RE: Positive Transcension 2

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri Feb 20 2004 - 09:08:23 MST


The "democracy" question is an interesting one...

Let's suppose that some person creates a technology capable of launching a
Singularity, and needs to make decisions about how to use it or whether to
use it, etc. -- based on a careful consideration of various sorts of costs
and benefits, alternative risks to humanity, etc. etc.

I note that I am very far from being in this position, and I assume everyone
else in the world is also very far from being in this position. If a lot of
my guesses about AI design and teaching turn out right I may be in this
position one day... but for now this is a totally speculative conversation.

What decision process should they use?

Clearly some kind of process inbetween the extremes of:

a) the technologist and their cronies makes the decisions themselves

b) a majority vote of the human race is taken

would be appropriate. But I'm not sure in practice what kind of
"intermediate process" would work best.

Perhaps the appropriate process will become more apparent once the issue
becomes more relevant and less speculative...

-- Ben G

  -----Original Message-----
  From: Ben Goertzel []
  Sent: Friday, February 20, 2004 12:32 AM
  Subject: RE: Positive Transcension 2


     So let's start with how some humans might feel about some other humans
creating a 'thing' which could wipe out humans without their agreement.

    Well, I don't think that most humans understand the predicament of the
human race very well.

    If people don't understand the existential risks posed by other
technologies, how are they going to be able to participate in a serious
cost-benefit analysis regarding the creation of AGI's of various types?

    I'm a fan of the democratic process, and yet, I'm also a bit skeptical
of the ability of this process to make the right decisions in this kind of

    So much of the world population is religious ... of course they are
going to feel TOTALLY DIFFERENTLY about the various existential risks and
the benefits of transhumanity, than nonreligious folks of transhumanist

    Do you really think that we should proceed with these technologies via
some kind of global majority vote? Bear in mind that around 80% of the
world population believes in reincarnation...

      Ben you said: "And this may or may not lead to the demise of
humanity - which may or may not be a terrible thing." At best loose
language like this means one thing to most people - somebody else is being
cavalier about their future - at worst they are likely to perceive an active
threat to their existence.

    You can call it cavalier -- I call it honest and open-minded. I guess
if you take that quote out of context it can sound scary, but why do you
need to take it out of context?

    Frankly I doubt if anyone will care if humanity evolves or transcends to
a higher state of being so long as it's voluntary.

    This is very naive -- very many people mind voluntary transhumanist
actions even if they're milder than transcension. Psychedelic drugs are
illegal, as are smart drugs, homebrew neuromodifications, etc. etc. etc.

    Experimentation with stems cells is barely legal, for Chrissake !!!!

    Again, you seem to overestimate the rationality and wisdom of the "mass


    To withhold concern for other humans lives because theoretically some
AGI might form the view that our mass/energy could be deployed more
beautifully/usefully seems simply silly.

    I do not advocate witholding concern for other humans. I'm sorry if
what I wrote was misinterpreted that way.

    * **
    I think the first step in creating safe AGI is for the would-be creators
of AGI to themselves make an ethical commitment to the protection of
humans - not because humans are the peak of creation or all that stunningly
special from the perspective of the universe as a whole but simply because
they exist and they deserve respect - especially from their fellow humans.
If AGI developers cannot give their fellow humans that commitment or that
level of respect, then I think they demonstrate they are not safe parents
for growing AGIs!

    In other words, you are stating that only people who agree with your
personal ethics should be allowed to create AGI's -- your personal ethics
being that the preservation of humans is paramount.

    I think that the preservation of humans is very, very important -- but
I'm not willing to assert that it's absolutely paramount just to sound
"politically correct."

      I was actually rather disturbed by your statement towards the end of
your paper where you said: "In spite of my own affection for Voluntary
Joyous Growth, however, I have strong inclinations toward both the Joyous
Growth Guided Voluntarism and pure Joyous Growth variants as well." My
reading of this is that you would be prepared to inflict Joyous Growth
future on people whether they wanted it or not and even if this resulted in
the involuntary elimination of people or other sentients that somehow were
seen by the AGI or AGIs pursuing Joyous Growth as being an impediment in the
way of the achievement of joyous growth. If I've interpreted what you are
saying correctly that's pretty scary stuff!

    It seems you are oddly misinterpreting my statement here. I said that
my primary affection was for VOLUNTARY Joyous Growth, which is an ethical
principle that places *free choice* as a primary value.

    Free choice means not forcing humans to transcend, and not forcing
humans not to transcend.

    What you are advocating is a Joyous Growth Biased Voluntarism, in which
AS AN ABSOLUTE RULE no one is to be forced to transcend (or annihilated, or
forced to do anything). I think this is more problematic, but is also
worthy of consideration.

    * **

    I think the next step is to consider what values we would like AGIs to
hold in order for them to be sound citizens in a community of sentients. I
think the minimum that is needed is for them to have a tolerant, respectful,
compassionate, live-and-let-live attitude.

    It seems to me that you're just rephrasing what I call "Voluntary
Joyousity" here, in language that you like better for some reason.

    compasionate = valuing Joy of others
    tolerant, live-and-let-live = valuing others' ability to choose

    All you've left out is the "growth" part.

    If you prefer the verbiage of "compassionate and tolerant" as opposed to
"joy and choice", that's fine with me.... None of these English words
really captures what needs to be said exactly, anyway...

    I think AGIs that had a tolerant, respectful, compassionate,
live-and-let- live ethic would not intrude excessively on human society.
They might, for example, try to discourage female circumcision or even go so
far as stopping capital punishment in human societies (I can't see that
these actions would conform to the ethics that the AGIs were given [under my
scenario] their human creators/carers). As far as I can see I don't think
that AGIs need to have ported into them a sort of general digest of
human-ness or even an idiosyncratic (renormalised) essence of general
humane-ness. I think we should be able to be more transparent than that and
to identify the key ethical drivers that lead to tolerant, respectful,
compassionate, live-and-let-live behaviour.

    What's odd is that you seem to agree with me almost completely --- you
agree with me that Eliezer's idea of embodying humane-ness in AI's is
overcomplicated, and you agree that it's good to supply AGI's with general
ethical principles. The only difference is that you choose different words
to describe what I call Joy and Choice, and you appear not to value what I
call Growth enough to want to make it a basic value.

    * **

    I think these notions are sufficiently abstract to be able to pass your
test of being likely to "survive successive self-modification".

    Yes -- becuase they're the SAME as the notions I proposed, merely worded
in a way that evokes more pleasant associations for you...
    * **

    In your paper you suggest that we need AGIs to save humanity from our
destructive urges (applied via advanced technology). If having AGIs around
could increase the risk of humanity being wiped out to achieve a more
beautiful deployment of mass/energy then it might be a good idea to go back
and check to see just exactly how dangerous the other feared technologies
are. While nanotech and genetic engineering could produce some pretty
virulent and deadly entities I'm not sure that they are likely to be much
more destructive than bubonic plague, eboloa virus, small pox have been in
their time etc. There are a lot of people around so that even if these
threats killed millions? billions? they are unlikely to wipe out even most
people. So should we seek help from this scale of threat by creating
something that might arbitarily decide to wipe out the lot of us on a whim?

    I'm afraid you are being woefully naive on this particular topic. The
existential risks of MNT and bioweapons are very very real -- not today, but
within centuries for sure, and decades quite probably. But I don't have
time to trot out the arguments for this point tonight.

    -- Ben G

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