Thursday, December 01, 2005

Philosophical Ethics, the Singularity, and Benevolent AI

There is much in common with the quest for benevolent AI and philosophical ethics. Philosophical ethics is the study of right action. It seeks to find universally valid principles on which to base rational action in all circumstances. In order to be both a free and rational agent one must determine one's own actions according to universal principles which are in agreement with reason. Similarly benevolent AI must act according to universally valid principles derived from reason, and if it is to be considered benevolent those principles should be the same as those principles which govern free and rational human actions. In this article I will put forth a suggestion on how this might be accomplished based on Hegelian principles.

One key aspect of Hegelian philosophy is bringing together apparent opposites into synthesis in order to form a new principle. In the realm of ethics this conflict is between the will and interest of the individual and the will and interest of the community or state. All throughout history almost every philosopher believed that ethical duty meant that the individual had to negate his own will for the good of the community. Hegel was perhaps the first to call this into question.

Hegel believed that human culture and history was evolving in a detectable direction and that direction was toward greater conscious awareness, rationality, and freedom. What Hegel thought this meant was that as human civilization evolved it was evolving into a state wherein the individual's identity was increasingly defined by that individual's relation to other individual's in a community. This comes from the original Aristotelian insight that Man is essentially a social being and this insight is further reinforced by modern anthropology and psychology. The outcome of this is that as human-beings become more and more rational and self-aware (as the corresponding memes evolve) they become more integrated and more free. This is because the rational self-interest of the community and the individual begins to come together – until in a supremely rational state there would be absolute non-zero sum competition between the rational self interest of the state and the individual.

So what does all this philosophy stuff have to do with benevolent AI and the singularity? Allow me to explain. First let's see what this view does to ethics. According to this view ethics must continually evolve as culture evolves. All rational action is restricted to actions which make the state more rational. What I mean by this is that rational action should always be aimed at achieving a greater state of union between individual self-interest and community interest. So essentially the most rational state is a state in which what is best for me is the same as what is best for everyone else in the community. This is the very definition of freedom – a state wherein that which the individual wills is always allowed because it interferes with the will of no other member of the community. This does not mean I should always conform my will to the will of the state – by no means! This means that such a state will evolve on its own as the memes of rationality are adopted by civilization as a whole. If the state has laws which hinder rational individual liberty then you would be ethically bound to disobey those laws.

So in order to be ethical you must be plugged into a community and, by implication, you must share the meme set of that civilization. Now lets apply this to the development of benevolent AI. If ethics are inextricably tied to community then a machine AI with human level or greater intelligence must be accepted into the community of Man. This means that we must provide for programing that can evolve with the meme sets of human civilization. Strong Artificial intelligence must not be view as a human tool but rather as a fellow of our community. Human beings are brought into community through adopting the memes of a community and likewise an AI must be equipped with this same ability.

Some issues that I will deal with in a future post involve how accelerating technology will soon rapidly change our very conception of community and how corresponding economic advances will alter the power relation's of individuals as the need to compete for resources becomes less and less of an issue. This aspect of the singularity is key to understanding what many are sure to view as the fantasy of this supposed rational state wherein perfect freedom is achieved.


While I do not disagree that civilization is progressing toward a more rational state, I do believe that we will witness great growing pains in the transition. Truly rational agents should have no conflict with each other unless their goal systems are in direct opposition. What I find less intuitively obvious is that the natural state of rational beings is one of harmony with each other. In a world of finite resources, complete harmony is not a steady state. What I am attempting to ascertain is how to cushion the transition of irrational humans to rational agents which will be forced to occur in the coming decades. This might be the "meme-singularity" which you mentioned in a previous post.

By Blogger Ian Stuart, at 1/12/05 15:51  

I have been thinking about that question also. I'm really not sure how it will play out. I think that the current 'war on terror' is the result of memes spreading.T hat they are the memes of western civilization which are: democracy, science and capitalism. All of these institutions first arose in Europe during the enlightenment. There are many different meme sets that are resilient to the invading Enlightenment meme set, but the greatest resistance is coming from Islam. Islam is a powerful civilizational meme set. This meme set is not just a religion it is a foundation for a way of life which is why it has survived for so long. In Europe Christianity evolved into the principles of Enlightenment. For instance Kant's maxim, taken from the golden rule but rationalized, "take no action you would not will everyone to take in that circumstance"
But the Islamic culture never got a chance to evolve into a rational system before the memes from the west showed up to compete. Had Islam been allowed to progress the way Christian civilization in Europe did there probably wouldn't have been much of a civilizational clash. This is demonstrated by the far east - especially Japan. Japan was a nation that was already well advanced, and when the western memes showed up they simply adapted them into there own culture. So much so that they were able to wage global war against the Allies a short number of years after being exposed to these memes. However it could take a long time for memetic natural selection to drive the memes of irrationalism into extinction. Especially since it is exactly these people (with the memes of irrationalism) who are unlikely to be connected to the greater world culture through modern media and open governments. Nevertheless I remain optimistic.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 2/12/05 01:46  

But even within Western Civilisation we have those who would revert to non-scientific, non-rational thought, i.e. The Dover Panda Trials, and the Kansas BOE. I am afraid that, as the pace of changes increases, those who try to keep up with the changes will advance away from those who wish to reamin behind at an ever more alarming rate, causing fear and resentment in the stagnant group, and irritation and impatience in the advancing group. This stratification will become more pronounced even within individual countries as the singularity approaches, and I believe that we are already seeing the opening volleys in what may end up being a serious conflict.

By Blogger Ian Stuart, at 2/12/05 09:58  

I agree that there will be a further stratification but I really don't think it will be anything significant. There has always been a bell-curve of intelligence within any given population and as technologies become more powerfull and available to anyone who is smart enough to use them I believe that this bell-curve will begin to roughly correspond with levels of wealth. Of course as we head closer to the singularity wealth will begin to be a non-issue as the means of production will virtually have no limits. So basically the most intelligent and advanced of us will have the greatest share of wealth and power and these same people are probably on average the most rational among us as well and they will probably exert their powers in mostly benevelent ways that even the non-rational among us will have a hard time complaining about. And even if they really didn't like it they would be virtually powerless to change it because they are the least intelligent and the least able to technologically empower themselves.
This can already be seen on the international level. It is not a coincidence that western democracies are the most powerful nations. By the very nature of cultural evolution those nations which are most advanced are also the most powerful. What inovations have come out of Saudi Arabia lately? I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that the entire nation is infected with a back-assward meme-set that stifles all inovation and productivity. Thank goodness this is the case or the irrational governments of the past would have already dominated the globe by now.
So as I've said, I remain optimistic.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 2/12/05 15:24  

"...What I am attempting to ascertain is how to cushion the transition of irrational humans to rational agents which will be forced to occur in the coming decades...."

You might take for example the case histories of the attempted transformation of "irrational humans" to the modern, self-proclaimed rationalistic, pseudoscientific "isms" of the 20th century: Communism and Nazism.

In those cases "the end justifies the means" was an oft repeated phrase and policy, minimizing the angst of the transformers.

By Blogger Pirx the Pilot, at 4/12/05 13:24  

Pilot Pirx:
This is a good point. Authoritarian enforcement of a percieved state of rationality by the few leads to the slavery of man and puts shackles on the mind. Social transformation must take place from the bottom up. The whole point of making freedom the highest goal means that no government or individual has a right coerce anyone to do anything unless that individual is himself limiting the freedom of others. Also note that in both National Socialism and Bolshevism the state gains absolute auhority over the individual's property. Tools are what empower people and people can not be free with out power. If you take away the people's right to their property and the fruits of their labor then you have minimized human freedom. This is the mistake behind all socialist thought. When I speak of 'rationality' I mean basically the same thing as Kant - not Marx. Rationality is, in this case, the same as following the categorical imperitive. So to be rational means to never treat anyone as a means to an end only. So again the totalitarians are the very epitome of irrationality and their speach about 'making everyone rational' really means bringing everyone into subservience (the opposite of freedom). Beware of double-speak.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 5/12/05 14:02  

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By Blogger 每当遇见你, at 7/10/10 23:18  

different cultures have different ethics and not just because of different religious backgrounds

By Anonymous Frederic, at 5/8/17 18:28  

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