I haven’t looked that much into French history, just think it is important to acknowledge where that line of thought can end up.
All the guillotining. And the necessity of that was in part justified with reference to Rousseau’s thought
I’ve been thinking about Rousseau and his conception of freedom again because I’m not sure I hit the nail on the head last time. The most typical definition of freedom and that championed by libertarians focuses on an individual’s ability to make choices in their daily life. On the more libertarian end, the government is seen as an oppressor and a force of external compulsion.
On the other hand, Rousseau’s view focuses on “the people” and their freedom to choose the kind of society that they want to live in. Instead of being seen as an external entity, the government is seen as a vessel through which the people can express and realise this freedom (or at least as potentially becoming such a vessel).
I guess you could call this a notion of collective freedom, but at the same time this risks obscuring an important point: that at the same time it is an individual freedom as well. Part of it is that “the people” is made up of individual “people”, but it goes beyond this. The “will of the people” at least in its idealised form isn’t supposed to be about a mere numerical majority or some kind of averaging of perspectives or the kind of limited and indirect influence allowed in most representative democracies, but rather it is supposed to be about a broad consensus; a direct instantiation of the will of most individuals.
There is a clear tension between these kinds of freedom in that the more the government respects personal freedom that less control the people have over the kind of society they want to live in and the more the government focuses on achieving the “will of the people” the less freedom exists for those for whom this doesn’t sound so appealing.
I can’t recall the arguments Rousseau makes for this position, but I expect that they’d be similar to the arguments for positive freedoms. Proponents of positive freedom argue that theoretical freedoms, such as there being no legal restriction against gaining an education, are worthless if these opportunities aren’t actually accessible, say if this would cost more money than you could ever afford.
Similarly, proponents of Rousseau’s view could argue that freedom over your personal choices is worthless if you exist within a terrible society. Imagine there were no spam filters and so all of it made it through. Then the freedom to use email would be worthless without the freedom to choose to exist in a society without spam. Instead of characterising this as a trade-off between utility and freedom, Rousseau would see this as a trade-off between two different notions of freedom.
Now I’m not saying Rousseau’s views are correct—I mean the French revolution was heavily influenced by him and we all saw how that worked out. And it also depends on there being some kind of unified “will of the people”. But at the same time it’s an interesting perspective.
Just a quick note: Sometimes there is a way out of this kind of infinite regress by implementing an algorithm that approximates the limit. Of course, you can also be put back into an infinite regress by asking if there is a better approximation.
Why did you think the book was so bad?
Looks like a major step forward as it’ll make it so much easier to receive only the information you want.
Review: Human-Compatible by Stuart Russell
I wasn’t a fan of this book, but maybe that’s just because I’m not in the target audience. As a first introduction to AI safety I recommend The AI Does Not Hate You by Tom Chivers (facebook.com/casebash/posts/10100403295741091) and for those who are interested in going deeper I’d recommend Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. The strongest chapter was his assault on arguments against those who think we shouldn’t worry about superintelligence, but you can just read it here: https://spectrum.ieee.org/…/many-experts-say-we-shouldnt-wo…).
I learned barely anything that was new from this book. Even when it came to Russell’s own approach, Co-operative Reinforcement Learning, I felt that the treatment was shallow (I won’t write about this approach until I’ve had a chance to review it directly again). There were a few interesting ideas that I’ll list below, but I was surprised by how little I’d learned by the end. There’s a decent explanation of some very basic concepts within AI, but this was covered in a way that was far too shallow for me to recommend it.
Interesting ideas/quotes:- More processing power won’t solve AI without better algorithms. It simply gets you the wrong answer faster- Language bootstrapping: Comprehension is dependent on knowing facts and extracting facts is dependent on comprehension. You might think that we could bootstrap an AI using easy to comprehend text, but in practise we end up extracting incorrect facts that scrambled further comprehension- We have an advantage with predicting humans as we have a human mind to simulate with; it’ll take longer for AIs to develop this ability- He suggests that we have a right to mental security and that it is naive to trust that the truth will win out. Unfortunately, he doesn’t address any of the unfortunate concerns- By default, a utility maximiser won’t want us to turn it off as that would interfere with its goals. We could reward it when we turn it off, but that could incentivise it to manipulate it to turn us off. Instead, if the utility maximiser is trying to optimise for our reward function and it is uncertain about what it is, then it would let us turn it off- We might decide that we don’t want to satisfy all preferences, for example, we mightn’t feel any obligation to take into account preferences that are sadistic, vindictive or spiteful. But refusing to consider these preferences could unforeseen consequences, what if envy can’t be ignored as a factor without destroying our self-esteem?- It’s hard to tell if an experience has taught someone more about preferences or changed their preferences (at least without looking into their brain. In either case the response is the same.- We want robots to avoid interpreting commands too literally, as opposed to information about human preferences. For example, if I ask a robot to fetch a cup of coffee, I assume that the nearest outlet isn’t the next city over nor that it will cost $100. We don’t want the robot to fetch it at all costs.
Thanks for clarifying this terminology, I wasn’t aware of this distinction when I wrote this post
Book Review: Communist Manifesto
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”
Overall summary: Given the rise of socialism in recent years, now seemed like an appropriate time to review the Communist Manifesto. At times I felt that Marx’s writing was keenly insightful, at other times I felt he was in ignorance of basic facts and at other times I felt that he held views that were reasonable at the time, but for which the flaws are now obvious. In particular, I found the first-half much more engaging than I expected because, say what you like about Marx, he’s an engaged and poetic writer. Towards the end, the focused shifted into particular time-bounded political disputes for which I neither had the knowledge to understand nor the interest to acquire. At the start, I felt that I already had a decent grasp of the communist impulse and I haven’t become any more favourable to communism, but reading this rounded out a few more details of the communist critique of capitalism.
Capitalism: Despite being its most famous critic, Marx has a strong appreciation for the power of capitalism. He writes about it sweeping away all the old feudal bonds and how it draws even the most “barbarian” nations into civilisation. He writes about it stripping every occupation previously admired of its halo into its “paid wage labourers”; and undoubtedly some professions are affected far too much by market concerns, but this has to be weighed up against the increase in access that has been brought. He even writes that it has accomplished “wonders far exceeding the Egyptian Pyramids, Roman Acquaducts and Gothic Cathedrals” and his willingness to acknowledge this in such strong terms increased my respect for him. Marx can’t see capitalism as anything, but exploitation; for those who would answer that it lifts all boats, I don’t think he has a strong reply apart from denial that this occurs. To steelman him, even if people are better off financially, they can be worse off overall if they are now working only the simplest, most monotonous jobs. That would have been a stronger argument when much more work was in factories, but with increasing automation, these are precisely those jobs that are disappearing. Another argument would be that over time the capitalists who survive will be those who are best at lowering wage costs, by minimising the use of labour and ensuring that the work is set up to use as much unskilled labour as possible. So even if people were financially better off in the short term, they might be worse off over the long term. However, history seems to have shown the opposite, with modern wages far greater than in pre-industrial, pre-capitalist times.
Class warfare: Marx made several interesting comments on this. How the bourgeoise were often empowered by the monarchy to limit the power of the nobility. That the proletariat should be thought of as a new class, separate from the peasants, since their interests diverge with the later more likely to try rolling things back than to support creating a new order. How the bourgeois would seek help from the proletariat against aristocrats, dragging the proletariat into the political arena. How the proletariat were not unified in Marx’s time, but how improved communication provided the means for national unification. And that a section of the bourgeois who were threatened with falling into the proletariat would join with the proletariat. I definitely think class analysis has value, but I worry how Marxists often don’t be able to see things in any way other than class. We are members of classes; that is true; but we are also individuals and no one way of carving up the space captures all of reality. For example, Marx includes masters/apprentices in his oppressor/oppressed hierarchy, even the though most of the later will eventually become the former
Personal property: It was interesting hearing him talking about abolishing personal property as that is an element of the original communism that seems to be de-emphasised these days, with the focus more on seizing the means of production. I expect that this is related to a change in context; Marx was able to write that private property is done away with for 9/10s of the population, I don’t know how true it was at the time, but it certainly isn’t true today. Nonetheless, I found it interesting that his desire to abolish bourgeois property was similar to the bourgeois desire to abolish feudal property; both believe that the kind of property they want to abolish is based upon exploitation and unearned privilege.
False consciousness: For Marx, the ideas that are dominant in society are just the ideas of the elites. Law, morality and religion are just prejudices of the bourgeois. People don’t structure society based upon ideas, rather the ideas are determined by the structure of society and what allows society to be as productive as possible. Marx doesn’t provide an exact chain of causation, but perhaps he believes that the elites benefit from increases in production and therefore always push society in that direction, in order to realise their short-term interests. The question then arises: if everyone else has a false consciousness why then doesn’t Marx also? Again speculating, perhaps Marx would say when a system is on its last legs, the flaws and contradiction become too large for the elite ideology to remain cover up. Alternatively, perhaps it is only the dominant ideas in society that are determined by the structure of society and other ideas can exist, just without being allowed any real influence. I still feel Marx overstates the power of false consciousness, but at least I now have an answer to this question that’s somewhat reasonable.
What does it mean to define a word? There’s a sense in which definitions are entirely arbitrary and what word is assigned to what meaning lacks any importance. So it’s very easy to miss the importance of these definitions—emphasising a particular aspect and provides a particular lense with which to see the world.
For example, if define goodness as the ability to respond well to others, it emphasizes that different people have different needs. One person may want advice, while another simple encouragement. Or if we define love as acceptance of the other, it suggests that one of the most important aspects of love is the idea that true love should be somewhat resilient and not excessively conditional.
Here’s one way of explaining this: it’s a contradiction to have a provable statement that is unprovable, but it’s not a contradiction for it to be provable that a statement is unprovable. Similarly, we can’t have a scenario that is simultaneously imagined and not imagined, but we can coherently imagine a scenario where things exist without being imagined by beings within that scenario.
If I can imagine a tree that exists outside of any mind, then I can imagine a tree that is not being imagined. But “an imagined X that is not being imagined” is a contradiction. Therefore everything I can imagine or conceive of must be a mental object.
Berkeley ran with this argument to claim that there could be no unexperienced objects, therefore everything must exist in some mind — if nothing else, the mind of God.
The error here is mixing up what falls inside vs. outside of quotation marks. “I’m conceiving of a not-conceivable object” is a formal contradiction, but “I’m conceiving of the concept ‘a not-conceivable object’” isn’t, and human brains and natural language make it easy to mix up levels like those.
Yeah, FDT has a notion of subjunctive dependence. But the question becomes what does this mean? What precisely is the difference between the smoking lesion and Newcombs? I have some ideas and maybe I’ll write them up at some point.
As I wrote before, evidential decision theory can be critiqued for failing to deal properly with situations where hidden state is correlated with decisions. EDT includes differences in hidden state as part of the impact of the decision, when in the case of the smoking lesion, we typically want to say that it is not.
However, Newcomb’s problem also has hidden state is correlated with your decision. And if we don’t want to count this when evaluating decisions in the case of the Smoking Lesion, perhaps we shouldn’t count this in the case of Newcomb’s? Or is there a distinction? I think I’ll try analysing this in terms of the erasure theory of coutnerfactuals at some point
Writing has been one of the best things for improving my thinking as it has forced me to solidify my ideas into a form that I’ve been able to come back to later and critique when I’m less enraptured by them. On the other hand, for some people it might be the worst thing for their thinking as it could force them to solidify their ideas into a form that they’ll later feel compelled to defend.
What kind of level of knowledge are you looking for? I would be interested in this, but I’m mainly investigating agent foundations, rather than the ML approach.
Despite having read dozens of articles discussing Evidential Decision Theory (EDT), I’ve only just figured out a clear and concise explanation of what it is. Taking a step back, let’s look at how this is normally explained and one potential issue with this explanation. All major decision theories (EDT, CDT, FDT) rate potential decisions using expected value calculations where:
Each theory uses a different notion of probability for the outcomes
Each theory uses the same utility function for valuing the outcomes
So it should be just a simple matter of stating what the probability function is. EDT is normally explained as using P(O|S & D) where O is the outcome, S is the prior state and D is the decision. At this point it seems like this couldn’t possibly fail to be what we want. Indeed, if S described all state, then there wouldn’t be the possibility of making the smoking lesion argument.
However, that’s because it fails to differentiate between hidden state and visible state. EDT uses visible state, so we can write it as P(O|V & D). The probability distribution of O actually depends on H as well, ie. it is some function f(V, H, D). In most cases H is uncorrelated with D, but this isn’t always necessarily the case. So what might look like the direct effect of V and D on P might actually turn out to be the indirect effects of D affecting our expected distribution of H then affecting P.
Or to summarise: “The decision can correlate with hidden state, which can affect the probability distribution of outcomes”. Maybe this is already obvious to everyone, but this was the key I need to be able to internalise these ideas on an intuitive level.