20AM

Crossposted at the Intelligent Agents Forum.

Quick, is there anything wrong with a ten minute pleasant low-intensity conversation with someone we happen to disagree with?

Our moral intuitions say no, as do our legal system and most philosophical or political ideals since the enlightenment.

Quick, is there anything wrong with brainwashing people into perfectly obedient sheep, willing and eager to take any orders and betray all their previous ideals?

There’s a bit more disagreement there, but that generally is seen as a bad thing.

But what happens when the low-intensity conversation and the brainwashing are the same thing? At the moment, no human can overwhelm most other humans in the course of ten minutes talking, and rewrite their goals into anything else. But an AI may well be capable of doing so - people have certainly fallen in love within less than ten minutes, and we don’t know how “hard” this is to pull off, in some absolute sense.

This is a warning that relying on revealed and stated preferences or meta-preferences won’t be enough. Our revealed and (most) stated preferences are that the ten minute conversation is probably ok. But disentangling how much of that “ok” relies on our understanding the consequences will be a challenge.

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