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November 19, 2008


Everything is new to us at some point; we are always trying to make sense of new things by using the abstractions we have collected from trying to understand all the old things.

We are always trying to use our best abstractions to directly assessing their characteristics in their own right. Even when we use analogies that is the goal.

I said the abstractions I rely on most here come from the economic growth literature. They are not just some arbitrary list of prior events.

This public exercise, where two smart people hunt for the roots of their disagreement on a complex issue, has the potential to be the coolest thing I've seen yet on this blog. I wonder if it's actually possible -- there are so many ways that it could go wrong, humans being what they are. I really appreciate the two of you giving it a try.

Not that you asked for people to take shots from the cheap seats, but Eliezer, your ending question: "I mean... is that really what you want to go with here?" comes across (to me at least) as an unnecessarily belligerent way to proceed, likely to lead the process in unfortunate directions. It's not an argument to win, with points to score.

The Socrates paragraph stands out to me. It doesn't seem sporting to downplay one approach in comparison to another by creating two scenarios, with one being what a five-year old might say and the other being what a college grad (or someone smart enough to go to college) might say. Can that point be illustrated without giving such an unbalanced appearance?

The problem of course (to the discussion and to the above example)is: how much do you think you know about the underlying mechanics of what you are analyzing?

Robin's concept of "Singularity" may be very broad, but your concept of "Optimization Process" is too.

To elaborate, as I understand it a distinctive feature of your scenario is a sudden growth speedup, due to an expanded growth feedback channel. This is the growth of an overall capability of a total mostly autonomous system whose capacity is mainly determined by its "knowledge", broadly understood. The economic growth literature has many useful abstractions for understanding such scenarios. These abstractions have been vetted over decades by thousands of researchers, trying ton use them to understand other systems "like" this, at least in terms of these abstractions.

Let's stop using hammers and Socrates and talk about what real tools you both are using to harness your intuitions. Whence the confidence, Eliezer? Whence the doubt, Robin?

I get the feeling you are getting closer in the last comment Robin, but I still can't get through that dense block of text to get a feel for what you're getting at.

Kudos to both of you for standing honorably by such a heated and potentially enlightening discussion.

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