Re: Intelligence and Environment (was Re: Better People)

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sun, 06 Jun 1999 12:53:00 -0500

Stephen Adamson wrote:
> Lately my thoughts have been rotating around the positive
> effects that the Internet (Web, Information Superhighway, whatever
> form it will eventually have), in the form of what Blackmore (The Meme
> Machine) calls "Horizontal Memetic Evolution", will have on society in
> general, particularly on developing, precocious kids.

Being 19, I grew up with a computer in the house - we've had some kind of Mac for as long as I can remember, and I know we had other computers before that. I wasn't using the Internet pre-puberty, but I might reasonably be said to know more about the subject than anyone except maybe an early-adopter 15-year-old...

Or as I put it: "I grew up in Other Reality." I've got the "ontological reflexes". I once tapped on an underlined and http'd Web address, in a newspaper, and then realized the mistake only after I wasn't transported to the address. Or the time I dragged my finger over an interesting paragraph in a book, then realized I couldn't copy it when it failed to hilite...

> I think that one of the best memes that we can get out today
> is the meme that Knowledge and Information are the very best thing one
> can do for oneself. That meme already seems to be spreading as people
> realize that 1) the world is getting increasingly complicated

You ain't seen nothing yet.

> and 2) the smart people make all the money.

HA HA HA <cough> <snort>. No offense. That's true about 10% of the time for 0.1% of the planet.

> But what will happen to the precocious kid who has the
> Internet at his fingertips-- the world's biggest library, the world's
> biggest thinktank, the world as his peer group?
> Consider: 25 years ago, a smart, aspiring young teen asks:
> "Dad, why don't satellites fall to the Earth?"
> Dad thinks for a long time and finally says: "That's a really
> good question, son. I guess it must be because they go so darn fast."
> And that's the end of it. The young man can go to the library or a
> science teacher, (and probably would), considering that was feasible.
> Consider that against today when the father says "Well, *I*
> don't know, but we can do an Internet search and find out," and the
> kid knows by the end of the evening.

Nope. Other people in the family ask *me* to run searches. *I* use the Internet reflexively; I'd never dream of asking Dad unless it was in his specialty, and even then I'd probably run a 'Net search first.

For example, I typed your question into and got an answer (albeit in the search results) in 15 seconds. "End of the evening," hah. Might as well use a library.

I don't think of it as "searching the 'Net". I call it "Extended Long-Term Memory", which I usually abbreviate to "ELTM". Like, "I don't know offhand; let me check eltm."

> That's possible today, but will become even more common in the
> Future. I would contend that in 6-10 years there will be no one who
> doesn't have Internet access in some way, either through Set-Top
> boxes, public terminals, or ubiquitous cheap PCs (which I see as most
> likely). I told my own Dad recently that in 15 years, take the average
> 11-12 year old child and ask him who his 3 best friends are (his
> primary peer group) and I think that it will be the odd child who
> *doesn't* have a best friend whom he has never met in real life. And
> what will that kind of kid (the young members of this group, for
> instance) do when his peers are everyone, and everything equally? How
> much would that counter early environmental factors? I think it would
> quite a bit.

A surprising percentage of my peer group lives in Australia...

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way