Sometime ago, I was an aspiring young rationalist. My journey there had an unusual beginning when I came across a book by futurist and director of engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil. The book in question was The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. This was the first time I remember seeing artificial intelligence being discussed as a real subject and not as a literary narrative device in a fictional work. This singular book would introduce me to a deeper understanding of computation and its very real consequence in our world. I was bewildered at the exposition of transhumanism and what such idea entailed. Falling into this rabbit hole, I soon found myself at the doors of MIRI*. The Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley, California.
This discovery would in turn lead me to the discovery of LessWrong: an online community dedicated to the improvement and training of rationality skills. In their own words:
We are a community dedicated to improving our reasoning and decision-making. We seek to hold true beliefs and to be effective at accomplishing our goals. More generally, we work to develop and practice the art of human rationality.
True beliefs? Effective goal accomplishment? And this relates how to AI?
The problem of AI alignment. In an overly simplistic layman terms, this is what researchers in the field of artificial intelligence call the problem of ensuring a computer understands the meaning of the command a human has given it within the semantic context it has been given it. Such alignment refers to alignment to human values (whatever those are). As it is evident, this is no easy problem to solve, much less to explain. It deals with ethics, philosophy, epistemology and even ontology at times. How are we to ensure a future advanced artificial intelligence is benevolent and not evil? Or to a lesser extent, that it doesn't misunderstand what we meant for it do and destroy the local quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy in search of resources to make paper clips?
The idea was that if we are to predict, or if we hope to model what a future intelligent agent might misunderstand, or decide based on its own subjective biases, there is no better test subject to study than we ourselves, possessing each of us a fully operational conscious mind, with biases, beliefs, preferences and conditioning. Studying our own behaviour might shed some light into how an artificial mind could reason.
My young self was no longer consuming science fiction, it was actively participating in the world and civilization that would see it come to fruition! These were no longer what-if scenarios, these were some of the best minds at work trying to understand the implications of rapid technological acceleration and how that would inevitably change what it means to be human.
Participation in that forum, however, was beyond me. It was like arriving to a final exam in philosophy after having skipped classes the whole semester. Fortunately, there was an onboarding mechanism, a collections of essays referred to as The Sequence. And this is how I was introduced to Tsuyoku Naritai.
Tsuyoku naritai is Japanese. Tsuyoku is “strong”; naru is “becoming,” and the form naritai is “want to become.” Together it means, “I want to become stronger,” and it expresses a sentiment embodied more intensely in Japanese works than in any Western literature I’ve read. You might say it when expressing your determination to become a professional Go player—or after you lose an important match, but you haven’t given up—or after you win an important match, but you’re not a ninth-dan player yet—or after you’ve become the greatest Go player of all time, but you still think you can do better. That is tsuyoku naritai, the will to transcendence. ––Eliezer Yudkowsky (full essay)
The will to transcendence, to do better, to keep moving ahead, to take one more step forward. Tsuyoku naritai!
It is a very humbling endeavour to begin the path of learning programming. If you are new, or if you've been at it for a while and still feel lost or overwhelmed in the vast web of jargon, concepts, and terminology, take heart! Surrender to the noble discipline of one who wants to become stronger. Anywhere you find yourself in your path, just resolve to go a little bit further, just a little bit more.
Take this mantra with you and repeat it to yourself: Tsuyoku naritai! ✊🙏🏻