Selfish preferences and self-modification

by Manfred1 min read14th Jan 201524 comments


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One question I've had recently is "Are agents acting on selfish preferences doomed to having conflicts with other versions of themselves?" A major motivation of TDT and UDT was the ability to just do the right thing without having to be tied up with precommitments made by your past self - and to trust that your future self would just do the right thing, without you having to tie them up with precommitments. Is this an impossible dream in anthropic problems?


In my recent post, I talked about preferences where "if you are one of two copies and I give the other copy a candy bar, your selfish desires for eating candy are unfulfilled." If you would buy a candy bar for a dollar but not buy your copy a candy bar, this is exactly a case of strategy ranking depending on indexical information.

This dependence on indexical information is inequivalent with UDT, and thus incompatible with peace and harmony.


To be thorough, consider an experiment where I am forked into two copies, A and B. Both have a button in front of them, and 10 candies in their account. If A presses the button, it deducts 1 candy from A. But if B presses the button, it removes 1 candy from B and gives 5 candies to A.

Before the experiment begins, I want my descendants to press the button 10 times (assuming candies come in units such that my utility is linear). In fact, after the copies wake up but before they know which is which, they want to press the button!

The model of selfish preferences that is not UDT-compatible looks like this: once A and B know who is who, A wants B to press the button but B doesn't want to do it. And so earlier, I should try and make precommitments to force B to press the button.

But suppose that we simply decided to use a different model. A model of peace and harmony and, like, free love, where I just maximize the average (or total, if we specify an arbitrary zero point) amount of utility that myselves have. And so B just presses the button.

(It's like non-UDT selfish copies can make all Pareto improvements, but not all average improvements)


Is the peace-and-love model still a selfish preference? It sure seems different from the every-copy-for-themself algorithm. But on the other hand, I'm doing it for myself, in a sense.

And at least this way I don't have to waste time with precomittment. In fact, self-modifying to this form of preferences is such an effective action that conflicting preferences are self-destructive. If I have selfish preferences now but I want my copies to cooperate in the future, I'll try to become an agent who values copies of myself - so long as they date from after the time of my self-modification.


If you recall, I made an argument in favor of averaging the utility of future causal descendants when calculating expected utility, based on this being the fixed point of selfish preferences under modification when confronted with Jan's tropical paradise. But if selfish preferences are unstable under self-modification in a more intrinsic way, this rather goes out the window.


Right now I think of selfish values as a somewhat anything-goes space occupied by non-self-modified agents like me and you. But it feels uncertain. On the mutant third hand, what sort of arguments would convince me that the peace-and-love model actually captures my selfish preferences?

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