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Why do decision-theorists say "pre-commitment" rather than "commitment"?

e.g. "The agent pre-commits to 1 boxing" vs "The agent commits to 1 boxing".

Is this just a lesswrong thing?


It's not just a lesswrong thing (wikipedia).

My feeling is that (like most jargon) it's to avoid ambiguity arising from the fact that "commitment" has multiple meanings. When I google commitment I get the following two definitions:

  1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
  2. an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action

Precommitment is a synonym for the second meaning, but not the first. When you say, "the agent commits to 1-boxing," there's no ambiguity as to which type of commitment you mean, so it seems pointless. But if you were to say, "commitment can get agents more utility," it might sound like you were saying, "dedication can get agents more utility," which is also true.

seems correct, thanks!

The economist RH Strotz introduced the term "precommitment" in his 1955-56 paper "Myopia and Inconsistency in Dynamic Utility Maximization".

Thomas Schelling started writing about similar topics in his 1956 paper "An essay on bargaining", using the term "commitment".

Both terms have been in use since then.


My understanding is commitment is you say that won't swerve first in a game of chicken. Pre-commitment is throwing your steering wheel out the window so that there's no way that you could swerve even if you changed your mind.

It predates lesswrong by decades. I think it’s meant to emphasize that the (pre)commitment is an irrevocable decision that’s made BEFORE the nominal game (the thing that classical game theory analyzes) begins.

Of course, nowadays it’s just modeled as the game starting sooner to encompass different decision points, so it’s not really necessary. But still handy to remind us that it’s irrevocable and made previous to the obvious decision point.

BeReal — the app.

If you download the app BeReal then each day at a random time you will be given two minutes to take a photo with the front and back camera. All the other users are given a simultaneous "window of time". These photos are then shared with your friends on the app. The idea is that (unlike Instagram), BeReal gives your friends a representative random sample of your life, and vice-versa.

If you and your friends are working on something impactful (e.g. EA or x-risk), then BeReal is a fun way to keep each other informed about your day-to-day life and work. Moreover, I find it keeps me "accountable" (i.e. stops me from procrastinating or wasting the whole day in bed).