Timeline of decision theory

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This is a timeline of decision theory, with a focus on updateless/timeless/acausal/functional/logical decision theories.

Big picture

Time period Development summary More details
up to 2006 the bad old days
2006-2010 Drescher, TDT, UDT
2010-2012 more progress
2012 stagnation?

Numerical and visual data

Google Scholar

The following table summarizes per-year mentions on Google Scholar as of May 22, 2021.

Year decision theory behavioral decision theory bayesian decision theory statistical decision theory normative decision theory descriptive decision theory
1980 50,700 9,980 1,170 15,500 5,060 8,280
1985 69,100 11,100 1,260 17,700 5,850 8,610
1990 121,000 17,900 2,750 29,800 9,640 16,200
1995 208,000 22,700 3,870 50,300 15,700 23,100
2000 386,000 43,200 6,610 102,000 32,100 43,000
2002 474,000 61,600 8,830 122,000 40,600 53,600
2004 574,000 76,100 11,900 135,000 44,700 58,200
2006 727,000 90,200 15,800 161,000 62,100 76,800
2008 889,000 125,000 21,000 187,000 72,600 93,200
2010 1,020,000 144,000 26,300 211,000 82,000 110,000
2012 1,130,000 170,000 34,000 240,000 91,800 128,000
2014 993,000 177,000 38,400 222,000 89,600 126,000
2016 786,000 147,000 41,700 179,000 86,300 112,000
2017 682,000 126,000 36,200 155,000 80,500 102,000
2018 465,000 116,000 45,200 129,000 69,700 78,400
2019 300,000 87,900 40,000 96,800 55,900 68.700
2020 207,000 63,500 36,400 70,800 43,800 51,400
Deision theory tb.png

Google Trends

The comparative chart below shows Google Trends data for Decision theory (Field of study) and Decision theory (Search Term) from January 2004 to February 2021, when the screenshot was taken. Interest is also ranked by country and displayed on world map.[1]

Decision theory gt.jpeg

Full timeline

Year Month and date Event type Details
1969 Newcomb's problem is discussed by Robert Nozick.
1980 Brian Skyrms's Causal Necessity: A Pragmatic Investigation of the Necessity of Laws discusses the smoking lesion problem (or a similar problem that becomes called the smoking lesion problem in later publications).[2]:128–130 Yudkowsky and Soares cite Skyrms for the smoking lesion problem.[3]:3
1985 The idea of superrationality is introduced by Douglas Hofstadter in his Metamagical Themas.
1997 The Sleeping Beauty problem is first formally analyzed.
1997 The absent-minded driver problem is introduced (in the same paper as the sleeping beauty?).[4][5]
1999 January 21 Wei Dai posts the first description of what would later be called UDASSA is posted to everything-list.[6] UDASSA seems to be a precursor to UDT.[7]
2002 July 17 Hal Finney, in a mailing list discussion, brings up ideas that according to Wei Dai come "pretty close to some of the ideas behind TDT".[8][9]
2006 March 29 On the Theory of Everything Mailing List (everything-list), Wei Dai sends an email with subject "proper behavior for a mathematical substructure". He would later call this "a 2006 proto-UDT".[10]
2006 May 5 Gary Drescher's Good and Real is published.[11]
2007 The Smoking Lesion problem is introduced by Andy Egan?[12][13]
2007 May 30 Philosopher Kenny Easwaran blogs about his discussions with Joshua Von Korff. Korff has apparently devised a decision-theoretic protocol that one-boxes on Newcomb's problem but smokes in the Smoking Lesion problem. The post does not make clear when Korff came up with his ideas or whether he wrote them up anywhere.[14][15]
2009 February Eliezer Yudkowsky starts LessWrong using as seed material his posts on Overcoming Bias.[16] During the following years LessWrong would become the locus of discussion about timeless/updateless decision theory.
2009 March 19 Vladimir Nesov introduces counterfactual mugging.[17][18]
2009 August 13 Wei Dai publishes the post "Towards a New Decision Theory" on LessWrong. The post does not use the term "updateless decision theory" (UDT), but describes what would later be known as UDT1.[19][10]
2009 August 20 Gary Drescher proposes Metacircular Decision Theory (MCDT) in a comment on LessWrong.[20]
2010 Timeless decision theory is published in paper form by Eliezer Yudkowsky.[21]
2010 February 18 Wei Dai publishes "Explicit Optimization of Global Strategy (Fixing a Bug in UDT1)" on LessWrong.[22] This post introduces the decision theory UDT1.1, which improves on UDT1 by iterating over policies (observations-to-actions mappings) rather than iterating over actions.
2010 April Gary Drescher proposes the "agent simulates predictor" decision problem to the decision-theory-workshop mailing list (a private mailing list for discussing decision theory).[23] The problem would be published publicly by Vladimir Slepnev in May 2011.
2011 Wei Dai proposes UDT2 in a post to the decision theory workshop mailing list.[24] The idea behind UDT2 would be described in a comment by Wei Dai in January 2014,[25] and by Vladimir Slepnev in a blog post in September 2013.[26]
2014 April 23 Daniel Hintze publishes "Problem Class Dominance in Predictive Dilemmas".[27] The paper compares evidential decision theory, causal decision theory, timeless decision theory, and updateless decision theory (specifically, UDT1.1) on the decision problems Parfit's hitchhiker and the curious benefactor (equivalent to counterfactual mugging?).
2014 November 4 Project The Intelligent Agent Foundations Forum, run by MIRI, is launched.[28]
2017 March 18 "Cheating Death in Damascus" by Nate Soares and Ben Levinstein is announced on the Machine Intelligence Research Institute blog.[29][30]
2017 October 13 "Functional Decision Theory: A New Theory of Instrumental Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nate Soares is posted to the arXiv.[3] The paper is announced on the Machine Intelligence Research Institute blog on October 22.[31]
2018 July 10 The Alignment Forum beta is announced.[32] The forum is a website intended for discussing research in AI alignment. (Decision theory is sometimes motivated by AI alignment concerns.)

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by Issa Rice.

What the timeline is still missing

Timeline update strategy

See also

External links


  1. "Decision theory". Google Trends. Retrieved 15 February 2021. 
  2. Skyrms, Brian (1980). Causal Necessity: A Pragmatic Investigation of the Necessity of Laws. Yale University Press. Suppose that the connection between hardening of the arteries and cholesterol intake turned out to be like this: hardening of the arteries is not caused by cholesterol intake like the clogging of a water pipe; rather it is caused by a lesion in the artery wall. In an advanced state these lesions will catch cholesterol from the blood, a fact which has deceived previous researchers about the causal picture. Moreover, imagine that once someone develops the lesion he tends to increase his cholesterol intake. We do not know what mechanism accounts for this effect of the lesion. We do, however, know that the increased cholesterol intake is beneficial; it somehow slows the development of the lesion. Cholesterol intake among those who do not have the lesion appears to have no effect on vascular health. Given this (partly) fanciful account of the etiology of atherosclerosis, what would a rational man who believed the account do when made an offer of Eggs Benedict for breakfast? I say he would accept. He would be a fool to try to "make it the case that he had not developed the lesion" by curtailing his cholesterol intake. […] Examples could be multiplied. R. A. Fisher once suggested that the correlation between smoking and lung cancer might be due to them both being effects of a common genetic cause. Fisher's hypothesis has not fared well, but if, contrary to evidence, it were true and you knew it to be true, and smoking were consistently pleasurable and not harmful in other ways, you would be foolish to refrain from smoking in order to lower the probability of having smoking-cancer gene. You either have it or not, and you can't influence your genetic makeup by abstinence. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Yudkowsky, Eliezer; Soares, Nate. "[1710.05060] Functional Decision Theory: A New Theory of Instrumental Rationality". Retrieved October 22, 2017. Submitted on 13 Oct 2017 
  4. "The Absent-Minded Driver". LessWrong. September 16, 2009. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  5. "Absent-Minded driver - Lesswrongwiki". LessWrong. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  6. Wei Dai (January 21, 1999). "Re: consciousness based on information or computation?". everything-list. Retrieved March 6, 2020. 
  7. https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/SkXLrDXyHeekqgbFg/shock-level-5-big-worlds-and-modal-realism/comment/yMCxvHCpBqsYEorpt
  8. "Wei_Dai comments on Common mistakes people make when thinking about decision theory - Less Wrong". LessWrong. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  9. Finney, Hal (July 17, 2002). "self-sampling assumption is incorrect". Google Groups. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Wei_Dai comments on Taking Ideas Seriously - Less Wrong". LessWrong. Retrieved January 10, 2018. 
  11. "Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics (MIT Press): Gary L. Drescher: 9780262042338: Amazon.com: Books". Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  12. "Andy Egan, Some counterexamples to causal decision theory". PhilPapers. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  13. "Smoking lesion - Lesswrongwiki". LessWrong. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  14. "Different Ideas About Newcomb Cases". Thoughts Arguments and Rants. May 30, 2007. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  15. "CarlShulman comments on Counterfactual Mugging". LessWrong. June 21, 2013. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  16. "FAQ - Lesswrongwiki". LessWrong. Retrieved June 1, 2017. 
  17. Nesov, Vladimir (March 19, 2009). "Counterfactual Mugging". LessWrong. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  18. "Counterfactual mugging - Lesswrongwiki". LessWrong. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  19. "Towards a New Decision Theory - Less Wrong". LessWrong. Retrieved January 10, 2018. 
  20. "Gary_Drescher comments on Ingredients of Timeless Decision Theory - Less Wrong". LessWrong. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  21. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2010). "Timeless Decision Theory" (PDF). Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  22. Dai, Wei (February 18, 2010). "Explicit Optimization of Global Strategy (Fixing a Bug in UDT1)". LessWrong. Retrieved July 25, 2018. 
  23. Slepnev, Vladimir (May 19, 2011). "Example decision theory problem: "Agent simulates predictor"". LessWrong. Retrieved July 25, 2018. 
  24. "Comment on "Updatelessness and Son of X"". Intelligent Agent Foundations Forum. Machine Intelligence Research Institute. November 6, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2018. This does seem to be the “obvious” next step in the UDT approach. I proposed something similar as “UDT2” in a 2011 post to the “decision theory workshop” mailing list, and others have made similar proposals. 
  25. Dai, Wei (January 15, 2014). "Comment on "Functional Side Effects"". LessWrong. Retrieved July 26, 2018. 
  26. Slepnev, Vladimir (September 15, 2013). "Notes on logical priors from the MIRI workshop". LessWrong. Retrieved July 26, 2018. 
  27. Hintze, Daniel (April 23, 2014). "Problem Class Dominance in Predictive Dilemmas" (PDF). Machine Intelligence Research Institute. 
  28. Benja Fallenstein. "Welcome!". Intelligent Agent Foundations Forum. Retrieved June 30, 2017. post by Benja Fallenstein 969 days ago 
  29. Bensinger, Rob (March 18, 2017). "New paper: "Cheating Death in Damascus"". Machine Intelligence Research Institute. Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  30. Soares, Nate; Levinstein, Benjamin A. "Cheating Death in Damascus" (PDF). Retrieved September 10, 2017. 
  31. Matthew Graves (October 22, 2017). "New paper: "Functional Decision Theory" - Machine Intelligence Research Institute". Machine Intelligence Research Institute. Retrieved October 22, 2017. 
  32. Raemon (July 10, 2018). "Announcing AlignmentForum.org Beta". LessWrong. Retrieved July 25, 2018.