All of Maelin's Comments + Replies

Sorry everyone! We got the address wrong. It's actually 328 Little Lonsdale St, not Little Collins. Sorry! Give me a call (number above) if you're lost.

For anyone interested, we'll be going to see Edge of Tomorrow at 11:10am at Hoyts Melbourne Central beforehand, and we'll grab some lunch too. Meet out the front of the cinemas at 11:00 if you'd like to come.

If you're interested in carpooling, the best place to discuss it would be either on the Facebook event page (search for our "Melbourne Less Wrong" group if you aren't a member) or on the Google Group post (again, search for our "Melbourne Less Wrong" group)

Bonus: Free upvote for every comment that indicates attending!

Bonus incentive: I give an upvote to every comment that indicates attendance!

Bonus incentive: I upvote every comment that indicates an intention to attend!

Bonus incentive: I give an upvote to every comment that includes a positive expectation of attendance!

See you all there!
p(I'll be there) = 0.7
You can count on it!

In the description in the centre of the page, it says "Note: Due to its abundant use of math, this package excludes the article The Quotation is not the Referent." but then right next to that, number 6 in the list of Included Articles, is "The Quotation is not the Referent".

Also, is it possible to get a preview?

A sample has been added. "Joy in the Merely Real" []
A podcast entry is included for that one, but it just directs you to read the original article. I was going to link you one of the other podcasts (which all provide samples), but then I realized you might be asking why this specific podcast doesn't have one.

Bonus: I give a free upvote to every comment that indicates expected attendance!

This is a good policy. I'll see you all there.

Bonus incentive: I give a free upvote to every comment that includes an expectation of attendance!

Bonus incentive: I give a free upvote to every comment that indicates expectation of attendance!

I might come. 50%.
Expect me
I'll be there!

Reminder: I give a free upvote to every comment that includes an expectation of attending!

Bonus incentive: I give a free upvote to every comment that includes an expectation of attending!

See you all tomorrow
I expect to attend.
I'll most likely be there.
I expect that people will attend. Upvote that, hooka. Actually, I expect that people including me will attend.
And upvote Richard's comment too, to thank him for hosting!

Because the 4th of January is a time when many people might be away on holiday or otherwise unavailable, it would probably be worth getting a sense for numbers beforehand to avoid . If you expect to attend, please let us know (no commitment!) either in a comment here (and get a free upvote for your trouble), or on the mailing list group, or via some other suitable channel.

I'll start off by saying I expect to attend (~75% probability)

I'll be there.
I can't make it to this one.

My father told me about someone he knew when he was working as a nurse at a mental hospital, who tried killing himself three times with a gun in the mouth. The first two times he used a pistol of some sort - both times, the bullet passed between the hemispheres of his brain (causing moderate but not fatal brain damage), exited through the back of his head, and all the hot gases from the gun cauterised the wounds.

The third time he used a shotgun, and that did the job. For firearm based suicide, I think above the ear is a safer bet.

There should be a word for that kind of luck.
Pistol to the mouth seems to require full mouth of water for high chance of success.
Shotgun's not going to have the problems of a pistol, unless you're using slugs -- and I suspect the hydrostatic shock differential will still do the trick there.

For 9 days now I have set up my computer as a makeshift standing desk, using a pair of $10 Ikea coffee tables on top of my actual desk, and two $3 rubber mats and some cardboard to stand on. I have an appallingly sedentary lifestyle and often catch myself sitting at my desk with a terrible slumped posture, so I'm hoping to catch back problems before they occur, and also exert a bit more energy just day-to-day.

Each day my feet take a little longer to begin hurting, but they still hurt a lot by bed time. I have to take a few breaks to the couch to watch TV t... (read more)

I posted in the Nov 1-15 open thread about my initial experiences with a standing desk (initially improvised, then I bought a proper one) to replace my old crappy desk. I try to alternate between standing and sitting when I get tired, and I plan to get a stool for the same reasons you stated. Even at work where I sit all day, I get up and walk semi-regularly (I'd estimate every 60-90 minutes) if only to refill my water or use the bathroom.
I moved apartments last month and didn't bring over a proper desk. I alternate between an armchair with a laptop on an Ikea Dave table and standing next to cheap standing shelf with the monitor on one shelf and the keyboard on another. I've been mostly sitting in the armchair since I tend to use my home setup when I'm tired after work. I sometimes work in the armchair and then stand up to watch TV, since TV watching doesn't take up mental energy like working does, and extra mental energy is useful for sticking with the standing pose.
If it's specifically your muscles getting sore (rather than e.g. plantar fasciitis or bad circulation), you could take some creatine, which slows down you getting sore fairly dramatically.
Shifting about between positions is more important than having one best position. If I were to sit like I'm sitting now all day, I'd be in the hospital tomorrow.

If you happen to be in Melbourne while you're in Australia, see if you can come to one of our twice-per-month regular meetups!

Yeah, the interface is usually the biggest complaint and I agree it's quite suboptimal. I guess the good bit is once you get something working you don't have to interact with it again until you want to change it.

I haven't tried it myself, but I believe there is a way to write the contexts and tasks in XML files or something similar... you could look that up.

As a soon-to-be maths teacher, hearing about high school students going above and beyond the terribly-designed curricula that teachers are forced to inflict on their students warms my heart enormously. May your passion for learning continue to grow, and guide you to ever greater intellectual heights. Have an upvote. :)

Thank you very much :) I'm glad that there's one more teacher who has an interest in teaching, and not just signalling learning in students - even if that's the only option governments let them take :( I agree with what you've said, and I believe it applies to most, if not all subjects. I've found children don't thrive in factory-like conditions of quiet and memorising in age dependant groups, and their capabilities aren't measurable in a one off three hour written exam - people really are different. I think I'd leave school, and teach myself to pass the necessary qualifications to get into uni and so much more, if it weren't for my school having an excellent music department of the sort I wouldn't be able to get elsewhere (it's a music school). -Because I really do love to learn. I'm with Michel Thomas, that "it's the learning process that motivates these kids".

I think this is a good idea. I wish LW had existed when I was a teenager; maybe I could have got started on the path to enlightenment earlier, instead of spending more than half a decade as one of those smirking, sarcastic, self-congratulatory Atheists that now make me cringe. But it does seem likely that LW could be intimidating to teenagers, and this seems to me to be a demographic we should be trying to reach.

Perhaps we could make an effort to produce some more accessible, entry-level posts that provide a gentler introduction to the material of the sequences and LW community memes, without assumed prereading, as part of this...

There's a new text on the time of Roman dominion over the British Isles that begins each chapter with a piece of historical fiction as a hook. Perhaps micro-fiction introducing various topics would supplement the Sequences in the same way. I also think comprehensive citations and notes would signal legitimacy, which is of value if for their continued ease of perusal someone needs a judgmental superior to approve of educational site content.
Hell that would be good for attracting more readers of any age. No marketer would recommend requiring hours of reading to use your product. And often its simple things like using common words or including simple definitions rather than LW shibboleths.

Ooh, I read his novel Evolution and found it to be extremely enjoyable. It's the evolution of humans from a little ratlike mammal thing living through the KT-event, all the way through to modern humans and then speculative extension beyond - but each chapter is a narrative about some individual actual creature going through a significant event in its life, with realistic depiction of the increasing cognitive abilities (i.e. no sapient monkeys). I found it gave me an amazing subjective feeling of perspective on the evolution of primates and humans. Heartily recommended.

Done. I did all of the extra credit except the Myers-Briggs. The IQ test was the most interesting but three or four questions towards the ends were frustratingly difficult and refused to yield their secrets to me; even now I can feel lingering annoyance at the fact that I eventually gave up on them instead of wrestling with them for longer. Oh well.

Same for me here. Most of them were surprisingly easy and some (about 3 or 4) were just plain bizarre.

But they weren't. Trivialists certainly do assert that ) is true, and so is

A trivialist would insist that "Trivialists argue ) is false" is true. Believing that you're arguing something isn't quite the same as arguing something, but I wanted to point out that under trivialism, trivialists think they're arguing for and against all propositions simultaneously.

Oh no. Now I have a perfect, bulletproof excuse, that I actually buy, for my habit of procrastinating so badly with assignments that I typically end up doing them in a modafinil-powered all nighter on the night before they're due.

John_Maxwell_IV, what have you done?

I find this very unsatisfying, not least because the optimisation power over a wide range of targets is easily gamed just by dividing any given 'target' of a process into a whole lot of smaller targets and then saying "look at all these different targets that the process optimised for!"

Claiming that optimisation power is defined simply by a process's ability to hit some target from a wide range of starting states, and/or has a wide range of targets that it can hit, both seem to be easily gameable by clever sophistry with your choice of how you ch... (read more)

We seem to have very different understandings of what constitutes a wide range. A narrow target does not suddenly become a wide range of targets because I choose to subdivide it, any more than I can achieve a diversified stock portfolio by separately investing each dollar into the same company's stock. So I'm still pretty comfortable with my original stance here: optimization is as optimization does. That said, I certainly agree that clever sophistry can blur the meaning of our definitions. This seems like a good reason to eschew clever sophistry when analyzing systems I want to interact effectively with. And I can appreciate finding it unsatisfying. Sometimes the result of careful thinking about a system is that we discover our initial intuitions were incorrect, rather than discovering a more precise or compelling way to express our initial intuitions. I'm not really sure what you mean by "part" here. But general-purpose optimizers are more interesting than narrow optimizers, and powerful optimizers are more interesting than less powerful optimizers, and if we want to get at what's interesting about them we need more and better tools than just the definition of an "optimization process".

Clarification: the current state of the art in neural preservation doesn't preserve amounts of state in zebrafish brains that are recoverable in usable form by the current state of the art.

If we had the ability to recover the information in usable form today, there would be no need for cryonics to exist.

You're assuming the information is even preserved. Neuroscientists look at what cryonics does and say "what on earth, the information is lost." [] (Again, that post wasn't that long ago.)

(apologies for delayed reply)

I really just want to know what Eliezer means by it. It seems to me like I have some notion of an optimisation process, that says "yep, that's definitely an optimisation process" when I think about evolution and human minds and Clippy, and says "nope, that's not really an optimisation process - at least, not one worth the name" about water rolling down a hill and thermodynamics. And I think this notion is sufficiently similar to the one that Eliezer is using. But my attempts to formalise this definition, to reduce it, have failed - I can't find any combination of words that seems to capture the boundary that my intuition is drawing between Clippy and gravity.

Treating the boundary between Clippy and gravity as a quantitative one (optimization power over a wide range of targets, as above) rather than a qualitative one does violence to some of my intuitions as well, but on balance I don't endorse those intuitions. Gravity is, technically speaking, an optimization process... though, as you say, it's not worth the name in a colloquial sense.

But it seems like then every process can be an optimisation process, and when you measure the optimisation power that's really telling you more about whether the 'optimisation target' you selected as your measure is a good fit for the process you're looking at. It tells you more about your interpretation of the optimisation target than it does about the process itself.

Gravity isn't very powerful for minimising distance between sources of mass, but it is very powerful for "making mass move in straight lines through curved spacetime"[1]. For any pr... (read more)

Yes, I agree that on this account every process is technically speaking an optimization process for some target, and I agree that optimization power can only be measured relative to particular target or class of targets. That said, when we say that evolution, or a human-level intelligence, is an optimization process we mean something rather more than this: we mean something like that it's an optimization process with a lot of optimization power across a wide range of targets. (And, sure, I agree that if we hold the environment constant, including other evolved lifeforms, then evolution has a fixed target. If we lived in a universe where such constant environments were common, I suspect we would not be inclined to describe evolution as an optimization process.) I don't see how that makes "optimization process" a useless notion. What do you want to use it for?

I'm not sure that this does the job, but I might be misunderstanding:

  • Clippy the paperclip maximiser, being placed in a given system S, transitions the system from state S1 (not many paperclips) to state S2 (many paperclips), and does this reliably across many different systems. We can confidently predict that if we put Clippy in a new system, it will soon end up full of paperclips, even if we aren't sure what the mechanism will be.
  • Water, being placed in a given system S, transitions from state S1 (water is anywhere) to state S2 (water occupies local min
... (read more)
Ah, OK. I think I get you now. I agree that whether we know the mechanism doesn't matter. Personally, I'm comfortable saying that gravity is an optimization process. The interesting question is what gravity optimizes for. I might conclude, for example, after watching how gravitational fields affect matter, that gravity optimizes for minimizing the distance between sources of mass. From that it follows that gravity is not a particularly powerful optimization process. I conclude this because I observe many situations where distance between masses is no longer being minimized because gravity only has a very limited way of arranging its environment to achieve that goal. And I suspect that one of the things you're looking for, in attempting to arrive at a definition that distinguishes gravity from Clippy, is a notion of optimization power similar to this. In other words, it's possible that your question can be rephrased as "how do we measure optimization power?" Another possible distinction among optimization processes that we often implicitly talk about here is value-independence. That is, when we talk about AGI, what's being evoked is a powerful optimization process that can optimize for paperclips, or shoes, or smileyfaces, or satisfied humans, or whatever it happens to value. It's just as powerful an optimization process either way. Gravity doesn't seem to have this property. Clippy might or might not. The general assumption around here is that something as effective as Clippy is using algorithms which are generalizable; I'm not sure I've ever seen the idea of a non-generalizable powerful optimization process even discussed here. I suspect this derives in large part from the site's focus on Bayes Theorem, which is entirely domain-independent, as the core of intelligence/optimization. This focus is in-principle separable from the site's focus on optimizing systems, but in practice the two are not explicitly separated during discussion.

I don't think I'm being clear. I don't understand what it means for something to be vs not-be an optimisation process. What features or properties distinguish an optimisation process from a not-optimisation process?

Well, OK, suppose we observe process P causes a system S to transition from state S1 to S2, and observe that S1 is better than S2 for achieving goals in set G1 and S2 is better than S1 for achieving G2. Suppose we lack a definition like what you're asking for, and naively assert that P is an optimizing process for all goals G2. So, for example, we assert that gravity is an optimization process for collecting water in my basement, among other things. Which, as you say, is unsatisfying. But what happens next? If we apply P to S', and observe it causes a transition from S'1 to S'2, we are no longer able to say quite so readily that P optimizes for G2. Assuming we can talk about goals in a consistent way between systems, then it seems more natural to say that P optimizes for the intersection of G2 and G'2. If we observe the behavior of P across a wide range of systems, and we discover that the intersection of the goals optimized for by P is a fairly narrow target Gn, eventually we reach a point where if a new system Sx comes along in state Sx1, and we know that achievable state Sx2 is better for achieving Gn, we can confidently predict that P will cause an Sx1->Sx2 transition in Sx even if we don't know what the mechanism of that transition might be. It seems relatively clear to me that once we've reached that point, we have excellent grounds for calling P an optimization process for Gn. This may not be a necessary condition -- indeed, I suspect it isn't -- but it seems sufficient. Would you agree?

But who says the water has to optimise for "lowest possible place"? Maybe it's just optimising for "occupying local minima". Out of all the possible arrangements of the water molecules in the entire universe that the water might move towards if you fill a bucket from the ocean and then tip it out again, it sure seems to gravitate towards a select few, pun intended.

How can we define optimisation in a way that doesn't let us just say "it's optimising to end up like that" about any process with an end state?

Because there's a simpler hypothesis (gravity) that not only explains the behavior of water, but also the behavior of other objects, motions of the planets, etc. There is still some tiny amount of probability allocated to the optimization hypothesis, but it loses out to the sheer simplicity and explanatory power of competing hypotheses.

There's some discussion in the original thread about what exactly counts as optimising but it doesn't seem to have had any result, and I confess I'm struggling to find a definition of optimisation that says "definitely optimisation" about human minds and Deep Blue and evolution, but "definitely not optimisation" about a rock sitting on the ground or water running down a hill, and which feels like I have actually made a reduction instead of just something circular or synonymous.

Does anybody have a good working definition of optimisation that captures the things that feel optimisationy?

Optimization is a hypothesis. It's a complex hypothesis. You get evidence in favor of the hypothesis that water is an optimization process when you see it avoiding local minimums and steering itself to the lowest possible place on earth.

Agreed. The stick figures do not mesh well with the colourful cartoony backgrounds that make the images visually appealing. They feel out of place, and I found it harder to tell when I was supposed to consider one stick figure distinct from another one without actively looking for it (I also have this problem with xkcd).

Strong vote for return to the original style diagrams, with the gender imbalance fixed.

I've taught a few people about the complex numbers, by stepping through expanding the naturals with the introduction of negatives to make integers, fractions to make rationals, irrationals to make reals, and finally (the 'novel' stage for my audience) imaginary numbers to make the complex numbers.

I emphasise the point that the new system always seems weird and confusing at first to the people who aren't used to it, and sometimes gets given a nasty name in contrast to the nice name of the old system (especially 'imaginary' vs 'real' and 'irrational' vs 'rational') but the new numbers are never more or less worthwhile than the old system - they're just different, and useful in new ways.

Sharing this sentiment. I'm particularly impressed with the cartoon diagrams. They're visually very appealing, and they encapsulate an idea in a way that takes just enough thought to untangle that I feel like it makes me engage with the conceptual message.

I'd be very curious to know which predictions were made and where they come from, and how we know which ones were fulfilled or not fulfilled.

The list I have [] is far from perfect, but there's enough to not dismiss out of hand. All the predictions are from the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. The fulfillments are all in the New Testament. Many of them could be fictions added to the New Testament, but that looks doubtful for several of them - Jesus was a pretty public figure (we have Roman texts talking about the near-revolution of the Jews and the Christians), and a lot of the the fulfilments would be matters of public record / knowledge (like some specifics from his manner of death and burial). I still want to analyze each part, and I plan to compile a "short-list" of the ones that hold up (i.e. ones that would be improbable to be fictionalized or deliberately orchestrated by Jesus himself).

Typically it's a group discussion of various rationality-related topics. In the past we've had problem-solving situations where somebody will be looking at a problem or upcoming decision in their life, and be unsure of how to optimise their outcomes, and the group will discuss it and try to formulate strategies and ideas to help out (for example, we did this when I was looking at buying a car, but unsure how to go about researching and deciding on one).

Other times we've had more structured activities, where members give presentations and/or run exercises t... (read more)

I really genuinely love that this is a community where exchanges like this can occur, and everyone can get back to the discussion immediately with no hard feelings. Upvoted both for a well-handled misunderstanding.

Interestingly, the linked Wikipedia article for the 6-state, 2-symbol Busy Beaver machine now has one listed that is a whole meta-order of magnitude busier than then one Eliezer refers to.

I tried the Coursera Cryptography class earlier this year. The pace was quite brisk and the material was somewhat demanding - I'd recommend at least first year university mathematics. It was fairly well presented and quite interesting, and it showed a degree of polish better than Sebastian Thrun's / Peter Norvig's original AI class last year.

I had to drop out after about three weeks because I couldn't handle it along with my actual uni course, but I'm thinking of starting it again soon.

I'll be coming.

I also make a habit of making sure every affirmative "I'm coming" comment has at least one upvote, so you can get a free karma point just for committing!

Downvoted for wildly subjective assertions about comparative merits of smartphones.

I personally have a Galaxy Nexus, and I much prefer the extra customisation and control I have over an Android system. It "just works beautifully", too. Feeling like I am in full control of a tiny, powerful computer in my pocket brings me a lot more joy than every time I've tried using an Iphone; where the lack of control made me feel like I was renting one of Apple's devices on a probationary period, rather than owning one myself.

So this is really a matter of preference; let's not pretend that the Iphone is simply an unequivocally "more joyful" or "better working" user experience.

I will be starting as a high school maths teacher next year. I really really wish I knew how to fix students who arrive in year N and haven't learned the critical skills they were supposed to have mastered at the end of year N-1. Teachers don't choose curricula, and curricula are too dense for mainstream students. We already have more than one semester's worth of material to get through in a semester.

If a bunch of students arrive in my class in February, and the mid year exam is in June, and they don't know any of the stuff they need for this year, how do I fit all the extra material in? This is not a rhetorical question!

First, relax and realize you can't fix everything. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try, but you need to set realistic goals or you'll burn yourself out really quickly. The students really need more lesson time, and more practice time. If the student has resources you can refer them to one of the many tutoring centers designed to address this sort of thing. If they don't have resources, most attempts at solutions will involve a lot of your personal time, which will already be highly strained as a new teacher. Ask the other highschool teachers you work with if they can recommend a good tutoring service to refer students to. Also, ask them how they attempt to solve these sort of problems? At one charter school, the math teachers set up an after school program attempting to mimic the structure of the chain tutoring centers (Sylvan learning center, etc). Not something to think about setting up your first year, but if you keep an eye towards the future...
Extra lessons for those who want to do it. This means extra work for you, but you could try some strategy to reduce the work. For example make a list of Khan Academy videos related to the missing materials, put it on your web page, start your first lesson with a (not graded) background knowledge test, and recommend everyone to watch those videos. You could also make some additional exercises for voluntary homework. -- The general idea is to do something once and reuse it every year.

Seconded. I used to use Avast, when I set up my new PC I asked a friend which antivirus to use, and he suggested MSE. I thought he was kidding.

But it turns out Microsoft actually have a pretty excellent antivirus solution here. It is totally nonintrusive - I'm less aware of it than any of the other ones I have used (Avast, AVG, Norton) and it just quietly does its thing. Recommended.

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