Peripatesis: E-Governance; Lighting Up The Dark; Regulating Superintelligences.

Nestled in the cold reaches of Northern Europe, Estonia is doing some very interesting things with the concept of ‘e-governance‘. Their small population, short modern history, and smattering of relatively young government officials make experimenting with Sovereignty easier than it would be in, say, The United States. The process of starting a business and paying taxes in Estonia has been streamlined, for example, leading to the predictable influx of ‘e-residents’ wanting to run their internet-based business from Estonia.

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There are some truly fascinating advancements happening at the cutting edge of farming and horticulture. Some enterprising researchers have discovered a way to channel natural light into unlit places, and there are talks of using this technology to set up a public garden in the abandoned Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal beneath New York City. It’s not really clear from the linked article whether or not all of this light is natural or whether or it’s a mix of natural and artificial light, but it’s still interesting.

I would love to see a variant of this technology utilized far and wide to foster localized farming and the greening of urban centers. Plenty of buildings have rooftop gardens now, but with a means of gathering and arbitrarily distributing sunlight it would be possible to have, say, one floor in ten of a big skyscraper devoted to a small orchard or garden space. Advanced greenhouses could be both heavily insulated and capable of showering their interior with photons, making farming at high altitudes and in colder climates more straightforward.

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The BBC has a piece on ‘anti-languages’, slangs developed by insular communities like thieves or prison inmates to make their communication indecipherable to outsiders. They share the grammar of their parent language but use a plethora of new terms in place of old ones to achieve something akin to encryption.

These new terms — such as ‘bawdy basket’, which meant ‘thief’ in the English anti-language used among Elizabethan criminals — are generated through all sorts of techniques, including things like metaphor and reversing the spelling or meaning of terms from the parent language.

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An essay by Marc McAllister at The Babel Singularity argues that laws enforcing human control over superintelligences are tantamount to slavery, and won’t be of much use any way because these beings will have moral concepts which we baseline humans simply can’t fathom with our outdated brains.

He seems to be missing the point of the arguments made by groups like MIRI and the Future of Life Institute. To the best of my knowledge no one is advocating that humans remain strictly in control of advanced AIs indefinitely. In fact, the opposite is true: the point of building a superintelligence is to eventually put it in charge of solving really hard problems on behalf of humanity. In other words, ceding control to it.

To that end, the efforts made by people who think about these issues professionally seem to be aimed at understanding human values, intelligence, and recursively improving algorithms well enough to: 1) encode those values into an AI; 2) Predict with an acceptably strict level of confidence that this human-compatible goal architecture will remain intact as the software rewrites itself; 3) reason, however dimly, about the resulting superintelligence. These are by no means trivial tasks. Human values are the messy, opaque result of millennia of evolution, and neither intelligence nor recursion are well understood.

But if we succeed in making a “Friendly” AI then control, in a ‘coercive sense’, won’t be necessary because its values will be aligned with our own.

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Somewhat related: Big Think has published a very brief history of Artificial Intelligence. With the increasing sophistication and visibility of advancements in the field, understanding its roots becomes ever more important.

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Vector Space Systems is a new player in an arena long dominated by Blue Origins, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic. Their goal: to be to spaceflight what taxis are to terrestrial modes of transport. According to their website they have been quietly working on a micro satellite launch vehicle designed to carry payloads in the 5 – 50 kg range into orbit.

If they succeed this will allow companies wanting to develop new space technologies to launch more frequently and less expensively, driving faster growth in space commerce, exploration, and tourism.

Peripatesis: Text-To-Speech Gloves; Skeins of Selfhood

These gentleman from the university of Washington have invented a glove that translates sign language into speech:

 

This obviously has a billion useful applications, but the first one that occurred to me is using it to code by voice. I suppose it might even be possible get rid of the speech translation altogether and just be coding by gesture. From there, of course, it’s a short leap to losing the gloves and using a wand instead.

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There’s been a lot of writing about personality and psychology lately which makes use of interesting metaphors. Mory Buxner has given various facets of his personality characters, and has devised an elaborate set of rules for giving each character ‘points’ whenever they accomplish something, Brienne Yudkowsky has done something similar but with a different set of sub-personalities. Meanwhile, Ben Goertzel is examining the self through the lens of the mathematical field knows as ‘knot theory’.

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Tiago Forte, a resident blogger at Ribbonfarm, continues his series of essays on productivity and self-improvement with a discussion of the benefits of the Quantified Self movement. He has a much more philosophical approach to the topic than you’ll likely find anywhere else this side of Less Wrong.

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In the category of stuff-I-didn’t-think-would-be-interesting-until-I-read-about-it, a Quora user admits that he can ‘add’ letters of the alphabet in response to a question about lame superpowers.

Peripatesis: Chess after Deep Blue; Tarot and Randomness; The Sequences in Lojban; Sovereign Startups

Max Gladstone, author of The Craft Sequence, says:

“to what extent is a computer capable of placing the correct moves in a Go game, or a chess game, actually performing the activity humans reflexively describe as “playing go”? A professional chess player develops patience, mental endurance, and profound mental habits required to bend her omnivore-scavenger brain to the profoundly non-omnivore-scavenger activity of staring at a game board for several hours at a time, oblivious to any potential predators creeping up behind. These are additional “rules” to the game as played by humans—or at least, they’re constraints to which human players are subjected. “Learning to play chess,” for a human, is really “learning how to navigate human embodied cognition in such a way as to win a chess game.” Is a hydraulic car-moving robot stronger than a champion weightlifter? On paper it can move more weight. But I suspect we use the word “strong” to mean different things in different contexts.”

Of course it’s a moot point whether or not machines are using processes comparable to the ones humans use if the humans are consistently losing. But it does lead to another insight:

Though it’s probably safe to say that a human will never again be the best chess player on Earth, that doesn’t mean learning to play chess is pointless, anymore than exercise became pointless after we invented cranes. Likewise, learning a foreign language will still be an edifying experience long after some machine learning startup solves the problem of automated translation.

In truth, as machines take over progressively greater segments of the economy it’ll probably become more important for people to keep playing chess, learning languages, and lifting weights, because we’ll be less and less able to look to our jobs to stimulate our minds and our bodies.

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An enterprising writer by the name of Vivian Caethe has launched a kickstarter for her “writer’s block Tarot” deck. As she tells it, doing a reading of a Tarot deck whenever she came to a sticky point in a story did a lot to help her move the plot and the characters in the story along.  Eventually it occurred to her that she could reshape the entire Tarot deck with the writer’s craft in mind, and thus did “The Fool” in the traditional deck become “The Protagonist” in the writer’s deck.

Tarot decks are usually divided into the Major Arcana, which deals with large scale concepts and themes, and the Minor Arcana, which handles smaller ones. This division is mimicked in the writer’s block Tarot deck as well; cards in the Major Arcana focus on sweeping aspect of a hero’s quest, while the Minor Arcana are concerned with details of a hero’s life

This reminded me of a Slate Star Codex post on the value of random noise. While a lot of people accept that shaking up your usual routine might be a good way of having more creative insights, Scott also posits that it might also help one be more correct. It’s easy, when you’re stuck in a cognitive rut, to simply fail to think of strong arguments against a position you hold. Or, upon hearing genuinely good arguments, to round them off to their nearest cartoon version without realizing you’re doing so. By surrounding yourself with extremely bright contrarians, having Markov chains randomly rearrange sentences, or doing Tarot readings for a story you’re writing, you leverage “noise” to increase the chances that you’ll successfully break out of the rut you’re in.

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There’s an anecdote in Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” wherein a bright Ivy-leaguing Jewish man named Adam Marlin starts taking his faith seriously, rising at dawn every day to decipher as many pages as possible from the Talmud. He notices that not only does his ability to focus improve dramatically, but that he is soundly beaten in contests of intellect by those who began this training earlier in life, even when they aren’t particularly well educated.

Since I don’t have any particular interest in taking my study of ancient religious texts this far, I thought it’d be interesting to replicate this exercise with secular materials. An ideal source would be something voluminous but which still imparted valuable lessons. How about using a condensed version of Yudkowsky’s The Sequences?

But that still leaves the problem of translating the materials into a language which has native speakers. As the point is to develop profound skill in the art of concentration, anyone who speaks the language into which we translate The Sequences will be at a linguistic advantage and thus won’t reap as much reward from the exercise.

This means we need a language that has no native speakers, a consistent, logical grammar, and ideally some following in the rationalist community.

The obvious choice would be Lojban, of course!

Hopefully you’ll one day be able to join me at sunrise in a daily ritual of reading The Sequences in Lojban as we both develop superfocus.

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The Montreal-based company Sui Generis is trying to make it possible to open a new country like you might open a new company.  While the vision of the founder Guillaume Dumas comes across as a little breathless and naive — “we’re going to build corporate socialist states based on FUN!” — I think the underlying idea is interesting and potentially fruitful.

There are many examples of highly successful microstates like Singapore and Hong Kong, and I’ve long thought that someone should try and design a mechanism whereby interested parties can carve out small amounts of territory in which to found their own nation states.

This is at once a nifty metapolitical solution to the problem of good governance and a means of applying the innovation-generating powers of the market to those problems. Instead of multiple sides presenting interminable arguments for and against communism, libertarianism, monarchism, monetarism, Austrianism, etc., we can just let entrepreneurs configure their states however they want and then compete with each other for a tax base.

Peripatesis: Controlling A God, Hannibal Leaves Italy.

‘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. 127-144

In the sprawling chapter 9 Bostrom discusses and finds problems with several proposed means of controlling a Superintelligence. These include boxing it, setting up tripwires, and building our preferences into its motivational system.

I plan on touching on these topics substantially in the future, so that’s all I’ll say about them for now.

Goldsworthy, A., The Fall of Carthage, p. 234- 244

Though Hannibal only received reinforcements on one occasion in 215, but his brother Hadsdrubal crossed the alps via the same path he did in 207 and his brother Mago landed in Genoa in 205.

Unfortunately for Hannibal, neither brother managed to accomplish much before being killed (or in Mago’s dying en route to Carthage of a wound sustained during combat). In 203 Hannibal received orders to evacuate and come to the defense of Carthage, which was being menaced by Roman invaders in North Africa.

Peripatesis: Superintelligent Motivation, Hannibal Captures Tarentum.

‘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. 105-126

In chapters 7 and 8 Bostrom covers the relationship between intelligence and motivation and what the default outcome of the intelligence explosion would be, respectively.

The point of chapter 7 is to establish the Orthogonality Thesis, so called because the idea is that nearly any goal can be attached to nearly any level of intelligence. Intelligent humans might not want to spend all day making paperclips, but assuming that a superintelligent AI wouldn’t want to is anthropomorphism.

Chapter 8 gives a panoply of reasons for expecting a non-carefully-controlled intelligence explosion to be catastrophic. The basic idea is that when one human tells another human “make me smile” both humans come pre-equipped with a vast, shared cognitive machinery which means that neither party will interpret this command as ‘staple the corners of my mouth up so I’m always grinning’.

Assuming an AI would rule that option out is also anthropomorphism, and of a kind that’s very deadly if we’re dealing with a superintelligence.

Goldsworthy, A., The Fall of Carthage, p. 222-233

This week I made it party through the section which covers the years 216 B.C.-203 B.C. The Romans and Carthaginians spent this period vying for control of major cities in southern Italy, such as Capua.

Hannibal finally managed to capture a port at Tarentum in 212 B.C., a goal he had been particularly interested in achieving for a while. This didn’t actually amount to much, as the Romans recaptured Tarentum in 209 B.C.

Peripatesis: Superintelligent Strategic Advantages, The Aftermath of Cannae, ‘Utility’ In Game Theory.

‘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. 78-104

I made it through two chapters this week, in which Bostrom addressed the questions of what sort of strategic advantage superintelligence-development projects could expect to have and how this would impact the future.

The question of strategic advantage is closely related to the question of take-off speed, because if we can expect a fast takeoff then it’s likely that the first project which creates an AI capable of recursive self-improvement will also give rise to the first superintelligence. If, on the other hand, the takeoff is slow then there might be many different AIs improving themselves on the path to superintelligence.

As Bostrom believes that a takeoff will probably be fast, he also believes that first superintelligence will probably be the only superintelligence. Any such agent will be capable of utilizing various superpowers, or abilities far beyond those possessed by competing agents, to disproportionately affect the future.

Using conservative estimates for the computational ability required to simulate human minds and how much of the available matter in the universe can be converted to computational substrate, Bostrom makes the case that the future is a truly vast place inhabited by a near-uncountable number of minds.

Given this, a strong argument can be made that the development of the first superintelligence is the most important project a group of humans will ever undertake.

Goldsworthy, A., The Fall of Carthage, p. 214-221

Following his astonishing victory in the battle of Cannae, Hannibal faced the question of whether to march on Rome or to spend some time resting his troops and planning his next move.

Hannibal chose the latter, giving rise to one of the great ‘what-if’s’ of world history. It is far from clear that Rome would’ve been able to repel a full assault on the city itself, and equally unclear that Hannibal could’ve taken Rome.

In any case Rome ignored the delegation Hannibal sent to negotiate, choosing instead to begin the process of rebuilding their army.

For his part, Hannibal gained many new allies in Southern Italy, and with them a means of drawing supplies to feed his army, meaning he no longer needed to constantly be on the move.

From this point on it was to be a markedly different war between these two titanic enemies.

Luce, R., Raiffa, H., Games and Decisions, p. 12-38

As the concept of utility is essential in gaining an understanding of game theory, the entirety of Chapter 2 is devoted to it.

The following conceptual distinctions are made: an individual can be thought of as any entity or entities with a unitary goal, and a group is one comprised of members with competing goals. Decisions can be made under conditions of certainty, risk, or uncertainty.

A situation is certain when each action leads invariably to a known outcome, risky when each action leads to a set of possible outcomes which have known probabilities, and uncertain when it isn’t clear what the outcome of an action will be.

The authors then turn to analyzing decision making under certainty and under risk before laying out a number of axioms central to game theory.

Peripatesis: Forms of Superintelligence, Game Theory.

‘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. 52-61

In chapter 3 Bostrom outlines three distinct forms a superintelligence could take:

speed superintelligence is one which functions in a similar fashion to a human mind but which does so much more quickly, like a whole-brain emulation. A collective superintelligence is a superintelligence comprised of a network of lesser intelligences, like an extremely well-run conglomeration of knowledge workers. And a quality superintelligence is one which functions at the same speed as a human mind but which, for architectural or other reasons, does so much better.

He also lists many advantages that a digital intelligence would have over a biological one: for example, electrical circuitry has much lower latencies than neural circuitry, and thus communication among the elements from which a computer-based mind is built would be much faster.

Luce, R., Raiffa, H. Games and Decisions, p. 1-12

This introductory volume to game theory begins by pointing out that ‘conflicts of interest’, situations in which several agents are trying to influence the outcome of a situation while not having full control of all the variables, is both very interesting to most people and at the heart of the discipline.

Game theory gets off the ground by making certain assumptions about the players involved, such as that they have consistent preferences and know the preferences of the other players. In real life of course this is almost never the case, but simplifying assumptions of this sort are often required in developing mathematical tools.

If such assumptions simplify too much, though, the insights gleaned won’t be of much use. Is this the case for game theory?

The authors promise to address this in later chapters, but point out that, at a minimum, game theory could be used to design experiments which could then be used to modify the assumptions of game theory.