SOC: Tractatus Theopoliticus (was: Is vs. Ought)
Thu, 25 Nov 1999 08:46:15 EST

In a message dated 99-11-21 12:04:47 EST, (Eliezer S. Yudkowsky) wrote:

> Greg Burch said:
> >
> > This smacks of the kind of naive "scientific" approach to society that
> > finds in Marx and his followers. Substitute "the vanguard party" for
> > and you have the kind of elitist, "we know what's best for society"
> mentality
> > that lead inevitably to Bolshevism.
> As a meme, maybe. As a reality, never.

"Never" seems like an extremely powerful statement to make in this context, Eliezer. Just so that it's clear, are you saying that there is no question in your mind that letting an SI run human affairs is preferable to any arrangement of society humans might work out on their own?

> <snip> The reality of a state run by Bolsheviks and the reality of a world
> rewritten by an SI would be utterly, unimaginably different.

I'll grant you that it will be different, but I've never been convinced that the world(s) that SIs might create would be "unimaginably" different from the one we know now. Just as folks like Robin and Robert and Anders can take what seem to be the fundamental physical nature of reality and the basic structure of information theory and make rational projections of the nature and behavior of vastly more powerful minds, I think it might well be possible to make the same kind of informed speculation about what sorts of societies such entities might create. Economics and game theory - and yes, even biology and history - provide some pretty powerful tools for addressing such issues.

> Humans
> have always been arguing that their political parties know best. It's
> human nature. The whole point of building an SI is to get out of the
> trap by transcending human nature.

I understand that you are deeply convinced that making an SI that basically "takes over" is the "one best way" forward to the future, but I'm not. For the record, "taking over" is the part of which I'm not at all certain; not that "we" humans would be able to successfully oppose such a "take-over", but rather that it might be more difficult than you imagine to construct an effective SI that will WANT to "take over" human affairs.

> We don't trust humans who claim to know best, because we know that
> humans have evolved to believe they know what's best and then abuse that
> power for their own benefit. But to extend this heuristic to SIs
> borders on the absurd. And that makes <turn power over to SIs>
> different from <turn power over to me> in practice as well. The latter
> says "Keep playing the game, but give me more points"; the former says
> "Smash the damn game to pieces."

Some observations about advocating "smashing" the status quo. First, such rhetoric is inherently oppositional and confrontational. To me, such rhetoric doesn't seem conducive to, for instance, attracting investment. Second, the use of such rhetoric seems to me to cultivate the kind of revolutionary mind-set that has, in the past at least, been ill-suited to seeing alternatives and fruitful contradictions. Social revolutionaries tend to be single-minded, and single-mindedness doesn't lend itself to the scientific cast of mind that is open to new possibilities. This is why the Hollywood "mad scientist" caricature has always seemed so unrealistic to me.

> > I honestly can't imagine what process
> > you're picturing this SI would engage in to make a "scientific" decision.
> But that doesn't preclude the SI doing so! The whole foundation of
> "letting SIs decide" is the belief that somewhere out there is some
> completely obvious answer to all of the philosophical questions that
> perplex us.

This statement smacks of Platonism to me, but I could be misled by your rhetoric and be missing some deeper truth in what you seem to be advocating as a social policy. But consider the possibility that in fact we've already discerned some truths that make the kind of "completely obvious answer" to social and moral questions literally impossible.

Again, I refer to Damien's post in this thread in which he referred to chaos and complexity theory. In particular, consider the strong objections we can now make to the possibility of true omniscience (in the traditional religious sense) based on information theory: Any system capable of actually predicting the physical future course of the entire universe would itself have to be a physical information structure at least as complex as the universe itself, a contradiction in terms on the most fundamental level for two reasons. First, on a purely logical basis, a universe-simulator would be part of the universe and would not be able to devote resources to both predicting the not-self parts of the universe and the part that makes up itself. Second, on more practical physical grounds, such a system, constrained by the limits of light-speed, could not operate even a perfectly accurate model of the not-self parts of the universe at sufficient rates to make accurate predictions.

This abstract thought problem has important implications for what you seem to be advocating, which is to me just a technologically updated version of Plato's Republic, i.e. rule by "the best" or some AI-philosopher-king. The most fundamental conflict in the ur-thought of Western political theory was between what might be called the basilica and the agora (to mix Latin and Greek metaphors), i.e. between rule by one or a few with superior knowledge and power on the one hand, and rule by the open, on-going adjustment of social relations by the inter-workings of all members of a society on the other hand. This conflict has played itself out in every age and every society, in my opinion, and seems to me to be THE fundamental conflict in political science (and individual moral philosophy, for that matter).

This basic thema is at the heart of my objection to the "let the SI(s) decide" notion. Yes, I can imagine an entity with vastly superior knowledge and power, but I cannot imagine one with PERFECT knowledge and power. And it seems that any power with less than perfect knowledge and power is inferior to "the agora" as a means of governing the affairs of sentient beings. Those matters in which the imagined SI-philosopher-king has imperfect knowledge and power will accumulate errors, inevitably. And those accumulated errors will become the seeds of what, for want of a better word, I will call "unhappiness", that will grow and give birth to further "unhappinesses", cascading throughout whatever social system you can envision. Whether you use the word "disutility" or "inefficiency" or "injustice", your super-ruler simply cannot KNOW enough to adjust EVERYTHING to some ideal state. When one considers that the super-ruler will also have imperfect POWER, i.e. imperfect abilities to effectuate its goals, the problem only becomes more severe.

If you concede that the simple complexity of "society" (i.e. a world of multiple independent intentional actors) will inevitably overwhelm the abilities of even the most powerful super-duper-AI-philosopher-king, then I do not see how you can advocate the kind of AI-monarchy you seem to imagine. Borgism or the notion of a "Singleton" to use Nick Bostrom's term, doesn't resolve the problem, even if you were willing to advocate such a radical "solution": Doing so only moves into the realm of psychology for the Singleton what were previously social problems for a non-unitary being.

> The very fact that we, the high-IQ Extropians, are
> discussing this question in the late twentieth century, and making more
> sense than eleventh-century philosophers or twentieth-century
> postmodernists, should lead us to conclude that intelligence does play a
> part in moral decisions - not just with respect to internal consistency
> and game-theoretical stability, but with respect to the basic
> foundations of morality. The very fact that we are making more sense
> than Neanderthals (or frogs) should lead us to conclude that
> intelligence plays a part. What lies beyond the human debate? I don't
> know, but I think it's reasonable to hope that beyond humanity lies the
> truth. And if I'm wrong, well, this course of action is as good as any.

This is where I disagree with you, because I have studied the history of revolutions closely. I know that you protest that the heart of your revolutionary "one best way" is fundamentally different from all of those that went before, but I honestly don't think so. It may well be that "scientific socialism" was superior to the "divine right of kings" or Plato's "rule by the best" that went before, but tyranny, even benevolent tyranny, has within it a fundamental logical flaw that will track through to undermine even the most excellent super-duper-hyper-smart-mega-powerful-SI. You - or an SI - can only "rule" the world for very brief times and, after all, with a very constrained definition of "the world". Multiple intentional actors - be they citizens or agents within a single mind - can be "governed" but ultimately cannot be successfully "ruled", because any imaginable "ruler" simply cannot KNOW enough or DO enough to really RULE.

     Greg Burch     <>----<>
      Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                         "Civilization is protest against nature; 
                  progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                           Thomas Huxley