Proof of work isn’t, but could be

(I posted this on the Bitcoin Forum, cross-posting it here for archival purposes)

We accept “proof of work” based on the assumption that there is no faster way to find a nonce which will give a new block a good enough hash value than brute-force search (currently requiring sextillions of guesses on average). But what if there were a hole in the crypto, a shortcut to finding likelier nonces? It would obviously be in the interests of the Bitcoin community to know whether someone had developed such a thing.

As things stand now, this isn’t detectable, but only because of the presumption that a successful hash represents work. Everyone who really has done the work, though, not only knows about the successful guess, but also about quintillions or sextillions of unsuccessful guesses which can be compactly represented by specifying the method by which they were generated; in the usual case, it will be possible to say not only that your nonce gives a good hash, but that a large number of others don’t–most likely, that yours is the first example in a very long arithmetic progression which succeeds after 10^20 or however many failures.

The success is quickly verifiable, but the failures aren’t; however, if I note the first term and common difference of the arithmetic progression I used, and assert that there are no earlier solutions than the one I found, I establish for the record that I am an honest miner who has done the work, because a shortcut to finding solutions while testing a lot fewer of them wouldn’t allow me to confidently specify a long enough solution-free progression to avoid suspicion. If the community randomly checked 1% of the new blocks that made such an assertion, someone who was using such a shortcut would eventually be found out or would have to maintain a suspicious silence about his search space or claim a statistically infeasible amount of good luck.

This can be started right away. No change in the protocol is needed for miners to document search space parameters as an “extended proof of work”, but it would be socially beneficial to do so, because we would all want to know if someone possessed and was using a secret shortcut to finding good hashes. If this behavioral norm spread, eventually those who refused to go along would invite suspicion. The whole system would thereby acquire protection limiting the damage someone with a secret shortcut could do–the shortcutter could still fake it by verifying enough of a progression including his nonce to avoid suspicion for non-compliance, but it would quickly be noticed that he was consistently much more lucky than he ought to be unless he ended up doing a significant fraction of the brute-force work anyway.

If this practice spread enough, there might be support to change the protocol to include it, though I have no proposal for how to apply sanctions to violators whose purported unsuccessful search space was found to include a valid solution. Even if you think SHA is the pinnacle of secure hash functions, you shouldn’t object to such a protocol change, because even though you don’t need reassurance there is no hole in the crypto, it’s good for Bitcoin overall if more people believe this.

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Acknowledge the Elephant (entry for AI Alignment Prize)

You know what I’m talking about. Whose values?

Humans want different things, individually and collectively, and I claim that bracketing this by imagining that the main part of the problem is not turning everything into paper clips is a major mistake.

I have seen way too much hand-waving about this and it doesn’t do this community any credit to eschew politics as mind-killing. I get why we do that, because the naivete and ideological Turing test incompetence around here is often staggering, but that means this is an area where we have failed to improve and we swim in a sea full of sharks.

Of course, “politics” is just a label for something that is really even more fundamental, which includes religion and psychology and sociology and basic human attitudes that vary in a much vaster space than most of us are used to acknowledging.

You have to get serious about whose values. Coherent Extrapolated Volition is a crock unless you preface it with a specification of who you will leave out, and how you will weight their anguish and frustration against the satisfaction of the Coherent Ones. Here are some concrete questions you need to start talking about:

(1) Is the ultimate source of an AI’s values to be an individual, a community of specified individuals, a text or code of some kind which relevant humans have hammered out somehow, a method by which the AI observes human society as a whole and forms its own synthesis of values according so some previously specified recipe, or something else?

“Which one of these sources turns out to be the surest and safest way to install the values the installers actually want?” is not at all the same question as “Which way of doing it is likeliest to give the AI the best values to install?”

Technical research won’t be enough, it will just allow the winners of the race to accomplish their goals whatever they are. This leads to the next concrete question that shouldn’t be dodged:

(2) As activists, should we push for international cooperation with suppression of unauthorized AI research, open-source research, working with a particular government, or something else?

Avoiding an AI arms race is a good top-level goal, but accomplishing that is inevitably political. This question also has potentially different answers depending on whether you care about succeeding in giving the AI the intended values or whether you care what the values actually are.

I am being kind here, because my questions (1) and (2) are still phrased in a process-oriented way which allows you all to stay comfortable, without identifying specific values and actors, but now I’m going to drill down and make you squirm. If you’re good at Noticing Confusion, the squriming should trigger that.

(3) What about God?

Most of the people on this planet ground their values in a religion. Are we to take seriously the idea that “everyone’s values should be accomodated” or its approximation “do the equivalent of taking a vote” or its meta-approximation “do the equivalent of what a vote would give us if everyone was able to get smarter and more educated to the extent that they wanted to” might maximize coherence by excluding atheists? I’m not an atheist so it’s not a problem for me as much as it is for some of you, but both theists and atheists should recognize that the dynamical system of coherent valuations might have multiple attractors and not assume that the one the system is headed for won’t be evil in any of the senses people use that word. (I’m not even going to get into specifically theistic concerns like whether spiritual entities are going to contribute to the process in some way, I just want us to admit that we must have something to say to people who ask what God wants.) The biggest religion by some measures is Islam, which is expansionist and problematic in various ways from the point of view of most of us here, but Christians will have their own priorities if a Singularity is being contemplated, ranging from Teilhard’s Omega Point theology to the identification of a powerful AI with entities they have been taught to anticipate will be apocalyptically relevant.

(4) What about freedom?

Read Maureen Dowd’s interview with Jaron Lanier in the 11/08/17 NY Times. I’ll wait. …. OK. Obviously we can use terms like “maximize human flourishing” to dance around the issue, but there are fundamental polarities between individualism and collectivism, between democracy and autocracy, between virtual reality and traditional lifestyles, which are going to factor in to specifying values and need to be discussed much harder. Yeah, we probably want to avoid a Wirehead Matrix endgame, just like we want to avoid being Clippy, but it gets more uncomfortable when you need to start getting your hands dirty. Do you want to maximize the weighted summation from N=1 to 7.6 billion of the integral of Q(L,N)dL? You’re going to need to define Q in terms of present-subjective-mood or reflective-life-satisfaction or comformance-to-current-value-system or something and build a time-discounting function into dL and figure out what happens when N increases and decide if the weights ought to all be equal, but before you can tackle that you have to figure out what is even possible. Maybe it’s important that people all have some actual input or voice or vote in the final value set, but maybe that’s impossible, and maybe we can maximize their ongoing experience by some measure but it will lead ultimately to anomie and alienation, or maybe we can give the people who want a say a say and give the ones who want money money and give the ones who want work meaningful work but we’d better know what we’re talking about when we talk about those things. This isn’t something to be bracketed away.

(5) What about China?

That’s another elephant we shouldn’t ignore, and it’s necessary to integrate the perspectives of the blind men who each perceive a part of it. It’s probably going to be the most important country economically, possibly militarily, possibly in AI research, and y’all don’t have much of a clue about the conversations they are having over there about the things you want to talk about over here. The biggest Unavoidable is who is in charge there and how much they control what happens and what they want. You may not care much who is in charge, but both their values and the values of the people in China collectively (which have a positive correlation) might come as a shock to you if you haven’t studied them. It’s easy to ignore what’s going on there, there are all kinds of incentives to, so here are a couple of things to chew on: most of the Bitcoin mining that occurs happens in China (which means anyone who controls it ultimately controls the blockchain), and China already has more billionaires than the USA does. In some ways they can get things done a lot faster than Western societies; their inadequacies are not our inadequacies.

I could go on, but I want to spark a discussion so I’m posting this now, trusting that Christiano will allocate his judgy-points fairly if the rest of you build productively on what I am saying.

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A logical gap

I am seeing dozens of stories that are full of evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria.

Almost all these stories claim that the evidence proves not only that chemical weapons were used, but that the Assad regime used them, but the only hard facts are that people died from chemicals, and it is always only an inference from the fact that the rebels controlled the area and there is nothing to contradict the alternative theory that this was a false flag operation where the rebels used the weapons themselves in order to give Western powers an excuse to intervene.

Just because you can’t imagine ever using such an evil tactic yourself doesn’t give you the right to ignore the long history of false flag attacks in wars in the Mideast and pretend they don’t happen.

So I ask, has anyone seen ANY EVIDENCE that distinguishes between the two possibilities “Assad did it” and “the rebels did it”?

Earlier this year there was another alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, and a preliminary UN report blamed the rebels, and THEN THAT STORY VANISHED.

They don’t expect people to remember but I remember.

UPDATE: To the person whose comment I spammed: if you provide me with a real email address, OR you simply rewrite the comment to omit the places where you called me obscene names, I will post it and reply to it. If you aren’t capable of basic civility, then good-bye.

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The persecution of Shellie Zimmerman

Mrs. Zimmerman is being prosecuted on much flimsier grounds than her husband was

If you have any knowledge whatsoever of how the legal process for prosecuting felonies works, read the article linked here CAREFULLY. It shows pure vindictiveness by the state with no basis whatsoever for the charges. If you understand the article, you will see that we no longer live in a country where the state has any accountability to follow the law. I expect an acquittal if this isn’t thrown out before trial, but what we will never see, that we ought to see, is all the prosecutors involved in this travesty having their careers terminated.

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Race and Crime in America

Ron Unz on race and crime in America

This is a long article, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. I learned some things I didn’t expect to.

Of course I already knew that the relationship between race and crime rates was very strong. The two most surprising things to me were

(1) New York City is a huge outlier which strongly affects the nationwide results. The relationship between race and crime would be much stronger if New York City is excluded. What New York City shows is that changes in policing can tremendously reduce urban crime, and that therefore the racial statistics are much less depressing.

(2) Many right-wingers, baffled by the enthusiasm of American elites in both political parties for unrestricted immigration, see this as a sinister plot to replace white people with a politically and economically more controllable population. The author makes an interesting argument that an even bigger motivator is the desire to displace black people.

UPDATE: America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead | Mother Jones

I knew about this problem, but I had no idea how much of the crime statistics it explained. One of the most disturbing things about the article is how hard it has been to get people whose job it is to understand the causes of crime to pay attention to this research. Almost everyone has their own pet theory, which accepting this environmental explanation would reduce the relevance of.

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Bayesianity: How Scientists Think About Evidence

Most people don’t understand conditional probability and Bayes’s Theorem, which are the scientifically correct tools for reasoning using probabilities. I am going to give a simple example that I guarantee most people will understand AFTER they see the answer, and that I guarantee most people will NOT understand BEFORE they see the answer.

If you get this wrong, and then understand the answer, you might feel stupid because the answer is not difficult. You shouldn’t feel stupid. Instead you should feel SMARTER! This kind of reasoning should be taught in high school but it usually isn’t. There’s no shame in not having learned it — although to some people it is truly common sense, most people’s brains do not use this logic naturally and need to be taught.

Here’s the situation (the numbers are realistic but rounded off to make the math simpler). Women are recommended to get their first mammogram when they reach 40, to test for breast cancer. The following facts are known about breast cancer and mammograms for 40-year-old women who haven’t yet been tested or diagnosed:

1) 1% of these women have breast cancer
2) If they have breast cancer, the mammogram has an 80% chance of detecting it and returning a “positive” result, and a 20% chance of missing it and returning an incorrect “negative” result.
3) If they don’t have breast cancer, the mammogram has a 90% chance of correctly saying “negative” and a 10% chance of falsely saying “positive”.

In other words, the test is accurate but not perfect, and if you get a positive result you have to get further more expensive testing to confirm it or contradict it.

Here is the key question which very few people know how to answer: if you go in and get tested and the results are positive, what is the chance you actually have breast cancer, based on this information?

Obviously it’s now more than 1%, because it was 1% before you took the test and you now have new evidence that increases the chance you have it, but it’s less than 100% because the test sometimes gives a wrong answer.

Please answer in the comments so I can get a good-sized statistical sample and we can learn how good at scientific thinking people here are. Each time a comment arrives I will hide it temporarily so as not to give the answer away too soon.

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Double Drone Strikes

U.S. Drone Warfare: Secondary Strikes Target First Responders

This is way worse than I thought. A drone strike is an act of war, but can sometimes be justified just as war can sometimes be justified. I don’t see how this practice of following a drone strike with another one in quick succession isn’t a war crime.

The article says they used 2 bombs because 1 would be too inaccurate but that logic would fail in a war crimes trial since drone strikes are normally aimed at mobile rather than fixed targets! After the first explosion, if it was inaccurate the target is likely to leave the area PDQ and if it was accurate no second strike is needed.

I am appalled, it has been quite a while since my last downward re-estimation of the morals of our ruling class but it’s time for a new one. On my recently developed Evil/Crazy/Stupid metric for evaluating government actions, this scores 70/10/20.

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