RE: SIAI: Donate Today and Tomorrow

From: Mitch Howe (
Date: Fri Oct 22 2004 - 14:26:03 MDT

If a planet-killer asteroid were headed our way and expected to impact in 25
years, we *could* go on with business as usual. We *could* trust that
market forces would drive aerospace development on their own, with
intermediate applications paying for the development of more advanced
applications, until finally some firm was capable of stopping the asteroid.
And we *could* trust that firm to actually do the right thing when it
achieved this capability -- or to at least sell impact prevention services
to humanity.

But I don't think we would.
And if I found myself in a world taking the "let things develop naturally"
approach, you had better believe I would listen to the only person I had
heard who seemed to be trying to *directly* tackle the problem *now*. I
probably wouldn't understand all the rocket science he was spouting. I
wouldn't have any way of knowing whether he could do the things he said he
needed to do.
But because he was the *only* one who seemed to take the problem at least as
seriously as I did, and seemed to understand it better than I did, I would
consider him to be worth helping in any way I could. I certainly would
*not* tell him to "get a real job in aerospace like everyone else so that we
can continue our inevitable march to asteroid-stopping technology."

Now, we're not in such an obviously crazy world only because most people
don't know about or don't believe in the metaphorical asteroid that is
technologically initiated existential risk. And many that do believe in the
risk don't know about or don't believe in the possibility of friendly AI as
a solution to that risk.

But this crazy world *is* the world *I* live in because my path has led me
to believe that the risk is real and that the friendly AI solution is
possible. To everyone in this list, I say that maybe this is your world
too, and maybe it isn't. But even if you think that there's only a credible
chance you live in this world, then it makes sense to hedge your bets and
send SIAI a little something.

Of course, I've been aware of these issues for a few years now, and
following SIAI for the same amount of time. And when it comes right down to
it, my reasons for not donating have not really had anything to do with the

And I could continue at some length, explaining how my perfectly ordinary
reasons for not donating to SIAI have been temporary, well intentioned, and
undoubtedly shared by dozens of others. But this would be tantamount to
excusing myself by saying, "the bystander effect is perfectly real, and as a
bystander, I am subject to it myself. Watch me do nothing, just like
everyone else."

But I've decided I will not be this person. Not today. And not tomorrow.

--Mitch Howe

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