who the heck knows anything, anyway

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oxford: Week 1

(or, Another Daniel Guest-Blog)

Oxford! We've been here for 1 week, today. Almost exactly, actually-- I'm writing this at 5:40, and we got in at 6:40 last Sunday, so! An hour less than a week in Oxford.

For me, this week has been very busy, in a good way. The morning after we arrived, I walked down to the Future of Humanity Institute's office fairly early, arriving at about 9. Turns out that's too early to start saving the world, and most FHI people didn't show up until later (a few of them work late into the night most nights). That was fine, though; the walk was good, and it was nice to get acquainted with the office before things got too hectic.

I sit at a desk in the common area of the office. Behind me is the meeting and break area, which has a table, chairs, couches, and the all-important whiteboard. The great perks of sitting in this area are that 1) I see everyone semi-regularly when they emerge from writing to get tea or food, and 2) I can eavesdrop and crash the interesting discussions that people have during their breaks. For the first couple of days, I spent so much time discussing that I hardly had time to do any computer work-- as a metric, I didn't need to recharge my laptop until day three.

Stuart, the FHI's newest Research Fellow, has been my most consistent co-conspirator so far. He's been very helpful in getting me looped into the work that's already going on there, and we share a strong interest in friendly AI theory. Another visitor, Owain (who is unfortunately leaving on Monday), has also been central to my experience so far. The three of us have spent about half of each day working through our ideas for human-friendly motivational systems on the whiteboard. I have a couple of great new ideas for projects to work on, and these have arisen largely from the whiteboard sessions.

I've also had a lot of good chances to talk with Professor Bostrom, the director of the FHI. He generates good ideas and finds flaws in proposals extremely quickly, and he's been instrumental in pushing forward our ideas about how to teach AIs what to value. I've also been discussing grad school ideas with him, and as a result am significantly more inclined to pursue a computer science Ph.D than I was a week ago.

Other fun folks I've met are Sean (project manager), Toby (ethicist), Anders (fellow), Eric Drexler (invented nanotechnology! famous people bingo, check!), and a neuroethicist and a moral egoist whose names escape me at the moment. In short, it's fun to be at a school again, just in terms of meeting people.

I'll have more to say about work, I think, and I'll need to take pictures of the office, but that's good enough for now.

This weekend, it's been nice to be able to spend more time with Killian and poke around Oxford. Yesterday, we saw Midnight in Paris (not world-changing, but very enjoyable, and it's short). I also bought a box of "Teatime Varieties Great Value 85 Biscuits":

Today, we walked for a few minutes from our flat, over the canal (the Thames, though it's known as the Isis in Oxford), and into Port Meadow, a common grazing area and park. Pretty! Afterward, we also visited St. Sepulchre's graveyard and Worcester College.

As always, more photos and things to come. Halfway done with the trip!