The collective 'volition' project is abitrary and ideosyncratic

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 19:53:42 MDT

Hi Eliezer,

You are fully aware that if you create a coercive collective 'volition'
machine that you have to get it right first up or we're all screwed for
eternity. I agree with you on this.

But is it possible to get it right first time in practice or in theory?

I believe that it is not for many reasons. But there is one foundational
reason that, as far as I can see, cannot be got around.

Your whole concept is based on the notion of extrapolating the
collective will of *all humans*. But what if it's meaningless to frame the
issue in terms of a single human collectivity?

Humans certainly exist in collectives - family, organisation, city, nation,
etc. etc. But these collectives are fluid. People come and go from the
collective. Over time the collectives that people organise themselves
into change - get bigger or get smaller, change membership.

The collective 'human' is in fact not a real thing - it is a very useful
scientific abstraction that groups people together based on common
evolutionary history and the current fact that they can interbreed. It is a
taxonomic concept not a physical thing. In the past there several
species of humans - Homo Sapiens, Neandethal humans, Cro Magnon
etc. If you were doing the job of creating a coercive collective 'volition'
machine when the others were around would you have included all of
these human species or just homo sapiens? And if you were doing the
job 1000 years into the future when humans have spread into the solar
system and perhaps the galaxy and they had morphed through
techological change into a vast variety of types - some up-loaded,
some physically manifest, some hybrid, some....(I don't know - fill in
your favourite amazing ways that we could be). Are all these entities
humans?? Should they all be governed by the coercive collective
'volition' machine? And what about other AGIs? And what if we find
sentient advanced life somewhere else in the universe? And what
about dolphins (if we gave then voice control over robots we might find
that they could fast evolve into advanced sentients [as we understand
it] too.)

But you might say that I'm being fanciful and not dealing with the
present need.

However, the very act of trying to create a coercive collective 'volition'
machine might cause the taxonimic fiction of humanity to choose to
break into two groups (that would then evolve down entirely different

- those willing to subject themselves to the coercive collective
    'volition' machine

- and those that do not agree to subject themselves to the coercive
    collective 'volition' machine

Why does this matter? Because the output from a coercive collective
'volition' machine will vary (even if it can actually do what is claimed for
it in terms of objectively reading and extrapolating the collective
'volition' of a certain group of humans) according to the specific sample
of humanity that it extrapolates.

And since the choice of which humans to extrapolate is entirely
arbitrary (being idiosyncratically chosen by one person, ie. you) the
output is entirely arbitrary too.

Just to make it clear, I personally don't want to be controlled by your
coercive collective 'volition' machine. If you insist on including all
'humans' in the extrapolation and the regime of coercion then I hereby
declare that (using your example of changing the use of words) I no
longer wish to be identified as a 'human'. I wish hereafter to be known
as a 'person'. :)

I and any other 'people' I band together with, I'm sure, will be very
happy to cooperate with you and your 'humans' on projects to prevent
the world being turned into grey goo or any other such nasties, but any
relations that I and other 'people' have with your 'humans' will be have
to be based on negotiation and collaboration and not on coercion.
Should you try to exercise coercion, I and the other 'people' will resist.

Can you see what I'm getting at?

Cheers, Philip

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