AIs that emulate the human mind may be friendly naturally — the promised land for Eliezer Yudkowsky ?

happy brain

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Except in One Career, Our Brains Seem Built for Optimism

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By Robert Lee Hotz Science Journal/Wall Street Journal

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“Two research teams exploring the anatomy of expectations offer a new perspective on the power of a positive outlook. For the first time, scientists at New York University have mapped the upbeat brain — finding in a cluster of neurons the size of a martini olive the seed of a sunny outlook on life. At its core, the brain is built for optimism, their work suggests.

“Far from deforming our view of the future, this penchant for life’s silver lining shapes our decisions about family, health, work and finances in surprisingly prudent ways, concluded economists at Duke University in a new study published in the Journal of Financial Economics. . . .

“To detect its influence, the Duke researchers analyzed the U.S. Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances, a national balance sheet of what Americans own — from houses and cars to stocks and bonds — how much we borrow and how we bank. . . . The researchers used its data on personal predictions of life expectancy to sort the nation’s optimists from its pessimists.

“Optimists, the Duke finance scholars discovered, worked longer hours every week, expected to retire later in life, were less likely to smoke and, when they divorced, were more likely to remarry. They also saved more, had more of their wealth in liquid assets, invested more in individual stocks and paid credit-card bills more promptly.

“Mapping brain behavior with an MRI medical imaging scanner, NYU neuroscientists Tali Sharot and Elizabeth Phelps identified the neural networks underlying this optimistic outlook.

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“All in all, Dr. Seligman said, optimists tend to do better in life than their talents alone might suggest.

“Except lawyers.

“Surveying law students at the University of Virginia, he found that pessimists got better grades, were more likely to make law review and, upon graduation, received better job offers. There was no scientific reason. “In law,” he said, “pessimism is considered prudence.” . . . (full article)

Image Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

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Newcomb’s commentary: “No other offense has ever been visited with such severe penalties as seeking to help the oppressed.” Clarence Darrow

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