From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Tue Feb 17 2004 - 10:52:31 MST


Trolling the Net briefly, I found this quote from you (from the WTA list in
Aug. 2003):

The important thing is not to be human but to be humane. ...

Though we might wish to believe that Hitler was an inhuman monster, he was,
in fact, a human monster; and Gandhi is noted not for being remarkably human
but for being remarkably humane. The attributes of our species are not
exempt from ethical examination in virtue of being "natural" or "human".
Some human attributes, such as empathy and a sense of fairness, are
positive; others, such as a tendency toward tribalism or groupishness, have
left deep scars on human history. If there is value in being human, it
comes, not from being "normal" or "natural", but from having within us the
raw material for humaneness: compassion, a sense of humor, curiosity, the
wish to be a better person. Trying to preserve "humanness", rather than
cultivating humaneness, would idolize the bad along with the good. One might
say that if "human" is what we are, then "humane" is what we, as humans,
wish we were. Human nature is not a bad place to start that journey, but we
can't fulfill that potential if we reject any progress past the starting

If the goal of your "Friendly AI" project is to create an AI that is
"humane" in this sense, then perhaps "Humane AI" would be a better name for
the project...

I have a few comments here.

I am not sure that humane-ness, in the sense that you propose, is a
well-defined concept. Doesn't the specific set of properties called
"humaneness" you get depend on the specific algorithm that you use to sum
together the wishes of various individuals in the world? If so, then how do
you propose to choose among the different algorithms?

How do you propose to distinguish the "positive" from the "negative" aspects
of human nature ... e.g. compassion versus tribalism? I guess you want to
distinguish these by a kind of near-consensus process -- e.g. you're hoping
that most people, on careful consideration and discussion, will agree that
tribalism although humanly universal, isn't good? I'm not so confident that
people's "wishes regarding what they were" are good ones... (which is
another way of saying: I think my own ethic differs considerably from the
mean of humanity's)

Do you propose to evaluate

P(X is humane) = P(X is considered good by H after careful reflection and
discussion | H is human)

I guess you're thinking of something more complicated along these lines (?)

One runs into serious issues with cultural and individual relativity here.

For instance, the vast majority of humans believe that

"Belief in God"

is a good and important aspect of human nature. Thus, it seems to me,
"Belief in God" should be considered humane according to your definition --
it's part of what we humans are, AND, part of what we humans wish we were.

Nevertheless, I think that belief in God -- though it has some valuable
spiritual intuitions at its core -- basically sucks. Thus, I consider it MY
moral responsibilty to work so that belief in God is NOT projected beyond
the human race into any AGI's we may create. Unless (and I really doubt it)
it's shown that the only way to achieve other valuable things is to create
an AGi that's deluded in this way.

Of course, there are many other examples besides "belief in God" that could
be used to illustrate this point.

You could try to define humaneness as something like "What humans WOULD wish
they were, if they were wiser humans" -- but we humans are fucking UNwise
creatures, and this is really quite essential to our humanity... and of
course, defining this requires some ethical or metaethical standard beyond
what humans are or wish they were.


-- Ben G

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