Re: Cold-War Disarmament Activism

From: Thomas Buckner (
Date: Thu Jun 29 2006 - 17:25:52 MDT

--- Joshua Fox <> wrote:

> Yudkowsky posed an urgent ethical challenge at
> the end of his Summit speech:
> Work to bring on a Friendly Singularity, or
> enjoy the conference and return
> to one's television.
> This brought to mind some fascinating pieces by
> Carl Sagan and Douglas
> Hofstadter which I read during the 1980's.
> These two scientists are today
> widely admired by Singularitarians for
> cross-disciplinary interests,
> scientific creativity, and compelling
> exposition, as well as ideas directly
> related to the Singularity; during the Cold War
> they wrote eloquently
> (including some very interesting scientific
> arguments) on the ethical
> mandate to work for nuclear disarmament.
> As Anissimov points out (in "Who are
> Technological Singularity Activists?"),
> humanity first knowingly faced extinction
> during the Cold War. Scientists,
> and especially nuclear scientists, were among
> the first to warn of the
> danger, and then to actively work to avert it,
> just as computer specialists
> are the most Singularity-aware today. Yet the
> species-death risk of that
> scenario suddenly went way down. (Of course,
> many existential risks still
> exist, including nuclear destruction.)
> Analogical arguments are always imperfect, but
> if the analogy holds, what
> conclusions can we draw?
> 1. Paradoxically, the most seemingly logical
> solution might actually make
> the situation worse. Robert Aumann, who won the
> Nobel Prize in Economics for
> game-theory work developed partly to analyze
> the Cold War, has been quoted
> as saying that "peace was maintained because
> airplanes carrying nuclear
> weapons were in the air 24 hours a day". Though
> I must, even in retrospect,
> admire and support Dr. Rotblat over Dr.
> Strangelove, any reduction in the
> MAD balance of terror might have actually
> *increased *the probability of
> total nuclear war.
> 2. Therefore, though I also admire and support
> those who work to avert
> Singularity disaster and to bring a Friendly
> Singularity, an
> uncertainty-weighted cost/benefit analysis
> based on this analogy suggests
> that one need not devote time and money to the
> Friendly Singularity, just as
> most people who supported human survival did
> not give resources to the
> disarmament movement.
> Anissimov warns (in "Who Cares About the
> Singularity?") against responding
> to the Singularity simply as a fact about the
> future, rather than as a call
> to action. Yet even Kurzweil has said (in The
> Singularity Is Near) that
> since we cannot know how to create
> Friendliness, we should focus on
> enhancing democracy, human rights, progress,
> and prosperity (good advice
> back during the Cold War, too), and hope for
> the best.
> Inaction based on this sort of uncertainly
> could be all too common, even
> among people whom the Singularitarian movement
> might want as supporters. How
> might Singularitarianism deal with this?
> Joshua

I reject that analogy; I believe Sagan and
Hofstadter were not wrong, but rather that we
were lucky they were not proven right (i.e.
sometimes someone warns you of a danger, and you
escape it not by heeding them but by dumb luck);
and that the history has been written by those
who opposed disarmament and have been in power
most of the intervening time. How lucky were we?
I refer you to


to draw your own conclusions.

Tom Buckner

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