The Friendliness Problem
Via InstaPundit, Matoko Kusanagi says that working on the friendliness problem for artificial intelligence takes on an added urgency in light of what is perhaps a more fundamental problem. She begins with a quote from a review of Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn, which explains in great detail exactly how uncivilized the pre-civilized world really was. (An idea that we have recently explored here.) The relevant portion of the quote:
Two billion war deaths would have occurred in the 20th century if modern societies suffered the same casualty rate as primitive peoples, according to anthropologist Lawrence H Keeley, who calculates that two-thirds of them were at war continuously, typically losing half of a percent of its population to war each year.
Kusanagi comments that this is good, but it isn't nearly good enough:
Let's face it, homo sapiens has the Friendliness Problem. How many deaths (from war and democide and religion) have we had in the 20th century? 262 million--less than 2 billion by 7/8ths, but not good enough. Our coding is for survival. we have been trying to fix that with religion and government and philosophy since the Dawn, trying to fix our genetics with memetics. Gak! It just doesn't work. Sometimes it just makes for more death. We need to fix our genetics directly. Like Sir Richard suggests in Let's Stop Beating Basil's Car.
Religion, philosophy and government are all naturally occurring phenomena. They arise independently in all populations. My hypoth is that religion, philosophy and government are all evolved strategies for solving the homosapiens Friendliness problem, by reducinging intra-species death counts. But they don't work that well, ie, more civilian death in the 20th century, more death over all than the 19th century. All three can cause radical death-rate increase for those outside the memetic "tribe".
First off, let's give some credit where it's due. I can't help but look at the half-full argument for this particular glass of water. If religion, philosophy, and government somehow managed to save approximately 1.74 billion lives in the 20th century...well, that's not too shabby, is it?
Granted, the loss of 262 million lives is appalling beyond words, and could never be viewed as in any way acceptable. But from a big picture perspective, religion, philosophy, and government have moved us along pretty nicely -- especially when you consider that the productivity gains that inevitably result from technological development should have made us, as a species, much more effective at killing each other. Those primitive societies losing half a percentage point per year to warfare were using stone knives and spears. With advances in technology, all other factors being equal, that should have jumped to maybe 5-10%. Seeing as that rate is much faster than the population could ever be expected to grow, warfare in the 19th and 20th centuries might well have eliminated humanity altogether (civilized, industrialized humanity, that is) were it not for religion, philosophy, and government.
Also, I can't help but note that it is less than helpful to look at these three things as monolithic entities. Some religions, philosophies, and forms of government might be more likely to help humanity move away from war and destruction than others. And some might be more likely to be used as pretexts for war and destruction than others. For example, I would assert that Mennonite or Zen Buddhist religious beliefs might fall into the former category, while the ancient Aztec religious practices of conquering enemies in order to cut their living hearts out as a sacrifice to the gods would tend more to the latter. I realize that it's much more convenient to make sweeping statements about "religion," but still.
Likewise, Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler were all men who made war. Each had a moral and political philosophy that he acted from. But if one examines what is known about the three of them and concludes that each one -- being a practitioner of "philosophy" and "government" -- was equally detrimental to solving the human friendliness problem, then I would have to say that one is pretty much missing the point.
So this is where I part company, somewhat, with Kusanagi, who concludes:
Transhumanists accept the premise that religion, philosophy and government are natural phenomena, and that there is a biological basis for all behavior. Transhumanists want to improve humanity, to transcend biology, and leave behind the evolutionary baggage that tended to make life "nasty, brutish and short". Solving the Friendliness problem for strong AI will show us how to solve it for homosapiens.
If we are brave enough and pragmatic enough to try.
Maybe. But seeing as we're already 7/8th's of the way there for humanity, I wouldn't rule out our solving it for homo sapiens first. Perhaps we should be putting the best AIs (no to mention the best human intellects) to work on solving it. But then again, maybe most of them already are working on it.