Look around you and tell me that latter isn’t exactly what would sell. Market it as “Personal Life Coach” and make billions.

You, sir, understand human nature. You should pitch this idea to a VC firm.

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What if the AI demands to teach me Celine Dion or Nickleback songs when I want to learn John Prine, Nick Drake and Mississippi John Hurt?

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I tend to agree that mentor, in the sense it's usually used as a more senior, older friend who takes you under his wing, is a category error as applied to AI. Machine learning systems are not and probably will never be capable of doing this.

The word the original author should have used was 'tutor'. In the very narrow use case of facilitating an education customized to the individual user, there's probably real potential there. I doubt it would ever be as effective as a human expert, but tutors with both the knowledge background and pedagogical ability to effectively pass on skills are in short supply and therefore very expensive.

I could easily see an AI tutor set up with two knowledge layers. The first is subject-specific, eg guitar skills, and is kept frozen once optimized in order to prevent knowledge drift. The second layer is the pedagogical training - all the different techniques for teaching, combined with the language interface. That layer is modified on the fly via user interaction, such that the AI customizes its teaching style to the user. The feedback isn't between 'happy user' and the knowledge base, but between 'user reproduces knowledge base' and the pedagogical layer. If such systems can be made to work they could be a real educational breakthrough.

Of course, there's also a dark side. An AI trained up on critical theory could be a very effective indoctrination system, for example.

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"I don’t mean to be too hard on Brine Test Jug here, but the idea that reading your internet history gives you an idea about what someone is like is… well it’s the sort of thing someone who only grew up with the internet would say because they don’t spend much time with humans."

This stands out to me the most from the piece since knowing someone from their internet history is pretty much exactly what Tyler Cowen suggests doing in interviews with his open browser tabs question. Maybe he's just out to lunch, but maybe not!

Lots of other interesting stuff to ponder here too like e.g. whether robots being inclined to tell us what we want to hear is ultimately such a huge problem. Seems like people often do this too, and at least there might be less personal baggage and self-deception to stop AIs from seeing the world clearly in some more fundamental way. Think of a guidance counselor who gives a biased picture of potential careers when talking to students because his own job is not so great and telling students to aim for higher things makes him feel like a failure.

Anyway, I'm very flattered you wrote this Doc. I think you're pretty great too :)

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Thanks for the pushback! After reading your thoughts I think we broadly agree on a lot here. However, in my original comment I do say that the AI will learn about someone via a combination of internet history and direct AI-user interaction. So we agree that internet history alone is not enough to fully get to know someone.

We disagree on just how much internet history alone can describe a person. Zuck has made his fortune off of this principle. Facebook generates so much ad money because they can target ads to people based on a small set of internet data, including, yes, internet history via cookies. Even a tiny sliver of someone’s internet history, Facebook likes, is extremely good at painting a rough picture of a person: https://www.science.org/content/article/facebook-preferences-predict-personality-traits

Do you believe that your mind is shaped by what you consume? Do you think about what you read? Do those thoughts become your reality? If you don’t believe that, then why do you bother reading anything at all if it doesn’t effect you in some way?

Maybe there’s some kind of test we could devise to measure how much about a person can be predicted by internet history alone?

(Side note: you will be disappointed to learn that I have spent the majority of my life without internet. As much as I would like to be fully plugged into the Borg, I am the bland kind of person that prefers real books and encourages in-person work meetings. But in spite of that I welcome our AI overlords!)

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This at least obliquely gets at the difference between complicated and complex. Guitar is more or less complicated. Life is complex.

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A good coach should never give advice. She would simply ask probing questions and offer observations and be an empathic listener. You already have everything you need, a good coach just helps you find it.

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Great piece, Doc. One of the most useful lenses through which I've seen this discussion.

Imagine an AI coach, plugged into your brain, so that it knows broadly how you're feeling. Optimised for pleasure, it would probably be quite good at directing. But ask it to optimise you for a 'good life' and the problem becomes which data set?

I'm now wondering if the real money might be in the production of training data sets.

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