Btw, I'm interested in "farming" first because growth rates suddenly increased by two orders of magnitude; by "farming" I mean whatever was the common local-in-time cause of that change. Writing was part of the cascade of changes, but it seems historically implausible to call writing the main cause of the increased growth rate. Professional specialization has more promise as a main cause, but it is still hard to see.
I don't think that this is what Eliezer is saying (and correct me if I'm wrong). What Robin seems to be inferring is a claim that writing or professional specialization was the cause of the 100-fold population increase. What Eliezer is actually arguing is that writing and professional specialization are more interesting than the population increase from the point of view of optimization processes, and the 100-fold population increase is merely incidental, even if it was a prerequisite. From the original post, my emphasis added:
Aha! - now we have writing. There's a significant invention, from the perspective of cumulative optimization by brains.
professional specialization... is a more significant jump in cumulative optimization than the gap between a hundred farmers and one hunter-gatherer pondering something.
The disagreement between Robin and Eliezer shouldn't be surprising, considering simple lapses in understanding such as these (and yes, I've seen others, but I'm not about to dig them up).
It's not always possible to improve beyond what randomness would yield. Consider, for example, the coin toss predicting game. Or the face-the-firing-squad game.
@michael e sullivan
You are right, my mistake. I was assuming that running, say, 100 trials meant going all the way through a 100-card deck without shuffling. Going back over the description of the problem, I don't see where it explicitly says that the cards are replaced and reshuffled, but that's probably a more meaningful experiment to run, and I'm sure that's how they did it.
At least I'm not crazy (nor, hopefully, stupid, if only 30%). :)
@A Pickup Artist
No worries, I made a bad assumption.
I got the point of Eliezer's post, and I don't see why I'm wrong. Could you tell me more specifically than "for the reasons stated" why I'm wrong? And while you're at it, explain to me your optimal strategy in AnneC's variation of the game (you're shot if you get one wrong), assuming you can't effectively cheat.
(Incidentally, and somewhat off-topic, there's a beautiful puzzle with a similar setup — see "Names in Boxes" on the first page of http://math.dartmouth.edu/~pw/solutions.pdf. The solutions are included, but try to figure it out for yourself. It's worth it.)
I'll concede the point on routines. Since so much of human interaction is scripted anyway (where are you from? what do you do? etc.), the difference between using canned material and not is hard to pin down. I'd love to see a study done on the subject, but it would be devilishly difficult to design a good one.
The assumption behind this post, as AnneC touched on, is that higher scores are linearly correlated to what is perceived as a good outcome. Guessing blue every time will guarantee a worst case and best case outcome of 70%; as such, guessing randomly becomes a much better strategy if the player puts a significant premium on scoring, say, 95% or higher. Whether this valuation is rationally justifiable is another question entirely (though an important one).
The same assumption lies behind A Pickup Artist's post. It all depends on your objective: if you want to sleep with as many women as possible, routines are probably the best bet, though likely it depends on your personality. If instead you are looking for deep, meaningful relationships with women, routines may have a place, but natural game will take you further.