Tsuyoku Naritai!

The evening sun sets on the horizon. An owl hoots ominously. You stare at the ant hill in disbelief. You’ve checked the data many times, and there’s only one remaining hypothesis without vanishingly small probability. 

Ant colonies are intelligent. Not the individual ants -- but the colony as a whole. They process information in a way metaphorically similar to what brains or GPUs do, without any of the constituent neurons or transistors being intelligent. 

Through a somewhat haphazardly administered battery of tests you’ve determined the colony’s intelligence level to be around that of an average human. Despite only containing about a million ants. 

But the world would not have looked like this had ant hills always been intelligent. No, they became intelligent, for reasons unknown, starting this week

You realise that the world, as they say, will never be the same. 

But what, exactly, are the consequences of this? 

This week’s challenge: babble 50 ways in which the world would change if ant colonies of sufficient size had the intelligence of a human. 

What would governments, entrepreneurs, or artists do differently? Would companies build use-at-home interfaces for talking to colonies? Would governments seal off colonies from public access? Would ant poison become illegal?

You tell me.

Looking back

Following a suggestion since last week, I’m changing the scoring system a bit. From this week onwards, you gain a star by completing the challenge, and lose a star for missing a week. (Instead of losing all your stars for missing a week). 

Here are the current rankings. Great job everyone! 

★★★★ gjm, jacobjacob, Tetraspace Grouping

★★★ Mark Xu, Bucky, Yonge

★★ Turntrout, Slider, Harmless

tinyanon, mingyuan, Rafael Harth, habryka, romeostevensit, WrongPlanet, Raemon, MikkW, amplemaple, Max Dalton, athom, johnswentworth, ryan_b, Ericf, CptDrMoreno 

(Max Dalton and Turntrout answered a previous week’s challenge, but they did it within the last week. Slider and Elizabeth made submissions that were great in many ways, but ultimately disqualified. For motivation see their answers and my comment where applicable.)

Moving Forwards

This is week 5 out of my 7-week babble sprint. 

Last week was a personal babble, so this week will be less so. I chose this week’s challenge because it relates to this question:

What is creativity for?

It might sound like an obvious question, but I want to give one gears-level answer. It relates to a particular tactical manoeuvre that I think is crucial in your rationality toolkit. 

Let me give some examples. 

  • Your company wants to make tablets. However, making the touch screens require a rare, expensive material. This means you can’t make a profit from the tablets. Nonetheless you manufacture them; sell them at a loss; and build up market share. Eventually, a new discovery is made, and the cost of the raw material shrinks massively. Your company makes a massive profit as you can already ship the product and have most of the market.
  • In your workplace, collaboration and interaction happens in-person. Over the watercooler, in meeting rooms, by desks, etc. When covid strikes, everyone is forced to go remote. This prevents in-person collaboration from happening. However, it also makes other forms of collaboration easier. Suddenly location doesn’t matter. You can work with a colleague across the country as easily as working with colleagues across the road.
  • You want to make a medical imaging startup, but the machine learning technology is not yet good enough for your use case. Yet, you make a bet and start applying for the regulatory permissions. Eventually, there’s a technological breakthrough, and you have the legal machinery in place to immediately start building the idea.

What do these examples have in common? 

You are trying to optimise some goal under some constraints. Suddenly, the constraints shift. New paths open up. The previously optimal strategy is no longer optimal. The gameboard changes. And the winners are those who can reorient quickly, or who come prepared. 

I heard the following second-hand from a very successful entrepreneur:

It's important to walk around with lots of half-crazy ideas, which are such that one puzzle piece doesn't quite fit. Because in a few years you might find that, surprisingly, the piece falls into place, and the idea suddenly becomes realisable.

There is also a similar anecdote about Feynman: 

Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

This week’s babble follows in that spirit. 

(I previously wrote about this during the beginning of covid. It is also related to the notion of an OODA loop. Johnswentworth also has good LessWrong posts about it, but I can’t find them right now because my chrome is super slow for reasons I don’t know.) 

A note of caution

To get stronger, a tennis player might lift weights. They do some motion with the weights (like a bicep curl) and their muscles grow. Out on the court those same muscles are used to swing the racket. However, a tennis player who tried to use the same arm motions to swing the racket as they used to lift weights, would probably perform terribly. They have misunderstood the connection between training and performance. 

The babble challenge started out in a similar manner. We did some very artificial babbles, about going to the moon or escaping locked rooms. The idea was that we’d train the muscle of creativity. Then, whenever we needed it in real life, it would have grown stronger. 

Last week we tried a more direct babble, on solving a problem in our lives. When I did it, I felt a bit like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl. I felt like I went too directly at the problem, while misunderstanding the mechanism. 

We’ll see how this week feels.

Rules (same as usual)

  • 50 answers or nothing. Shoot for 1 hour. 

Any answer must contain 50 ideas to count. That’s the babble challenge. 

However, the 1 hour limit is a stretch goal. It’s fine if it takes longer to get to 50. 

  • Post your answers inside of spoiler tags. (How do I do that?)
  • Celebrate other’s answers. 

This is really important. Sharing babble in public is a scary experience. I don’t want people to leave this having back-chained the experience “If I am creative, people will look down on me”. So be generous with those upvotes. 

If you comment on someone else’s post, focus on making exciting, novel ideas work — instead of tearing apart worse ideas. 

Reward people for babbling — don’t punish them for not pruning. 

I might remove comments that break this rule. 

  • Not all your ideas have to work. 

I've often found that 1 great idea can hide among 10 bad ones. You just need to push through the worse ones. Keep talking. To adapt Wayne Gretzky's great quote: "You miss 100% of the ideas you never generate." 

  • My main tip: when you’re stuck, say something stupid. 

If you spend 5 min agonising over not having anything to say, you’re doing it wrong. You’re being too critical. Just lower your standards and say something, anything. Soon enough you’ll be back on track. 

This is really, really important. It’s the only way I’m able to complete these exercises.

Now, go forth and babble! 50 consequences of intelligent ant colonies!

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Oct 29, 2020


Filler text for preview purposes....

  1. Take-back-to-nest ant poison stops working 
  2. Can form treaties with ants to stay out of my kitchen in exchange for sugar cubes
  3. Ants develop anti-poison technology
  4. Ants identify humans as source of poison and begin formulating counter attacks
  5. Ants identify humans as source of food and begin worshipping them
  6. Discworld/Children of Time style computers -> less dependence on rare earth metals
  7. Ants begin taking out poison factories
  8. Ants begin raiding poison factories to use on other bugs
  9. Massive decrease in ant predators, as ants organize to take them down -> increase in other insects eaten by those predators. Spider in SimAnt taken down instantly
  10. Ants used as spies in war -> new and better pesticides, ant proofing, and ant detection
  11. Necrocolony in chernobyl begins biting other colonies and turning them into zombies
  12. That species of ant in Europe that's all one giant supercolony learns to distinguish between colonies and thus war is returned.
  13. Giant increase in funding for studying ants -> I regret not going to grad school to study eusocial insects now that it's both interesting and profitable
  14. Ants can be hired to do microcleaning, Disney-style.
  15. Microconstruction takes off as ants are used as construction labor
  16. Ants weather proof their shelter
  17. Ants get good at hiding their colonies, but you can hire ants to find other ant colonies.
  18. Ant chemical detectors, similar to the bee detectors we have now.
  19. Huge debate about the morality of ant farms
  20. Ants can coordinate to have a single item carried by many at once.
  21. Ants develop heating and cooling systems for their colonies, expanding their possible range.
  22. Ants discover global warming and develop carbon sink technology, we are all saved.
  23. Ants develop eugenics program leading to super ants.
  24. Ants learn to conglomerate into large shapes, can act as humanoid -> competing with humans for jobs. They are treated like illegal immigrants.
  25. Ants recognize nuclear war as threat, organize worldwide campaign to disable all nukes simultaneously
  26. Ants recognize nuclear war as awesome for them because it kills their smartest predators, organize worldwide simultaneous launch.
  27. Process of uplifting teaches humans about the development of intelligence -> brings about or prevents UFAI.
  28. Process of uplifting teaches humans about the development of intelligence -> terrorists and governments uplift other animals to be used as spies. Every animal becomes suspect, biome is nuked and paved.
  29. Ant art becomes possible and trendy, creating an art bubble that eventually pops. Art colonies then left to starve to death as their work is no longer valuable.
  30. Ants as watch dogs: learn to identify family members and trip alarm if someone comes in without one of them. Fire ants used as full guard dogs.
  31. Ants used to clean infected wounds and do microsurgeries.
  32. Jains and other sects that honor insect life become smug and righteous, leverage into better treatment for all insects just in case.
  33. No construction can take place without an Ant Impact Statement. Ants become new construction chokepoint, get rich off of NIMBY bribes.
  34. Ant digging abilities used to find treasure.
  35. Ants replace mine rats.
  36. Ants employed to keep public areas clean. Parks, beaches, etc become way less disgusting.
  37. Ants used for simple home automation, like pet feeders.
  38. Beautiful ant farms placed in museums, later looked back on as akin to when we displayed humans in zoos.
  39. Ant colonies develop mental illnesses. They are made hopelessly worse by human psychologists. Ant psychologists become a thing.
  40. Ratatouille but with ants
  41. [redacted]
  42. Ants take over contagious-disease medical care, as they can't possibly get sick from a human disease. Human doctors and nurses very upset about this, attempt to block with protests and strikes but that just accelerate ant dominance.
  43. Movie about child with ant colony best friend.
  44. Ant-facing businesses become the hot new thing, billions invested in tiny furniture, nicer colonies, etc. Ants prove to mostly not care and the bubble pops.
  45. Humans decide aliens caused the uplift, begin praying to aliens for their own uplift
  46. Humans wage war to destroy all ants, resulting destruction plus lack of ants leads to human extinction as well.
  47. Ants used to cross air-gap in unnetworked computers. Eventually hackers discover a way to hack ants and thousands of highly secured computers are compromised.
  48. Ant exercise program advertised. It is terrible and the progenitor is eventually sued out of existence.
  49. Ant mafia develops.
  50. New genius-ant-proof containers developed to store food.

Omega comes to you and says, "I just flipped a coin, and if it had come up heads and you had studied eusocial organisms in grad school..."

I really like how you teased out two-step implications in #6, #9, and #10!


Oct 30, 2020


(This text is just there so that actual content isn't in the preview.)

  1. New research programmes. This discovery would give rise to a lot of them. I don't think listing different ones is unreasonable here, so here are some: [7]
    1. Careful examination of the colonies themselves. What algorithms are they executing? What are the communication mechanisms? Is there discernible structure? How does it work?
    2. Attempts to use similar mechanisms in silico. Just as biological neurons inspired neural networks, there would be many attempts to model computer systems on (simplifications of) ant colonies.
    3. Investigation into what changed. Did it affect widely separated colonies at the same time? (This would suggest divine intervention, Sheldrake-style morphic resonance, etc.) Did it spread from colony to colony, and if so how? Whatever the cause, is it something we can somehow apply to other systems, or apply multiple times to one colony for extra intelligence? Does it suggest that some single change can make other complex but unintelligent systems become intelligent?
    4. Biological examination of the individual ants. What's the nature of the communication etc. that they do? Are there interesting differences between the ants in smarter versus dimmer colonies?
    5. Maybe there'd be a shakeup in philosophy of mind. E.g., anyone who thinks that for some reason real thinking can only happen in human brains, or in things that somehow share structure or materials with human brains, now has an actual concrete counterexample. All those thought experiments about replacing neurons one by one have counterparts involving replacing ants one by one, and maybe that can even actually be done.
    6. Do intelligent ant colonies communicate with one another? If so, how? Do we need to rewrite everything in linguistics?
    7. Ant-thropology. Are there ant-colony societies? (Maybe not at first, if they only just gained sentience. So maybe we get to observe societies forming from scratch, which could be super-exciting.)
  2. Changes in individual humans' thinking, arising from knowing about intelligent ant colonies. [2]
    1. At the moment, most people -- even e.g. vegetarians -- don't much mind harming or killing insects. If an insect might be a vital part of an intelligent system, maybe that changes.
    2. If there is a whole nother intelligent species out there, maybe that makes other humans seem more like us than before. Perhaps racism, sexism, etc. would reduce.
  3. Political and quasi-political consequences. [8]
    1. It's not clear to me whether nations should consider their intelligent ant colonies people and/or citizens, but I bet some people would be very insistent that they should and other people would be very insistent that they shouldn't. (Perhaps sincerely, perhaps because of perceived political gain or loss.) The rights and welfare of intelligent ant colonies would inevitably become a politically sensitive topic. In countries with strong political polarization, presumably particular views on ant colonies would become part of the major political coalitions' idea-clusters, which in turn might result in some realignment as people with strong opinions on ants move from one coalition to another.
    2. If ant colonies gained any sort of rights or protections, a lot of people would resent that. ("... coming here, taking our lawns, ...") This might spawn a new sort of angry populism, blaming all the world's troubles on the ants.
    3. Conversely, the ant colonies would provide an exciting new metaphor for extremists to use about humans they didn't like (people with the wrong colour of skin, the wrong religion, the wrong parentage, etc.).
    4. Legal changes to give ant colonies rights and responsibilities would be a big deal in themselves and might have interesting side effects (e.g., if it were done by broadening the definition of "person", then maybe some other things besides humans and ant colonies would suddenly qualify).
    5. If in any places ant colonies gained the right to vote, or other access to political power or leverage, there could be major shifts in the balance of power (even among humans).
    6. Perhaps in some places humans would try to wipe out ant colonies, seeing them as rival claimants to the land or something. It's not clear to me how straightforward this would be. If straightforward, the main (local) consequence would be that some would see these people as heroes while others would see them as mass-murderers; perhaps the debate might resemble ones about abortion. If not straightforward, though, the consequences might be more interesting. War between humans and ant colonies? (One can imagine the ant colonies having some interesting ways of striking back.) Drastic anti-ant measures with knock-on consequences for other humans, other animals, the environment, perhaps.
    7. If the ant colonies turned out to be better at defending themselves than one would immediately expect, at some point we might end up with humans living under ant-colony rulers. I for one would welcome our new insect overlords. (This seems a really unlikely outcome, because we have technology and presumably they don't. But perhaps that might change as rapidly as their intelligence did, somehow.)
    8. Ants live more readily in some parts of the world than others. Places with more ant colonies might be at a substantial economic advantage (suddenly more workers, more innovation, ...) or disadvantage (suddenly building becomes harder, more social friction between very different "people", ...), changing the global balance of power.
  4. Consequences of communication with ant colonies. [8]
    1. These things presumably think in a way entirely different from ours. They will be a wonderful source of fresh ideas and perspectives. There will be new inventions, new scientific theories, and the like (but with some lag time; we will need to explain to the any colonies what problems we are interested in).
    2. Facilitating such communication will therefore be valuable, and there will be people and organizations doing it for money. A whole new profession! (Probably one of many.)
    3. I bet there would be at least one new religion, maybe derived from whatever ideas the ant colonies have that seem most mysterious to us, maybe regarding the colonies themselves as a sign from the gods or something.
    4. There would also be political and social movements inspired by the ants.
    5. If ant colonies are intelligent, perhaps they have (all of a sudden!) art forms. Their art might be beautiful to us, somehow, but even if not it might become very valuable (as a way of signalling one's up-to-date-ness and open-mindedness, or just because of scarcity), leading no doubt to much controversy and excitement among those who follow such things.
    6. Some people would fall in love with ant colonies, want to marry them, etc.
    7. Some people would want to be ant colonies, ask to be given the same legal status as an ant colony, etc. I suspect they would get about as much respect as furries do at present, but their existence would have some cultural impact.
    8. If an ant colony is, overall, about as intelligent as an average human, I bet that means that it's much smarter in some ways and much dimmer in others. This means that collaboration between humans and ants might be super-effective, with each filling in some of the other's blind spots. Expect human-ant joint ventures to do wonderful things.
  5. Bullshit. [3]
    1. There would be a flood of books and the like by people claiming to have found brilliant new insights from the ants' novel thinking patterns, but who had in fact neither had any original ideas nor derived anything genuinely new from the ant colonies.
    2. There would be a flood of books and the like claiming to convey specific messages from the ants, whose authors had in fact never received any such messages or had badly misunderstood them.
    3. There would be a flood of books and the like by people claiming to have found brilliant new insights from the existence of intelligent ant colonies, but who in fact (etc., etc.).
  6. Extrapolation. [2]
    1. If an ant colony of a million ants is about as clever as an average human being, what about a colony of ten million ants? What happens if you bring two intelligent colonies together and encourage their ants to mingle a bit? Can you use the fact that smaller colonies aren't intelligent to conduct some sort of breeding-for-smarts programme without being viewed as a moral monster? Maybe we can bootstrap a superintelligence. (The possible consequences of that, good and bad, are endless, but I don't think listing them is on topic here.)
    2. Ants don't appear to move or think very fast. Maybe we can simulate an intelligent ant colony (without much need to understand what it's doing above the level of individual ants) well enough to get something of roughly human-level intelligence -- but running hundreds of times faster, or more. This is a pretty weak kind of superintelligence, but still potentially able to change the world.
  7. Things ant colonies could do better or differently. [4]
    1. Perhaps an intelligent ant colony can observe the world in ways that are difficult for a human being, by sending ants to investigate particular things. If so, they would probably open up new means of espionage, structural inspection of buildings, and so forth. I'm not sure how world-shaking this would be; probably not very.
    2. Some varieties of petty crime would be easier for ant colonies. A million coordinated ants could probably kill a person (lots of stings, crawl into orifices and block breathing, etc.) and might then be able to retreat leaving less obvious sign of who did it than a human could. (I assume they've got some way of getting around in human spaces. Some sort of colony-on-wheels, perhaps; see below for a bit more on this.)
    3. Ant colonies might be able (and willing, if given suitable incentives) to perform some kinds of highly intricate craftwork that humans can't practically do. (Consider e.g. leaf-cutter ants. They can probably work on paper as well as on leaves.) This isn't necessarily any better than what humans can make machines do, but for art/craft purposes "made by intelligent ant colonies" may be more appealing than "made by a 3D printer". So expect some new artforms even if the ant colonies themselves don't have art that interests us.
    4. Ant-colony communication might well be very difficult for humans to intercept, providing new means of covert communication for criminals, intelligence agencies, etc.
  8. New things ant colonies might do having gained intelligence. [3]
    1. They would want to be able to move around more effectively, interact with humans more naturally, etc. Someone, somehow, would figure out ways to do this (even if only because some humans would benefit from easier access to the ant colonies). Maybe antmobiles and the like would become a big area of business. (Or several. Antmobiles and ant-internet, for instance, might both be a big deal, but I doubt they'd have much in common.)
    2. Some would want to learn from us. At least some schools, universities, etc., would probably be willing. I've no idea how that would work, but maybe some university lectures would start having simultaneous translation into Antish.
    3. Many would want to move from the locations where they formed to some place with other ant colonies they could interact with. Perhaps there would be ant-colony suburbs or ant-colony villages.
  9. Other. [13]
    1. Many religions would have some radical rethinking to do. Expect reforms, schisms, new branches of theology, etc.
    2. Also, expect (probably hopeless) attempts at proselytization among the ant colonies.
    3. Religions that already took insects seriously might suddenly get a lot of new converts. (Jainism is the obvious example.)
    4. Quite aside from systematic attempts to wipe out ant colonies, there are plenty of humans already trying to kill ants. If some of those ants suddenly become parts of intelligent colonies, a lot of the humans presumably won't have any idea that's happened. But the colonies will probably figure out what's what. Expect a lot of cases where humans are badly harmed or killed (in self-defence) by ant colonies, until we manage to get all the humans and all the ant colonies informed about the situation. Which will probably take a while.
    5. Maybe also expect a wave of suicides, religious conversions, nervous breakdowns, etc., from people who have wiped out a lot of ants before discovering that ant colonies can be intelligent, and are now overwhelmed with guilt.
    6. If ant colonies gained any sort of legal protection, then building on land occupied by intelligent ant colonies or maybe even building on land that might be occupied by intelligent ant colonies would likely become illegal. (Unless you relocated the ants. But they might not be any more willing to move than humans usually are.) Depending on exactly what collections of ants are intelligent, and how confident we are about that, this could make new building hugely more difficult. Hence: more expensive housing and commercial rents, less expansion of cities into suburbs, etc.
    7. If ant colonies are intelligent, how can we be sure that collections of termites, bees, locusts, etc., aren't too? It might suddenly become much more difficult to deal with these pests, for fear that we might be committing murder.
    8. I assume there are ecosystems in which ants form an important part. Including, e.g., as food for other animals. If enough of the ants are suddenly parts of intelligent colonies, which presumably can find ways of avoiding too many of their number becoming dinner, those ecosystems could be radically changed, which could ultimately lead to dramatic consequences such as extinctions.
    9. In some cases we may intervene to stop intelligent ant colonies being badly damaged by predators. Expect increased sales of products that kill ant predators.
    10. Whatever individual (or research group) discovered that ant colonies are intelligent would instantly be famous, presumably get a Nobel prize, etc. (Does this count as the world changing? It would certainly change their world.)
    11. Widespread concern about having one's house or office infiltrated by ants belonging to colonies working for one's enemies/rivals/government/insurers/... would lead to major changes in how buildings are designed, with attention to keeping out unwanted ants more rigorously.
    12. If intelligent ant colonies can use the internet, own things, etc., then they will need to be able to identify themselves. Maybe this will just be a matter of passwords or something, but I think more likely new recognition and authentication technologies will be developed as a result.
    13. Extinction of everything valuable in human civilization (as the result of massive nuclear war, global pandemic, etc.) just got somewhat less likely. Most things that wipe us out don't wipe out the ants too, and presumably after a while the ants will have records of a lot of what we have done.

Ah, so many great ones. Tactically, #1.3 seems crucial and I really should have thought about it!

Tao Lin

Oct 29, 2020


v chaotic

What do ants want? population growth, possibly: curiosity, much less signalling (in the way we know). Individual ants would work towards their queen's best interest? Would they try to defect to other queens?

Digging (foundations of new houses and such) would be a bad idea.

Ants would naturally have a slow communication rate.

Ants could communicate faster than walking by flying, putting their pheramones in the air somehow, using human internet, using human intermediaries.

Ants can increase their population quickly. I would rough guess doubling every month at least for the first month

Ant main-line cognition speed would be slower than humans, but multitasking greater. Therefore they would likely execute multiple plans at once instead of making one big plan.

Ants would look for technologies to enhance their cognition even further. Could be dense, 3d habitats that allow the colony to live closer to eachother to reduce transmission time.

Increasing speed of individual ants. I don't think ants tend to travel at even half of their max speed, so they could think faster by just burning more energy in a way humans can't.

Ants are everywhere. Some humans would try to escape ants by fleeing to cold places with permanently frozen soil, like northern Canada. Because of their small size, ants have extreme difficulty in those conditions. Ants couldn't go there without vehicles.

Given that ants primarily sense touch and smell, they may still lack good eyesignt and hearing, even with better communication. This means they may be hard for them to read computer screens and eavesdrop on humans. For example, I doubt a single ant could spy on a computer screen. Perhaps 100 or more ants would be required for that. Same with hearing, although it would be easy for 1000 ants to hide within earshot of human conversations.

Therefore humans may communicate more by text to hide from ant spies.

How would ants fight against poison? My guess is by just attacking until poison is used up.

Humans need to prepare for war with ants before they show signs of aggression. They could be too powerful for humans to stop.

Ant colonies would begin communicating with each other. An ant can travel at perhaps 3km/hour. Assuming this is their mode of communication, somewhere like the Amazon would take like a year to send a message across. I don't think it's reasonable for ants to first-contact "native" ants through a faster means, just because they wouldn't be able to decode it.

Would ants resent humans for often carelessly killing their kind? They may not consider worker deaths very important, but human activities would definately "anger" (anthropomorphizing) the ants before most humans knew ants were smart.

Creating supersmart supercolonies. I think this is reasonable, but linear processing speed would again be slower the more space the colony took up. Because of the speed limitation, it would take a long time before we have to worry about a global coordinated attack.

How would ants and humans communicate? By sound. Human microphones and software would detect ant vibrations, and ants would either learn to understand human speach, or hear ant noises produced by translation software. Probably the latter, because humans have vastly more expertise than ants.

Individual ants live around 2 years, queens up to 30. Intelligent ants would merge colonies whose queen dies, or produce extra queens to keep colonies alive. "individual" ant colonies could outlive humans.

Would ants war with other ant species (more than they already do). I think it's likely the first thing that'll happen. Bigger colonies, with more intelligence, would quickly kill off smaller ant colonies.

Which ants would win the ant-wars? Depending on how ant intelligence works, either smaller ants that can get closer together, or larger ants with more complex behavior, would come out ahead. Large ants could have advantages like better eyesight, wings, that become vastly more useful with intelligence.

Ants would destroy their predators and overeat their food. Much like humans, who killed off large mammals, ants would kill off all their predators and risk over-harvasting their food. They would start both farming and stealing from humans as well.

Ant predators include spiders, other insects, reptiles, and amphibians. This would cause some sort of ecosystem collapse.

Eventual ant technologies: ant computer interface, may be like a braile display that pokes different individual ants, or ant sould based. Because ant colonies would be good at multitasking, they could absorb material faster than human, given that it's not all highly connected.

Human would publish this, be highly questioned. Would produce simple tests individuals could make at home and give to ants to get idea through to people.

Govts would probably put up a far worse performance than COVID. Politicians & beaurocrats are too old, too social to deal with this kind of stuff.

Immediately some young right-ists would call for the eradication of ants. It would take a few weeks for right politicians to follow suit, at least pushing for "safety against ants"

People would buy tons of bogus "ant communication devices" or "ant protection devices"

There must already be ant colonies in secure scientific experiments. They would be studied. New colonies would be taken into labs.

How much do ant colonies work with each other? Given that there are already ant-mega-colonies (their main trait is they "smell like friends" of each other), those ants would work together. They would likely work together with "smells like enemies" ants as well. I don't expect average ant colonies to sacrifice for each other immediately, but maybe later?

Can ant colonies "mind meld" with each other? Given that the colonies themselves started working together intellectually a week ago, I think it's likely they could.

Ant cognition speed is the #1 variable to measure.

Humans might engineer ant-to-ant comms devices to prevent ant wars, make ants more predictable, and spy. All ants using bugged (get it) comms would be awesome.

Food left out in human homes would be quickly taken by ants. Ants would quickly bite through fridge seals and eat there too. Ants could use leverage to open alumanum cans and plastic boxes.

People would find ways to make ant poison at home

Humans would disrupt ant hearing and smell with ant-verbalization noise generators or some homemade chemical that confuses or dulls ants' senses.

Mosquitos developed resistance to DDT in "about 7 years". Ants different reproduction. Because of investment in queens, they can't experement genetically with them. Would need to test ant males. Could test males for pesticide resistance before mating, accelerating that evolution. ant males never go outside normally, so that would improve a lot.

There are roughly as many ant colonies as humans, so some EAs would immediately help ants. For short-termists, ants would likely be #1 priority by far. First would give comms and teach.

Evangelical Christians would attempt to convert ants. I would ROFL soooo hard if that actually worked.

Once ants learn the basics of human infrastructure and society but before they invent their own technology, what's their best bet to defeat humanity? There are on the order of a million ants per person. I'm guessing that they wouldn't be able to overpower humans just by swarming and biting except in very rural locations. If they did, they would strike at night. They can be silent, so you may 100,000 ants in your room without waking you up. They could suffocate you with their bodies, or with some tools. I think suffocating people at night with cloth/bodies would work. Even better, they could cut wires in cars / short circuit them, and swarm power plants / relay centers. Perhaps gnaw down trees to fall on power lines. Given the time taken to get power back after storms, and especially the Puerto Rico disaster, I'm not optimistic we could ever regain the grid. Again, I think they would take a while to coordinate that well, but we would need to secure the grid FAST.

Ants would hop onto cars, trains, boats, and eventually planes to explore & communicate with each other. Ants communicating this way may be able to jump off cars in large enough numbers to communicate, especially at lights & stop signs. Otherwise get off at the destination, talk to local ants, then all move out on new cars. This would be the fastest means of ant communication. Travel times from london to any inhabited place in the world are around 1/2 to 1 day. Ants would require maybe 4 extra hours to crawl between people & vehicles in airports and such. Some areas don't have enough car traffic to easily hitch a ride to, so that might cost an extra day if they aren't able to call taxis or manipulate humans into driving places or whatever. It would be reasonable for them to get 1-2 day global communication by physical transport.

Ants are in some respects pretty dope and even more advanced than humans.

For example they wouldn't need to start farming because they already have agriculture. Leaf-cutter ants are a thing (they grow a fungus). Many ants also are mutualistic for a lot of animal species where they mainly provide protection but extra very real chemical goods so they kinda have already animal domestication down.

Also continents don't isolate ants as they stumble upon boats in effect already exploring via vechicles (but I guess in a very passive manner).

Daniel Kokotajlo

Oct 29, 2020


OK, here goes:

  1. We need to start worrying about Ant Takeover happening before AI Takeover 1.1. If all ant colonies are already intelligent, they might be able to take over already via surprise brute force attack. They don't need to kill everyone, just enough people to collapse civilization, and they can clog and destroy machines to help with that. Once civilization collapses I'm not optimistic that we could rebuild in the face of determined ant opposition, and certainly we couldn't do it before they tech up and acquire powerful weapons of their own. 1.1.2. Ants could probably get fire pretty easily, especially since they can steal fire from humans. They need to get the knowledge first, which might be hard. In general, they might be bottlenecked by understanding of humans? It's not like anyone teaches them to read. 1.1.3. This may be our main advantage: They only recently became intelligent, so they probably can't read yet and may not even realize that humans are intelligent. They probably don't realize that we know they are intelligent. Concepts like intelligence may be foreign to them, having had so little time to think and having terrible communication networks with other ants. 1.1.4. Come to think of it, how do these ant colonies communicate with each other? Probably not very well; at best they can only talk to the colonies adjacent to them, and... 1.1.5. they probably think more slowly than us too, since signals have to pass between their individual ants, which are spread out over several square meters and move slowly. I'd guess they think at 0.1x the speed of humans, or slower. This might not matter for some things (maybe they make up in quality what they lack in speed) but for communication it is probably especially tough. 1.1.6. On the other hand maybe they have access to high-bandwith communication, better than the audio and video signals we use? I doubt it, but maybe. 1.1.7. Anyhow, memetically, ant colonies are probably not really a civilization yet because they just haven't had time to develop concepts. So much of what makes humans powerful is cultural evolution; ideas getting invented and refined and spread. Ants, even if they are as smart as humans or even if they are smarter, probably lack the concepts to really understand what's going on around them. For now. For now we are safe from coordinated Ant Takeover. 1.1.8. The fact that they all became intelligent around now suggests that maybe they are communicating quickly via some magic method. Probably not though; the deus ex machina hypothesis seems more likely. 1.2. We should think about Ant alignment / values. What do they want? Probably nothing good for us, lol. 1.3. Maybe they can be bargained with? We probably have things they want. 1.3.1. We have spaceships. We have technology in general. And currently we are living mostly peacefully. Maybe we can get them to not kill us in return for giving them some of our tech and not killing them. 1.4. What is their rate of improvement? Ant colonies reproduce faster than humans. Optimistically they got intelligence via deus ex machina rather than via some natural process, because in the latter case we should expect them to be superhuman in a week or less and possibly in a few hours. But even in the deus ex machina scenario they can probably evolve quickly, if they want to. 1.4.1. Maybe we can try to make them evolve back to being stupid? Seems hard for us to exert that kind of selection pressure, since they are smart enough to not reveal their intelligence probably.
  2. We need to start thinking about ant-human collaborations and how they could reshape the world economy. 2.1. Ants might be better pesticides than our current stuff? 2.2. Ants would certainly have all sorts of niche jobs like maintaining systems that have lots of small bits to crawl into and inspect. 2.3. A million ants is probably not very heavy. Maybe ants would make better astronauts than humans; we could put them in charge of robot terraformers or something. 2.4. Ants have other benefits for space colonization too probably -- less need for natural light and space, more comfort with compressed habitat. 2.5. The military uses of ants are pretty obvious. Extremely stealthy assassins, carry poison into enemy commander, come back and report on things. 2.6. Slow though. Maybe drone delivery is the fix for that. 2.7. Maybe ants would be more efficient as computers than our current computers. Not for crunching numbers, but for doing other things. Probably cheaper and better than GPT-3, for example. 2.8. Probably ants would be useful for digging tunnels and running wires through them. Could cut costs for fiber optic cable deployment immensely, I think. 2.9. With human help, ants could probably be bred for intelligence, achieving superhuman levels in just a few years. (They might not need human help, lol.) This would of course make their economic applications skyrocket. 2.10. Might ants be useful for manufacturing? running wires through dense 3d-printed parts? Yeah seems reasonable. 2.11. Probably ants wouldn't completely reshape the economy though, on the supply side, because I think most of the economy is transporting things and mining things and doing other "big" things that ants wouldn't help with compared to our existing machines. 2.12. On the demand side, ants would change the economy a lot probably. Construction would become more expensive due to the need to negotiate with the local ants (otherwise, expect resistance!). 2.12.1. More demand for basic foods, less demand (proportionally) for meat. Insect farms probably become a thing. 2.12.2. Probably ants have some weird preferences that we aren't yet aware of -- certain goods become luxury goods, etc. 2.12.3. What is ant religion like? What is ant ideology like? If they are immune to such things, maybe that's a good thing? If not, well, we've got to learn to live with it.
  3. We should increase our credence that we are in a simulation, because this seems much more likely to happen in a simulation than not. But what kind of simulation would do this? 3.1. Probably a simulation made by someone for fun or whimsy? I can't think of any scientific purpose for this yet, but maybe there is one... 3.1.1. in a sci-fi story I read, some super powerful aliens give random bits of their power to humans to see how the humans use them, and the rationale is basically to provide training data IIRC. Try to generalize from creative uses of power in different combinations and circumstances to a better understanding of power more generally. Maybe something like this is going on. 3.1.2. Maybe the idea is to collect data about interactions between intelligent species on the same planet, and this is just a crude way of getting that data (a more elegant way would involve co-evolving two intelligent species, since that's more likely to happen naturally) 3.2. I had thought that most simulations were ancestor simulations. This is evidence against that claim. Which in turn is evidence against the things that made me think that, like acausal trade stuff.
  4. If collectives of ants can be intelligent, can't collectives of humans be intelligent too? Well, corporations and nations and so forth certainly act like they are intelligent... maybe this isn't really news.
  5. Multi-agent theories of mind should go up in probability on this evidence. 5.1. What implications does that have? Not much as far as I know. Maybe it reduces my credence in dualism, idealism, etc. and increases my credence in physicalism? 5.2. It makes me feel like the classical models of intelligence (expected utility maximization, etc.) are probably less useful for AI alignment etc. than I thought. That said, there's the complete class theorem and stuff...
  6. Currently no one but me knows about this. Who should I tell? If I tell the whole world, probably someone will start communicating with the ants, which will give them a temporary advantage since they can collaborate with ants militarily, but probably puts us all at risk by accelerating the ants' memetic evolution and awareness of the strategic situation. 6.1. I should probably tell other EAs/rationalists first, and we'll figure out what to do together. 6.2. In the long run, it seems like ants will evolve to be smarter than us, and that'll be bad news. However, this will take several years at least. Perhaps the situation can be changed by then. 6.2.1. We can create AGI, for example. In an ant-proof bunker. 6.2.2. Tentative plan: We alert certain powerful actors in the world (The US government?) who then harden their systems against ant attack and prepare to defend against ant war. 6.2.3. Also, they start talking with some ants on an island or something to learn more about them. Try to detect whether other ants elsewhere in the world are communicating with those ants. 6.2.4. Keep working on AI alignment etc. Our hope is to achieve a harmonious future in which ants, humans, and AIs all live together happily despite differences in intelligence. 6.2.5. Maybe what we learn from the ants can help us with AI alignment. Try to figure out how they got intelligence, and what their values are. 6.2.6. Maybe ant colonies can be aligned! Because of the way they are distributed, maybe they are more transparent than humans. Heck maybe they are more transparent than AIs too because they only have a million ants instead of trillions of parameters. And transparency is super important. 6.2.7. Assuming we can figure out how to read ant minds (when they are suitably in a farm or scannable region so we can see what all their members are doing) then we should probably start scaling up ant-human cooperation big time, as an alternative to TAI. 6.2.8 Ant capability gain is probably slower too, not being able to copy themselves instantly and so on. So we are in for a much slower takeoff, which is good. Whew! 6.2.9. The downside is that we have much less direct control over their minds, and they are already intelligent so they are already mesa-optimizers basically and are likely to be deceptively aligned rather than actually aligned. 6.2.10. All things considered I'm still optimistic though. For one thing, we can be nice to them. 6.2.11. For another, we can keep them near human level and get them to work on AI alignment theory, at massive scale. Ant colonies probably consume less food than humans and thus can be cheaper than human workers.
  7. This is evidence that other species might start achieving intelligence soon. If ants, certainly termites. But also dolphins, meerkats, heck, even flies, why not? Yeah, a priori ants seem like a more plausible candidate, but this is strong evidence that our a priori reasoning isn't working! 7.1. We should launch investigations into this. We should also (jesus) begin a plan to end factory farming and the destruction of nature. We probably should have been doing that anyway, but now is better than ever... time to bring the coercive force of the state to bear, probably...
  8. Wait a minute, are my readings just wrong? Maybe this is a massive prank.
  9. I think this increases my credence that God exists. It sounds like something He would do.


Oct 29, 2020


So first up some analysis on the question. It also functions as padding to make sidebar not sidestep spoiler tags. If the "metaphorical" functioning is exactly like gpu the questions loses a lot of it's interestingness. A scenario like that would be fascinatin partly how such an organizaation would be dissimilar to a gpu model. Like squids are pretty smart but they don't run on a centralised processing paradigm. I will interpret the characteristic in that they have "power level" similar to computers and humans, they are not "weak". That is not to be about the quality of it,  I don't assume that a human brains scan could be translated into ant connections.

  1. There would be more demand for non-linear communication methods or existing linear communication methods would be used more in parallel.
  2. Animal farming for meat debate would get more heated as ant-nests would likely be granted some kind of personhood or legal status stronger than property and delinating why meat animals are okay to be property gets harder to defend.
  3. Freedom of cognition would be awakened from a dormanant trivial right into an actual issue as it is way easier to spy on how an ant farm processes information than do a  detailed invasive brain scan. Freedom of expression and privacy issues would be hightened. I would assume it would become taboo or would require extensive permission to study the soul-life of a hive. This would also inform philosophical issues about humans.
  4. Espionage and physical security would get a whole more hardcore as most walls would literally have ears and the physical barriers for access to sentient beings would get way more stringet requirements (you can't have bars for jail anymore)
  5. The virustypes that sentient cultures care about would be increased significantly. More job openings for virologists.
  6. Specisims would become an actual issue as sentient cultures would not be homogenous as species. "Crimes against humanity" would be too narrow a category to catch big misbehaviours.
  7. The issues and conflicts involving "The Eternal Doctrine" and "The Path of Now and Forever" from star control II could become an issue. If humans felt like ants were an existential (potential) threat for them would it be okay to go to war with them? How pre-emptive such a fear is allowed to be? Would it be okay to limit the impact of ants in the name of human security or would this be unethical slavery? If both doctrines are dismissed as a soceity what do we do about individuals that try to follow them?
  8. Definition of battery could become thorny as concious directed touch and unconcious uncontrolled touch could be hard to tell apart. After all the individual ant is unconcious so how much a human needs to be immersed in ants to be counted as being invaded?
  9. There would be increased demand for conifers.
  10. A lot more computer parts could be repairable. More fine tuned dexterity tasks would be possible.
  11. It would be way easier to have biologically immortal minds as ants exit and enter an ant hive better. It would also be easier to go around teleometer and other aging limitations. You could have long term eye-witnesses (expect hives are blind, but for other senses).
  12. As there would be very different tasks and needs from a very different animal goods like sugar would probably surgar would surge in demand (samey with 9?)
  13. Skilled hive artist would probably create very detailed painting so the state of the art of pictures would raise dramatically.
  14. There would be a need for computer interface for hive-individuals. Keyboards and mice won't cut for that need.
  15. An ant-hive can not effectively communicate sonically without enchancements. There would be need for human-ant communication interface. Looking glasses for humans to see ant arms? Presses to pheronomes plates? Everybody just uses internet messgage boards?
  16. Small robots could be used to invade hive-minds and either spy on them or implant and manipulate thoughts (freedom of cognition again)
  17. There would be a lot more interest in psychology and the importance of the field would sky rocket. Ditto for social studies.
  18. Murders could get messier to solve as ant invasion to detriment to person health could be harder to detect.
  19. There would be crises for people that identify with their physical bodies as it would be apparent that cross pollunating ants from two hives doesn't destroy the individuals. Ship of theseus switch of ant dna lineages woudl be possible.
  20. Because there are globe spanning supercolonies of ants which are now intelligent there is an sudden rebellion/insurrection/invasion event which might get military in nature. Do ant individuals become citizens of their geographical country? Are ant countries parralel but separate from human states? Might need a lot of map redrawing.
  21. Ant pheronome analysis and the price and production of them would increase. Bodily autonomy issues of not being injected with extra or manipulative pheromone against ones will. (again freedom of cognition)
  22. Doors, stairs and elevators would be heavily disfavoured or accessibility issues would raise in importance. The whole issue of whether it is necceasry to meet face-to-face would become in question (what if one doesn't have a face or which of your ants face should be used for representation?). Shaking and many social ques using hands would come in question.
  23. There would probably reveal or form an ant culture which would probaby be fascinating and enrich societys cultural capital.
  24. Sexual misconduct would become harder to regulate if the gamette ants of colonies are not under direct concoius control. Fraternity tests would have increased demand. Guardianaship of children would get hazy.
  25. City zoning and living regulations would need to be rewised
  26. Murder would probably need to extend to dispersal of ant-hives. Ant-hived locations would probably need to benefit from some kind of home protection. Would it be permissible to have human no-go zones?
  27. Graphs and other visual tools would probably go out of fashion or would need alternatives. The blind sentient population just went up a lot.
  28. If slaver ants are sentient too we have a serious problem with civil peace. Can it be criminal to belong to that species? Is it wrong for society to limit species natural behaviour (Zootopia)
  29. Right to education would be complicated as human society would be pretty clueless to how to give a good upbringing to a hive-individual.
  30. What does equal opportunity mean for hives vs bipedals? Disability issues would be enflamed
  31. There would suddenly be need to seriously step up on neurodiversity-like issues. IQ probably becomes invalid. Or humans might reliably be IQ<100. There are multiple species of ants which have different queen functions and very much different species properties. The diversity between ants would be huge compared to diversity within humans. It would be extraordinairly astonishing if there were no correlations in statistics.
  32. ~60 minutes
  33. A lot of land that was industrial before is now suddenly residential. If hives have or aquire ownership over their physical surroundings there is a massive alnd redistribution. There might be increased demand for real estate agents and lawyers.
  34. Would it be ethical to leave an area entirely composed of hives alone if the same area doesn't happen to include humans? Would it be ethical to impose human values to that area?
  35. How do we shake the global political structure? How many UN seats we give out? US electoral college would be way more out of wack to represent population. Do ant nations need to sign up in to standard international law treaties?
  36. There would be a lot more academics interested in ants (samey with 17?)
  37. Hive healthcare is probably very underdeveloped. How do we priotise research into hive health? What do we do with the population that effectively doesn't have healthcare currently? Is it ethical to maintain any research into bipedal health if hives desperately need medicine?
  38. Any bipedal society that can improve the situation for hives is likely to gain large political favour of them. This might lead into a race to please them and/or massive defences against ants for those that don't please them.
  39. Any invention to have hives be mobile would propbably be very appriciated by hives
  40. There would probably be some hives that would wish to not make their non-biological parts out of leaves and treeparts. Making a replacement material might be valuable. Glass colony containers would probably surge in demand.
  41. Making a "roofscraper" might be a sensible thing to do. Roofscaper cities could be stupidly population dense. Skycrapers full of rooms full of roofscapers all of which spend their time on the internet could lead into a kind of virtual city, like an upload data center.
  42. Democrasy could seriously come in question if the bipedal population is a small numerical minority. Minority rights issues could get boltstered and enflamed.
  43. Cognitivive labour markets would suddenly be flooded by a big population. Justifying buying computers might not make sense if ant bodily needs are modest and start to compete with indian call centers.
  44. Increase in simulatenous minds alive could supercharge ideological velocity making it harder to keep up with news and might make china-style societal control look a lot more appealing.
  45. Differences in reproductive rates might make political balances between nations strained.
  46. Discovery of a sudden sentient species might make society expect such a event happen again. One might want to be ready for it but one might also try to avoid it by actively suppressing sentience.
  47. Fermi paradox considerations get wacky.
  48. People will probably take AI risk a lot more serious and the ant case will make society decide AI-personhood, alignment and such issues earlier.
  49. Sudden apperance of sentient species raises the question do we have moral duty to bring about as many ney sentient species as possible. How does human flourishing differ from sentience flourishing?
  50. Different biological needs open up new possiblities for crewed spacelight. It might be easier to long term freeze hives and their upkeep in space might be easier. They probably need less total mass meaning lighter vechicles. Ants that can be totally herbivorous might be able to feed off essentially from sunlight for big times and distances.
  51. Brain area research is relatively less valuable. There is a parallel interst in how a hive is informationally organised.
  52. ~1h 35 min


12 is an expansion of 9: There could develop a market for hives to have their ant population be made up of more desirable ants. Ants can be made to smell compatible for a hive and rich hives might want ants that are faster, mor reliable and more long lived and durable.

36 is a bit samey with 17: People would know and would learn a lot more about ants. Basic school biology would probably be part of civics and ant biology facts woudl be more everyday. In the sudden discovery phase there would be a need to package up these things so that a lto of people can get up to speed and to facilate either peaceful or more effectively hostile relations.



Dec 23, 2020

  1. We would immediately start trying to figure out how intelligent they are, the same way we do with other animals.
  2. We would test how intelligence varies with age, size, ant species, geography, climate, and so on
  3. We would test whether they can and do communicate with each other.
  4. The search for a global cause for them becoming intelligent would get a lot of funding.
  5. If it happened spontaneously, and one became intelligent and somehow spread that to others very rapidly, we’d try to figure out if the same could happen in other eusocial species, like bees.
  6. If a human somehow made this happen, they’d win a lot of accolades and even more condemnations.
  7. Otherwise, a third intelligence would need to be active on Earth. SETI would get a lot of funding.
  8. Interspecies communication research would become a high priority, since ants are much more directly relevant to human life than other intelligent species like whales, dolphins, apes, or octopods.
  9. Learning what ant hills value becomes a huge moral imperative. Do they care (or even know) about ants? Or is killing a few ants akin to me getting a haircut?
  10. Philosophy departments get a boost in funding for work on actually solving some of the problems of moral philosophy, including some of the important ones related to FAI, now that they’re finally confronted with actually alien intelligences.
  11. Most people will go about their lives pretending this discovery didn’t happen, or has no moral consequences, for long enough to commit many atrocities.
  12. Use of ant poison wouldn’t become illegal, but would be limited to professionals who know how to use it only to keep ants out of specific places, how to use the least lethal effective methods, how to use ant hill coordination and communication methods to inform them what areas to stay away from, and so on.
  13. Ant hills become legal persons – laws and constitutions need to be rewritten to account for changes in what personhood implies, and this leads to delays, divisions, and kludges that will shape humanity’s interactions with other artificial and alien intelligences in the future.
  14. It turns out we do live in a cosmic zoo, and how we interact with intelligent ant hills determines whether we’re allowed to continue to exist, or at least whether we’re allowed to learn about and eventually join our galactic community.
  15. Intelligence turns out to be a network effect, proportional to ant number squared. Teaching ant hills human values and uniting them all into a global-super-hive-mind, possibly in combination with other eusocial insects, replaces AGI and AFI development work. Slow clock speed, but massively powerful and parallel.
  16. Intelligence turns out to be a network effect, proportional to ant number squared. Genetic research to apply the same effect to human brains becomes an arms race for dominance over the Earth, forcing everyone to set aside ethical concerns over modifying humanity.
  17. Picnics start to include dedicated plates for ant hills as a kind of offering/host gift. Ant hills learn to eat from them and leave everything else alone.
  18. Ant hills and humans collaborate to build better ant hill homes/farms. The initialy goal is to help the ant hills flourish and grow.
  19. In time, artificial ant hill structures effectively become robots enabling ant hills and humans to interact more directly.
  20. Some ant hill robots join human society with full citizenship rights. Certain jobs become almost exclusively their domain, by preference (waste management?) and talent (logistics?).
  21. Ant hill society exists in parallel to human society, with its own legal system and governing structures.
  22. Ant hill governments join the UN, with borders unrelated to human countries.
  23. Concept of a nation-state gets updated based on the idea of sympatric nations.
  24. Increased need for “international” dispute resolution leads to formation and strengthening of world governing bodies.
  25. Humans adopt the idea of sympatric nations for themselves, extending to citizenship the transformation that telecommunications and telepresence have begun. You can live anywhere and be a citizen of any “country” irrespective of what dirt you stand on.
  26. Interaction with anyone else can potentially become an international incident. Norms of behavior shift dramatically to accommodate the fact that other people might literally operate under different laws than you.
  27. Large scale conversions to religions that espouse beliefs that animals have souls. Buddhism, Hinduism, animism, and general beliefs involving reincarnation or past lives.
  28. Christian religious extremists begin wars of genocide against ant hills and the humans who work with them, on the basis that God gave the Earth to *man’s* dominion.
  29. Ant hills are highly sought after as employees: immortal, no need for sleep, increased multitasking capability, ability to do much finer manual manipulations than humans can, and able to subsist on resources that have little value to humans.
  30. Ant hill labor becomes a major political issue; how to define slavery, exploitation, and so on, in relation to beings with non-human emotional makeup.
  31. Interspecies sex and marriage become a significant political issue. Bestiality laws amended to account for uplift.
  32. Ideas of sexual orientation and gender expand to account for ant hills being hermaphroditic, while individual ants are gendered, and sex is often violent and polyandrous.
  33. Ability to exchange drones effectively enables horizontal gene flow between ant hills – genetic change of a single “individual” within its lifetime
  34. Rule 34 takes immediate effect.
  35. Someone shows ant hills the internet. Humans answer some very awkward questions.
  36. Ant hills learn about exterminators and plan revenge.
  37. Ant hills learn about exterminators but manage to forgive us
  38. Ant hills learn about exterminators but don’t see anything wrong with us trying to kill each other. They assume that means it is okay for them to kill us for convenience, too.
  39. Ant hills are potentially immortal, and push society towards longer-term thinking. Greater investment in the long term future, environmental stewardship, and expansion beyond Earth ensue.
  40. Ant hills become the majority of astronauts, since they are better able to survive conditions in space and spaceships.
  41. Ant hill colonies begin terraforming the other worlds of the solar system, mining asteroids, and preparing the way for humans to join them.
  42. Alternatively, ant hills take over the solar system, and leave Earth and its orbit as a preserve for humans.
  43. Humans invest heavily in Neuralink-like technologies to obtain the observed benefits of hive-mind capabilities.
  44. Observation of immortality in ant hills leads humans to accept that they want it, too, and that wanting it isn’t evil. Greater acceptance of cryonics, more anti-aging research.
  45. Observation of intelligence in non-human forms and without well-defined body plans increased scope of the body-modding community. Custom organs, prosthetics, and other modifications beyond more common and sophisticated.
  46. Anteaters mysteriously go extinct.
  47. Anteaters become domesticated animals, and/or form a symbiotic relationship with ant hills like cleaner fish with larger sea creatures.
  48. Humans use the principles of ant hill intelligence to figure out how to uplift other species, starting with eusocial insects, then maybe naked mole rats, and continuing to trees, which think slowly but similarly benefit from chemical communication and a flexible body plan. This turns out to be much simpler increasing intelligence in individual mammals like apes, dogs, or dolphins.
  49. Ant hills domesticate other insect species, like termites or bees, and take over key industries including landscaping, agriculture, pest control, and forestry.
  50. Multipartite ant hill minds prove highly effective at understanding ecological systems and enable humans to better evaluate the environmental impacts of our decisions.


Nov 04, 2020


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  • 1 Big tech companies would create massive ant farms to harvest the technology.
  • 2 Maybe people would discover a way of trapping them in a home-sized device, like a quite big computer, somehow cleverly using ant poison (with some input where you dropped in food).
  • 3. Scientists would start investigating other species to see if this change occurred in other place.
  • 4. Some might investigate ant EMs -- easier to simulate ants than humans? (But maybe not at the required scale of millions of ants)
  • 5. More tourism to areas with lots of ants
  • 6. It would be much harder to deal with the ant in our house...
  • 7. The big colony itself might try to hide underground or out of sight while plotting.
  • 8. Colonies might seek to fuse with one another to obtain more intelligence.
  • 9. Rationalists would try to understand ant takeoff speeds to estimate the risk of the situation going really bad.
  • 10. Some people might investigate ways of boosting ant power, like what interface could one build to connect them to tools?
  • 11. Interviewers and others would try to download ant wisdom. I wonder what ant colonies know that no human does.
  • 12 Come colonies might blackmail humans, and threaten to overrun their houses unless some demand is met.
  • 13 Potentially colonies could be used as a more secure way of sending messages.
  • 14 Animal rights activists would push strongly for various forms of protective measures on ants, and also plausibly use the moment to argue that the same might be true of other ants; or just generally leverage to increased sympathy(?) to push other agendas.
  • 15 Could ant colonies be used for storage of information? How effective would that be?
  • 16 Some companies might try to build ant colony APIs like the GPT3 API
  • 17 It becomes much harder for humans to protect ant desirable foods; and so ant-poison-laced-protective-fridges, and more, are invented.
  • 18 For ant colonies to become part of society they would need some sort of property rights, and ability to e.g. own money. It is unclear how these would be enforced.
  • 19 Colonies would compose ant music.
  • 20 Would colonies try to obtain faster means of transportation? What could that be? Unlike human hands, it's hard for them to interface with the world in that way...
  • 21 Some scheming humans would try to form alliances with the ants to gain power together, drawing upon the ant intelligence in exchange for human mobility and ability to interface with tools.
  • 22 Scientists looking into how ants can do so much computation with so few ants compared to neurons in the human brain.
  • 23 Books and movies about ant<>human romance (or conflict, discrimination, etc)??
  • What are ants like, what characterises them...
    • Distributed
    • Lots of tiny things
    • Can carry heavy loads
    • Energy efficient
  • 24 Apparently there's a million billion ants in the world. So it seems that if colonies could successfully combine there would be enough of them lying around that they could achieve a decisive strategic advantage over humans.
  • 25 AI safety folks trying to initiate anti-combining measures. They have the advantage of being able to move faster and having more advanced tools than ants. Can start by mapping known colonies across the world.
  • 26 Then moving to sealing off abilities for them to connect. Maybe running long underground walls of ant-poison through key potential connection points between colonies.
  • 27 Creating an ant virus that causes infertility and spreading it across the population.
  • 28 If the ant colony could do science, it might try to do science and figure out how it works itself.
  • 29 Armed with that knowledge, it might initiate selective breeding, and try to change itself in a particular direction, maybe to be faster, smaller, less vulnerable to standard ant poison, or something else.
  • 30 Some country declares a "war on ants" after being alerted to the dangers.
  • 31 Would there be any attempts at aligning ant colonies? What on earth would that even look like? A big recursive Paul Christiano scheme of interlocking colonies...?
  • 32 Maybe as an attack, ants would cut houses off from the internet and/or electricity? For wifi they could maybe form a physical barrier surrounding the receiver (not sure it would work), or they could just chew through cables
  • 33 Another attack might be sacrificing parts of the colony to clog up water pipes. Or, they don't even need to sacrifice parts, they could just find stuff elsewhere and then carry it to the pipe and fill it up with it.
  • 34 Ant colonies start to mostly operate during the night, hidden in the darkness.
  • 35 Humans might create a mutation which is fluorescent, but also really desirable to mate with for other ants. (Locally they're not intelligent, so humans might be able to exploit Moloch-style dynamics.) It now gets much harder for ants to hide.
  • 36 Ant colonies might stage some pretty gruesome attacks on humans (cue ant horror movie clips), in order to instill fear in the population.
  • 37 Since ants can carry loads much heavier than their own bodyweight, they might try to make money through freight or delivery services.
  • 38 Ants might pretend to cooperate with humans, in order to e.g. get a meeting with the president, but in secret ants are cooperating with human bioterrorists who have built a virus that's transmissible through ants to humans.
  • 39 If a country declares war on ants, small ant Guerilla groups might crop up, and locally take a bunch of rural houses/people hostage.
  • 40 Are there optimal temperatures for ants? If there is, maybe that could be leveraged as a defense mechanism by humans?
  • 41 Ants try to smuggle themselves onboard starlink satellite launch, in order to intercept and replace broadcasts with subtle ant propaganda
  • 42 If the ant colony does its computation via individual ants following strong pheromones (heard that somewhere, no clue if it's right), then humans might try to place super strong/confusing odours as a means to mess up those signals.
  • 43 Humans might try to create tiny ant robots that are sufficiently-persuasive-super-stimuli to local ants to destabilise the computation as a whole.
  • 44 Ant colonies might specialise in obtaining and selling intelligence; e.g. by sneaking into houses and spying on inhabitants.
  • 45 Ants might seek to make their way into nuclear power plants or nuclear weapon storage facilities, take over them, and then blackmail humans.
  • 46 How fast do ants reproduce? One early strategy might to just go to an airport, send a few hundred ones one different planes -- small enough that no one would really notice -- and start offspring colonies in other locations in the world.
  • 47 It seems one of the major bottlenecks on ant communcation is transmission of information, which either occurs at ant walking speed or pheromone transmission speed. So ants make seek ways of communicating via fiber optics. If they can already simulate a human at current information transmission constraints, that might just be enough to make them superintelligent.
  • 48 Ant colonies might attempt to destabilise ant poison supply chain... though maybe ant poison is really easy to make and this would be too hard?
  • 49 Human cities might install super loud anti ant-noises from public loudspeakers, that are still outside the hearing range of humans.
  • 50 Some organisations try to negotiate a peace treaty between ants and humans.


Nov 01, 2020


 1) Destroying ant colonies becomes a criminal offence in many countries.

2) Some countries launch a campaign to exterminate the perceived threat.

3) There is a large outbreak of online conspiracy theories asserting that this is proof of the existence of aliens/Gods.

4) The person(s) who discovered ant colonies are intelligent becomes very famous and wins a lot of prizes.

5) Building things becomes more expensive due to the need to conduct surveys to ensure that no ant colonies are disturbed.

6) Special reservations are created where ant colonies can live free of human interference.

7) Computer games where you play as a simulated ant gain in popularity.

8) The UN tries to organise peace talks between warring ant colonies.

9) A large number of stories are written involving intelligent ant colonies.

10) A society for the promotion of the welfare of ants is formed

11) A lot of scientific research is diverted into trying to understand why ants colonies are intelligent, and how to communicate with them.

12) Companies that try to trade with ants lose money as it turns out that we don't have much they want.

13) A lot of people refuse to believe that ant colonies are intelligent, and go on anti-ant protests claiming it is all a conspiracy.

14) The SETI program gets a large infusion of cash to hunt for other intelligences out there.

15) Intelligent ant colonies are able to grow faster, and go onto devastate many ecosystems.

16) Toy ants become one of the best selling toys.

17) Documentaries/non fiction books about ants become more popular.

18) A lot of people think 'Oh that's interesting' - and then continue doing exactly what they would have done anyway.

19) Special jails have to be built to hold ant colonies that kill people.

20) It becomes illegal to keep ants as pets.

21) A movie with a totally unrealistic depiction of an ant colony as a hero wins the oscars.

22) It inspires a single love 'Love our Ants' which tops the charts for a record period of time.

23) A statue of an ant is put on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar square

24) Vegetarianism becomes more popular as some people start thinking other animals might also be intelligent.

25) Politicians make boring speeches about what this means about our place in the world, which are mostly ignored.

26) The US military gets a multi billion dollar budget for anti-ant super weapons, and the project goes hopelessly over budget.

27) Ant colonies become a convenient scapegoat for things like global warming.

28) It becomes illegal to keep ants as pets.

29) Ant colonies are given the vote in elections.

30) Ant colonies win an election as they outnumber the humans.

31) Ant colonies begin re-arranging the world to suit them.

32) There are a large number of anti-ant government protests.

33) Ant colonies decide that humans are an environmental menace and should be wiped out for the good of the rest of planet.

34) Ant colonies are able to use there numerical advantage to wipe the humans out.

35) Humans are able to use their advanced technology to make large ant colonies extinct.

36) Ants become temporarily the most googled keyword

37) Ant colonies inspire novel attempts to create AIs based on them.

38) Relations between different groups of humans becomes better as their differences looks small compared to their differences with ants.

39) People refuse to believe that ant colonies could be intelligent. It undermines trust in science, which is used by various special interest groups to undermine the scientific case whenever it is in their interests.

40) The number of people in prison increases as a lot of people are arrested for killing ants.

41) Fears that governments will ban pesticides that kill ants lead to people panic buying anti-ant pesticides.

42) Governments ban pesticides that could kill ants.

43) Reduced pesticide use leads to a drop in global food production.

44) Lack of food causes riots in several developing countries.

45) More people die of hunger.

46) Countries go to war over the lack of food.

47) School children are required to learn about ant colonies in school.

48) A campaign is launched to wipe out predators that could destroy ant colonies.

49) Zoos are no longer allowed to have ant colonies.

50) Zoos are no longer allowed to feed ants to their animals.


#41 seems like a sensible economic prediction, nice.

#18 is also probably, sadly, right. 


Oct 31, 2020

  1. I will become famous by telling the world this news
  2. I can probably get a professor job off the back of this research
  3. The open question of why they became intelligent will lead to alien conspiracy theories
  4. Religions will claim that God must have done this
  5. Some people will say this is proof we are in a simulation
  6. New businesses will start up to exploit the intelligent ants
  7. Interfaces will be built to communicate with the ants
  8. Some people will say it is a conspiracy theory and the ants aren’t really smart
  9. The research will lead to advances in swarm computing
  10. I’ll doubt my research and have to check it over again
  11. We will need to make peace with ant kind - they would win in a war
  12. Ant kind will start communicating with each other and making their own culture
  13. Governments might try and stop the ants from communicating
  14. Some people will ally with the ants, running secret anthills
  15. Someone will develop a way for ants to access the internet
  16. Will the ants have emotions?
  17. New religions will form that incorporate ant and human kind
  18. We can send ant colonies in spaceships more easily than people
  19. Ant colony pilots
  20. Ants will take over some areas of the economy that they are suited to
  21. People will protest about ants taking their jobs
  22. We can send GM ant colonies to Mars and other planets
  23. We can use ants to spy on people
  24. Eating ants will become a weird fetish for some people
  25. Anti-ant areas will be setup with strict regulations to prevent ants from getting in
  26. Governments will suspect each other of creating the intelligent ants
  27. Ant colonies will start to work together, creating mega-colonies
  28. The entire Amazon will become a giant ant hive mind
  29. There will be peace accords between different species of ants
  30. People will investigate if bees and other hive type species are also intelligent
  31. There will be an ant made novel
  32. Studying ants will lead to leaps forward in AI
  33. Someone will run an ant Turing test
  34. Adam Ant will have a pop revival
  35. Some people will deify the ants and live by their dictates
  36. Some ant colonies will become particularly famous
  37. It will become fashionable to have an ant colony companion in your home
  38. Artists will collaborate with ants to generate intricate 3d sculptures
  39. The first ant politician will be elected
  40. There will be a human ant war
  41. Some people will move to cold places that have less ants
  42. Alex Jones will invent some conspiracy theory about ants
  43. The ant news will be drowned out by the US election
  44. There will be films made about ant kind
  45. There will be human-ant romances
  46. People will develop pheromone sprays to influence the ants
  47. Some ant hives will become addicted to pheromone sprays
  48. The bill of human rights will be extended to include ant rights
  49. Studying ant hives will lead to advances in neuroscience
  50. Whole new university departments will be created to study ants

(Note that you need spoiler tags fr your answers. I edit yours to add one)


Oct 30, 2020



  1. PETA suddenly gains a larger following.
  2. AI researchers develop human-brain models based on ant signaling, which maybe is less complex than the human brain?
  3. Public intellectuals debate whether an ant colony is smarter than a human based on emphasizing different aspects of how the intelligence emerges.
  4. Philosophy departments at universities go from borderline irrelevant to somewhat less irrelevant; however, none of the thorny philosophy questions about intelligence/personhood become any easier.
  5. Charles Murray calculates that the average ant colony is smarter than the average Black person.
  6. The debate over whether Murray’s calculations are accurate generates, within five years, more published articles than The Bell Curve has generated to date.
  7. Rule 34 has a number of implications here.  First is that there will be CGI porn of someone having sex with an ant colony.
  8. The next step is that the teledildonics industry develops increasingly complex ways of allowing a human to have sex with an ant colony, witht the first methods totally stupid, but improving over time.
  9. The next step is that a human falls in love with an ant colony. This person writes a personal essay that The New Yorker publishes.
  10. Colonies can make a lot of money doing sex work.
  11. If language learning is on average equally available to human-level intelligence, ie there’s nothing unique about human intelligence vis a vis language learning (I don’t know enough), ant colonies learn to communicate with humans through (spelling out words with ant bodies? pheromones?
  12. A ten-year-old-equivalent ant colony works with a {handwave to insert computer genius} to come up with a relatively easy way for ant colonies to type.
  13. Once an ant colony can type, it is trivially easy for the colony to coordinate with other colonies.
  14. Ant colonies also start doing AI safety research.
  15. I’m very worried about conservative Christians in this scenario.  God gave you dominion over all the creatures, but an ant colony is as smart as you.  Do you throw out your ant poison? Or buy more and start murdering? (You wouldn’t consider it murder. Or would you?)
  16. The Catholic Church announces that ant colonies have souls.  Many consequences arise from this.
  17. The Southern Baptist Convention announces that ant colonies do NOT have souls.  Many consequences arise from this.
  18. Ants are indifferent except for instrumentalist reasons, because their brain-equivalent doesn’t have the specific part of the human brain responsible for the perception of a “higher power”.
  19. People who don’t think the colonies are human-equivalent say “How do we even know what it’s like for an ant colony? We don’t know if there’s something going on under the hood, maybe the intelligence is just emergent phenomena” and I say “Hah, you’ve fallen for a Socratic trap. How do you know there’s something going on under my hood?”  The ant colony situation does not assist philosophers with this question.  My interlocutor determines that I’m a philosophical zombie and tries to murder me.
  20. The colonies develop ant political parties; or
  21. The colonies’ intelligence is such a way that they are all unified on whatever question they consider; or
  22. The colonies are not unified but have an anty knack for solving coordination problems and out-coordinate humans; or
  23. The colonies are not unified, have anty knack, but end up supporting existing political parties because it’s the best coordination case for them at the time
  24. Ant queens have conferences where they get together and communicate by pheromone, much easier than doing it using ICQ
  25. The Great American Ant Novel is published and gets a starred review in Kirkus.
  26. There is massive variation in how various governments treat the issue.  Strongmen outgroup them even harder than they outgroup ethnic minorities.
  27. More liberalish states/governments give sentient colonies the franchise.  However, they impose intelligence tests that so happen to mean there aren’t enough voting colonies to affect human politics--at first
  28. Ants quickly realize that in order to survive, they need a deterrent military force.  They are small, and slow, but they are legion.  Russia supplies computer-operated drone and remote weapon systems to Ukrainian colonies, which are willing to lob a rocket at western Ukraine sometimes in exchange for top cover from Putin.
  29. There are anti-ant pogroms in parts of the U.S.A.  I’m not confident enough to predict where they are.
  30. Colonies develop the intellectual symptoms of severe anxiety due to feeling under constant threat.
  31. A colony writes a sci-fi novel about a human suddenly waking up one day and being as intelligent as an ant colony.
  32. Scarlett Johansson starts in a movie about a woman-looking ant colony that picks up men on the side of the road in Great Britain and then eats them.
  33. It becomes taboo to ask someone online if they are a colony or not.
  34. Corollary: sometimes you ask for nudes, and you get...a picture of a writhing mass of ants.
  35. Colony hipsters reject online communication with other ants and instead hitch rides with sympathetic humans to go hang out with a nearby or far-flung colony, like an exchange program.
  36. Every ant colony is surrounded by webcams broadcasting to Facebook Live so they can surveill people who may be about to poison them.
  37. Inconvenient colonies agree to be relocated in exchange for the reasonable value of the property they inhabit.
  38. If the president is a Democrat, there is created a cabinet-level post for anty stuff.
  39. The next Republican president does away with it (cf. Carter’s solar panels on the White House roof).
  40. Humanist political parties arise, but it’s not humanist like secular humanist but rather like human-supremacist, and that use of “humanist” outcompetes the “secular humanist” use into oblivion. At least 20% of the American population would support wiping out all ants capable of forming sentient colonies.
  41. Some states make it murder to destroy a sentient colony, but there’s a lot of jury nullification, and each side hires expert witnesses to say that the victim was or wasn’t intelligent enough to be sentient.
  42. A colony manages to kill an inept human assailant and is tried for murder.  Before the trial can proceed, someone sets it on fire and destroys it.  The prosecutor declines to bring charges.
  43. One colony develops a standup comedy routine that absolutely slays at rationalist conventions, primarily riffs involving the word “signaling”
  44. Colonies are difficult to do research on because they almost all determine that teaching humans how they think is too dangerous.  Humans need a big skull bottle you can make holes in to great effect if you have a drone rifle.  Anty brains are much harder to destroy.
  45. One colony tells the literal truth and participates in all studies in good faith, but the information on it gets lost in the noise.
  46. Dogs, on average, are found to be far more loyal to colony owners than human owners.
  47. Eventually, things get weird enough that the anty teledildonic industry comes up with a way to turn human-generated sex stuff into ant sensations.
  48. Colonies outperform humans at chess at a rate much higher than projected.  An emergent property of colony brains responsible for strategic thinking is suspected.
  49. Colonies coordinate on their own to wipe out fire ants--turns out nobody likes those guys.
  50. The U.S. elects its first colony president about 200 years after the colonies become intelligent. :::

Woops, your spoiler tag didn't work, but I edited your comment to fix it. 

Welcome to the babble challenge!

32 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:19 AM

I would be interested in some elaboration on how you feel last week's responses were unsatisfactory.

I can't speak for anyone else who answered, but I was treating it as a game in the same way as in previous weeks, and I don't see any obvious reason why I shouldn't have. If you want to actually solve a real problem then you don't just babble, you babble&prune, and the place for that is not for something that advertises itself as a "Babble Challenge". (And if you want to actually solve a real problem in your own life then you usually do it in private, or with carefully selected friends / advisers / therapists / whatever, not out loud and in public.)

So when you say "It felt a bit too me like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl." what I read is "I invited people to do some bicep curls while holding the racket, and they didn't read my mind and figure out that I was actually hoping they'd play some real tennis shots.".

Thanks for writing that -- I think my post was confusingly written, and your comment helps me clarify!

but I was treating it as a game in the same way as in previous weeks, and I don't see any obvious reason why I shouldn't have

The rules I'm upholding seem to me to be very basic ones. 

I'm not disqualifying any submissions by "pruning them and not finding them creative enough", or "claiming that the person is not actually solving their problem". I think that would be too much prune, just like you mention. 

I think both Slider and Elizabeth did a bunch of great babbles in their submissions, and I'm happy they joined. 

The particular instances that were disqualifying: 

  1. Elizabeth used a combinatorial hack, writing: "Write letter to China, write letter to Russia, write letter to NASA, ...". I explained further why I don't think that counts here. I think that it would have been better to, for example, include those to "keep the babble going", but instead go up to 60 or so to compensate for them. This happened before, and I didn't count those submissions either. 
  2. Slider prefaced his challenge with the following:  

The intutive way of reading the question as (trying to) solve an actual problem seems very hard for me. (Challenge factor real) (Challenge factor personal). I get to essentially pick what I would try to solve and I feel overwhelmed by that (Challenge factor choice paralysis).

I still feel like sticking to a timelimit is helpful and actually working your brain is helpful. However I am going to massively chicken on this one. I don't f grow stronger if after putting shoes on and then practising trying shoelaces I am suddenly thrust into a marathon.

Faced with the sandbox of the universe, what one should do? (This problem is still somewhat relevant as depression and meaninglessness are actual rather than hypothetical issues)

Definitely kudos to Slider for at least doing something, and continuing to practice in a way that worked for them. Still, they didn't complete the challenge as stated, and so I don't count it towards the scoring. 

So when you say "It felt a bit too me like the tennis player [...]

This sentence was entirely directed at myself! It seems it might have been read as a subtweet of other participants, which is definitely not the case.

I personally felt that it didn't make that much progress on my problem. Compared to, like you mention, sitting down with friends, advisers, therapists, etc. and using a toolbox of techniques where babbling is but one component. 

Other people might actually have found it useful. If so, awesome! I'd be interested to hear. 


To be clear, I wasn't commenting at all on the disqualification of Elizabeth's and Slider's earlier answers. (Except to whatever extent your regretful comments about last week's results related to those answers, which it seems clear they can't have for Elizabeth's since that was in an earlier week and it never occurred to me they did for Slider's.)

I hadn't at all understood that your comment about the tennis player was a reference to your own answer. Rereading what you wrote, it's hard to see how I could have missed that ... aha, it turns out you edited it. (It used to say "Last week we tried a more direct babble, on solving a problem in our lives. It felt a bit too me like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl. It felt like it went too directly at the problem, while misunderstanding the mechanism." and now it says "Last week we tried a more direct babble, on solving a problem in our lives. When I did it, I felt a bit like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl. I felt like I went too directly at the problem, while misunderstanding the mechanism." (Boldface added in the three places that changed.))

I would suggest not expecting an exercise like this to be practically useful for solving problems. If you're going to be in a boxing match and you are doing bicep curls to get stronger[1], the fact that the exercise is not knocking anyone out should not factor at all into how you feel about your progress, and trying to tweak the exercise so that it actually knocks people out would probably not be an improvement.

[1] I have no idea whatsoever whether bicep curls would in fact help you get stronger in a way that would be useful in a boxing match.

(Just noting that I agree and that seems pretty right to me)

How did my interpretation fail to answer the challenge? I picked a problem that was an actual problem for me and then proceeded to answer that.

The feeling bad was largely because I wasn't following the gusto or the spirit of the exercise but it was so techically lax so it is easy to fullfill. Part of the thing is that you don't automatically assume that your pen is not allowed to go outside of the box. Instead you answer the question actually posed. Instead of doing the thing the most difficult route and shooting for style points if you are unsure whether you can do it at all you instead go where the fence is the lowest.

If the basis was not "not creative enough" or "not actually solving" what was it? It seems it is treated as if it should be self-evident but to me it is not. If I say "here are 25 bullet points" but then actually list 50 I am in the clear and answered the question. If I say "there are a lot of things but they are just essentially the same thing" but instead list 50 genuinely different things I am in the clear.

Part fo the reason to explain what I was doing is to fight fear of rejection, to explain as much as possible to avoid to come off as odd or needlessly complex. When in a "just do it" mindset and specifically looking to overcome mental obstacles an attitude of "I don't care if you cry while doing it if you do it" is very proper.

(Before I reply, I want to check whether you've read my comment on your post so that we both have full context?)

I followed up on the issue in that comment thread

I don't see any discussion on why my last weeks submission was failed. I am not terribly surprised but this seems to incite a bad kind of paranoia in my mind.

Also submitting a fail for a week seems different from missing a week. For turning up and trying I went from 3 stars to 2 stars which seems a lot like punishing babble. I would have expected to keep at 3.

I didn't participate in last week's babble, and I also went from three stars to two stars - I think it might just be a miscount

The post acknowledges by name that I made a submission.

It seems the scoring is effectively "everybody that passed gets a new star, others lose 1 star". I made a submission, tried pretty hard, did not get any mentions that my submission was insufficient (such as not containing 50 entries (which other have got)). What is did was not a "no show" but a "swing and a miss" at most. And I would even argue that it was a swing and a babble hit. Given that the goal is to reward for consistency having this kind of rule makes it so that If I turn up to see what is up this week feel it is hard I am better going home to sleep and save the embarcement and work.

I get that there needs to be a line between to flimsy go and a proper act, but distinguishing between trying and not trying is important too. Otherwise it migth lead into a situaiton where you will try only if you know you will succeed. By somewhat famous lyrics "I've tried so hard - And got so far - But in the end - It doesn't even matter "

Yeah, I should have left a comment explaining it underneath your post, sorry about that and the stress caused by the uncertainty. 

As for why I didn't count your comment, it's probably just the reasons you expect. Like you wrote in the first paragraphs, you didn't complete the challenge as stated, instead changing the prompt:

The intutive way of reading the question as (trying to) solve an actual problem seems very hard for me. (Challenge factor real) (Challenge factor personal). I get to essentially pick what I would try to solve and I feel overwhelmed by that (Challenge factor choice paralysis).

I still feel like sticking to a timelimit is helpful and actually working your brain is helpful. However I am going to massively chicken on this one. I don't f grow stronger if after putting shoes on and then practising trying shoelaces I am suddenly thrust into a marathon.

Faced with the sandbox of the universe, what one should do? (This problem is still somewhat relevant as depression and meaninglessness are actual rather than hypothetical issues) 

I'll explain my reasoning further with a metaphor.  

Say your dojo has a "break this plank" challenge. I show up, but I realise if try breaking the plank, I'll just injure myself. I can do at least three things. 

  1. Just leave.
  2. Acknowledge this to my fellow practitioners, and get a different kind of plank_B, that I can actually strike, and use that one.
  3. Try to break the original plank_A anyway.

You chose 2. You owned up to not wanting to try it, had the courage to admit that publicly, and still did some practice. I really respect that. That seems like a plausibly right move in order to eventually be able to break plank_A. Just keep fighting at levels slightly outside your comfort zone, instead of taking too huge a leap at once. I certainly don't think you should be embarrassed! Remember that the majority of people who read that post never even tried. Option 2 is much better than Option 1. 

At the same time, I care about the challenge being actually break plank_A. I need to trust that if I say that's what this week's challenge is, people will try to do that. This is important because I often have a model behind why I choose a particular question. Sometimes there are reasons I didn't choose a nearby question. Choosing the questions has a big influence on how the challenge affects LessWrong culture, and how it helps people grow. 

I am better going home to sleep and save the embarcement and work

Well, no! Even though you didn't get a point, you practiced, and you're closer to breaking plank_A.

To build on on the metaphor say that I break it with my knee instead of when everybody else has been chopping it up with their hands.

I understand the need to control what the challenge is. But one should oversee the question that one does pose and not one wished they posed.

I didn't change the prompt. I fullfilled it with the problem choice "Faced with the sandboxs of the universe, what one should do?". It could have been shortened to "what I should do?"

The prompt is also a very wild card. In the dojo example if most lessons are done to practice a specific form but then one lesson is "free-form" "pick-whatevder you like" type. And then you have a free pick and then the master comes to tell your that your pick of exercise was wrong. If we are doing  punch day then kicks are a distraction but rigth hook versus left straight shouldn't matter.

But one should oversee the question that one does pose and not one wished they posed.

Sure, I think I can improve how clear the questions are, and gjm also complained about that last week.

I didn't change the prompt.

I think you answered the question: "What are 50 problems I could solve?" If that would have been the challenge, your submission would have been great (like #31, #41 and #50). Actually, I had been thinking about asking that question for a future challenge, I still might do that.  

The challenge, though, asked "What is one problem, that you can find 50 solutions to?"

An example of a cognitive process that I think you could have done: pick a less imposing personal problem. Like #32 or #39. 

So now the set of babble challenges is posed and drawing into a conclusion. In the parent post there is an outline of a condition of what would have been passing. In reply to that I argued that the passing condition is infact fullfilled. Not having it answered seems like thinking that conditon is not fullfilled. 

I feel like have done atleast 6/7 challenges. In the beginning of the last one there are 1 participants with 4,5 and 6 scores. Assuming everybody gets a pass that will mean having 1 fumble in the middle is worse than starting late (atleast in stars). Treating two 6/7 accomplishments differently is consistent with the idea of rewarding continuity.

Because the stars are given within the "hot" week not being aware of faults makes for irrepairable injury. Not knowing which norms are materially important feels capricious. Vexing over things after the fact feels bad but I also feel that if there is an invite to an activity then detailing it out is some kind of promise. It is okay if they are just inspirational empty words, but if they are meant to stand for something they need to stand for something.

Okay, I think I see some errors I made here: 

  • Underestimating the size of norm space / typical minding what "everyone would realize" the sensible set of norms should be
  • Not taking the time to communicate norms more clearly and getting buy-in on them from participants; perhaps not modelling how the "don't punish babble" instructions would be interpreted
  • At the same time as the above, enforcing the norms very hard

You mention "paranoia" above. I see that more clearly now. I guess it felt like you're being pushed around by incentives that on the one hand demand a lot of you, but on the other hand are illegible and hard to predict. 

In fact, since last time we talked, I've run into some major conflicts in my personal life, that have a shape very similar to this. (In a leadership position I've pushed certain standards on people, and they have reacted very negatively, and reported feeling paranoid because they didn't expect those things to be the standards.)  

I'm sorry that my mistakes in this domain also ended up hurting you. I hope you'll continue practicing rationality and that it will be but a speedbump in the long run. 

Overall, yeah, one might say it is my Hamming problem. I'm trying to make progress on it. 

Now the key reason I'm not sure how to make progress is that I do care a lot about having and holding people to high standards. I think that's part of building a culture of greatness. I want the Babble challenges to mean something, to be an actual symbol of accomplishment. And for that, a line in the sand must be drawn somewhere. 

But I'm not yet sure how to integrate the above feedback, from you and others, with the current jacobjacob policy. How can I get the best of both worlds into a new, improved, policy? I don't really know. And I don't want to mess up all the good things that come with high standards (many of my core abilities as a rationalist are derived from an extremely high internal expectation setting for myself).

Curious if you have any ideas. 

(Also, for some reason I feel averse to changing the star ranking in hindsight. It is what it is and stands as a testament to this babble challenge and how it went. It will be useful learning for future. But I can see that you care and really want to improve. And I commend that. I'll try to build point systems in future that are better at capturing that.)

Thank you for acknowledging my diffcult spot in the conversation.

I think the issues could still use reveal and explanation of what happened. I still have a open question how "I have a problem of not having problems, what I can do about it?" does't meet the "high" standard of "What is one problem, that you can find 50 solutions to?"

I think you have a hard time being open about your standards. If it was suspicious or harsh or something like that I could understand flinching away from exploring what you are doing. But a dojo runner should be able to stand by his principles, even advertise and get known that he operates differently than others.

I don't really get the conflict about raising or lowering standards. One might get banned from a golf course by violating dresscode but that is helped by there being a clear dress code. If someone makes a hole-in-one and others try to get it disqualified because it was done wearing jeans, societal class based "standards" are very different from athletic dexterity and body control "standards". A golf club that would be ashamed of the clothing fashion might want to just scrutinise people who dress wrong for other violations such as ball-out-bounds or accidental shot touches harder. Whether a dresscode is essential to the sport or not, being frank and straigth about it increases reliability of ruling.

Sure some lines need to be drawn. And for any given position there are different places where it could have been drawn to make something over or under. But given that the line seems at the moment be drawn there and my foot is over here, how is it on the wrong side of the line?

For the part how I understand the high standard, it was met. So either the actual standard is something yet still unstated or I am missing something.

Part of culture of greatness would also probably involve that exercise runners not be tardy or unjust. Having low standards for students and low ones for runners seems hypocritical. In a sport if a referee makes a judgement the game rolls with it but referees get accountable for their judgement quality in the long run. I think that solidifying the result into history books by processing complaints about it slowly is not an accountable direction.

I do not expect to actually get a star on this ever but I feel that gettig a rejection with no explanation is an unjust outcome and that a proper enough remedy would be to dig out the reason why it was rejected. Currently it feels like the reason is both painful and won't be uncovered. Which effectively means that the exercise runner can do no wrong as they are their own review.

FWIW, I just posted [a new challenge-like thing](https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/5HTaBuxRyRSc4mHnP/thread-for-making-2019-review-accountability-commitments), and following your feedback, among others, I tried making the stakes and norms clearer upfront, and be more explicit about what people are opting in to. 


I'll try to elucidate the standards underlying my judgement call: 

  • You admitting it was due to an "ugh" field, and me being worried about my dojo-master-decisions making it seem generally acceptable to shy away from your ugh fields. (Which, well, sometimes it certainly is. They're there for a reason. But not always, and I wanted to build a space where people could confront challenges)
  • Not conforming to the experiment of "having babble be used to solve one very particular problem in your life". Instead doing something which seemed more theoretical, and less likely to yield creative solutions to one specific problem. The answered seemed to me in the spirit of babble, but not in the spirit of this week's challenge. (One might also say that I wanted depth-first and you did a breadth-first search... but I'm not sure that metaphor really holds up)

I don't think I had made it at all explicit or clear to everyone involved that these were actually the standards. But they are the ones I abode by, nonetheless. 

So to 'how "I have a problem of not having problems, what I can do about it?" does't meet the "high" standard of "What is one problem, that you can find 50 solutions to?"' the answer is is was a forbidden type of problem.

Not sure I understand what you mean here. 

In my opinion the submission conforms to "having babble be used to solve one very particular problem in your life". i don't understand your interpretation how it would not. I understand that at one point you read it as searching for 50 problems and I tried to explain how itis only one problem and why the answers to this problem can look like problems instead of solutions. Did you understand and agree with this argument step?

One could be worried that Math olympiad scores would be too abstract or too forward looking to count as valid practical questions. Or insomnia would be too psychological or nebolous. However those were given as positive examples or good target problems. If insomnia is good why is aimlessness not good?

I also get a feeling that it is slippery which part is judgement call and which part is principle. I think there might be a pattern going on where promises are given without looking into what carrying out them would mean. If the rule is that a failure nulls out stars and it comes time to actually fail someone and a different rule is followed that seems like imagining how it would be to fail someone didn't get that much prethought. Then if in a different aspects we go "sorry I have to do this because of rule consistency" it sounds a lot more hollow and is more suspicious just to be an excuse. We can't be perfectly reflectived of all our implications of principles, some have to be just played out. But there is a definite carefullness in a style that tries to promise very little and keep very much. The conduct here is making very much sound about all kinds of stuff, some of them followed, some of them not. Nobody got into trouble for not upvoting stuff enough or making encouraging posts, so that was potentially just empty air. Being slow and evasive seems like something is trying to evade sunlight.

It is pretty basic lesswrong content to be sad about the state of fact that a lot of students try to guess their teachers password. But I am starting to see how if the words are just empty air it makes sense to follow what they do rather than what they say. If the student gives an answer which the teacher for some reason doesn't like the teacher has the power to punish for it. Having words have meanings restrictics the behaviour in that one needs to find a justification (which can be an excuse in the case of motivated cognition).

One of the worries about standards in babbles would be that if one follows all the stipulations can they get their submission be judged on their merits? It seems I encountered a situation where not all the stipulations were published in the prompt. So failing to follow an unpublished stipulation isn't that surprising. But knowing what the extra stipulations are it still seems that the submission was erroenously marked as failing those stipulations. So either there are yet more hidden stipulations or the stipulations are not in fact being followed.

From 2 months ago

"I think you answered the question: "What are 50 problems I could solve?" If that would have been the challenge, your submission would have been great" ... "The challenge, though, asked "What is one problem, that you can find 50 solutions to?"

"Wouldn't the answer to "What are 50 problems I could solve?" also answer "I have a problem of not having problems, what I can do about it?""... "With the problem of "I feel aimless" then aquiring an aim is a solution and not a problem in that regard." ... "Is not disinterest in your own life not a valid problem?"

This discussion has not moved much forward by the recent reply spurt. Because there was no clear answer I tried to extract to what extent the question was answered. If you didn't answer the question please do. I think I addressed the numericity problem (50 blue answers) but now it seemed that there was practicality problem (giving a red answer when asked for a blue answer). The point of is to try to understand how I failed the standard and my current understanding is that I didn't and I was errenously counted to do so or that the standards keep moving so much that it is not a true question about standards.

Wouldn't the answer to "What are 50 problems I could solve?" also answer "I have a problem of not having problems, what I can do about it?"

With the problem of "I feel aimless" then aquiring an aim is a solution and not a problem in that regard. I get that a listing of simple affordances. Is not disinterest in your own life not a valid problem? Did I not specify clearly enough that I am tackling a psychological problem and not just a neutral affordance listing.

Since last ping on the issue 22 days have passed which itself was about the same time. Now the final challenge is curated. Explaining why the rejection happened and signing off for that day seems like good and reasonable exercise upkeeping. Saying that one would get back to it and never getting back to it provides a false sense that things can be talked out. Setting and defining a bar is fine but not explaining discrepancies in the application of the standard leaves room that it is not actually followed but just a namesake.

What does "committing to run an activity" mean? I have developed a sense that I should go over jacobjacobs post history and link this event to all promises to "commit to run" and promises to reply as relevant data.

If replying proper would be too hard communicating that a reply is being formed later than anticipated or that willingness to reply has vaned would warm a lot. Other activity and reflection on the babble challenge has been going on. Ghosting people doesn't make for a environment that allows people to open up.

Quick note: I've had this in my todo, but been very busy with other stuff. It is my intention to get back to it. Sorry about the delay, would have been better to post an update soon as I expected it would be delayed. 

(replied above)

(Also, I'm signing off for the evening and will reply more tomorrow. If you'd like, also definitely feel free to PM me, or I could send you a link to my calendar so we can book a call to discuss.)

Last week we tried a more direct babble, on solving a problem in our lives. When I did it, I felt a bit like the tennis player trying to swing their racket the same way as when they were doing a bicep curl. I felt like I went too directly at the problem, while misunderstanding the mechanism.

Maybe a babble for "50 babble prompts that are both useful and not too direct"? :P

Seems to me that you want to gradually transition towards being able to babble about topics you don't feel very babbly about. It's the most important, most ugh-ish areas of our lives where we typically need fresh thinking the most, IMO.

Perhaps "50 ways to make it easier to babble about things that don't feel babbly"? ;)

Yeah, that seems right, good point!

This issue has become a lot less hypothetical, regards current events and is funny (while simultanoeusly being a very serious issue). Ant is a part of an information processing system more distributed than a single human that doesn't have wings.

I have a cube maker contact if anyone is interested.

As a sidenote: there are a few levels to the tactical manoeuvre I describe. 

  1. Be able to quickly use your creativity to reorient whenever constraints change. 
  2. Maintain a collection of contingency plans, “If constraint X changes, I’ll be able to play move Y”. 
  3. Actually try to foresee which constraints are about to change, and position yourself to take advantage of those (e.g. the tablet manufacturing example above). 
  4. Force the constraints to change yourself, in ways that you can take advantage of. For example, Apple often does this, because they are able to given their sheer size. Such as by unilaterally moving to the USB-C standard, or by commoditising their complements.)

Hat tip to Douglas Hofstadter for introducing the intelligent ant colony “Aunt Hillary” in Gödel Escher Bach.

Yeah, before I started I considered adding "GEB gets more popular" to my list, but then forgot to include it.

[+][comment deleted]3y10