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September 26, 2008

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Maksym: We actually do need someone to translate all this OB stuff very badly, though maybe it's desirable to wait for the book. Still, someone should be presenting it. As for convincing smart college students, there are three fairly separate barriers here, those to rationality, those of information and those to action. I recommend working on barriers to rationality and action first and in conjunction, belief second, and let people find the info themselves. Politics is the natural subject to frame as rationality. Simply turn every conversation where politics comes up into an opportunity to discourse on OB. Rules of etiquette are weak at Harvey Mudd, so this should be OK.

Denis: In technical fields? If so, I unhesitatingly deny the data. I suggest you look at Gottfredson. Lynn is far from trustworthy, but may also be summarizing. Do you really think that people who can't pull 600 on the SAT Math can do engineering?

Dude, you honestly make me ill sometimes. You spoke nothing of the circumstances that got these people to where they are or where they came from. There are people just as "sparkly" and some smarter than these people who have not had the opportunity that these people have. You are blinded by your arrogance and are locked in the present time. You are a smart guy, but you would have a lot to gain in building interpersonal wisdom.

The sparkle you describe is meaningless; non-sparkling borderline-autistic types do just as fine work as the most invigoratingly sparkling individuals. I choose to sparkle through my work, in quiet solitude, not through swaying my limbs excitedly, motor-mouthing like a sports commentator on amphs.

Its a benefit for me to read this post having not read your others, because I can give you an untainted view of it. You are too concerned with intelligence. As long as you stay in this state, you are unusable, and pass up opportunities on becoming usable.
Snap out of it. Accept that there are more intelligent people than you, and they are not flailing, they just get on with it.

Again, I have difficulty understanding why so many people place such a high value on 'intelligence' for its own sake, as opposed to a means to an end. If Eliezer is worried that he does not have enough mathematical intelligence to save the universe from someone else's misdesigned AI, than this is indeed a problem for him, but only because the universe will not be saved. If someone else saves the universe instead, Eliezer should not mind, and should go back to writing sci-fi novels. Why should Eliezer's ego cry at the thought of being upstaged? He should *want* that to happen if he's such an altruist.

I don't really give a damn where my 'intelligence' falls on some scale, so long as I have enough of it to accomplish those things I find satisfying and important TO ME. And if I don't, well, hopefully I have enough savvy to get others who do to help me out of a difficult situation. Hopefully Eliezer can get the help he needs with fAI (if such help even exists and such a problem is solvable).

Also, to those who care about intelligence for its own sake, does the absolute horsepower matter to you, or only your abilities relative to others? IE, would you be satisfied if you were considered the smartest person in the world by whatever scale, or would that still not be enough because you were not omniscient?

Of course I want there to be someone smarter than me to take over, from an altruistic perspective. Or even from just a selfish perspective of being scared, wanting a vacation, and feeling a bit isolated.

And of course if that actually happened, it would be a severe blow to my ego.

And so long as I can do the expected-utility-maximizing thing and invest the appropriate amount of effort into preparing for the possibility without betting the whole farm on it, I have no intention of hacking at my emotions on either score.

I know how you feel, in a couple ways. My high-school guidance counselor looked at my middle school transcript and told me I might realistically aspire to go to a UC school (as opposed to a school in the Cal State system). (I ended up going to Harvard and Caltech.) On the other hand, the year I finished my Ph.D. (at the age of 29) one of my college acquaintances, a brilliant mathematician, became one of the youngest full professors in the history of Princeton University, and when my Ph.D. advisor was 29 he had already been a professor at Caltech for several years (after graduating top of his Caltech class, finishing a Ph.D. in three years at Cambridge on a Marshall Scholarship, and doing a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study).

Though I know I'm not (alas) at the highest level, I feel fortunate to be smart enough to know how smart I'm not.

N.B. The introduction contains a small non sequitur unless you happen to know the book's author. Here's a quick edit:

I once lent Xiaoguang "Mike" Li my copy of Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E.T. Jaynes.

It's a general rule, I've observed, that you can't discriminate between levels too far above your own.
Although I agree with this in general, it seems that there are a few specific counterexamples. For example, it seems that people with very low ability in sports actually can discriminate ability from the local high school level to the international stage.

Do other people agree? If so, what do you propose distinguishes between intelligence/mathematical ability and athletic ability?

If so, what do you propose distinguishes between intelligence/mathematical ability and athletic ability?
To evaluate athletic ability, you use your judgment. What can you use to evaluate your judgment?

It is possible for a person to produce an accurate evaluation of a subset of their own intellectual skills, but certain skills cannot be evaluated, because presumptions about those skills are required for the evaluation to take place. You should not ask questions about subjects in which you presume you already know the answers, and you cannot ask questions about subjects where answers must be presumed in order to be able to ask at all.

Lara, I don't think they value it "for its own sake" as opposed to as a means to an end; rather, they see it as a necessary condition for achieving their ends, and are worried they don't have what it takes. Nothing but an anxiety trip.

And of course, there's also the ego thing -- when people build superiority over others into their self-image. This is counterproductive, of course. When someone else demonstrates that they're "smarter" than you by offering unexpected insight, you don't fatalistically wallow in jealous misery; you listen to the content of what they say, in the hope of becoming as smart as they are.

Eliezer of all people ought to realize this (actually I suspect he does).

FWIW, I've met both Eliezer and John Conway, and have spent approximately the same total amount of time with both of them (on the order of 10 hours). I don't know which of them is smarter. Yet I suspect neither is too far above my own level for me to be able to e.g. benefit from listening to a conversation between them.

Eliezer, Komponisto,

I understand the anxiety issues of, 'Do I have what it takes to accomplish this..."

I don't understand why the existence of someone else who can would damage Eliezer's ego. I can observe that many other people's sense of self is violated if they find out that someone else is better at something they thought they were the best at-- the football champion at HS losing their position at college, etc. However, in order for this to occur, the person needs to 1) in fact misjudge their relative superiority to others, and 2) value the superiority for its own sake.

Now, Eliezer might take the discovery of a better rationalist/fAI designer as proof that he misjudged his relative superiority-- but unless he thinks his superiority is itself valuable, he should not be bothered by it. His own actual intelligence, afterall, will not have changed, only the state of his knowledge of others' intelligence relative to his own.

Eliezer must enjoy thinking he is superior for loss of this status to bother his 'ego'.

Though I suppose one could argue that this is a natural human quality, and Eliezer would need to be superhuman or lying to say otherwise.

I have no idea if it's a natural human quality. It's surely one of my qualities. It's not that I would permit my mind to think verbal thoughts like "How good it is to be above others." But there's a zest in being the best. It feels good to complete a difficult race and it feels good to win a gold medal; they are separate, different good feelings. I can imagine people who would only care about having completed the challenge, but they wouldn't be me.

Since my mind doesn't want whatever I choose it to want, I accept that both desires are a part of me and that both desires keep me motivated to continue studying. Though even the desire to solve hard problems for yourself, is not without its dangers.

Doesn't fit the stereotype of Deep Wisdom, I know. I would be prouder if I was Gandalf, because that would be, you know, cool. But you see, this isn't about my pride.

I can imagine people who would only care about having completed the challenge, but they wouldn't be me.

I'm not sure there are any people like this who are capable of occasionally winning. OTOH, the prospect of never winning might force someone to rationalize themselves into this position.

The proof is in the math and/or in the protopudding, is it not? There are people/groups who already have either or both. If you have neither, what's your sense of relative achievement/skill/IQ based on?

What (math &/ prototype) do you have? If none, what do you plan to have, when? It seems you'd have to blaze past those who already have their stuff out in the real world behaving ever more AGI-ishly by the day, to meet your criteria for success. A tall order to be sure.

Some else wrote

"
This is a youthful blog with youthful worries. From the vantage point of age worrying about intelligence seems like a waste of time and unanswerable to boot.
"

and I find this observation insightful, and even a bit understated.

Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability.

Obviously, one reason these sorts of questions about comparative general intelligence are unanswerable is that "general intelligence" is not really a rigorously defined concept -- as you well know! And the rigorous definitions that have been proposed (e.g. in Legg and Hutter's writing, or my earlier writings, etc.) are basically nonmeasurable in practice -- they're only crudely approximable in practice, and the margin of error of these approximations is almost surely large enough to blur whatever distinctions exist between various highly clever humans.

I have no doubt that you're extremely smart, and especially talented in some particular areas (such as mathematics and writing, to give a nonexhaustive list) ... and that you're capable of accomplishing great things intellectually.

As an aside, the notion that Conway, or von Neumann or any other historical math figure is "more intelligent than Eliezer along all dimensions" seems silly to me ... I'm sure they weren't, under any reasonable definition of "dimensions" in this context.

To take a well-worn example: from my study of the historical record, it seems clear that Einstein and Godel were both less transparently, obviously clever than von Neumann. My guess is that von Neumann would have scored higher on IQ tests than either of those others, because he was incredibly quick-minded and fond of puzzle-type problems. However, obviously there were relevant dimensions along which both Einstein and Godel were "smarter" than von Neumann; and they pursued research paths in which these dimensions were highly relevant.

"General intelligence" has more and more meaning as one deals with more and more powerful computational systems. For humans it's meaningful but not amazingly, dramatically meaningful ... what's predictive of human achievement is almost surely a complex mixture of human general intelligence with human specialized intelligence in achievement-relevant domains.

Pragmatically separating general from specialized intelligence in oneself or other humans is a hard problem, and not really a terribly useful thing to try to do.

Achieving great things seems always to be a mixture of general intelligence, specialized intelligence, wise choice of the right problems to work on, and personality properties like persistence ...

-- Ben G


Some else wrote

"
This is a youthful blog with youthful worries. From the vantage point of age worrying about intelligence seems like a waste of time and unanswerable to boot.
"

and I find this observation insightful, and even a bit understated.

Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability.

Obviously, one reason these sorts of questions about comparative general intelligence are unanswerable is that "general intelligence" is not really a rigorously defined concept -- as you well know! And the rigorous definitions that have been proposed (e.g. in Legg and Hutter's writing, or my earlier writings, etc.) are basically nonmeasurable in practice -- they're only crudely approximable in practice, and the margin of error of these approximations is almost surely large enough to blur whatever distinctions exist between various highly clever humans.

I have no doubt that you're extremely smart, and especially talented in some particular areas (such as mathematics and writing, to give a nonexhaustive list) ... and that you're capable of accomplishing great things intellectually.

As an aside, the notion that Conway, or von Neumann or any other historical math figure is "more intelligent than Eliezer along all dimensions" seems silly to me ... I'm sure they weren't, under any reasonable definition of "dimensions" in this context.

To take a well-worn example: from my study of the historical record, it seems clear that Einstein and Godel were both less transparently, obviously clever than von Neumann. My guess is that von Neumann would have scored higher on IQ tests than either of those others, because he was incredibly quick-minded and fond of puzzle-type problems. However, obviously there were relevant dimensions along which both Einstein and Godel were "smarter" than von Neumann; and they pursued research paths in which these dimensions were highly relevant.

"General intelligence" has more and more meaning as one deals with more and more powerful computational systems. For humans it's meaningful but not amazingly, dramatically meaningful ... what's predictive of human achievement is almost surely a complex mixture of human general intelligence with human specialized intelligence in achievement-relevant domains.

Pragmatically separating general from specialized intelligence in oneself or other humans is a hard problem, and not really a terribly useful thing to try to do.

Achieving great things seems always to be a mixture of general intelligence, specialized intelligence, wise choice of the right problems to work on, and personality properties like persistence ...

-- Ben G

Achieving great things seems always to be a mixture of general intelligence, specialized intelligence, wise choice of the right problems to work on, and personality properties like persistence ...

With a pinch of being in the right place and the right time, bake on 350 for 10-30 years.

Ben,
I kind of disagree with you. First, what we call "general intelligence" is itself a form of specialized intelligence: specializing optimizing successful outcomes in real time in our apparent reality. so the mix you recommend in "achieving great things" would itself be "general intelligence", not general intelligence plus something else (other than luck).

Since most people who "achieve great things" seem to me to be playing life at least in part as a poker game (they don't seem to put all their cards out on the table) I think outcomes may be a better measure than propaganda. "Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability." I'm not sure that comes from wisdom, rather than the rationally adjusted propaganda of an older person (look at my status enabled institutional power to achieve) contrasted with that of the younger person (look at my superior capabilities, with a brain at its physical prime).

Increasingly, as one ages, one worries more about what one DOES, rather than about abstract characterizations of one's capability.

This definitely happened to me. Between the ages of about 10 - 14, I was utterly obsessed with finding out what my IQ was. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I'd picked up the notion that Smartness in quantity was the most important thing a person could possibly have.

And it drove me frankly batty not knowing how much Smartness I had, because (a) I was insecure and felt like I needed to find out I had a "high enough" number in order to permit myself any sense of self-worth, and (b) I had an idea fixed in my mind that only "geniuses" with IQs 150 or above could have any hope of addressing any of the interesting questions and topics that dominated my thoughts as a geeky little kid: faster-than-light travel, Grand Unified Theories, etc.

I spent a lot of time trying to find any papers/reports/test scores my parents might be hiding away, hoping that I'd be able to discover through doing this some idea of the quantitative value stamp I was convinced must be on my brain somewhere (though not directly viewable by me).

I didn't actually find any of these papers until I was in my late teens, and by then I found with some surprise that I didn't care all that much what they said. At some point between the ages of 14 and 17 I'd managed to get over my IQ obsession and move toward a different brain-related obsession (one considerably less worry-inducing): that of how brains, and in particular mine, worked at all. And in ceasing to be obsessed with quantitative test-based measurements, lo and behold, I found it far easier to actually think about things and just plain learn.

I do now know what my age-4 Weschler score was, and it wasn't 150. Not even close. I took another Weschler (the adult scale) in college, and while that score ended up being quite a bit higher than my age-4 score, it was still lower than I'd originally hoped it would be. But it didn't matter to me in the least from an emotional standpoint by then, because I'd already managed to accomplish things (like getting an A in calculus) that I'd have considered the province of people with far higher IQ scores than I actually had. Not to mention the fact that when I looked at my subtest scores, they were all over the map -- I had a higher than average Block Design, but lower than average Picture Arrangement, for instance.

At this point I tend to see IQ (at least as measured on tests) as being very limited in terms of what information it actually tells you about what someone is capable of doing. E.g., I don't think IQ scores can definitively tell you when someone is going to "hit a wall", so to speak, in terms of what mathematical theorem they will absolutely get stuck on when they encounter it (or what engineering problem they might be able to solve, etc.).

It almost seems like some of these posts are suggesting a desire for much greater predictive ability than any test or ten-minute impression could possibly actually reveal in something as complex and feedback-sensitive as a human individual. And while I'd like as much as anyone for the world and everyone in it not to be destroyed (whether in one great cataclysm or a gradual tragic fade-out), I've come to terms with the fact that, as corny as it sounds, all we can do is our best, and we must do this in the utter absence of perfect knowledge regarding the limits of our individual or collective capacity.

Eliezer, don't think to yourself that you only have until you are 40. As somebody else noted and you didn't acknowledge, Marcello was not yet born when Conway passed 40. You mentioned your father, and I don't know the specifics, but surely you know that plenty of people have done great work, sometimes their best, past 40, and that with every passing year, due to advances in health, medicine, etc., "youth" extends further and further into our life.

And as another poster mentioned, I have almost no doubt that Von Neumann would have blown Einstein (possibly Godel) out of the water in terms of ability, and at the age of 10 or 11, William James Sidis would have smoked them all (at comparable ages). Even if there is such a thing as general intelligence and even if one has less of it than somebody else, it is still very much possible that one is vastly more talented in particular areas.

Einstein probably didn't have an IQ in the realm of Von Neumann or Newton or Sidis, but what he did have was an incredible physical intuition and the ability to think deeply about the philosophical underpinnings of physics in a way that few others could (or can). As others have said, even if Conway actually is smarter (which you should not just blindly accept, because we all have cognitive biases that might prevent us from making an accurate judgment), it doesn't mean that you don't have profound gifts that will end up being the deciding factor in solving FAI or whatever else you set your mind to.

Looking at Von Neumann at age 24 and Einstein at age 24, NOBODY would have thought it remotely possible that Einstein would be the one who would achieve enough in his field to be considered a successor to Newton. Von Neumann, though he accomplished more than 100 "mere" geniuses could ever hope to accomplish, cannot be said to be a successor to (or in the same league as) a Gauss or somebody of similar stature.

Since you're so fond of quotes, here's one for you:

If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?

- Shantideva (Indian Buddhist philosopher)

Just get on with it. Self-doubt and endless self-analysis do not contribute to the end goal.

Supporting Ben Goertzel's comment:

Michael Shermer revised his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, to contain a chapter called “Why Smart People Believe Weird Things”. In it, he quotes studies by Hudson, Getzels, and Jackson showing that “creativity and intelligence are relatively orthogonal (i.e., unrelated statistically) at high levels of intelligence. Intuitively, it seems like the more intelligent people are the more creative they will be. In fact, in almost any profession significantly affected by intelligence, once you are at a certain level among the population of practitioners (and that level appears to be an IQ score of about 125), there is no difference in intelligence between the most successful and the average in that profession. At that point other variables, independent of intelligence, take over, such as creativity, or achievement motivation and the drive to succeed.”

Actually RU, that's a good approximation for many/most professions, but not all that good an approximation.
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/Peabody/SMPY/DoingPsychScience2006.pdf
gives more detail, showing a significant marginal impact from, at the least, 99.99th percentile math achievement at age 12 relative to merely 99.8th percentile math achievement at age 12.

Is this study talking about Nobel Prize winners - or better yet, Fields Medal-winning mathematicians? Or just authors or something? I'm about ready to say "I defy the data; what about von Neumann?" Maybe there are people who can achieve through diligence what others achieve by genius, but to say that genius doesn't help at all... I defy the data.

(If you told me that IQ didn't make a difference past 140, I'd be quite willing to believe that IQ tests don't work past 140. Richard Feynman's measured IQ was 137, which as John K Clark observed, says more about IQ tests than it does about Feynman.)

Feynman's measured IQ was 123, not 137. And we already know that IQ tests do not measure vitally important aspects of cognition -- in Feynman's case especially, he was quite strong in those aspects while being weak in the aspects measured. (At least, I know that. What the rest of you know is less certain.)

This is one of the primary reasons why people who think we can use IQ scores as a representation for the higher-level aspects we can't measure well (because they're supposedly correlated with IQ) are wrong. (I'm looking at you, Vasser.)

IQ tests do not measure synthetic capacity, imagination, creative potential, or self-restraint / the ability to inhibit low-level drives and impulses. They measure only the ability to complete certain atomic functions in a limited subset of cognitive tasks. That makes them useful -- extremely so -- but not definitive. Not even close.

There's another aspect of the shortcomings of IQ tests that people might not be aware of. Cognition is quite flexible, and abstract problem-solving ability can be met by many combinations of underlying, modular capacities. A person lacking in certain respects can make up for the lack, at the price, perhaps, of thinking a little more slowly.

Take me for an example. On the WISC-III IQ test, my combined score is 145. There are two composite scores that the combined score is made up of, the verbal score (I got 155, the maximum possible on that test) and the performance score (I got 125). There are also a number of different individual capacity scores. On most, I scored above the 95 percentile. On two or three, I scored right in the middle, and in one (visual short term memory) I scored in the first percentile.

Let me repeat that. I scored in the first percentile for the capacity to keep visual information in my short-term memory. (I scored in the 97th for aural short term memory, and 99.9th for linguistic.) How does that change how I solve problems, how I think about the world? Well, I perform many tasks about twice as slowly (but just as accurately) as others with my composite IQ. I have to use other circuits than most people do to solve the same problems, circuits that aren't as efficient. Circuits that may even work slightly differently, giving me a different perspective on problems, which may be superior or inferior, I don't know (likely depending on the individual problem). I strongly suspect that this is a large part of the cause of my intense dislike of school.

(BTW, people with a large difference between performance and verbal IQ are classified as having non-verbal learning disorder. That's right, even really smart people can have learning disorders.)

IQ is not a single number. Even IQ recognizes a large part of the complexity of human intelligence. It's not the psychologists that make the mistake of reducing it to a single number.

Why did I write this long comment on a dead thread? Dunno.

Gentlemen - Let me propose that the heart of serious intellectual achievement is synthesis, creativity, simplicity.

These are factors that actually increase with age and are not "IQ" or "g" driven. In fact I believe Edward de Bono argued that creativity drops at IQ 125 or so: maybe because people begin to fall into an "expert trap," where they have to maintain their previous work and expert status more than anything else.

Creativity need not decline with age at all - if you can avoid common habit errors.

My objection to Vassar is just that all these "tests" are highly flawed and biased - they consistently disfavor certain people and favor others. They just do, sorry, and this alone invalidates them or at least diminishes their usefulness.

My other comment to you all has to do with Feynman. I once asked another member of the Project, who is a famous emeritus experimentalist, about him. He told me that what distinguished Feynman was his wit and curiosity about things that others didn't think were "on the critical path," so to speak. Wit and curiosity are completely untestable, but if you look at real achievers I believe you'll find these qualities extremely important.

The courage to appear silly to avoid the expert trap - wit - careful avoidance of habit error - constant search for bias - doubting intuitions - deliberately slowing down to allow more time for divergent thought esp. if you are overclocked - synthesis - simplicity - tenacity - the person with these 9 qualities will be a thinker for the ages.

I think you're on the right path, frelkins, but this?

all these "tests" are highly flawed and biased - they consistently disfavor certain people and favor others.

How does the latter follow at all? If we had a test that measures everything you think constitutes real intelligence, it would consistently disfavor certain people and favor others. It would disfavor stupid people and favor smart people. That's the point of an intelligence test.

I don't believe IQ tests measure everything. There's a certain feeling when being creative, and when completing these tests I have not felt it, so I don't think it's measuring it.

Also I am not sure intelligence is general. At the level of ordinary life it certainly is, but geniuses are always geniuses *at* something, e.g. maths, physics, composing. Why aren't they geniuses at everything.

Does anyone have a reputable source for Feynman's 137? google makes it look very concentrated in this group, probably the result of a single confabulation.

Sykes and Gleick's biographies both give 12x. Sykes quotes Feynman's sister remembering sneaking into the records as a child. This seems important to me: Feynman didn't just fabricate the 12x.

Math smarts are not the most important thing. Basic reasoning skills are vital (even if they are based on heuristics that are sometimes wrong), management skills are extremely important, intelligence augmentation skills are a must, touchtyping is very useful, etc.

Overall you should think not in terms of competitiveness (whether you are smarter than everybody else), but in terms of co-operation (how you can complement others, how they can contribute their skills to complement yours).

And for the record, I don't think you are the smartest person I know (although you are very smart). I suspect that I may have a better skillset than you do. :)

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