MIRI’s April newsletter: Relaunch Celebration and a New Math Result

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Greetings from The Executive Director

Dear friends,

These are exciting times at MIRI.

After years of awareness-raising and capacity-building, we have finally transformed ourselves into a research institute focused on producing the mathematical research required to build trustworthy (or “human-friendly”) machine intelligence. As our most devoted supporters know, this has been our goal for roughly a decade, and it is a thrill to have made the transition.

It is also exciting to see how much more quickly one can get academic traction with mathematics research, as compared to philosophical research and technological forecasting research. Within hours of publishing a draft of our first math result, Field Medalist Timothy Gowers had seen the draft and commented on it (here), along with several other professional mathematicians.

We celebrated our “relaunch” at an April 11th party in San Francisco. It was a joy to see old friends and make some new ones. You can see photos and read some details below.

For more detail on our new strategic priorities, see our blog post: MIRI’s Strategy for 2013.


Luke Muehlhauser
Executive Director

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MIRI’s Strategy for 2013

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This post is not a detailed strategic plan. For now, I just want to provide an update on what MIRI is doing in 2013 and why.

Our mission remains the same. The creation of smarter-than-human intelligence will likely be the most significant event in human history, and MIRI exists to help ensure that this event has a positive impact.

Still, much has changed in the past year:

  • The short-term goals in our August 2011 strategic plan were largely accomplished.
  • We changed our name from “The Singularity Institute” to “The Machine Intelligence Research Institute” (MIRI).
  • We were once doing three things — research, rationality training, and the Singularity Summit. Now we’re doing one thing: research. Rationality training was spun out to a separate organization, CFAR, and the Summit was acquired by Singularity University. We still co-produce the Singularity Summit with Singularity University, but this requires limited effort on our part.
  • After dozens of hours of strategic planning in January–March 2013, and with input from 20+ external advisors, we’ve decided to (1) put less effort into public outreach, and to (2) shift our research priorities to Friendly AI math research.

It’s this last pair of changes I’d like to explain in more detail below.

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Facing the Intelligence Explosion ebook

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Facing the Intelligence Explosion is now available as an ebook!

You can get it here. It is available as a “pay-what-you-want” package that includes the ebook in three formats: MOBI, EPUB, and PDF.

It is also available on Amazon Kindle (US, Canada, UK, and most others) and the Apple iBookstore (US, Canada, UK and most others).

All sources are DRM-free. Grab a copy, share it with your friends, and review it on Amazon or the iBookstore.

All proceeds go directly to funding the technical and strategic research of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.

The Lean Nonprofit

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Can Lean Startup methods work for nonprofits?

The Lean Startup‘s author Eric Ries seems to think so:

A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty… Anyone who is creating a new product or business under conditions of extreme uncertainty is an entrepreneur whether he or she knows it or not, and whether working in a government agency, a venture-backed company, a nonprofit, or a decidedly for-profit company with financial investors.

In the past year, I helped launch one new nonprofit (Center for Applied Rationality), I massively overhauled one older nonprofit (MIRI), and I consulted with many nonprofit CEOs and directors. Now I’d like to share some initial thoughts on the idea of a “Lean Nonprofit.”

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Early draft of naturalistic reflection paper

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Update: See Reflection in Probabilistic Logic for more details on how this result relates to MIRI’s research mission.

In a recent blog post we described one of the results of our 1st MIRI Workshop on Logic, Probability, and Reflection:

The participants worked on the foundations of probabilistic reflective reasoning. In particular, they showed that a careful formalization of probabilistic logic can circumvent many classical paradoxes of self-reference. Applied to metamathematics, this framework provides (what seems to be) the first definition of truth which is expressive enough for use in reflective reasoning.

In short, the result described is a “loophole” in Tarski’s undefinability theorem (1936).

An early draft of the paper describing this result is now available: download it here. Its authors are Paul Christiano (UC Berkeley), Eliezer Yudkowsky (MIRI), Marcello Herreshoff (Google), and Mihály Bárász (Google). An excerpt from the paper is included below:

Unfortunately, it is impossible for any expressive language to contain its own truth predicate True

There are a few standard responses to this challenge.

The first and most popular is to work with meta-languages…

A second approach is to accept that some sentences, such as the liar sentence G, are neither true nor false…

Although this construction successfully dodges the “undefinability of truth” it is somewhat unsatisfying. There is no predicate in these languages to test if a sentence… is undefined, and there is no bound on the number of sentences which remain undefined. In fact, if we are specifically concerned with self-reference, then a great number of properties of interest (and not just pathological counterexamples) become undefined.

In this paper we show that it is possible to perform a similar construction over probabilistic logic. Though a language cannot contain its own truth predicate True, it can nevertheless contain its own “subjective probability” function P. The assigned probabilities can be reflectively consistent in the sense of an appropriate analog of the reflection property 1. In practice, most meaningful assertions must already be treated probabilistically, and very little is lost by allowing some sentences to have probabilities intermediate between 0 and 1.

Another paper showing an application of this result to set theory is forthcoming.

March Newsletter

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Greetings From The Executive Director


As previously announced on our blog, the Singularity Institute has been renamed as the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI). Naturally, both our staff and our supporters have positive associations with our original name, the “Singularity Institute.” As such, any new name will feel strange for a time. However, “MIRI” has sounded better and better to us over the past several weeks, and we think it will grow on you, too.

Some will worry, “But ‘MIRI’ doesn’t express what you do in any detail!” According to our market research, however, this is “a feature, not a bug.” Researchers, in particular, said they could feel awkward working for an organization with a name that sounded too narrow or “partisan.” They also warned us that the scope of an organization’s activities can change over time, so its name should be very general. University departments and independent research organizations learned these lessons long ago, and thus tend to have very general names (with the universities themselves usually named after their primary campus location).

“MIRI” has other nice properties, too. It’s easy to spell, it’s easy to pronounce, and it reflects our shifting priorities toward more technical research. Our mission, of course, remains the same: “to ensure that the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence benefits society.”

See our new website at Intelligence.org. The site guide here.

Our emails have changed, too. Be sure to update your email Contacts list with our new email addresses, e.g. luke@intelligence.org. Our previous email addresses at singinst.org and singularity.org no longer work. You can see all our new email addresses on the Team page.


Luke Muehlhauser

Executive Director

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Upcoming MIRI Research Workshops

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From November 11-18, 2012, we held (what we now call) the 1st MIRI Workshop on Logic, Probability, and Reflection. This workshop had four participants:

The participants worked on the foundations of probabilistic reflective reasoning. In particular, they showed that a careful formalization of probabilistic logic can circumvent many classical paradoxes of self-reference. Applied to metamathematics, this framework provides (what seems to be) the first definition of truth which is expressive enough for use in reflective reasoning. Applied to set theory, this framework provides an implementation of probabilistic set theory based on unrestricted comprehension which is nevertheless powerful enough to formalize ordinary mathematical reasoning (in contrast with similar fuzzy set theories, which were originally proposed for this purpose but later discovered to be incompatible with mathematical induction).

These results suggest a similar approach may be used to work around Löb’s theorem, but this has not yet been explored. This work will be written up over the coming months.

In the meantime, MIRI is preparing for the 2nd MIRI Workshop on Logic, Probability, and Reflection, to take place from April 3-24, 2013. This workshop will be broken into two sections. The first section (Apr 3-11) will bring together the 1st workshop’s participants and 8 additional participants:

The second section (Apr 12-24) will consist solely of the 4 participants from the 1st workshop.

Participants of this 2nd workshop will continue to work on the foundations of reflective reasoning, for example Gödelian obstacles to reflection, and decision algorithms for reflective agents (e.g. TDT).

Additional MIRI research workshops are also tentatively planned for the summer and fall of 2013.

Update: An early draft of the paper describing the first result from the 1st workshop is now available here.

Welcome to Intelligence.org

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Welcome to the new home for the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), formerly called “The Singularity Institute.”

The new design (from Katie Hartman, who also designed the new site for CFAR) reflects our recent shift in focus from “movement-building” to technical research. Our research and our research advisors are featured prominently on the home page, and our network of research associates are included on the Team page.

Getting involved is also clearer, with easy-to-find pages for applying to be a volunteer, an intern, a visiting fellow, or a research fellow.

Our About page hosts things like our transparency page, our top contributors list, our About page hosts things like our transparency page, our top contributors list, our new press kit, and our archive of all Singularity Summit talk videos, audio, and transcripts from 2006-2012. (The Summit was recently acquired by Singularity University.)

Follow our blog to keep up with the latest news and analyses. Recent analyses include Yudkowsky on Logical Uncertainty and Yudkowsky on “What Can We Do Now?”

We’ll be adding additional content in the next few months, so stay tuned!