Effects Of Internet Dating

Everyone talks about social media increasing polarization. I wonder if our ability to pre-screen our romantic partners has something to do with it as well. We can now ensure we don’t ever have to date people we don’t want to.

How Couples Met By Year

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Benefits Of Hypersonic Missles

Not All Fancy New Killing Machines Are Bad

I don’t understand why all the press about hypersonic missiles has only focused on their risks. Some risks are real but there are also strategic benefits and it irks me that it seems like the media is just reasoning based on their gut level feeling that a new fancy weapon must be bad. I’m sure experts have considered both costs and benefits and I’d love to see them but articles that don’t even stop to refute potential benefits irk me. Much like tech workers who refuse to work on military applications on principal rather than weighing the pros and cons of helping the US acquire that particular tech.

  1. Despite claims that they undermine deterrence it seems to me the exact opposite is true for the major nuclear powers. If anti-ICBM defenses destabilize deterrence it stands to reason tech which can’t be defended against could improve deterrence.
  2. The expense and technical difficulty of hypersonic weapons means that only the major powers will likely be able to build them. So now we get the best of bost worlds in that we can build out full anti-ICBM tech to reduce the danger of attacks from rogue nations like NK (unlikely to be able to afford a massive barrage or a huge number of decoys) without undermining the balance of nuclear deterrence with the other major powers. Indeed, the sheer speed of hypersonic weapons offers the tantalizing possibility of anti-ICBM weapons that could impact during boost phase provided they were stationed nearby (e.g. in SK).
  3. These missiles don’t force decisions about counterattack to be made within the short window before striking since the major powers can still counterstrike with missles housed safely on nuclear subs, hidden in silos in their vast empty fields and scrambled to wait in the air. Using hypersonic weapons as second strike weapons ensures that a relatively small number of nukes scattered on subs, scrambled into the air or placed in a few of our minutemen silos provide an effective MAD style deterrence against great powers.
  4. The fact that hypersonic missiles potentially render aircraft carriers and other capital ships useless isn’t all bad. China inevitably will develop its own aircraft carriers if they remain useful meaning both countries will spend massive amounts of money to remain on par. Far better if we remained on par without the capital ships given that whenever we need to project airpower against distant weaker states (e.g. UN approved bombings etc..) we can use the hypersonic missiles to project power. It potentially harms our strategic position re: russia but it’s not totally obvious to me if it’s a net harm or benefit.

Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable. And They’re Starting a New Global Arms Race.

At War The new weapons – which could travel at more than 15 times the speed of sound with terrifying accuracy – threaten to change the nature of warfare. A Mach 14 Waverider glide vehicle, which takes its name from its ability to generate high lift and ride on its own shock waves.

College As Education

Shouldn't Harvard Believe In Educating Misbehaving Children?

Harvard’s recent decision to rescind it’s offer of admission to Kyle Kashuv really bothers me for a number of reasons. The fact that adolescent boys will egg each other on to do stupid shit shouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, any guy who tells you that they are sure they wouldn’t have done something equally offensive (though perhaps not online) at that age in the right circumstances (deliberately being extreme in what was foolishly assumed to be a private context) isn’t telling the truth. The admissions department at Harvard knows this and deliberately chose to put headlines over their supposed goal of educating admitted students. There isn’t any actual evidence this student is racist. Just someone who showed bad judgement like other adolescents. Harvard is willing to admit confessed violent criminals so the idea that this conduct was just too extreme is absurd.

No, he isn’t being sent to prison and his life is surely not ruined because he has to go to state school but it is a serious consequence and even if it wasn’t that just changes the extent of the damage and isn’t a justification for Harvard’s actions. Though, I’ll grant that if Harvard came back around after the controversy died down and offered to let him into the next year’s class that might make for an overall sound response. But I doubt they will do that.

Second, this further contributes to the troubling social narrative that not getting caught using bad words and otherwise signalling a certain kind of social virtue is more important than actually being good to other people. Yes, racist words can be quite hurtful but compare using the n-word in this context to making fun of a socially awkward classmate or even cheating on your significant other. If Harvard wants to condition admission on being a good person how about they start by kicking out students who were mean to their fellow classmates or their significant others. If the worst that kids do in highschool is use racist/sexist/whatever language in a context they believe won’t be seen by anyone likely to be offended that would be an infinitely better world than the one we live in now.

Third, one can reasonably infer that this past conduct surfaced as a result of Kyle’s public political positions. Using someone’s own words to counter their public arguments is certainly justified but the net effect of punishing kids for engaging in political advocacy. The exact opposite of the position that Harvard seemingly advocates. Moreover, one has to wonder if these documents would have come out (and if Harvard would have reacted as it did) if he wasn’t publicly known as the Parkland survivor with a conservative viewpoint. Moreover, the absence of any similar stories about the other contributors to that google doc having their admission to college rescinded suggests that either other schools don’t see things the same way Harvard does or raises questions of selective enforcement based on public visibility.

Fourth, it suggests that Harvard really does see it’s own admissions system as a kind of prize to be doled out for good behavior rather than a scarce resource that is allocated based on perceived benefit. If Harvard was interested in taking the best, brightest and likely future influencers and molding them for the benefit of the country this is the last thing they should do. Yes, make it clear this behavior is bad but then admit the student and mold him into a better person. Rescinding the admission just engenders bitterness and the kind of ugly emotions that led to Trump’s election.

Journalism Can Be Disrupted By Technology Too (Gasp)

Victims of Monopolies Don't Ask For Anti-Trust Protection

So today brings yet another editorial from the journalism world bemoaning the fact that the internet has rendered traditional journalistic outlets unprofitable. And I’m sympathetic to all the people who planned their lives around this profession and are now struggling. It’s always tough when technological progress renders a bunch of jobs obsolete. And we always see the same calls for governmental protection to protect the existing jobs and businesses. The calls for regulation always have some justification but rarely does it involve this level of absurdity. I mean really? You’re going to blame monopolistic practices by Facebook and Google and ask for an exemption from antitrust laws in the same breadth.

If the problem was really some kind of monopolistic pressure from Google and Facebook I’d expect the demand to be to enforce anti-trust law against these companies? The reason that this isn’t the demand is obvious. Companies in the news business aren’t losing money because they must comply with the whims of monopolistic services. They wouldn’t be doing any better if there were 10 popular social networks and 10 major search engines. They are losing money for the simple reason that there are too many companies producing journalistic content online. The internet reduced the transaction costs to access newspaper articles to nearly zero and as long as dozens or hundreds of papers republish the same content people won’t pay for it.

I mean the complaints in the linked editorial aren’t those of a small business being squeezed by a monopolist. They are those of an industry forced to compete for customers. Neither Google or Facebook threatens these news outlets to give them a cut of their online revenue or use their ad-platforms on pain of not being featured on their sites. Indeed, the complaint here is literally the opposite: Google and Facebook are helping people find whatever news sources they want. The ad revenue Google and Facebook generate is a direct consequence of the economic (one can debate the social value) value they bring in terms of search or social networking.

Now one might worry that there will be a social cost if we cut back on the number of news outlets. That’s another discussion but even if so I’m quite wary of letting the news media suck at the government’s teat. I mean if the news industry sees it’s survival as dependent on anti-trust exemptions that makes it dangerously dependent on the continued good will of the government.

As I’ve said before I don’t actually think there is much to worry about. Eventually, the duplicated effort will be cut out of the news industry and we will see a stronger, better kind of investigative reporting rise from the ashes.

Tech overlords Google and Facebook have used monopoly to rob journalism of its revenue

Over the past decade, the news business has endured a bloodbath, with tens of thousands of journalists losing their jobs amid mass layoffs. The irony is, more people than ever are consuming news. There’s never been a greater need for factual reporting, from the White House down to the local school board.

Why Must Genetic Enhancement Be Dystopian?

Don't Project Modern Anxieties on Future Tech

I like the idea of this oped series and I’m glad genetic modification is becoming a more mainstream topic. However, I’m very disappointed that the author took the easy (but usually inaccurate) path of projecting our current fears onto future tech rather than carefully trying to work out the novel new effects good and bad (tho the dystopian predictions never seem to get it right).

Shortcomings

Indeed, we can already dismiss some of the core presumptions of the oped as implausible. Like computer tech biotech has economies of scale and continual cost reductions so let’s try not to repeat the mistakes we made worrying about the digital divide rather than what will happen when everyone’s online. Maybe only the rich will get customized babies but once we learn how to perform the procedure the marginal cost will drop very quickly (indeed I’d guess the IVF treatment will be the major cost hurdle but not out of reach of most Americans). An oped that looked into the potential effects of conformity as a result of mass produced genetic packages would have been much more interesting. As would discussion of the potential implications of parents having the option of changing their babies apparent race.

Second, by hypothesis being genetically engineered is a huge benefit to earnings but merely because of employer reaction rather than true talent. But you can’t BOTH claim that’s true, gene modification is the cause of growing caste divides and the public gene enhancement project didn’t raise salaries since either the elites must really have some extra ability or employers are just using gene enhancement as an excuse to hire the children of elites (so it’s not the gene editing that’s driving inequality). Moreover, if private gene editing offers these great economic benefits there should be plenty of financing opportunities along the lines of the education loans that take a fraction of future earnings.

Positive Effects

Finally, either the IQ enhancement really works or it doesn’t. If it creates substantial IQ boosts we know based on what we see now that this makes huge differences in people’s ability to do various jobs and tasks. You’re not likely to see a research mathematician or physicist with an IQ below 120 and these careers have pretty objective measures of success. So people would simply be able to go check if all the major new theorems and breakthroughs in the sciences are all from genetically enhanced or not (whether it’s IQ or the result of better motivation).

If so that means society is much better off (richer, more capable more medical tech) even as a result of elites getting these modifications. Also it makes it more implausible prices haven’t dropped. In terms of changes to society the likely effects of turning one Einstein or Feynman (or even Sergey Brin and Larry Page) every 50 years into 10 a year would pretty seismic. On the other hand if you don’t see this actually making a difference in these objectively measurable fields it will eventually start to dawn on people it’s not really working at all.

This is only the most obvious and easiest to think of positive effect. Personally, I’m a big fan of the fact that it could finally bring about an end to traditional racism. The fact that parents can choose a race for their children turns race into a matter of fashion rather than a matter of ancestry. Of course, parents will often want their children to look like them but this mere possibility puts a limit on how bad the discrimination can be since if it’s bad enough you don’t put your kid through it. Moreover, once we start editing the genome I’d be shocked if we didn’t work out pretty quickly how to couple melanin production to some other uncommon nutrient or add a hook which allows it to be suppressed giving people a choice about how to present themselves. Once people can change their skin color for aesthetic effect or for a concert it will fundamentally end traditional racism.

While a homogenous army of tall men with blue eyes and firm handshakes might seem undesirable consider the benefits of a little more homogeneity in looks. Just tweaking people so the bottom 20% of the looks bracket no longer exists (i.e. now looks better) will make a huge difference in people’s welfare and it will encourage people to focus more on things besides looks once everyone has decent looks. There are so many interesting angles for fiction on this subject to cover so why must it all retread the same ground?

A Moral Imperative

Ultimately, I’d argue that we have a moral imperative to make enhancement available as soon as possible. Yes, the intelligence boosts too but the most important reason is all the unnecessary suffering that eliminating predisposition to depression or back trouble or whatever else. After antibiotics I expect that to be the next great human health advance and putting this off because we feel uncomfortable is like denying a child a vaccine because the idea of them getting artificial chemicals injected into them creeps you out.

We aren’t ready to start o humans yet but for us to get there we need to start a focused effort on learning how to manage safe and effective genetic enhancement of lower animals, primates and ultimately humans. Even if you disagree with me on the desirability of this technology you’ve got no choice. It’s inevitable and the question the world needs to answer is whether they prefer it done by third-world doctors in back rooms or safely researched by the world’s best scientists and offered in our best facilities. I don’t plan to have children but if I was and I knew I could give them an advantage by having some illegal gene editing done in some clinic I’d give it a serious thought and there are lots of people who would take it way farther even with the risks (think beauty pageant moms). So let’s get cracking.

Opinion | It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning

DNA tweaks won’t fix our problems. By Ted Chiang Mr. Chiang is an award-winning science fiction writer and the author of “Exhalation.” Editors’ note: This is the first installment in a new series, “Op-Eds From the Future,” in which science fiction authors, futurists, philosophers and scientists write op-eds that they imagine we might read 10, 20 or even 100 years in the future.

Global Warming Before Social Programs

Is this right? Only 2 of the democratic candidates for president have come out in favor of carbon taxes? Only Delany seems to have made it a key platform. I’ve never been a big climate change hawk before but, while I’d really love to have many of the social programs the dems are proposing, we’ve got to deal with global warming sometime and, unlike all the other priorities, this one gets much more expensive the longer we wait.

So waiting on global warming means less money in the future to fund the social programs we want and harms that might offset them. A carbon tax now means revenue that we could spend on desired social programs.

Yes, I know other candidates have supported funds for R&D, renewables etc.. but, c’mon, that’s just a gesture. The government doesn’t have the money, absent a huge tax hike in which case just tax carbon, to subsidize renewables enough to make fossil fuels more expensive across the board given their superior energy density and existing infrastructure.

What’s With The Worry About Deepfakes

When I see articles like this one I’m puzzled as to why people think it will be such a big deal. For a damn long time we managed without photo or video evidence at all and it’s even easier to fake text than it is to fake photos or videos. Yes, it will take time to get used to it but once people realize that there are videos out there showing absolutely everything they’ll stop believing things just because they saw a video of it.

I mean, I do see that a video has a stronger emotional impact but I don’t see why people won’t adapt.

Deepfakes are getting better-but they’re still easy to spot

Last week, Mona Lisa smiled. A big, wide smile, followed by what appeared to be a laugh and the silent mouthing of words that could only be an answer to the mystery that had beguiled her viewers for centuries. A great many people were unnerved.

Limiting Pharmacist Discretion

Or Pharmacists Aren't Auxiliary Doctors Anymore

I believe it’s time we stopped treating the people who dispense your prescriptions as medical professional. We should revoke the discretion given to pharmacists not to fill facially valid scripts (certainly electronic scripts) unless the computer flags a dangerous drug interaction, the pmp flags doctor shopping or the script seems to clearly contain a mistake1. The involvement of the medication dispenser as more than a glorified clerk and pill counter in filling prescriptions is a holdover from the days when the pharmacist functioned as something of a hybrid between a nurse-practitioner and sole clearinghouse for all a patient’s medications.

None of these roles for a pharmacist make sense anymore. Patients now fill prescriptions at whatever pharmacy is most convenient with no guarantee that any one pharmacy chain let alone pharmacist will process all their prescriptions2. Yes, pharmacists can access your other prescriptions via prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) but so can your doctors making your doctors, with their greater information about you, in a better position to check for dangerous interactions. Any advantage possessed by the pharmacist as a result of their narrow focus on drugs combined with the breadth of the drugs they are familiar with has been undercut by software that can automatically flag potentially dangerous interactions.

While having a second set of eyes glance over the prescription is valuable (especially running software that flags interactions with the other prescriptions listed in the patient’s PMP record) pharmacists aren’t the best way to implement such a system3. However, even if inertia means we keep employing the pharmacist in this capacity that doesn’t justify giving they discretion to refuse to fill valid prescriptions absent some indication of outright physician mistake or dangerous drug interaction unknown to them. Given this kind of discretion to pharmacists offers no benefits I can see and imposes substantial costs.

For instance, this discretion frequently ends up with pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions explicitly because the patient is uninsured patients (happened to my father just this week) and I suspect it happens for more frequently without being explicitly acknowledged. I’ve also seen just how much more difficult this discretion makes it for acquaintances who look poor or non-white to get their prescriptions filled. Furthermore, while not quite as bad as the situation with Plan B some pharmacists judgmentally decide they disapprove of certain kinds of prescriptions, e.g. opiate maintenance therapy, and make it particularly difficult to get such prescriptions filled. One might think pharmacists might at least need a good reason to refuse to fill a prescription but apparently the law says they can do so for any reason at all.

One might think this kind of discretion is necessary to reduce prescription forgery and attempts to circumvent doctor shopping prohibitions. However, the former problem is quickly being rendered obsolete with electronic prescriptions and even when we are talking about paper prescriptions refusing to fill facially valid prescriptions just sends the prescription forger out looking for a pharmacy that doesn’t care or tacitly accepts the practice to make more money. Refusing to fill the prescription covers that pharmacist’s ass or makes them feel good but doesn’t stop the drug seeking patient from filling their script. Likely, a much bigger dent in prescription forgery and related activities would be made if reputable pharmacies filled facially valid scripts after carefully checking IDs but, when suspicious, reached out to contact that patient’s prescribing physicians.

While the drug addicts will always find some pharmacy which will fill a valid script4 the same can’t be said about patients in genuine need of their medications. Poor working parents don’t have the free time or money to drive all over town trying to get their prescription filled and they don’t have the drug abuser’s contacts letting them know where they should go nor the desperate driving need of the addict.

Horribly, despite the fact that exercising this discretion seems to be primarily a harm it appears that pharmacists can refuse to dispense controlled substances for any reason. Though if the patient is disabled (as many chronic pain patients are) this may create a cause of action.


  1. And if when asked the customer, taken as their word, indicates the doctor knew it was unusual in that way they still have to dispense 
  2. For instance, when I get a prescription from a doctor I usually just fill it at whatever pharmacy is next door to that doctor so I don’t have to call an additional Lyft. 
  3. Have the prescribing physician run the software to flag interactions using the same PMP data the pharmacist would use plus information from the patient’s records. Rather than having pharmacists be the second pair of eyes to look at the prescription require that each prescription also be run past someone with nurse or pharmacist training by the doctor (via an online service if they lack office staff). 
  4. Among addicts there are standard percentages of the prescription given in exchange for lending money to spring it from the pharmacy prescription or driving them around to pharmacies to get it filled) 

Decision Theory Anti-realism

There Is No Fact Of The Matter About Correct Decision Theory

With the recent flurry of posts in the rationalist community about which decision theory ( e.g. CDT, EDT, UDT etc..) it’s time to revisit the theme of this blog: rejecting rationality realism. In this case that means pointing out that there isn’t actually a well-defined fact of the matter about which decision theory is better. Of course, nothing stops us from arguing with each other about the best decision theory but those disagreements are more like debates about what’s the best programming language than disagreements about the chemical structure of Benzene.

Any attempt to compare decision theories must first address the question: what does it mean for one decision theory to be better than another? Unlike many pseudo-problems1 there is a seemingly meaningful answer to this question: one decision theory is better than another to the extent that the choices it recommends lead to better outcomes for the agent. Other than some ambiguity about which theory is better if neither dominates the other it seems like this gives a straightforward criteria for superiority: we just look at actual outcomes and see which decision theory offers the best results for an agent. However, this only appears to give a well-defined criteria because in every day life the subtle differences between the various ways to understand a choice and how to conceptualize making a choice don’t matter.

In particular, the kind of scenarios which distinguish between the various decision theories yield different answers depending on whether you want to know who you should be (i.e. total source code) to do best, how you should program an agent if you want them to do best, which decision rule should you adopt for you to do best, and what choice gives you the best outcome. Furthermore, these scenarios call into question how the supposed ‘choices’ made by the decision theory relate to our intuitive notion in a way that makes them relevant to some notion of good decision making or if they are simply demanding the laws of physics/logic give way to offer them a better outcome in a way that has nothing to do with actual decisions.

Intuitions and Motivation

I’m sure some readers are shaking their heads at this point and saying something like

I don’t need to worry about technical issues about how to understand a choice. I can easily walk through Newcomb style problems and the rules straightforwardly tell me who gets what which is enough to satisfy my intuitive notion that theory X is better. Demanding one specify all these details is nitpicking.

To convince you that’s not enough let me provide an extreme dramatization of how purported payouts can be misleading and the question turns on a precise specification of the question. Consider the following Newtonian, rather than Newcombian, problem. You fall off the top of the empire State building what you do as you fall past the fifth floor? What would one say about the virtues of Floating Decision Theory which tells us that in such a situation we should make the choice to float gently to the ground. Now obviously, one would prefer to float rather than fly but posing the problem as a decision between these two choices doesn’t render it a real choice. Obviously, there is something dubious about evaluating your decision theory based on it’s performance on the float/fall question. At least on one conception a decision theory is no worse for failing to indicate the agent do something impossible for them so we can’t merely blindly assume that anytime we are handed a set of ‘choices’ and told what their payoffs are we can simply take those at face value.

Yet, this is precisely the situation we encounter in the original Newcomb problem as the very assumption of predictability which allows the demon2 to favor the 1 boxers ensures the physical impossibility of choosing any number of boxes other than what you did choose. Of course, the same is (up to quantum mechanical randomness) true of any actual `choice’ by a real person but under certain circumstances we find it useful to idealize it as free choice. What’s different about the Newcomb problem is that, understood naively, it simultaneously asks us to idealize selecting 1 or 2 boxes as a free choice while assuming it isn’t actually. Thus, it’s reasonable to worry that our intuitions about choices can’t just be applied uncritically in Newcomb type problems and now I’ll hope to motivate the concern that there might be multiple ways to understand the question being asked.

Let’s now modify this situation, by imagining that we actually live in the Marvel Universe so there are a number of people (floaters) who respond to large falls by, moments before impact, suddenly decelerating and floating gently to the ground. Now suppose we pose the question of whether, as you fall past the 5th floor, you should choose to have been born a floater or not. Obviously, this question suffers from the same infirmities as the above example in that intuitively there is no ‘choice’ involved in being a floater or not but being a floater. However, we can mask this flaw by instead of phrasing the choice as between being a floater and not instead phrasing it as being between yelling, “Holy shit I’m a floater” and concentrating totally on desperately trying to orient yourself so your feet strike first. Now presuming there is a strong (even exceptionless) psychological regularity that only floaters take the first option it follows that EDT recommends making such a yell while CDT doesn’t.

However, taking a look at the situation it seems clear that the two theories are in some sense answering different questions. If I wanted to know whether or not it is preferable to be the kind of person who yells “Holy shit I’m a floater” then I should consult EDT for an answer. Instead, if I’m interested in what I should do in that situation that doesn’t seem particularly relevant. I believe this should move us to consider the possibility we haven’t asked a clear question when we ask what the right decision theory is and in the next section I will consider a variety of ways the problem we’re trying to solve can be precisified and not they give rise to different decision theories.

Possible Precisifications

Ultimately, there is something a bit weird about asking what decision a real physical agent should take in a given situation. After all, the agent will act just as it’s software dictates and/or the laws of physics require. Thus, as Yudkowsky recognizes, any comparison of decision theories is asking some kind of counterfactual. However, which counterfactual we ask makes a huge difference in what decision theory is preferable. For instance, all of the following are potential ways to precifisify the question of what it means for it to be better for XDT to be a better deciscion theory than YDT.

  1. If there was a miracle that overrode the agent’s programming/physical laws at the moment of a choice then doing so in the manner prescribed by XDT yields better outcomes than doing so in a manner prescribed by YDT.
  2. In fact those actual agents who more often choose the outcome favored by XDT do better than those who choose the outcome favored by YDT.
  3. Those actual agents which adopt/apply XDT do better than those who adopt/apply YDT.
  4. Suppose there is a miracle that overrode physical laws at the moment the agent’s programming/internal makeup is specified then if the miracle results in outcomes more consistent with XDT than YDT the agent does better.
  5. As above except with applying XDT/YDT instead of just favoring outcomes which tend to agree with it.
  6. Moving one level up we could ask about which performs better, agents whose programming inclines them to adopt XDT or YDT when considered.
  7. Finally, if what we are interested in is actually coding agents, i.e., writing AI software, we might ask whether programmers who code their agents to reason in a manner that prefers choice A produce agents that do better than programmers who code agents to reason in a manner that prefers choice B.
  8. Pushing that one level up we could ask about whether programmers who are inclined to adopt/apply XDT/YDT as true produce agents which do better.

One could continue and list far more possibilities but these six are enough to illustrate the point.

For instance, note that if we are asking question 1 CDT outperforms EDT. For the purposes of question 1 the right answer to the Newcomb problem is to be a 2 boxer. After all, if we idealize the choice as a miracle that allows deviation from physical law then the demon’s prediction of whether we would be a two-boxer or one-boxer no longer must be accurate so two-boxes always outperforms one boxing. It doesn’t matter that your software says you will choose only one box if we are asking about outcomes where a miracle occurs and overrides that software.

On the other hand it’s clearly true that EDT does better than CDT with respect to question 2. That’s essentially the definition of EDT.

To distinguish the remaining options we need to consider a range of different scenarios such as demons who punish agents who actually apply/adopt XDT/YDT in reaching their conclusions. Or consider Newcombian demons who punish agents who adopt (or whose programmers adopted one of XDT/YDT).

Ultimately, which criteria we should use to compare decision theories depends on what we want to achieve. Different idealizations/criteria will be appropriate depending on whether we are asking which rule we ourselves should adopt, how we should program agents to act, how we should program agents who program agents etc.. etc… Moreover, I’d suggest that once we’ve fully preciscified the kind of question we want to ask the whole debate about which decision theory is best becomes irrelevant. Given a fully specified question we can just sit down and compute (or do empirical analysis) and when we can’t it indicates that we’ve failed to fully specify what we are asking.

The Use of Decision Theory By Agents

As a postscript I’d note that it’s also misguided to assume that the right way to program some kind of AI agent is to have that agent adopt some kind of decision theory like framework. Many discussions of decision theories seem to presume this by phrasing questions in terms of what decision theory should an AI apply/adopt. However, there is no reason to suppose that the way to produce the behavior favored by XDT is for the agent to actually believe/apply XDT. For instance, if a demon punishes agents who have adopted XDT then the outcomes XDT prefers might be best achieved by agents which explicitly eschew XDT. More pragmatically, it’s not at all clear that the most effective way for agents to reach XDT compatible outcomes is to perform the considerations demanded by XDT. That’s a good way to implement some algorithms but not all.

The reason that decision theory is useful in normal situations (i.e. lacking Omega/Newcombian demons) is that it’s a decent heuristic to assume that the way we internally consider outcomes/make choices doesn’t affect the payout we receive. Under this assumption pretty much all ways of preciscifying the question give the same answer and it offers some good advice for programming agents. However, the usefulness of the framework once we abandon this isn’t clear and can’t simply be assumed.
Thus, not only would I argue that the debate over which decision theory is best is misguided, but that we need to be more careful about the assumptions we make about applicability as well.

Thus, not only would I argue that the debate over which decision theory is best is misguided, but that we need to be more careful about the assumptions we make about applicability as well.


  1. For instance, any attempt to answer what makes one programming language better than another reveals substantial disagreement about which tradeoffs are desirable and no agreed upon framework for resolving them. Indeed, we in some sense all recognize that which programming language tradeoffs are desirable is context dependent. 
  2. Or in Yudkowsky’s formulation, Omega. 

Legally Recognizing Digital Human Memory

Or Using Smartphones and Smart Speakers to Solve All Violent Crime

We are at the point, or very near it, that our technology could virtually eliminate unsolved violent crime. For instance, suppose we all constantly captured audio with all our smart devices and uploaded it to the cloud. Our devices could update the uploaded buffer when we log into our devices later and fail to report an emergency1. Unlike biological memory this could be reliably used in court and captured even by murder victims.

Why don’t we use this kind of tech to take a bite out of crime? Well, for the moment it still might strain our bandwidth and storage resources but 5G and ever cheaper storage make this a temporary issue but even people who can afford those resources aren’t so inclined. Now one might think it’s out of fear of technical loss of privacy. What if amazon, google or some hacker figures out how to access our buffered audio?

But that’s not really a convincing worry since it’s pretty easy to secure the buffered audio more securely than our devices themselves are secured. I mean anyone who can hack our cell phones and smart speakers can just enable listening in directly while we could split the secrets to decrypt the audio between multiple big tech companies. The real problem is that we are creating a record that can be subpoenaed and used against us or our intimates without our permission.

What we need to solve this problem is some digital legal analog of biological memory. That is a class of digital records that, like biological memory, need not be produced if the creator chooses not to. Of course, it’s actually a bit more subtle because we can all be compelled to testify but when we do so we not only maintain our 5th amendment protections we can also simply lie or evade. In conjunction this prevents fishing expeditions that a digital record would allow (e.g. I’m sure my husband did something unsavory during the last 48 hours let’s subpoena his audio record so we can use it against him in the divorce).

One possibility is to only use such records as a supercharger for testimony (unless the individual who created it has died). In other words the only access to such data would be by allowing it’s creator to review the tape and indicate what happened in a deposition that would be checked for perjury/accuracy by a third party (special master?) against the actual tape. Maybe it’s not the best solution but we need something that lets us treat our digital memories like our organic ones with respect to our control over their revelation.


  1. One might naturally worry about the friends and family members who commit a great deal of violent crime scheming to impersonate you to clear the incriminating information but if we always keep a sufficiently long buffer so as to make the failure to report us missing during that time suspicious we can at least minimize the risk. 

  Category: Law
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