Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Can you say where the scariest and most ambitious convincing pitch was on the following scale?

1) We're going to build the next Facebook!

2) We're going to found the next Apple!

3) Our product will create sweeping political change! This will produce a major economic revolution in at least one country! (Seasteading would be change on this level if it worked; creating a new country successfully is around the same level of change as this.)

4) Our product is the next nuclear weapon. You wouldn't want that in the wrong hands, would you?

5) This is going to be the equivalent of the invention of electricity if it works out.

6) We're going to make an IQ-enhancing drug and produce basic change in the human condition.

7) We're going to build serious Drexler-class molecular nanotechnology.

8) We're going to upload a human brain into a computer.

9) We're going to build a recursively self-improving Artificial Intelligence.

10) We think we've figured out how to hack into the computer our universe is running on.

Eliezer, I believe you just created the Yudkowsky Ambition scale.

My startup, http://automicrofarm.com/, rates between a 3 and a 5, depending on how successful it becomes, in my opinion.

Holy schmaloly, that actually is a 3 if it works.

Anyone else got 3 or higher?

"Anyone else got 3 or higher?"

I have a drug that could massively raise the IQ of the world's population, in total more than the power of all the world's computers combined. And it costs only a couple pennies per person per year.


Unfortunately, the iodine has to be available before the third trimester for the full 10-15 point effect. :)

For everyone reading this, it's already far far too late. I've been compiling some of the child & adult iodine studies into a little meta-analysis: http://www.gwern.net/Nootropics#iodine

Current conclusion: for 13+ year olds, the effect size is (95% CI) -0.11 to 0.29. Yes, we can't even rule out that iodine is harmful to adults.

We should put it in salt or something...

I have a drug that could massively raise the honesty of the world's population.


source please

« According to WHO, in 2007, nearly 2 billion individuals had insufficient iodine intake, a third being of school age. Iodine deficiency can have serious consequences, causing abnormal neuronal development, mental retardation, congenital abnormalities, spontaneous abortion and miscarriage, congenital hypothyroidism, and infertility. Later in life, intellectual impairment reduces employment prospects and productivity. »


Google, please.

Go after "Railroad Baron Money." That is to say, to invest in a fundamentally new kind of very useful infrastructure, like a subset network of computers where DRM actually works. If not absolutely, then well enough in practice. That would mean it would take something like 2 to 3 years for people to jailbreak new hardware, and almost a year to break revisions to old devices that fix an earlier jailbreak. (We're getting close to this level of security for some organizations.)

The trick is to be one of the Barons when networks are becoming widespread, and not an early innovator who gets in the history books but dies penniless. (Again fits with the railroad analogy.)

(And yes, trusted computation [DRM] as it is practiced now is bad, in the way that many things only possessed by only the powerful are also bad.)

Yeah, some kind of trustworthy computing would be around a 4-5 on the scale. Maybe 6.

> Yeah, some kind of trustworthy computing would be around a 4-5 on the scale. Maybe 6.

A great sign for this idea, is that it gets pooh-poohed and shouted down, particularly by people who don't even hear the entire thing and just pattern match the security part. The idea that DRM can be useful and beneficial to society as a whole is precisely "What You Can't Say" for large swathes of the tech community and even more mainstream society.

We already have a subset network of computers where DRM lasted from 2006 to 2010 - the PlayStation 3.

Now, it's a console with some good games, but I wouldn't rate it as equivalent in social impact to electricity or nuclear weapons.

Right, it was a game console, and not even a particularly good one.

A real computing device (I'd accept tablets, but really, enterprise desktops and especially servers) would be entirely different.

What I really care about is servers which can be trusted to be "fair" by all parties -- server operators, software operators, and end users. There is absolutely nothing like that today, and it's impossible without trusted computing. It's unclear if trusted computing itself is feasible (it's theoretically possible).

If it works, we end up with Vernor Vinge's _True Names_

The Bear Group is doing something similar to automicrofarm, but with biofuels:


Vicarious (http://vicarious.com/) which recently got $15 million from Peter Thiel & Dustin Moscovitz would be a 9 on your scale.

A mobile-based distributed trust system that reflects what other people think of you and your skills, is resistant to gaming, and doesn't start with the premise of lots of Bitcoins.

People thinking and resistant to gaming are pretty much mutually exclusive.

www.loomio.org I would say rates between 3 and 4.

I have one idea I'm still incubating in the back of my head that's a 6. It's achievable technologically, but I'm not yet in the right place in my life to be the one to achieve it.

Edit: It's not a drug - but it will, imho, produce a change in the basic human condition, if/when implemented.

I downvoted you because you added nothing to the conversation by claiming you have a 6 but then adding no details to it. Hey I can do that too. I have an idea that ranks a 7! I am cooler than you! But I am not going to tell you what it is because I think having a good idea is harder than executing well and I don't have many good ideas and I am afraid you are going to steal mine.

> Edit: It's not a drug - but it will, imho, produce a change in the basic human condition, if/when implemented.

He's probably talking about an idea similar to the H+ neural implant (http://www.youtube.com/user/HplusDigitalSeries).

It's a nano device that is injected into or around your spine/brain, and after a week it learns how to interface with your body.

Then it links out to the network and you can do all the things that we can do now online, except it's all in your head.

Nope. Fair enough on the downvotes, btw, you're right - I didn't add much to the conversation. I don't feel ready to share/discuss that idea yet.

Funny, considering I'm a strong proponent of "ideas are nothing, execution is everything"...

Guess it's a case of not being ready to execute on the idea yet? If so, not sharing until you're ready to start executing would be your best option.

You should just share it.

We've got a solid 5 with what we're building at LocalSense: https://localsense.com -- but it contains elements of #9 which is strangely high on the list.

A local, social offers app is going to be "equivalent of the invention of electricity"?

I don't mean to sound down on the idea- I'm sure it could work out great. But come on.

Only way I can read that comment as anything but shameless self-promotion (or, more generously, over the line entrepreneurial-delusion) is if they intend to morph their using of social status to get things into being whuffies.

You're on the right track.

No worries, it's easy to be down on the public message right now. We're all pretty confident in the plan to overhaul the way commerce works in general, possibly to the end of supplanting "money" entirely. :)

Don't know if this is sarcasm or not... hmmm...


All day, err'day.

#9 is transhumanist dogwhistle phrasing-- it essentially means the end of the world.

Well duh, that's Eliezer Yudkowsky. That's essentially his life goal.

You cannot be serious.

In case anyone missed the small blog link on the bottom: http://blog.automicrofarm.com

More information about the idea there.

Count me interested! As long as it doesn't involve entomophagy... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entomophagy

TED talk on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=E...

A cool Maker-type article on how to build your own setup (it looks like the AutoMicroFarm may be loosely based on this): http://www.northernaquafarms.com/knowledgelibrary/NAF_PDF_Fi...

I know someone in Campbell who is playing with this stuff, and he's sent me tons of links that I can share here if people are really interested.

Please, do share! And thanks for the TED link :).

Thanks! :).

Thanks... we have no plans on raising insects for human consumption! Right now, our prototype is producing fish, berries and vegetables; we'll be experimenting with fruit trees, beans, and eventually poultry (for eggs at first), mushrooms, and honey.

That's a shame, since good insects to eat are hard to find: http://www.bayesianinvestor.com/blog/index.php/2012/09/05/ea...

Since we will be providing a "platform", as it were, for building your own ecosystem of plants and animals, feel free to raise insects :)

I read "raising insects for human consumption" in the same sense as "growing bacteria for consuming oil spills". That'd be an 8 or a 9...

This is fascinating. I'd love to build one of these setups.

intrigued, but the blog is down :(

Try again... it's on tumblr, so we hope it can stay up!

Also, I think you should rework the Yudkowsky Ambition scale a bit:

* 3 and 4 are really on the same level, just interchangeable

* 6 should really be an 8 or a 9, since it enables 7, 8 and perhaps 9

* the whole scale should be expanded so that 2-10 become 11-20, and 1 becomes e.g. a weekend hack that can bring in enough revenue to buy me a new toy every once in a while.

My notes:

* While 3) and 4) both create sweeping political changes, 4) is decidedly scarier owing to the sheer destructive power. 3) encompasses positive change as well.

* 6) may enable 7), 8) and perhaps 9), but is less ambitious in that it doesn't seek to bring those frighteningly ambitious ideas into reality (it only possibly enables them).

* Zero.

I think it would be fair to qualify it as a log scale :)

Or, we can just keep this weekend hack as -9.

I tried to add your RSS feed [1] to my reader, but there are no articles there. I think you've misconfigured something.

Would love to have a nano tank like the one you describe. Please keep us posted.

[1] http://blog.automicrofarm.com/rss

Hmm, chrome wants to install an app from the store, but firefox renders the feed just fine (it's not empty). What browser/OS are you using, or do you have stand-alone reader?

To reproduce:

1) Open Google Reader http://www.google.com/reader

2) click the red "Subscribe" button

3) paste the rss url from your site's sidebar http://blog.automicrofarm.com/rss

4) click "Add"

5) GReader says "You have subscribed to 'AutoMicroFarm Blog. ... "AutoMicroFarm Blog" has no items'

Followed your steps exactly, and got all the blog posts. Maybe it was some kind of delay?

I clicked through looking for an auo-micro-composting mechanism. And auto-harvesting. Did you have ideas about handling blights, molds and other diseases?

For auto-composting (not sure how micro you need to go...), we're thinking of using Black Soldier Fly Larvae to process the compost and auto-harvest into the fish tank for a snack for the fish. Another option is using earthworms, and manually (eventually automatically) harvesting them into the fish tanks, thus recycling one's food scraps back into food.

As far as blight and mold, those problems have been identified and solved with greenhouse and hydroponics growing. The key to these problems and other diseases is to make it easy to prevent, or failing that, treat those diseases. But again, this is a solved problem.

That is awesome and I really hope you can pull it off.

I've been following/researching aquaponics for quite some time. It really does seem like the future - I hope you can pull this off.

You may be interested in Garduino - a nice intersection of geek and growing stuff. Something that's on my to-do list.


Frighteningly ambitious, indeed. I fear it will fail, but I wildly hope it succeeds.

Least I can do is add myself to your mailing list...

What a way to reframe the entire conversation like a boss. Prior to reading your comment, I thought my scale went from 1 to 10, but it only went from 1 to 2.

So anything > 3 requires a bunch of "hard science". That does a great job of highlighting the fact that almost all of the readers of HN will be incapable of producing any of these.

Time for a career change.

3 is pretty decent. I can respect somebody trying for 3.

No, just vote for better funding of science research.

It only takes one genius to change the world, but it turns out that one genius tends to produce many changes (cf Einstein // Lord kelvin // Faraday)

That doesn't really seem like a great attitude to have. It is far too hands-off and unreliable.

I just can't imagine thinking "Well, I voted. That's the best I can do."

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say

- you could try to change career, become a renowned research scientist and invent number 3-8 on the Yudkowsky Ambition scale, but ...

You are just one person, probably without the right inclinations to be a world class researcher (or frankly you would have become one, it would have been an irristable calling)

So a more worthwhile use of your time and effort would be as part of a co-ordinated effort to select, support and reward a world wide network of inter-dependant researchers, and then layers of secondary innovators and implementors who in totality will bring the benefits of scientific progress to all humanity.

  They also serve who stand and insist politicians use
  empirical based testing to validate their spending on 
  our behalf
As it were

Then become rich and fund the researchers yourself.

I know within my own batch (W12) the highest a startup pitched itself at demo day was about a 2.5- creating a company substantially bigger than Apple. I wouldn't be surprised if you could find a 4 or 5 somewhere in in all of YC with something along the lines of creating the next version of the internet (especially from the startups doing hardware). The tradeoff there is the variance is even higher; doing a software startup is safe, relatively speaking!

After reading the original essay from PG, I was hoping that this comment would finally appear. I think number 3 would start at "frightening." Anything below that would simply be "quite" or "very."

4) Amazingly 5) Terrifyingly 6) Shockingly! 7) Mind-bendingly 8) Unbelievably 9) Universe-changing 10) Alpha-Omegaly!

11) Become the universe

Used to joke with my friends about this, as the most ambitious goal of any rational entity in maximizing the existence utility function.

"Happiness" etc are human factors, while obviously relevant to us now, and may not exist down the line.



Co-operative existence models of super massive intelligent entities (like Matrioshka brains), could equally end up being dominant vs 'last man standing' scenarios. But at least in LMS (which of course we are not fans of), there is no doubt as to the eventual outcome.

I don't think this scale applies so well in the healthcare vertical. Any major healthcare breakthrough is going to hit the latter half of 6 at least a bit, but I'm not sure that those all induce changes that scale above 5.

A major healthcare breakthrough that improved the quality of life for a large number of people would qualify as a solid 3 -- a major political-level change. I'd save 6 for things like defeating the aging process -- something that, like raising the IQ of the population at large, would also fundamentally change the human condition. I'm not really sure how many medical breakthroughs of this magnitude there are.

Improving world health status might not improve IQ as some inherent human intelligence capacity, but would certainly have an immeasurable population-level effect on "effective IQ" i.e. ability to practice whatever intelligence capacity exists already.

Consider just the challenge of defeating the obesity epidemic. Better diet improves energy and massively increases, again at the population level, the amount of raw thoughtful hours are available to a country.

This is even more widely applicable in global health where health initiatives can also be important components of social change. Women's/sexual health is tied deeply to women's rights which is a leading indicator for social revolution.

While medical breakthrough that change the space of healthcare at large might be rare, there's a lot of room instead for the kind of breakthrough which changes how people receive and are impacted by the healthcare knowledge we already have today.

I think the idea of level 6 is not merely an incremental increase in effective IQ -- the internet and smartphones putting most of human knowledge at anyone's fingertips could qualify as that -- but something that fundamentally changes what it means to be human. Defeating obesity, the African AIDS epidemic, or even cancer would be amazing, heroic, and worldchanging, but still wouldn't qualify as changing what it means to be human.

I'd've rated Adipotide at 2 (make a large difference to the lives of hundreds of millions of people), and even with cognitive effects factored in, well, Apple hasn't had zero cognitive effect either. The thing is, there was already an age before high-fructose corn syrup when almost nobody was obese - you couldn't call it a novel change in the human condition to put things back to how they used to be. If you consider Apple as having popularized icon-based GUIs then it's got a substantially better claim to 5 or even 6 than a completely effective anti-obesity drug.

"Hitting a bit" doesn't count, you'd have to think outside of established verticals - curing cancer would be a major healthcare breakthrough, but it's something like a 3 on that scale, no more.

For that, you'd have to think seriously big - doubling our expected lifespan is important, but it wouldn't bring that much of a change in our planet. A significantly improved homo sapiens species may qualify. Or a way to keep us going on forever - permanently fixing or replacing our bodies. Or a way to "upload" skills to brains, matrix-style.

6 is not making the current condition slightly more bearable - it's transferring us to a radically different state.

Where would the World Wide Web be on this scale? It would look below 4, but one instance of it, Wikileaks, arguably sparked several revolutions and is a 3 by itself.

It's a solid 5 -- made the kind of change that electrification did, in terms of there being massively many more ways to get informed, fact-check, collaborate, organize, the importance of location, and so on.

I don't know... what kind of impact has the internet actually made on human lifespans, or manufacturing output?

The internet has affected global GDP a lot, but almost entirely in the "moving numbers around in a database" fields, with all the profit ending up in the pockets of a few hundred hyperrich. (high finance, entertainment)

I think this is one of the cases where GDP misses what we're trying to measure. If, before the Web, I would have bought a product just barely useful enough to pay for, then post-Web, buy something different instead that is much, much better for me (has a higher consumer surplus), GDP will be the same, even though human welfare has significantly increased.

Normally, you can glaze over such a case, but the internet is basically filled with this kind of thing. Moreover, a lot of the stuff that you would normally have to pay for, you get effectively for free, and I'm not talking about pirated movies. I mean the collaboration, fact-checking, knowing of more options, info you'd normally need to buy a book for, etc. Again, cash payments for that stuff might have dropped, but it made people that much better off.

So if people that were doing things obviated by the Web, then go start doing something different, then, well "GDP is GDP" -- but that is a massive efficiency improvement.

I don't know about human lifespans or manufacturing output (though the widening collaboration opportunity increases the number of people that can solve foundational manufacturing problems), but that's only one of many human values, and I think it's an artificial requirement to compare to electricity on that basis -- almost like penalizing it because it didn't enable better hunting of large animals.

So stepping back to the level of human welfare and modes of life it enables, I think the Web is comparable to electricity.

Here's an informal measure: what does the technology do to the "quaintness" of (non-sci-fi) stories composed before it? After electricity, you might look at a book with a plot element "character can't work at night", and scoff at how backward it is.

Does the Web do something similar? I'd say it does a lot more. Per Steven Landsburg, there was a novel written in '91 (right at the Web's infancy) with plot elements like "someone is endlessly searching bookstores to find an obscure book" and "someone sells expensive encyclopedias to people with a tremendous demand for easy access to knowledge" -- very, very quaint from today's perspective.

(Novel was called, IIRC, "Hunters and Gatherers")

Does anyone know of a sort of hacker news for 3 and up?

I think it would be good for my blood pressure to find a place where people don't equate "changing the world!" with "finding a new way to sell socks on the internet!"

I wish.

Maybe we should create one?

And now I have to rescale all my ambitions

"Aim high, you may still miss the target, but at least you won't shoot your foot off." Mercedes Lackey, I forget which book, but I think it was Tarma that said it.

Where does Planetary Resources rank on this scale?

Somewhat depends on what they find, and if they're able to usefully exploit it. But for ambition, I'd say at least a 3.

Of course, you could argue that anyone who can return non-negligible amounts of mass to earth makes it to 4...

I think I am at 0.25 on this scale.

still puts you ahead of all the "$currently_hot_company, but for $slightly_different_domain" ideas

Me too, and I'm fine. :)

Yeah, you can have a target market of $100 billion and not even crack 0.25.

Where does the internet fit into this hierarchy?

How about the web?



I'm not sure where it sits on the scale but the internet, web and associated technologies allow anyone to share without the limitations of physical media, an idea with any other person across any distance from across the room to as far as people spread in future and across time from instantly through to the end of civilization.

I'd say that's a fairly fundamental change for humanity.

Oh finally, now I can just say I'm 10 on the Yudkowsky Ambition scale. You've saved me much explaining.

...Its interesting....before Google all the investors were saying that you could not compete against yahoo....and before you could not compete against IBM....and you could not compete aganits microsoft....All this was BS then and it is all BS today...

> We think we've figured out how to hack into the computer our universe is running on

Not sure someone with that kind of access will need seed funding with YCombinator or anywhere else. Unless their hack is unproven and unreliable, and up for immediate rejection.

This is neat. Just keep in mind that there's a difference between transformative innovation and a successful business.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact