Re: Posthuman Politics

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Oct 14 2001 - 01:36:39 MDT

Eliezer wrote:
> Maybe I'm being too harsh here. I guess a lot of these ideas look a lot
> less silly if you're planning for a 50-year or, ha ha, 100-year outlook.
> But try pretending, as a mental exercise, that everything you do with your
> life has to be completely finished by 2008 to do any good, and see what
> that does to your perspective.

Stephan Vladimir Bugaj replied:
> It makes it as short-sighted as the people who've caused so many of the
> world's current problems, that's what it does. That time it takes to
> set up the initial conditions is necessarily part of the change process.
> That takes a while.
> If it were that only projects which can be completed in approx 6.25 years
> were of any value, we'd be screwed, because it'll take that long just to
> convince the small group of driving agents to form some kind of working
> platform with which to drive any meaningful change...

"He told her about the Afterglow: that brief, brilliant period after the
Big Bang, when matter gathered briefly in clumps and burned by fusion
        -- Stephen Baxter, "The Gravity Mine"

I didn't say that my horizons stopped at 2008. What I did say is that you
should *practice*. If you genuinely can't think of anything you can do in
a 6-year timeframe, that's okay too. It may mean that humanity is doomed,
but if that's your prediction, then so be it.

Pretend that you have little or no time to set up initial conditions.
Pretend that every month you use to set up initial conditions comes out of
a limited budget. Pretend that you are limited to working with what's
already in place, because that's exactly what you may have to do.

Six years is only an incredibly short time if you're used to thinking of
having fifty years to twiddle around. Six years is actually quite a long
time in absolute terms. A lot can happen in six years.

And you can form a sufficiently large group out of quite a small fraction
of the available population, when you live on a planet with six billion

If it does take a lot of time to set up the initial conditions, and there
just isn't that much time available... then you fail. This is always a

Shortsightedness or farsightedness is a question of being willing to think
strategically. People do not create the problems of the world by
*choosing* to focus on the short-term; people create problems by being
*unable* to think more than a few years ahead, or by being unwilling to
visualize the consequences of their actions.

I am capable of imagining, and planning for, scenarios where the
Singularity occurs in 2008. I can plan for a scenario in which the
Singularity occurs in 2020. Even though it's very improbable, I can still
visualize the consequences of the Singularity being delayed until 2030, or
2040. I can ask myself questions about what happens if a sentient mind
lives for a trillion subjective years, even though we have inadequate
information to make real guesses, because I think it's important to have
*a* visualization of post-Singularity existence, even if it's not the
right one. I know that it's a long, long way to Alpha Centauri if your
neural substrate runs a million times faster.

Having the right perspective is a matter of being in sync with the flow of
time, as it exists in your generation. You can't fake it through
exhortations to "take the long view". Building a clock that chimes once a
century is not taking the long view; it is Singularity denial. Taking the
long view means being willing to deal with Singularities... or anything
else that pops up.

If Stewart Brand wants to create something eternal and make a contribution
to the future, then he needs to think about the Singularity, and
humanity's future stretching off into millions of years, and trillions of
years, and googleplexes and knuthillions of years, and eternity... and
about the fact that, in all that foreverness, *we* who live today are the
only six billion entities to predate the Singularity itself. This moment
is absolutely unique - dangerous, but also unique. Is the only gift we
can give to future generations that of a great big clock? Even protons
only last 10^31 years.

I think about eternity because I plan on creating something eternal. I
also accept that I may be required to finish creating it by 2008. That's

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

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