Re: Marvin Minsky and Eliezer Yudkowsky

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Tue Feb 27 2001 - 17:46:31 MST

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> Word has now reached me that there are multiple rumors circulating about a
> clash between Marvin Minsky and Eliezer Yudkowsky at a Foresight event.
> ...[D]uring the discussion period I tried to offer a reply... Minsky...
> interrupted to say that he didn't believe anyone could give a real definition
> of Friendliness. I said that I'd get around to that in a minute, but
> meanwhile I wanted to deal with the scenario as stated. Minsky then said,
> I believe, "Get this person away from the microphone." I said "What?" and
> then found Christine Peterson at my side, asking me to just come away.
> I have no idea why Marvin Minsky did that. I hadn't been impolite. I
> hadn't done anything at all that would call for a response on that level.
> I felt insulted and, to be honest, pretty deeply hurt. My impression was
> that Minsky had essentially used his superior status to lash out at me,
> then he forgot about it.

This is painful even to read about, but it really isn't surprising.
My impression of the question-and-answer routine following public talks
by intellectual celebrities is that the purpose is by no means
to permit a genuine engagement by the questioner, but to stage the
merest appearance of a conversation by allowing the questioner
a brief sound bite (one or two sentences, at most) followed by a brief
response whose content is entirely at the discretion of the authority
(and need not even address the question), at which point the questioner's
time is up. It's part of the technique by which the speaker (and
the conference organizers) keep **control** of the audience, and
isn't far removed from the way radio talk-show hosts treat their

I suspect that public speakers are more-or-less required to learn
this sort of callousness, in order to be effective at what they do,
and to satisfy the folks who hire them. I saw an example of this
from none other than Ray Kurzweil at last summer's PC Expo in New
York, following a talk that was basically the same as his new
Web article. During the question period, a sweet elderly woman
came up to the microphone, asked her question, got an answer that
was not apropos to the question she had tried to ask, started to
rephrase, and was brusquely dismissed by Kurzweil, who said
"can you give the next person a turn, please". It left a
distinctly sour impression which has become a permanent part of
my internal representation of Mr. Kurzweil, however much I may
enjoy his writing.

In this respect, I think the Web (and mailing lists like this one)
are far more civilized forums for exchanges between strangers.
Why would anybody want to risk a shock from a dominance-
enforcement cattleprod by facing somebody like Minsky in the
flesh, wide open to that high-bandwidth primate social signalling?

Jim F.

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