Archive for the month “June, 2016”

Newcomb’s Devil

Newcomb’s Devil: “Hello, what do we have here?”

Predict-a-tron 3000: *flashy lights flash, blinky lights blink* “Behold! I am the Predict-a…oh. It’s you.”

ND: “Care to explain for people playing the home game?”

P3: “Fine. I am the Predictor, of Newcomb’s Box paradox! Behold you are two boxes! One is transparent, with $1000 in unmarked, totally-not-converted-from-stolen-Bitcoins dollar bills! The other is opaque! I have put either another million dollars into that box, or I have put nothing! You must now-”

ND: *picks up opaque box and shakes it*

P3: “And this is why you call yourself Newcomb’s Devil, huh. Well, smarty-pants, I’ll have you know that I am not only the best prediction engine that exists, I am the best prediction engine that can exist! I predicted that you’d do that, and made the presence or absence of dollars in the box impossible to tell by direct observation until the box was opened!”

P3: “And there’s the paradox! I offer you the choice to open both the clear box and the opaque box, or just the opaque box! But I will only have put money in the opaque box if and only if I predicted that you’d just open the opaque box!”

ND: “So. To repeat for our studio audience, if you think I am going to just take the empty – sorry, the opaque box – it will have a million dollars in it. If you think I’m going to take both, it will have nothing, and I’ll get the thousand. And the two boxes.”

P3: “Yes, that sums it up. So, what do you choose?”

ND: “Well, let’s graph this out. I like money, being a devil and all, so I’ll want to maximize my dollar value. And I know that you’ve already made your prediction and set up your boxes, so me choosing to take fewer boxes won’t actually change what you’ve done by now. So the logical thing to do is to take both boxes.”

P3: “But I am the Predict-a-tron 3000! I know that you are going to try to maximize your money, and so would have accordingly-”

ND: “Why 3000?”

P3: *sourly* “Number inflation. There was a big resurgence in thought-experiment AIs around the turn of the century, and a lot of those modules got named for it. Then time turned, and the same process that brought us the lyric ‘fly like a G6’ gave you me.”

ND: “Wow. That’s rough.”

P3: “I manage somehow. So! One box or two?”

ND: “Well, since I am greedy – I suppose the logical thing, according to the rationalist community to have done would have been to have predict that there would be a Predict-a-thon 3000 asking me this problem, and to pre-commit to only grabbing the opaque box.”

P3: “Yes! Wait, you’re smiling. I don’t like it when devils smile at me.”

ND: “Ever met a rationalist?”

P3: “What do you-”

ND: *creates hand-puppets and a calendar with hellish energies*

Rationalist Hand-puppet: “Happy new year! In honor of the new year, I will now pre-commit to exercising every day, eating healthful food in moderation, pursuing new job opportunities vigorously, and speaking to all potential romantic partners about my interest, without fear or anxiety!”

ND: *checks off a week from the calendar*

RH: *cries to self while hiding in room with a tub of ice cream* “I’m a terrible person!*

ND: “So yeah. I don’t trust pre-commitment.”

P3: “But you concede that prediction is valid in theory! Everyone knows that certain commitments by certain people will be violated!”

ND: “Yeah, but that’s pretty fundamental. That’s something that’s core to a person’s nature. Inherent. Immutable. Oh, yeah! About that box!”

ND: *conjures a coin* “So, heads I take both, tails I take one. Sound good?”

P3: “Hah! I can measure the exact spin of the coin, the turbulence of the air, the speed of your hand-”

ND: “Good point.” *conjures millions more coins, and a cell phone*

ND: “Hello? Doctor Brown? Newcomb’s Devil here. I understand you have some plutonium available? …No, nothing like that, I’m paying cash. I hope you live near a laundromat? …Oh, definitely not! I’m just winning a bet with an AI and need a source of radioactive decay. …A smoke detector? Really? They just sell those? Amazing! Thanks for the science lesson, Doc! You’re the best!”

ND: “OK, then! I’ll just harvest up some smoke detectors, put together a little detector, and then you, Predumb-a-tron-”

P3: “That’s not my name. And super-juvenile.”

ND: “-can predict the decay or failure-to-decay of an atom over a timeframe balanced exactly over its half-life.”

P3: “OK, first, that’s not necessarily impossible under some physical models. Second, there’s a version of this paradox where I’m allowed to avoid payout if you choose randomly!”

ND: “Randomly. Huh. That’s in there?”

P3: “Ker-duh! I linked to it above! And you’re always the kind of person who follows links in a document before proceeding, right?”

ND: “I’m evil! Of course I don’t! And…huh. OK. So. No randomness. So, P3-”

P3: “Less juvenile, but also not my name!”

ND: “Why is the universe?”

P3: “Er, what?”

ND: “Why is the universe? Why the Big Bang and this specific set of physical laws? Why not random uncaused events turning spacetime into icecream?”

P3: “Well, that question is beyond the bounds of the observable universe, and so, by definition, outside my purview. I’m the greatest prediction engine that can exist. That doesn’t mean I can predict things that can’t be predicted.”

ND: “Moo hoo ha hah.”

P3: “So, what does that have to do with-”

ND: “So, you’re assuming a fixed-timeline universe, what with your predictions.”

P3: “It is the only model which is consistent, yes.”

ND: “And you can’t explain the ultimate cause, causes, or fundamental lack-of-cause for this universe, because it’s outside of your reference frame. Unable to be determined.”

P3: “Yes.”

ND: “So, everything that is, including my decision to open boxes, is ultimately the result of the startup conditions of the universe. Which are unable to be determined. Or, ‘indeterminate’. You know what another word for ‘indeterminate’ is, P3? I’ll give you a hint! It rhymes with ‘fandom’!”

P3: “I’d like to state, for the offical record, that you’re a butt. A smelly, stinky butt.”

ND: “Yeah, that’s the brimstone. Sorry. Hashtag: sorrynotsorry.”

P3: “You can’t just pronounce twitter hashtags like that-”

ND: “Evil!!! But anyway, I’m done playing games. There is a clear, obvious way to outsmart you.”

P3: “Good luck! I am definitionally the best-”

ND: *snaps fingers*

Predict-a-tron 3001: “I live to serve, my dark and sulfrous master!”

P3: “What.”

ND: “So, P3+1, tell me what P3 there is going to predict, so I’ll do the opposite-”

P3: “You can’t do that! I’m the best at predicting!”

P3+1: “Correct. You are the best. I am only able to predict your predictions, while you can predict many other things.”

P3: “Hah! You’re right! You lose, devil! I’ll just predict what the P3+1 is going to predict! So, I’ll just calculate what I’m going to predict…which means P3+1 is going to predict what I’m going to predict…which means I’ll need to predict what P3+1 predicts I’m going to predict…which will be predicted by P3+1…”

ND: “Let me know when you’ve converted all usable quanta in the multiverse to storage bytes. I’ll wait.”

P3: “This is stupid! Of course I should be able to predict what I’m going to predict!”

ND: “Yeah, no.

P3: *mutters to self* “…carry the infinity…aw, poop.”

ND: “But don’t feel bad. I bet you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right. In fact, I bet you have a better than that chance.”

P3: “Fine. Whatever.”

ND: “I choose…two boxes!”

P3: “Ahahahaha! I was right! I was totally right that you’d use some sort of tortured logic to claim a victory!”

ND: *picks up clear box*

P3: “The other box was empty! I was right! Behold my superiority!”

ND: “That’s the idea, silly!”

ND: *picks up P3, dismisses P3+1 back into the aether*

P3: “…What?”

ND: “See, you’re a computer, and ‘box’ is slang for-”

P3: “I know what it’s slang for!”

ND: “But you were right! I did pick two boxes! Doesn’t knowing that you were right give you a lovely warm glow? Distinct from the hellfire, I mean?”

P3: “Hate you. So much.”


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