Rationality: From AI to Zombies was released today!

by RyanCarey 15th Mar 2015No comments


Eliezer Yudkowsky's blog posts have finally been systematised and released into an ebook. MIRI's Robbie Bensinger is to be thanked for this. They are available as a 'pay as you want' download from MIRI's website.

Eliezer's preface begins as follows:

"You hold in your hands a compilation of two years of daily blog posts. In retrospect, I look back on that project and see a large number of things I did completely wrong. I’m fine with that. Looking back and not seeing a huge number of things I did wrong would mean that neither my writing nor my understanding had improved since 2009. Oops is the sound we make when we improve our beliefs and strategies; so to look back at a time and not see anything you did wrong means that you haven’t learned anything or changed your mind since then..."

Robbie gives his own description:

"Stylistically, the essays in this book run the gamut from “lively textbook” to “compendium of thoughtful vignettes” to “riotous manifesto,” and the content is correspondingly varied. Rationality: From AI to Zombies collects hundreds of Yudkowsky’s blog posts into twenty-six “sequences,” chapter-like series of thematically linked posts. The sequences in turn are grouped into six books, covering the following topics:


  • Book 1—Map and Territory. What is a belief, and what makes some beliefs work better than others? These four sequences explain the Bayesian notions of rationality, belief, and evidence. A running theme: the things we call “explanations” or “theories” may not always function like maps for navigating the world. As a result, we risk mixing up our mental maps with the other objects in our toolbox.
  • Book 2—How to Actually Change Your Mind. This truth thing seems pretty handy. Why, then, do we keep jumping to conclusions, digging our heels in, and recapitulating the same mistakes? Why are we so bad at acquiring accurate beliefs, and how can we do better? These seven sequences discuss motivated reasoning and confirmation bias, with a special focus on hard-to-spot species of self-deception and the trap of “using arguments as soldiers.”
  • Book 3—The Machine in the Ghost. Why haven’t we evolved to be more rational? Even taking into account resource constraints, it seems like we could be getting a lot more epistemic bang for our evidential buck. To get a realistic picture of how and why our minds execute their biological functions, we need to crack open the hood and see how evolution works, and how our brains work, with more precision. These three sequences illustrate how even philosophers and scientists can be led astray when they rely on intuitive, non-technical evolutionary or psychological accounts. By locating our minds within a larger space of goal-directed systems, we can identify some of the peculiarities of human reasoning and appreciate how such systems can “lose their purpose.”
  • Book 4—Mere Reality. What kind of world do we live in? What is our place in that world? Building on the previous sequences’ examples of how evolutionary and cognitive models work, these six sequences explore the nature of mind and the character of physical law. In addition to applying and generalizing past lessons on scientific mysteries and parsimony, these essays raise new questions about the role science should play in individual rationality.
  • Book 5—Mere Goodness. What makes something valuable—morally, or aesthetically, or prudentially? These three sequences ask how we can justify, revise, and naturalize our values and desires. The aim will be to find a way to understand our goals without compromising our efforts to actually achieve them. Here the biggest challenge is knowing when to trust your messy, complicated case-by-case impulses about what’s right and wrong, and when to replace them with simple exceptionless principles.
  • Book 6—Becoming Stronger. How can individuals and communities put all this into practice? These three sequences begin with an autobiographical account of Yudkowsky’s own biggest philosophical blunders, with advice on how he thinks others might do better. The book closes with recommendations for developing evidence-based applied rationality curricula, and for forming groups and institutions to support interested students, educators, researchers, and friends.


There's obviously a lot there but I have found it quite influential, and Eliezer is the leading proponent of a very compelling style of philosophy from which one could imagine launching an entire school of philosophical thought. Already, these materials have been very influential, and with this book's release, I think a lot of people will be prompted to do some rereading.