All of Alan_Crowe's Comments + Replies

Whether not there is a good definition of intelligence depends on whether there is a sufficiently unitary concept there to be defined. That is crucial because it also determines whether AI is seedable or not.

Think about a clever optimising compiler that runs a big search looking for clever ways of coding the source that it is compiling. Perhaps it is in a competitions based on compiling a variety of programs, running them and measuring their performance. Now use it to compile itself. It runs faster, so it can search more deeply, and produce cleverer, faste... (read more)

A similar phenomenon arises in trying to bound the error of a numerical computation by running it using interval arithmetic. The result is conservative, but sometimes useful. However, once in a while one applies it to a slowly converging iterative process that produces an accurate answer. Lots of arithmetic leads to large intervals even though the error to be bounded is small.

I think I can answer the question about Ayn Rand. Turn away from her heroes and look at her villains. They seem realistic and scary. How did she manage it? Well, she left Russia in 1926, having seen the aftermath of the revolution up close and personal. So I guessed that she attained realism by drawing on her own real life experiences. I wasn't happy with this answer, because her villains were too redolent of the corporatist new-speak of the Heath-Wilson years, too Westernised for Bolsheviks. I knew little of the Lenin years, so I left this little puzzle o... (read more)

This seems closely related to inside-view versus outside-view. The think-lobe of the brain comes up with a cunning plan. The plan breaks an ethical rule but calculation shows it is for the greater good. The executive-lobe of the brain then ponders the outside view. Every-one who has executed an evil cunning plan has run a calculation of the greater good and had their plan endorsed. So the calculation lack outside-view credibility.

What kind of evidence could give outside-view credibility? Consider a plan with lots of traceability to previous events. If it g... (read more)

"one man's modus ponens in another man's modus tollens."[1][2] is maxim that is easily weaponised by the Dark Side by taking it in a one sided way. One sees ones own implications as proving their consequents and the other sides implications as casting doubt on their antecedents.

On the question of blocking thoughts, may I offer a personal anecdote, conscious that readers of Overcoming Bias will read it heterophenomenologically?

Years ago, when my health was good, I had a Buddhist meditation practice of great vigour and depth. Sitting on my cushion, noticing my train of thought pull into the station of consciousness, refusing to board the train and watching the thoughts leave, I would become more and more aware that it was the same old crap coming round again and again.

Forcibly stopping my thoughts had always worked badly. I coined ... (read more)

Thank you for pointing out the difference between breaking and stopping to peddle. I read it, continued, then I got confused about you saying that your practice didn't leave "an empty silence". I'm going to try what you described, because I may have gotten to that silence by breaking habitually when I was younger, instead of just not putting energy into it.
That sounds very useful to me, actually. Many people have problems coming up with interesting or original thoughts. I suppose the question is how does one gain from the clever/creative/insightful thoughts while not sabotaging the meditation; keeping a pad to write down the thoughts might work. A new thought occurs, you write it down, and if it tries to re-occur, you know it's already written down and don't pedal any more. Then later when you aren't meditating, you have the thoughts handy.

Study this deranged rant. Its ardent theism is expressed by its praise of the miracles God can do, if he choses.

And yet,... There is something not quite right here. Isn't it merely cloakatively theistic? Isn't the ringing denounciation of "Crimes against silence" militant atheism at its most strident?

So here is my idea: Don't try to doubt a whole core belief. That is too hard. Probe instead for the boundary. Write a little fiction, perhaps a science fiction of first contact, in which you encounter a curious character from a different culture. Wri... (read more)

Wearing my mechanical engineer's hat I say "Don't be heavy handed.". Set your over-force trips low. When the switch is hard to flip or the mechanism is reluctant to operate, fail and signal the default over-force exception.

You can always wiggle it, or lubricate it and try again, provided you haven't forced it and broken it. For me, trying is about running the compiler with the switches set to retain debugging information and running the code in verbose mode. It is about setting up a receiver down-range. Maybe the second rocket will blow up, just ... (read more)

The interesting question is "What would it be like if we lived for 700 years instead of 70 years?". This is more interesting than contemplating immortality because it pries open the issue of scaling. What changes by a factor of 10? What changes by a factor of 100? What changes by a factor of 3.162?

Presumably acient towers get a straight ten times less impressive.

Speed limits would be set much lower. You lose ten times as much when you die in a car accident so you would be willing to spend more time on your journey to avoid that.

An academic could ... (read more)

When someone sets out to write an atheistic hymn - "Hail, oh unintelligent universe," blah, blah, blah - the result will, without exception, suck.

I've just submitted my Militant Atheists' Marching Song to Reddit. Does it suck? Since I wrote the words, it is not my place to judge.

Dagon made a point about the social importance of guarantees. If a promise is broken, you know you have been cheated. If you are persuaded that there is only a 10% chance of losing your investment and you are unlucky, what do you know?

I doubt that we can over come our biases by focusing on what they are bad for and how they hurt us. We also need to think about what they are good for and why we have them.

Rather that estimating a probability, it would have been more interesting to ask "What emotional need are you trying to meet with this?"

If Mr Still-a-chance yearns for "souls go to heaven and meet God" why does he care about evolution? Isn't the soul the magic, special sauce that converts an ordinary animal body into a human? How does denying evolution help him?

Meanwhile, 20000000 years in the future, a multi-generation interstellar space ship has set up a colony on a distant planet with existing biology. The colony collapses but man do... (read more)

Perhaps this post needs to be rehosted at for it gives no suggestion or hypothesis about overcoming bias. Here are three.

ONE: Friendships with people from different cultures helps one to realise that stuff one was brought up to accept sounds deeply weird to those who first encounter it as adults.

TWO: There are tells: little warning glitches. The trouble is that from the inside the tell doesn't make sense, but human memory depends on embedding items in networks of meaning, so the tells will not embed and get forgotten. An ex... (read more)

There is an interesting bias in the way that we approach these issues. We see ourselves as the prisoners of the system not the jailors. Or maybe I should say that we don't like to admit that we are lords as well as serfs.

One political response to the problem of lost purposes is to focus on government coercion which leads to libertarianism. I don't think that we should rush so quickly to a conclusion. First we should examine the origins of the problem more closely.

The key concept is contestability: is there an alternative BA course you can take that does no... (read more)

X3J13, the ANSI committee that standarised Common Lisp, had many problems to solve. Kent Pitman credits Larry Masinter with imposing the disciple of seperating problem descriptions from proposed solutions and gives insights into what that meant in practise in a post to comp.lang.lisp

The general interest lies in that fact that the X3J13 Issues were all written up and are available on line.


so if you wish to ... (read more)

Tom, I think we are actually agreeing. I'm arguing that if you already know the situation is complicated you cannot just appeal to Occam's Razor, you need some reason specific to the situation about why the simple hypothesis should win.

You are proposing a reason, specific to economics, about why the complications might be washed away, making it reasonable to prefer the simpler hypothesis. My claim is that those extra reasons are essential. Occam's Razor, on its own, is useless in situations known to be complicated.

Do high level descriptions of the world frequently account for most of the variance in high level phenomena without containing the known complexity of the substrate?

I think you can constrast thermodynamics and sociology by noticing that there is no Princess Diana molecule. All the molecules are on the same footing. None of them get to spoil the statistics by setting a trend and getting in all the newspapers papers. So perhaps Occam's Razor grabs credit not due to it, as researchers favour simple theories when they have specific reasons to do so.

An example ... (read more)

Occam's Razor has two aspects. One is model fitting. If the model with more free parameters fits better that could merely be because it has more free parameters. It would take a thorough Bayesian analysis to work out if it was really better. A model that fits just as well but with fewer parameters is obviously better.

Occam's Razor goes blunt when you already know that the situation is complicated and messy. In neurology, in sociology, in economics, you can observe the underlying mechanisms. It is obvious enough that there are not going to be simple laws. I... (read more)

The Vapnik Chernovenkis Dimension also offers a way of filling in the detail of the the concept of "simple" appropriate to Occam's Razor. I've read about it in the context of statistical learning theory, specifically "probably approximately correct learning".

Having successfully tuned the parameters of your model to fit the data, how likely is it to fit new data, that is, how well does it generalise. The VC dimension comes with formulae that tell you. I've not been able to follow the field, but I suspect that VC dimension leads to worst case estimates whose usefulness is harmed by their pessimism.

Tiiba, I've always considered this bible quote

"I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

to be a paradigm of bad writing. The nasty trick it exemplifies is using a paradox to get one up on the reader without committing to a specific meaning.

If the race is not to the swift, who does win? The lucky? Contrast two aphorisms "the race is to the sw... (read more)

[rhetorical pose] We shouldn't balance the risks and opportunities of AI. Enthusiasts for AI are biased. They under estimate the difficulties. They would not be so enthusiastic if they grasped how disappointing progress is likely to be. Detractors of AI are also biased. They under estimate the difficulties too. You will have a hard time convincing them of the difficulties, because you would be trying to pursuade them that they had been frightened of shadows.

So there are few opportunities which are likely to be altogether lost if we hang back through unnec... (read more)

I don't get that at all. If "We shouldn't balance the risks and opportunities of AI" means they are being assessed incorrectly, isn't that a part of balancing the risks and opportunities of AI? I don't see how you can get that out of the statement. If they are being done incorrectly, then in the discussion of the risks and opportunities you say "No, you're doing it wrong, you need to look at it like this blah blah blah". When you say "We shouldn't balance the risks and opportunities of AI" it means to stop making an assessment altogether. It says nothing about continuing to go forward with the project or not. It doesn't say "Stop the project! This is all wrong!" That would fall under balancing the risks and opportunities - an assessment that came against AI. That's foolishness, which is why no one would ever utter the phrase in the first place. That makes the prior phrase an applause phrase, because it is obvious to anyone involved that such an assessment is necessary. You're only saying it because you know people will nod their head in agreement and possibly clap.

There is an awful lot of history. Preliminary to whether we imagine the past vividly enough for it to carry proper weight, we must select a cannon of ``important'' events to which we turn our attention.

In a recent thread on Reddit:

I drew attention to Argentina because the story of Argentina's 20th century economic disappointments jars uncomfortably with the cultural tradition in which I swim. I swim in a cultural stream in which the misfortunes which may befall a country live in a hierarchy. At the top are the b... (read more)

Perhaps it's a bit late, but the best source of breadth I've found so far is called Big History [].