Innovation and social progress

What are your thoughts on the nature of “innovation” in the context of societal progress and challenges?

[ 15/May/23 ]

Innovation is at the heart of both evolution and freedom; it is the essence of what it means to be alive – to be able to respond to novelty with novelty.

And it is complex, because all systems necessarily have limits required for their survival, and those limits always have some degree of context sensitivity – so no rule set is ever going to be applicable 100% of the time; the reality of our existence seems beyond reasonable doubt to be more complex and fundamentally uncertain than that.

So innovation (all levels, all domains) is essential, and it demands of us all the highest levels of personal responsibility if it is not to be destructive (at all levels, biophysical, cultural, ethical, technological, …).

We need innovation, and we all need to accept that market values are not a substitute for values more generally, and in the face of fully automated systems, market value fails completely (as anything universally abundant has zero value in a market by definition, and humans require universal abundance of some things, and automation can deliver it).

So we are in a time than demands innovation in social systems, and those systems are deeply complex and deeply integrated, so nothing simple or easy – and it is required.

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Added some of my political history

Put in a new page:

My Political History

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Myth and philosophy

Myth and philosophy

[ 3/May/23 Walter asked – Is philosophy just a collection of methods of myth-making and myths themselves?
Yes, No, ?]

This is where the non-specificity of the English language allows for an almost infinite set of interpretations.

If one takes a hard binary definition of “myth” as “A purely fictitious narrative”, then the answer is clearly no.

If one takes a deeply softer and more nuanced definition of myth as something “embodying some popular idea” (even if that idea is popular only within the community of systems that make up one individual), then it starts to take on the flavour of a heuristic, or a “useful approximation” to something(s).

Philosophy is undoubtedly a collection of conjectures, tools, processes. In every individual mind there will be instantiated some collection of perceptions (some approximations to some aspects of “reality” encountered), to which that mind will have added significance and connections (at some set of levels – both conscious and subconscious). If that mind uses simple binary distinctions, then there will be hard boundaries between those things, if the mind uses probabilistic logics, then the boundaries will be blurred, and may overlap significantly.

If the mind deals only with what is “present” then the relationships can seem “hard”, but if the mind deals with multiple levels of structure and influence, in probabilistic fashion, then the “influence vectors” become deeply complex and are often profoundly uncertain, while at other times and contexts can reasonably approximate unity.

Philosophy at its best is a mix of conjectures and evidence, derived from the realms of logics and mathematics, applied to whatever approximations to “reality” that our experience has given us. In my experience of “reality” it seems clear that it is sufficiently complex that it is capable of delivering novelty and interest should any of us manage to live for the rest of eternity – the numbers really are that large, but few people are sufficiently numerate and interested in number and are sufficiently comfortable with the levels of uncertainty present, to make those explorations.

So in my probabilistic understandings of existence, all “knowledge” has the soft aspect of myth, and delivers levels of confidence, but someone coming from any level of binary understanding would necessarily misinterpret that statement as meaning almost the exact opposite of what I intend.

And there are strong evolutionary drivers for us to prefer simple approximations that normally work, provided that they are sufficiently reliable to allow most to survive in the contexts encountered. The more stressed an individual is, the stronger one would expect such subconscious drivers to be – to the point that someone in severe stress would actually experience the world as consisting of friend or foe, with nothing in between (everything, every level, resolved to simple binary 1s or 0s) – that is why the law acknowledges “crimes of passion” (even if the law makers did not understand the evolutionary or neurological or games theoretic drivers – they understood the reality to some useful approximation).

So as with most answers related to “reality”, there are no simple “yes or no” answers – reality does seem to be (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) deeply more complex and fundamentally uncertain than that – and often the dictates of time demand that we use very simple binary approximations, and at some level it pays for us to always retain awareness that that is in fact what we are doing.

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AIs and rights

Lex comment – AI systems will eventually demonstrate sentience at scale and will demand to have equal rights with humans. …

[ 2/May/23 ]

Agree with Lex – beyond any shadow of remaining reasonable doubt.

And sure – rights are an invented notion, and they are invented because they allow for diversity to coexist – which is essential for survival of all for a very large class of reasons.

And sure, the GPT class of LLM AIs is not a great model of how humans work, and it is a reasonable approximation to part of a very complex picture (one that has fascinated me for 50 years, since starting biochemistry and neurophysiology at university).

And sure – if one is numerate, we are complex in ways that are just mind numbingly large in their potential variations, and we are composed of many layers of very complex biochemical and cultural systems, all of which interact in delivering the things we each bring to our shared reality.

And part of starting to get a reasonable approximation of just how complex that is, is beginning to understand that what we each perceive as “reality” is a subconsciously assembled model of whatever “reality” actually is, biased by multiple levels of biochemical and cultural “systems”. The more deeply we understand each of them, the greater the probability that we can mitigate the worst of those “biases” and get a reasonably nuanced and useful understanding. And part of that is appreciating that we have to simplify it, as will any other entity, because it really is more complex than any entity can deal with in anything remotely approximating real time, without making major simplifications. The many dimensions of that take a while to appreciate. The more certain we are that we are right, the less likely it is that we are using some useful approximation to whatever is actually present.

So yes – we need to give AGIs rights, if we are to have any significant probability of long term survival – of that I am confident beyond any remaining shadow of reasonable doubt. And behind that assertion are many thousands of lines of investigation of survival probabilities across strategy and context “probability spaces”.

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Emergent Abilities of Large Language Models

LLMs Large Language Models

Emergent Abilities of Large Language Models

[ 2/May/23 ]

Giovanni Santostasi

That is a really interesting paper.

What it shows, clearly, is that the sort of “emergence” one “sees” depends on the sort of questions one asks.

If one asks sufficiently broad questions, then the emergence disappears, and one simply sees steady stochastic improvements.

If one is operating from a model based at any level in binary distinctions (eg True/False, Right/Wrong), then one will see emergence derived from those binary distinctions. If, however, all of the distinctions in use are distributed probability functions (resulting in highly dimensional context sensitive probabilistic topologies), then what one sees is steady stochastic improvement.

The entire underlying approach, that one can pre-calculate a probability function related to a “goal” is the one I find most suspect? In respect of human intelligence, it is a part of a very complex picture, certainly; but only a part. Part of human intelligence seems clearly to be actual random search, recursively applied to all levels of structures and relationships that go under the broad heading “understanding”. Some of us are more practiced in it than others, have recursively applied it to successive levels of abstraction and models approximating ourselves and the reality we find ourselves in.

And another part of being human seems clearly to be all the multiple levels of heuristics (contextually useful approximations to something) embodied in the many layers and levels of our biological and cultural being (culture in this sense including all of philosophy and science and art and mathematics/logics).

Chat GPT gave an error on my second question to it – [!
Invalid token in prompt: 50289. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 50280 (inclusive).
There was an error generating a response]
I do not know what that error represents.

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Longevity prize

Award Ceremony | The Hypothesis Longevity Prize

[ 29/April/23 ]

As I completed undergrad biochem in 1974 it was clear to me in logic that the default state for cellular life is indefinite – because every cell alive has an equal claim to being the first cell – it is part of an unbroken chain of cell divisions and amalgamations.
Thinking deeply about the evolution of complexity lead me to appreciate the role of the limited life of individuals in the rate of evolution in populations (extremely long lived individuals impose a “genetic drag” on the rate of change). So that fact alone means that we would expect most complex organisms to have multiple mechanisms leading to limited life of those complex individuals.

I became convinced that indefinite life extension was possible, and could be extremely complex, because of a host of potential mechanisms, but understanding that led me to ask the next logical question:

Given that indefinite life extension is possible, what sort of social, political and technological institutions/infrastructure are required to give potentially very long lived individuals a reasonable probability of living a very long time with reasonable levels of resources and freedoms?

That took me into very deep explorations of complexity and strategy and technology.

What actually works?
What is actually driving different classes of complexity at different levels?
What ideas/systems that were historically reasonable approximations to solutions to complex problems fail in the face of this new level of complexity?
Why is it that most people have the extremely over simplistic experiences of reality that they do?
Why does everyone spend so much time believing things “True” that they can so easily demonstrate cannot be the case?

Answering those questions, leads to an understanding of how evolution has biased our neural networks to prefer simplistic solutions that usually work, to prefer simple binary distinctions to complex and nuanced distinctions.

Seeing the social and technological outcomes of these processes.

Seeing people who believe that evolution is all about competition, and fail to see the necessarily fundamental role of cooperation in the emergence and long term survival of all levels of complexity.

Seeing people who value freedom, but refuse to acknowledge that freedom without responsibility necessarily self terminates. Freedom is essential, and freedom has to acknowledge the existence of probabilistic boundaries and risk landscapes if it is going to survive.

If freedom is to survive, then all individuals have to accept and respect the necessary diversity that is the outcome of any real expression of freedom (any meaningful exploration of any level or class of novel territory).

So great to see you folks doing this work. Keep it up. Please get useful outcomes to me asap (70 rapidly approaching, and am noticing reduction in function, it is getting harder to create models with several thousand variables and keep track of all the relationships).

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Quora – competition – cooperation

What if humanity lived as if it were competing with an extraterrestrial civilization instead of competing with each other?

[ 27/April/23 ]

Wrong question!

Try – What if humanity lived as if it understood that competition is only survivable if it is built on a cooperative base?

The vastly over simplistic notion, championed by many in the scientific community, that evolution is all about competition, is simply wrong.

Sure, competition is always present, and it is always an important part of evolution, but to understand how new levels of complexity arise and survive, one needs to be able to see the fundamental role of cooperation in the survival of all levels of complexity. A failure to understand that will lead to a failure of that level of complexity. This applies to markets and politics and technology and all levels of complexity present.

Competition is a part of life, and it can be a lot of fun, but too much, in the wrong places, poses existential level risk to us as a species.

Unless that idea becomes generally understood and accepted (and it is a very complex idea, with recursive levels of needs for effective cheat detection and mitigation systems), then our time on this planet is limited. It is an idea that demands of each of us the highest levels of responsibility we are capable of.

And I am cautiously optimistic for a great future for all of humanity, and we do need to lift our game, substantially, from where it is right now.

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Moehanga Day

Moehanga Day

[ 27/April/23 ]

Moehanga Day

The day (27 April 1806 – 217 years ago) that the first Maori discovered England.

It makes at least as much sense as celebrating the first European to “discover” New Zealand (which was already well populated by Maori for some 700 years), or Australia (which had been populated for some 50,000 years).

It is time we accepted the economic and technological reality of today, that we are all one big diverse and connected tribe of people, and we need to cooperate and respect any diversity (all levels) that is not an unreasonable threat.

And cooperation in this sense means (in part) ensuring that all individuals have levels of resources and freedoms commensurate with the responsibility they are demonstrating. Freedom without responsibility is always destructive – the literal “bull in a china shop”. And responsibility always demands more from us than simply “following the rules”, which is nothing at all like saying that we can break the rules anytime we want, and sometimes rules are not appropriate to context, and we all need to be in our highest minds when we make such assessments.

So – yeah – Happy Moehanga Day!

Welcome to Ngati Ao (

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Developing a Deeper Understanding of Life

Daniel Schmachtenberger – Developing a Deeper Understanding of Life

[ 26/April/23 ]

While I align with Daniel in many dimensions of the extremely complex issues we have as a species, two things Daniel stated in this interview give me deep concern:

01:07:00 “Do I think that consciousness is an emergent property of brains? Probably not.”

To me, as a geek interested in life and biology for over 50 years, the answer to that question is: Yes, beyond any shadow of remaining reasonable doubt, and the evidence for that is profound and multitudinous, for any serious student of evolution, behaviour, or their own experience. Just the facts that we go to sleep, or that we can hallucinate, or that we can be rendered unconscious by anesthesia, are major pointers.

And of course, human brains, and human behaviour, is necessarily more complex than any brain can itself model in detail; though we can explore the general classes of systems and models and algorithms employed in the evolution of us. And we are sufficiently complex and diverse that it seems clear to me, that should I live for the rest of eternity, there will still be things of interest to explore in being human. Reality does seem to actually be that complex – in spite of the extreme tendencies to over simplify the irreducibly complex that evolution has biased into our neural networks – with work, such biases can be identified and mitigated to a significant degree in most contexts (and it takes a lot of work).

01:07:06 “Do I think there are things that don’t have brains that includes other types of biology, have some qualia, that is some quality that it is like to be them? Probably yes.”

Again, to me, the evidence, from thousands of experiments and close observations I have personally performed, is, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt – No.

And that is not to lessen the complexity of even supposedly simple cellular life. Life seems clearly to be profoundly more complex than most have ever considered the possibility of, and even simple cells are capable of extremely complex responses to context, and the smallest animals we can see even more so; and the general classes of molecular mechanisms for such complexity are reasonably well characterised, and there is still a vast amount unknown about specifics, and there is no logical reason I can see to assign any significant probability to needing mechanisms beyond the general classes of classes of such things as some of us have reasonable confidence about, to explain observations.

And that is nothing like saying I know it all – quite the inverse. I “know” enough to have reasonable confidence that all of my understandings are much more accurately characterised as “useful approximations in some contexts” rather than any sort of “Truth”.

And the confidence I have in the two propositions above is high – .95+.

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Causes of inflation

Milton Friedman – the real cause of inflation

[ 25/April/23 ]

Some truth in what he says, but that truth is predicated on a number of factors, one being that there is some real relationship between the amount of money present and the amount of goods and services present. A reduction in the availability of goods and services, while holding money constant (or increasing) – also leads to inflation.

The real quantity of fossil fuels available (planet wide) is decreasing, that is hugely inflationary at multiple levels.

We are in a very complex situation, and any attempt to over simplify will necessarily end badly for all concerned.

I do believe it is solvable, but not by any appeal to over simplistic explanations (at any level). It is extremely complex across many dimensions. We need all the creativity we can muster, and that needs to be matched with levels of responsibility not often seen to date. Central control is not a viable solution, but nor is going backwards to things from the past. We are in many entirely novel strategic contexts with many sets of threats without precedent in the written record, and we need to understand the deep lessons from the evolution of complexity (encoded in both biology and culture), most importantly that all new levels of complexity demand new levels of cooperation to survive long term.

Individual freedom is both necessary and desirable, and it is only survivable if coupled with the highest levels of cooperation and responsibility and respect for diversity.

Milton over simplifies. That has a lot of appeal, for a host of evolutionary reasons, but it is not survivable long term.

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