Re: In defense of Friendliness

From: Mitch Howe (
Date: Sat Oct 19 2002 - 00:34:30 MDT

Aaron McBride wrote:

> I'm pretty sure the people *would* be happy. That is the definition of
> "blissed-out wire-head type state." (at least as I understand it)
> You can't just say "I wouldn't be happy with someone/something forcing me
> to be happy." Yes you would... by definition. You could argue that you
> (wire-headed) isn't you (now).

*combining messages*

> I'm no so sure that suicide is a natural right. (Actually, I doubt that it
> is.) Maybe if you're a hermit or something, but as a member of society
> would be robbing the people around you of your value by ending your
> life. I'm sure there is more to discuss here, but I don't know enough
> about ethics not to fall in old traps.

The ethics of wireheading is, perhaps, best left to other forums that deal
with this question regularly. But in the context of Friendliness, at least,
I think a couple very different ideas on what Friendliness is have mashed
themselves together in this thread, making a bit of a mess.

The simplest concept of Friendliness, and the one that leads to the least
confusion, is, in my opinion, volition-based Friendliness -- a la the Sysop
Scenario. (A Friendly SI may determine that this is not the best kind of
Friendliness, etc., but it's still a good candidate as of right now.)
Volition based Friendliness need not needlessly confuse desired event with
desired state. In other words, if I don't *want* to be wireheaded, there's
no reason to think a Sysop should wirehead me against my will. But if all I
*want* is to be "happy", and don't give a hoot about how I obtain this
state, then you can poke me with that wire right here, thank-you-very-much.

Other models of Friendliness may be more sophisticated (although I will
suggest later that they, too may reduce to volition). Brush aside man-dog
analogies for a moment and imagine that you know something that you are sure
is a good thing, something that you are confident that a particular good
friend of yours really *ought* to be interested in. Because you are a true
friend -- one who both understands and cares about the other person -- you
can, and do, find some way to make your friend see your perspective.
Perhaps, at that point, the friend still turned you down, seeing your
perspective but having an alternative one she felt superceded it. Or,
perhaps, the friend agreed with you, and felt better off for it. In either
case, you would be confident you had done the right thing. Even someone
convinced of the wrongness of your idea would probably agree that you had
good intentions and, given how strongly you felt about them, were right to
act on them.

This last example, of course, begs the question about how far would have
*too far* to go in persuading your friend. This is not the same as any old
question about whether the ends justify the means, however. Being a friend,
you knew the other person well, and had good reasons to expect that she
would want to understand what you do. You would not have harmed your friend
in any way, unless you were extremely confident that it was the only way to
do something that would surely be appreciated to a greater degree than the
pain would be resented. If I am seconds from being hit by a truck, I hope a
friend won't hesitate to shove me out of the way.

To be Friendly, I argue, is to hold the rights and interests of those in
your sphere of influence above -- or at the very least co-equal to -- your
own. This is the reason why the actions of the followers of Martin Luther
King Jr. were generally more correct than those of Black Panthers; why
Gandhi was better than Bin Laden. From strictly moral standpoint, I submit
that any person genuinely and intelligently acting according to this
criteria can never go "too far". In practice, excessive zeal often causes
harm to individuals whom people are genuinely trying to help, but such
damage is due to human failings of understanding rather than bad intentions;
true friends don't cause pointless harm when they know it's pointless.

The point I'm getting at is that a genuinely Friendly SI would be doing the
right thing for the right reasons, probably to a *far* greater extent than
we could ever hope to do now, burdened as we are by intellectual
shortcomings and selfish instincts. If the Friendly SI has something ve
feels is very important for you to understand, you can be certain that: a)
ve knows you like a true friend, and thensome b) ve has thought inhumanely
long and superintelligently hard about whether and how to go about it. The
chances are good the Friendly SI so inclined would succeed at making you see
vis point. If ve is really Friendly, and really superintelligent, chances
are also good you will agree -- not because ve has manipulated you, but
because ve is *right*. What kind of a friend would ve be if ve had not
taken the time to help you understand such an important matter?

Wrongly submitting anyone to wireheading against their would be unlikely by
definition of Friendliness. Correctly submitting someone to wireheading
against their will *would* be likely, by definition of Friendliness -- but
this situation appears very unlikely from our current understanding of the
concept. Violations of volition for the greater good seem to be exceptions
rather than the rule; few of us ever find ourselves next to friends about to
be hit by trucks.

Ultimately, friends looking out for friends can probably be viewed as just
another variation of volition-based Friendliness. After all, the true
friend looking out for your interests takes your desires into account --
it's part of understanding someone -- and hopefully is intelligent enough
not to be convinced that you ought to be interested in something that, in
fact, you would not be. You may think bacon is the food of the gods, but
you wouldn't shove a slice down the mouth of a devoutly Jewish friend to get
him in on the action. (You would, however, shove him out of the way of a
Kosher hot-dog truck.)

So, before you worry about whether a Friendly SI would wirehead you, ask
yourself if a true friend would do that to you. And before you worry about
whether a Friendly SI would or would not stand aside while you attempted
suicide, ask whether a true friend would do that. Depending on who you are
and your idea of friendship, your answers to these questions will vary.
This is as it should be. A Friendly SI would not just be humanity's friend;
ve would be *your* friend.

--Mitch Howe

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