Concerning not getting lost

by alexflint4 min read14th May 20219 comments


RationalityAIWorld Optimization

Content warning: striving, awkwardness, expressions of personal insecurities


  • This post is somewhat personal.

  • I try to convey why I think it’s important to stay in touch with a certain personal voice.

  • The reason I give is that without this personal voice, we are liable to lose track of our terminal goals and get lost.

  • By "persona voice", I don’t mean "emotional" or "following the gut" or "following the heart". This post is my own attempt at writing from this personal voice. I hope that this conveys what I mean by "personal voice" even if the explication I give does not.

Concerning not getting lost

There was something on the tip of my tongue that I wanted to write, just before I sat down. There was a monologue playing out in my mind, and it was beautiful, and it was relevant, and I thought I would write it down and share it with you all so that it wouldn’t just be me alone hearing it in my head.

It had to do with the agent model, and with notions of self. It had to do with loneliness. It was personal. And it was relevant to the conversation happening here in the place where we discuss AI and the future of life on the planet.

It is so very difficult to speak about that which is personal. But actually this is all personal to me — this whole journey we’re on to navigate the development of AI. Every one of the small number of posts I’ve written here over the past ten years has been personal to me, but I’ve mostly hidden that personal dimension behind a certain kind of wall.

And that’s fine. Our purpose here is to navigate a very real and very threatening state of affairs out in the world. We should do whatever needs to be done in order to navigate this threat, and that may mean putting aside that which is personal in order to get the job done. But it seems to me that when we leave aside that which is personal we actually forego a certain kind of power. We lose the compass within ourselves that separates that which is important from that which is a distraction. And in a world rife with distracting things, there is no place in the world where this personal compass is more important than within the community of people working to navigate the most significant threats to life on this planet.

As I write this, I am finding it difficult to stay with it. I am getting up and moving about and thinking of going someplace else where I don’t have to open up in the way that writing in this style forces me to. But I’m resolving to stay here. This little thread of life within me is going to be brought forth, even if it takes the rest of my life.

Because what the world needs right now more than anything is this analytical capacity to make sense of the powerful systems we humans are constructing, in partnership with this deeply personal compass that discerns that which is worthy of our lives’ work from that which is a distraction.

And there is no time or place where it is more difficult to convince this personal voice to stay online than in the midst of a great crisis, and in a place where people have gathered to work out what to do. That is what this place is, my friends, this community, this website. It is a place where we have gathered to work out what to do, and it is at this time that this personal compass is most needed, and also most fleeting.

I am not talking about emotions, my friends. When I say "this personal compass", I am not talking about emotions. Why is it that we have kept coming back to this place, this question, this issue of understanding intelligence and agency and knowledge, year after year, while all else in my life has changed and changed? What is it that has brought me back so consistently, over such a long period, with no discernible change in the quality of its power? It is not my emotions, my friends. My emotions are fickle over the course of about ten seconds, nevermind ten years. There is no possibility that emotions could be the driver of something with this kind of regularity.

And I am not talking about any sensations that I feel in my stomach, or in my gut, or in my heart.

I am talking about the personal chord that cuts right through my soul and out the other side, and is the heartbroken and helpless basis from which everything I have ever written has proceeded. I am talking about speaking directly from that place, not because it feels good but because it is needed. It is needed because it is this place that can keep us on track, can keep our reasoning minds, so brilliant and capable, focussed not just on a goal but on the right goal, on what truly matters. It is a partnership between our analytical capacities and this personal compass that can resolve this AI problem, I believe.

I am afraid, my friends. Not so much of the world being destroyed, but much more of the world not being destroyed, and not being part of it. I am afraid of being cut off, dismissed, disallowed from participating in this great voyage. Because I am afraid, I participate here on this website from a colder, harder place within myself. But I would rather not do that, friends, so today I’m practicing speaking from this personal place. Perhaps with practice I will get better at this.

Because the work we are doing here is too important for us to put aside that part of ourselves that is not cold and not hard and not confused about what is worth centering our life’s work around. This is about what works. How do we actually do this? How, at a very practical level, do we navigate the development of these powerful technologies? How do we pull that off? It cannot be done without a clear connection to the voice that brought us here in the first place, to the voice that provides our reasoning minds with a clear purpose from which to reason. This is not an abstract spiritual consideration, friends. It is a highly practical consideration.

I have spent several hours now writing the few words so far in this post, and my body feels sore, and I can’t quite get comfortable in my chair. What is left to say here?

Don’t get lost. There is a voice within us that sees a larger picture, has been seeing it our whole lives. Our task is to hear that voice clearly, and find within that voice the clarity of purpose that is needed to put this practical task before us to rest, in order that future generations may have the opportunity to find that voice within themselves and offer it as their own gift to their own world. Perhaps their world will not face the kind of danger that we face now. Perhaps this particular task can be laid to rest here and now, in our lifetimes, by us, and the safety hence secured can be offered as the greatest of all possible gifts to our children.

These are the table stakes, my friends. There is nothing more worthy of our life’s work.


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Not all who wander are lost.

I believe that the inner sense you are talking about is what we call love. We see the beauty around us, and we want to protect it. There are potential paths in front of us. There is a path whereby life is destroyed. There is a path whereby it is saved. Our mission is to keep it on the safe path, so that future generations can continue our mission when we are gone. We do this out of love. As we come to see that every living thing on earth depends on each other, our love grows so that it can embrace it all.

This is why we are willing to make sacrifices: what we are protecting is greater than all of us. Our life gains meaning and purpose when we find that it aligns with this mission.

We plant seeds today so that coming generations may enjoy the shade. That is our love.

Well said, friend, but there is a difference between understanding love as a concept and listening directly to love. Where is it within ourselves that we can listen to love?

I did a version of this (what I would call a sense of the main story line for me personally) here:

Romeo I listened to your dialog. I hear that you are working on the is/ought gap from the ought side. If I may ask, what is the purpose of this work?

I describe it a different way in Towards an Intentional Research Agenda. But basically I think trying to constrain intentions algorithmically is a type error.

Thank you for writing this post. I wish you both strength and wisdom, in not getting lost.

Thank you friend

I think one of the more consistent reports of those who connect with that voice is that they lose that fear.

What fear is that, friend?