Societies of mind, Scott Aaronson, Moloch, Guaranteed income, Nurturance culture, Ramanujan, writing

Posted: 2016-04-30 , Modified: 2016-04-30

I’ve changed the way that I organize links and media. Previously, I made a “summary” blog post every month. From now on, I’ll put them in this workflowy, categorized by topic. This is because

• All links are all in one document and so easily searchable.
• They are categorized by topic across dates.
• Rather than releasing a list at the end of every month, I can add items continuously.

Every item is tagged with the date that I read it (format YYYY-(M)M-(D)D). Workflowy can filter by tags, so you can still get a monthly summary as follows.

• Type the month tag in the search box, for example, #2016-4 for items added this month. This month’s links.
• To get just the most interesting items, search (\*). To search for the most interesting items in this month, search (\*) #2016-4. This month’s starred links.

For this monthly summary I’ll instead write about a few highlights/threads that stood out to me, and draw connections between some of the different items.

• Modeling one’s society of mind: I just finished reading Crystal Society (which I greatly enjoyed), a story from an AI point of view. In the story, the AI has several different “goal threads” which operate as distinct characters—Face, Growth, Wiki, Safety, Dream, Heart. It led me to think about modeling myself in terms of multiple goal threads/personalities, and casting internal dialogues using this kind of fiction. In other words, I’m attributing different goals to different, named parts of myself. (See also my post on Inside Out.)
• There was a discussion on the CFAR alumni thread (private link) on this.
• In his blog, Mory Buxner documents his adventures in modeling his own society of mind: he creates a “game” (with scoring) where he switches between these different characters, and has dialogues between them (Explorer, worker, gamer, musician, programmer, thinker, addict, person).
• The People In My Head Who Make Me Do Things: Brienne Yudkowsky comes up with Obsession, Kodama, Progress, Avlokiteśvara (Bodhisattva), Sovereign, Dream.
• Introducing the cast (of Malcolm Ocean): The characters are Mastermind, Dream, Crave, Taste, Clarity, Interface, Harmony.
• Interview with Scott Aaronson h His quote is on point:

I love when the human race gains new knowledge, in math or history or anything else. I love when important decisions fall into the hands of people who constantly second-guess themselves and worry that their own ‘tribe’ might be mistaken, who are curious about science and have a sense of the ironic and absurd. I love when society’s outcasts, like Alan Turing or Michael Burry (who predicted the subprime mortgage crisis), force everyone else to pay attention to them by being inconveniently right. And whenever I read yet another thinkpiece about the problems with ‘narrow-minded STEM nerds’—how we’re basically narcissistic children, lacking empathy and social skills, etc. etc.—I think to myself, ‘then let everyone else be as narrow and narcissistic as most of the STEM nerds I know; I have no further wish for the human race.’

• Meditations on Moloch h When individual agents are grouped together in larger systems, the system has an emergent character and can do things that none of the individuals wants (ex. different nations engage in arms races—these situations often have a “Prisoner’s Dilemma” nature); in order to survive in such a world, individuals may have to give up their values and optimize for something that they don’t want to optimize. Systems that manipulate people in this way can destroy the world, and in fact, already exert a strong influence.1 Giving this kind of force a name, Moloch, helps us recognize this influence.

Moreover, as technology becomes more powerful, Moloch only becomes more powerful. Scott further argues that we are in a rare period of relative peace. He argues that the best way to destroy Moloch is to install another god (i.e., superintelligent AI) in its place.
• I’m unsure what to make of the conclusion of the argument, but I think the question of how to defend against Moloch is a very pressing one. You don’t have to look towards armaggeddon examples—it rears its head any time society exerts pressure on the individual. A down-to-earth example is a workaholic culture (it’s hard to go against the grain, both socially and economically). Why hasn’t the dream of machines decreasing work for humans been realized?

And here is a proposed solution: Is the world ready for a guaranteed basic income? The podcast makes the very good point that “If you look at the 18th and at the 19th century, some of the great scientific breakthroughs and some of the great cultural breakthroughs were made by people who did not work,”2 and it does a good job of exploring the research and pros/cons of a guaranteed income.

One continual source of conflict between people who want technological progress and people who are skeptical is that “it takes away jobs!” A guaranteed basic income certainly seems like a tempting solution—but even some kind of a safety net that is more narrowly targeted could resolve this conflict.
• Society pressures men to conform to some stereotype of masculinity, for example, display of emotions is often stigmatized. The first step is to acknowledge that there is a systemic gender problem that is plaguing men. Here are two articles on this topic:
• I watched The man who knew infinity, which is a beautifully sad film about Ramanujan that is faithful to the subject of mathematics3, of the same caliber as A Beautiful Mind. The film focuses on the relationship between Ramanujan and Hardy, who had to overcome large cultural and personal differences in order to collaborate. For me, it really drives home how sad it is that these kinds of differences do keep people from connecting.
• This post on writing (h ) captures the essence of why writing is useful: writing serves as external memory, forces you to think about the ideas, and is a way to move closer to the truth.
• This is beautiful! Opulent Joy

1. Even if the vast majority of people are rational, it only takes a few to create terror.

2. cf. A Room of One’s Own. The title refers to “any author’s need for poetic license and the personal liberty to create art.”

3. by which I mean mathematics as an endeavor, rather than just “getting the equations right”.