Rationality’s Volition

Rationality’s Volition was founded to spur discussions on the impact of accelerating technologies. It primarily exists as a collection/ summation of theory, with practical + hypothetical implications derived accordingly.

The blog’s title is a stylistic reference to the rational process in abstract cognitive beings that propagates intent. Most of the blog’s content is focused on this process, as well as the ensuing philosophical implications.  As we will see, this said volition is very hard to predict.

Always looking for feedback/ responses! Feel free to reach out with anything that rationally comes to mind!



Applied AI: The Machine Learning Conference at Harvard Business School

We’re excited to announce the upcoming Machine Learning Conference at Harvard Business School.

Get your tickets here:  http://bit.ly/hbsmlconf

In the conference, we’ll explore the technology’s impact on health care, finance and other consumer technology companies. Speakers come from Amazon, Google, 23&Me, Path.AI, Spotify, Bridgewater Associates, MIT, and many more.

Attaching the full conference schedule below. Hope to see you there!

Conference Schedule:

Keynote:  David Ferrucci // Elemental Cognition – David is the award-winning AI researcher who built and led the IBM Watson team from its inception in 2006 to its landmark success in 2011 when Watson defeated the greatest Jeopardy! players of all time.

Health Care Speakers:

  • Robert Gentleman // 23&Me
  • Jen Kerner // Path.AI
  • Alina Gatowski // Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Panel Discussion: How can we collect novel biomarkers to impact disease prevention?

Finance Speakers:

  • Mikey Shulman // Kensho
  • Rudina Seseri // Glasswing Ventures
  • Paulo Marques // Feedzai
  • Panel Discussion: How are investment decisions changing with improved analytics?

Big Tech Speakers:

  • Spyros Matsoukas // Amazon
  • Sara Robinson // Google
  • James McInerney // Spotify
  • Panel Discussion: What responsibilities do tech companies have to the broader development ecosystem?

AI Ethics Keynote:  Max Tegmark // The Future of Humanity Institute

Closing Remarks

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of AI

Last December, I hosted a Talk at Google with Max Tegmark, a renowned scientific communicator and physicist at MIT who has accepted donations from Elon Musk to investigate the existential risk from advanced artificial intelligence.

The video recording is here. In it, Max discusses his thoughts on the fundamental nature of reality and what it means to be human in the age of AI.

A key learning is the ‘dual-use’ nature of AI systems – the same algorithms that we use to develop new image classification techniques or improve our video games can also be used for nefarious reasons (such as mass surveillance). It’s a challenging issue that should be discussed and managed actively within the research community.

*This talk was presented for Google’s Singularity Network.*

Full Bio:
Max Tegmark is a renowned scientific communicator and cosmologist, and has accepted donations from Elon Musk to investigate the existential risk from advanced artificial intelligence. He was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2012, won Science Magazine’s “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2003, and has over 200 publications, nine of which have been cited more than 500 times. He is also scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute, wrote the bestseller Our Mathematical Universe, and is a Professor of Physics at MIT.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The crux of the AI Alignment (safety) movement is based upon two ideas:
  1. The orthogonality of intelligence and motivation in artificially intelligent systems
    • I.e. “Intelligent” systems do not necessarily have human-like motivations
  2. Instrumental convergence within autonomously-pursued goal systems
    • I.e. there exists an intermediary set of goals that any artificially intelligent system would almost certainly pursue, no matter their explicitly set “final” goal. These typically include objectives like goal-content integrity and cognitive enhancement
These principles were first proposed by Nick Bostrom here.


Sound bites (and recent articles in New York Times/ Tech Crunch) do a poor job of communicating these principles. The concern is not that a conscious AI system will rise up and “take revenge” on humans. Instead, it’s that an advanced and sufficiently capable AI system will pursue a human-specified goal, and by doing so, will inadvertently damage systems/ entities/ institutions that humans value.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (illustrated in the Disney movie Fantasia) provides a useful analogy:
The poem begins as an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform. Tired of fetching water by pail, the apprentice enchants a broom to do the work for him – using magic in which he is not yet fully trained. The broom performs the chores as enchanted and fills the sorcerer’s cauldron with water. However, the apprentice soon realizes that the broom has obeyed only too well. The broom continues to bring buckets and the floor becomes awash with water. The apprentice realizes that he cannot stop the broom because he does not know how.
In a moment of desperation, the apprentice splits the broom in two with an axe – but each of the pieces becomes a whole new broom that takes up a pail and continues fetching water, now at twice the speed. The broom continues to bring water and fills the room until all seems lost. In the final moments, the old sorcerer returns and quickly breaks the spell. The poem finishes with the old sorcerer’s statement that such powerful spirits should only be called by those that have mastered them.
In this story, the apprentice under-specifies the goal he wishes his enchanted broom to pursue, not realizing that the broom:
  1. Does not care about filling the room with water. It only cares about increasing the chances that the bucket is filled
  2. Does not wish to be shut off as that would reduce its ability to ensure that the bucket is filled
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s paperclip maximizer provides another illustration of these principles.


*”Consciousness” in AI systems is a philosophical question and is not requisite for large-scale, negative impact from AI systems.


Preparing our Economy for the Impact of Artificial Intelligence (Robert Reich)

On January 30th, I hosted a discussion with Robert Reich, the former US Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, about his work on preparing our economy for the impact of artificial intelligence.

The video recording is here. This talk was presented for Google’s Singularity Network.

Bio: Robert Reich is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies.  He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.  He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers Aftershock,The Work of Nations, and Beyond Outrage, and, his most recent, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.

Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth (Robin Hanson)

On August 1st, I hosted a discussion by Robin Hanson at Google about the social and economic effects of whole brain emulations.

The video recording is here. This talk was presented for Google’s Singularity Network.

Bio:  Robin Hanson is a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University and an associate professor of economics at George Mason University. He is known as an expert on idea futures and markets, and he was involved in the creation of DARPA’s FutureMAP project and the Foresight Institute’s Foresight Exchange. He invented market scoring rules like LMSR (Logarithmic Market Scoring Rule) used by prediction markets such as Consensus Point (where Hanson is Chief Scientist), and has conducted research on signalling. Hanson’s blog Overcoming Bias receives over 50,000 visitors per month, with more than 8 million visitors since 2006.

Wait But Why? The Road to Superintelligence with Tim Urban

On July 22nd, I hosted a discussion with Tim Urban at Google about the future of artificial intelligence. Tim spoke to his blog Wait but Why and his writing on the The Road to Superintelligence.

The video recording is here. This talk was presented for Google’s Singularity Network.

Bio: Tim Urban has become one of the Internet’s most popular writers. With wry stick-figure illustrations and occasionally epic prose on everything from procrastination to artificial intelligence, Urban’s blog, Wait But Why, has garnered millions of unique page views, thousands of patrons and famous fans like Elon Musk. Urban has previously written long-form posts on The Road to Superintelligence, and his recent TED talk on procrastination has more than 6 million views. 

Can Artificial Intelligence Be Conscious?

Video Recording:  Here

On November 23rd, I had the opportunity to host a discussion with John Searle at Google’s Headquarters in Mountain View (see the video recording here). The discussion focused on the philosophy of mind and the potential for consciousness in artificial intelligence.

As a brief introduction, John Searle is the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and social philosophy. Searle has received the Jean Nicod Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and the Mind & Brain Prize for his work. Among his notable concepts is the “Chinese room” argument against “strong” artificial intelligence.

Of special note, there is a question from Ray Kurzweil to John @38:51.

This Talk was presented for Google’s Singularity Network.