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!

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