Category Archives: Meta

OB Status Update

Followup toWhither OB?

Overcoming Bias currently plans to transition to a new format, including a new and more open sister site, tentatively entitled “Less Wrong”.  The new site will be built out of Reddit’s source code, but you won’t be limited to posting links – the new site will include a WYSIWYG HTML editor as well.  All posts will appear on Less Wrong and will be voted up or down by the readers.  Posts approved by the chief editors will be “promoted” to Overcoming Bias, which will serve as the front page of Less Wrong.

Once the initial site is up and running, the next items on the agenda include much better support for reading through sequences.  And I’ll organize more of my old posts (and perhaps some of Robin’s) into sequences.

Threaded comments and comment voting/sorting are on the way.  Anonymous commenting may go away briefly (it’s not built into the Reddit codebase) but I suspect it’s important for attracting new participation.  So I do hope to bring back non-registration commenting, but it may go away for a while.  On the plus side, you’ll only have to solve a captcha once when signing up, not every time you post.  And the 50-comment limit per page is on the way out as well.

Timeframe… theoretically, one to two weeks of work left.

I’ve reserved a final sequence on Building Rationalist Communities to seed Less Wrong.  Also, I doubt I could stop blogging completely even if I tried.  I don’t think Robin plans to stop completely either.  And it’s worth remembering that OB’s most popular post ever was a reader contribution.  So don’t touch that dial, don’t unsubscribe that RSS feed.  Exciting changes on the way.

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31 Laws of Fun

So this is Utopia, is it?  Well
I beg your pardon, I thought it was Hell.
        — Sir Max Beerholm, verse entitled
        In a Copy of More's (or Shaw's or Wells's or Plato's or Anybody's) Utopia

This is a shorter summary of the Fun Theory Sequence with all the background theory left out – just the compressed advice to the would-be author or futurist who wishes to imagine a world where people might actually want to live:

  1. Think of a typical day in the life of someone who's been adapting to Utopia for a while.  Don't anchor on the first moment of "hearing the good news".  Heaven's "You'll never have to work again, and the streets are paved with gold!" sounds like good news to a tired and poverty-stricken peasant, but two months later it might not be so much fun.  (Prolegomena to a Theory of Fun.)
  2. Beware of packing your Utopia with things you think people should do that aren't actually fun.  Again, consider Christian Heaven: singing hymns doesn't sound like loads of endless fun, but you're supposed to enjoy praying, so no one can point this out.  (Prolegomena to a Theory of Fun.)
  3. Making a video game easier doesn't always improve it.  The same holds true of a life.  Think in terms of clearing out low-quality drudgery to make way for high-quality challenge, rather than eliminating work.  (High Challenge.)
  4. Life should contain novelty – experiences you haven't encountered before, preferably teaching you something you didn't already know.  If there isn't a sufficient supply of novelty (relative to the speed at which you generalize), you'll get bored.  (Complex Novelty.)

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The Fun Theory Sequence

(A shorter gloss of Fun Theory is "31 Laws of Fun", which summarizes the advice of Fun Theory to would-be Eutopian authors and futurists.)

Fun Theory is the field of knowledge that deals in questions such as "How much fun is there in the universe?", "Will we ever run out of fun?", "Are we having fun yet?" and "Could we be having more fun?"

Fun Theory is serious business.  The prospect of endless boredom is routinely fielded by conservatives as a knockdown argument against research on lifespan extension, against cryonics, against all transhumanism, and occasionally against the entire Enlightenment ideal of a better future.

Many critics (including George Orwell) have commented on the inability of authors to imagine Utopias where anyone would actually want to live.  If no one can imagine a Future where anyone would want to live, that may drain off motivation to work on the project.  But there are some quite understandable biases that get in the way of such visualization.

Fun Theory is also the fully general reply to religious theodicy (attempts to justify why God permits evil).  Our present world has flaws even from the standpoint of such eudaimonic considerations as freedom, personal responsibility, and self-reliance.  Fun Theory tries to describe the dimensions along which a benevolently designed world can and should be optimized, and our present world is clearly not the result of such optimization – there is room for improvement.  Fun Theory also highlights the flaws of any particular religion's perfect afterlife – you wouldn't want to go to their Heaven.

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Sunnyvale Meetup Saturday

Eliezer and I will both attend this bay area OB meetup:

Saturday January 24, 7-11pm
874 San Juan Dr., Sunnyvale, CA 94085.
Lotsa parking nearby on San Junipero.
Feel free to bring drinks/snacks, or not.

Thanks to Anna Salamon for hosting!

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Tagged as:

Nonsentient Bloggers

Today's post, Nonsentient Optimizers, was accidentally published yesterday, although I'd only written half of it.  It has now been completed; please look at it again.

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Bay Area Meetup Wed 12/10 @8pm

Reminder: the second regular Overcoming Bias meetup is tomorrow, Wednesday at 8pm, at Techshop in Menlo park.  Please RSVP so they know how many people are coming.

If you’re hearing about this for the first time, sign up for the Meetup group so you get future announcements!  And please RSVP when you get them!  We don’t want to have to post this to the main blog every time.

Robin Gane-McCalla will present some of his ideas on defining intelligence.  As always, anyone with a paper to pass around, abstract to read out loud, or rationality-related cool video to show, is cordially invited to bring it along.

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Whither OB?

Robin plans to cut back posting shortly, after he and I have our long-awaited Disagreement about AI self-improvement.  As for myself – I’m not finished, but I’m way over schedule and need to move on soon.  I’m not going to stop posting entirely (I doubt I could if I tried) but I’m not going to be posting daily.

There are three directions that Overcoming Bias could go from here:

First, we could find enough good authors to keep going at a post per day.  Say, seven people who can and will write one post per week.  We can’t compromise on quality, though.

Second, we could try to shift to a more community-based format.  Our most popular post ever, still getting hits to this day, was not written by Robin or myself or any of the recurring editors.  It’s "My Favorite Liar" by Kai Chang, about the professor who inserted one false statement into each lecture.  If one-tenth of our readers contributed a single story as good as this… but neither Robin nor myself have time to vet them all.  So one approach would be to have a community forum where anyone could post, readers voted the posts up and down, and a front page to which the editors promoted posts deemed worthy.  I understand that Scoop has software like this, but I would like to know if our readers can recommend better community software (see below).

Third, we could close OB to new submissions and keep the archives online eternally, saying, "It had a good run."  As Nick put it, we shouldn’t keep going if it means a slow degeneration.

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Boston-area Meetup: 11/18/08 9pm MIT/Cambridge

There will be an OB meetup this Tuesday in Cambridge MA, hosted by Michael Vassar, Owain Evans (grad student at MIT), and Dario Amodei (grad student at Princeton). The event will take place on the MIT campus, in a spacious seminar room in MIT’s Stata Center.  Refreshments will be provided.  Details and directions below the fold.

Please let us know in the comments if you plan to attend.

(Posted on behalf of Owain Evans.)

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Bay Area Meetup: 11/17 8PM Menlo Park

Robin Gane-McCalla plans to organize regular OB meetups in the Bay Area.  The next one is 8PM, November 17th, 2008 (Monday night) in Menlo Park at TechShop.  (Note that this is a room with seating, not a restaurant, so we hopefully get a chance to actually talk to each other – though I’ll try to stay in the background myself.)


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San Jose Meetup, Sat 10/25 @ 7:30pm

It’s on Saturday 7.30pm at Il Fornaio, 302 S Market St (in the Sainte Claire Hotel), San Jose. All aspiring rationalists welcome. The reservation is currently for 21 but can be changed if needed.  Please RSVP if you haven’t already.

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