Re: FAI: Collective Volition

From: Eliezer Yudkowsky (
Date: Wed Jun 02 2004 - 07:25:38 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:

> Eliezer,
> About this idea of creating a non-sentient optimization process, to
> A) predict possible futures for the universe
> B) analyze the global human psyche and figure out the "collective
> volition" of humanity
> instead of creating a superhuman mind....
> I can't say it's impossible that this would work. It goes against my
> scientific intuition, which says that sentience of some sort would
> almost surely be needed to achieve these things, but my scientific
> intuition could be wrong. Also, my notion of "sentience of some sort"
> may grow and become more flexible as more AGI and AGI-ish systems become
> available for interaction!

I have not the vaguest idea of what you mean by "sentience". I am still
proposing reflectivity - superhuman reflectivity, in fact. Why are you so
horrified at my proposing to omit something if you do not know what you
mean by the term, let alone what I mean by it?

> However, it does seem to me that either problem A or B above is
> significantly more difficult than creating a self-modifying AGI system.
> Again, I could be wrong on this, but ... Sheesh.

Yes, saving the world is significantly more difficult than blowing it up.
I would rise to the challenge, raise the level of my game sufficiently to
change the default destiny of a seed AI researcher, rather than walking
into the whirling razor blades of which I was once ignorant. I understand
if you decide that the challenge is beyond you, for yes, it is difficult.
But it is harder to understand why you are still on the playing field,
endangering yourself and others.

> To create a self-modifying AGI system, at very worst one has to
> understand the way the human brain works, and then emulate something
> like it in a more mutably self-modifiable medium such as computer
> software. This is NOT the approach I'm taking with Novamente; I'm just
> pointing it out to place a bound on the difficulty of creating a
> self-modifying AGI system. The biggest "in principle" obstacle here is
> that it could conceivably require insanely much computational power --
> or quantum computing, quantum gravity computing, etc. -- to get AGI to
> work at the human level (for example, if the microtubule hypothesis is
> right). Even so, then we just have the engineering problem of creating
> a more mutable substrate than human brain tissue, and reimplementing
> human brain algorithms within it.
> On the other hand, the task of creating a non-sentient optimization
> process of the sort you describe is a lot more nebulous (due to the lack
> of even partially relevant examples to work from). Yeah, in principle
> it's easy to create optimization processes of arbitrary power -- so long
> as one isn't concerned about memory or processor usage. But
> contemporary science tells us basically NOTHING about how to make
> uber-optimization-processes like the one you're envisioning. The ONLY
> guidance it gives us in this direction, pertains to "how to build a
> sentience that can act as a very powerful optimization process."

Again, I've got no clue what you mean by 'non-sentient'. I was still
planning on using recursive self-improvement, self-modification, total
self-access or "autopotence" in Nick Bostrom's phrase, full reflectivity,
et cetera.

> So, it seems to me that you're banking on creating a whole new branch of
> science basically from nothing,

Not from nothing. Plenty of precedents, even if they are not widely known.

> whereas to create AGI one MAY not need
> to do that, one may only need to "fix" the existing sciences of
> "cognitive science" and AI.

Does that mean that you'll create something without understanding how it
works? Whirling razor blades, here we come.

> It seems to me that, even if what you're suggesting is possible (which I
> really doubt), you're almost certain to be beaten in the race by someone
> working to build a sentient AGI.

By "sentient AGI" you mean recursive self-improvement thrown together at
random, which of course will be sentient whatever that means, because
humans are sentient therefore so must be an AGI? Or is sentience just this
holy and mysterious power that you don't know how it works, but you think
it is important, so I'm committing blasphemy by suggesting that I not
include it, whatever it is?

Seriously, I don't see how anyone can make this huge fuss over sentience in
AGI when you don't know how it works and you can't give me a walkthrough of
how it produces useful outputs. I have a few small ideas about
half-understood architectural quirks that give humans the belief they are
conscious, architectural quirks to which I applied the term "sentience".
Evidently this was a huge mistake. I hereby announce my intent to build
non-floogly AI.

> Therefore, to succeed with this new plan, you'll probably need to create
> some kind of fascist state in which working on AGI is illegal and
> punishable by death, imprisonment or lobotomy.

Maybe that's what you'd do in my shoes. My brilliant new notion is to
understand what I am doing, rather than randomly guessing, and see if that
lets me finish my work before the meddling dabblers blow up the world by
accident. Though in your case it does begin to border on being on purpose.

"Sentient", "non-sentient", this is phlogiston, Greek philosophy. You
cannot argue about something you do not understand, mystical substances and
mystical properties of mystical systems. I intend to unravel the sacred
mystery of flooginess, which I have already come far enough to declare as a
non-mysterious target. Then, having unravelled it, I will either know how
to build a non-floogly optimization process, or I will know in detail why
floogling is necessary. I am only announcing my moral preference in favor
of non-floogly optimization processes. I won't definitely say it's
possible or impossible until I know in more detail where the present
confusion comes from, and I certainly don't intend to make up campfire
stories about the mystical powers of floogly systems until I can do a
walkthrough of how they work. Do a walkthrough, not tell stories about
them. As far as I can guess, the whole thing will turn out to be a
confusion, probably a very interesting confusion, but a confusion nonetheless.

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

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