The AI Does Not Hate You is the first book about the rationalist community that has been published by a traditional publisher, unless you include To Be a Machine which I don’t. Naturally I was interested in picking it up, if only to cringe at an awful caricature of the community. (The author is a former BuzzFeed journalist after all.)
I was able to get a copy of it this afternoon and finished it a couple hours ago. Anyone worried we would be in for a facile mocking will be pleasantly surprised. Chivers does a competent job describing the history of the rationalist movement. No straw men are constructed. There is nothing in the book most people here would find very controversial, but this has a side effect of making it sometimes dull to anyone who has been following the community as long as I have. But this is no fault of the book, for it was not written for us.
I do not think someone outside the memespace would be bored by it. In fact, if you are having trouble explaining the rationalist thing to anyone in your life, this book seems like a pretty good introduction that will give them the basics. In fact, even if it sells poorly, it is possible having a Schelling point for “basic summary of who we are and what we are trying to do” may have a larger impact on our community than one might initially suppose. Books are surprisingly powerful. Nick Bostrom’s book, though good, was mostly redundant if you read his papers. Yet no one can deny its impact.
The AI Does Not Hate You consists of basic introductions to some rationalist themes and some history of the rationalist movement, all squeezed around very polite, very British suggestion that, well, perhaps we would not be at all over-cautions if we gave this AI risk idea a little more attention.
The Basilisk is mentioned, but not as a means of defining the community. He sums it up as a thought experiment that no one took seriously, and as a prototypical example of the Streisand effect. The “is it a cult” section concludes that LessWrong is not a cult. He goes over statistics on polyamory and political values. Most of his stats are cribbed from Scott’s blog, so again there is not much you will learn in this book if you are a SSC completionist.
One thing I would have liked is some coverage of Gwern. I think he is a pretty huge figure in our world and also highly mysterious, but Chivers mentions him once, and only as an example of one of many prominent figures in the community. I understand how difficult it would be for a journalist to track down Gwern, who lives in his personal cybermatrix, his em consciousness computed in dozens of parallel copies using cycles stolen from Wikipedia’s servers, dark net markets, and Tyler Cowen’s left temporal lobe. But dammit, sometimes a journalist has to get their hands dirty.
It’s interesting, too, how Luke Muehlhauser and Alcorn are not mentioned at all in the sections on the history of LessWrong, as they were both massively popular on LessWrong at its peak. Both (I am given to understand) remain hugely influential figures in the IRL rationalist scene. Julia Galef is another major figure not mentioned.
Anna Salomon is depicted as a spooky-intelligent shamanic figure, a zen monk who induces epistemic insights in the author using a technique called the internal double crux. I have never met Anna Salomon (or any IRL rationalist) so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this portrayal.
He goes over the history of the AI box experiment, and I did learn something new here. Apparently Carl Shulmon was one of the people that Yudkowsky beat in the AI box experiment. I have read Carl’s comments and writing and I have always been impressed by his intelligence, which vastly exceeds my own. I am not the cleverest sausage, and I completely grant that an AGI could talk me into anything, but I sort of always thought I would still not let Yudkowsky out of the box. He is only human. The fact that he beat Carl Shulmon, who is much, much smarter than me, lowers my confidence in this considerably.
- The book is technically region locked to the UK, but after putting an invalid UK credit card into my Amazon account and logging into the UK audible store and signing up for a trial account, I was able to get a copy of the audiobook. My reasoning was they would probably not check the validity of the card until they charged it but they would not charge it until after the free trial ends. The free trial includes one free audiobook, so a happy side effect of this work around is you get the book for free. This trick does not work with the Kindle store, as they do not have a similar free book credit.