Re: continuity of self

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Wed Sep 18 2002 - 01:15:14 MDT

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Ben Goertzel wrote:
> >
> >> Also under the "historical perspective" department, the most
> >> important forms of poverty are not monetary poverty but intelligence
> >> poverty, lifespan poverty, and the lack of other resources which are
> >> currently so hard to obtain that people tend not to think of their
> >> absence as "poverty" but simply "the human condition".
> >>
> >> -- Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
> >>
> >
> > These assessments are highly subjective.
> >
> > From the point of view of many people in the world, material poverty is
> > a much bigger problem than lifespan poverty or intelligence poverty.
> Immediately apparent subjective priorities according to hacked-up
> chimpanzee priority-assignment hardware are not always the same as
> rational priorities given the same goals.

I don't think so. If you are having trouble keeping yourself
alive because of grossly inadequate nutrition, shelter and very
spotty water supplies of poor quality then your low-level
survival drives will, quite rightly, swamp your higher level
needs for a time. This would be true of any conceivable
sentient that had low-level survival minimal requirements. So
please come down to earth just a bit, if you will.

> > And I can't help suspecting that you, Eliezer, might consider material
> > poverty a little more serious if you were experiencing it! Even given
> > your generally nonmaterialistic world-view and personality.
> Why is it, Ben, that you chide me for failing to appreciate diversity,
> yet you seem to have so much trouble accepting that this one person,
> Eliezer, could have an outlook that is really seriously different than
> your own, rather than some transient whim? I don't have any trouble
> appreciating that others are different from me, even though I may judge
> those differences as better or worse. You, on the other hand, seem to
> have difficulty believing that there is any difference at all between
> you and someone you are immediately talking to, regardless of what
> theoretical differences you might claim to believe in or respect.

Why is that you are beginning to take this attitude of being
above it all and almost of a different species from the rest of
us? As wonderfully bright and dedicated as you are I don't
believe that this is justified, at least not yet. The above
looks from here to be quite defensive and more than a little

> Suppose that I did tend to focus more on material poverty if I were
> experiencing it. That supervention of my wired-in chimpanzee priorities
> is not necessarily more correct.

If it is the difference between life and death, then it is
higher priority in that it is prerequisite to the rest of your
goals. There must be enough surplus of energy beyond what is
needed to survive and accomplish some basic functionality before
higher goals can be addressed. Many people in this world do not
have that much today. That is also potentially many brains of
good potential that are never utilized.

I might as well say to some Third
> Worlder "You might consider material poverty less serious if you lived
> here." For that matter, I could also be tortured until I considered
> ending the pain to be the most important thing in the universe. So
> what? What does this have to do with the price of tea in China, or to
> be more precise, the Bayesian Probability Theorem?

Puh-leze. Can you manage to address anything directly without
dragging out BPT?

> How do any of these
> things change the facts? In what way are they "evidence" about the
> issue at hand? I run on vulnerable hardware with known flaws, such that
> there are certain environmental stimuli that would produce
> very-high-priority signals capable of disrupting more rational means of
> aligning subgoals with supergoals; environmental stimuli may even result
> in negative or positive reinforcement in sufficient amounts to overwrite
> the current goal system. Again, so what? That's just a broken Eliezer,
> not an enlightened Eliezer.

The so what is that many billions of people live today in just
such conditions. Do you feel some empathy for them? Is belping
them part of what drives your work?

> > While the human condition in itself is profoundly flawed, there is no
> > doubt that some humans live in vastly more flawed conditions than
> > others.
> "Vastly"? I think that word reflects your different perspective (at
> least one of us must be wrong) on the total variance within the human
> cluster versus the variance between the entire human cluster and a
> posthuman standard of living. I think that the most you could say is
> that some humans live in very slightly less flawed conditions than
> others. Maybe not even that.

Your perspective includes hypotheticals not currently in
existence. Given current existential conditons, some humans
live in vastly more flawed conditions than others.

> > As a person of great material privilege, you are inclined to
> > focus primarily on the limitations and problems we all share.
> As a student of minds-in-general, I define humanity by looking at the
> features of human psychology and existence that are panhuman and reflect
> the accumulated deep pool of complex functional adaptation, rather than
> the present surface froth of variations between cultures and individuals.

Hmmm. That froth is where the people live!

> > Of course, I agree with you that creating a superhuman AGI can be a
> > great way to end material poverty as well as to overcome the many
> > self-defeating characteristics of human nature.
> It's a way to rewrite almost every aspect of life as we know it. You
> can take all the force of that tremendous impact and try to turn it to
> pure light. You can even hypothesize that this tremendous impact,
> expressed as pure light, would have effects that include the ending of
> fleeting present-day problems like material poverty. But it is unwise
> in the extreme to imagine that the Singularity is a tool which can be
> channeled into things like "ending material poverty" because some
> computer programmer wants that specifically.

I think you are attempting to turn yourself into a FAI
disconnected from your own humanity. I am not at all sure this
is a good thing.

- samantha

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