So! HPMOR is ending, and there are two things I long ago decided I would do when that occurred.
First, the following request: I would like any readers who think that HPMOR deserves it sufficiently, and who are attending or supporting the 2015, 2016, or 2017 Worldcon, to next year, nominate Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality for Best Novel in the 2016 Hugos. Whether you then actually vote for HPMOR as Best Novel is something I won’t request outright, since I don’t know what other novels will be competing in 2016. After all the nominees are announced, look over what’s there and vote for what you think is best.
I decided long ago that once HPMOR was fully written and published, I would try to get in touch with J. K. Rowling to see if HPMOR could be published in book form, maybe as HJPEV and the Methods of Rationality, with all profits accruing to a UK charity. I’m not getting my hopes up, but I do have a rule telling me to try rather than automatically giving up and assuming something can’t be done. If any reader thinks they can put me in touch with J. K. Rowling, or for that matter Daniel Radcliffe, regarding this matter, I do hereby ask them to contact me at email@example.com.
And I’ll just take this chance to mention that the Machine Intelligence Research Institute is looking for at least one new executive with the capacity to initiate and manage, fully self-directed, complicated new projects. Furthermore, especially with Elon Musk’s recent commitment of $10 million to the Future of Life Institute for grants on work toward improving AI outcomes, we are very much looking for competent mathematicians who are interested in technical work on the value alignment problem for advanced agents.
Anyway! HPMOR is ending, and it’s time for me to decide What Next?
One obvious answer, from my perspective, is my ongoing work on the value alignment problem for advanced agents (the problem formerly known as Friendly AI). My current ‘real work’ project is to write an introductory minibook, or possibly an introductory wiki-style concept network, on what I think are the core parts of that problem.
Besides that, I would like to go on writing fiction and go on having other people read it – my brain definitely has a drive for that. There are two obstacles to my writing fiction, and it’s possible that some reader may be able to help with the second one.
Obstacle #1: I need a mode of writing that costs fewer spoons and does not come out of my ‘real work’ budget.
HPMOR initially went fast, with 365,000 words in 9 months while I was working on other things. My writing then slowed down enormously after Ch. 63. Looking back, I think I made the following mistakes:
- The mistake of reading reviews, and letting the pleasure of reading reviews replace the intrinsic reward of writing good text.
- The worse mistake of having tried to commit to a schedule for chapters, so that the more addicted readers would stop repeatedly hitting F5 in desperate hope. In retrospect, I think the timed updates were good for those readers, but really really bad for my hedonics.
- Trying to upgrade the standards to which I held my writing; thinking of HPMOR as something that other people were holding to standards, rather than as a wacky fanfiction I was doing in my downtime.
- Bogging down in all the foreshadowing that had to be fulfilled and the parentheses that needed closing, often involving plot points that I’d developed earlier at a more primitive level of literary skill.
The obvious lessons are that next time, I must:
- Hold myself to a lower standard, somehow, even if many people are praising the work as Great Literature and my natural impulse is to try to live up to that.
- Not commit to any schedule, just publish things as I feel comfortable with them. Torturing my readers with unpredictability, as much as I don’t enjoy inflicting that particular form of suffering, may be an unavoidable price of my being able to actually write.
- Write to a more open-ended plot, where I can just take things where I want them to go; foreshadowing only hidden background facts that can be discovered at any time, not specific future events.
Some of the primary options I’m considering:
- Try to write a more traditional-format novel, the sort that gets consumed in one sitting.
- Dust off an old movie script of mine, and revise it to make the protagonist more agenty and intelligent in accordance with my current standards. I won’t do this unless some reader writes me with (a) an offer to possibly make a movie that would involve a pretty high level of special effects in the background, or (b) an offer to possibly produce an anime movie.
- Try to produce a reader-choice-driven novel with readers bidding on options and my selecting whatever option I like (but having an incentive to pick higher-bid options). This would require software support, but it looks like that software might be something that can be made to exist. I liked the power of the Collective Intelligence of /r/hpmor, and I would like to interact with the CI again in a context where the character can actually do whatever the CI thinks is a good idea, where there’s few enough open plot parentheses that I can suddenly decide that yes they are still inside the Mirror of Vec. Does anyone have a recommendation for reader-driven story software that beats anonkun.com?
The final thing that would be natural for me to try would be writing something that is even lower-status than Harry Potter fanfiction, like say erotic romance, so that my brain will stop trying to Take It Seriously. (I don’t think this actually comes with a penalty to writing quality; it didn’t for the first 50 chapters of HPMOR.) Sub-obstacle #1 to this is that I worry I might have actually learned the true lesson that there is no such thing as a nonserious genre. But the larger problem with this particular tactic is that…
Obstacle #2 to my writing more fiction is that my writing so far has had negative, as well as positive, consequences for public relations. My writing tends to be controversial and stomp all over certain sorts of minefields. Worse, there is some quality of it that seems to attract a certain sort of Sneer mindset – not just social-media sneertrolls, but the seething pools of corruption that are mainstream journalists. (I have theories of exactly what is happening, but it’s not worth going into here.) This has costs for the projects I’m currently associated with in the public eye. I don’t think I can write ‘safely’ without both destroying the integrity of my fiction and also destroying the satisfaction that I receive from it. A sense of joy in writing does not go along with constantly looking over your shoulder.
There is an epilogue to Methods. I plan not to publish for at least another year, so as to allow other fanfiction authors to write their own continuations of HPMOR first. And HPMOR’s epilogue was written years ago, and would need to be rewritten now; I didn’t think you would want me to delay the final chapters even longer while I did that. These are both sufficient reasons not to publish the epilogue right away… but the much more serious problem is that the epilogue takes place during the protagonists’ seventh year of Hogwarts, which means that there are now exciting new minefields that my writing automatically stomps in. I could try to rip out all those parts of the story, but it would leave a large hole in the epilogue’s plot and you wouldn’t get to see what really happened. I think you would be better served if I could, instead, get into a position where it’s possible for me to publish my real writing.
As for what I can potentially do to become able to write for you again… to say it abstractly, I have to perform some combination of (a) shifting the way that I am perceived in relation to important projects, (b) shifting the ‘role’ outsiders see me as occupying and the real status they attach to that role, and (c) locally or (d) globally ameliorating the worsening societal condition that lies at the core of the problem. This is a complicated topic and I can’t easily summarize my thinking on the subject, nor the sorts of plots I’m considering to address it; the margins of this Author’s Note are too small. (Imagine my trying to explain briefly to someone why blogging about rationality for two years was the best way to get a nonprofit into a position where it could produce mathematical progress on the value alignment problem for advanced agents, or why a Harry Potter fanfiction would be a good way to recruit International Mathematical Olympiadists for that project.)
Still, there are a few points where I could use help with projects that are relevant to Eliezer Yudkowsky being able to write more fiction in the future, though the relevance may not be obvious. The big picture here is large, and I’m still talking with my friends about it… but HPMOR is wrapping up now, so I’m going to skip over a lot of intervening steps and describe some potential or actual projects that some reader might be able to help me with. I’m not getting my hopes up, but I do have a rule telling me to at least try asking for help and seeing what happens.
First, I’ve designed an attempted successor to Wikipedia and/or Tumblr and/or peer review, and a friend of mine is working full-time on implementing it. If this project works at the upper percentiles of possible success (HPMOR-level ‘gosh that sure worked’, which happens to me no more often than a third of the time I try something), then it might help to directly address the core societal problems (he said vaguely with deliberate vagueness).
Second, if anyone knows John Paulson the hedge-fund manager, especially if they know something about his Puerto Rico development project, I’m interested in talking to him about the efficient design of cities, the coordination problems faced by the project of forming a startup hub someplace that isn’t Silicon Valley, and some ideas I’ve had about overcoming the potential energy barriers.
Third, I’m now reasonably certain that most venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are not using the style of thinking that I would use to analyze a startup, or at least they certainly don’t talk like they’re seeing what I see. I would like to test this capability that I think I might have, and see if it is real and can produce excess returns at angel investing. I also think the 2-and-20 system of traditional venture capital does not align interests well, and I would only ask 20% of excess returns over the S&P 500 or the Vanguard bond index fund VBMFX during the same period, whichever does better. Would any investor like to ascend me to angel status?
Also, if anyone is already working on any of the following projects, I would not mind being CC’d in on their email threads (especially if I can successfully ascend to angel investor):
- All-robotic car fleets (cars that operate in environments where only other conforming robotic cars are around).
- Cheaper pharmaceutical research and development outside of the US and European regulatory regimes.
- Financialization of venture capital using non-US equity laws or cryptoequities.
- Assaults on obesity that involve directly killing fat cells, rather than futile attempts to mess with the surrounding metabolic processes.
- Movable houses that can be shifted between modularly designed house-foundations.
- Trying to convince an otherwise residable country with available land to create a special district with econoliterate tax and finance laws (e.g., consumption taxes and land value taxes rather than capital-gains taxes and sales taxes, legal cryptofinance).
- Cryptocurrencies that incorporate some form of inflation targeting or NGDP level targeting.
- Continuously audited bank accounts.
- Quadcopters armed with anti-mosquito lasers, especially if the same system is adaptable to target wasps/hornets/etcetera and other pests.
I would not especially recommend trying to infer what I might be plotting by trying to guess how all of these things fit together. Not all the elements belong to the same potential plots.
My contact info is, as always, firstname.lastname@example.org.