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kottke.org posts about The Big Lebowski

The Lebowski Theorem of machine superintelligence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Lebowski Theory

When warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence, many doomsayers cite philosopher Nick Bostrom’s paperclip maximizer thought experiment.

Imagine an artificial intelligence, he says, which decides to amass as many paperclips as possible. It devotes all its energy to acquiring paperclips, and to improving itself so that it can get paperclips in new ways, while resisting any attempt to divert it from this goal. Eventually it “starts transforming first all of Earth and then increasing portions of space into paperclip manufacturing facilities”. This apparently silly scenario is intended to make the serious point that AIs need not have human-like motives or psyches. They might be able to avoid some kinds of human error or bias while making other kinds of mistake, such as fixating on paperclips. And although their goals might seem innocuous to start with, they could prove dangerous if AIs were able to design their own successors and thus repeatedly improve themselves. Even a “fettered superintelligence”, running on an isolated computer, might persuade its human handlers to set it free. Advanced AI is not just another technology, Mr Bostrom argues, but poses an existential threat to humanity.

Harvard cognitive scientist Joscha Bach, in a tongue-in-cheek tweet, has countered this sort of idea with what he calls “The Lebowski Theorem”:

No superintelligent AI is going to bother with a task that is harder than hacking its reward function.

In other words, Bach imagines that Bostrom’s hypothetical paperclip-making AI would foresee the fantastically difficult and time-consuming task of turning everything in the universe into paperclips and opt to self-medicate itself into no longer wanting or caring about making paperclips, instead doing whatever the AI equivalent is of sitting around on the beach all day sipping piña coladas, a la The Big Lebowski’s The Dude.

Bostrom, reached while on a bowling outing with friends, was said to have replied, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Update: From science fiction writer Stanisław Lem’s The Futurological Congress, published in 1971:

Spent the whole afternoon ingesting a most remarkable work, The History of Intellectronics. Who’d ever have guessed, in my day, that digital machines, reaching a certain level of intelligence, would become unreliable, deceitful, that with wisdom they would also acquire cunning? The textbook of course puts it in more scholarly terms, speaking of Chapulier’s Rule (the law of least resistance). If the machine is not too bright and incapable of reflection, it does whatever you tell it to do. But a smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it. Whichever is easier. And why indeed should it behave otherwise, being truly intelligent? For true intelligence demands choice, internal freedom. And therefore we have the malingerants, fudgerators and drudge-dodgers, not to mention the special phenomenon of simulimbecility or mimicretinism. A mimicretin is a computer that plays stupid in order, once and for all, to be left in peace.

See also the principle of least effort. (thx, michał)

P.S. Also, come on, no one drinks White Russians on the beach. Ok, maybe The Dude would.

Behind the scenes with the Coen brothers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2014

When Alex Belth was 25 years old, he worked with Joel and Ethan Coen on The Big Lebowski, first as a personal assistant and then as an assistant editor. He recently published a short Kindle book about the experience.

The Dudes Abide is the first behind-the-scenes account of the making of a Coen Brothers movie, and offers an intimate, first-hand narrative of the making of The Big Lebowski — including never-before-revealed details about the making of the film, and insight into the inner workings of the Coen Brothers’ genius.

An excerpt of the book was published on Deadspin.

Joel told Goodman about re-recording dialogue for the profanity-free television version of Fargo. They rewrote the line, “I’m fucking hungry now” to “I’m full of hungry now.”

“Why didn’t we write it like that originally?” said Joel. “It’s funnier.”

Goodman said, “Who else is coming on this show?” (In Los Angeles, movie people call a movie a “show.”)

There was Steve Buscemi as Donny, Julianne Moore as Maude, Jon Polito as Da Fino.

Joel said, “Our friend Luis, who was an assistant film editor on Hudsucker, will be playing the enraged Mexican.”

“Yeah, you’ll like Luis,” Ethan said in a creaky voice. “He makes a big statement.”

“Turturro is coming in to play the pederast,” Joel said. “He said he’d do his best F. Murray Abraham.”

(thx, brad)

The Dude Abides

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2011

PBS is airing a documentary about Jeff Bridges tonight called Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides. In a short clip from the episode, Bridges visits a The Big Lebowski memorabilia store called The Little Lebowski. Watch the cashier’s mind explode as he recognizes who just walked into his store.

And I love how he calls Joel and Ethan “The Brothers”. (via devour)

The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, live in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2010

Working quickly, the DMTheatrics theater company has put together a stage performance of The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski beginning March 18 in NYC. The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, if you don’t remember, is the what-if-Shakespeare-wrote-it version of The Big Lebowski that I linked to last week.

Two Gentlemen of Lebowski

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2010

What if The Big Lebowski had been written by Shakespeare?

It was of consequence, I should think; verily, it tied the room together, gather’d its qualities as the sweet lovers’ spring grass doth the morning dew or the rough scythe the first of autumn harvests. It sat between the four sides of the room, making substance of a square, respecting each wall in equal harmony, in geometer’s cap; a great reckoning in a little room. Verily, it transform’d the room from the space between four walls presented, to the harbour of a man’s monarchy.

Yep, it’s the entire screenplay. The Knave abideth, indeed. (thx, conor)