Graduate Researcher in AI Ethics/Safety @ Oregon State University
Pursuing a graduate degree (e.g. Master's)
147Joined Mar 2019


Kendrea Beers


Responsible/fair AI vs. beneficial/safe AI?

These are excellent answers, thanks so much! 

As more and more students get interested in AI safety, and AI-safety-specific research positions fail to open up proportionally, I expect that many of them (like me) will end up as graduate students in mainstream ethical-AI research groups. Resources like these are helping me to get my bearings.

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

Thanks very much, that helps!

Adding more not to defend myself, but to keep the conversation going:

I think that many Enlightenment ideas are great and valid regardless of their creators' typical-for-their-time ideas. 

Education increasingly includes rather radical components of critical race theory. Students are taught that if someone is racist, then all of their political and philosophical views are tainted. By extension, many people learn that the Enlightenment itself is tainted. Like Charles, I think that this "produces misguided perspectives".

I'm--apparently badly--trying to communicate the following. These students, who have been taught that the Enlightenment is tainted by association with racism, who (reasonably!) haven't bothered to thoroughly research this particular historical movement to come to their own conclusions, who may totally make great EAs, would initially be turned off.

It's quite plausible that it shouldn't be the case that Enlightenment aesthetics might turn people off. But I think this is the case, and I argue that it's likely more important to make a good first impression than to take a stand in favor of a particular historical movement.

Hope that makes sense!

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

Could someone who downvoted please explain which of these premises you disagree with?

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

Short version: if we can avoid it, let’s not filter potential EAs by the warmth of their feelings toward a specific group of historical figures (especially because history education is inevitably biased)

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

I actually wouldn’t know where to find a liberal student who respects classics (let alone “our cultural heritage”) at my large American university, after four years in the philosophy department!

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

Yes, these are great reasons to take inspiration from the Enlightenment!

The point I most want to get across is that, by using Enlightenment aesthetics, EAs could needlessly open themselves up to negative perception.

  1. If EAs use Enlightenment aesthetics more, then EA will be associated with the Enlightenment more.
  2. Regardless of their positive qualities, Enlightenment philosophers racked up plenty of negative qualities among them. Maybe there were 10x as many purely virtuous ones as problematic ones; maybe every problematic one made contributions that vastly outweighed their issues; nonetheless, there are some problems.
  3. People who would otherwise engage with EA might have heard of enough problems that they’d be put off by Enlightenment associations entirely. (I suspect many of my social-justice-y friends would have this reaction.)

Here’s the more nebulous point. I hinted in my original comment that I take issue with the “rational individualistic actor” view. This alone puts me off Enlightenment aesthetics, because I think that particular view is especially dangerous considering how innocent it looks. But that’s a whole big discussion, and I respect the other side! The relevant part here is just that, anecdotally, at least one EA isn’t a huge Enlightenment fan.

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

Yeah, the magnitude of the problem depends on the empirical question of how many people associate the Enlightenment with racism and such.

Descartes’ moral circle issue is that he believed animals have no moral standing whatsoever, so he enthusiastically practiced vivisection (dissecting animals while they were still alive).

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter

I'm more inspired by the "altruistic" aesthetic than the "effective" aesthetic. 

"Effective" blends into the Silicon Valley productivity/efficiency crowd. While there's a lot to appreciate about the Bay Area, I'd prefer not to tie EA to that culture.

On the other hand, there are truly beautiful exemplars of altruism throughout history and around the world.

Personally, I associate altruism with Avalokiteśvara. Art portraying him is colorful and full of details, which, to me, represents that Effective Altruism can bridge all kinds of cultures, theories, and life experiences. Here's why he has so many heads and arms:

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from saṃsāra. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amitābha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara tries to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitābha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.[34]

I'm gonna need help coming up with more examples of historical altruistic art... Civil rights art from the US? (I love this painting of Harriet Tubman reaching out to the viewer.) Some Christian saints?

Try to sell me on [ EA idea ] if I'm [ person with a viewpoint ]

Try and sell me on AGI safety if I'm a social justice advocate! That's a big one I come across.

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