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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.


Oh, phil. i'm a grrl. and a GitS otaku.
i take it you haven't seen Ghost in the Shell?
your suggestion hsve some merit--but you also have to incorporate religions, governments, etc that increased kill.
perhaps we could tailor a religion into a biomeme. i like judaism, myself. i think they have pretty much solved the friendliness problem.
but for that to be an effective solution, homo sapiens would have to all jewish.
if you consider, competition between religions and ideologies is the basic problem. instead of genetherapy and recursive self improvement, we could make everyone one religion, make everyone one tribe.
i think there would still be people like me that can't actually turn their brains off long enough to believe in anything, so we wouldn't actually become "believers". but it is improbable that we would make war on the religious to proselytize. ;)

alternatively, we could engineer a biomeme to radically increase IQ & g (you do know the neg correlation between religious belief and IQ, right?)
do you think that might solve the problem?

Matoko --

Shitsurei shimasu. Criminy, I knew that, seeing as your name ends in "o." Hopefully I fixed all the incorrect pronouns.

I'm a little behind on the whole "Ghost in the Shell" phenomenon but I'll try to get caught up. Thanks for your patience. :-)

There is a punchline to your suggestion that everyone be hard-wired to be Jewish. I wouldn't ordinarily tell a joke like this, but it was told to me be a good friend (Jewish) and the setup is just to good to ignore. So then, without further ado, the punchline:

But then who would pay retail?

Rimshot! Thanks, I'll be here all week.

I'm not sure that a specific set of beliefs needs to be hardwired in. But if there was one belief that needs to be hardwired in it would be -- "people who look/think/act differently are not an inherent threat; I should not harm them because they are different."

Wouldn't that take care of most of the other 8th?

Very interesting about the negative correlation between intelligence and religion. Could you provide a citation for that? I'd like to read more. But what I think would really help is a correlation between intelligence and tolerance. If that is established, then maybe boosting intelligence is the answer.

ha ha, it is well known that jews have a superior sense of humor, as well as the ashkenazi having 2 std in IQ over the rest of us.
i like the idea of correlating IQ and tolerance. i will look for some data.
i have anecdotal data to support that hypoth--at gnxp, where the subject matter tends to impose an IQ gradient, we are very tolerant of race, sex, color, religion, etc--not so much of IDists and bio-luddites, tho. ;)
and in grad school, high tolerance for different races, skin colors, religions, etc.

Well, they haven't solved it well enough to stop sexually mutilating their own children yet, so I wouldn't be in such a rush to hold them up as an ideal.

To say nothing of the blatant sexism involved, or the context of supernatural contractual sacrifice of the non-consenting innocent for the supposed benefit of those exerting the force. . .soooo. . .I think I'll take your conclusions on the matter with a couple of tonne-sized grains of salt.

The devil is in the details, Major. You Fail It.

I wouldn't count on the non-warlikeness of Zen Buddhists. There were Buddhist religious sects in 16th century Japan with private armies and fortresses. (Toyotomi Hideyoshi put them down.)

And some of the most renowned Zen masters were deeply complicit in the militarist regime of the 1930s. See _Zen at War_ by Brian Victoria,

Rich --

Good point. I should have said "some Zen Buddhist religious beliefs." There's a lot of variety there, as with many religious groups.


A fellow GitS fan! すごいだよ! Most of my eikaiwa students have never even heard of Ghost in the Shell, which surprised me at first as they're all (of course) Japanese. However, I only watched the series (and the movies) once through, and it was a while ago, so I think I'm missing the relevance to the topic at hand.

I have to say I'm really skeptical of any plans to engineer people to be more peaceful, at least at the genetic level. To much chance for to mess things up but good, and anyway, even if you did succeed with a starter population you'd run up against the freeloader problem right quick. Personally I think memes are the way to go.

My bet on the ashkenazi's and IQ/tolerance is that , a) the basis is at least partially genetic (especially the former) and b) they are probably only loosely, if at all, causally connected. The IQ aspect likely results from spending the last couple of millenia surviving by their wits and being prohibited the use of weapons. The tolerance aspect is probably just down to several millenia of urbanization, much of it in the midst of People That Don't Like You. Traits for an easily offended sense of honor would have been weeded out right quick. That the two traits appear together is pretty much just a contingent result of their idiosyncratic history: you could equally well have a population selected for low IQ but high tolerance (an ideal helot class), or a population with a blisteringly high IQ but all the warm fuzziness of Jeffrey Dahmer. I wouldn't want to speculate too much on the conditions that would breed either type, but I imagine they'd be highly specific and deeply artificial. But not impossible.

Intelligence is just a tool. It doesn't have any moral qualities in and of itself.

Intelligence is just a tool. It doesn't have any moral qualities in and of itself.

matt, Sir Richard would disagree with you. He thinks religion is The Root of All Evil, and only intelligence can free us from the evil shackles of troublemaking supernaturalist belief systems. ;)

Consider-- all religions that proselytize are basically intolerant. Proselytization is the act of saying "mine is superior to yours". Tolerance confers a negative relative fitness benefit in evolutionary theory of religion-- tolerance is not an evolutionarily stable strategy.
the jews do not proselytize, yet they survive and prosper. there must be somethingspecial about judaism. ;)

as for relativity, i am sooooo Innosensu.
think of the gynoids and ghost-dubbing, and how they still killed their masters. ;)

I won't argue that religion can be very damaging, but it can also be fairly positive, encouraging altruistic behaviour. Christianity, for example, does a lot of mission work involving schools, free clinics, etc; granted the ultimate aim is conversion, but the immediate effect is quite beneficial. Ultimately religions are memeplexes like any other (political, ideological) and have to be judged on an individual basis.

That's kind of a sidetrack though: I've known a number of people who are very intelligent, and very religious. The main point here is the correlation between intelligence and morality. Let's assume there is such a correlation; the logical implication would be that tolerance couldn't be expected to take root amongst those populations with below-average intelligence; for example, Africans and Arabs. The question then is, in a world where a small group can cause massive damage, what do you do with groups that are predisposed towards violent, intolerant behaviour due to inherently lower intelligence? The options look pretty stark.

However, I don't think there is an inherent causative relationship between tolerance and intelligence, or even really much of a correlation. Considering only ashkenazi Jews is only looking at one data point; others have to be examined to make any meaningful statements. Look, for instance, at the Japanese people (whose average IQ is a few points above the global average): while at the moment amongst the world's most peaceful, only a couple of generations ago they were unmatched for vicious xenophobia. The change that took place here was memetic, not genetic.

Consider another memetic change: that of the Jews themselves, when they gained a homeland in Israel. Scrupulously nonviolent for two millenia, they took to the sword with a vengeance, defending their turf like rabid tigers. While you could argue they've shown a great deal for forbearance with Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular than is perhaps wise, they're a great deal less tolerant than Europeans (despite the considerable IQ gap), and they're surely a lot less tolerant than they were before 1948

Now, you could argue that Japan is an exceptional case, as is Israel. The same argument applies just as much to Ashkenazi Jews, however. And I'm not saying the example of Japan constitues a negative proof of the lack of a correlative or causal relationship; doing that would require a fairly comprehensive regression analysis, looking at as many ethnic groups as is practical. All I've done here is add a couple more data points.


all religions that proselytize are basically intolerant. Proselytization is the act of saying "mine is superior to yours".

This thought is THE major weakness of multiculturalism - the inability or unwillingness to make judgement calls about the relative effectiveness of some religions, governments, and philosophies over others.

I believe that some memes are much more effective for peace and prosperity than others. It's so self-evident that it shouldn't really be up for argument.

This being the case, we shouldn't hesitate to promote, loudly, some memes over others that are more likely to lead to war and poverty.

Preaching that all memes are equally valid is, ultimately, suicidal. No ideas that follow from that person are worth listening to really. Why bother listening to that person when another person (who's point of view is, remember, equally valid) says that they have a superior idea?

We must tolerate others while remaining strong advocates of our own priciples. The trick is to build a idea marketplace where memes can battle it out without bloodshed. Hopefully the Internet will help with this.

I would be very interested to see any of the other contributors to this thread even just acknowledge the existence of an issue such as the routine and ritual genital mutilation of male children. . .let alone its relevance to the proposed topic, i.e. the 'friendliness' problem.

No, seriously.

If you people can't even bring yourselves to just merely acknowledge just merely the *topic* of genital mutilation of male children, why on earth should anyone care what your patently blinkered opinions on AI 'friendliness' should be?

No, really -- why should anyone take your thoughts seriously? Clearly you're unwilling or incapable of discussion or analysis outside of your own culturally limiting taboos, so. . . .

. . .well, to be blunt about it, that provides the appearance, to the skeptical mind -- among others -- that you're not *really* here for the discussion of speculative futurism so much as you're just looking for some more of the usual internet ego-boo self-stroking.

Um ... I'm not Jewish and I've been circumsized. Not that I remember the experience, though I'm sure it was very painful. While I certainly would have refused, had anyone asked me - and I would never allow such a thing to be done to any son of mine - it's not something I really lose sleep over. Sorry, just fail to see the relevence to the discussion (unless maybe you're attempting to draw a parallel with female circumsion, which just doesn't fly for all sorts of nasty reasons.)

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