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January 31, 2009

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I wonder about the psychological mechanisms and intuitions at work in the Babyeaters. After all, human babies don't look like Babyeater babies, they're less intelligent, etc. Their intellectual extension of strong intuitions to exotic cases might well be much more flexible than their applications to situations from the EEA, e.g. satisfying them by drinking cocktails containing millions of blastocysts. Similarly, human intuitions start to go haywire in exotic sci-fi thought experiments and strange modern situations.

Are they referring to the anime or Visual Novel of Fate/stay night?

Obviously the visual novel.

Any chance of getting an RSS or Atom feed for Overcoming Bias that has everyone but Eliezer's posts?

Options, this will hopefully become easier shortly with Less Wrong. Sorry.

Options- I'm sure you're perfectly aware of many resources that could answer your question. Don't be passive-aggressive and pretend you simply want a question to be answered, when it is clear that you are just trying to be rude.

Akon claims this is a "true" prisoner's dilemma situation, and then tries to add more values to one side of the scale. If he adds enough values to make cooperation higher value than defecting, then he was wrong to say it was a true prisoner's dilemma. But the story has made it clear that the aliens appear to be not smart enough to accurately anticipate human behaviour (or vice versa for that matter), so this is not a situation where it is rational to cooperate in a true prisoner's dilemma. If it really is a true prisoner's dilemma, they should just defect.

Of course, there may be a more humane approach than extermination or requiring them to live under human law: forcible modification to remove the desire to eat babies, and reduce the amount of reproduction. It might be a little tricky to do this without completely messing up the aliens' psychology.

Also, it seems a little unlikely that a third ship would arrive given that the arrival of even one alien ship was considered so surprising in the first installment.

> Also, it seems a little unlikely that a third ship would arrive given that the arrival of even one alien ship was considered so surprising in the first installment.

Don't you think there might be a good reason for that which we will learn next time?
My guess would be so. that has way higher standards like 'killing the unfertilized egg is murder'.

Martin

"Babyeaters don't sleep" could be a t-shirt.

Simon:
I think you're missing the point, would you want to be modified to no longer value friendship? or to value the life of a roach more than friendship?

babyeaters evolved to not view their babies as something deserving of sympathy, and eating them is the most primal way they show social trustworthyness.

It's not just that it would mess up your psychology to change you this way, it would essentially murder you, and you would be fully opposed to it. (well, I think I would be.)

I remain puzzled over why they're trying to decide on the correct course of action themselves.

Wouldn't the only reasonable decision in this case be to return to the rest of the humanity, let the actual government decide whether or not to go to war with an entirely new species? Sure, they'd lose the advantage of surprise, and it may be a really long way back home, but it still bothered me that not a single crew member even raised the possibility. If I was on the crew, pointing out that we have no right to make such a decision on our own would be the first thing I'd do.

James Andrix:
babyeaters evolved to not view their babies as something deserving of sympathy, and eating them is the most primal way they show social trustworthyness.

Oh, they did. That was pretty clearly stated in the first installment - they love their babies, and have great sympathy for them. That's what makes the inevitable winnowing so tragic, and that's why overcoming it - despite everything - is so heroic. If the winnowing wasn't any big deal, then obviously it wouldn't be in the center of their ethical system.

(Though I would imagine that they might care somewhat less for their children than humans - considering how eagerly they have developed to punish cheaters, one'd think there to be a considerable selection pressure operating in favor of those who didn't have problems with slaughtering their offspring. Of course, being entirely sosiopathic towards the kids would reduce the chances that even one of them would live on to reproduce.)

Hmm.

I'm already imagining three's sensor capabilities are advanced enough to see aliens, but they really don't like getting blown up. Upon seeing these two other aliens reach first contact and not blow each other up, it would be more reasonable to risk showing up.

After the last discussion of cooperation as meta-commitment, I found another intuition for cooperation in prisoner's dilemma: trade. If you are more efficient in doing things good for the other side than other side, and other side is more efficient in doing things for you than you are, then both of you should do things that other side likes, even if you don't. For example, if it turns out that humanity is sufficiently better positioned for making paperclips than paperclip maximizer, and paperclip maximizer is better positioned to create a Friendly future than we are, then cooperation on our side can consist in us killing off ourselves and starting to make paperclips, and paperclipper should stop making paperclips and become Friendly. Essentially, you are physically switching places with an enemy, and as a result you both a better off. Your mind starts to host enemy's mind with enemy's morality, and enemy's mind start to host your mind with your morality. This switching can be temporary as well as permanent, and sides in this trade can be located anywhere in time or space. The only prerequisite is that you both know what the other side wants, and how things are expected to turn out given your actions, even if you are unable to communicate, ever.

Methinks Elie is making to too easy on his human characters. I actually don't feel much emotional angst over the babyeaters because they are so alien. After all, plenty of species on Earth practice cannibalism, yet we don't go on a crusade to exterminate them.

No, what he really needs is an alien race that consists of cuddly mammals, or perhaps an offshoot of humanity that evolved this practice of spawning and culling.

Most people wouldn't feel horror over crystalline entities eating their young, but they would go apeshit over human beings doing the same.

> After all, plenty of species on Earth practice cannibalism, yet we don't go on a crusade to exterminate them.

Sentience DOES make a difference. You dont frown on your cat for hunting mice, but on your dog for doing it with children.

Martin

I don't know what political setup the humans have, but it probably doesn't extent to Akon and his crew choosing war for the whole human species. Wouldn't the wise thing to do be to report back, especially considering they have some very important news?

Eliezer, why do you hate death so much? I understand why you'd hate it as much as the social norm wants you to say you do, but not so much more. People don't hate death, and don't even say they hate death nearly as much as you do. I can't think of a simpler hypothesis than "Eliezer is a mutant". Now, of course, throwing in the long, painful agony of children changes something.

For what it's worth, I find plenty to disagree with Eleazar about, on points of both style and substance, but on death I think he has it exactly right. Death is a really bad thing, and while humans have diverse psychological adaptations for dealing with death, it seems the burden of proof is on people who do NOT want to make the really bad thing go away in the most expedient way possible.

> Sentience DOES make a difference. You dont frown on your cat for hunting mice, but on your dog for doing it with children.

That's at least partly due to speciesm. How many people have gone on crusades to stop leopards from eating chimpanzees? For that matter, how many people devote their lives to stopping other *humans* from eating chimpanzees?

As for cannibalism, it seems to me that its role in Eliezer's story is to trigger a purely illogical revulsion in the humans who antropomorphise the aliens.

Imagine two completely different alien species living in one (technological) society, where each eats and "winnows" the other's children. This is the natural, evolved behavior of both species, just as big cats eat apes and (human) apes eat antelopes.

No cannibalism takes place, but the same amount of death and suffering is present as in Eliezer's scenario. Should we be less or more revolted at this? Which scenario has the greater moral weight? Should we say the two-species configuration is morally superior because they've developed a peaceful, stable society with two intelligent species coexisting instead of warring and hunting each other?

Also, if some people care so much about this crusade they're willing to go against the rest of human society and risk a huge war, then logically they ought to have mounted a huge operation long ago to sweep the galaxy looking for morally unsuitable aliens. Killing or forcefully transforming any alien species that 1) they judge to be sufficiently intelligent and 2) whose behavior doesn't conform to human morals.

Or they might realize there's no real upper bound on the amount of suffering that might potentially be taking place somewhere out of sight. Especially if you give more weight to the suffering or death of more intelligent individuals. In which case they might want to make an alliance with the Baby Eaters to search the galaxy for cultures so alien that they would be abominations to both species. And only exterminate the Baby Eaters once the galaxy has been swept clean.

Put like that, it seems to me to be a really bad idea. But isn't that what follows from the Pilot's argument? If stopping the Baby Eating is so important they're willing to risk the extermination of humanity for it. (And there's no way they could be sure of the Baby Eaters' potential in a species-wide war just from reading one badly translated and possibly censored alien library for a day. So they're proposing going to war where they can't be sure of victory.)

Daniel Armak:
But isn't that what follows from the Pilot's argument?

I don't think the Pilot is really taking the time to think through all the logical consequences of what he's saying, to be honest.

I note that filial cannibalism is quite common on this planet.

Gamete selection has quite a few problems. It only operates on half the genome at a time - and selection is performed before many of the genes can be expressed. Of course gamete selection is cheap.

What spiders do - i.e. produce lots of offspring, and have many die as infants - has a huge number of evolutionary benefits. The lost babies do not cost very much, and the value of the selection that acts on them is great.

Human beings can't get easily get there - since they currently rely on gestation inside a human female body for nine months, but - make no mistake - if we could produce lots of young, and kill most of them at a young age, then that would be a vastly superior system in terms of the quantity and quality of the resulting selection.

Human females do abort quite a few foetuses after a month or so - ones that fail internal and maternal integrity tests - but the whole system is obviously appalingly inefficient.

> I don't think the Pilot is really taking the time to think through all the logical consequences of what he's saying

Indeed, even if he wants to make war, the logical next step would still be to keep talking to the aliens and learning as much as possible about them. Then maybe trying to capture or infiltrate their ship. Or asking for escort to their system and returning with strategic knowledge about that. Preparing a surprise attack. Things like that.

Destroying the first contact alien ship would be stupid.

I guess the ship's "council" making the decisions helps the argument that Eliezer is making, and can be waived simply because you *could* have a lengthier story where they traveled back to Earth and *then* the Earth Government had exactly the same debate. But that's nitpicky, how would it help the story or the argument behind it? IMHO it's good the way it is.

Some of the council's members having these extreme reactions of empathy seems a bit alien to us even, but that is our own bias. We ignore suffering in so-called 3rd world countries every day. "Aliens eating each other? Please! Live and let die." Who's right on this one, us or them?

The council members live in a world where humans (the only sentients they know) don't fight other humans, and that's it. Suffering is considered the most amoral thing by their standards. I think it's entirely in-character and reasonable that they feel compelled to stop it.

To those wondering why the crew doesn't report back: isn't it even more implausible that two alien civilizations exchange petabytes of information about themselves, translate each other's languages, and start a philosophical discussion within hours of contacting each other, as opposed to, oh I don't know, almost anything else? This is a stage for some archetypes to discuss some ethical point, and you can assume that they will think of everything that Eliezer wants to cover (or else appropriate actors will appear at the right time). That's all that matters.

Implausibilities abound, but whether or not they matter depends on one's assumptions about the goals of the story. Given that I'm not yet sure what Eliezer's goals are, I come up with my own. (Actually, I would do this anyway). I can't help but wonder what it would be like to be a Babyeater, and I ask all sorts of questions that may be completely irrelevant to Eliezer's purpose. For example: How could they not be able to distinguish between the concept of good and the concept of baby eating if they understand that survival is good and that they survived before agriculture and before they started eating babies? When are babies taught that baby eating is synonymous with good? Do babies realize what will happen to them? We know that they do not want to be eaten, so do any of them try to make reasoned arguments about why eating them is unnecessary? Have any of them tried to organize the babies in revolt? I understand that they are young and so presumably not very capable, but still. How are the survivors selected? Does the evolutionary process the Babyeaters like so much optimize for Babyeaters who run fast, or are promising babies selected early and separated from the rest of the group? If the latter, what are the criteria? How do the dynamics of Babyeater society change with their ability to detect cheaters? What are their reasons for thinking that they are good at it? Etc. etc. Are any of these questions relevant? It depends.

The point is not that Babyeaters are implausible, it's that Babyeaters are fascinating enough to think about in some detail, that doing so will eventually raise questions of plausibility, and that such questions are likely to be unconstrained by their relevance the the author's point if 1) it's not yet obvious what the author's point is, and/or 2) they author's point is, or becomes, relatively less interesting than questions about Babyeater society and evolution. After all, p > 0 where p is the probability that Eliezer's real goal is to make OvercomingBias the number one search result for "baby eating." (The previous sentence is a joke.)

TL;DR: Properly applying the MST3K Mantra is non-trivial.

> Do babies realize what will happen to them?

I asked about this in yesterday's comments thread, but I guess everyone's moved here since then :-)

My intuition is that selection pressure on young aliens (to do anything it takes not get eaten) would be stronger than most selection pressure adults experience (most adults produce hundreds of offspring <=> only one offspring out of several hundred survives; and in a technological society most if not all adults live to reproduce).

We should see children evolving to escape being eaten. If running faster doesn't work, then by hurting other children to make them run slower. Or by children eating one another themselves. Or by a social organization that lets a few bullies/rulers/... send other children to be eaten in their stead. Or by evolving to be poisonous or at least tasting really bad and having orange-black striping to warn your parents :-)

Also, the period of time from birth to the beginning of (post-winnowing) growth spurt would be compressed to the utter minimum required by their physiology. (The faster you grow up, the smaller the window of danger to be eaten). On that basis, the pre-winnowing children may not have much time to philosophize about being eaten.

Eventually you get is a creature that's born sentient, manages to learn about the day/night cycle (plus whatever inborn "instinct" provides), and then the winnowing takes place at the age of 2 days before the growth spurt can begin. Very stylized, kind of thing.

spriteless,

That's what I was thinking. Perhaps the newcomer engineered this meetup somehow to see whether the two species are safe to contact.

"""
"Out of curiosity," said the Lord Pilot, "have they ever tried to produce even more babies - say, thousands instead of hundreds - so they could speed up their evolution even more?"

"It ought to be easily within their current capabilities of bioengineering," said the Xenopsychologist, "and yet they haven't done it. Still, I don't think we should make the suggestion.""

"Agreed," said Akon.
"""

That's not the least bit obvious. Do we really want the Babyeaters to hold back corresponding suggestions that might make our society better from our perspective and worse from theirs?

If, in this situation, we ought to bite the prisoner's-dilemma bullet to the degree of not invading the Babyeater planet because peaceful situations are, on average, better than war-torn situations, doesn't the same argument mean that we shouldn't hold back helpful advice, provided that, on the whole, situations in which helpful advice is given freely are better?

Now maybe it's the case that if we swapped that particular kind of helpful advice with the baby eaters, the degree to which Babyeater planet got worse by our standards is more than the degree to which our planet would bet better by our standards, and vise versa. But in that case it would be better for both sides to draw up a treaty....

Manon: I hesitate to post this because it's such an emotional piece, but Eliezer has already written an impassioned response to your question. http://yudkowsky.net/other/yehuda

Did Ira Howard actually say that? In which story?

Brilliant, Eliezer. I love the concept of the Order of Silent Confessors. It makes the distinction between terminal values and the conduct that one should adopt to uphold those values crystal clear. That said, the thought of an organization of people who are willing to, um, purge themselves of all their terminal values except one (to help humans fulfill their fundamental desires, whatever they may be) is a bit hard to believe.

""Out of curiosity," said the Lord Pilot, "have they ever tried to produce even more babies - say, thousands instead of hundreds - so they could speed up their evolution even more?"

"It ought to be easily within their current capabilities of bioengineering," said the Xenopsychologist, "and yet they haven't done it.""


Isn't this evidence that baby eating is not, in fact, one of the Babyeaters' terminal values? If it really was they would do everything to increase the amount of babies they eat. It looks like their terminal value, instead of being "eating babies", is a actually something like, "eating babies in the way that our ancestors have always eaten babies". In other words, they put more value on upholding the _tradition_ of baby eating than on baby eating as such.


James Andrix: I don't claim that the aliens would prefer modification over death, only that it is more consonant with my conception of human values to modify them than exterminate them, notwithstanding that the aliens may prefer the latter.

@Marcello:
Every decision to give a gift on your side corresponds to a decision to abstain from accepting your gift on the other side. Thus, decisions to give must be made on case-to-case basis, cooperation in true prisoner's dilemma doesn't mean unconditional charity.

This story is so Asimovian that I keep waiting for "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" to pop up.

And is Fate/Stay night really that good?

Vladimir says:
"""Every decision to give a gift on your side corresponds to a decision to abstain from accepting your gift on the other side. Thus, decisions to give must be made on case-to-case basis, cooperation in true prisoner's dilemma doesn't mean unconditional charity."""

Agreed. Obviously (for example) the human ship shouldn't self-destruct. But I wasn't talking about all gifts, I was talking about the specific class of gifts called "helpful advice." And I did specify: "provided that, on the whole, situations in which helpful advice is given freely are better."

I was comparing the two strategies "Don't give away any helpful advice of the level the other party is likely to be able to reciprocate" and "give away all helpful advice of the level the other party is likely to be able to reciprocate" and pointing out that maybe they form another prisoner's dilemma. Of course, there may be more fine-grained strategies that work even better, strategies that actually take into account the relative amount of good and bad each piece of advice brings to the two parties. But remember that you must also consider how your strategy is going to be chronophoned over to the baby eaters. If we make the first gift, what exchange rate of baby-eater utilons for human utilons do we tolerate? (If the gifts are made of information, it may be impossible for trades to be authenticated without the possibility of other party taking the gift and using it (though of course it might be that the equilibrium has an honor system....)) It looks like it gets really complicated. Worth thinking about? Yes, but right now I'm busy.

Simon: Also, it seems a little unlikely that a third ship would arrive given that the arrival of even one alien ship was considered so surprising in the first installment.

There are lots of starlines leading out from each system. They're somewhat expensive to open initially, then stay open. The nova acted as a rendezvous signal, causing all starlines leading to that star to fluctuate. Humans and aliens had never before explored the same world, but in this case, three different alien species had explored a world with a starline to the nova system. Without the nova, they never would have found one another.

Chris Yeh: Most people wouldn't feel horror over crystalline entities eating their young, but they would go apeshit over human beings doing the same.

Suppose I put your identical mind (including all memories, unchanged) into a crystalline body. Would you stop empathizing with yourself? How much do I have to change a human child's body (leaving the brain the same) before you would stop caring if they got eaten? How about a child severely disfigured by burns - do you stop empathizing with them once they no longer have a human-looking face and skin?

Kaj Sotala: Wouldn't the only reasonable decision in this case be to return to the rest of the humanity, let the actual government decide whether or not to go to war with an entirely new species? Sure, they'd lose the advantage of surprise

They're not going to duck out on the responsibility if that means already making the decision, e.g., losing the advantage of surprise. They have to decide now whether to fire on the Babyeater ship.

Armak: No cannibalism takes place, but the same amount of death and suffering is present as in Eliezer's scenario. Should we be less or more revolted at this?

Exactly as revolted. The problem isn't cannibalism, it's children being eaten.

Indeed, even if he wants to make war, the logical next step would still be to keep talking to the aliens and learning as much as possible about them.

The Babyeaters at least seem to have dumped their local Net, which removes some of that incentive, and the course of action you suggest is not without risk.

tim: How could they not be able to distinguish between the concept of good and the concept of baby eating if they understand that survival is good

What good is life without eating babies? How can you not understand that tribal loyalty is good?

Larry D'Anna: Did Ira Howard actually say that? In which story?
He didn't.
Furcas: It looks like their terminal value, instead of being "eating babies", is a actually something like, "eating babies in the way that our ancestors have always eaten babies". In other words, they put more value on upholding the _tradition_ of baby eating than on baby eating as such.

Clearly you don't value sex with your lover, since you're not having sex with him/her every minute of every day; you put more value on upholding the tradition of sex, rather than sex as such.

Kevin, seconded. I'm half-expecting Eliezer to copy-paste a few paragraphs from the climax of Foundation's Edge into the middle of the story in order to see if anyone notices :-)

tim: How could they not be able to distinguish between the concept of good and the concept of baby eating if they understand that survival is good
What good is life without eating babies? How can you not understand that tribal loyalty is good?

I'm afraid I don't understand. By "not a babyeating thing", do you mean that the Babyeaters (unlike us) use the same term/concept for the 'separable essence of goodness' as they do for one particular terminal value? Or do you just mean that convincing them not to eat babies would be analogous, and analogously hard, to convincing humans to eat babies?

Oh, yeah, great story.

Eliezer wrote:
"Clearly you don't value sex with your lover, since you're not having sex with him/her every minute of every day; you put more value on upholding the tradition of sex, rather than sex as such."

I value sex with my girlfriend, but I also value lots of other things with comparable or greater intensity; these other desires are therefore in competition for my time and attention with my desire to have sex; as a result, I spend _some_ time having sex, and some time reading posts on Overcoming Bias. I don't spend all my time having sex because I don't value sex _that_ much.

However, if I thought that having sex was the best and most moral thing I could possibly do with my time, I would do everything in my power to have as much sex as possible. If I spent any time working, it would be with the goal of earning enough money to pay for food, lodging, etc, in order to be able to have sex later.

And if someone offered to alter my genes to, say, do away with my refractory period, so that I could screw my girlfriend nonstop, I'd agree in a nanosecond.

@Marcello:
I assumed you agree that increasing the babyeating problem tenfold isn't something you'd expect to be reciprocated, not without knowing something they presently don't, and so the issue actually should be dismissed on that ground for the time being. It seems that you didn't start from this premise. Where you expect to profit -- sure, it's normal trade at that point.

The trick with cooperating in prisoner's dilemma is primarily in decision-theoretic setting, where you've only got one decision that's estimated over everything. The thesis is that cooperation is not what you get as instrumental strategy from structure of a game, it's what you start from as terminal choice (and can lose in structure of the game). It doesn't translate well to bounded rationality, sometimes you have to do what looks like defecting because you don't know the consequences.

For example, cooperation result should extend to a setting where one player observes the decision of the other player. Should I cooperate, knowing that the other player will observe my decision before making his? It looks like I shouldn't, unless I have a way of knowing that he cooperates, just expecting him to do that in order to be in the position to receive my cooperation doesn't work (unless he really makes a commitment/changes his utility, and presents evidence). But if I have the predictive power of Omega, sure, cooperation as the right decision in that setting is what I'd expect.

Kevin: I don't think Eliezer meant to seriously suggest FSN is as good as Hamlet, but rather to continue his theme of 'strange future' (and maybe as part of a background viewpoint that 'one period's high culture is a former period's low pop culture' - which is true of Shakespeare BTW).

That said, I've always felt based on the animes that Tsukihime was Type-Moon's best work, and not FSN.

Vladimir says: "I assumed you agree that increasing the babyeating problem tenfold isn't something you'd expect to be reciprocated"

Aye, not necessarily. But perhaps the gesture of good will might be large enough to get the babyeaters to, say, take a medicine which melts the brains of their children right after they're eaten. They might be against such a medicine, but since they didn't evolve *knowing* that their babies were being slow-tortured for a month, they might not have desires against the medicine stronger than the desires in favor of having ten times as many kids. (And because the humans have tech. superiority, they could actually enforce the deal if that's necessary.)

It's a tricky ethical question knowing whether the humans are better off with that deal. And it's a tricky question of baby-crunch-crunch whether the baby-eaters are more-baby-eaten with that deal. But maybe there are better deals than the one I was able to think of in ten minutes.

I am somewhat more disturbed by the suffering of the eaten babies than by the baby-eating itself. I don't like the baby-eating but I could tolerate it by chalking it up to Bizarre Alien Biology or whatever, but it should be possible to euthanize the babies before they are eaten, or whatever. Basically, I hate pain more than I hate death.

Consider the typical human reaction to the treatment of food animals in factory farms...

So I was like "Here's my dystopian story of a world where a poorly programmed AI separates men and women onto different planets" and people were like "That's not a dystopia, I would totally live there" and I was like "You're just being contrarian" and they were like "No we're not" so then I was like "Okay here's my story about aliens who eat children" and they were like "We're cool with that" and I was like "..."

I'm not cool with it but I just can't connect with it.

That said, maybe the Babyeaters need to eat the human's children to show them how Good it really is. If that fails to convince them, it's clobbering time.

Never mind my previous comment. Obviously I cannot read.

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