History gives us the perspective to see what went wrong in the past, and to look for patterns, and check whether those patterns apply to the present and near future. And looking in particular at the history of the past 200-400 years -- the age of increasingly rapid change -- one glaringly obvious deviation from the norm of the preceding three thousand centuries -- is the development of Artificial Intelligence, which happened no earlier than 1553 and no later than 1844. [...]
Elon Musk has an obsessive fear of one particular hazard of artificial intelligence -- namely, the paperclip maximizer. [...] Unfortunately, Musk isn't paying enough attention. Consider his own companies. Tesla is a battery maximizer -- an electric car is a battery with wheels and seats. SpaceX is an orbital payload maximizer, driving down the cost of space launches in order to encourage more sales for the service it provides. Solar City is a photovoltaic panel maximizer. And so on. All three of Musk's very own slow AIs are based on an architecture that is designed to maximize return on shareholder investment, even if by doing so they cook the planet the shareholders have to live on. (But if you're Elon Musk, that's okay: you plan to retire on Mars.)
The problem with corporations is that despite their overt goals -- whether they make electric vehicles or beer or sell life insurance policies -- they are all subject to instrumental convergence insofar as they all have a common implicit paperclip-maximizer goal: to generate revenue. If they don't make money, they are eaten by a bigger predator or they go bust. Making money is an instrumental goal -- it's as vital to them as breathing is for us mammals, and without pursuing it they will fail to achieve their final goal, whatever it may be. Corporations generally pursue their instrumental goals -- notably maximizing revenue -- as a side-effect of the pursuit of their overt goal. But sometimes they try instead to manipulate the regulatory environment they operate in, to ensure that money flows towards them regardless. [...]
It seems to me that our current political upheavals are best understood as arising from the capture of post-1917 democratic institutions by large-scale AIs. Everywhere I look I see voters protesting angrily against an entrenched establishment that seems determined to ignore the wants and needs of their human voters in favour of the machines. The Brexit upset was largely the result of a protest vote against the British political establishment; the election of Donald Trump likewise, with a side-order of racism on top. Our major political parties are led by people who are compatible with the system as it exists -- a system that has been shaped over decades by corporations distorting our government and regulatory environments. We humans are living in a world shaped by the desires and needs of AIs, forced to live on their terms, and we are taught that we are valuable only insofar as we contribute to the rule of the machines.
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