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November 07, 2008


I tend to think aliens shaped by natural selection will exhibit many of the same neurological adaptations that we do.

I have no idea what the machine is doing. I don't even have a hypothesis as to what it's doing. Yet I have recognized the machine as the product of an alien intelligence.

Are beaches the product of an alien intelligence? Some of them are - the ones artificially constructed and maintained by humans. What about the 'naturally-occurring' ones, constructed and maintained by entropy? Are they evidence for intelligence? Those grains of sand don't wear down, and they're often close to spherical. Would a visiting UFO pause in awe to recognize beaches as machines with unknown purposes?

"For there to be a concept, there has to be a boundary. So what am I recognizing?"

I think you're just recognizing that the alien artifact looks like something that wouldn't occur naturally on Earth, rather than seeing any kind of essence. Because Earth is where we originally made the concept, and we didn't need an essence there, we just divided the things we know we made from the things we know we didn't.

There is no way to tell that something is made by 'intelligence' merely by looking at it - it takes an extensive collection of knowledge about its environment to determine whether something is likely to have arisen through simple processes.

A pile of garbage seems obviously unnatural to us only because we know a lot about Earth nature. Even so, it's not a machine. Aliens concluding that it is a machine with an unknown purpose would be mistaken.

Can we stop deleting Caledonian's references to the fact that his comments are being deleted/altered?

Censorship is a form of bias, after all.

Consider yourself lucky that he's still on the blog. I'm tired of putting up with his Stephen J. Gould-like attempts to pretend that various issues have never been discussed here and that he's inventing them all on his own.

Can I guess that the machine's makers were intelligent, without guessing their motivations?

We can guess optimization, but I'd avoid unconsciously assuming it wasn't built by an unintelligent optimizer, such as some weird alien evolutionary process or non-intelligent creature/hive, without more
extra-terrestrial data.

It is impossible to determine whether something was well-designed without speculating as to its intended function. Bombs are machines, machines whose function is to fly apart; they generally do not last particularly long when they are used. Does that make them poorly-made?

If the purpose of a collection of gears was to fly apart and transmit force that way, sticking together would be a sign of bad design. Saying that the gears must have been well-designed *because* they stick together is speculating as to their intended function.

I do not see what is gained by labeling blind entropy-increasing processes as 'intelligence', nor do I see any way in which we can magically infer quality design without having criteria by which to judge configurations.

Eliezer is making a disguised argument that the universe is caused by intelligent design: the fact that the laws of nature stay the same over time, instead of changing randomly, shows that the Intelligence has goals that remain stable over time, even if we don't know what those goals are.

In my opinion, EY's point is valid—to the extent that the actor and observer intelligence share neighboring branches of their developmental tree. Note that for any intelligence rooted in a common "physics", this says less about their evolutionary roots and more about their relative stages of development.

Reminds me a bit of the jarred feeling I got when my ninth grade physics teacher explained that a scrambled egg is a clear and generally applicable example of increased entropy. [Seems entirely subjective to me, in principle.] Also reminiscent of Kardashev with his "obvious" classes of civilization, lacking consideration of the trend toward increasing ephemeralization of technology.

Maye you addressed this and I'm just missing it, but what you're describing seems to be more generally a way to detect an optimization process, rather than neccesarally an intelligent one.

Earlier I said we are seeing things that are like what we make. But that's not a very useful definition implementation-wise.

My own approach to implementation is to define intelligence as the results of a particular act - "thinking" - and then introspect to see what the individual elements of that act are, and implement them individually.

Yes, I went to Uni and was told intelligence was search, and all my little Prolog programs worked, but I think they were oversimplifying. They were unacknowledged Platonists, trying to find the hidden essence, trying to read God's mind, instead of simply looking at what *is* (albeit through introspection) and attempting to implement it.

All very naive and 1800s of me, I know. Imagine using introspection! What an unthinkable cad. Well pardon me for actually looking at the thing I'm trying to program.

Doesn't this show that "optimization process" is not an indispensable notion to "intelligence"?

I don't see much here that screams "intelligence" - rather than "adaptive fitness". Though it is true that with enough evidence you could probably distinguish between the two.

I wonder if there's an implication that intelligence is being used to mean things that require effortful conscious thought for us.

Imagine a species that has very quick minds but less spacial sense than we do. They can catch and throw accurately, but only by thinking as they do it. They would see baseball as much more evidence of intelligence than we do.

Or a species with much more innate mathematical and logical ability than we have-- they might put geometry on the same level that we put crows' ability to count.

Is a beehive evidence of intelligence? How about an international financial system?

You mentioned earlier that intelligence also optimizes for subgoals: tasks that indirectly lead to terminal value, without being directly tied to it. These subgoals would likely be easier to guess at than the ultimate terminal values.

For example, a high-amperage high temperature superconductor, especially with significant current flowing through it, is highly unlikely to have occurred by chance. It is also very good at carrying electrons from one place to another. Therefore, it seems useful to hypothesize that it is the product of an optimization process, aiming to transport electrons. It might be a terminal goal (because somebody programmed a superintelligent AI to "build this circuit"), or more likely it is a subgoal. Either way, it implies the presence of intelligence.

Well either the big metal gleaming thing was designed or it wasn't.

If it wasn't, it occured "naturally" - that is was constructed through basic physical phenomena. I feel I have a relatively sound understanding of the universe, backed up by years of research done by fellow humans, and can see no way a gleaming metal machine-like object, full of clockwork and electrical cable, can occur naturally. So I have to reach one of two conclusions:
Either my (and most likely humanity's) understanding of the universe is completely wrong, or the big metal thing was designed.

To me it seems clear which is the more likely scenario, though maybe I am missing a point or two about unknowable priors?

Anyway, this is how I would deduce the machine was designed - not through an understanding of optimization pressures. I feel this is a much more natural way to do it.
Things that are created by design are merely those things that "aren't not created by design".

Either my (and most likely humanity's) understanding of the universe is completely wrong, or the big metal thing was designed.

That is essentially Paley's argument from design - the one which Darwin proved to be a bad argument.

Distinguishing between designed and "designoid" objects is often possible - but it can take some work.

Gregory: Either way, it implies the presence of intelligence.

Scott: If it wasn't, it occurred "naturally" - that is was constructed through basic physical phenomena.

Probably, but not necessarily. We've already met on our own planet a non-intelligent optimization process that's built gears to "whir rapidly, perfectly meshed", and electricity generators and conductors for both data transmission and delivery of large currents, and surfaces that gleam in bright colours, and even built things using metals.

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