Tag Archives: Personal

Dec 4,5 Abu Dhabi Talks

I’ll speak twice soon at New York University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Here are locations & abstract:

  1. Dec. 4, 12:30-2pm in CSE 1802 to the Engineering Seminar Series (slides),
  2. Dec. 5, 6-7:30pm in S-037 (downtown) to the Economics Seminar Series (slides).

The Age Of Em: Imagining A Future Of Emulated Minds

The three most disruptive transitions in history were the introduction of humans, farming, and industry. If another transition lies ahead, a good guess for its source is artificial intelligence in the form of whole brain emulations, or “ems,” sometime in the next century. I attempt a broad synthesis of standard academic science, including in business and social science, in order to outline a baseline scenario set modestly far into a post-em-transition world. I consider computer architecture, energy conservation, cooling infrastructure, mind speeds, body sizes, security strategies, virtual reality conventions, labor market organization, management focus, job training, career paths, wage competition, identity, retirement, life cycles, reproduction, mating, conversation habits, wealth inequality, city sizes, growth rates, coalition politics, governance, law, and war.

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Me on RT America Soon

In a few hours I’ll appear on a news show on RT America, talking about organ sales. You can watch live here; here is the 5 minute video:

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Wanted: Know-It-Some Critics

Last November I said I wanted to write a book on a complex subject, but found it hard to simultaneously work out what I think on the subject, and to also write so as to engage a wide audience well. I wondered why book authors don’t do this in two steps:

First I’d write a pre-book, which states my main claims and arguments directly and clearly, using expert language, for an expert audience. I’d then circulate that pre-book privately among experts and useful thinkers of various sorts, seeking criticism of my arguments. Then using their feedback, I’d revise my claims and arguments, and write an engaging accessible book that can be circulated widely. (more)

Well even though few ever do this, I decided to try it anyway. And I now have a 62,000 word book draft, on the subject of em econ (see posts,Tedx video), i.e., on the social implications of a world dominated by brain-emulation-based AI. This draft isn’t especially fun or readable, or engaging to a wide audience. But it isn’t terrible, and seems a sufficient basis for eliciting thoughtful criticism.

I’ve asked around within my private social network, gotten some good feedback, and changed my draft lots in response. But I’d feel irresponsible if didn’t seek more critics. So let me put it out there: who wants to read and comment on my book draft?

Now I don’t want to post the draft publicly; I might want to sell it as a separate book later. So I don’t want to just give it to anyone who asks; I need to set a non-trivial standard. And the standard I’ve picked is: you should know something about something.

My book is on how the world changes if a certain tech gets cheap: computer-based emulations of human brains. And my analysis suggests that this changes many aspects of society. To give you some idea of relevant topics, I’ve included a current book outline below the fold.

So to be a useful critic, you should know something about brains, computers, business, or some other important part of our social world. You don’t need a Ph.D. of course; most knowledge in our world isn’t held by Ph.D.s. Years of experience can work wonders. But on the subjects you understand, you should know lots more than does a typical high school graduate on a typical subject, i.e., almost nothing. (And of course you also need a minimal ability to generalize what you know to new situations, and to express what you know somehow to me.)

If you are interested and think you qualify, email me at: rhanson@gmu.edu. Here is that current outline:

Continue reading "Wanted: Know-It-Some Critics" »

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Why Is Law Fertile For Econ?

I’m about to teach graduate law & econ for the first time, after teaching the undergrad version five times. Going over my new text (Shavell) I’m struck by a difference between law & econ and other areas of applied econ, like labor econ, enviro econ, defense econ, managerial econ, public choice, econ of the family, etc. Relative to these other areas, it seems to me law & econ has more non-obvious insights that can be explained with very little econ machinery, usually in just a paragraph or two of text. Yes most areas have some of these, but in law they just seems to go on and on. Why is law so fertile for economics this way?

You might say that law & econ started recently, but in many other areas we learned most of what we know after law & econ work started. You might say that law & econ has participation by law specialists and it helps to have simple arguments to be able to explain insights to them. But most of these other areas also have specialists who appreciate simple arguments.

You might say that law typically deals with interactions in pairs, which are intrinsically simpler than interactions between many parties. But when supply and demand applies it is also a pretty simple interaction, and many other areas like family econ also deal with pairs a lot.

Another explanation is that for most of us the usual heavy moral coloring of law blocks our simple understanding of consequential arguments in law. In other areas of econ application that lack such mental blocks, most people would already understand the simple consequences of simple actions, and so economics couldn’t get credit for those as insights. But in law economics can get credit for explaining simple consequences that many folks would have already understood in other areas without such mental blocks.

This last explanation is my tentative favorite, though I’m open to other suggestions. It says law is an area where most folks are especially reluctant to let themselves appreciate simple consequences, most likely because they prefer to hold onto standard far ideals about law, and try not to see consequences that might conflict with such ideals. For example, seeing contract breach as immoral promise breaking makes it hard to see how good breaches happen when damages for contract violation equal the value the other party places on non-breach.

Of course this explanation also suggests it will be particularly hard to get the actual law to change much in response to good economic arguments about law. Which is roughly what we see.

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Em- vs Non-Em- AGI Bet

Joshua Fox and I have agreed to a bet:

We, Robin Hanson and Joshua Fox, agree to bet on which kind of artificial general intelligence (AGI) will dominate first, once some kind of AGI dominates humans. If the AGI are closely based on or derived from emulations of human brains, Robin wins, otherwise Joshua wins. To be precise, we focus on the first point in time when more computing power (gate-operations-per-second) is (routinely, typically) controlled relatively-directly by non-biological human-level-or-higher general intelligence than by ordinary biological humans. (Human brains have gate-operation equivalents.)

If at that time more of that computing power is controlled by emulation-based AGI, Joshua owes Robin whatever $3000 invested today in S&P500-like funds is worth then. If more is controlled by AGI not closely based on emulations, Robin owes Joshua that amount. The bet is void if the terms of this bet make little sense then, such as if it becomes too hard to say if capable non-biological intelligence is general or human-level, if AGI is emulation-based, what devices contain computing power, or what devices control what other devices. But we intend to tolerate modest levels of ambiguity in such things.

[Added 16Aug:] To judge if “AGI are closely based on or derived from emulations of human brains,” judge which end of the following spectrum is closer to the actual outcome. The two ends are 1) an emulation of the specific cell connections in a particular human brain, and 2) general algorithms of the sort that typically appear in AI journals today.

We bet at even odds, but of course the main benefit of having more folks bet on such things is to discover market odds to match the willingness to bet on the two sides. Toward that end, who else will declare a willingness to take a side of this bet? At what odds and amount?

My reasoning is based mainly on the huge costs to create new complex adapted systems from scratch when existing systems embody great intricately-coordinated and adapted detail. In such cases there are huge gains to instead adapting existing systems, or to creating new frameworks to allow the transfer of most detail from old systems.

Consider, for example, complex adapted systems like bacteria, cities, languages, and legal codes. The more that such systems have accumulated detailed adaptations to the detail of other complex systems and environments, the less it makes sense to redesign them from scratch. The human mind is one of the most complex and intricately adapted systems we know, and our rich and powerful world economy is adapted in great detail to many details of those human minds. I thus expect a strong competitive advantage from new mind systems which can inherit most of that detail wholesale, instead of forcing the wholesale reinvention of substitutes.

Added 16Aug: Note that Joshua and I have agreed on a clarifying paragraph.

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Beware Star Academia

I recently saw the show Old Jews Telling Jokes, and was reminded of a big change in humor over the last century. The show was full of old-style jokes, i.e., jokes designed to be funny given only a moderate level of showmanship. Once upon a time the jokes we heard were mostly jokes that got passed around because lots of pretty ordinary folks could tell them and get laughs. Today, instead, most jokes we hear are told by professional comics, who mostly tell their own unique jokes integrated with their life story and personality. Few others, even professional comics, can get such laughs from these jokes.

A similar change happened in music. Once upon a time the songs we heard were mostly songs that got passed around because many relatively ordinary folks could sing them and sound good. Today instead we mostly hear songs designed to show off the particular abilities of particular musicians. We are less tempted to sing these songs to our friends, or even to ourselves. Further in the past, a similar change happened with stories. Once, the stories we heard were passed around because many story tellers could enthrall listeners with them, even with many details changed. Then after the invention of writing we have preferred to pass around the exact words of particular story-tellers.

These changes seem driven by the ability to pass around more exactly the particular performances of particular artists. When we have that option, we take it eagerly. While we might think we mainly like the jokes, songs, and stories, and that artists are just a vehicle for getting to those. But it seems instead that we more care about admiring the abilities of particular artists, and that jokes, songs, and stories mostly vehicles to showcase artists.

If, as I have suggested, academia mainly functions to let us affiliate with impressive intellectuals, then academia should be at risk of suffering the same trend. That is, once upon a time we passed around the intellectual arguments and claims that a wide range of speakers could use in many contexts to persuade many listeners. But as we have gained better abilities to pass around the particular ways that particular speakers argue for claims, the above trend in jokes, song, and stories suggests that we did or will switch to focus more on the particular ways that particular intellectuals express and elaborate claims and arguments, and less on the claims and arguments themselves.

This is a problem because we have stronger reasons to expect that the arguments and claims that many people can use in many contexts to persuade varied listeners are more likely to be true, relative to those designed more to be parts of overall impressive displays by particular persons in particular contexts. If listeners actually care less if claims are true than if claimers are impressive, we should expect that when the audience for intellectuals can get better access to a rich personal display of attempted persuasion, they will lose much of their derived interest in the truth of claims. After all, maybe the audience never really cared that much if the claims were true – they mainly cared about claim truth as evidence of claimer impressiveness.

I’ve actually seen a lot that looks like this in my intellectual travels over the years. For example, many famous classic texts, especially in philosophy, are said to be popular because they can’t be effectively summarized or rephrased for a modern audience; to assimilate their insights, one must read the original authors in the original voices, even if their issues and styles are strange to us. We should suspect that folks read these classics less for insights and more for admiring and affiliating with impressive minds.

Also, I have seen people take arguments that others have made and express them with a bit more elegance and status, perhaps using more difficult methods, and get famous for originating such arguments, even when they mostly repeated what others said. It seems that people pretend that they celebrate these folks for originating certain arguments, but really want to admire and affiliate with their impressiveness.

Where could you go if you wanted to get the robust arguments, instead of affiliating with impressive intellectuals? First, read textbooks. I heartily recommend textbooks in most any subject. In fact, it is hard to do better than just sitting in a university bookstore and reading all the intro texts they have. Long ago I spent many days in the Stanford bookstore doing just that. Once you are done with textbooks, review articles are the next most robust option. And beware when interest in a topic seems to focus mainly on a particular author, and doesn’t transfer much to others who write on that same topic.

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Ponder Questions

A Harvard assistant dean of admissions:

You had to look for people who could come into a very competitive environment, who could still find self-esteem and who in some way, shape or form was still the best at something.

How do you figure that out?

It was never the answers they gave. It was the questions they asked. The questions give a much better clue to how a person thinks. Answers can be learned, can be rote. But it’s the questions. (more)

I know many folks who consider themselves intellectuals. I guess they think that in part because if you asked them “What have you been up to lately?,” they’d tell you about books, articles, blogs, or twitter feeds that they’ve been reading. Or perhaps TED talks they’ve watched. This is why I prefer the question “What have you been thinking about lately?” And I’ll usually be a bit disappointed if the answer isn’t about a question they’ve been trying to answer.

Yes perhaps if they just mention a topic, that really stands for some questions about that topic. But often people thinking about a topic are mostly trying to find more supporting evidence for things they already believe. Less often are they taking what I consider the most productive intellectual strategy: focus on an important question where you don’t know the answer.

Once you start to think about a question, you’ll probably soon start to break it down into supporting sub-questions. Instead of asking “How can we get world peace?” you might ask “What most goes wrong when the United Nations intervenes?” or “Why do citizens on the losing sides of wars support them?” And hearing about your interesting sub-questions might just make my day. That is why I, like the Harvard admissions dean above, will be especially eager to hear that you’ve been thinking about interesting questions.

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Me on PBS Off Book

PBS Digital Studios makes Off Book, with short (9 min) episodes for Youtube viewers. The latest episode is on The Rise of Artificial Intelligence:

I mostly appear from 3:30 to 5:30.

Added 16Dec: I’m told this video has had over 100,000 views so far.

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I’m On After Bill Gates

This Monday I’ll speak for 15 min on Prediction Engines at a Microsoft Faculty Summit. The summit is private, but selected talks and interviews will be streamed publicly. I’ll be in a public interview 13:30–14:00 PDT, right after Bill Gates’ keynote talk. My private talk session is also right after Gates speaks, but in a breakout session; I probably won’t meet him.

Added: video here.

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Adam Ford Interview

Late on a freezing grey afternoon last December, Adam Ford filmed me outside in front of Oxford’s Christ’s Church, me all bundled up a coat, scarf, and cap. Youtube says Ford has 506 videos (and more at Vimeo), almost all talking to futurists, so he’s pretty experienced at this. He edited our talk down to 31 minutes; these were our topics:

  • Morality Tales, The Future, And You
  • Future Thinking Near & Far Modes
  • Utopia
  • Whole Brain Emulation
  • Dystopia
  • Mythology
  • Escapism
  • Nature & Progress
  • Acceleration & Change
  • Risks & Growth Trajectories
  • The Road Ahead

Other recent short videos of mine: TEDx Tallinn talk (19min), my BBC Interview (4min).

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