• AMMDI is an open-notebook hypertext writing experiment, authored by Mike Travers aka mtraven. It's a work in progress and some parts are more polished than others. Comments welcome! More.
Incoming links
from About
from agency
  • The quality of being able to take purposeful action. See Agency Made Me Do It for a longer discussion; this page is just a set of pointers to discussion elsewhere.
from Welcome to my Exobrain
  • Agency Made Me Do It is the original ostensible main topic, generalized musings on the topic of agency, and especially its application to computation.
from neoreaction
from AMMDI/An Apology
    • This text is constantly feeling a need to apologize for itself, for its unfinished statue, for not sticking to recognized forms, for its structurelessness.
    • In defense:
    • Hui Tzu said to Chuang: I have a big tree, The kind they call a "stinktree." The trunk is so distorted, So full of knots, No one can get a straight plank Out of it. The branches are so crooked You cannot cut them up In any way that makes sense. There it stands beside the road. No carpenter will even look at it. Such is your teaching- Big and useless. Chuang Tzu replied: Have you ever watched the wildcat Crouching, watching his prey— This way it leaps, and that way, High and low, and at last Lands in the trap. But have you seen the yak? Great as a thundercloud He stands in his might. Big? Sure, He can't catch mice! So for your big tree. No use? Then plant it in the wasteland In emptiness. Walk idly around, Rest under its shadow; No axe or bill prepares its end. No one will ever cut it down. Useless? You should worry!
from The Flip, Jeffrey Kripal
  • I found it annoying for some reason, even though I'm very much interested in the relationship between matter and spirit – AMMDI is sort of my personal exploration of this area. In some ways I'm exactly like these scientists being forced to acknowledge that there are other forms of being and other forms of knowledge not dreamt of in our shiny scientific philosophies.
from LWMap/The Rocket Alignment Problem
  • I could be wrong of course, and far be it from me to tell people they shouldn't do mathematics. My own approach to the problem is to try to think hard about the relationship between agency and computation; which is the subject of the rest of the text aka Agency Made Me Do It.
from Marvin Minsky
  • This essay Marvin Minsky/True Names Afterword seemed particularly rich in nuggets relevant to AMMDI, I extracted a few below.
    • On intentional programming.
      • I too am convinced that the days of programming as we know it are numbered, and that eventually we will construct large computer systems not by anything resembling today's meticulous but conceptually impoverished procedural specifications. Instead, we'll express our intentions about what should be done in terms of gestures and examples that will be better designed for expressing our wishes and convictions. Then these expressions will be submitted to immense, intelligent, intention-understanding programs that then will themselves construct the actual, new programs
      • In order for that to happen, though, we will have to invent and learn to use new technologies for "expressing intentions". To do this, we will have to break away from our old, though still evolving, programming languages, which are useful only for describing processes. But this brings with it some serious risks!.
    • On AI Risk
      • The first risk is that it is always dangerous to try to relieve ourselves of the responsibility of understanding exactly how our wishes will be realized. Whenever we leave the choice of means to any servants we may choose then the greater the range of possible methods we leave to those servants, the more we expose ourselves to accidents and incidents.
      • The ultimate risk comes when our greedy, lazy, master-minds attempt to take that final step––of designing goal-achieving programs that are programmed to make themselves grow increasingly powerful, by self-evolving methods that augment and enhance their own capabilities. ...
    • Marvin goes Heideggerian
      • Consider how one can scarcely but see a hammer except as something to hammer with
    • On functional representation
      • An icon's job is not to represent the truth about how an object (or program) works. An icon's purpose is, instead, to represent how that thing can be used! And since the idea of a use is in the user's mind––and not inside the thing itself––the form and figure of the icon must be suited to the symbols that have accumulated in the user’s own development
    • The government of the Society of Mind
      • Now it is easy enough to say that the mind is a society, but that idea by itself is useless unless we can say more about how it is organized. If all those specialized parts were equally competitive, there would be only anarchy, and the more we learned, the less we'd be able to do. So there must be some kind of administration, perhaps organized roughly in hierarchies, like the divisions and subdivisions of an industry or of a human political society.

Agency Made Me Do It

30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 11 Oct 2023 07:57
Open in Logseq
    • This is the front page for Agency Made Me Do It, an evolving hypertext document which is trying to be some combination of personal wiki and replacement for my old blog. See About for more explanation.
    • I've been circling around the topic of agency for a few decades now. I wrote a dissertation on how metaphors of agency are baked into computers, programming languages, and the technical language engineers use to talk about them. (See Agency at the Media Lab).
    • That was in 1996, almost 25 years ago. In 2012 I wrote a series of posts at Ribbonfarm that took up the subject again, from a few different perspectives. These hold up somewhat better, if only because a blog post is a more forgiving form than a PhD thesis.
    • Here's how I defined it then (more or less):
    • Agency simply means “the quality of being capable of taking action”. You and the people around you seem to have agency; while rocks generally do not. Inanimate objects are sometimes granted agency in a kind of humorous quote marks (eg “the washer decided to break today”); later we will try to take such constructions seriously. Agents (entities that have agency) have goals or purposes, and the actions they take are seen as being in pursuit of these goals. Agency thus implies some rudimentary rationality, and a degree of autonomy.
    • Agency has a kind of fictional quality to it. It's not so much a property of the physical world, which only has forces and forward causality. Agency is more like a story we tell about certain systems that seem to be goal-oriented, even though they are made of the same causal stuff as the dead rocks. Whether or not agents are real in some metaphysical sense, they are obviously real in a practical sense – we perceive ourselves and others as agents, and we live in a complex social world composed of agents and their products. If agency is a fiction, it's a necessary and fundamental fiction.
    • Agency is thus sometimes hard to see, because it's such an intimate aspect of who we are. There don't seem to be much consensus on how to think about it. Yet it's clearly important. So many questions revolve around agency, although agency as such is rarely talked about as such.
    • For instance: the assignment of moral and criminal guilt, the formation and maintenance of political coalitions, and dangers of autonomous artificial intelligences – all of these thorny issues seem to be clarified when cast in terms of agency, even though we don't yet have a clear theory of what agency is. The hope of course is that these separate realms can illuminate each other; maybe their mysteries are related.
    • I'm using "agency" as kind of a magic word to open up the contested terrain where physical causality and the mental intersect. This is not new, this is pretty much the same function that "cybernetics" and "artificial intelligence" serve – but despite the hopes of their founders, they haven't really unified these domains. I don't really have the ambition of solving a problem that has bedeviled western thought for millennia, but I kind of want to take my own personal stab at it.
    • More better agency

      • A caution: my goal is not to write a self-help book or a manual on how to acquire more agency. I guess this is something people might be looking for, given how it is basically the promise of a whole subindustry of productivity and self-help gurus, and a concern of Rationalism (see LWMap/Being a Robust Agent and High Agency ).
        • Here's a rather extreme example, possibly a parody?
          • I wrote this book in three months while simultaneously attempting seventeen other missions, including running a startup, launching a hit iPhone app, learning to write 3,000 new Chinese words, training to attempt a four-hour marathon from scratch, learning to skateboard, helping build a successful cognitive testing website, being best man at two weddings, increasing my bench press by sixty pounds, reading twenty books, going skydiving, helping to start the Human Hacker House, learning to throw knives, dropping my 5K time by five minutes, and learning to lucid dream. I planned to do all this while sleeping eight hours a night, sending 1,000 emails, hanging out with a hundred people, going on ten dates, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, and trying to raise my average happiness from 6.3 to 7.3 out of 10.
      • I have basically nothing to offer in this regard. I'm not even sure more agency is always a good thing (see anti-purpose). No, the goal here is just to try to build for myself a more accurate picture of the concept of agency, because it seems to tie together a lot of separate concerns. What good that does anybody, I can't yet say. At one point I had hoped it might provide new ideas for building software, but that hasn't really happened.
      • That being said – if you suffer from agency-related problems such as akrasia, frustration, powerlessness, or depression, you might be able to use the ideas explored here to get a handle on them and perhaps even find your way out of them.
      • We are all forced to be practitioners of agency, forced to construct ourselves as agents, and we might as well get better at it. Like the Whole Earth Catalog, I'm just trying to make the tools more accessible.
    • Next

      • The meat of this topic is addressed in agency.
      • Agency Adjacent surveys some academic fields that touch upon the issue.