Re: Property rights (was Re: Can't afford to rescue cows)

From: Byrne Hobart (
Date: Sat Apr 26 2008 - 11:53:22 MDT

> If I understand you right, this does not include my CD (that is,
> music) collection, since that has essentially no connection to my self
> or right to exist. I agree that my self and right to exist are good
> things to preserve, and likewise yours too. However, the normal
> meaning of property rights seems to imply that I get to keep my CD
> collection unless I voluntarily transfer it elsewhere, but I don't see
> how your argument is getting there.

If we have the right to make our future choices, then we can have the right
to make choice A in exchange for something that we can use to acquire CDs.
So if you have the right to choose whether or not to work, you can choose to
work and get money in exchange. If you deny this, then you're denying that
your future choices are yours to make, which seems radical.

> I thought property rights meant that if you made enough bad trades, or
> you start out from a bad-enough position, you could find yourself
> without food or a way to get food because all the food is property of
> someone else, so you starve to death.

If you can't find anyone who would be willing to lend you money for food,
even at an extremely high interest rate, it's confusing as to why you think
you should go on existing, if 1) nobody else thinks you're worth keeping
around, and 2) you haven't even been able to keep yourself going. We
presently have a system in which we sell ourselves into partial slavery in
order that massa government might bail us out of our poor decisions. Perhaps
if this activity were opened up to more competition (e.g. multiple AIs with
different terms of servitude) we would get better customer service.

The difference between these scenarios is who owns the meal. How can
> we specify an algorithm that looks at the history leading up to these
> points and computes who owns what?

It's pretty computationally intensive to look at the whole history, from
"The Normans conquered that particular plot in 1067, and granted it to A,
who granted it to B ... ... .... who sold it to FoodConGlom, Ltd., in 1999,
which .... ... ..." In fact, we have property rights rather than
'transaction histories' specifically to avoid this sort of thing. An AI that
adhered to a common rights-protocol would have an answer; an AI that didn't
adhere would, in the eyes of other entities, be frequently guilty of theft
and thus probably punished.

> Do we want the AI to respect property rights, or do we want the AI to
> be willing to feed the hungry guy if he's hungry enough, nevermind the
> property rights?

Why is feeding a hungry guy predicated on violating property rights? Is the
AI not clever enough to accumulate assets of its own for such purposes? Why
can't it buy the meal? Why can't it feed the guy if he promises to paint its
house? The options are either a) homeless guy is worth less to the world
than the food required to feed him, in which case he's hard to justify
except as an entertaining pet for the AI -- which itself is worth something,
thus shifting us over to b) he is worth more than he costs to keep around,
in which case an intermediary that keeps him alive will have lots of pricing
power for earning the difference between his cost and his potential. As long
as we make slavery contractual and based on individuals, rather than
mandatory and based on states, this is a non-problem.

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