Today's post, My Childhood Role Model was originally published on 23 May 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


I looked up to the ideal of a Bayesian superintelligence, not Einstein.

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You know, I've always thought that graph was pretty inaccurate. A village idiot is not overwhelmingly smarter than a chimp. There was a time when the term "idiot" designated people who suffered from profound mental retardation, and anyone that low on the scale is probably significantly dumber than the average chimp. It's not like humans are so much smarter than other animals that our intelligence curves are totally non-overlapping with any other species. Koko the gorilla would probably be somewhere from moderately to severely retarded by human standards, although some of her mental faculties might be significantly better than those of a mentally retarded human. Even highly mentally disabled humans might be graced with neurological anatomy that's only appeared in the last few million years of evolutionary history, but that doesn't mean it's all functioning properly.

A modern car might have tremendous technological advantages over old ones, but drain enough of its lubricant and it'll still run worse than a Model T.

If the village idiot is only mildly retarded then they are still much smarter than a gorilla.

You're correct, of course, but I don't think "village idiot" traditionally refers to severly mentally disabled people. Usually it means a person in a group known for being a simpleton. Users on LW with many posts and extremely negative karma scores might be a better reference group.

I always think of "village idiot" as referring to a village's most notoriously witless person (or hyperbolically comparing someone to one.) Out of a village of 10,000 or so, statistically you'd expect the dumbest person to have an IQ around the mid forties.

10,000 is a very large number for a village. In order for this sort of analogy to make sense, one should be in the stereotypical village with about one of everything, and probably not many more people than Dunbar's number. So maybe 200-500 people.

I live in a village with a population of about 25,000. Villages vary considerably in size, but villages with populations of much larger than 10,000 are far from unusual.

There may be connotation issues here. The connotations to me of the phrase "the village idiot" are that one can refer to the fellow as that and everyone will know who one is talking about as one would for "the village doctor" or something similar. Hence my invocation of Dunbar's number.

In that case, the least intelligent person in the village would almost certainly be significantly smarter than a gorilla, but I think that any chart which puts a very smart humans and a very stupid human almost right next to each other, and a chimp way off to the left, seriously overestimates the distance between humans and other primates relative to the difference between smart and dumb humans.

There was an interesting article which I believe was linked to on Less Wrong at some point, although I can no longer find it, where a professor talked about his time teaching remedial classes for extremely underperforming high schoolers. He found that his entire upbringing and education had effectively isolated him from really stupid people, and left him without a proper sense of just how dumb people can get without being classified as non functional. The students he was trying to teach were not merely unable to perform basic middle school level math, they were unable to grasp the idea that the school was trying to test their math abilities. To them, it was as if someone on high had just arbitrarily decided to ask what the value of A was, and despite his best efforts he couldn't get them to comprehend why it would make a difference whether they were actually able to figure out the answers to the questions or just managed to pick the correct multiple choice options by luck. They essentially lived in a world where, beyond the basic tribal politics and animal-chasing physics for which our brains are optimized, practically everything was opaque and inexplicable.

There may be a very significant intelligence gap between a mildly retarded person and a dog, which can't even pass a mirror test, but the gap between them and a chimp is not that great. It took tens of thousands of years past the development of intellectually modern humans for us to accumulate sufficient developments of culture to start doing more than mildly better than chimps.

I haven't seen that link before (although it sounds interesting) and I can't find it searching for reasonable terms. It reminds me of quotes I posted from Yvain about Haiti.

You are merely objecting to Eliezer's choice of scale. The distances between "intelligences" are pretty arbitrary. Plus he's using a linear scale, so there's no room for intelligence curves.

I think the DRH quote is pretty out of context, and Eliezer's commentary on it is pretty unfair. DRH has a deeply personal respect for human intelligence. He doesn't look forward to the singularity because he (correctly) points out that it will be the end of humanity. Most SI/LessWrong people accept that and look forward to it, but for Hofstadter the current view of the singularity is an extremely pessimistic view of the future. Note that this is simply a result of his personal beliefs. He never claims that people are wrong to look forward to superintelligence, brain emulation and things like that, just that he doesn't. See this interview for his thoughts on the subject.

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