Oct 162013
 

caesar-obama2I don’t think he actually has the balls to do this but – if congress can’t raise the debt ceiling by midnight tomorrow, that would be a perfect opportunity for Obama to hold all of congress in No Confidence, temporarily seize its financial powers for the executive branch (for the duration of the emergency only, of course), and start handing out decrees. It’s not quite the Ides of October, but it’s close!

I’m extremely curious if neo-reactionaries would view it as a step forward or backward. I assume back, since he’d still be ruling in the name of the mob, rather than as a representative of the noble class.

Sep 202013
 

uterusSo I was supposed to write this yesterday, but I kinda lost interest. I probably wouldn’t even be writing it today, but I said I would. So in brief:

It seems to me that the other Pinkie’s would count as people because they displayed a range of emotions, had the ability to think about themselves and comprehend the world, and could carry on normal conversation with the other ponies.

I think it’s important to treat beings with these markers as people, because it probably won’t be too long until we’ve created non-human and/or non-biological beings who fit these criteria, and they should have the same basic rights as existing people. I find that a scary number of people currently living don’t know what makes a person a “Person” with selfhood and rights. They seem to just default to “Did it come from a human uterus?” to answer to that question. It’s not a bad heuristic, but it doesn’t give enough weight to near-sapient non-human animals (who are generally viewed as expendable), and it gives too much weight to non-sapient humans (such as those who are brain dead or severely mentally handicapped).

I think that heuristic is already breaking down a bit. When IVF first became available there was a moral outrage about the soulless abominations that would thusly be birthed; and what legal and moral rights should apply to these inhuman “test-tube babies”. Now it’s seen as a routine procedure, and the moral outrage has instead shifted to human cloning, which is just as idiotic but most people don’t seem to notice. Because they are confused about what a “Person” is, and for some reason don’t want to investigate the issue. So an episode that reinforces this sort of ‘avoiding the subject and just defaulting to the old paradigms’ kinda annoys me.

On the other hand, the new Pinkies certainly didn’t seem as complex as the original Pinkie. They had a maniacal obsession with “fun” and would fixate on that concept to the exclusion of all other concerns. They were certainly less valuable than the fully functional Pinkie. If the population of Pinkies had to be reduced, they were the correct first choice.

Furthermore, none of them protested their treatment. It’s an unfortunate fact that we only have those rights we take, and as soon as these Pinkies realized they were targeted for extermination they should have rioted. Or protested in some way. That they had no concern for their own continuation makes it much easier to justify their elimination. Or perhaps, as Khitchary suggests, they weren’t worried because they knew they were just returning to a different world rather than actually dying. (I’ll avoid the afterlife comparisons)

Anyway, I’m now all done on this subject. To the future!

Jun 192013
 

brainsnotcomputersIn an old post, an LW user asked:

 

Imagine that the technology has just come available to resurrect a frozen brain. However, the process has low fidelity, … these limitations are purely practical – as the technique is refined, the process of resurrection will become better and better … The results of the process is effectively a copy of the old brain and personality, but with permanent brain damage in several regions … The technology will not progress in refinement without practice, and practice requires actually restoring cryogenically frozen human brains …

 

If your brain was frozen, at what stage in this technological refinement process would you like your brain to be revived?

 

The scale given included these two lines:

 

0.950 – liminal reduction in facilities (IQ loss of 5 to 10 points; occasional slowness in memory recall, occasional mood swings)

1.000 – a perfect reproduction of your original personality and capability

 

Obviously everyone would prefer 1.0. But I commented that I’d be willing to accept .95 to help the research effort. This was a selfish choice, there were many much worse stages that I wasn’t willing to volunteer for.

I’ve stated in previous posts that I don’t fully trust reality to be real. And I’ve explicitly stated in the About page that part of this blogs purpose is to be a reconstruction aid in the event that I do die and am cryonically frozen. Looking at the description for 0.95, it strikes me almost immediately that I do have occasional slowness in memory recall (sometimes for the most absurd things. How the hell did I forget my brother’s name for a few minutes?). In general I have a fairly poor memory for personal life events, people recall things I’ve done much more readily than I do. I have occasional mood swings. Less often now, and I’ve developed ways of dealing with them, but they are there.

One might consider this correlation between my willingness to accept such mental impairment and my having this mental impairment as weak evidence that I’ve actually been reconstructed after my death and revived with some impairments per my recorded statements on the matter (which would make this reality a sped-up simulation that’s moving me through the intervening years quickly to minimize future-shock once I catch-up to the actual present-day).

Of course it’s far more likely that this is just The Forer Effect. Everyone has trouble recalling things sometimes, and has mood swings on occasion. Right? It’s just part of being human.

Jun 112013
 

Sergeant-Calhoun

I write often about cooperating with myself, as that’s a fairly important aspect for anyone trying to make the world more like themselves (always have a back-up plan in case you succeed!). There more than one way of doing so though – sometimes you can negotiate with your future self for personal gains. It seems like a decent test-case for the self-cooperation principle. Future-me is likely to be very similar to present-me, after all.

A bit over two years ago I was single and I had a goal – sleep with hot chicks. Not the noblest of goals maybe, but not an uncommon one. I already knew I was interesting (Ha!), but I was out of shape and I absolutely couldn’t talk with girls. Both of these would require a lot of work to fix, and I decided to make a deal with future-me. I would put in the work of working out and getting in shape to deliver to him the physical body needed, and he would put in the work of learning how to talk with girls to deliver the social skills needed. Together we might achieve victory!

It has been quite a while, and past-me delivered on his end of the agreement. I’m lookin’ alright. However future-me (or now, present-me) seems to have shirked his side of the deal! The number of girls flirted with over the past year has been negligible! In part this is because I’m in an awesome relationship with an awesome woman, but that is one (1) hot chick, and the goal was hot chicks – plural! :) And honestly, I’m a bit cross with myself. Yes it’s hard! That’s why we had the deal in the first place, to divvy up the labor! Playing guitar is hard too, but you put in 30 minutes a day and before you know it a year has passed and you’re playing passably well at parties. You’re gonna suck at it at first, but I put in 3 hours/week working out, so I can put in a few minutes a week chatting! Before you know it a year will have gone by and you’ll be able to strike up a conversation with anyone. Suck it up and deliver already!

I started at Denver Comic Con. After hesitation and doubt, I finally approached an awesome Sargent Calhoun cosplay near the end of the last day. “Approached” is too generous a term – she happened to stash some of her props near me and I used that as an opportunity. Had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t have even said hi. So yeah, ok, I suck. But it was a first step! Gotta start small, you can’t run a marathon your first day. It went ok for several minutes, but I let myself be pulled away before I got her number and was secretly glad that she wasn’t there when I came back. Fail. >< But again – small steps. Can’t berate myself too much. Gonna keep building on this over the summer.

It’s hard to say how relevant of a test-case this is for self-cooperation. Obviously it wasn’t a great success, this action is long overdue. On the other hand, it’s not really a direct comparison, since past-me doesn’t have any enforcement ability or methods to incentivize continued commitment (where a seperate very-similar-to-me actor in the present would. With shaming, if nothing else). The best I have is the knowledge that if I fail in this temporal cooperation now, I’m far less likely to trust future-me from now on, and that seems like a big loss. I don’t want to burn that bridge if I can help it.

Jun 072013
 

transparencyI’m still hearing about the NSA “scandal”. Sigh.

 >some people don’t fancy being treated like a criminal

When we ask people to remove their veils/masks/whatevers for photo IDs, we aren’t treating them like criminals. This seems like the reverse of the “If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” argument. If everyone’s information is public, no one is being treated like a criminal. This would have the advantage of publicizing the same records of everyone who works at the NSA/FBI, lawmakers, etc. Radical Transparency isn’t about giving more power to the elite, it’s about spreading that same power to everyone.

 

>Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.

Society can end up being constructed in such a way that it is impossible not to break the law going about your daily business. In such a case if they want to get you they’ll get you anyway, unless you’re willing to go full-Taliban and live in caves/forests without any modern devices. Hiding under “anonymity” only gives a false sense of security and gives those at the top more power. Possible solutions include preventing such a state in the first place (unlikely), believing that the “jury of your peers” system works well enough to stop such crap (which we use right now, and seems to be working fairly well), and exposing everyone to such scrutiny so everyone realizes just how silly it is (the Radical Transparency option).

Really, allowing the hiding of transgressions in a society where everyone must break laws only strengthens the most powerful actors – those most able to hide their own transgressions and reveal the transgressions of others. The way to increase the power of the poor working class shmucks would be to spread transparency so the elites no longer have that ability.

May 232013
 

better ourselvesI said yesterday that a basic income guarantee should be considered in light of rising productivity. The most common argument against this is that living requires the consumption of resources, and as long as humans are producing as much or more than they consume than everything is fine, but guaranteeing everyone enough income to live on even if they produce nothing is a recipe for creating a society where no one creates anything at all and the entire system collapses.

I don’t think this would happen, and I think this because Existential Angst exists. People feel awful when they do nothing. And they feel great when they create. When they do things that make a difference in the world. Forging a knife, or composing a song, or organizing a con. People do these sorts of things simply to do them.

Scalzi’s Redshirts (review tomorrow!) explores existential angst. One character without any purpose gets in a motorcycle accident and is left brain dead. A plot event restores him to life just days before his family was poised to pull the life-support plug. Later he looks at himself and wonders if he would have been more useful to the world as an organ donor than he is as a person. This is the essence of existential angst, and the fact that so many people experience it is a great sign! Yes it’s painful, but it’s like a doctor telling you that it’s good you can still feel intense pain in your legs after a car accident because it means you aren’t paralyzed. The pain is a sign that things haven’t fallen below a much worse threshold.

That angst is what reassures me that a society with basic income will not devolve into humans mindlessly playing games, drinking, and fucking. We have a need to do something which will keep us producing, exploring, and refining long after we don’t have to anymore.

(although yes, this can’t be fully implemented until we get to the point were literally all menial labor is automated. We still need fifty pounds of nails bynext Tuesday after all)

May 222013
 

Robot FactoryYesterday I claimed that due to our ever-climbing productivity, we need far fewer factory workers than we are producing. That we need to retool our schools to produce creative, innovative, entrepreneurial people. I am not that sort of person. But I have, recently, gotten a taste of what it’s like to be that sort of person. The most intriguing thing I’ve found is that doing things feels good.

I’ve actually said that “being productive feels better than fun.” If I want to procrastinate I will often clean, because at least that’s a sort of productivity. I’d rather be cleaning than playing most games I can think of. Reading for my book club is more fun than reading for myself, due to the added element of getting something done. It’s been said that what the body experiences as “fun” is the Process Of Learning – which is why games cease to be fun once they’ve been mastered. The closest word I’ve heard to what the body experiences when in the Process Of Doing is “flow”. It’s a decent enough word I suppose, but most people don’t associate it with feeling great. I suspect many people never feel it at all. It’s hard to feel flow when you’re working a bolt-tightening station on a conveyor belt 8 hours a day. And the excitement of starting a brand new project that may fail dramatically? That’s something most people probably try to avoid.

However I don’t think simply teaching those sorts of skills is enough. There is a huge barrier in that right now society ties a person’s worth directly to their economic output. Their very right to exist is dependent on having a job. I am exaggerating a bit, no one (sane) in the US actually starves to death, or dies of exposure. But the implication is always there, and it’s going to become a major problem as machines continue to get smarter and better at working with fewer human handlers needed. Already we can run the essential parts of our economy with a fraction of the labor force. What do we do when a hundred thousand people can run the whole show? What does the mass of humanity do?

Yes, create things and services that those other people are willing to pay for, sure. But with so many people vying for the surplus of so few, exceptionally low prices can be demanded by those buyers. Robin Hanson asserts that child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, and minimum wages are all efforts to restrict the labor pool so those who remain can bid up their wages. These all appear to be good partial solutions, but they leave those who’ve been cut out without a means of support. They also seem to be beating around the bush of the “prevent exploitation of the starving by those with money” problem rather than cutting to the root of the matter.

It’s been mentioned by many people for decades, but a basic income guarantee seems like a very plausible solution. A combination of a small unconditional transfer (like that tried in India recently) along with universal healthcare may give people enough grounding to actually be able to try new ideas and make new products, without fear that if it doesn’t work they’ll be left destitute.

Maybe we’re not quite there yet. Maybe right now we can get by on the old system, if we just alter our education system to produce more innovators and entrepreneurs. But eventually human labor will be unnecessary. Right now we’re getting a small preview of that day, and we’re being given the chance to start planning for it.

May 202013
 

no fate but what we makeSo, assuming that the Final Boss is Learned Helplessness. What can be done? I’m going to outline a strategy for an attempt. Seeking feedback, if anyone has any to give.

First, cut out a lot of media. Anything that you can’t change can be safely jettisoned. Stop watching the news and reading the paper. Eventually comedy and satire may be ok. Regular news can be phased back in once you learn to quickly shut-off any triggers.

Second, it may be important to accept that there are some things you cannot care about, and learn how to care about them less. This is closely tied to the first point. Yes there’s people dying in India. You can’t do anything about it directly, so don’t watch that exposé on corruption in the Indian government.

Third, and most importantly, do something that alters your future. Don’t do anything grand. This is not the time for grandiose gestures! In my case, I had just lost 20 lbs due to outside circumstances and I decided I wanted to keep it off. Simply not going back to my previous weight was my goal. You can build from there. Decide to lose a few extra pounds maybe. Join a book club (even if you have to take two shots of vodka before you walk in the door). Anything at all. Just do something that’ll have some small impact on the future around you.

Don’t worry about the rest of the world. It’s too big for one person to change it all. Can you lift one person that fell into a ditch? Sure. But you can’t lift ten. You lift the person next to you, and you trust that he will lift the person next to him, and so on. You can’t do everything by yourself, you can only be the type of person that would cooperate with themselves.

I already know the problem with #3 though. The problem is that when nothing matters, you cannot motivate yourself to do something. You can’t motivate yourself to do anything. There is no point. I have no idea how to overcome this problem, and I’ve been racking my brain and googling for days* . All I can say is that “finding your passion” and “searching for your meaning” is bullshit. Don’t bother trying to find something you are passionate about, it’ll only lead to greater disappointment when you realize there’s nothing to be passionate about. Just say “Yes” the next time someone on Facebook asks for a favor. Start small.


*btw, a common answer is “get professional therapy”. I strongly support that, but 1. it’s probably not enough, and 2. a lot of people can’t afford it

Feb 122013
 

thirteenth-floorMy life’s gotten pretty darn good lately. I am more healthy, fulfilled, and happy than I have been in any point of my life that I can remember. This worries me. The odds that I would be this happy are very remote. I am a white male in the richest country in the world during a time of relative peace. None of this was under my control. When I look back on all the things that could have gone wrong to prevent me from ending up here, I’m left speechless. And while I’ve overcome a number of hardships to get here, none of them were unrecoverable disasters. The universe did not hit me with small pox before there was a treatment. The fact that I did face obstacles and did overcome them adds to my feelings of happiness with my life, so I can’t even say they were, on balance, terrible.

At LessWrong HonoreDB wrote:

 Geese will instinctively gorge themselves when winter is coming on.  Eat a goose right after it’s fattened itself up for the winter, and you get a delicious treat that died happy.  The problem is that geese will only do this if they believe food may become scarce during the winter (or their instinct to gorge only kicks in when the environment is such that that would be a reasonable inference; it’s not clear whether it’s the goose or evolution doing the analysis).  If they realize that food will remain available during the winter, they eat normally.  And there are quite a few possible clues–farmers trying to replicate Sousa’s setup have discovered that cheating on any part leads to unfatted livers.

  • Even as chicks, geese cannot be handled by a human, or encounter other geese who have been.
  • There can be no visible fences.
  • Geese cannot be “fed,” rather a variety of food must be distributed randomly throughout a large space, with the placement constantly changing, so that the geese happen to come across it.

This seems to mirror my life up to now. Things are great, I’m happy, and it feels like this is due to a combination of luck and skill, and not any outside manipulation. This makes me suspicious. Life is too good, especially for an impartial uncaring universe. I am increasing my probability estimate that I exist in a simulation, and the creators of this simulation are Friendly enough to human intelligences that they ensure we have decent lives. Which would also require that people who’s lives are terrible – the Dalit slumdog in India – don’t actually exist, they’re only weakly emulated to make our lives seem better by comparison. If we’re going that far, it’s possible that almost no one else actually exists, just as that geese’s environment was almost entirely fabricated.

I don’t take this solipsism very seriously. It seems like a good way to slip into complacency, to allow your fellow man to suffer because he isn’t real, and to slack off in the fight against Death because it won’t actually happen. But it still worries at the back of my mind sometimes, a persistent niggling feeling that this is literally too good to be true and nothing is real.

(to any benevolent AI’s monitoring my life for happiness – I’m not actually complaining. This shit is pretty awesome, don’t throw me any tragedies just to try to convince me this is real, thanks. :) )

Jan 182013
 

ThundercatsPicture1aChildren have no taste at all. It is why they are constantly successfully marketed cheap crap. You don’t realize this until your taste grows. As a kid, I loved ThunderCats. A couple years ago, I decided to go back and watch it again. Word of warning to anyone thinking of doing this – just keep your happy memories. Upon review you will be sorely disappointed that what you loved so much is actually complete garbage.

Food is the same way. Kids love simple globs of stuff that are high in fat and/or sugar. Most candy simply tastes bad (can PixieStix even be called a “candy”?). I used to like McDonalds food – even just ten years ago! Now I can barely eat it. And conversely, I used to hate a lot of things that I now eat regularly.

I’m sure this doesn’t ever stop… currently I don’t taste much difference between wines, a $10 bottle is as good as a $40 bottle. Eventually this will probably change, and I hope I have more disposable income when that happens. :)

Why am I dissing on kids out of nowhere? Well, I had forgotten that I hadn’t quite finished my thoughts on value drift. I was reminded by a reply to a long-passed comment about Permutation City. I consider it a horror novel, because one of the major messages I got from it was thus: even if you never physically die, eventually over eternity one of these two things will happen –

1) your utility function will drift enough, and your memories fade and change enough, they you will be unrecognizable as the person you were. You as you are now will effectively be dead.

2) you will successfully resist change, and will be stuck thinking and doing the same things endlessly in a loop. You might as well be dead. Or preserved as a memory-diamond statue.

Even if we defeat death, living long enough is essential death anyway. You are doomed, there is no escape.

Wei Dei replied:

Isn’t that just due to the author’s inability to imagine/describe a mind capable of becoming increasingly and unboundedly complex without losing its identity?

Which is also the conclusion I eventually came to. The six-year old who liked ThunderCats is dead. The teenage who liked McDonalds is dead. Even the mid-twenties guy who loved World of Warcraft and disliked physical exercise is dead. Not one of them would have chosen to die so that I could live. But looking back, those lives are poorer and less valuable than the life I have now. And I have little doubt that the more complex person who will take my place will have an even richer and more valuable life than I do.

My values will drift, and I will become a different person. But I will be a better person. My morals will be better than those of my predecessors, my knowledge will be less wrong, and my contributions more valuable. That is a good thing.