When an e-mail to a mailing list generates no response, there are several possible interpretations:

Named after Bryan C. Warnock, who first described the Dilemma on the perl5-porters mailing list.

Brian C. Warnock posted a discussion item to the Perl5-porters mailing list, and received no response. He then asked himself the question "Why?". Did no one respond because:
  1. The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what he said."
  2. The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.
  3. No one read the post, for whatever reason.
  4. No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for whatever reason.
  5. No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.

Use of the term is very widespread on discussion forums as a google search shows, used to describe the approach to dormant mailing lists. Users of IRC frequently experience Warnock's Dilemma, asking themselves "Is there anybody out there?"

The anonymity of the voting/reputation system on Everything2 minimises the effect of Warnock's Dilemma, as people will have no hesitation to upvote 1. downvote 2. or blab to 4. But it still happens - some of the best writeups sit undiscovered at (+1 / -0).

Warnock's dilemma is the operation of a more general psychological principle: "Humans need feedback in order to function sanely". From birth, humans are programmed to solicit responses - children from parents. Many personality disorders can often be traced to parental neglect.

If a person is deprived of feedback, they iterate Warnock's Dilemma considering the possibilities. Then they will descend into self pity and/or paranoia as the silence continues. This is why being sent to Coventry is such an effective and destructive punishment. It is one of the documented methods of operant conditioning used on prisoners of war, in an attempt to make them crack, disclose secrets, or side with the enemy.

Artificial Intelligence
The Turing test concerns whether a human can distinguish another human from a machine. Not only will effective AI software have to pass the Turing test, but it will need itself to be able to work out whether other entities are human or machine. It will also need to address Warnock's Dilemma. I am reminded of the toys called furbies, which "talk" to each other, and other toys which require attention (by way of the child interacting with the toy or feeding it).

At a primitive level, timeouts serve the purpose of alerting the computer about a lack of response. But, something extra is needed for the AI to work out how to handle the timeout.

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence
The ultimate Warnock's Dilemma concerns intelligent life outside planet Earth.
  • Are we so egregious that other beings are sending us to Coventry?
  • Is there really nobody out there?
  • Perhaps there are other beings out there but they don't speak the lingo.

Source:     http://fishrush.com/warnocksdilemma.shtml

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