Re: META: Molloy (was: Friendly AI)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sat Nov 25 2000 - 13:47:37 MST

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> Well Eliezer, I don't love discussions about discussions about discussions
> about discussions...
> but I can't resist chipping in here...
> I personally find your "Bzzzzzzzt!" strategy of moderation slightly
> offputting, but not nearly
> enough so to sign off the list, given that the discussion is fairly
> interesting...

Thanks. I shall consider alternatives.

> First, I would make the request more informally.
> All you had to do in this case was ask J.R. to be a little less flippant and
> more
> thoughtful in his posts, if that's what you wanted, rather than openly
> calling them "the most
> intellectually sterile posts of anyone I've ever known." Frankly, that's
> not very nice ;>

This is not the first time that J.R. Molloy and I have interacted. I
don't think he's being flippant, and I don't think he's deliberately
playing the role of the Trickster. I think he's being honest. That being
the case, there's nothing I can ask him to do about it.

> Second, if this didn't work, I would ask the person the same thing
> in a PRIVATE e-mail, in stronger terms.

That was the strongest visible alternative - but then I'm not only
controlling the list content, I'm exerting control over the list content
without the list members knowing it. If Samantha Atkins threw a fit over
*that*, she'd have me cold.

I could make the decision to announce that the list is moderated,
*invisibly*, by myself, and that I may at any time quietly ask anyone to
stop posting or reduce posting, without informing the list. But that
would subtly shift the list focus from being "the SL4 mailing list,
moderated by Eliezer" to "Eliezer's personal mailing list, with SL4
subject matter". Mailing lists like that exist, are interesting, and
acquire subscribers, but that's not what I had in mind when I created the
SL4 list.

> Those who know me well, would laugh at me trying to pass myself off as a
> master of social tact.
> But I think that, in spite of being a misfit at heart, I've learned a bit
> about politics from
> helping run a business for the last few years....

Undoubtedly, when I have run SL4 for a few years, things will be
smoother. But, for the moment, I have to come up with solutions using the
experience I do have. Although I don't *like* to look like I'm
overreacting or intolerant, I'm willing to run the risk if it maintains
post quality.

> Personally I'm not as down on Molloy's and Spudboy's posts as you are,
> either -- I see Molloy as
> acting in the tradition of the Trickster, subverting and contradicting
> whatever is said, sometimes
> in obvious ways, occasionally in less obvious ones.... With very high
> frequency this would get
> exasperating, but so far, it's amused me more often ..

I'm not sure I trust your amusement. We often pretend to ourselves that
we are amused at things we deeply and permanently hate - more fallout from
our badly designed goal systems. Anyway, on the Extropians list, there
was a period when Molloy was replying to almost every single post; even
though most went unreplied, he had started to dominate the list by sheer
volume. Molloy's posts do generate replies that are sometimes of value,
but they still wind up steering the conversation away from even more
interesting things. But that's something you couldn't judge without
reading Extropians... which I don't really advise.

> I certainly sympathize with your desire to use this and other lists to make
> genuine conceptual progress,
> rather than just to randomly chat. On the other hand, a certain amount of
> noise & chaos is necessary
> to stimulate conceptual progress -- as is an attitude of openness and
> creativity, which "Bzzzzzt!"
> does not necessarily foster.

I've often heard that tolerance has something to do with creativity, but I
think that this is a myth that gets repeated because it's a socially
acceptable thing to say. I think that intolerance, especially
self-intolerance, of even the least little compromise of thought quality,
is the way by which we make qualitative improvements in our personal
philosophies. I think it's intolerance that leads us to make major
changes in ourselves, and tolerance of imperfection which leads to staying
where you are, possibly making slight improvements every now and then, but
nothing drastic; not really going anywhere.

I think that the really creative people tend to be totally intolerant of
imperfection within themselves, and this leads them to be intolerant of
imperfections caused by others. This is not the politic attitude to take,
perhaps - and indeed, what I've described is a strictly internal attitude,
saying nothing about external speech. But whenever I see a genuinely
creative person advocating tolerance and openness as an aid towards
"brainstorming", my first impulse is to think "meme infection".

Noise and chaos, yes - but *quality* noise and chaos. Not all noise and
chaos are useful just because they can be described by the "noise" and
"chaos" category labels.

> Finally, I too appreciate you having set up this list, as this is the most
> interesting e-mail discussion
> I've had for a while (excepting internal Webmind Inc. ones)


-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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