Open problems on Less Wrong
Motivation for this page, and intended use:
This is a bad first draft, and may be drastically revised. But, as a starting vision, I'm hoping these pages will do three things:
- Provide a good landing page for newcomers. Let newcomers see what we’re up to, why a person might care about it, and which past posts can help them with which of their own questions.
- Provide a good review, or summary of what has been discussed or figured out where, for current community members who’d like a better birds-eye picture of our project.
- Provide a list of "open problems" and "articles someone should write", together with a picture of how progress on those problems would contribute to LW's project, and an index of progress to date. So that would-be authors can see useful avenues to contribute, and so that some portion of LW posts can visibly contribute to a useful, cummulative project, instead of being like a succession of randomly entertaining newspaper articles that no one much cares about afterwards. (The idea is not that LW posts should do this, but that it would be nice if some portion did, and if LW readers ended up building some cummulative competencies over time.)
Actual list of questions
Questions about forming accurate beliefs:
- How accurate are peoples’ current beliefs (e.g. about themselves, about their immediate social environment or careers, and about the larger world)?
- a. What specific biases or error patterns interfere?
- b. To what extent do people, and people in various sub-populations, aim for accuracy in their beliefs?
- c. How accurate are most peoples’ beliefs, overall? How accurate are the beliefs of relevant subpopulations, e.g., scientists, or avid LW-users, or people who believe they "actually try"?
- How can we measure our own rationality (our own tendency to form accurate beliefs in varied domains, controlling for domain-knowledge and intelligence), and the rationality of other individuals and groups?
- What practical techniques can improve the accuracy of individuals’ beliefs?
- What practical techniques can improve the accuracy of groups’ beliefs?
- What are important aspects of the world basically like? What should we know (e.g., about longevity techniques, or how to earn money, or how to reduce human extinction risks, or how much credence to place in published results) if we want to form accurate beliefs about the areas we most want to model correctly?
- Foundational questions: How is it that people can form accurate beliefs at all? How would an ideal accurate belief-former form its beliefs? Would such a belief-former use probabilities? What are probabilities? Where do priors come from?
Questions about achieving one's goals:
- To what extent does forming more accurate beliefs tend to help people achieve happiness, positive social relationships, income, longevity, actually useful philanthropy, or other goals?
- What techniques other than improving the accuracy of our beliefs, can help us achieve important goals?
- Foundational questions:
- Concerning human preferences: What do humans really care about, anyhow? And in what sense can we be said to coherently care about anything? Also, can human preferences be well-approximated with a utility function? Should that utility function be allowed to take very large and/or infinite values?
- Concerning meta-ethics: What goals are worth pursuing? What meanings of "worth pursuing" make sense (e.g., does it make sense to discuss value as distinct from one's own preferences)? In what sense can any theory of ethics, including theories that e.g. describe what a "rational" agent "with your preferences" would do, be said to be normative? What happens when real humans interact with theories of what we value?
- Concerning general goal-maximizers: How would an ideal agent think about causes, effects, and decision theory? In particular, how would it make decisions in situations such as Newcomb’s problem, where the physical process of its own decision-making has real effects apart from its decision? Also, can decision theory be made workable with very large utilities, such as 3^^^3? With infinite utilities?