From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Mar 29 2001 - 13:05:17 MST

Jimmy Wales wrote:
> (I've asked Eliezer
> to explain it to me, and I think his explanation is not good enough.)

Explanation, from our previous conversation, enclosed. (And yes, I think
this is on-topic.)

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> Because my sentences got too darn complicated when I tried to use the word
> "it" for AIs. "It" also serves as a general anaphor, like "that" or
> "this". So "it" only works as a pronoun for small sentences; anything
> more, and Broca's area does a stack overflow. I tried rewriting a few
> times, but eventually gave up and switched to the gender-neutral pronouns
> I'd remembered from Greg Egan's _Diaspora_.
> A lot of people have complained, so I know it looks artificial and
> stilted, but it seems to be unavoidable. I'd rather be the one who takes
> the hit for being the first to start solving the problem. Otherwise the
> field of AI will wind up using more and more tangled English.

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> Like anyone who's ever sold a piece of writing outside a high-school
> newspaper, I've picked up the attitude that Rules are Rules if there's any
> possible way to avoid breaking them. In this case, after rewriting
> several times, I came to the conclusion that there simply wasn't. I'm not
> a perfect writer, but I've at least mastered words, syntax, and sentences;
> it's paragraphs, story, and imagery that take the work. So I don't feel
> too guilty about using gender-neutrals. If it were a problem with plot
> it'd be foolish to say "I can't do it, so it can't be done"; I'd check a
> book or consult one of my true-professional friends. But if I can't make
> the syntax go after a couple of tries - substituting "the AI" for "it",
> breaking up the sentence into smaller parts, and so on - well, there's
> probably a real problem, because there's only so much you can do with
> syntax.

I probably should have saved one of the "tough sentences" from way back
when... nowadays, it's been so long...

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

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