Peripatesis: Intelligence Explosion Dynamics, The Battle Of Cannae.

‘Peripatesis’ is a made-up word related to the word ‘peripatetic’, which is an adjective that means ‘roaming’ or ‘meandering’. I’ve always liked to think of knowledge as a huge structure through which a person could walk, sprint, dive, climb, or fly in as straightforward or peripatetic a fashion as they like.

Here’s are my recent wanderings and wonderings:

Bostrom, N., Superintelligence, p. 62-78

In Chapter 5 Bostrom examines several different shapes an ‘intelligence explosion’ or ‘takeoff’ could have. The two most important factors governing this shape are the optimization power of the system and its recalcitrance, or resistance to improvement; in conjunction, optimization power and recalcitrance can give rise to slow, moderate, or fast takeoffs.

Different sorts of potentially superintelligent systems have different recalcitrance profiles. For example, the recalcitrance of developing nootropics would initially be low as little in the way of nootropic research has been done, but would likely to start to rise rapidly after most of the low-hanging fruit had been picked. An emulated mind on the other hand might have low-to-moderate recalcitrance for quite a while if it were able to absorb increasing amounts of hardware to run copies of itself on.

AI could play a role in the development of several different kinds of superintelligent systems, for example a network of knowledge workers whose output is vastly improved in terms of quality and quantity by the aid of an AI research assistant. As such, it makes sense to analyze the dynamics of an AI takeoff in some depth.

The recalcitrance of AI systems is hard to judge, because it may turn out that the key to making an AI smart enough to begin self-improving may be many little insights, each of which requires more and more effort to uncover, or it may be a single insight that eludes everyone for a long time. In the latter case, there may not be much improvement in the system at all until the last piece of the puzzle drops into place, and then change may start happening very quickly.

Bostrom believes that AI recalcitrance will not prove to be very high. Earth spends a lot of time developing new and more powerful computers, so once a human-level AI system is developed it will probably be able to make use of extra computing power laying around to run itself more quickly. It could also avail itself of the truly vast quantities of information available via the internet to fashion an knowledge base far in excess of anything possessed by a human being.

With respect to the other part of the equation, optimization power, it seems most likely that it will increase during the takeoff because people will begin investing huge amounts of effort in any AI system that shows promise. At a certain point the system will become capable enough that most optimization pressure is coming from the system itself. This might result in an improvement cascade, wherein each improvement makes further improvements easier, and the takeoff could be very fast indeed.


Goldsworthy, A., The Fall of Carthage, p. 198-214

In this section of Goldsworthy’s history of the Punic wars I learned about one of the most epic defeats ever dealt to the Roman empire: the battle of Cannae.

After a string of humiliating defeats the Roman senate had decided to put the two incoming consuls, Caius Tarentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus in charge of the largest army Rome had ever fielded. Each consul was to have four larger-than-normal legions, instead of the usual two, and the consuls were to face Hannibal together.

Hannibal waited until crops had ripened before heading south, eventually setting camp in the former stronghold Cannae. The Romans followed, taking great care to avoid spots where they could be ambushed.

The roman plan was to punch through the center of Hannibal’s army, scattering his infantry. Roman cavalry, notably inferior to their Punic counterparts, were only supposed to prevent flanking maneuvers for long enough to allow victory in the center.

Hannibal anticipated this and strengthened his center, bulging it outward towards his enemy.

After hours of intense fighting the Romans had managed to push the Carthaginian center backwards, eventually routing them. In the process their originally neat formations began to lose shape until the Roman soldiers were in one great mass hacking away at retreating Gauls. At this point the Libyan infantry on either side turned inward to face the Romans, and the real butchery started.

Disorganized and surrounded, the Romans were unable to make much use of their superior numbers. Though they inflicted ghastly casualties on the Carthaginians, Hannibal emerged victorious over the greatest fighting force Rome could muster.

For centuries thereafter the defeat at Cannae would be a Roman yardstick for measuring other losses.

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