Re: Notice of technical term: "Volition"

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 09:59:09 MDT

Hi Eliezer,

> It's not my intent to be Orwellian. But sometimes I invent new ideas,
> and I have found it best to give them understandable labels.

But this is exactly the problem - the label you chose was not
understandable - to most people beyond yourself. If a word has a
deeply embedded meaning in common speech and you then try to use
it in a special way - especially a way that is not just different from but
almost the opposite of the normal meaning then you must expect that
people will misunderstand what you are saying.

We already have a term in common usage that covers what you are
talking about and it is the notion of acting in an entity's 'best interest'.
So I might act in someone else's best interest - possibly even flatly
contradicting what that person might say they want. But my defence
will be to say that I understood the way to meet their needs better than
they did. And they can counter-charge that I failed to understand them
or that it was none of my business or whatever.

You want the FAI to act in the best interest of humanity. Why not call a
spade a spade? You want you FAI to have a "human collective best
interest" inference engine.

Cheers, Philip

Date sent: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 10:53:35 -0400
From: Eliezer Yudkowsky <>
Organization: Mitochondrial Liberation Front
To: "" <>
Subject: Notice of technical term: "Volition"
Send reply to:

This is an official notice that I have adopted the English label "volition"
to apply to a distinct, novel technical concept: an extrapolated decision
(or superposed probable criterions) of a human, human group, or other
decisionmaking entity, *after applying a set of transformations* ("knew
more, thought faster", etc.). The volition may be "short-distance",
"medium-distance", or "long-distance" as defined in

The dictionary definition of this term is no longer relevant. It now
possesses a new technical meaning. Anyone who feels that the new term is a
distortion of the Enlgish meaning is free to use the namespaced substitute
FAI::volition to emphasize that they are not speaking of the English word

For the love of Belldandy, please do not use this new technical word in
other than its new technical sense, the way "Friendliness" went down the
drain. Kidnap your own words. Don't kidnap my words, after all the
trouble I went to kidnap them originally. There are plenty of other
helpless, kidnappable English words to lure into the back of your primer
gray GMC van: "Will", "inclination", "intention", "disposition", "ideal
self", "purpose", "wish", "aim", "hankering", "velleity" - whatever best
suits your purposes.

It's not my intent to be Orwellian. But sometimes I invent new ideas, and
I have found it best to give them understandable labels.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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