Thoughts on the 5-10 Problem

by Tofly1 min read18th Jul 201911 comments



5 dollars is better than 10 dollars

The 5-10 Problem is a strange issue in which an agent reasoning about itself makes an obviously wrong choice.

Our agent faces a truly harrowing choice: it must decide between taking $5 (utility 5) or $10 (utility 10).

How will our agent solve this dilemna? First, it will spend some time looking for a proof that taking $5 is better than taking $10. If it can find one, it will take the $5. Otherwise, it will take the $10.

Fair enough, you think. Surely the agent will concede that it can't prove taking $5 is better than taking $10. Then, it will do the sensible thing and take the $10, right?


Our agent finds the following the following proof that taking $5 is better:

Let's go over the proof.

Line 1: Taking $5 gives you $5.

Line 2: If F is true, then ~F->x is true for any x.

Line 3: If you find a proof that taking $5 gives you $5 and take $10 gives you $0, you'd take the $5.

Line 4: Combine the three previous lines

Line 5: Löb's Theorem

Line 6: Knowing that taking $5 gives you $5 and taking $10 gives you $0, you happily take the $5.

Simplified Example

To understand what went wrong, we'll consider a simpler example. Suppose you have a choice between drinking coffee (utility 1) and killing yourself (utility -100).

You decide to use the following algorithm: "if I can prove that I will kill myself, then I'll kill myself. Otherwise, I'll drink coffee".

And because a proof that you'll kill yourself, implies that you'll kill yourself, by Lob's Theorem, you will kill yourself.

Here, it is easier to see what went wrong-proving that you'll kill yourself is not a good reason to kill yourself.

This is hidden in the original 5-10 problem. The first conditional is equivalent to "if I can prove I will take $5, then I'll take $5".

Hopefully, it's now more clear what went wrong. How can we fix it?


I once saw a comment suggesting that the agent instead reason about how a similar agent would act (I can't find it anymore, sorry). However, this notion was not formalized. I propose the following formalization:

We construct an agent . Each time makes a decision, it increments an internal counter , giving each decision a unique identity. uses the following procedure to make decisions: for each action , it considers the agent . is a copy of (from when it was created), except that if would make a decision with id , it instead immediately takes action . Then, if can prove any of these agents has the maximum expected utility, it chooses the action corresponding to that agent.