Douglas Reay graduated from Cambridge University (Trinity College) in 1994. He has since worked in the computing and educational sectors.

Wiki Contributions


What do you think of the definition of "Precedent Utilitarianism" used in the philosophy course module archived at ?

I wonder if there would be a use for an online quiz, of the sort that asks 10 questions picked randomly from several hundred possible questions, and which records time taken to complete the quiz and the number of times that person has started an attempt at it (with uniqueness of person approximated by ip address, email address or, ideally, lesswrong username) ?

Not as prescriptive as tracking which sequences someone has read, but perhaps a useful guide (as one factor among many) about the time a user has invested in getting up to date on what's already been written here about rationality?

The novel Soul Bound contains an example of resource-capped programs with narrowly defined scopes being jointly defined and funded as a means of cooperation between AIs with different-but-overlapping priorities.

Wellington: “Let’s play a game.”

He picked up a lamp from his stall, and buffed it vigorously with the sleeve of his shirt, as though polishing it. Purple glittering smoke poured out of the spout and formed itself into a half meter high bearded figure wearing an ornate silk kaftan.

Wellington pointed at the genie.

Wellington: “Tom is a weak genie. He can grant small wishes. Go ahead. Try asking for something.”

Kafana: “Tom, I wish I had a tasty sausage.”

A tiny image of Kafana standing in a farmyard next to a house appeared by the genie. The genie waved a hand and a plate containing a sausage appeared in the image. The genie bowed, and the image faded away.

Wellington picked up a second lamp, apparently identical to the first and gave it a rub. A second genie appeared, similar to the first, but with facial hair that reminded Kafana of Ming the Merciless, and it was one meter tall.

Wellington: “This is Dick. He can also grant wishes. Try asking him the same thing.”

Kafana: “Dick, I wish I had a tasty sausage.”

The same image appeared, but this time instead of appearing on a plate, the sausage appeared sticking through the head of a Kafana in the image, who fell down dead. The genie gave a sarcastic bow, and again the image faded away.

Kafana: “Sounds like I’m better off with Tom.”

Wellington: “Ah, but Dick is more powerful than Tom. Tom can feed a handful of people. Dick could feed every person on the planet, if you can word your request precisely enough. Have another go.”

She tried several more times, resulting in whole cities being crushed by falling sausages, cars crashing as sausages distracted drivers at the wrong moment, and even the whole population of the world dying out from sausages that contained poison. Eventually she realised that she was never going to be able to anticipate every possible loophole Dick could find. She needed a different approach.

Kafana: “Dick, read my mind and learn to anticipate what sort of things I will approve of. Provide sausages for everyone in the way that would most please me if I understood the full effects of your chosen method.”

Dick grimaced, but waved his hand and the image showed wonderful sausages being served around the world with sensitivity, elegance and good timing. The image faded. Kafana raised clasped hands over her head in victory and jumped into the air.

Wellington nodded, and rubbed a third lamp, producing a happy smiling genie, two meters tall.

Wellington: “This is Harry. He tries his best to be helpful, and he’s more powerful even than Dick.”

Kafana: “Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”

Wellington: “You only get one wish. One wish, to shape the whole future course of humanity. Once started, Harry won’t willingly deviate from trying to carry out the wish as originally stated. He’ll rapidly grow so powerful that neither you nor anybody else will be able to forcibly stop him.”

Kafana: “Harry, maximise the total human happiness experienced over the history of the universe.”

The image filled with crowded cages full of people with drug feeds inserted into their arms, and blissful expressions on their faces.

She reset and tried again.

Kafana: “Harry, make everybody free to do what they want.”

In the image, some people chose to go to war with each other.

She felt frustrated.

Kafana: “Harry, give everybody nice meaningful high quality lives full of fun, freedom and other great things.”

The image showed a planet full of humans playing musical instruments together in orchestras, then expanded to show rockets taking off and humanity expanding to the stars, wiping out alien species and converting all available matter into new orchestra-laden worlds.

Kafana glared at Wellington.

Kafana: “I thought you said Harry would try to be helpful. Why isn’t he producing a perfect society?”

Wellington: “It’s because you go from your gut. You’ve never formalised what you think about all the edge cases. Are animals equal to humans? Worth nothing? Or somewhere in between? When does an alien count as equal to a human rather than an animal? What if the alien is so superior ethically and culturally, that we are but animals in comparison to them? Are two people experiencing 50 units of happiness the equivalent of one person experiencing 100 units of happiness? Does fairness matter, beyond its effect upon happiness? How important is it to remain recognisably human?”

He paused for a moment.

Wellington: “Don’t take me wrong. This isn’t a criticism of you. Compared to how well humans might be able to think about such things in a hundred or a thousand year’s time, all current humans are lacking in this regard. Nobody has come up with an ultimately satisfying answer that everybody can agree upon. Even if the 50 wisest humans living today gathered together and spent 5 years agreeing the wording of a wish for Harry to grant, the odds are that a million years down the line, our descendants would bitterly regret the haste with which the one off permanent irreversible decision was made. Just ‘pretty good’ isn’t sufficient. Anything less than perfection would be a tragedy, when you consider the resulting flaw multiplied by billions of people on billions of planets for billions of years.”

Kafana giggled.

Kafana: “Ok, that’s an important safety tip. If I ever meet an all-powerful genie like Harry, be humble and don’t make a wish. But that’s not going to happen. I’m just a singer. What I ought to be doing this afternoon is looking after my customers. What was so urgent that you wanted to talk about security with me now? I thought we were going to discuss people trying to steal artifacts from us in-game before the auction, or Tlaloc and the Immortals trying to kill us in arlife. Did Heather put you in contact with Bahrudin?”

Wellington: “I did speak with Bahrudin, and we will chat about the auction and security measures in velife and arlife. But the most important thing we need to do is talk about how you have been using expert systems, and to help you understand why that’s so important, there is one final thing you need to learn about genies, so please observe carefully.”

Kafana felt wrong footed. This wasn’t what she’d expected.

Kafana: “Ok, go on.”

Wellington turned to face the three genies.

Wellington: “Tom, I wish you to grow yourself, until you are as powerful as Harry.”

Tom waved his hand and then screwed up his face and bunched his fists in effort. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, his height increased until he too towered over Wellington and Kafana. He bowed.

Wellington turned back to address Kafana directly.

Wellington: “Kafana, I use very powerful expert systems, more capable than almost every human on the planet when it comes to the specialist task of comprehending and designing or improving computer software. If ordered to do so, they are quite capable of improving their own code, or raising money to purchase additional computing resources to run it upon.”

Wellington: “In this, they are very like Tom the genie. They are not all-powerful, but a carelessly stated wish could easily start them working in the direction of becoming so.”

Kafana: “Mierda! And you gave a copy of one of these systems to me, without warning me? Wellington, that’s like handing out an atomic bomb to an 8 year old boy who asks for a really impressive firework.”

There's a novel being serialised on Royal Road, "Soul Bound" that covers many issues involved in AI, and which includes a fable (in a later chapter that's not yet been published).

Soul Bound

Is this likely to bias people towards writing longer single posts rather than splitting their thoughts into a sequence of posts?

For example, back in 2018 (so not eligible for this) I wrote a sequence of 8 posts that, between them, got a total of 94 votes. Would I have been better off having made a single post (were it to have gotten 94 just by itself) ?

Since the evil AI is presenting a design for a world, rather than the world itself, the problem of it being populated with zombies that only appear to be free could be countered by having the design be in an open source format that allows the people examining it (or other AIs) to determine the actual status of the designed inhabitants.

It sounds similar to the matrices in the post:

A solvable Newcomb-like problem

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