‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’
I’ve been worried lately by the shallowness of standards being used to rank the efficiency of altruistic endeavors, and that the risks of the Streetlight Effect might be more problematic than we realize. To be clear - I’m certain efficiency and altruism can and should go together. My only concern is that the balance between the two is rather fragile and that some delicacies are getting lost in translation between wanting to make the world a better place, and actually ending up doing so.
On one hand, obviously, when we focus on one cause, we can better target our resources in order to achieve it. But on the other hand, efficiency without values is the fastest route to moral deterioration.
When we only measure our success on a specific mission, it’s easy to excuse sacrificing our values during the process in order to achieve the best results. This promise we look past the fact that this is exactly the reason capitalism in its core perpetuates inequality, and that we are now importing this rotten habit into the third sector without making sure to properly debug it first.
While capitalism helped perfect the efficiency of the private sector, it also has many faults, such as offering positive reinforcement for making data look better than it is reflected in reality, or putting too much emphasis on prestige and marketing, which can lead to low tolerance for different backgrounds and perspectives that are considered unpopular or lesser. On top of it being boring, this is also dangerous to have in places that are supposed to help populations in need, because it can increase the risk of being closed-minded and paternalistic.
Let's assume I’m trying to get top candidates for a position in a non-profit. The truth is that because of our society’s structure, most of them are going to come from a specific upper-class background. It is a sad truth that many people feel more comfortable with those that are similar to them, so little by little this organization will naturally tend to become less inclusive.
If we are about making sure to do our best job while helping others, even when there is no reward in it for ourselves, then it is a worthy cause that I’m honored to support. But, if we are about selling our souls trying to reach eternity, I prefer to stay behind and go down with the ship, together with all the disposable people that saving them didn’t have enough ROI.
Maybe the reason we can’t figure out a way to make sure AI acts with compassion is that we still need to learn it ourselves.
I suggest that if we intend to insert efficiency into our altruistic acts (which I believe to be right and well needed), we should also decide upon a set of uncompromised guidelines that will make sure all the great results for one cause are attained without compromising core values of a healthy society.
Because if we in fact want to live forever, and happily, then other than figuring out the technical logistics, we should also start considering what kind of values need to guide a society of people that might stay stuck together for a very long time.