Guardians of the Gene Pool

Followup toGuardians of the Truth

Like any educated denizen of the 21st century, you may have heard of World War II.  You may remember that Hitler and the Nazis planned to carry forward a romanticized process of evolution, to breed a new master race, supermen, stronger and smarter than anything that had existed before.

Actually this is a common misconception.  Hitler believed that the Aryan superman had previously existed – the Nordic stereotype, the blond blue-eyed beast of prey – but had been polluted by mingling with impure races.  There had been a racial Fall from Grace.

It says something about the degree to which the concept of progress permeates Western civilization, that the one is told about Nazi eugenics and hears "They tried to breed a superhuman."  You, dear reader – if you failed hard enough to endorse coercive eugenics, you would try to create a superhuman.  Because you locate your ideals in your future, not in your past.  Because you are creative.  The thought of breeding back to some Nordic archetype from a thousand years earlier would not even occur to you as a possibility – what, just the Vikings?  That’s all?  If you failed hard enough to kill, you would damn well try to reach heights never before reached, or what a waste it would all be, eh?  Well, that’s one reason you’re not a Nazi, dear reader.

It says something about how difficult it is for the relatively healthy to envision themselves in the shoes of the relatively sick, that we are told of the Nazis, and distort the tale to make them defective transhumanists.

It’s the Communists who were the defective transhumanists.  "New Soviet Man" and all that.  The Nazis were quite definitely the bioconservatives of the tale.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Trackback URL:
  • burger flipper

    Relatively new to the forum and just watched the 2 1/2 hour Yudkowsky video on Google. Excellent talk that really helped frame some of the posts here for me, though the audience questions were generally a distraction.

    My biggest disappointment was the one question that popped up in my mind while watching and was actually posed wasn’t answered because it would take about 5 minutes. The man who asked was told to pose it again at the end of the talk, but did not.

    This was the question about the friendly AI:
    “Why are you assuming it knows the outcome of its modifications?”

    Any pointer to the answer would be much appreciated.

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James D. Miller

    The Soviet new “man” that Stalin wanted to create was a half-ape, half-man super-warrior.

    See http://news.scotsman.com/ViewArticle.aspx?articleid=2688011

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    This entry reminded me of Blank Slate Asymmetry from Gene Expression. A lot of people would say the difference in our perceptions/opinions result from our general attitude toward progress, but I would suggest that it was contingent on our opposition in war to the Nazis while many of our elites were rather friendly towards the Soviets.

  • Julian Morrison

    The Soviets weren’t what I’d call transhumanists, because their New Man wasn’t a definable goal or factual trend, he was a utopian catch-all of projected virtue. A transhumanist will be able to break down his goals (“uploading”) into subgoals (“AI and brain scans”) and roughly sketch a research path (“symbolic AI”) that would either approach the goal, or fail in an informative way (“combinatorial explosion”). The Soviets could do no such thing, because NSM was nothing definable. He would certainly pop up as a consequence of the experience of enough Marxism. Timescale couldn’t be defined. Success could not be predicted until it was encountered. Keep plugging on and have faith.

    I call that religion. It isn’t set in the *real* future. It’s set in the same never-never land that contains the Second Coming. Importantly, it doesn’t lead to a future-oriented culture, which is more precisely a realist goal oriented culture. Nobody works towards NSM (except in propaganda posters) and so he never gets any closer.

  • http://richardkulisz.blogspot.com Richard Kulisz

    It has nothing to do with poverty of imagination and everything to do with black propaganda. The Soviets were simply never evil enough. And we know that looking forward into the future is evil, therefore the Nazis must have been guilty of that crime. If the Soviets had done it, why it may even have rehabilitated that concept. Can’t have that, can we?

    The problem isn’t that Westerners can’t imagine themselves in the shoes of the Romantic Nazis. All to the contrary, the problem is that elite conservative Westerners find it ALL TOO EASY to imagine themselves in the shoes of the Romantic Nazis. So much so that they had to safeguard a part of Nazi ideology, to cherish it and safeguard it, by separating it from the Nazis themselves.

    The Romantics turned the Nazis into Transhumanists because it fit their own agenda.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    It is often forgotten in the early days of proto-Nazi racial theory the Prussians were said to be the Master Race because they were a combination of German and Slav! Their combination was supposed to be just right from the perspective of Prussians, reminding me of Charles Murray’s “Who wants to be an elephant?“. Nietzsche also proposed breeding ubermenschen by giving Prussian officers jewish brides (haven’t read him myself, just heard he said this in BG&E).

  • http://hertzlinger.blogspot.com Joseph Hertzlinger

    The example of Communism shows that being future-oriented will not always eliminate the “Guardians of Truth” syndrome. Sometimes it will produce people who guard a specific view of the future.

  • http://www.feministcritics.org/blog/ HughRistik

    It says something about the degree to which the concept of progress permeates Western civilization, that the one is told about Nazi eugenics and hears “They tried to breed a superhuman.”

    What interests me is the frequent opposition to transhumanism because of transhumanism’s supposedly mistaken notion of progress. Just because progress might not be smooth, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t experienced it in various dimensions. Skeptics about progress seem to have a romanticized view of the past, going along with a quasi-religious notion of a fall from grace (due to technology, “patriarchy,” techno-patriarchy, or whatever).

    I don’t mind if other people want to go back to the days before we had fire, or say, the germ theory of medicine—as long as they don’t try to take me with them.

  • Ben Jones

    “Sometimes it will produce people who guard a specific view of the future.”

    Anyone read Joseph’s post (just above) and immediately think ‘Singularitarians!’?

    Certainly the majority of (though not all) people I’ve met who assign that word to themselves are closer to being Guardians than Seekers. Fairly natural in that all causes want to be cults, but still likely to be harmful to the cause.

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/ Richard Hollerith

    I have not noticed that, Ben.

    Not all of us who believe physics-since-1600 and biology-since-1860 have seen unequivocal progress believe there has been unequivocal progress in popular political or moral opinion. The civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s for example clearly represents an increase in the consistency of the application of the ideal of equality, but it constitutes unequivocal progress only if you believe that the spread of the ideal of equality constitutes unequivocal progress.

  • Caledonian

    ‘Progress’ is the accumulation of changes towards a pre-defined goal.

    Just a few lifespans ago, ‘progress’ consisted of spreading settlers into sparsely-populated land, killing or driving away the aborigines, draining the wetlands, slaughtering the predators, and converting the ecology into farmland. It was using antibiotics widely and prophylactically, replacing ancient crop strains with monocultures, and designing our communities around the automobile.

    ‘Progress’ is the hobgoblin trotted out by everyone who thinks they know what the future should be. Anyone foolish enough to name their political goals ‘progressive’ ought to be excluded from the political process.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    “Sometimes it will produce people who guard a specific view of the future.”

    Anyone read Joseph’s post (just above) and immediately think ‘Singularitarians!’?

    Nope and I challenge you to name two examples.

  • Caledonian

    That’s immediately what *I* thought.

    Myself, and Eliezer Yudkowsky. There’s your two examples.

  • steven

    “Anyone read Joseph’s post (just above) and immediately think ‘Singularitarians!’?”

    Please report to the nearest termination center.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/jhertzli/ Joseph Hertzlinger

    There are, of course, many different future visions that could be guarded.

  • Ben Jones

    A Truth-Guardian is someone who ‘guards’ an Idea by zapping (in its myriad forms) rather than through rational argument.

    Are you willing to tell me that you’ve never met a Singularitarian who has attacked an opponent’s authority (zap), or denigrated another’s work (zap), or sought to work on their Idea’s strong points to the neglect of its weak points (subtle zap), or acted in an elitist manner in order to confer perceived authority on themself (smug zap), or presented new data in such a way as to strengthen their previous predictions (super Bottom Line zap!)? Have you, Eliezer, never ever *guarded* your view of the future rather than argued dispassionately, even against a plainly *wrong* argument?

    If you say no, I wholly withdraw my (well-meant) comment. Caledonian can be my second example. :p

    The moment anyone makes a biased argument because of their attachment to an Idea, they become a Guardian. Singularitarians are people, and they take criticism, and defend their beliefs, requisitely passionately. Apologies if it seemed as though I was singling anybody out for specific criticism of bias – not my intention. For the record, I’m a firm believer. đŸ™‚

  • Ian C.

    “The moment anyone makes a biased argument because of their attachment to an Idea, they become a Guardian.”

    I think it’s more important what happens when the bias is discovered. Does the group in question reward it or try to eliminate it? For example there is corruption in democracies as well as less free forms of government, what makes the difference is what happens when it is discovered.

  • steven

    Ben, of course no one is 100% un-Guardian-like, but you seemed to be claiming Singularitarians were unusually Guardian-like.

  • Nathan Myers

    Wouldn’t that make them “bio-reactionaries” or “bio-romantics”? Or has the equation of “conservatism” (which once denoted an inclination to preserve the status quo) with “reactionism” (desire to re-instate the status quo ante), “romanticism” (promotion of some vanished, idealized past), or raw fascism (power is its own logic) pervaded even these hallowed halls? Do we have a name for what was once called conservatism, or does the concept no longer have any meaningful referent?

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    Nathan Myer’s, how about “status quo bias”?

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Caledonian a Singularitarian? I doubt he knows what the word means. I don’t recall him on the Singularity Institute donors list, or any of the mailing lists or websites. The term denotes activism, not belief – an “environmentalist” is not someone who believes in the existence of the environment.

    Ben Jones, if the standard confirmation/disconfirmation bias is regarded as “Guardianship” then the guardian/discoverer distinction loses all meaning even with respect to scientists versus the Inquisition. The question is whether people exhibit their ordinary human biases to defend the status quo (or status quo ante), or to defend their new ideas and innovations. The latter case, though still ordinarily human-biased, is time-oriented toward the future.

  • Chris

    “an “environmentalist” is not someone who believes in the existence of the environment.”
    Non sequitur. An environmentalist is someone who believes in the value of the environment. sloppy, sloppy, sloppy…….

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Really, Chris. So if I believe in the value of the environment, but believe that it’s much less valuable than the use to be gained by paving it over with strip mines, then I’m an “environmentalist”?

    In any case it’s a moot point. Mark Plus coined the term “Singularitarian”, but didn’t do much with it; when I decided to build a Singularitarian movement, I asked Mark Plus for ownership of the word and was granted it; and I define the term to involve activism. If you mean something else by the word, feel free to call yourself a “Singularian” or something.

  • chris

    Yudkowsky, I was using the colloquial meaning of the word value, that is, positive value. If you insist, positive value of a healthy environment to promote the interests of, and as defined by, the entity that assesses the value. OK ? No prob for ‘ownership’ of the label, my issue was with the metaphor.
    BTW, as I respect the issues raised here, and the expertise of those who raise them, I’d love to see a post on the biases around the concept ‘ownership’.

  • Caledonian

    Caledonian a Singularitarian? I doubt he knows what the word means. I don’t recall him on the Singularity Institute donors list, or any of the mailing lists or websites.

    Ahem.

    It’s wonderful using words in arguments when you get to redefine them. Who’s the source for the alternate definition, the one that replaced “one who believes the concept of a Singularity” and the one more complex than “activist for the Singularity”? Hmmm…

    I also love that you equate “working toward bringing about the Singularity” with donating money to your Institute or being on a mailing list.

    Seekers of truth do not attempt to hardwire goals and evaluations means into entities they create, whether deistic or merely offspring. Only Guardians value their beliefs so much that they attempt to transmit them as arbitrary, received ‘wisdom’.

  • Caledonian

    I missed this the first time through:

    I asked Mark Plus for ownership of the word and was granted it

    I… wow. I don’t quite know how to respond to a person who makes a statement such as this.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Seekers of truth do not attempt to hardwire goals and evaluations means into entities they create, whether deistic or merely offspring. Only Guardians value their beliefs so much that they attempt to transmit them as arbitrary, received ‘wisdom’.

    Values are not “beliefs”, “true”, or “false”. (What about this is so hard to understand?)

  • Caledonian

    Values are not “beliefs”, “true”, or “false”. (What about this is so hard to understand?)

    To the degree that your claim is true, values are meaningless. They have consequences only to the degree that your claim is false.

    The nice thing about opinions is that they mean absolutely nothing.

  • http://www.spaceandgames.com Peter de Blanc

    Values (that is, goals of optimizers) are vastly meaningful; they affect the future shape of the universe.

  • Ben Jones

    A fair point, Eliezer. I’d agree that if it weren’t for dis/confirmation biases, nothing would ever get done. If Einstein, when questioned about what he would have done if his special theory was disproved, had said ‘meh, I can take it or leave it,’ he probably wouldn’t have had the drive to discover it in the first place. Attachment to your Big Idea is often what drives us.

    That said, I don’t see that a Big Idea About The Future is so different from a Big Idea About The Past in terms of value for humanity. Both can be open or closed, pacifistic or violent, inclusive or exclusive. It’s what you do with it that counts! The question of whether the Singularity as currently defined has positive utility for the human race is not a given, neither will it be unanimous.

    I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t think of any other Big Ideas that have stemmed from people looking at where science and technology are going, and extrapolating them to a future point. Perhaps someone who’s less hungover can think of one. Office Christmas do last night, still coming around.

    Caledonian – I’d say that one of the key concepts in my current understanding of the Singularity is that it’s the polar opposite of a hard-wired goal. Surely the very idea is that we don’t know what happens inside/beyond a singularity, hence the name?

  • Ben Jones

    Retrospective apologies for the long post – will keep it brief in future!

  • Caledonian

    Caledonian – I’d say that one of the key concepts in my current understanding of the Singularity is that it’s the polar opposite of a hard-wired goal. Surely the very idea is that we don’t know what happens inside/beyond a singularity, hence the name?

    The whole point of attempting a “Friendly AI” is that its proponents believe that it IS possible to exclude entire branches of possibility from an AI’s courses of action – that the superhuman intelligence can be made safe. Not merely friendly in a human sense, but favorable to human interests, not ‘evil’.

    Of course, they cannot provide an objective and rigorous description of what “being in human interests” actually entails, nor can they explain clearly what ‘evil’ is. But they know it when they see it, apparently. And since many of them seem to believe that ‘values’ are arbitrary, they’ve never bothered subjecting what they value to analysis.

    Perhaps the possibility that a consequence of an entity being utterly good might be its being utterly unsafe has never occurred to them. And perhaps the possibility that superhuman general intelligence might analyze their values and find them lacking never occurred to them either. That would explain a lot.

  • Matthew

    caledonian said: “Perhaps the possibility that a consequence of an entity being utterly good might be its being utterly unsafe has never occurred to them.”

    This describes monotheism rather well. It has occured to me.

  • Ben Jones

    Caledonian,

    Yes, it has occurred to ‘them’. I hope you haven’t read http://www.singinst.org/AIRisk.pdf, since if you have, you haven’t grasped the challenge. The crux isn’t excluding branches of possible action by an AI, it’s ensuring those avenues aren’t attractive options for any reason.

  • Caledonian

    The crux isn’t excluding branches of possible action by an AI, it’s ensuring those avenues aren’t attractive options for any reason.

    (agog)

    Would you care to explain what the distinction between those two states is?

  • Ben Jones

    Sure – it’s the difference between not stealing because you think you’ll get caught and go to prison, and not stealing because you think theft is irrational/immoral/wrong/you name it. The first is sociopathy, the second is what we’d term normal human reasoning. Can I assume you believe there is no such thing as a Friendly AI?

  • Caledonian

    When you’re determining the value structure of a mind, “ensuring those avenues aren’t attractive options for any reason” IS excluding them from the set of possible courses of action. The key phrase there is for any reason.

    As for the rest of your argument, reasoning is precisely what the normal human does NOT do, and it’s hilarious that you think logical arguments are what keeps most people from theft.

  • Rick Smith

    Caledonian, shouldn’t you check up on who currently owns the word ‘reasoning’ before stating that?

    I guess there must be some sort of register somewhere…