RE: rambling question on AI

From: Reason (
Date: Sat Jan 05 2002 - 01:35:26 MST

--> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

> > Why? It takes four months, five developers and a quarter of a million
> > dollars to produce software that retails for half a million, including
> > support. In most cases, this is the compromise version -- the
> full (and much
> > more complex) vision isn't realized until a few years of new
> versions down
> > the line. So the argument would be, if someone can dedicate
> resources to do
> > that for another field, what is it about AI development that
> means you can't
> > produce something that can be sold in the same timeframe?
> If AI development were not qualitatively more difficult than a
> *programming* task, the Singularity would have occurred long since (the
> early nineties would be my guess).

I'm not convinced that any project is so intrinsically hard that you can't
find comparatively rapid substeps to producing something profitable (or at
least salable) on the way. If you can get non-stick frying pans out of the
space program, then I'm sure there's something you can get out of AI

How long did Cyg take to get to a point of being saleable? You could, for
the sake of argument, view that as an attempt at a first step (i.e.
producing the database) in a much longer ongoing project.

> > With a broader view of the term "product," alternatively, you
> could produce,
> > say:
> >
> > a) knowledgable consultants to farm out to other AI ventures
> > b) a single useful component that can be licensed to other AI ventures
> > c) a book on AI development
> > d) the material and contacts for a subscription-based newsletter for
> > development companies
> >
> > And so forth. Not that I'm convince there's a vast market of AI
> ventures out
> > there, but I don't think that there's anything wrong with taking those
> > directions.
> If we'd wanted to go that route, we could have done Flare as a for-profit
> venture. And if we'd wanted to go *that* route, I have a half-dozen good
> ideas for starting a for-profit corporation; they just happen to be
> totally unrelated to AI.

Not that I'm criticizing your path, of course. I'm just trying to see what
people think about the sidelines, byproducts and other AI collectables that
could be derived during the creation of an AI itself.

We should all be trying to get Flare slashdotted, by the way :) Some more
attention couldn't hurt.

Funnily enough, I do have an idea for an AI startup, but it's AI in the game
sense of the term -- something I'm sure would make you upset ;)

> But there is a saying: "Life is what happens while you are making other
> plans." And life has taught me that if you want to avoid this curse
> coming true of you, you had better avoid doing ANYTHING that does not
> DIRECTLY advance your long-term goal (in my case, the Singularity). If
> I'd known this when I was sixteen, I would have been able to put in an
> additional two years or so of Singularity work by now.
> And furthermore, we don't dare run the risk of building a *good*,
> *profitable* product in a for-profit company. This could easily be worse
> than building a bad product; "life is what happens while you are making
> other plans" would very quickly happen to us, and the "interim product"
> would become the company. A spinoff of a real, direct-to-Singularity
> development effort is one matter; a genuine spinoff can be handed over to
> new programmers while the core development continues. Building something
> easy and safe that isn't what you actually want to build, as your core
> development effort, is much more dangerous a distraction.
> Furthermore, no matter how good an idea I have for a for-profit
> corporation, it still isn't going to have better than a fifty percent
> chance of success, because the ordinary failure rate for startups is
> ninety-five percent.

I'd say it has a 95% chance of failure. If there's one thing that my time in
the Bay Area has taught me, it's that how good you are, how good your
products are, whether or not you have the Best Idea; none of these matter a
damn. The success or failure of your company is largely out of your hands
and lies in the variables over which you have no control.

I'm on potential failure #3, and have been involved in many others as a
consultant. I've seen collections of lazy morons do amazingly well, and
incredibly smart, hardworking people with amazing ideas and buy-in from the
money men fail miserably.

> If I still thought that the Singularity was located
> in 2030, the way I did when I first got into all this, then I might be
> more inclined to try and start a for-profit corporation to get the funding
> et cetera, because there would actually be the time to take the company
> public and sell the stock and turn it into a private operating foundation,
> or to try again with a nonprofit if the for-profit route failed. As it
> is, the possible horrendous time crunch only confirms the recommendation
> of my experience so far, and that experience is this: working directly on
> the Singularity is the only thing that got me anywhere in life, while
> working on other things in the name of "practicality" and "doing something
> for the short term" just wasted my time.

Eh, can't say I agree with your Singularity date, but that's all well and
fine. It's not as if you're lazing around waiting for it coz you think it's
soon (like some people I can think of). I'd be happy to be proven wrong on
the timing count, but I don't think that any of us can afford to count on it
happening as soon as you think it will.

As I've said before, we all need to be out there shouting.


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