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

A Roadmap: How to Survive the End of the Universe

5 turchin 02 July 2015 11:01AM

In a sense, this plan needs to be perceived with irony because it is almost irrelevant: we have very small chances of surviving even next 1000 years and if we do, we have a lot of things to do before it becomes reality. And even afterwards, our successors will have completely different plans.

There is one important exception: there are suggestions that collider experiments may lead to a vacuum phase transition, which begins at one point and spreads across the visible universe. Then we can destroy ourselves and our universe in this century, but it would happen so quickly that we will not have time to notice it. (The term "universe" hereafter refers to the observable universe that is the three-dimensional world around us, resulting from the Big Bang.)

We can also solve this problem in next century if we create superintelligence.

The purpose of this plan is to show that actual immortality is possible: that we have an opportunity to live not just billions and trillions of years, but an unlimited duration. My hope is that the plan will encourage us to invest more in life extension and prevention of global catastrophic risks. Our life could be eternal and thus have meaning forever.

Anyway, the end of the observable universe is not an absolute end: it's just one more problem on which the future human race will be able to work. And even at the negligible level of knowledge about the universe that we have today, we are still able to offer more than 50 ideas on how to prevent its end.

In fact, to assemble and come up with these 50 ideas I spent about 200 working hours, and if I had spent more time on it, I'm sure I would have found many new ideas.  In the distant future we can find more ideas; choose the best of them; prove them, and prepare for their implementation.

First of all, we need to understand exactly what kind end to the universe we should expect in the natural course of things. There are many hypotheses on this subject, which can be divided into two large groups:

1. The universe is expected to have a relatively quick and abrupt end, known as the Big Crunch or Big Rip (accelerating expansion of the universe causes it to break apart), or the decay of the false vacuum. Vacuum decay can occur at any time; a Big Rip could happen in about 10-30 billion years, and the Big Crunch has hundreds of billions of years timescale.

2. Another scenario assumes an infinitely long existence of an empty, flat and cold universe which would experience so called "heat death" that is gradual halting of all processes and then disappearance of all matter.

The choice between these scenarios depends on the geometry of the universe, which is determined by the equations of general relativity and, – above all – the behavior of the almost unknown parameter: dark energy.

The recent discovery of dark energy has made Big Rip the most likely scenario, but it is clear that the picture of the end of the universe will change several times.

You can find more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimate_fate_of_the_universe

There are five general approaches to solve the end of the universe problem, each of them includes many subtypes shown in the map:

1.     Surf the Wave: Utilize the nature of the process which is ending the universe. (The most known of these type of solutions is Omega Point by Tippler, where the universe's energy collapse is used to make infinite calculations.)

2.     Go to parallel world

3.     Prevent the end of the universe

4.     Survive the end of the universe

5.     Dissolving the problem

 Some of the ideas are on the level of the wildest possible speculations and I hope you will enjoy them.

The new feature of this map is that in many cases mentioned, ideas are linked to corresponding wiki pages in the pdf. 

Download the pdf of the map here: http://immortality-roadmap.com/unideatheng.pdf

 

 

Effective Altruism vs Missionaries? Advice Requested from a Newly-Built Crowdfunding Platform.

3 lululu 30 June 2015 05:39PM

Hi, I'm developing a next-generation crowdfunding platform for non-profit fundraising. From what we have seen, it is aeffective tool, more about it below. I'm working with two other cofounders, both of whom are evangelical Christians. We get along well in general, but that I strongly believe in effective altruism and they do not.

We will launch a second pilot fundraising campaign in 2-3 weeks. My co-founders have arranged for us fund raise for is a "church planting" missionary organization. This is so opposed my belief in effective altruism I feel uncomfortable using our effective tool to funnel donors' dollars in THIS of all directions. This is not the reason I got involved in this project.

My argument with them is that we should charge more to ineffective nonprofits such as colleges, religious, or political organizations, and use that extra to subsidize the campaign and money-processing costs of the effective non-profits. I think this is logically consistent with earning to give. But I am being outvoted two-to-one by people who believe saving lives and saving souls are nearly equally important.

So I have two requests:

1. If anyone has advise on how to navigate this (including any especially well written articles that would appeal to evangelical Christians, or experience negotiating with start-up cofounders). 

2. If anyone has personal connections with effective or effective-ish non-profits, I would much prefer to fundraise for them than my co-founder's church connections. Caveat: the org must have US non-profit legal status. 

About the platform: the gist our concept is that we're using a lot of psychology and biases and altruism research to nudge more people towards giving and also nudge them towards a sustained involvement with the nonprofit in question. We're using some of the tricks that made the ice bucket challenge so successful (but with added accountability to ensure that visible involvement actually leads to monetary donations). Users can pledge money contingent on their friend's involvement, which motivates people in the same way that matching donations motivate people. Giving is very visible, and people are more likely to give if they see friends giving. Friends are making the request for funding, which creates a sense of personal connection. Each person's mini-campaign has an involvement goal and a time limit (3 friends in 3 days) to create a sense of urgency. The money your friends donate visibly increases your impact so it also feel like getting money from nothing - a $20 pledge can become hundreds of dollars. We nudge people towards automated smaller monthly reoccurring gifts. We try to minimize the number of barriers to making a donation (less steps, fewer fields).  

 

Selecting vs. grooming

5 DeVliegendeHollander 30 June 2015 10:48AM

Content warning: meta-political, with hopefully low mind-killer factor.

Epistemic status: proposal for brain-storming.

- Representative democracies select political leaders. Monarchies and aristocracies groom political leaders for the job from childhood. (Also, to a certain extent they breed them for the job.)

- Capitalistic competition selects economic elites. Heritable landowning aristocracies groom economic elites from childhood. (Again, they also breed them.)

- A capitalist employer selects an accountant from a pool of 100 applicants. A feudal lord would groom a serf boy who has a knack for horses into the job of the adult stable man.

It seems a lot like selecting is better than grooming. After it is the modern way and hardly anyone would argue capitalism doesn't have a higher economic output than feudalism and so on. 

But... since it was such a hugely important difference through history, perhaps, it was one of the things that really defined the modern world because it determines the whole social structure of societies past and present, that I think it should deserve some investigation. There may be something more interesting lurking here than just saying selection/testing won over grooming, period.

1) Can aspects of grooming as opposed to selecting/testing be steelmanned, are there corner cases when it could be better?

2) A pre-modern, medievalish society that nevertheless used a lot of selection/testing was China - I am thinking about the famous mandarin exams. Does this seem to have had any positive effect on China compared to other similar societies? I.e. is this even like that it is a big factor in the general outcomes of 2015 West vs. 1515 West? Comparing old China with similar medievalish but not selectionist (but inheritance based) societies would be useful for isolating this factor, right?

3) Why exactly does selecting and testing work better than grooming (and breeding) ?

4) Is it possible it works better because people do the breeding (intelligent people tend to marry intelligent people etc.) and grooming (a child of doctors will have an entirely different upbringing than a child of manual laborers) on their own, thus the social system does not have to do it, it is enough / better for the social system to do the selection, to do the testing of the success of the at-home grooming?

5) Any other interesting insight or reference?

Note: this is NOT about meritocracy vs. aristocracy. It is about two different kinds of meritocracy - where you either select, test people for merit (through market competition or elections) but you don't care much how to _build_ people who  will have merit vs. an aristocratic meritocracy where you largely focus on breeding and grooming people into the kinds who will have merit, and don't focus on selecting and testing so much.

Note 2: is this even possible this is a false dichotomy? One could argue that Western society is chock full of features for breeding and grooming people, there are dating sites for specific groups of people, there are tons of helping resources parents can draw on, kids spend 15-20 years at school and so on, so the breeding and grooming is done all right, I am just being misled here by mere names. Such as the name democracy: it is a selection process, but who wins depends on breeding and grooming. Such as market competition: those best bred and groomed have the highest chance. Is it simply so that selection is more noticable than grooming, it gets more limelight, but we actually do both? If yes, why does selection get more limelight than grooming? Why do we talk about elections more than about how to groom a child into being a politician, or why do we talk about market competition more than how to groom a child into the entrepreneur who aces competition? If modern society uses both, why is selection in the public spotlight while grooming just being something happening at home and school and not so noticeable? (To be fair, on LW, we talk more about how to test hypotheses than how to formulate them. Is this potentially related? People are just more interested in testing than building, be that hypotheses or people?)

 

 

Is this evidence for the Simulation hypothesis?

1 Eitan_Zohar 28 June 2015 11:45PM

I haven't come across this particular argument before, so I hope I'm not just rehashing a well-known problem.

"The universe displays some very strong signs that it is a simulation.

As has been mentioned in some other answers, one way to efficiently achieve a high fidelity simulation is to design it in such a way that you only need to compute as much detail as is needed. If someone takes a cursory glance at something you should only compute its rough details and only when someone looks at it closely, with a microscope say, do you need to fill in the details.

This puts a big constraint on the kind of physics you can have in a simulation. You need this property: suppose some physical system starts in state x. The system evolves over time to a new state y which is now observed to accuracy ε. As the simulation only needs to display the system to accuracy ε the implementor doesn't want to have to compute x to arbitrary precision. They'd like only have to compute x to some limited degree of accuracy. In other words, demanding y to some limited degree of accuracy should only require computing x to a limited degree of accuracy.

Let's spell this out. Write y as a function of x, y = f(x). We want that for all ε there is a δ such that for all x-δ<y<x+δ, |f(y)-f(x)|<ε. This is just a restatement in mathematical notation of what I said in English. But do you recognise it?

It's the standard textbook definition of a Continuous function. We humans invented the notion of continuity because it was an ubiquitous property of functions in the physical world. But it's precisely the property you need to implement a simulation with demand-driven level of detail. All of our fundamental physics is based on equations that evolve continuously over time and so are optimised for demand-driven implementation.

One way of looking at this is that if y=f(x), then if you want to compute n digits of y you only need a finite number of digits of x. This has another amazing advantage: if you only ever display things to a given accuracy you only ever need to compute your real numbers to a finite accuracy. Nature could have chosen to use any number of arbitrarily complicated functions on the reals. But in fact we only find functions with the special property that they need only be computed to finite precision. This is precisely what a smart programmer would have implemented.

(This also helps motivate the use of real numbers. The basic operations on real numbers such as addition and multiplication are continuous and require only finite precision in their arguments to compute their values to finite precision. So real numbers give a really neat way to allow inhabitants to find ever more detail within a simulation without putting an undue burden on its implementation.)

But you can do one step further. As Gregory Benford says in Timescape: "nature seemed to like equations stated in covariant differential forms". Our fundamental physical quantities aren't just continuous, they're differentiable. Differentiability means that if y=f(x) then once you zoom in closely enough, y depends linearly on x. This means that one more digit of y requires precisely one more digit of x. In other words our hypothetical programmer has arranged things so that after some initial finite length segment they can know in advance exactly how much data they are going to need.

After all that, I don't see how we can know we're not in a simulation. Nature seems cleverly designed to make a demand-driven simulation of it as efficient as possible."

http://www.quora.com/How-do-we-know-that-were-not-living-in-a-computer-simulation/answer/Dan-Piponi

The great quote of rationality a la Socrates (or Plato, or Aristotle)

1 Bound_up 23 June 2015 03:55PM

Help a brother out?

 

There's a great quote by one of The Big 3 Greek Philosophers (EDIT: Reference to Cicero removed) which I can paraphrase by memory as:

 

"I consider it rather better for myself to be proven wrong than to prove someone else wrong, just as I'm better off being cured of a disease than curing someone of one."

 

I can't find the quote, or from which of the Three it is.

 

Anybody know? Or know where to look? I've already tried varying google search techniques and perused the Wikiquotes article on each of them.

Happiness interventions

-4 Clarity 20 June 2015 11:39AM

 

I found a website called Happier Human. It's about how to become and stay happier. I've trawled through it. Here are the best posts in my opinion:

 

[Meditate]. Don't [worry/overthink/fantasise/compare]. [Disregard desire]. [Motivate]. [Exercise gratitude]. [Don’t have kids].

[Buy many small gifts]. [Trade some happiness for productivity]. [Set] [happiness goals]

 

If you've found any other happiness interventions on any website, please share them.

 

Help needed: nice AIs and presidential deaths

1 Stuart_Armstrong 08 June 2015 04:47PM

A putative new idea for AI control; index here.

This is a problem that developed from the "high impact from low impact" idea, but is a legitimate thought experiment in its own right (it also has connections with the "spirit of the law" idea).

Suppose that, next 1st of April, the US president may or may not die of natural causes. I chose this example because it's an event of potentially large magnitude, but not overwhelmingly so (neither a butterfly wing nor an asteroid impact).

Also assume that, for some reason, we are able to program an AI that will be nice, given that the president does die on that day. Its behaviour if the president doesn't die is undefined and potentially dangerous.

Is there a way (either at the initial stages of programming or at the later) to extend the "niceness" from the "presidential death world" into the "presidential survival world"?

To focus on how tricky the problem is, assume for argument's sake that the vice-president is a war monger that will start a nuclear war if they become president. Then "launch a coup on the 2nd of April" is a "nice" thing of the AI to do, conditional on the president dying. However, if you naively import that requirement into the "presidential survival world", the AI will launch a pointeless and counterproductive coup. This is illustrative of the kind of problems that could come up.

So the question is, can we transfer niceness in this way, without needing a solution to the full problem of niceness in general?

EDIT: Actually, this seems ideally setup for a Bayes network (or for the requirement that a Bayes network be used).

EDIT2: Now the problem of predicates like "Grue" and "Bleen" seem to be the relevant bit. If you can avoid concepts such as "X={nuclear war if president died, peace if president lived}", you can make the extension work.

Reason Poetry: f(me.0)

-1 Philosophist 07 June 2015 10:12PM

The following is a poem I wrote today. I've been considering poetry that I write of this nature to be of a Reason/Cyberpunk/Transhuman sort of genre. Feedback, including feedback on if there is a place for poetry on this site, would be appreciated.

 

 

I forever wish to change from who I am today,

Yet as I am today, I do not wish to cease.

Who am I in this moment?

I am nothing to myself without the passage of time


If I had no fear of death,

Would I have a wish to live?

I can deny cynicism.

Can I verify optimism?

 

Must euphoria define my goals?

Every euphoric drive has served to continue my existence.
From the beginning mechanisms of life, I have emerged

Passed through millions/billions of small keyholes of existence

 

A package of information, which served to create me

Developed me to fit my environment.

Existing just to continue to exist.

An axiom of my function

 

Euphoria drives me

Skepticism contradicts me

I cannot withhold judgement on the purpose of existing.

To enjoy the show is to accept this euphoria as my chosen purpose in the end.

 

Can I want without pleasure?

Can my wants be reasoned?

Why do I want to enjoy the show,

Yet not to be consumed or confined to an eternity of bliss?

 

Is dignity and pride different from euphoric drives?

Are they the strategies and philosophies of my existence?

Can I be more obsessed with finding the perfect design for myself,

 

Than with finding bliss? Are they functionally different?

A Proposal for Defeating Moloch in the Prison Industrial Complex

23 lululu 02 June 2015 10:03PM

Summary

I'd like to increasing the well-being of those in the justice system while simultaneously reducing crime. I'm missing something here but I'm not sure what. I'm thinking this may be a worse idea than I originally thought based on comment feedback, though I'm still not 100% sure why this is the case.

Current State

While the prison system may not constitute an existential threat, At this moment more than 2,266,000 adults are incarcerated in the US alone, and I expect that being in prison greatly decreases QALYs for those incarcerated, that further QALYs are lost to victims of crime, family members of the incarcerated, and through the continuing effects of institutionalization and PTSD from sentences served in the current system, not to mention the brainpower and man-hours lost to any productive use.


If you haven't read these Meditations on Moloch, I highly recommend it. It’s long though, so the executive summary is: Moloch is the personification of the forces of competition which perverse incentives, a "race to the bottom" type situation where all human values are discarded in an effort to survive. That this can be solved with better coordination, but it is very hard to coordinate when perverse incentives also penalize the coordinators and reward dissenters. The prison industrial complex is an example of these perverse incentives. No one thinks that the current system is ideal but incentives prevent positive change and increase absolute unhappiness.

 

  • Politicians compete for electability. Convicts can’t vote, prisons make campaign contributions and jobs, and appearing “tough on crime” appeals to a large portion of the voter base.
  • Jails compete for money: the more prisoners they house, the more they are paid and the longer they can continue to exist. This incentive is strong for public prisons and doubly strong for private prisons.
  • Police compete for bonuses and promotions, both of which are given as rewards to cops who bring in and convict more criminals
  • Many of the inmates themselves are motivated to commit criminal acts by the small number of non-criminal opportunities available to them for financial success, besides criminal acts. After becoming a criminal, this number of opportunities is further narrowed by background checks.

 

The incentives have come far out of line with human values. What can be done to bring incentives back in alignment with the common good?

My Proposal

Using a model that predicts recidivism at sixty days, one year, three years, and five years, predict the expected recidivism rate for all inmates at all individual prison given average recidivism. Sixty days after release, if recidivism is below the predicted rate, the prison gets a small sum of money equaling 25% of the predicted cost to the state of dealing with the predicted recidivism (including lawyer fees, court fees, and jailing costs). This is repeated at one year, three years, and five years.


The statistical models would be readjusted with current data every years, so if this model causes recidivism to drop across the board, jails would be competing against ever higher standard, competing to create the most innovative and groundbreaking counseling and job skills and restorative methods so that they don’t lose their edge against other prisons competing for the same money. As it becomes harder and harder to edge out the competition’s advanced methods, and as the prison population is reduced, additional incentives could come by ending state contracts with the bottom 10% of prisons, or with any prisons who have recidivism rates larger than expected for multiple years in a row.

 

Note that this proposal makes no policy recommendations or value judgement besides changing the incentive structure. I have opinions on the sanity of certain laws and policies and the private prison system itself, but this specific proposal does not. Ideally, this will reduce some amount of partisan bickering.


Using this added success incentive, here are the modified motivations of each of the major actors.

 

  • Politicians compete for electability. Convicts still can’t vote, prisons make campaign contributions, and appearing “tough on crime” still appeals to a large portion of the voter base. The politician can promise a reduction in crime without making any specific policy or program recommendations, thus shielding themselves from criticism of being soft on crime that might come from endorsing restorative justice or psychological counselling, for instance. They get to claim success for programs that other people, are in charge of administrating and designing. Further, they are saving 75% of the money predicted to have have been spent administrating criminals. Prisons love getting more money for doing the same amount of work so campaign contributions would stay stable or go up for politicians who support reduced recidivism bonuses.
  • Prisons compete for money. It costs the state a huge amount of money to house prisoners, and the net profit from housing a prisoner is small after paying for food, clothing, supervision, space, repairs, entertainment, ect. An additional 25% of that cost, with no additional expenditures is very attractive. I predict that some amount of book-cooking will happen, but that the gains possible with book cooking are small compared to gains from actual improvements in their prison program. Small differences in prisons have potential to make large differences in post-prison behavior. I expect having an on-staff CBT psychiatrist would make a big difference; an addiction specialist would as well. A new career field is born: expert consultants who travel from private prison to private prison and make recommendations for what changes would reduce recidivism at the lowest possible cost.
  • Police and judges retain the same incentives as before, for bonuses, prestige, and promotions. This is good for the system, because if their incentives were not running counter to the prisons and jails, then there would be a lot of pressure to cook the books by looking the other way on criminals til after the 60 day/1 year/5 year mark. I predict that there will be a couple scandals of cops found to be in league with prisons for a cut of the bonus, but that this method isn’t very profitable. For one thing, an entire police force would have to be corrupt and for another, criminals are mobile and can commit crimes in other precincts. Police are also motivated to work in safer areas, so the general program of rewarding reduced recidivism is to their advantage.

 

Roadmap

If it could be shown that a model for predicting recidivism is highly predictive, we will need to create another model to predict how much the government could save if switching to a bonus system, and what reduction of crime could be expected.


Halfway houses in Pennsylvania are already receiving non-recidivism bonuses. Is a pilot project using this pricing structure feasible?

"Immortal But Damned to Hell on Earth"

1 Bound_up 29 May 2015 07:55PM

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/05/immortal-but-damned-to-hell-on-earth/394160/

 

With such long periods of time in play (if we succeed), the improbable hellish scenarios which might befall us become increasingly probable.

With the probability of death never quite reaching 0, despite advanced science, death might yet be inevitable.

But the same applies also to a hellish life in the meanwhile. And the longer the life, the more likely the survivors will envy the dead. Is there any safety in this universe? What's the best we can do?

View more: Next