Open problems on Less Wrong
Motivation for this page, and intended use:
As I mentioned on LW, I'd like to see if we can make a questions-based index into the wiki (either as the primary front page to the wiki, or as an alternative view) instead of a topics-based index. The idea here is that a reader could walk into the wiki and see the questions with which we are engaged, with each question linked to the partial progress we've made to date, and the open sub-questions on which we'd particularly appreciate new contributions. Questions, or problems for which we want solutions, could make for a more motivating, curiosity-arousing, this-is-why-we're-bothering approach to a table of contents. New posts could be added to the appropriate question, and newcomers could find that new post fairly naturally as they follow out their questions. Also, writers might see how certain potential posts might add to a common project.
I'm writing a rough-draft list of such questions below, and I'll also start making pages linked to each question, with those linked pages summarizing progress to date (on OB/LW, and to a lesser extent elsewhere) and important open sub-questions on which progress would be valuable.
I'd love feedback on either the overall idea, or revisions to the questions-outline of contents.
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?