Re: The End of Privacy ?

Anders Sandberg (
01 Jul 1998 15:22:04 +0200 writes:

> Scott Badger [] wrote:
> >I saw Jim Halperin (The Truth Machine, The First Immortal) speak and he made
> >this same point. He seemed to say in The Truth Machine that terrorists and
> >criminals will have increasingly destructive weapons available to them and
> >it won't be long before we will be practically forced to create some means
> >of identifying the crazies (e.g. an infallible truth machine).
> Of course the correct answer to this kind of statement is "So what?" Yes,
> freedom fighters, free marketeers and criminals will have nukes and other
> mass destruction weapons. So what? Things change, deal with it.

I think you underestimate the problem (I call it the problem of destruction). Nukes are local disasters, but other weapons of mass destruction are global disasters (like bioweapons for example). Staying away from obvious targets is just useful if the range of effect is reasonably small. As weapons technology (and other technologies with potentially dangerous effects, be they fertilizers, genetics or computer viruses) the crazies become more dangerous. In the extreme case there exists some technology that allows you to destroy the world from the comfort of your home; in this case the situation is obviously unstable because there is a finite chance that a maniac gets it and uses it per year.

This of course assumes that there are no good defenses, that shields cannot compete with spears. This is by no means obvious in all areas; it might turn out that nanotechnological immune systems work fine and we don't need to worry about grey goo, but that there is no way of protecting oneself from a nuclear fireball (other than hiding in a nuclear bunker all the time).

Note that the real worry is crazies, rational evil people don't do anything that would wipe themselves out or cause an enraged humanity to track them down.

If there are hard-to-avoid mass destruction possibilities that crazies may use we need to deal with it. The "classic" idea of controlling access to new technologies is not always feasible (nuclear materials are amenable to it, computer viruses aren't).

The second most classic idea is to control or keep track of people; this is what Halperin and Brin suggests (note that they are not necessarily puting all this power in the hands of government, the citizens also can watch each other, decentralizing power a bit). Unfortunately it is not obvious that Halperin's truth machines are possible (even if there are some intriguing results that non-veridical memories have a different activation pattern from veridical memories), it might be hard to implement and accept socially, and even a fairly dense system of observation might miss a basement lab. A high-power version of this is nanarchy, where an autonomous system keeps everybody safe and within certain limits (the problems of this have already been discussed in the past on this list and in Extropy).

Make everybody nice, rational people is hard, but could bring down the number of crazies. A saner society will likely have less terrorism, but if the technological level is high enough even very rare crazies would be a big threat. The only way to be sure is to guarantee that *everybody* is nice, which more or less implies some form of brainwashing. Not all such schemes might be entirely socially infeasible (technical feasibility might be harder, though). One possibility would be that parents could elect to have their children treated to become rational (plus all sorts of other desirable psychological traits); the treated people would benefit and would most likely have greater success in society (people want to have rational people in important positions; if you are treated your chances of being hired or elected are larger than if not), leading to more people electing to treat their children. A kind of psychological Gattaca, distasteful to many today but maybe not entirely bad. One problem might be to avoid a polarization between untreated who regard the treated as some kind of upper class (even if the treatment is very cheap or even sponsored, there will always be some people who refuse), it is this group where the dangerous crazies might come from. I think it is worth looking into this possibility of increasing the amount of rational, balanced people for us, because we ourselves can benefit from it and it can be implemented at least in a partial form through good upbringing and education for our own children.

We better have at least some partial solutions before the abilities of lone crazies become too huge. I think it can be done, but it requires some rational thinking without getting trapped in one's favorite solution to everything.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y