HPMOR Q&A by Eliezer at Wrap Party in Berkeley [Transcription]

Tran­scribed from max­ikov’s posted videos.

Ver­bal filler re­moved for clar­ity.

Au­di­ence Laugh­ter de­noted with [L], Ap­plause with [A]


Eliezer: So, any ques­tions? Do we have a micro­phone for the au­di­ence?


Guy Offscreen:
We don’t have a micro­phone for the au­di­ence, have we?


Some Other Guy: We have this furry thing, wait, no that’s not hooked up. Never mind.


Eliezer: Alright, come on over to the micro­phone.


Guy with ‘Berkeley Lab’ shirt: So, this ques­tion is sort of on be­half of the HPMOR sub­red­dit. You say you don’t give red her­rings, but like… He’s mak­ing faces at me like… [L] You say you don’t give red her­rings, but while he’s sit­ting dur­ing in the Quid­ditch game think­ing of who he can bring along, he stares at Cedric Dig­gory, and he’s like, “He would be use­ful to have at my side!”, and then he never shows up. Why was there not a Cedric Dig­gory?


Eliezer: The true Cedrics Dig­gory are in­side all of our hearts. [L] And in the mir­ror. [L] And in Harry’s glasses. [L] And, well, I mean the no­tion is, you’re go­ing to look at that and think, “Hey, he’s go­ing to bring along Cedric Dig­gory as a spare wand, and he’s gonna die! Right?” And then, Les­tath Les­trange shows up and it’s sup­posed to be hu­morous, or some­thing. I guess I can’t do hu­mor. [L]


Guy Dressed as a Witch:
Does Quir­rell’s at­ti­tude to­wards reck­less mug­gle sci­en­tists have any­thing to do with your at­ti­tude to­wards AI re­searchers that aren’t you? [L]


Eliezer: That is un­fair. There are at least a dozen safety con­scious AI re­searchers on the face of the earth. [L] At least one of them is re­spected. [L] With that said, I mean if you have a ver­sion of Volde­mort who is smart and seems to be go­ing around kil­ling mug­gle­borns, and sort of pretty gen­er­ally down on mug­gles… Like, why would any­one go around kil­ling mug­gle­borns? I mean, there’s more than one ra­tio­nal­iza­tion you could ap­ply to this situ­a­tion, but the sort of ob­vi­ous one is that you dis­ap­prove of their con­duct with nu­clear weapons. From Tom Rid­dle’s per­spec­tive that is.

I do think I sort of try to never have leak­age from that thing I spend all day talk­ing about into a place it re­ally didn’t be­long, and there’s a say­ing that goes ‘A fa­natic is some­one who can­not change his mind, and will not change the sub­ject.’ And I’m like ok, so if I’m not go­ing to change my mind, I’ll at least en­deavor to be able to change the sub­ject. [L] Like, to­wards the very end of the story we are get­ting into the realm where sort of the con­ver­gent at­ti­tude that any sort of care­fully rea­son­ing per­son will take to­wards global catas­trophic risks, and the re­al­iza­tion that you are in fact a com­plete crap ra­tio­nal­ist, and you’re go­ing to have to start over and ac­tu­ally try this time. Th­ese things are sort of re­flec­tive of the story out­side the story, but apart from ‘there is only one king upon a chess­board’, and ‘I need to raise the level of my game or fail’, and per­haps, one lit­tle thing that was said about the mir­ror of VEC, as some peo­ple called it.

Aside from those things I would say that I was treat­ing it more as con­ver­gent evolu­tion rather than any sort of at­tempted parable or Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell speak­ing form me. He usu­ally doesn’t… [L] I wish more peo­ple would re­al­ize that… [L] I mean, you know the… How can I put this ex­actly. There are these peo­ple who are sort of to the right side of the poli­ti­cal spec­trum and oc­ca­sion­ally they tell me that they wish I’d just let Pro­fes­sor Quir­rell take over my brain and run my body. And they are liter­ally Repub­li­cans for You Know Who. And there you have it ba­si­cally. Next Ques­tion! … No more ques­tions, ok. [L] I see that no one has any ques­tions left; Oh, there you are.


Fid­gety Guy: One of the chap­ters you posted was the fi­nal exam chap­ter where you had ev­ery­body brain­storm solu­tions to the predica­ment that Harry was in. Did you have any fa­vorite al­ter­nate solu­tion be­sides the one that made it into the book.


Eliezer: So, not to give away the in­tended solu­tion for any­one who hasn’t reached that chap­ter yet, though re­ally you’re just go­ing to have the liv­ing daylight spoiled out of you, there’s no way to avoid that re­ally. So, the most brilli­ant solu­tion I had not thought of at all, was for Harry to pre­com­mit to trans­figure some­thing that would cause a large ex­plo­sion visi­ble from the Quid­ditch stands which had ob­served no such ex­plo­sion, thereby un­less help sent via Time-Turner showed up at that point, thereby in­sur­ing that the sim­plest timeline was not the one where he never reached the Time-Turner. And as­sur­ing that some self-con­sis­tent set of events would oc­cur which caused him not to carry through on his pre­com­mit­ment. I, you know, I sus­pect that I might have ruled that that wouldn’t work be­cause of the Un­break­able Vow pre­vent­ing Harry from ac­tu­ally do­ing that be­cause it might, in effect, count as try­ing to de­stroy that timeline, or filter it, and thereby have that count as try­ing to de­stroy the world, or just risk de­stroy­ing it, or some­thing along those lines, but it was brilli­ant! [L] I was star­ing at the com­puter screen go­ing, “I can’t be­lieve how brilli­ant these peo­ple are!” “That’s not some­thing I usu­ally hear you say,” Brienne said. “I’m not usu­ally watch­ing hun­dreds of peo­ples’ col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence com­ing up with solu­tions way bet­ter than any­thing I thought of!” I replied to her.

And the sort of most fun lat­eral think­ing solu­tion was to call ‘Up!’ to, or pull Quirinus Quir­rell’s body over us­ing trans­figured car­bon nan­otubes and some padding, and call ‘Up!’ and ride away on his broom­stick bones. [L] That is definitely go­ing in ‘Omake files #5: Col­lec­tive In­tel­li­gence’! Next ques­tion!


Guy Wear­ing Black: So in the chap­ter with the mir­ror, there was a point at which Dum­ble­dore had said some­thing like, “I am on this side of the mir­ror and I always have been.” That was never ex­plained that I could tell. I’m won­der­ing if you could clar­ify that.


Eliezer: It is a refer­ence to the fan­fic ‘Seventh Hor­crux’ that *to­tally* ripped off HPMOR de­spite be­ing writ­ten slightly ear­lier than it… [L] I was slap­ping my fore­head pretty hard when that hap­pened. Which con­tains the line “Per­haps Albus Dum­ble­dore re­ally was in­side the mir­ror all along.” Sort of arc words as it were. And I also figured that there was sim­ply some by-lo­ca­tion effect us­ing one of the ad­vanced set­tings of the mir­ror that Dum­ble­dore was us­ing so that the trap would always be springable as op­posed to him hav­ing to know at what time Tom Rid­dle would ap­pear be­fore the mir­ror and be trapped. Next!


Black Guy: So, how did Moody and the rest of them re­trieve the items Dum­ble­dore threw in the mir­ror of VEC?


Eliezer: Dum­ble­dore threw them out­side the mir­rors range, thereby caus­ing those not to be sealed in the cor­re­spond­ing real world when the du­pli­cate mode of Dum­ble­dore in­side the mir­ror was sealed. So wher­ever Dum­ble­dore was at the time, prob­a­bly in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ni­co­las Flamel’s house, he sud­denly popped away and the line of Mer­lin Un­bro­ken and the Elder Wand just fell to the floor from where he was.


Asian Guy: In the ‘Some­thing to Pro­tect: Severus Snape’, you wrote that he laughed. And I was re­ally cu­ri­ous, what ex­actly does Severus Snape sound like when he laughs. [L]


Per­son in Au­di­ence: Perform for us!


Eliezer: He He He. [L]


Girl in Au­di­ence: Do it again now, ev­ery­body to­gether!


Au­di­ence: He He He. [L]


Guy in Blue Shirt: So I was cu­ri­ous about the mo­ti­va­tion be­tween mak­ing Sirius re-evil again and hav­ing Peter be a good guy again, their re­la­tion­ship. What was the mo­ti­va­tion?


Eliezer: In char­ac­ter or out char­ac­ter?


Guy in Blue Shirt: Well, yes. [L]


Eliezer: All right, well, in char­ac­ter Peter can be pretty at­trac­tive when he wants to be, and Sirius was a teenager. Or, you were ask­ing about the al­ign­ment shift part?


Guy in Blue Shirt: Yeah, the al­ign­ment and their re­la­tion­ship.


Eliezer: So, in the al­ign­ment, I’m just rul­ing it always was that way. The whole Sirius Black thing is a puz­zle, is the way I’m look­ing at it. And the canon solu­tion to that puz­zle is perfectly fine for a chil­dren’s book, which I say once again re­quires a higher level of skill than a grown-up book, but just did not make sense in con­text. So I was just look­ing at the puz­zle and be­ing like, ok, so what can be the ac­tual solu­tion to this puz­zle? And also, a fur­ther im­por­tant fac­tor, this had to hap­pen. There’s a whole lot of fan­fic­tions out there of Harry Pot­ter. More than half a mil­lion, and that was years ago. And ‘Meth­ods of Ra­tion­al­ity’ is fun­da­men­tally set in the uni­verse of Harry Pot­ter fan­fic­tion, more than canon. And in many many of these fan­fic­tions some­one goes back in time to redo the seven years, and they know that Scab­bers is se­cretly Peter Pet­ti­grew, and there’s a scene where they stun Scab­bers the rat and take him over to Dum­ble­dore, and Head Auror, and the Minister of Magic and get them to check out this rat over here, and un­cover Peter Pet­ti­grew. And in all the times I had read that scene, at least a dozen times liter­ally, it was never once played out the way it would in real life, where that is just a rat, and you’re crazy. [L] And that was the sort of ba­sic seed of, “Ok, we’re go­ing to play this straight, the sort of loonier con­spir­a­cies are false, but there is still a grain of con­spir­acy truth to it.” And then I in­tro­duced the whole ac­count­ing of what hap­pened with Sirius Black in the same chap­ter where Hermione just hap­pens to men­tion that there’s a Me­ta­mor­phma­gus in Hufflepuff, and ex­actly one per­son posted to the re­views in chap­ter 28, based on the clue that the Me­ta­mor­phma­gus had been men­tioned in the same chap­ter, “Aha! I pre­sent you the tale of Peter Pet­ti­grew, the un­for­tu­nate Me­ta­mor­phma­gus.” [L] See! You could’ve solved it, you could’ve solved it, but you didn’t! Some­one solved it, you did not solve that. Next Ques­tion!


Guy in White: First, [pulls out wand] Avada Ke­davra. How do you feel about your se­cu­rity? [L] Se­cond, have you con­sid­ered the next time you need a large group of very smart peo­ple to re­ally work on a hard prob­lem, pre­sent­ing it to them in fic­tion?


Eliezer: So, of course I always keep my Pa­tronus Charm go­ing in­side of me. [Aww/​L] And if that fails, I do have my amulet that trig­gers my emer­gency kit­ten shield. [L] And in­deed one of the higher, more at­trac­tive things I’m con­sid­er­ing to po­ten­tially do for the next ma­jor pro­ject is ‘Pre­cisely Bound Djinn and their Be­hav­ior’. The theme of which is you have these peo­ple who can sum­mon djinn, or com­mand the djinn effect, and you can sort of ne­go­ti­ate with them in the lan­guage of djinn and they will always in­ter­pret your wish in the worst way pos­si­ble, or you can give them math­e­mat­i­cally pre­cise or­ders; Which they can ap­par­ently carry out us­ing un­limited com­put­ing power, which ob­vi­ously ends the world in fairly short or­der, caus­ing our pro­tag­o­nist to be caught in a ground­hog day loop as they try over and over again to both maybe ar­range for con­di­tions out­side to be such that they can get some re­search done for longer than a few months be­fore the world ends again, and also try to figure out what to tell their djinn. And, you know, I figure that if any­one can give me an un­bound­edly com­putable speci­fi­ca­tion of a value al­igned ad­vanced agent, the story ends, the char­ac­ters win, hope­fully that per­son gets a large mon­e­tary prize if I can swing it, the world is safer, and I can go onto my next fic­tion writ­ing pro­ject, which will be the one with the bound­edly speci­fied [L] value al­igned ad­vanced agents. [A]


Guy with Pur­ple Tie: So, what is the source of magic?


Eliezer: Alright, so, there was a bit of liter­ary mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion in HPMOR. I tried as hard as I could to sig­nal that un­rav­el­ing the true na­ture of magic and ev­ery­thing that ad­heres in it is ac­tu­ally this kind of this large pro­ject that they were not go­ing to com­plete dur­ing Harry’s first year of Hog­warts. [L] You know, 35 years, even if some­one is helping you is a rea­son­able amount of time for a pro­ject like that to take. And if it’s some­thing re­ally difficult, like AIs, you might need more that two peo­ple even. [L] At least if you want the value al­igned ver­sion. Any­way, where was I?

So the only way I think that fun­da­men­tally to come up with a non-nitwit ex­pla­na­tion of magic, you need to get started from the non-nitwit ex­pla­na­tion, and then gen­er­ate the laws of magic, so that when you re­veal the an­swer be­hind the mys­tery, ev­ery­thing ac­tu­ally fits with it. You may have no­ticed this kind of philos­o­phy show­ing up el­se­where in the liter­ary the­ory of HPMOR at var­i­ous points where it turns out that things fit with things you have already seen. But with magic, ul­ti­mately the source ma­te­rial was not de­signed as a hard sci­ence fic­tion story. The magic that we start with as a phe­nomenon is not de­signed to be solv­able, and what did hap­pen was that the char­ac­ters thought of ex­per­i­ments, and I in my role of the uni­verse thought of the an­swer to it, and if they had ever reached the point where there was only one ex­pla­na­tion left, then the magic would have had rules, and they would have been ar­rived at in a fairly or­ganic way that I could have felt good about; Not as a sud­den, “Aha! I gotcha! I re­vealed this thing that you had no way of guess­ing.”

Now I could spec­u­late. And I even tried to write a lit­tle sec­tion where Harry runs into Dum­ble­dore’s writ­ings that Dum­ble­dore left be­hind, where Dum­ble­dore writes some of his own spec­u­la­tion, but there was no good place to put that into the fi­nal chap­ter. But maybe I’ll later be able… The fi­nal ed­its were kind of rushed hon­estly, sleep de­pri­va­tion, 3am. But maybe in the sec­ond edit or some­thing I’ll be able to put that para­graph, that set of para­graphs in there. In Dum­ble­dore’s office, Dum­ble­dore has spec­u­lated. He’s mostly just tak­ing the best of some of the other writ­ers that he’s read. That, look at the size of the uni­verse, that seems to be mun­dane. Dum­ble­dore was around dur­ing World War 2, he does know that mug­gles have telescopes. He has talked with mug­gle sci­en­tists a bit and those mug­gle sci­en­tists seem very con­fi­dent that all the uni­verse they can see looks like it’s mun­dane. And Dum­ble­dore won­dered, why is there this sort of small mag­i­cal sec­tion, and this much larger mun­dane sec­tion, or this much larger mug­gle sec­tion? And that seemed to Dum­ble­dore to sug­gest that as a cer­tain other mag­i­cal philoso­pher had writ­ten, If you con­sider the ques­tion, what is the un­der­ly­ing na­ture of re­al­ity, is it that it was mun­dane to be­gin with, and then magic arises from mun­dan­ity, or is the uni­verse magic to be­gin with, and then mun­dan­ity has been im­posed above it? Now mun­dan­ity by it­self will clearly never give rise to magic, yet magic per­mits mun­dan­ity to be im­posed, and so, this other mag­i­cal philoso­pher wrote, there­fore he thinks that the uni­verse is mag­i­cal to be­gin with and the mun­dane sec­tions are im­posed above the magic. And Dum­ble­dore him­self had spec­u­lated, hav­ing been an­tiquated with the line of Mer­lin for much of his life, that just as the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin was im­posed to re­strict the spread an the num­ber of peo­ple who had suffi­ciently pow­er­ful magic, per­haps the mun­dane world it­self, is an at­tempt to bring or­der to some­thing that was on the verge of fal­ling apart in At­lantis, or in what­ever came be­fore At­lantis. Per­haps the thing that hap­pened with the In­ter­dict of Mer­lin has hap­pened over and over again. Peo­ple try­ing to im­pose law upon re­al­ity, and that law hav­ing flaws, and the flaws be­ing more and more ex­ploited un­til they reach a point of power that re­cons to de­stroy the world, and the most adapt wielders of that power try to once again im­pose mun­dan­ity.

And I will also ob­serve, al­though Dum­ble­dore had no way of figur­ing this out, and I think Harry might not have figured it out yet be­cause he dosen’t yet know about chro­mo­so­mal crossover, That if there is no wiz­ard gene, but rather a mug­gle gene, and the mug­gle gene some­times gets hit by cos­mic rays and ceases to func­tion thereby pro­duc­ing a non-mug­gle allele, then some of the mug­gle vs. wiz­ard alle­les in the wiz­ard pop­u­la­tion that got there from mug­gle­borns will be re­pairable via chro­mo­so­mal crossover, thus some­times caus­ing two wiz­ards to give birth to a squib. Fur­ther­more this will hap­pen more fre­quently in wiz­ards who have re­cent mug­gle­born an­ces­try. I won­der if Lu­cius told Draco that when Draco told him about Harry’s the­ory of ge­net­ics. Any­way, this con­cludes my strictly per­sonal spec­u­la­tions. It’s not in the text, so it’s not real un­less it’s in the text some­where. ‘Opinion of God’, Not ‘Word of God’. But this con­cludes my per­sonal spec­u­la­tions on the ori­gin of magic, and the na­ture of the “wiz­ard gene”. [A]