Today we release the first technical report from our May 2014 workshop: “Loudness: on priors over preference relations” by Benja Fallenstein and Nisan Stiennon. Other technical reports from that workshop are also in progress. Here’s the abstract for this report:

This is a quick writeup of a problem discussed at the May 2014 MIRI workshop: how to formally deal with uncertainty about preferences. We assume that the true preferences satisfy the von Neumann-Morgenstern (VNM) axioms, and can therefore be represented by a utility function. It may seem that we should then simply maximize the expectation of this function. However, in the absence of more information, this is not well-defined; in this setting, different choices of utility functions representing the same VNM preferences can lead the agent to make different choices. We give a formalization of this problem and show that the choice of a prior probability distribution over VNM preference relations together with the choice of a representative for each of these distributions is in a certain sense equivalent to the choice of a single number for every preference relation, which we call its “loudness”. (Mathematically, a “loudness prior” can be seen as a probability distribution over preference relations, but this object does not have an epistemic interpretation.)