Explaining “The Crackpot Bet”

Hey, guys. Been mean­ing to write a blog for some time. Yes­ter­day I promised a friend I would write a post ex­plain­ing a thing I did called the Crack­pot Bet. It seemed to be as good a place to start as any, so here’s the story. (Now I’ve de­cided to post it on Less Wrong, read­ers of which will be fa­mil­iar with what CFAR, etc. is. Can’t be both­ered to fix it at the mo­ment. Steel Man me, if you’d be so kind.)

One day I made a wild claim on a fo­rum for grad­u­ates of a thing called CFAR. Some­one on the list I will call “Bob” im­me­di­ately emailed me to the effect that, on the ev­i­dence of ap­par­ently noth­ing ex­cept my post, I was ei­ther a crack­pot or a ge­nius, and he would bet all his limbs on the former. I laughed and emailed him I had no use for his limbs but would be will­ing to make a se­ri­ous bet if we could find mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able terms. He im­me­di­ately offered the fol­low­ing bet: If you’re right, as ev­i­denced by win­ning the No­bel prize or the Field­ings Medal, he would hap­pily give me all of his wor­ldly pos­ses­sions.

In the or­der of the story, here’s a side note I con­sider im­por­tant. In the mid­dle of all this, I sent a let­ter ask­ing for a job at MIRI (the Ma­chine In­tel­li­gence Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion) to sev­eral high-ups there and re­lated peo­ple I knew. One of them, who is also one of my best friends, re­sponded pri­vately that he thought I was a crack­pot. Back to the story.

Bob’s was ob­vi­ously still a silly bet, and I was still in my Right Mind. But I still thought there might be a pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing agree­able terms if there was bet­ter than 1000:1 odds I was right. I also needed money. So I wrote out the bet, had a good chuckle, and, car­ried away by self-amuse­ment, de­cided to send it out to the whole list, as well as a re­lated East Coast list called OBNYC. Here it is:


I offer a bet on the fol­low­ing terms: Give me a mil­lion dol­lars as defined be­low. If I lose, and can be rea­son­ably la­beled a crack­pot and crit­i­cally not any­one a rea­son­able per­son can la­bel as a fa­mous ge­nius, as defined be­low, one year af­ter I hit “send,” I pay off the mil­lion dol­lars, with no in­ter­est, in monthly pay­ments over a pe­riod of 20 years start­ing a year from to­day.

If I win, by which mean I am pop­u­larly de­clared to be a “Ge­nius” (or words to that effect), by some­one who should know, among most mem­bers of the fo­rums to which I’m send­ing this Fo­rum, in the pop­u­lar press as defined by CNN, by one year from to­day, I keep the money and what­ever IP I cre­ate re­lated to the bet or what­ever. Crit­i­cally, the per­son who calls me a Ge­nius as defined above must be a rec­og­nized ex­pert in the field that can be rea­son­ably in­ter­preted to in­clude what­ever they’re prais­ing me in, but this field need not be in math­e­mat­ics. (It could be in the field of farm­ing, just to pick a joke ex­am­ple.)

I trust the peo­ple read­ing this are not mo­rons, will act on this email in good faith, and re­al­ize I may be a crack­pot but I’m not a mo­ron. I can’t be both­ered to spell it out more clearly than that, but would be very happy to sign a legally bind­ing con­tract pro­vid­ing we can reach mu­tu­ally agree­able terms.

I offer this bet to the first per­son who is able to get a mil­lion dol­lars into my bank ac­count, and re­serve the right to give it to as many peo­ple as I see fit.

If you pre­fer to re­spond to me pri­vately and/​or wish to keep your iden­tity con­fi­den­tial, please send me a pri­vate email. If you want to take the bet, I’m happy to give you what­ever info you need to get the money into my ac­count offline.

Yours Truly—Glenn


As one might rea­son­ably ex­pect, the re­cip­i­ents flipped out and started call­ing me names. I laughed, shut my lap­top, and went away to do er­rands. Later, check­ing my email, I saw that a few more peo­ple had called me names. Still amused, I de­cided to tease peo­ple and offer some­thing called the “one-box prize.” I told my­self that if some­one thought through the terms of the bet and called me the word “ge­nius” as a re­sult, I would send that per­son a copy of the book I was read­ing.

In the morn­ing, no one had “won my prize,” so I emailed the list say­ing so. Some­one on OBNYC asked why I hadn’t been banned from the list. My friend Zvi pointed out I was a “ge­nius” for rea­sons any­one who had thought about it for 5 min­utes could see, and warned me to stop post­ing such things. I promptly re­sponded say­ing “please don’t ban me!”, tried to make clear I was do­ing all of this in fun, and an­nounced that Zvi had won the 1-Box Prize.

Peo­ple were still call­ing me names, so I be­came an­noyed and the whole thing be­came a slight tem­pest in a teapot. I teased peo­ple by call­ing them “VSMs” (I leave it to the reader to work out what that stands for), made up a “2-Boxer Prize” I thought was guess­able by a smart per­son, and brashly offered on Face­book to donate a mil­lion dol­lars to MIRI in the name of the first per­son who guessed it.

That was when close friends started del­i­cately check­ing to see if I was “okay.” After po­litely re­ply­ing I was fine, I promised one of them I would write a post ex­plain­ing to my friends on the list what was go­ing on. This is that post.

I plan to write an­other post on this sub­ject, and pub­lish it to­mor­row, so—to be con­tinued. Thanks for read­ing!