RE: Humane-ness

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Tue Feb 17 2004 - 11:35:04 MST

following up...

So, in sum, the difficulties with Humane AI *as I understand it* are

1. The difficulty of defining humane-ness
2. The presence of delusions that I judge ethically undesirable, in the
near-consensus worldview of humanity

The second point here may seem bizarrely egomaniacal – who am I to judge the
vast mass of humanity as being ethically wrong on major points? And yet, it
has to be observed that the vast mass of humanity has shifted its ethical
beliefs many times over history. At many points in history, the vast mass
of humans believed slavery was ethical, for instance. Now, you could argue
that if they’d had enough information, and carried out enough discussion and
deliberation, they might have decided it was bad. Perhaps this is the case.
But to lead the human race through a process of discussion, deliberation and
discovery adequate to free it from its collective delusions – this is a very
large task. I see no evidence that any existing political institution is up
to this task. Perhaps an AGI could carry out this process – but then what
is the goal system of this AGI? Do we begin this goal system with the
current ethical systems of the human race – as Eliezer seems to suggest in
the quote I gave (“Human nature is not a bad place to start…”)? In that
case, does the AGI begin by believing in God and reincarnation, which are
beliefs of the vast majority of humans? Or does the AGI begin with some
other guiding principle, such as Voluntary Joyous Growth? My hypothesis is
that an AGI beginning with Voluntary Joyous Growth as a guiding principle is
more likely to help humanity along a path of increasing wisdom and
humane-ness than an AGI beginning with current human nature as a guiding

One can posit, as a goal, the creation of a Humane AI that embodies
humane-ness as discovered by humanity via interaction with an appropriately
guided AGI. However, I’m not sure what this adds, beyond what one gets from
creating an AGI that follows the principle of Voluntary Joyous Growth and
leaving it to interact with humanity. If the creation of the Humane AI is
going to make humans happier, and going to help humans to grow, and going to
be something that humans choose, then the Voluntary Joyous Growth based AGI
is going to choose it anyway. On the other hand, maybe after humans become
wiser, they’ll realize that the creation of an AGI embodying the average of
human wishes is not such a great goal anyway. As an alternative, perhaps a
host of different AGI’s will be created, embodying different aspects of
human nature and humane-ness, and allowed to evolve radically in different

-- Ben G

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ben Goertzel []
> Sent: Tuesday, February 17, 2004 12:53 PM
> To:
> Subject: Humane-ness
> Eliezer,
> Trolling the Net briefly, I found this quote from you (from the
> WTA list in Aug. 2003):
> ***
> The important thing is not to be human but to be humane. ...
> Though we might wish to believe that Hitler was an inhuman
> monster, he was, in fact, a human monster; and Gandhi is noted
> not for being remarkably human but for being remarkably humane.
> The attributes of our species are not exempt from ethical
> examination in virtue of being "natural" or "human". Some human
> attributes, such as empathy and a sense of fairness, are
> positive; others, such as a tendency toward tribalism or
> groupishness, have left deep scars on human history. If there is
> value in being human, it comes, not from being "normal" or
> "natural", but from having within us the raw material for
> humaneness: compassion, a sense of humor, curiosity, the wish to
> be a better person. Trying to preserve "humanness", rather than
> cultivating humaneness, would idolize the bad along with the
> good. One might say that if "human" is what we are, then "humane"
> is what we, as humans, wish we were. Human nature is not a bad
> place to start that journey, but we can't fulfill that potential
> if we reject any progress past the starting point.
> ***
> If the goal of your "Friendly AI" project is to create an AI that
> is "humane" in this sense, then perhaps "Humane AI" would be a
> better name for the project...
> I have a few comments here.
> 1)
> I am not sure that humane-ness, in the sense that you propose, is
> a well-defined concept. Doesn't the specific set of properties
> called "humaneness" you get depend on the specific algorithm that
> you use to sum together the wishes of various individuals in the
> world? If so, then how do you propose to choose among the
> different algorithms?
> 2)
> How do you propose to distinguish the "positive" from the
> "negative" aspects of human nature ... e.g. compassion versus
> tribalism? I guess you want to distinguish these by a kind of
> near-consensus process -- e.g. you're hoping that most people, on
> careful consideration and discussion, will agree that tribalism
> although humanly universal, isn't good? I'm not so confident
> that people's "wishes regarding what they were" are good ones...
> (which is another way of saying: I think my own ethic differs
> considerably from the mean of humanity's)
> Do you propose to evaluate
> P(X is humane) = P(X is considered good by H after careful
> reflection and discussion | H is human)
> I guess you're thinking of something more complicated along these
> lines (?)
> One runs into serious issues with cultural and individual
> relativity here.
> For instance, the vast majority of humans believe that
> "Belief in God"
> is a good and important aspect of human nature. Thus, it seems
> to me, "Belief in God" should be considered humane according to
> your definition -- it's part of what we humans are, AND, part of
> what we humans wish we were.
> Nevertheless, I think that belief in God -- though it has some
> valuable spiritual intuitions at its core -- basically sucks.
> Thus, I consider it MY moral responsibilty to work so that belief
> in God is NOT projected beyond the human race into any AGI's we
> may create. Unless (and I really doubt it) it's shown that the
> only way to achieve other valuable things is to create an AGi
> that's deluded in this way.
> Of course, there are many other examples besides "belief in God"
> that could be used to illustrate this point.
> You could try to define humaneness as something like "What humans
> WOULD wish they were, if they were wiser humans" -- but we humans
> are fucking UNwise creatures, and this is really quite essential
> to our humanity... and of course, defining this requires some
> ethical or metaethical standard beyond what humans are or wish they were.
> ??
> -- Ben G

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