Maxwell Tabarrok

143Joined Mar 2022

Comments
8

Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

Thank you for reading and for your detailed comment. In general I would agree that my post is not a neutral survey of the VWH but a critical response, and I think I made that clear in the introduction even if I did not call it red-teaming explicitly. 

I'd like to respond to some of the points you make.

  1. "As Zach mentioned, I think you at least somewhat overstate the extent to which Bostrom is recommending as opposed to analyzing these interventions."

    I think this is overall unclear in Bostrom's paper, but he does have a section called Policy Implications right at the top of the paper where he says "In order for civilization to have a general capacity to deal with “black ball” inventions of this type, it would need a system of ubiquitous real-time worldwide surveillance. In some scenarios, such a system would need to be in place before the technology is invented." I think it is confusing because he starts out analyzing the urn of technology, then conditioned on there being black balls in the urn he recommends ubiquitous real-time worldwide surveillance, and then the 'high-tech panopticon' example is just one possible incarnation of that surveillance that he is analyzing. I think it is hard to deny that he is recommending the panopticon if  existential risk prevention is the only value we're measuring. He doesn't claim all-things-considered support, but my response isn't about other considerations of a panopticon. I don't think a panopticon is any good even if existential risk is all we care about. 
     
  2.  "You seem to argue (or at least give the vibe that) that there's there's so little value in trying to steer technological development for the better than we should mostly not bother and instead just charge ahead as fast as possible. "

    I think this is true insofar as it goes, but you miss what is in my opinion the more important second part of the argument. Predicting the benefits of future tech is very difficult, but even if we knew all of that, getting the government to actually steer in the right direction is harder. For example, economists have known for centuries that domestic farming subsidies are inefficient. They are wasteful and they produce big negative externalities. But almost every country on earth has big domestic farming subsidies because they benefit a small, politically active group in most countries. I admit that we have some foreknowledge of which technologies look dangerous and which do not. That is far from sufficient for using the government to decrease risk. 

    The point of Enlightenment Values is not that no one should think about the risks of technology and we should all charge blindly forward. Rather, it is that decisions about how best to steer technology for the better can and should be made on the individual level where they are more voluntary, constrained by competition, and mistakes are hedged by lots of other people making different decisions. 
     
  3. "A core premise/argument in your post appears to be that pulling a black ball and an antidote (i.e., discovering a very dangerous technology and a technology that can protect us from it) at the same time means we're safe. This seems false, and I think that substantially undermines the case for trying to rush forward and grab balls from the urn as fast as possible."

    There are technologies like engineered viruses and vaccines, but how they interact depends much more on their relative costs. An antidote to $5-per-infection viruses might need to be $1-per-dose vaccines or $0.5-per-mask PPE. If you just define an antidote to be "a technology which is powerful and cheap enough to counter the black ball should they be pulled simultaneously" then the premise stands.
     
  4. "Do you (the reader) feel confident that everything will go well in that world where all possible techs and insights on dumped on us at once?"

    Until meta-understanding of technology greatly improves this is ultimately a matter of opinion. If you think there exists some technology that is incompatible with civilization in all contexts then I can't really prove you wrong but it doesn't seem right to me. 

    Type-0 vulnerabilities were 'surprising strangelets.' Not techs that are incompatible with civilization in all contexts, but risks that come from unexpected phenomena like the Hadron Collider opening a black hole or something like that. 
     
  5. "I think the following bolded claim is false, and I think it's very weird to make this empirical claim without providing any actual evidence for it: "AI safety researchers argue over the feasibility of ‘boxing’ AIs in virtual environments, or restricting them to act as oracles only, but they all agree that training an AI with access to 80+% of all human sense-data and connecting it with the infrastructure to call out armed soldiers to kill or imprison anyone perceived as dangerous would be a disaster."

    You're right that I didn't get any survey of AI researchers for this question. The near-tautological nature of "properly aligned superintelligence" guarantees that if we had it, everything would go well. So yeah, probably lots of AI researchers would agree that a properly aligned superintelligence would use surveillance to improve the world. This is a pretty empty statement imo. The question is about what we should do next. This hypothetical aligned intelligence tells us nothing about what increasing state AI surveillance capacity does on the margin. Note that Bostrom is not recommending that an aligned superintelligent-being do the surveillance. His recommendations are about increasing global governance and surveillance on the margin. The AI he mentions is just a machine learning classifier that can help a human government blur out the private parts the cameras collect. 
     
  6. "I'm just saying that thinking that increased surveillance, enforcement, moves towards global governance, etc. would be good doesn't require thinking that permanent extreme levels (centralised in a single state-like entity) would be good."

    This is only true if you have a reliable way of taking back increased surveillance, enforcement, and moves towards global governance. The alignment and instrumental convergence problems I outlined in those sections give strong reasons why these capabilities are extremely difficult to take back. Bostrom scantly mentions the issue of getting governments to enact his risk reducing policies once they have the power to enforce them, let alone give a mechanism design which would judiciously use its power to guide us through the time of perils and then reliably step down. Without such a plan the issues of power-seeking and misalignment are not ones you can ignore
Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

Bostrom may have talked about this elsewhere since I've heard other people say this, but he doesn't make this point in the paper. He only mentions AI briefly as a tool the panopticon government could use to analyze the video and audio coming in from their surveillance. He also says:

"Being even further removed from individuals and culturally cohesive ‘peoples’ than are typical state governments, such an institution might by some be perceived as less legitimate, and it may be more susceptible to agency problems such as bureaucratic sclerosis or political drift away from the public interest."

He also considers what might be required for a global state to bring other world governments to heel. So I don't think he is assuming that the state can completely ignore all dissent or resistance because it FOOMs into an all powerful AI. 

Either way I think that is a really bad argument. It's basically just saying "if we had aligned superintelligence running the world everything would be fine" which is almost tautologically true. But what are we supposed to conclude from that? I don't think that tells us anything about increasing state power on the margin. Also, aligning the interests of powerful AI with a powerful global state is not sufficient for alignment of AI with humanity more generally. Powerful global states are not very well aligned with the interests of their constituents. 

My reading is that Bostrom is making arguments about how human governance would need to change to address risks from some types of technology. The arguments aren't explicitly contingent on any AI technology that isn't available today. 

Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

Bostrom says in the policy recommendations: 

"Some areas, such as synthetic biology, could produce a discovery that suddenly democratizes mass destruction, e.g. by empowering individuals to kill hundreds of millions of people using readily available materials. In order for civilization to have a general capacity to deal with “black ball” inventions of this type, it would need a system of ubiquitous real-time worldwide surveillance. In some scenarios, such a system would need to be in place before the technology is invented."

So if we assume that some black balls like this are in the urn which I do in the essay, this is a position that Bostrom explicitly advocates, not just one which he analyzes. But even assuming that the VWH is true and a technology like this does exist, I don't think this policy recommendation is helpful.

State enforced "ubiquitous real-time worldwide surveillance" is neither a necessary nor sufficient technology to address a type-1 vulnerability like this unless the definition of type-1 vulnerability trivially assumes that it is. Advanced technology that democratizes protection like vaccines, PPE, or drugs can alleviate a risk like this, so a panopticon is not necessary.  A state with ubiquitous surveillance need not stop pandemics to stay rich and powerful and indeed may create them to keep their position. 

Even if we knew a black ball was coming, setting up a panopticon would probably do more harm than good, and it certainly would if we didn't come up with any new ways of aligning and constraining state power. I don't think Bostrom would agree with that statement but that is what I defend in the essay. Do you think Bostrom would agree with that on your reading of the VWH?

Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

This might be the best strategy if we're all eventually doomed. Although it might turn out that the tech required to colonize planets comes after a bunch of black balls. At least like nuclear rockets and some bio-tech stuff seems likely. 

Even Bostrom doesn't think we're inevitably doomed though. He just thinks that global government is the only escape hatch. 

Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

Thank you for reading! I definitely agree that liberalism has tons of other important qualities. I wanted to make an argument solely with the language of existential risk though for two reasons:

  1. Thinking on existential risk tends to be totalizing, perhaps fairly. The humanistic values of liberalism are really hard to weigh up against all potential future value. Most people who think about this stuff would just dismiss this out of hand for that reason
  2. Much else has been written on the other values of liberalism and I think that most EAs at least intuitively agree that liberalism is very valuable.
Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

Yes, this paper is great and it was an inspiration for my piece. I found his answer here pretty unsatisfying though so hopefully I was able to expand on it well.

Enlightenment Values in a Vulnerable World

This is fair. I got a little sloppy with my language there, but elsewhere I note that Bostrom is  arguing for this state "pro-tanto" not "all things considered." My reading is that the panopticon proposal is mostly a rhetorical strategy to give a concrete image of what the massive expected values of existential risk might justify. 

I still think that his narrow claim is wrong though.  "Mass surveillance would be necessary given "a biotechnological black ball that is powerful enough that a single malicious use could cause a pandemic that would kill billions of people."

Even in the conditional world where the deadly pandemic exists, mass surveillance is only good if it is used to actually stop the pandemic and does not cause more harm afterwards. I don't think either of these things are very likely if they're attached to any form of government we're familiar with. Mass surveillance isn't even necessary, it's just one possible technological solution to a bio-tech black ball. Really good vaccines or PPE or genetic improvements to the immune system would also suffice.