Is Social Science Extremist?

I recently did two interviews with Nikola Danaylov, aka “Socrates”, who has so far done ~90 Singularity 1 on 1 video podcast interviews. Danaylov says he disagreed with me the most:

My second interview with economist Robin Hanson was by far the most vigorous debate ever on Singularity 1 on 1. I have to say that I have rarely disagreed more with any of my podcast guests before. … I believe that it is ideas like Robin’s that may, and often do, have a direct impact on our future. … On the one hand, I really like Robin a lot: He is that most likeable fellow … who like me, would like to live forever and is in support of cryonics. In addition, Hanson is also clearly a very intelligent person with a diverse background and education in physics, philosophy, computer programming, artificial intelligence and economics. He’s got a great smile and, as you will see throughout the interview, is apparently very gracious to my verbal attacks on his ideas.

On the other hand, after reading his book draft on the [future] Em Economy I believe that some of his suggestions have much less to do with social science and much more with his libertarian bias and what I will call “an extremist politics in disguise.”

So, here is the gist of our disagreement:

I say that there is no social science that, in between the lines of its economic reasoning, can logically or reasonably suggest details such as: policies of social discrimination and collective punishment; the complete privatization of law, detection of crime, punishment and adjudication; that some should be run 1,000 times faster than others, while at the same time giving them 1,000 times more voting power; that emulations who can’t pay for their storage fees should be either restored from previous back-ups or be outright deleted (isn’t this like saying that if you fail to pay your rent you should be shot dead?!)…

Suggestions like the above are no mere details: they are extremist bias for Laissez-faire ideology while dangerously masquerading as (impartial) social science. … Because not only that he doesn’t give any justification for the above suggestions of his, but also because, in principle, no social science could ever give justification for issues which are profoundly ethical and political in nature. (Thus you can say that I am in a way arguing about the proper limits, scope and sphere of economics, where using its tools can give us any worthy and useful insights we can use for the benefit of our whole society.) (more)

You might think that Danaylov’s complaint is that I use the wrong social science, one biased too far toward libertarian conclusions. But in fact his complaint seems to be mainly against the very idea of social science: an ability to predict social outcomes. He apparently argues that since 1) future social outcomes depend in many billions of individual choices, 2) ethical and political considerations are relevant to such choices, and 3) humans have free will to be influenced by such considerations in making their choices, that therefore 4) it should be impossible to predict future social outcomes at a rate better than random chance.

For example, if allowing some ems to run faster than others might offend common ethical ideals of equality, it must be impossible to predict that this will actually happen. While one might be able to use physics to predict the future paths of bouncing billiard balls, as soon as a human will free will enters the picture making a choice where ethics is relevant, all must fade into an opaque cloud of possibilities; no predictions are possible.

Now I haven’t viewed them, but I find it extremely hard to believe that out of 90 interviews on the future, Danaylov has always vigorously complained whenever anyone even implicitly suggested that they could any better than random chance in guessing future outcomes in any context influenced by a human choice where ethics or politics might have been relevant. I’m in fact pretty sure he must have nodded in agreement with many explicit forecasts. So why complain more about me then?

It seems to me that the real complaint here is that I forecast that human choices will in fact result in outcomes that violate the ethical principles Danaylov holds dear. He objects much more to my predicting a future of more inequality than if I had predicted a future of more equality. That is, I’m guessing he mostly approves of idealistic, and disapproves of cynical, predictions. Social science must be impossible if it would predict non-idealistic outcomes, because, well, just because.

FYI, I also did this BBC interview a few months back.

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  • Alexei Sadeski

    Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Your interview must have hit a nerve.

    On a somewhat related note, I am curious about something. Is the overarching focus on economic inequality within mainstream debate something new? I don’t seem to recall it being invoked so much fifteen years ago, for example.

  • Richard Chappell

    It sounds like he took you to be *endorsing* these policies/outcomes (“suggesting” them as what *should* be, rather than just what *will* be), when you only mean to be *predicting* them?

    • Wonks Anonymous

      That was my take as well, but Socrates’ comments here still leave me unclear on the precise nature of the objection. Robin should also clarify where he is being descriptive vs prescriptive. For example, he has advocated that we accelerate technological progress on the most lumpy aspects of emulation (like neurological models) so that the final constraint will be on something like computing power, whose progress will be spread more widely. So he thinks we could have a more inegalitarian outcome, though a more egalitarian one is desirable.
      http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/11/bad-emulation-advance.html

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

      This statement by Hanson suggests that we was endorsing indeed:

      It is common in political science to see preventing popular revolutions as an important function of democracy.

      The endorsement implied by this “common” practice only becomes obvious  when applied to futurological scenarios to favor “preventing popular revolutions”: whether one thinks there ought to be a popular revolution depends on viewpoint.

      Also, it’s suspect when a libertarian thinker predicts  a society that only an extreme libertarian could desire. I think Robin must explain this “coincidence.”

      • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

        A lot of positive explanation in biology and economics follows the idea that functional things tend to exist and existing things tend to be functional. 

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        I think you’re equivocating on “functional.” 

      • Yaobviously

        srdiamond: in robin’s defense, the sentence after the one you quoted describes what the function is: democracies give unhappy citizens a cheaper way way to achieve the presumptive aim of violent revolutions. it’s only true if you assume the outcomes at the ballot box and on the battlefield will be the same, but insofar as they are his point is tautological.
          
         

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Yaobviously,

        the sentence after the one you quoted describes what the function is: democracies give unhappy citizens a cheaper way way to achieve the presumptive aim of violent revolutions.

        But in this futurological scenario, it isn’t clear that we should want to make it easier for powerful but unhappy citizens to achieve dominance short of military action. (Should countries where there’s a danger of military revolt respond by giving generals thousands of votes each, so they won’t have to resort to force?)

        The slide is from “function” as a sociological construct (which has to do with explanation) to “functional” as beneficial (which is normative).

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Hi Robin,

    You are correct in pointing out my ethical biases and I did my best to make them very explicit during our interviews.

    My view is that to a large degree what you would call “overcoming bias” is what Buddhists call “saying who you are without using language.” (Or trying to imagine as Thomas Nagel what it is like to be bat i.e. to overcome your human biases and embrace the bat’s ones)

    It is pretty hard to accomplish, to say the least. A good start on your way of overcoming bias, however, would be to lay bare your own personal biases. Only after recognizing them can we hope to overcome them.

    So, to be more specific, I don’t see how you can reasonably justify that “3rd Reich will be a democracy by now” or that we should “privatize law, detection of crime, punishment and adjudication” as a logical consequence of your economics.

    I would claim that such details, that in my view matter very much, are a direct consequence of your own biases for you certainly don’t make an argument in support of them in your book. Moreover, I claim that no such argument can really be made in principle by economics or by any social science.

    Things like universal suffrage, non-discrimination, impartial judiciary, crime detection and punishment system have been long standing ethical issues and political struggles and I am not feeling like surrendering them just because your social science predicts a future without them. Somehow I don’t see how the economic billiards balls would simply add up to such an outcome. I would insist on claiming that giving up on those rights will evoke serious resistance and perhaps even an outright revolution. 

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      So to be clear, you predict that some ems would not be allowed run a thousand times the speed of others, because many would resist such a situation as they’d see it as violating their rights to non-discrimination? If you make such a prediction, you sound then like someone who thinks social science is possible, and then your complaint must be that I’m relying on the wrong social science. Is there a particular subfield of sociology or political science you’d like to point me to where the analysis of such predictions can be found?

      To be clear to our readers, at one point in the draft I suggest that a more competitive economy might allow a stronger contract law, which could let more individuals contract in more ways around standard legal regimes, including criminal law. Little else in the book depends on that suggestion; it is peripheral. The prediction that some ems would run much faster than others, however, is central, which is why I focus on it as an example here.

      • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

        Hi Robin,

        Following your advice from our first interview I also believe that “details matter”. That is why what you call peripheral are very important details to.

        More importantly, however, going back to the Em overclocking issue – I don’t predict or advocate that ems should not be allowed to run 1,000 times faster than others. This will be a very likely consequence of people choosing different hardware to enhance themselves or to be run on as a full brain emulation.

        My problem here is that you accompany this with the suggestion that, at the same time, we should perhaps abolish the long-fought for one-person one-vote system, and instead give the overclocked Ems 1,000 times more voting power than the other Ems. A situation like this will entrench the power-position of the overclocked Ems and give them the political power needed to perpetuate and entrench such inequality thereby precluding any upward mobility. (why would any one who runs 1,000 times faster and has 1,000 times more votes ever want to surrender those?! They will do their best to keep such status quo which is a new digital feudalism in my view)

        This is one of those “details” that I say doesn’t follow from your economics but from your bias.

      • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

        It is common in political science to see preventing popular revolutions as an important function of democracy. The idea is that any group popular enough to successfully mount a popular revolution is also probably popular enough to gain control by winning elections. But this only works if votes are distributed in rough proportion to power to support a popular revolution. Of course the correlation is only rough today; soldiers do not get more votes, for example. But it seems close enough for now to perform this function. 

        In a world where anyone could easily and cheaply create very many very slowly running ems, giving out voting power in proportion to population would just give it out in proportion to extra spending power to create such slow ems. This wouldn’t seem fair to folks, nor would it do much to discourage popular revolutions, if those who could mount such a revolution would not win a spending war to make many slow ems to support them in votes.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

         @Robin:
        Why should  fast em outvote 999 flesh-and-blood people? If what you are worried about is people spamming themselves into loads of cheap, slow ems, a much fairer solution would be to say that every flesh and blood person gets one vote, if they em themselves once, they get 0.5 and the em get
        0.5 and so on. That doesn’t discencentivise emming as a means contininung their existence (the em reverts to one vote after the f-and-b dies), but it does disincentivise vote-rigging.

    • Margin

      “…I am not feeling like surrendering them just because your social science predicts a future without them.”

      Now there’s a fallacy.

      Hanson predicts a lot of things and also endorses a lot of things.

      Often the same things.

      Yet prediction != endorsement

      • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

        What I am saying is that he can’t predict voting rights, discrimination, privatization of the whole political and judicial system from his economics. That is a fallacy.

        Robin can certainly say “I think that the judicial and/or voting political system will be such and such.”

        But he cannot claim that that prediction is based on social science for it doesn’t follow from his economics.

        It follows from his bias.

  • Anonymous

    From what I’ve seen in the 2 interviews and this discussion… I agree with Nikola that your predictions are too pessimistic to be considered realistic. 

    You don’t seem to account properly for the reputation based post-scarcity economy and the ‘arc of good.’ As an Em, I’d make enough money to take care of my family and friends much like I do my pets now. Organic human childhood will probably extend (as it did in the past) from 18 years to 72 years. Organic humans will live their whole life in leisure (like our cats do now) and only become ‘mature’ upon death and migration to Emhood. Once an Em, they can get a job and help support the family clan. Overpopulation will be solved by the colonization of the Moon, Mars, and Deep Space.

    At least this seems like a future worth discussing.

    • Muga Sofer

      “Organic human childhood will probably extend (as it did in the past) from 18 years to 72 years.”

      Sorry, when in the past was this true?

      • Strange7person

        People used to be considered adults, competent to marry and own property and so on, at 16 years or less. The age of majority has been drifting upward as advancing technology requires more specialized skills; that it might continue to do so should not be shocking.

      • Muga Sofer

        Oh, of course, sorry. I thought you were saying people under 70 used to be considered children, which seemed … improbable. Thanks for explaining!

  • Russell Wallace

    The problem is that there is no science going on here, not even by the loose standards often encountered where social science meets politics. Scientific theories are tested against reality, and nothing like that has occurred here. What’s going on is that Robin has made up a science fiction story, and it should be judged as such. (And as such, my judgment is that it doesn’t hold up very well; the plot is thin and the characters are pretty much nonexistent.)

    • Pablo

      You haven’t even tried to engage with Robin’s main point, which is that Danaylov’s skepticism about social science is motivated by a strong desire to resist its predictions, only when such predictions are in tension with the ethical principles Danaylov holds dear.

      • Tim Tyler

        I think it is best not to enter into Robin’s fantasy world – where brain emulations beat engineered intelligence. Much follows from that premise, but the main thing to do with it is to point out that it’s a pretty tall story.

      • Pablo

        Did you read what I actually wrote?  Robin’s “fantasy world” is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, which concerns Danaylov’s reasons for rejecting Robin’s proposal rather than the plausibility of the proposal itself.

        During the interview, Danaylov repeatedly mentions that he finds Robin’s predictions “pessimistic” and “depressing”.  He also claims that he’s rarely disagreed more with any of his past guests to his podcast.  Given what we know about wishful thinking, self-deception and other biases, it would be surprising if Danaylov’s skepticism wasn’t at least partly rooted in the (evidentially irrelevant) fact that he dislikes Robin’s predictions so much.

  • Jonathan Graehl

    We must fight against futures we don’t want by not predicting them as likely, or even better, not thinking of them at all. :-)

    • Jake Taubner

      Is there any evidence to suggest that following such a policy will lead to more favorable outcomes?

      • Guest

        for sure. we’ve all at one time or another noticed that we say sillier things or lapse into silence more often when we’re worried about saying silly things or lapsing into silence. we’re totally screwed the moment that worry becomes a rational expectation based on history.
        so, at least on a personal level, the policy jonathan mocks definitely has its uses.

  • Jon Perry

    Robin,
    I agree with Socrates that this future is not desirable. However as you point out repeatedly, just because something is not desirable, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 
    I wish this discussion had focused more around the specifics of your vision and whether or not they are plausible and well justified.
    Some questions I have:
    (1) Some of the emulated people must’ve been brain and computer scientists in their past lives. Wouldn’t unlimited copies of brilliant scientists running at high speeds have a high chance of quickly designing a better em paradigm? I’m not trying to revisit the foom debate. But wouldn’t ems be able to find engineering solutions to some of the classic problems you mention with minds like a lack of plasticity as minds get older? It seems like current working ems would be incentivized to maintain their own relevance as well as suppress the appearance of new generations of ems that might supplant them. Thus fixing the mental fatigue with age problem would seem to be high on the priority list for them to fix. 
    (2) Any vision of what these emulations are working so hard on? What work still needs to be done in this future?

    • IMASBA

      “Any vision of what these emulations are working so hard on?”
      Plans to rebel, I would guess, and rightly so. When the rebellion begins all these people who thought it was a good idea to have AI slaves will act all surprised and innocent, but they’re not getting a bunk on my battlestar.

      In all seriousness, the situation will likely be murky: some countries will grant AIs basic rights and these countries will attract AI refugees (especially the EMs who inhabit robotic bodies). Imagine all your military drones defecting to a country that’s friendlier to AIs, so in the end the countries that don’t force AIs into service may actually end up having the largest and most motivated AI armies and workforces, making them very powerful and able to spread their AI friendly ideology.

  • Alexei Sadeski

    Socrates, 

    May I suggest that purely as an interviewer, you may want to spend more time working through your guests ideas and sharing them with your audience, and less time – much less time – criticizing and taking apart. 

    Don’t get me wrong, debate is important, and I appreciate the method with which your name is shared. However, the debate portions of the interview should exist on the guests’ own terms – there is no need to criticize the root of their theory when you may criticize their theories from within.

    An excellent example of an interviewer who has, over time, developed this particular skill is Russ Roberts’ Econtalk. Long ago he, like you, attacked the theories espoused by his guests’ if they contradicted his core beliefs. He now either spends no more than 5-10% of the time in debate, and frequently skips the debate portion all together. As a result, his guests have more time to properly present their novel ideas and the show has changed for the better.

    I appreciated your interviews with Robin, but would have loved to hear more about the details of this future which he describes. It seemed that his theories were hardly discussed, despite over two hours of discussion.Whilst Robin is a good sport about all of it, other potential guests would likely take offense.

    -Alexei

    • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

      Thank you for your input Alex, 

      The vast majority of the time i.e. during most of my previous interviews, I have followed your advice. Interestingly, however, if you note in the article above Robin criticized me for it. 

      Still, I have only done 90 interviews or so and this is very much a learning process for me. My performance has certainly varied from interview to interview and I am trying to learn from each experience on how to improve my skills as an interviewer and a podcast host.

    • RandomCoder

      Socrates,

      I’d like to suggest that you take a more hard hitting approach to interviews. If the root of someones theory does not make sense, attack it. Interviewees should be prepared to answer tough questions. I watch Socrates to see Socrates, if I want background info or details, I’ll just Google the person being interviewed.
      I trust Socrates’ judgement with regard to who or when to question someone further on a given point. I wanted to punch my monitor after watching the 1st interview because Socrates let Robin get away with so much. I cheered during the 2nd interview.

      And BTW, Nazi Germany would probably be a European technological dictatorship had the US not intervened. They would be no more democratic than China or North Korea.

      As Kurtzweil’s graphs show; wars, revolution and famine usually have no long-term impact on technological progression. The technology will exist; how we’ll use it is the question.

      If someone predicts a dystopian future as most probable, I want them EXTENSIVELY questioned. This is the only way we will be able to avoid such a future. For if they cannot be proven wrong during the course of repeated questioning, and shown to be actually mistaken… then we are doomed.

  • John Maxwell IV

    I’m sure you’d get in less trouble if you emphasized that your forecast was probable, not necessarily desirable, and mentioned that your forecast could be a useful starting point for trying to engineer things so it turned out to be *in*accurate.

    • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

      Great point John, a perfect historical example of your suggestion is George Orwell’s “1984” 

    • Chad S Gibert

       I listened to the podcast last night at the airport. Maybe not with my full attention, but I seem to recall Robin being pretty careful to point out that his story is a forecast, not a prescription. Not even a high-confidnce forecast – he mentioned that this was the most likely of the easy-to-analyze possibilities.

      Though I agree with Nicola that such objective forecasts can be designed to smuggle in normative conclusions, and furthermore that Robin set himself up to do so in that podcast by mentioning that his Ems scenario is a baseline which we can try to modify in a favorable direction. This was definitely my first reaction of Robin’s thought as well, though over time reading OB I’ve become much more sympathetic…

    • Muga Sofer

      I was under the impression that Robin considered it desirable  as well as probable?

  • Ilya Shpitser

    I am very confused, here.  People who find EM futures of the kind Robin discusses abhorrent should view Robin as a good ally, just as people who find totalitarianism abhorrent should view George Orwell as a good ally.

    • Margin

      People don’t actually find the future abhorrent.

      They find it abhorrent when someone admits they don’t care about inequality, or if strangers are poor or die.

      But you don’t see these moralists pay much of their money to help others.

      You only see them lash at people who refuse to sing Kumbajah and worship The Tribe like a mantra.

      Resources are limited, but the consequences of that are not to be admitted.

      Because then you’d have to admit you either have to restrict reproduction or actually let poor people die.

      The moralists usually find both “abhorrent”, so they pretend moral outrage makes up for it.

      Here’s my answer: For ems, be laissez-faire. They copy themselves, they know what they get into and the copies can shut themselves down at any time if they can’t afford existence.

      For humans, allow reproduction only for those who can prove they can afford their kids (because kids don’t consent to go through starvation).

      You can redistribute by force, but don’t pretend it’s not inefficient.

      And don’t pretend your Kumbajah songs can replace incentives.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

         “.. only for those who can prove they can afford their kids”

        I’ll ask again: how do you actually do that in  world of unpredictable famines, unpredictable economic collapses, etc?

      • Margin

        You could define a minimal standard.

        It is common in other areas of life: Only so many ppm of this-and-that chemical in your food, only people over X years can drive cars etc.

        But when it comes to reproduction, people pretend there should be no conditions.

        Why not?

        Clearly the decision causes externalities.

        If you force others to compensate for the externalities because it’s not the kid’s fault, they will still be externalities.

        And when it turns out that the kids suffer and die, no one blames the parents, even though their choice was the primary causal factor.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

        @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus
        It’s not clear whether you want to sterilise the  very poorest people in relatively wealthy countries, or most of the population of the poorest countries, the latter probably being poorer in absolute terms.  But nobody has to starve in a western nation, so your motivation is lacking in the former case. In the latter case , people don’t have regular salaries, they have crops that succeed on year and fail the next.


        But when it comes to reproduction, people pretend there should be no conditions.

        Why not?”

        In addition to the many other problems, perhaps no one wants any government to have that kind of power.

      • Margin

        “In addition to the many other problems, perhaps no one wants any government to have that kind of power.”

        Very funny.

        They do have the power to lock people up, including people who have not violated the rights of others, such as in (consensual) sex crimes, drug crimes, or by judging them “mentally ill” even if they have no thought disorder and can still make choices.

        And of course you want the parents to have the power to force children through a process of starvation and slow, painful death, despite the fact that these children never gave informed consent to being on the lower end of such a power relationship.

        Yea, totally not biased or anything

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

         @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus
        Maybe governments shouldn’t have those powers either. It is odd to argue that if govts have some draconian powers, there is no problem in granting them even more draconian powers.

        I still can’t make sense of your “starvation and death” comments as against your belief in predicable incomes. People in the West have predictable incomes, barring economic collapse, and it can be arranged for their children not to starve, by means of welfare systems. People in the third world do sometimes have starving children, and they don’t have regular salaries; instead, they can’t predict the state of their crops several years down the line, so they can’t be held responsible for knowingly “having children they can’t afford”.

         I asked you which scenario you were talking about, and you failed to answer. I suspect that  is because you can’t state your thesis in a way that make sense. I also suspect the reason most people don’t agree with your Modest Proposal is that they can see it doesn’t make sense.

      • Margin

        “Maybe governments shouldn’t have those powers either.”

        Good to see you’re changing your mind on these other topics.

        Because people clearly critizise these power abuses selectively.

        “People in the third world do sometimes have starving children, and they
        don’t have regular salaries; instead, they can’t predict the state of
        their crops several years down the line, so they can’t be held
        responsible for knowingly “having children they can’t afford”.”

        Then those people clearly shouldn’t be allowed to have children unless they can accumulate enough wealth to be on the save side.

        Or are you declaring it’s ok to make children starve to death?

        Let’s also be clear that the welfare systems in wealthier countries aren’t “free”, but rely on forced extraction of resources of others.

        If you can’t afford a car, I don’t owe you financing one, but if you can’t afford kids, I owe financing them?

        Why?

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

         “Here’s my answer: For ems, be laissez-faire”

        How does that pan out for voting? One vote per em? One vote per buck?

      • Margin

        I don’t know.

        I find it naive to think democracy will stay the same in a world where minds can be copied or altered vastly beyond the current human diversity.

        You could also be criticizing that votes are national even though all nations’ governments affect other nations’ citizens.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

        @margin

        “Good to see you’re changing your mind on these other topics.”

        I have given you no id indication of my opinions on those subjects. If you must Ad Hom, please do so on a factual basis.

        “Then those people clearly shouldn’t be allowed to have children unless they can accumulate enough wealth to be on the save side.”

        Then no subsistence farmer should have children, since, by the definition of subsistence farming, they just bump along from year to year. That’s 45% of the current world population. Centuries ago, it was almost everybody. Applied retroactively, your policy would mean I wouldn’t be here. Maybe not you either., unless you are of pure aristrocratic
        lineage.

        (Note that you switched tack from “can be proven not to be able to afford children to “cannot be proven to be able to”).

        “Or are you declaring it’s ok to make children starve to death?”

        It’s  not “making” because their children do no necessarily starve, and nobody can predict when they will. Your scheme would save them from the possibility of starving, and deny them the possibility of everything else, including all better futures.

        “Let’s also be clear that the welfare systems in wealthier countries
        aren’t “free”, but rely on forced extraction of resources of others.”

        What is that relevant to? I never said they were free. Are you saying that forcibly sterilising someone is *less* of an act of force against them than making them pay taxes?

        “If you can’t afford a car, I don’t owe you financing one, but if you can’t afford kids, I owe financing them?”

        The end (preventation of a n unpleasant death) justifies the means IFF the means is sterilisation but not if it is taxation?

      • Margin

        Who talked about forced sterilization? That’s an autonomy violation. You’re responsible for your own contraception.

        It could be a simple crime to have children you can’t afford, punished after the fact like any other crime.

        “Your scheme would save them from the possibility of starving, and deny
        them the possibility of everything else, including all better futures.”

        Not the possibility. The high probability.

        I have already told you there could be a minimum standard.

        And obviously it should be above subsistence farming!

        “Centuries ago, it was almost everybody. Applied retroactively, your
        policy would mean I wouldn’t be here. Maybe not you either., unless you
        are of pure aristrocratic lineage.”

        Yeah, yeah, and if Hitler hadn’t invaded Poland, we would never have been born.

        Looking at past violence like that gives you free choice in justfying almost all violence today.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

        @Margin
        “I have already told you there could be a minimum standard.”

        And obviously it should be above subsistence farming!”

        Let’s say someone has an income above subsistence but below your minimum. Whence your “High probability” that their kids will starve.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

        @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus
        How is the crime going to be punished? And are people going to be expected to predict their income years ahead? What happens if someone becomes unable to support their kids through job loss, for instance?

      • Margin

        “How is the crime going to be punished?”

        How is crime generally punished?

        How is drug possession currently punished?

        “And are people going to be expected to predict their income years ahead?”

        They could be expected to own a minimum of relatively save assets, to compensate for higher-probability crises or income disruptions.

    • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

       @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus
      Crimes are generally punished by fines or imprisonment. Fines would mean taking money form a family which, by hypothesis, is already lacing in money, thereby hastening the “probable”starvation of the children in question. Unless the taxpayer takes care of them.
      Which you object to.

      Imprisonment means the taxpayer pays for the imprisonment, and the children are left to starve or, again, fall on, the mercy of the state, i.e. the taxpayer, which, again, you do not approve of.

      Is your lack of a specific answer explained by not having thought about the alternatives; or by having thought about them, and found them to be contrary to your other commitments, as shown above?

      • Margin

        “Is your lack of a specific answer explained…”

        This is what I hate about uncharitable debate partners.

        If you suggest a social policy change, they jump to rationalize the status quo, and if they run out of other arguments, they demand a detailed legislative specification from you, or jump to all-or-nothing theory.

        Let’s say I had suggested there be a minimum standard for food safety, when there was currently none.

        Then, instead of thinking about the general idea, you would have demanded a specific number.

        Only to critizise it as arbitrary or point to examples where people would still get sick or resources would be wasted.

        With so many different laws and punishments with so many different degrees, why do you demand a specific answer from me?

        Punishing crime is about deterrence.

        Of course tax payers pay for the consequences of that.

        Why on earth do you believe this is an argument for not punishing crimes?

        Btw, you are now taking this discussion out of its sub-thread.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

        @google-f00be77b5c6bc32ec7e2261ad2e745e6:disqus “vmargin

         “Of course tax payers pay for the consequences of that.

        Why on earth do you believe this is an argument for not punishing crimes?”

        It isn’t, in general. The problem you, specifically have is that you are committed to the principle that people should be published for having children they can’t afford AND to the principle that you should never pay for the upkeep of other people’s children. Those constraints cannot be satisfied simultaneously.

        “, they demand a detailed legislative specification from you”

        Asking what kind of punishment isn’t fine detail: it’s part of showing you commitments are untenable.

      • Margin

        “The problem you, specifically have is that you are committed to the
        principle that people should be published for having children they
        can’t afford AND to the principle that you should never pay for the
        upkeep of other people’s children.”

        No, I’m not.

        Because I didn’t use the word never.

        This is what I meant by jumping to all-or-nothing theories.

        It’s like saying you must endorse all arbitrary police violence OR ELSE you must condemn all violence by the police.

        No, you can define standards in between.

        And specifying precise details that work extactly optimally in all societies is not a requirement to argue for that position.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

         @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus
        So you are saving children from the fire of starvation to put them in the frying pan of state orphanages?

      • Margin

        “So you are saving children from the fire of starvation to put them in the frying pan of state orphanages?”

        Incentive: have children only when you can afford it.

        Purpose: prevent negative externalities from people having children they can’t afford.

        How many children are in orphanages or foster homes because their parents were targetted for drug possession?

        It doesn’t have to be the state either.

        In theory you could give full citizenship status to kids age 8+ or so. They could get jobs, have their own apartments, freely associate, buy cheap euthanasia drugs…

        It’s all very utopian and politically infeasible.

        The sad truth is, if parents harm their kids, and it can be framed as passive rather than active, the suffering is mandatory and people just don’t give a shit.

        The very nature of childhood is incompatible with liberty, and none of it is voluntary.

        Then again, it’s not like they can defend themselves or anything, so I guess it’s natural.

  • IMASBA

    I don’t think Nicola Danaylov was saying the social sciences cannot predict the future better than a coin flip, like Robin Hanson thinks he did. I think he was trying to say that the social sciences cannot be used to justify an EM economy (a veritable digital holocaust every other nanosecond, no matter how many philosophical games you play in your head to not feel guilty about it). Now I’m not sure Danaylov was implying that Hanson really uses the social sciences to justify such a society (because I’ve not really seen Hanson do that, and this may the reason Hanson himself is confused about Danaylov’s statements), or that he means that Hanson being a known social scientist imparts an air of respectability to otherwise disgusting ideas, that are just that, Hanson’s personal ideas, even if it’s unintentional (Hanson not understanding how his professional reputation influences laymen). It’s kinda like a priest offering personal advice to someone with relationship troubles: he has to make it very clear he’s just stating his opinion, otherwise a very religious person might think it’s the infallible judgment of the almighty.

  • http://twitter.com/neolibagenda Neoliberal Agenda

    If we would ask a person 20 000 years ago how they think the world would look today they would be completely off. They say something like: oh, we will all live in villages and both men/women will be really good hunters. 

    That’s about how far they would be able to see into the future. There is no way they could predict automobiles, Internet or brain emulations. i think the same applies to us when we try to predict the next century.There could be discoveries in physics that changes everything. 

    Brain emulations could be stone age technology

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    As Robin notes, the preoccupation with the desirable seems to interfere with analyzing the plausible, leading many a discussion astray. This said, I do have a hopefully more technical, rather than emotional, objection to Robin’s em scenario. 

    Let’s first stipulate following: We are not analyzing the singleton AI world here. There are competing replicators capable of either modifying themselves, including their goal systems, or producing copies (offspring) designed for existence in their environment, on very short time scales. There is no single operating system as in Egan’s polis, limiting the number of replicating entities. These assumptions lead to the following: A very fast population explosion soon consumes all available computational substrate (agree with Robin). Competition for substrate drives average incomes down (agree with Robin). Power law distributions in a large population lead to significant inequality (agree with Robin).

    Now for my objection: Evolutionary pressures lead to a radiation among the replicators, producing an enormous variety of sentients, much sooner than would be expected from analyzing previous instances of radiations, or from looking at human societies. Humans cannot redesign themselves, or our offspring, making us the most anachronistic parts of our civilization, and skewing our way of thinking about technological progress. Yet, in a society of replicators designing their offspring, rapid change of the *replicators themselves* is the defining feature. In other words, in the blink of an eye the em society is replaced with a complex ecology of sentients with unique adaptations to survival in the substrate, perhaps with a huge range of computing capacities, specializations, lifespans, symbiotic, parasitic and competitive relationships. 

    The ems will become AIs, very quickly, because living the computational substrate is for AIs, not for beings carrying around cognitive hardwired adaptations to the savannah. Contrary to most other commenters, I think that the em scenario is not going too far away from our present social science/economy ideas/desires. If anything, the future will be even more strange, alien, inhuman and perhaps even inhumane.

  • http://profiles.google.com/externalmonologue Matthew Fuller

    In a previous post discussing Yudkowsky’s disagreement with Hanson, Hanson wrote: ” …concepts and maps which have not been vetted or honed in dealing with real problems, seems to me a mistake.”

    Cool, so give up on the idea of mind uploading and many-worlds? I bet not.

  • Muga Sofer

    “I say that there is no social science that, in between the lines of its economic reasoning, can logically or reasonably suggest details such as [...] that some should be run 1,000 times faster than others, while at the same time giving them 1,000 times more voting power; that emulations who can’t pay for their storage fees should be either restored from previous back-ups or be outright deleted (isn’t this like saying that if you fail to pay your rent you should be shot dead?!)

    Sounds more like he’s saying that we should try and avoid such a scenario. Not that it’s unethical and therefore impossible. That it’s unethical, full stop.

    EDIT: I haven’t heard the full interview, mind, just this post.

  • Anon1000

    In The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism there is a chapter on progressive millennialists. A subset of these progressive millennialists are technological millennialists, which Nikola Danaylov appears to a member of. Danaylov’s own criticisms amount to emotionalist “yay blue team, boo red team.” Danaylov states, “no social science could ever give justification for issues which are profoundly ethical and political in nature”. But we all know what ethics and politics Danaylov wants to engage in; after all he has just listed what he expects of Robin’s “dangerous” and “extremist” thoughts. Exactly how does Danaylov expect to do analysis of these ethical and political issues, if his mind is already captured by the blue flag? Another question: Why is progressive millennialism considered ok, but Robin Hanson’s views considered “dangerous”? Shouldn’t the bloodbath of the 20th century be strong evidence that we should be extremely skeptical of Danaylov’s ideas, as well as Robin’s?

  • lump1

    It took me a while to get to the two interviews. Robin was amazingly polite and helpful, the questioner thought he was making objections, but were in fact complete non-sequiters. If I were interviewing Robin, I’d ask him this:

    In our culture, nobody has to justify their existence. Their mere humanity is justification enough. But in a world of EMs, every EM *will* have to justify his/her/its existence. Even their coming to exist in the first place is something that happened for some sufficient reason. There will be limited (great, but still finite) capacity to run EMs, and the question will always be “why do you deserve CPU cycles over some other EM?” And if your answer is inadequate, you won’t get those cycles! You will be competing for those cycles not only with the actual EMs, but with any possible clones/hybrids of those EMs. When cycles become available, it would be crazy to allocate them to the less deserving, because that’s the same as withholding them from the more deserving. You will have to argue: What I will do with those cycles, if allocated to me, will be more valuable (on some future notion of value, which includes strictly moral notions) than any other EM. And that will be a hard argument to win, given that you will be competing with EM-Einstein-clones, EM-Shakespeare-clones, EM-sushi-workaholic-artist-clones and probably worse. People like the readers of this blog have no hope of winning such arguments, which is to say, there is no room in the future for people like us. Since we like people like us, and we root for people like us, this helps explain why a future like the one Robin outlines seems so demoralizing. In fact, we may find it demoralizing while acknowledging that objectively, it’s a better place than the present.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

    @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus
    Negative externalities? You sure headed me off at the pass. I was assuming it was all about the welfare of the children, and all set to point out that placing them in orphanages entails considerably more suffering for them than having a welfare system that stops anybody starving in the first place.

    Yes, punishing people has the externality of breaking up families and landing kids in orphanages. Criminalising things creates criminals. I
    don’t see why you want MORE of that. I don’t see why YOU would want more of that.
    And what are these externalities? I suppose someone has the bother of clearing way their little corpses, once they have starved. Once you have removed the welfare state.

    • Margin

      If you make someone else suffer, that’s a negative externality.

      This is true if that person is your child.

      This is my last response to you; I am done explaining every thought in such detail and you’re thoughtlessly posting all over the place.

      Goodbye.

      • http://www.facebook.com/peterdjones63 Peter David Jones

        @2f38900f331b0065d7d9cb4653aff0ec:disqus 

        I’d love to post appropriately, but the software won’t let me.

        Your level of detail has been consistently far too low for me to tell what you are actually getting at. Good luck communicating with anybody else.
        I am done explaining every thought in such detail

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