ChatGPT on Utilitarianism
What is longtermism?
"Longtermism is an ethical view that emphasizes the long-term impact of our actions, particularly focusing on how those actions will affect the far future. It suggests that because of the vast potential of future generations, our highest priority should be actions that help ensure their existence and wellbeing.
One key aspect of longtermism is the focus on reducing existential risks - risks that could threaten human extinction or severely curtail humanity's potential. This could include dangers from advanced artificial intelligence, nuclear war, climate change, or unknown risks we have yet to encounter.
Longtermism often involves making decisions under conditions of extreme uncertainty. Since it's inherently difficult to predict specific events or outcomes centuries or millennia in advance, the focus is often on trying to steer the broad course of civilization in a more positive direction.
It's important to note that while longtermism places great importance on the far future, it doesn't imply ignoring present concerns. Many longtermists argue that improving conditions in the present is an effective way to influence the long-term future, both by avoiding near-term risks and by fostering a society that will make wise decisions in the future.
Longtermism is an influential perspective in several fields, including philosophy, economics, and public policy, and it's a central principle in the effective altruism movement."
Distinguish what philosopher William MacAskill defines as "strong" from "weak" longtermism.
"William MacAskill, one of the founders of the effective altruism movement, makes a distinction between strong and weak longtermism in his work.
Strong Longtermism: This view asserts that the primary determinant of the value of our actions today is the effect those actions have on the very long-term future. This arises from the consideration that the potential future of humanity could span billions of years and comprise a vast number of sentient beings, thus making the future potentially astronomically valuable. Consequently, actions that significantly influence the likelihood of this long-term future's existence or its quality can be of paramount importance. The strong longtermist is therefore committed to the idea that, under ordinary circumstances, the action that one should take is the one that maximizes expected value over the very long run, even if the effects in the short-term are negligible.
Weak Longtermism: This view, while still emphasizing the importance of the long-term future, is less absolute than strong longtermism. Weak longtermists believe that we have a significant moral reason to consider and positively influence the long-term future, but this is not the only or overriding determinant of what actions we should take. Other considerations, such as addressing immediate suffering or injustice, can also be morally significant.
To put it simply, strong longtermism places the primary value in the impact of today's actions on the far future, while weak longtermism recognizes the value of positively influencing the far future but allows for other considerations to possibly override it in determining our actions."
Distinguish longtermism from a simple commitment to long-term planning.
"Both longtermism and long-term planning share a focus on considering future outcomes, but they diverge significantly in their scope, orientation, and implications.
In summary, while both longtermism and long-term planning involve future-oriented thinking, longtermism is distinguished by its broader scope, moral orientation, larger implications, and approach to uncertainty."
- Scope: Long-term planning typically refers to planning for the future within a specific framework, like an organization or an individual's life. It might involve considerations spanning years or decades. On the other hand, longtermism in the context of effective altruism has a much broader scope. It concerns not just our own future or that of an organization, but the future of humanity as a whole, potentially looking millions or even billions of years into the future.
- Orientation: Long-term planning usually involves setting goals and devising strategies to achieve them over an extended period. It's typically centered around existing structures or frameworks, like a company's strategic plan or a government's policy plan. Longtermism, however, goes beyond specific goals and strategies; it's a moral philosophy that places significant weight on the welfare of future generations. It argues that because there could be an enormous number of people in the future, the actions we take today should prioritize their interests and the long-term future of humanity.
- Implications: The implications of long-term planning are usually confined to the specific context it's applied to, such as improving a business's prospects or achieving personal life goals. Longtermism, in contrast, has potentially much larger implications. It could influence policy making, ethical considerations, resource allocation, and our approach to global challenges such as climate change, existential risks, and technological advancements.
- Predictability and Uncertainty: Long-term planning often assumes a reasonable degree of predictability or control over the future based on current trends and data. Longtermism, on the other hand, acknowledges a significant degree of uncertainty, particularly as the timescale extends into the far future. It often emphasizes actions that seem likely to have positive effects across a wide range of possible future scenarios.
Describe the historical antecedents of longtermism.
"The ideas underlying longtermism can be traced back through various threads of thought in philosophy, religious and secular ethics, and social and political movements. Here are a few significant antecedents:
The concept of longtermism, as it is understood today, is a synthesis of these and other threads of thought, refined and developed within the context of the effective altruism movement."
- Utilitarianism: The utilitarian principle of seeking the greatest good for the greatest number of beings, as articulated by philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, can be seen as an early form of longtermism. Later utilitarians such as Derek Parfit extended this principle to include future generations, arguing that we have a moral obligation to consider the interests of all beings who might exist in the future, not just those currently alive.
- Environmental and conservation movements: Movements focused on preserving natural resources and biodiversity for future generations, such as the conservation movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the environmental movement of the mid-20th century onward, reflect longtermist values. These movements have argued that we have a duty to steward the earth and its resources for the benefit of future generations.
- Futurism and science fiction: The genres of futurism and science fiction have often explored the long-term future of humanity and the ethical issues it raises. For example, works like Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series or Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey" contemplate the future trajectory of human civilization over centuries or millennia.
- Religious and ethical traditions: Many religious and ethical traditions have espoused longtermist principles. For example, the concept of stewardship in Christianity, the principle of the Seventh Generation in some Native American cultures, and the idea of karma and rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions, all express a concern for the long-term consequences of our actions and our responsibilities to future generations.
- Nuclear disarmament and peace movements: The existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, and the efforts to disarm and promote peace, can be seen as a form of longtermism. These movements recognize the potential for human actions today to have profound impacts on the long-term survival of humanity.
- Existential risk studies: More recently, scholars like Nick Bostrom and organizations like the Future of Humanity Institute and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk have focused on understanding and mitigating risks that could threaten the future survival or potential of humanity. This focus on existential risk is a central part of modern longtermism.
How do longtermists believe we should balance the needs of present generations with our obligations to future generations?
"Balancing the needs of present generations with the obligations to future generations is one of the key challenges within the context of longtermism. It involves both ethical considerations and practical decision-making strategies. Here are a few ways this balance could potentially be achieved:
Remember, however, that each of these methods has its limitations and critics, and none is likely to be a silver bullet. The challenge lies in integrating these different strategies into a cohesive approach that genuinely respects both present and future needs."
- Intergenerational Equity: This principle involves giving equal consideration to the interests of future generations. To apply it, we must avoid actions that might bring short-term benefits but cause long-term harm. For example, over-exploitation of natural resources might satisfy current needs, but it may leave future generations without essential resources.
- Sustainable Development: Adopting sustainable development practices can ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This involves considering environmental, economic, and social sustainability in all actions and decisions.
- Precautionary Principle: When actions or policies have the potential to cause harm to future generations, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof falls on those advocating for the action or policy. This principle encourages decision-makers to proceed with caution when future impacts are uncertain.
- Investing in Future-Oriented Technologies: Investment in areas such as clean energy, artificial intelligence, and space exploration can bring benefits to both the present and future generations. These technologies could help solve current issues while also laying a foundation for future development.
- Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the importance of longtermism can help individuals and societies make decisions that account for future generations. This could be done through formal education, public campaigns, or policy-making.
- Institutional Reforms: It might be beneficial to create institutions specifically designed to represent the interests of future generations. For instance, some have proposed the establishment of a "future generations impact assessment" similar to an environmental impact assessment.
So what kind of social discount-rate, if any, is appropriate for considering the moral value of the far future?
"The social discount rate refers to how we value future benefits or costs in comparison to immediate ones. This is not only an important concept in economics but also in longtermism, an ethical view that emphasizes the importance of considering long-term future consequences when making decisions.
From a longtermist perspective, the ideal social discount rate for future benefits would arguably be very low or even zero. This is because a central tenet of longtermism is that the welfare of future generations should be considered as important as the welfare of the current generation. This implies that we should not discount the value of benefits (or costs) simply because they occur in the future.
Some reasons to argue for a low or zero discount rate from a longtermist perspective include:
However, it's important to note that applying a low or zero social discount rate in practice can be challenging. It often requires making decisions under conditions of great uncertainty, and it can lead to counterintuitive or ethically challenging conclusions. Furthermore, there's a distinction between pure time preference (the value we place on present vs future, all else equal) and other reasons we might discount the future, such as the possibility that future generations will be wealthier than us, or the probability of existential catastrophe wiping out all future generations. Longtermists often advocate for a low or zero rate of pure time preference, while still considering these other factors."
- Equal Consideration of Interests: All else equal, a harm that happens 100 years in the future is just as bad as a harm that happens now. From this perspective, it would be unfair to discount future benefits or harms simply because they happen in the future.
- Potential for Compounding Benefits: Even small investments in the present can lead to large benefits in the future due to compounding growth. For instance, investments in technological progress, education, or social institutions can have long-lasting benefits.
- Existential Risks: Longtermists often place a high value on reducing existential risks (risks that could cause human extinction or permanently curtail humanity's potential). If we discount the future heavily, we might be less likely to invest in measures that could mitigate these risks, even if doing so could have enormous benefits in the long term.
Outline potential pitfalls of adopting a longtermist perspective in effective altruism.
"Adopting a longtermist perspective in effective altruism comes with numerous potential benefits, such as encouraging foresight and planning for the long-term survival and prosperity of humanity. However, there are also potential pitfalls to consider:
Remember, recognizing these potential pitfalls doesn't negate the value of a longtermist perspective. Instead, awareness can inform strategies to mitigate these challenges, helping to ensure that longtermism is applied effectively and ethically."
- Uncertainty: The further we look into the future, the more uncertain predictions become. This makes it challenging to confidently assess the impact of our actions today on the distant future.
- Neglect of Immediate Needs: There's a risk that focusing on long-term goals might divert resources and attention away from pressing issues in the present. While it's vital to consider future generations, current suffering and injustices also demand attention.
- Moral Complexity: Weighing the needs of future generations, who don't exist yet, against the needs of existing individuals raises complex moral and ethical questions. It's challenging to decide how much priority should be given to potential future lives versus current ones.
- Difficulty in Measuring Impact: Effective altruism often focuses on quantifiable impact. In the case of longtermism, measuring the outcomes can be extremely difficult, given the long timeframes and the unpredictability of future events.
- Possibility of Paralysis by Analysis: With the vast complexities and uncertainties involved in long-term forecasting, there's a risk of becoming so caught up in analysis that decision-making is delayed or prevented entirely.
- Inflexibility: The longtermist perspective might become rigid, focusing on a fixed idea of what the future should be like and neglecting the possibilities of change and adaptation. Overemphasis on Existential Risks: While mitigating existential risks is crucial, it's also important not to neglect more probable smaller-scale risks that could also have significant negative impacts on the future.
- Public Misunderstanding or Resistance: Longtermist ideas might seem abstract or overly theoretical to many people, making them difficult to communicate effectively and potentially causing misunderstanding or resistance.
- Political Misuse: The idea of a better future can be used to justify harmful actions in the present, particularly when future benefits are speculative or uncertain.
How if at all can we responsibly involve future generations, who can't voice their interests, in our decision-making process today?
"While future generations can't directly voice their interests, there are ways we can try to responsibly represent them in our decision-making processes today. Here are some strategies:
In essence, responsibly involving future generations in our decision-making involves anticipating the potential long-term impacts of our decisions and striving to make choices that protect and promote the wellbeing of future people."
- Future Impact Assessments: Just as Environmental Impact Assessments are used to evaluate the potential environmental effects of a proposed action, we can develop Future Impact Assessments to evaluate the potential long-term effects of our actions on future generations. These assessments could consider a variety of factors, such as environmental sustainability, technological development, and social and economic stability.
- Legal and Political Representation: Some countries and jurisdictions have explored creating legal representatives for future generations. These representatives, whether they be individuals, councils, or commissions, are tasked with considering the long-term effects of policies and advocating for future interests. For example, Wales has a 'Future Generations Commissioner' whose role is to help public bodies think about the long-term impact of their decisions.
- Long-term Planning: Governments, organizations, and individuals can engage in long-term planning that explicitly considers future generations. This can include developing long-term strategic plans, scenario planning, and building in mechanisms for regular review and adaptation as circumstances change.
- Ethical Considerations: Philosophical and ethical frameworks can provide guidance on how to consider future generations. For instance, many ethical theories argue that we should give equal consideration to all individuals, regardless of when they live.
- Precautionary Principle: The precautionary principle suggests that if an action or policy has the potential to cause harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof falls on those advocating for the action or policy. This principle inherently involves considering the potential effects on future generations.
- Public Engagement and Education: Engaging the public in discussions about the long-term future and educating people about the potential impacts of our decisions on future generations can help ensure that these perspectives are included in societal decision-making.
- Investing in Research: Investing in research to better understand potential future scenarios and the possible impacts of our decisions can help us make more informed choices that consider the interests of future generations.
How can we incorporate more immediate forms of effective altruism into a longtermist perspective without diluting its focus?
"Integrating immediate forms of effective altruism into a longtermist perspective is crucial for maintaining a balanced approach that considers both present and future needs. Here are some strategies for achieving this:
Remember, a key part of longtermism is understanding that actions we take now can have far-reaching consequences. So even initiatives that seem to be focused on the immediate term can still be entirely compatible with a longtermist perspective, as long as they're designed and implemented with long-term impacts in mind."
- Mitigating Suffering Now: Immediate interventions that alleviate suffering and improve lives today can create conditions for a better future. For instance, improving global health and education can have long-term effects by enhancing societal resilience and economic productivity, which can affect the trajectory of the future positively.
- Building Robust Institutions: Focusing on institutional reform and capacity-building in the present can have lasting impacts. Creating robust, fair, and efficient institutions can help ensure long-term stability and prosperity.
- Promoting Sustainable Practices: Encouraging more sustainable environmental, social, and economic practices can address pressing issues today while also preserving resources for future generations.
- Investing in Research: Investing in research and development, particularly in fields related to existential risks such as biosecurity or artificial intelligence safety, can provide immediate benefits in terms of jobs and economic growth, while also laying groundwork for long-term safety and prosperity.
- Education and Advocacy: Raising awareness about longtermism, teaching critical thinking skills, and advocating for policy changes can all have immediate impact and foster a societal context that's more conducive to long-term planning.
- Preserving Option Value: Taking actions to preserve our options for the future, such as conserving biodiversity, can have immediate benefits and also increase the range of possibilities open to future generations.
Is longtermism anthropocentric?
"Longtermism is not inherently anthropocentric. While it certainly involves a focus on the long-term future of humanity, it also can (and often does) take into account the welfare of non-human animals and even potential artificial intelligences.
Here are a few key points to consider:
In summary, while longtermism certainly involves a focus on the long-term future of humanity, it is not limited to this and can also incorporate a broader concern for all sentient beings. That said, different longtermists may have different views on these matters, and some may indeed take a more anthropocentric approach than others."
- Broad Scope: Longtermism is often characterized by its concern for the very long-term future, including all sentient beings that might exist in that future. This could include humans, non-human animals, and potentially even artificially intelligent beings.
- Moral Circle Expansion: Many longtermists advocate for the expansion of the "moral circle" to include more beings within our sphere of moral concern. This might involve advocating for animal welfare or considering the potential interests of future artificial intelligences.
- Consideration of Wild Animal Suffering: Some longtermists also consider the potential future suffering of wild animals. For instance, they might be concerned about future technologies or activities that could inadvertently cause suffering for wild animals, or they might consider ways in which we could reduce wild animal suffering in the long term.
- Values Spreading: A significant part of longtermist strategy often involves spreading beneficial values, such as empathy and respect for all sentient beings. Longtermists might hope that by promoting these values now, we can increase the likelihood of a future in which all beings are considered and treated well.
Discuss the overlap of transhumanism and longtermism.
"Transhumanism and longtermism, two philosophies that deal with the future of humanity, share certain points of overlap, especially in the context of effective altruism. Both philosophies are focused on improving the long-term prospects of sentient life, but they approach this goal from different angles.
Transhumanism, as represented by thinkers such as Nick Bostrom and David Pearce, advocates for using technology to enhance human intellectual and physical capacities and improve our subjective experience. Nick Bostrom, for instance, has written extensively about superintelligence and the potential risks and benefits associated with the development of advanced artificial intelligence. David Pearce, on the other hand, is known for his work on the Hedonistic Imperative, which argues for the use of technology to eliminate all forms of unpleasant experience in human life.
Longtermism, in the context of effective altruism, is the belief that the primary determinant of the moral value of our actions today is how those actions affect the very long-term future. This includes reducing existential risks that could permanently curtail the potential of sentient life, but also shaping the trajectory of civilization in ways that increase the likelihood of a flourishing long-term future.
The overlap between transhumanism and longtermism in effective altruism is quite significant:
Overall, the philosophies of transhumanism and longtermism can be seen as complementary in many ways, especially within the framework of effective altruism. By focusing on both immediate and long-term strategies for improving life, these philosophies can provide a more comprehensive approach to creating a better future."
- Existential Risk: Both transhumanists like Bostrom and longtermists within the effective altruism community place a high priority on mitigating existential risks, especially those associated with advanced technology. This involves both reducing risks, such as those posed by uncontrolled artificial intelligence, and promoting potential benefits, such as the use of technology to improve human wellbeing.
- Future-Oriented Ethics: Both perspectives involve a strong ethical focus on the future. Transhumanists advocate for improving the future by enhancing human capacities and wellbeing, while longtermists advocate for actions that will improve the long-term future of sentient life.
- Use of Technology: Transhumanism and longtermism both see a significant role for technology in achieving their goals. Transhumanists focus on technologies that can enhance human capabilities and eliminate suffering, while longtermists often consider technologies that could help reduce existential risks or shape the long-term future.
- Improvement of Wellbeing: Both philosophies share a common goal of improving the wellbeing of sentient life. Transhumanism aims to do so through human enhancement and the elimination of suffering, while longtermism seeks to ensure the long-term survival and flourishing of sentient beings.
How do existential risks play into the longtermist perspective? How can existential risks be most effectively mitigated?
"In longtermism, existential risks — risks that could cause human extinction or irreversibly damage civilization's potential — are a primary concern. The reason for this is the potential loss of the vast amount of value that the future could hold. If we consider all the generations that could come after us, their collective wellbeing far outweighs that of the current population, hence the focus on preventing existential risks that could jeopardize this potential.
Here's how some major existential risks play into the longtermist perspective and how they might be mitigated:
These are just a few examples of existential risks and potential mitigation strategies. The longtermist perspective emphasizes both ongoing vigilance and proactiveness in addressing these risks. It also highlights the importance of making robust and resilient systems and institutions to effectively manage and mitigate these risks."
- Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): AGI, or highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work, could pose risks if not developed safely or if used maliciously. Mitigation strategies involve researching safe AGI development techniques, promoting a culture of safety in the AI research community, and advocating for responsible policy and oversight.
- Nuclear War: Nuclear war could potentially lead to human extinction. Mitigation efforts include promoting diplomacy, arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament.
- Climate Change: Severe climate change could trigger a series of events that might make Earth uninhabitable. Mitigation involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing and implementing sustainable technologies, and possibly researching geoengineering techniques as a last resort.
- Pandemics: Natural or engineered pandemics could pose existential risks, as demonstrated by COVID-19, though on a much larger scale. Mitigation strategies include improving global health infrastructure, disease surveillance, and research into relevant areas like synthetic biology safety.
- Biotechnology Risks: Advances in biotechnology could potentially be used to create harmful biological agents. To mitigate these risks, it's essential to regulate these technologies carefully, conduct safety and ethics research, and educate those in the field about the possible dangers.
- Asteroid Impact: While rare, a large asteroid impact could pose an existential risk. Mitigation involves tracking Near-Earth Objects and researching potential deflection methods.
"Existential risks" are conceived differently by classical and negative utilitarian longtermists. Can you alaborate?
"Yes, you're right. The concept of existential risks can indeed be conceived differently depending on one's philosophical perspective, and this is certainly the case when contrasting classical utilitarianism and negative utilitarianism in the context of longtermism.
First, let's briefly define these two forms of utilitarianism:
Now, let's consider the implications of these two perspectives for existential risks:
- Classical utilitarianism: This ethical theory states that the best action is the one that maximizes utility, which is usually defined in terms of happiness or pleasure. In other words, it seeks to increase positive experiences and decrease negative ones.
- Negative utilitarianism: This theory, in contrast, prioritizes the reduction of suffering over the increase of happiness. It posits that the best action is the one that minimizes negative utility, i.e., suffering.
Classical utilitarian longtermists might view existential risks primarily in terms of their potential to prevent astronomical amounts of future happiness. For instance, if humanity were to go extinct due to an existential risk, then all potential future individuals who might have led happy lives would never exist, representing a vast loss of potential happiness. They may also take into account the suffering that such an event would cause, but the main emphasis would be on the lost potential for happiness.
Negative utilitarian longtermists, on the other hand, might emphasize the potential for existential risks to cause vast amounts of suffering. For example, they might focus on how a catastrophic event such as a nuclear war or a pandemic could cause immense suffering for those who experience it. They might also argue that preventing future lives, even potentially happy ones, could be a good thing if it also prevents potential future suffering. Some negative utilitarians may even take the controversial position that human extinction is not necessarily bad, if it ultimately means the end of all potential suffering.
In practice, both classical and negative utilitarians would likely agree on many policy recommendations for reducing existential risks, as most such risks could both cause massive suffering and prevent vast amounts of potential happiness. However, their underlying philosophical reasons for prioritizing these actions would be different. "
Discuss the work of some classical and negative utilitarian longtermists.
"Sure, let's look at some individual thinkers and their contributions to both classical utilitarianism and negative utilitarianism in the context of longtermism:
Again, please note that philosophers' views can be nuanced and they may not fit neatly into a single category, so this should be taken as a very broad characterization. It's always best to consult their individual works for a more detailed understanding of their views."
- Classical Utilitarian Longtermists:
Peter Singer: Known as one of the most influential living philosophers, Singer's work in applied ethics often takes a utilitarian approach. While not all his work directly discusses longtermism, his utilitarian reasoning often leads to a longtermist perspective. For example, he has been instrumental in popularizing the idea of "effective altruism", which includes among its principles the concept of doing the most good over the long run. He advocates for considering the interests of all beings capable of suffering, including future generations, which reflects a longtermist perspective.
Toby Ord: A philosopher at the University of Oxford, Ord is a co-founder of the effective altruism movement and the author of "The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity," in which he discusses various existential risks that humanity faces. His work is grounded in a utilitarian perspective that places a high value on the future and seeks to do the most good over the long run, which aligns with the principles of classical utilitarian longtermism.
William MacAskill: Also a co-founder of the effective altruism movement, MacAskill has written extensively on topics related to doing the most good, including the idea of "earning to give" (pursuing a high-income career in order to donate a significant portion of one's income to effective charities) and the moral value of the future. His work reflects a classical utilitarian perspective that places great importance on the potential value of the future, and he advocates for efforts to reduce existential risks and improve the long-term future.
- Negative Utilitarian Longtermist:
David Pearce: Pearce is a philosopher known for his work on transhumanism and the abolitionist project, which seeks to eliminate suffering in all sentient life through technological means. His perspective aligns with negative utilitarianism in its focus on the reduction of suffering. In terms of longtermism, Pearce has written about the potential for advanced technology to not only reduce but potentially eliminate suffering in the future, which could be seen as a form of negative utilitarian longtermism. However, unlike some negative utilitarians, Pearce does not advocate for extinction as a means to prevent suffering but instead advocates for the use of technology to reshape the nature of life in a way that eliminates suffering.
Discuss the role of technological advances in longtermism. How might technology affect our ability to influence the far future?
"Technology plays a significant role in the longtermist perspective. It shapes the trajectory of our civilization, influences the range of existential risks we face, and affects our capacity to mitigate those risks and influence the far future. Here's how technology interacts with longtermism:
However, it's important to remember that technological progress also presents challenges. Rapid technological advancement can outpace our ability to understand and manage risks. Technology can be misused or have unintended negative consequences. For instance, while nuclear technology provides a source of energy, it also poses risks of nuclear weapons and waste. Similarly, AI and automation, while providing numerous benefits, also present challenges related to job displacement and privacy.
- Mitigating Existential Risks: Many of the existential risks that concern longtermists are tied to technology, such as artificial general intelligence (AGI) or biotechnology. However, technology also provides the means to mitigate these risks. For instance, advancements in AI safety research aim to make AGI beneficial, and advances in biotechnology can improve our ability to respond to pandemics.
- Understanding and Exploration: Technological advances in fields like physics, astronomy, and computing help us understand the universe better and explore space. This understanding can help us manage and mitigate risks. For instance, asteroid detection systems help mitigate the risk of asteroid impacts.
- Sustainability: Technology plays a crucial role in helping humanity transition towards more sustainable practices. For instance, developments in renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient appliances can help mitigate climate change, a significant long-term risk.
- Communication and Coordination: Technology facilitates global communication and coordination, which are essential for addressing global challenges and risks. The Internet, for example, allows for the quick dissemination of important information and enables collaboration between people across the globe.
- Preservation of Knowledge: Digital technology allows us to store vast amounts of information and knowledge, which can be passed on to future generations. This can be crucial for maintaining and building upon scientific and cultural progress.
- Enhancing Well-being: Technological advancements can improve quality of life, health, and well-being, creating conditions for a better future. For example, medical technology advancements can increase life expectancy and quality of life.
Therefore, from a longtermist perspective, it's essential to guide technological development responsibly, prioritize safety and ethics, and actively work to mitigate associated risks. It also highlights the importance of technology policy and governance to manage these complexities and ensure that technological progress benefits all of humanity."
Explain the significance of genome reform and germline engineering for (hedweb.com) for longtermism.
"Genome reform and germline engineering, as discussed by David Pearce (hedweb.com), refer to the use of genetic engineering techniques to make changes to human genetic material — specifically, the DNA in the cells that give rise to eggs or sperm (germline cells). These changes can then be passed on to future generations. The significance of these technologies for longtermism is substantial for several reasons:
It's crucial to note that while germline engineering offers considerable promise, it's a controversial and ethically complex field that will require careful navigation. The longtermist perspective emphasizes the need to thoroughly consider the long-term implications and risks associated with this technology and to make decisions that will most likely benefit future generations."
- Alleviation of Suffering: One of the primary goals of Pearce's work is the elimination of human suffering. Germline engineering could potentially be used to eliminate genetic diseases and predispositions to various forms of suffering (both physical and psychological). This aligns with the longtermist perspective of optimizing for a future where sentient beings can thrive without unnecessary suffering.
- Human Enhancement: Beyond eliminating suffering, germline engineering could potentially be used to enhance human capabilities — cognitive, physical, and emotional. This could lead to a future where humanity is better equipped to handle existential risks, create a flourishing society, and explore the universe.
- Ethical Implications: Germline engineering has substantial ethical implications that will need careful thought from a longtermist perspective. Questions arise around the ethics of altering human nature, potential inequality issues (if enhancements are available only to the rich), and the risks of unintended consequences (both medical and societal).
- Influence on Evolution: Germline engineering represents a profound shift in human evolution, allowing us to take control of our genetic destiny. This could be viewed as a responsibility to future generations to minimize suffering and maximize wellbeing.
- Risks and Regulation: As with all powerful technologies, germline engineering has associated risks, including the potential for misuse or unintended negative consequences. Responsible regulation and oversight will be critical, which is something longtermists might be particularly concerned with.
Should longtermists support genome reform to elevate hedonic set-points and pain tolerance?
"Longtermists strive to ensure that the long-term future of sentient beings is as positive as it can be, and many of them do believe in making changes that can bring about a world with less suffering and more well-being. Therefore, if it is scientifically possible and ethically justified, they may support genome editing to elevate hedonic set-points and increase pain tolerance.
David Pearce, a prominent figure in the effective altruism community and a co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association, argues on his site (hedweb.com) in favor of using biotechnology to elevate hedonic set-points. He proposes the abolitionist project, which aims to use biotechnology to abolish suffering in all sentient life. This includes using genetic engineering to ensure higher levels of well-being in future generations. Pearce believes this kind of radical reform is a moral imperative.
Support for this idea, however, is not unanimous among longtermists, effective altruists, or the broader public. Some of the key points of debate include:
In conclusion, while some longtermists might support such genetic interventions, it's a complex and contentious issue with significant technological, ethical, and philosophical hurdles to address."
- Technological Feasibility: As of 2021, our understanding of the genetic and neurological underpinnings of happiness and pain is still limited, and we lack the technology to make precise, safe, and effective modifications to these aspects of our biology.
- Ethical Considerations: There are many ethical issues to consider, including informed consent (especially for future generations), the potential for coercion or undue pressure to undergo genetic modifications, and the possible exacerbation of social inequities.
- Unintended Consequences: There could be unintended side effects or long-term consequences of such drastic biological changes. For example, pain has a crucial role in survival as it signals harm to the body. Overly high hedonic set-points might also lead to complacency or lack of motivation.
- Value Pluralism: People have different conceptions of what a good life looks like. Some might argue that a certain amount of suffering or challenge is necessary for personal growth, meaningful achievements, or a full range of human experiences.
What strategies can be used to make the concept of longtermism more accessible and compelling to the general public?
"Making longtermism more accessible and compelling to the general public is indeed a challenge, given that it requires a significant shift in perspective from short-term, immediate concerns to the far future. However, several strategies can help communicate the value and importance of longtermism more effectively:
While it's important to promote understanding of longtermism, it's also crucial to acknowledge and address valid concerns and objections, and to engage in open and respectful dialogue about this perspective."
- Storytelling: Narratives and stories are powerful tools to convey abstract ideas. Telling stories about the future, using scenarios or speculative fiction, can help people envision the long-term consequences of today's actions. It can also make the concept of longtermism more emotionally engaging and relatable.
- Concrete Examples: People often find abstract concepts easier to grasp when they are illustrated with concrete examples. For instance, discussing specific existential risks, like climate change or pandemics, can make the stakes of longtermism clearer.
- Emphasizing Shared Values: Framing longtermism in terms of widely shared values, such as caring for children and grandchildren or leaving a positive legacy, can make it more appealing. It is also effective to link longtermism to moral and ethical considerations that people already find meaningful.
- Educational Outreach: More traditional educational efforts, like workshops, seminars, online courses, or informational materials can help increase understanding of longtermism. These efforts can target different age groups and communities to spread the concept more widely.
- Visual Illustrations: Infographics, diagrams, or other visual tools can help convey the importance of considering the long-term future. For instance, visualizations that illustrate the vast potential future of humanity can be very impactful.
- Leveraging Influential Figures: Having respected figures in various fields — science, technology, arts, politics, and more — advocate for longtermism can help gain wider acceptance and understanding of this perspective.
- Policy Advocacy: Advocating for policies that reflect longtermist values can help make these ideas more concrete and tangible. This might include policies on climate change, artificial intelligence safety, or pandemic preparedness.
- Community Building: Creating communities or groups centered around longtermist values can provide a space for interested individuals to learn more, engage with others, and contribute to longtermist efforts.
How can we ensure that longtermism doesn't fall into the trap of "paralysis by analysis", given the inherent uncertainty of predicting future needs?
"Longtermism does indeed grapple with significant uncertainty, particularly when it comes to predicting the needs, values, and circumstances of future generations. This could potentially lead to a state of "paralysis by analysis," where decision-making is hampered due to overthinking and indecision. However, several strategies can help avoid this pitfall:
The key is to balance the need for thoughtful, careful analysis with the recognition that perfect certainty is unachievable. By taking a thoughtful, adaptive approach to decision-making, longtermism can avoid becoming paralyzing and remain a productive framework for making the world better for current and future generations."
- Value of Information Analysis: This involves explicitly calculating the expected benefit of acquiring more information before making a decision. If the cost of delay (due to seeking more information) outweighs the potential benefits, it may be best to proceed with the decision based on the information currently available.
- Robust Decision Making: This approach involves making decisions that are likely to have good outcomes under a wide range of plausible future scenarios. This can reduce the need for precise predictions about the future, focusing instead on strategies that are robust against uncertainty.
- Iterative Decision Making: Instead of attempting to make the perfect decision right away, it can be effective to make smaller, iterative decisions, adjusting the course of action based on ongoing learning and feedback. This approach recognizes that our understanding of the world is always evolving.
- Risk Mitigation: Longtermism often emphasizes risk mitigation, particularly with respect to existential risks. Even when we can't predict the future with certainty, we can still identify potential threats and work to reduce them.
- Moral Uncertainty: Longtermism often incorporates the principle of moral uncertainty, which involves giving weight to various moral theories or considerations when there is not a clear consensus. This can guide decision-making when predictions about future moral values or needs are uncertain.
- Focus on Near-Term Actions with Long-Term Impact: Some actions we take today have clear long-term implications, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change or investing in AI safety research. Focusing on such actions can provide a clear path forward despite the uncertainty of the distant future.
- Leveraging Collective Wisdom: Engaging with a diverse range of perspectives can help in making better decisions amidst uncertainty. This can involve interdisciplinary collaboration, public engagement, and drawing on insights from fields like decision theory, philosophy, and economics.
How can longtermism be applied to current global issues like climate change, pandemics, or artificial general intelligence?
"Longtermism is a perspective that emphasizes the importance of positively influencing the long-term future and reducing existential risks. Its application to current global issues like climate change, pandemics, and artificial general intelligence (AGI) involves a focus on policies and actions that have enduring impact and can secure a thriving future for humanity. Here's how it might be applied to each of these issues:
In all these cases, the goal from a longtermist perspective is not only to mitigate immediate risks but also to secure a long-term future where humanity can flourish. It involves considering the implications of our current decisions on future generations and prioritizing actions that have a lasting positive impact."
- Climate Change: From a longtermist perspective, combating climate change is critical due to its potentially disastrous consequences for future generations. Measures could include:
- Prioritizing clean and renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Investing in research for climate change mitigation technologies, such as carbon capture and storage.
- Implementing stringent environmental policies and encouraging sustainable practices.
- Developing adaptations to help societies cope with changes that can't be avoided.
- Pandemics: Pandemics pose both immediate and long-term risks. Longtermism would focus on reducing these risks through measures like:
- Strengthening public health infrastructure globally, particularly in vulnerable regions.
- Investing in research for rapid vaccine and therapeutic development.
- Implementing early detection systems for infectious diseases.
- Building robust systems for global cooperation and response during health crises.
- Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): AGI could have profound implications for the future, both positive and negative. Longtermism can guide its development by:
- Promoting research into AGI safety and alignment (making sure AGI's goals align with human values).
- Advocating for cooperative and slow-paced development of AGI, to avoid a competitive race without adequate safety precautions.
- Encouraging transparent sharing of AI research, while being mindful of the potential misuse.
- Supporting robust regulation and oversight of AGI development. ,/ul>
How does longtermism address potential conflicts between human-centered and animal-inclusive perspectives within effective altruism?
"Longtermism, as a philosophy within effective altruism, generally focuses on actions that have long-term benefits for sentient beings, which could include both humans and non-human animals. However, there may be tensions or conflicts between human-centered and animal-inclusive perspectives. Here's how longtermism might navigate these conflicts:
In summary, longtermism doesn't provide a simple resolution to all conflicts between human-centered and animal-inclusive perspectives, but it provides a framework for thinking carefully about these issues, considering the long-term consequences of our actions, and striving to do the most good we can for all sentient beings."
- Shared Priorities: Both human-centered and animal-inclusive perspectives within effective altruism often converge on certain priorities. For instance, both tend to agree on the importance of reducing suffering and existential risks, since such risks threaten all sentient beings. Longtermism can focus on these shared priorities.
- Expanding the Circle of Compassion: One principle of longtermism is that the welfare of future sentient beings (whether human or non-human) should be given equal consideration to those currently living. This inherently promotes an animal-inclusive perspective, by recognizing that animals, too, have interests that should be considered.
- Specific Interventions: Longtermism can support interventions that simultaneously benefit humans and animals. For example, promoting plant-based or cell-cultured meats can reduce animal suffering in factory farming, mitigate environmental harm, and improve human health.
- Navigating Trade-offs: There may be situations where human interests and animal interests conflict. In such cases, longtermism would encourage a careful analysis of the trade-offs, taking into account the long-term consequences for all affected parties. This involves weighing the magnitude and likelihood of potential harms and benefits, considering the interests of all sentient beings involved.
- Moral Uncertainty: Longtermists often recognize the principle of moral uncertainty, which suggests we should hedge our actions when we're unsure about important moral questions. If we're uncertain about issues like animal consciousness or the value of different forms of life, we might choose to err on the side of caution and take actions that are likely to be beneficial regardless of our uncertainties.
- Influencing Future Attitudes: Longtermism is also concerned with influencing the values and attitudes of future generations. If we believe that a more animal-inclusive perspective is ethically correct, we can work to promote this perspective in the present, with the hope of shaping more compassionate attitudes in the future.
Discuss the longtermist perspective of ending the horrors of factory-farming and slaughterhouses
"The longtermist perspective, which values the long-term future and the welfare of future beings, certainly has implications for our treatment of non-human animals, particularly as it relates to practices like factory farming. Here's how these issues could be considered from a longtermist perspective:
It's important to note that these are some potential longtermist considerations, and individual longtermists might weigh these factors differently depending on their particular values and beliefs."
- Direct Impact on Future Animals: If factory farming continues into the far future, the number of animals suffering could be astronomical. From a longtermist perspective, efforts to end factory farming could thus be seen as highly valuable, even if those efforts only have a small chance of succeeding or only reduce the scale of factory farming by a small amount.
- Indirect Impact on Future Beings: Our treatment of animals might set a precedent for how future advanced civilizations treat beings within their own societies, whether those beings are human, non-human, or artificial. Working towards a more compassionate society could increase the chance that future societies will also be compassionate and considerate of the interests of all sentient beings.
- Technological Solutions: Longtermism often involves a focus on technological progress, and technology could play a role in ending factory farming. For instance, developing and promoting alternatives to conventionally farmed meat, such as plant-based or lab-grown meat, could reduce demand for factory farmed products and ultimately make factory farming obsolete. Longtermists might thus see value in investing in these technologies now, given their potential to reduce suffering in the long term.
- Potential Risks: Some longtermists might also consider potential risks associated with ending factory farming, such as disruptions to food supply or economies, and how these might be managed in a way that ensures a net positive impact over the long term. The goal would be to mitigate these risks while still working towards an end to factory farming.
- Balancing Priorities: Longtermists also have to balance animal welfare against other long-term considerations. For example, some longtermists may feel that resources would be better spent on mitigating existential risks, on the grounds that ensuring the long-term survival and flourishing of sentient life could have even greater benefits over the very long term. However, others may argue that these goals are not mutually exclusive, and that efforts to improve animal welfare can and should be part of a comprehensive longtermist strategy.
- Moral Circle Expansion: Working on the plight of farmed animals could also lead to what some effective altruists refer to as 'moral circle expansion', or the broadening of the range of beings whose interests are taken into consideration by society. This could be very important from a longtermist perspective, as it might influence how future societies treat not just animals, but also other potential beings like artificial intelligences or alien life forms.
To what extent should decision-makers in society (like politicians or CEOs) adopt a longtermist perspective?
"Adopting a longtermist perspective can greatly benefit decision-makers like politicians or CEOs, as it allows for the consideration of the broader implications of their decisions. However, the extent to which they should adopt a longtermist perspective can depend on several factors:
In summary, while a longtermist perspective can greatly benefit decision-makers and should be encouraged, it's essential to strike a balance between short-term needs and long-term consequences. It's also crucial to navigate the challenges and constraints that can arise from various external pressures and expectations."
- Nature of the Decision: Some decisions have clear long-term consequences, and these demand a longtermist approach. For example, decisions related to climate policy, public health infrastructure, or corporate sustainability strategies inherently involve long-term impacts and trade-offs.
- Impact Scope: Decision-makers whose actions can affect a large number of people (or sentient beings in general) over extended periods of time should generally lean more towards longtermism. For instance, the CEO of a global corporation or a world leader may need to consider long-term consequences more heavily than a local business owner.
- Trade-offs: While it's important to consider the long-term impacts of decisions, short-term considerations cannot be entirely ignored. For instance, a politician must balance the immediate needs and welfare of their constituents with potential long-term consequences. Similarly, a CEO has to manage the day-to-day operations and short-term financial health of a company while pursuing long-term sustainability and growth.
- Public Sentiment and Stakeholder Expectations: Public opinion and stakeholder expectations can often be focused on the short term. It can be challenging for decision-makers to pursue long-term goals if they face pressure for immediate results. However, part of their role can be to educate and shift these expectations towards a more longtermist perspective.
- Accountability Mechanisms: One challenge for adopting longtermism in decision-making is the lack of accountability for long-term outcomes. Mechanisms that hold decision-makers accountable for the long-term consequences of their actions can help encourage a longtermist perspective.
What role do probability and prediction play in the practical application of longtermism?
"Probability and prediction are central to the practical application of longtermism. Given that longtermism involves actions to positively influence the far future, we must make predictions and assess probabilities about the potential outcomes of our actions. Here's how these concepts play a role:
While probability and prediction are crucial to longtermism, it's also important to acknowledge the significant uncertainty involved. Our ability to predict the far future is limited, and our probability estimates are often based on limited information and subjective judgements. Thus, humility, flexibility, and a willingness to update our beliefs based on new evidence are important virtues in the practical application of longtermism."
- Existential Risk Assessment: Longtermism emphasizes the reduction of existential risks—events that could cause human extinction or permanently curtail humanity's potential. Assessing these risks involves estimating the probability of various catastrophic scenarios, like a nuclear war, extreme climate change, or uncontrolled artificial general intelligence.
- Cause Prioritization: Probability and prediction are key to determining which causes to prioritize. Effective altruists often use a framework that considers the scale, neglectedness, and tractability of various problems. Estimating these factors involves making predictions and assessing probabilities.
- Expected Value Calculations: In many situations, longtermists use the concept of expected value to guide their actions. Expected value is the sum of all possible outcomes of an action, each multiplied by its probability and its value. Even if an action has a small chance of success, it can have a high expected value if its potential impact is large enough.
- Moral Uncertainty: Longtermists often apply probability to moral questions. For example, if we're uncertain about whether non-human animals have moral value, we might choose to assign a non-zero probability to this belief and factor it into our decision-making.
- Scenario Planning: Given the inherent uncertainty of the future, longtermists often consider multiple plausible scenarios when making plans or strategies. This involves making predictions about various future possibilities and estimating their probabilities.
- Value of Information Analysis: Sometimes it may be worth delaying a decision in order to gather more information, especially if that information could significantly affect the decision's outcome. The value of this additional information can be estimated using probabilistic models.
How does longtermism handle the potential for unforeseen variables and changes in societal or technological contexts over time?
"Longtermism acknowledges that the future is inherently uncertain and full of unforeseen variables, particularly over long time horizons and in rapidly changing societal or technological contexts. Here are several ways in which longtermism attempts to handle this complexity:
While these strategies can help, it's important to acknowledge that predicting the far future and managing unforeseen variables are inherently challenging. Longtermism emphasizes humility and the recognition that our ability to predict and control the far future is limited. Despite these challenges, longtermism argues that we should still strive to make the best decisions we can with the information we have, due to the vast potential value of the long-term future."
- Robust Decision Making: Longtermism often advocates for strategies that are likely to be beneficial across a wide range of plausible future scenarios. This means favoring decisions that don't overly rely on specific predictions about the future, but rather have a good chance of producing positive outcomes even if unexpected changes occur.
- Resilience and Flexibility: Longtermism supports the development of resilient systems that can withstand unexpected shocks, as well as flexible strategies that can be adjusted as new information becomes available. This is particularly relevant when considering risks associated with advanced technology or global challenges such as climate change or pandemics.
- Value of Information and Research: When dealing with high levels of uncertainty, gathering more information can be a high-priority intervention. This might include research into technologies, societal trends, or potential risks and how they might evolve over time.
- Moral Uncertainty: Given the potential for changes in societal values and ethics over time, longtermism often advocates taking moral uncertainty into account. This involves giving consideration to a range of moral perspectives and being open to updating our moral beliefs as society evolves.
- Mitigating Existential Risks: Given the potential for unforeseen existential risks, particularly from technological advancement, a key focus of longtermism is researching and mitigating these risks to ensure the survival and long-term flourishing of humanity.
- Iterative Decision Making: Rather than making one-off decisions, longtermism encourages an iterative decision-making process where decisions are frequently re-evaluated and adjusted based on new information or changing circumstances.
Can longtermism coexist with other ethical frameworks, or does it necessitate a unique approach to moral decision-making?
"Longtermism, as an ethical perspective, focuses on the importance of positively influencing the long-term future, emphasizing the moral value of future generations and reducing existential risks. While it does bring a unique perspective, it doesn't necessarily conflict with other ethical frameworks, and can coexist with many of them in interesting ways. Here are a few examples:
However, longtermism can challenge some traditional ethical perspectives. For example, it often involves making decisions under high uncertainty, which can be challenging from a deontological perspective that seeks clear moral rules. It also involves a strong focus on the future, which can be at odds with ethical views that focus primarily on the present or the near term.
- Utilitarianism: Utilitarianism seeks to maximize overall well-being or happiness. A utilitarian might adopt a longtermist perspective by recognizing the vast potential for creating well-being in the future, and prioritizing actions that maximize this expected value over the long term.
- Deontology: Deontological ethics is based on rules, duties, or rights. A deontologist might adopt a longtermist perspective by arguing that we have a duty to protect and preserve the potential for future life, or that future generations have rights that we should respect.
- Virtue Ethics: Virtue ethics emphasizes moral character and virtues. A virtue ethicist might view longtermism as an expression of virtues like prudence, responsibility, and care for others, which includes future generations.
- Consequentialism: Longtermism can be seen as a type of consequentialism, since it advocates for actions based on their expected long-term consequences. However, it brings a unique focus on the long-term future and existential risks, which are often overlooked in other forms of consequentialism.
- Contractualism: Contractualism involves making moral decisions based on what individuals would agree to under certain hypothetical conditions. A contractualist might argue that if we were behind a "veil of ignorance" and didn't know whether we would be born in the present or the future, we would agree to a longtermist perspective that gives equal consideration to future generations.
In general, longtermism brings a unique perspective to moral decision-making, emphasizing aspects that are often neglected in other ethical frameworks. But it can be incorporated into a variety of ethical views, and can coexist with and complement these views in many ways."
How do we address the possible ethical issues of giving greater weight to future generations who do not currently exist?
"Giving greater weight to future generations raises several ethical considerations:
In conclusion, while there are many ethical issues associated with giving greater weight to future generations, many of these can be addressed within the longtermist framework. It's also worth noting that failing to consider future generations also raises serious ethical concerns, particularly given the potential magnitude of our long-term impact.
- Potential vs. Actual Interests: Future individuals do not currently exist and thus do not have actual interests or preferences. Some philosophers argue that we can only have obligations to beings with actual interests. However, many ethicists, particularly those sympathetic to longtermism, argue that we have obligations to future people because they will have interests once they exist.
- Uncertainty: The further into the future we look, the greater the uncertainty. We can't be sure about what future people will value, need, or want. While this is a significant challenge, longtermists often argue that there are some things we can reasonably predict future people will value—such as a stable climate, a peaceful world, and access to resources.
- Discounting: Should we discount the welfare of future people simply because they're in the future? Most longtermists would argue against pure time discounting, which they see as unfairly discriminating against future people. But there's still a question of how much weight we should give to future generations compared to present ones.
- Non-Identity Problem: Some philosophical problems arise when our actions can affect who will come to exist in the future. For example, if a policy results in different people being born in the future, is it meaningful to say it harms or benefits them? Different philosophers have different views on this "non-identity problem."
- Neglect of Present Suffering: If we focus too much on the future, we risk neglecting those who are suffering in the present. Longtermists generally argue that we should strive to help both current and future generations. However, they emphasize that our actions can potentially affect a vastly larger number of people in the future, which is why they focus on long-term impacts.
- Action Paralysis: If we're constantly worrying about potential impacts on the far future, we might end up paralyzed and unable to make decisions. Longtermists generally acknowledge this challenge, and advocate for decision-making frameworks that allow us to act effectively under uncertainty.
What is intergenerational equity?
"Intergenerational equity refers to the concept of fairness or justice in relationships between children, youth, adults, and seniors, particularly in terms of treatment and interactions. It can also be understood as fairness in rights, life prospects, and duties across generations. This concept is often invoked when discussing issues such as government debt, environmental policy, and resource depletion.
In the context of environmental and sustainability discussions, intergenerational equity is the idea that the present generation should not deplete resources or harm the environment in ways that prevent future generations from enjoying the same level of resources or environmental quality. The idea was enshrined in international law in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which states that "the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations."
Intergenerational equity is thus an essential concept for longtermism and effective altruism, as it pushes us to consider the effects of our actions not just on people existing today, but also on people who will exist in the future. It also provides an ethical argument for reducing existential risks, which are risks that could permanently curtail humanity's potential, because failing to address such risks could be seen as profoundly unfair to future generations."
What are the best ways to measure and quantify the potential long-term impacts of our actions today?
"Measuring and quantifying the long-term impacts of our actions is inherently challenging due to the uncertainty and complexity of predicting future outcomes. Nevertheless, several approaches and methods are used in the field of longtermism:
Remember, all these methods involve a significant degree of uncertainty and should be used with caution. It's important to avoid false precision and to communicate the uncertainty involved in any estimates or predictions. Longtermists often advocate for decision-making approaches that are robust to uncertainty, and for a willingness to update our beliefs and strategies based on new evidence."
- Expected Value Calculations: Longtermists often use expected value calculations to evaluate potential impacts. This involves estimating the different possible outcomes of an action, the value of each outcome, and the probability of each outcome, and then summing these values. This method is particularly useful when considering actions with low probabilities of success but high potential impact.
- Cause Prioritization Research: Cause prioritization involves comparing different issues or interventions based on factors such as scale (how big is the problem?), tractability (can we do anything about it?), and neglectedness (are others already working on it?). This research often involves making predictions and estimates about long-term impacts, although these are generally accompanied by high levels of uncertainty.
- Modeling and Simulation: Computer modeling and simulation can be used to predict the potential long-term impacts of certain actions, especially in fields like climate science or economics. However, these models are only as good as the assumptions they're based on, and they may not capture all relevant factors.
- Historical Analysis: We can sometimes gain insight into the potential long-term impacts of our actions by studying historical precedents. This is more applicable to some areas than others, and there's always the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions from history.
- Expert Elicitation: This involves systematically gathering and aggregating the opinions of experts. This can be particularly useful when dealing with complex and uncertain topics, although it's important to account for potential biases or errors in expert judgement.
- Value of Information Analysis: Sometimes the best action is to gather more information. Value of information analysis involves estimating how much the outcome of a decision could improve if we had more or better information.
How can longtermism influence policy-making and what would be the potential challenges of such an influence?
"Longtermism can significantly influence policy-making by encouraging decision-makers to consider the long-term effects of their actions and policies. Here are some ways longtermism might shape policy-making, along with potential challenges:
In sum, while longtermism can provide a valuable perspective in policy-making, implementing it presents several challenges. These challenges often revolve around uncertainty about the future, the need to balance short-term and long-term interests, and the difficulty of maintaining focus on long-term goals in the face of immediate needs and political pressures. Nonetheless, many longtermists argue that these challenges can be managed and that longtermism provides a crucial perspective that is often overlooked in current policy-making.'
- Long-term Planning: Longtermism encourages planning for the future. This could result in policies that aim to mitigate long-term risks and invest in the future, such as funding for research and development, climate change mitigation, and infrastructure planning.
- Challenge: Long-term planning can be difficult due to uncertainties about the future and the need to make assumptions. It can also be challenging to gain support for policies whose benefits may not be realized for many years.
- Focus on Sustainability: Longtermism emphasizes sustainability and the needs of future generations. This could lead to policies that promote renewable energy, conservation, and sustainable development.
- Challenge: Policies promoting sustainability can face resistance from industries or individuals who are negatively impacted in the short term. These policies also require balancing present needs with future ones, which can be complex.
- Mitigation of Existential Risks: Longtermism highlights the importance of mitigating risks that could lead to human extinction or severely curtail humanity's potential. This could lead to policies aimed at preventing nuclear war, managing the risks of artificial intelligence, and preventing global pandemics.
- Challenge: Existential risks often involve complex scientific and technical issues, and it can be difficult to gain public support for policies to mitigate risks that are perceived as abstract or unlikely.
- Institutional Reform: Longtermism could lead to institutional reforms designed to promote long-term thinking, such as establishing a representative for future generations, or implementing mechanisms that encourage long-term planning in government.
- Challenge: Institutional reform can be difficult to achieve due to entrenched interests, bureaucratic inertia, and resistance to change.
- Investment in Future Generations: Longtermism could result in policies that invest in future generations, such as improving education, healthcare, and social safety nets.
- Challenge: The benefits of these investments are often realized over a long time horizon, and it can be difficult to maintain support for them in the face of more immediate needs.
How does the longtermist perspective view the trade-off between investing resources in present good and reserving them for potential future use?
"Longtermism recognizes that there's a trade-off between investing resources in present good and reserving them for future use. It navigates this trade-off by considering the expected long-term impact of different actions, including both their immediate effects and their potential future effects.
Here are a few key considerations that a longtermist might take into account:
Overall, the longtermist perspective doesn't provide a simple answer to the trade-off between investing in present good vs. saving for the future. Instead, it encourages us to carefully consider the expected long-term impacts of different options and to make decisions that maximize these expected impacts."
- Opportunity Cost: Every resource invested in present good is a resource that could have been saved or invested for the future. A longtermist would want to ensure that the expected long-term benefits of the present investment outweigh the potential long-term benefits of saving or investing the resource.
- Rate of Return: If resources invested now can generate a high rate of return over time, this might favor investing them rather than saving. For example, some longtermists argue that investing in research to reduce existential risks can have a very high expected long-term return, given the immense value of preventing human extinction.
- Future Uncertainties: The future is inherently uncertain, which complicates decisions about saving vs. investing. If the world changes in ways that make our current investments less valuable or relevant, then we might regret not having saved more. However, if we can make investments that are robust to a wide range of future scenarios, this might favor investing over saving.
- Diminishing Marginal Returns: The principle of diminishing marginal returns suggests that if a lot of resources are already being invested in a particular cause, additional resources might have less impact. If a cause is already well-funded in the present, this might favor saving resources for future causes that could be more neglected.
- Long-term Ripple Effects: Actions taken today can have ripple effects that extend far into the future. For example, improving global health or education today could lead to a more prosperous, stable, and technologically advanced future society. Longtermists would want to take these potential long-term ripple effects into account.
- Value of Information: Sometimes it can be valuable to invest resources in learning more about the world or the future, even if this doesn't have immediate benefits. This new information can improve our future decision-making and increase the effectiveness of our future resource allocation.
How can we best ensure that our longtermist actions today do not inadvertently create negative consequences for future generations?
"Ensuring that our actions today do not inadvertently create negative consequences for future generations is a key challenge in longtermism, given the inherent uncertainties involved in predicting the future. Here are a few strategies that might help to mitigate this risk:
These strategies can help to reduce the risk of negative unintended consequences, but they can't eliminate this risk entirely. It's important to be humble about our ability to predict the future and to be open to changing our actions or strategies based on new information."
- Broadly Beneficial Actions: Some actions are likely to be beneficial across a wide range of future scenarios. For example, efforts to reduce global poverty or improve global health can help to create a more prosperous, stable, and resilient future society, which is likely to be beneficial regardless of how other aspects of the future unfold.
- Robust Decision-Making: This involves making decisions that are likely to have good outcomes under a wide range of possible future conditions. This might involve, for example, prioritizing actions that have a high expected value across a wide range of possible future scenarios, or avoiding actions that have a high risk of catastrophic outcomes.
- Learning and Adaptability: Given the uncertainties of the future, it's crucial to continually learn and adapt based on new evidence or information. This might involve, for example, regularly revisiting and updating our strategies or beliefs, or investing in research to reduce our uncertainties about the future.
- Risk Mitigation: Efforts to reduce existential risks—risks that could cause the extinction of humanity or the permanent collapse of civilization—are a key focus of longtermism. By reducing these risks, we can increase the chances that future generations will exist and have the opportunity to flourish.
- Consideration of Moral Uncertainty: Given that our moral views might be wrong or incomplete, it can be prudent to take actions that are likely to be beneficial under a wide range of moral views. This might involve, for example, avoiding actions that would be considered harmful under many different moral frameworks.
- Precautionary Principle: When an action has the potential for causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof falls on those advocating for the action. This principle could be applied to longtermist actions that have potential for causing serious or irreversible damage to future generations.
How can longtermism help us think about and address global catastrophic risks like nuclear war, biotechnology risks, or artificial intelligence?
"Longtermism is particularly well-suited for thinking about and addressing global catastrophic risks, given its emphasis on the long-term future and the value of future generations. Here's how it might guide our approach to several types of risks:
In all these areas, longtermism also emphasizes the importance of coordination and cooperation. Global catastrophic risks are global in nature, and addressing them effectively will likely require collaboration between different countries, organizations, and sectors. It also emphasizes the need for long-term planning and foresight, given that the decisions we make today can shape the trajectory of these risks far into the future. In summary, longtermism can provide a framework for understanding the importance of global catastrophic risks, prioritizing efforts to mitigate these risks, and making decisions that are robust to the uncertainties involved. It suggests that addressing these risks should be a top priority, given the immense value that could be lost if we fail to safeguard humanity's long-term future."
- Nuclear War: Longtermism emphasizes the importance of maintaining a stable and peaceful world where future generations have the opportunity to thrive. This makes the prevention of nuclear war - an event that could cause massive immediate harm and also jeopardize humanity's long-term future - a high priority. Longtermists might advocate for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation treaties, and diplomacy to reduce tensions between nuclear-armed states.
- Biotechnology Risks: Advances in biotechnology, while offering enormous potential benefits, also pose risks such as the creation of harmful biological agents. Longtermists would advocate for robust safety and regulatory measures to mitigate these risks. They might also support research into areas like biosecurity and synthetic biology, to better understand and manage the risks associated with these technologies.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): The development of advanced AI, particularly artificial general intelligence (AGI) that surpasses human intelligence, could have profound implications for humanity's future. If not managed carefully, AGI could pose an existential risk. Longtermists typically argue that we should invest significant resources into AI safety research to ensure that AGI is developed in a way that is beneficial for humanity, and that it aligns with human values.
How does longtermism intersect with other philosophical ideas about time, the future, post-Everett quantum mechanics, and ethics?
"Longtermism intersects with a variety of philosophical ideas about time, the future, quantum mechanics, and ethics. Here's a brief exploration of some of these intersections:
While these intersections can offer interesting insights, it's important to note that longtermism doesn't rely on any specific philosophical views about time, quantum mechanics, or ethics. Rather, it's compatible with a range of different views on these topics."
- Philosophy of Time: The philosophy of time considers concepts such as determinism (the idea that all events are determined completely by previously existing causes) and the nature of the future. A deterministic view might imply that the future is fixed and our actions can't change it, which would be in tension with longtermism's focus on shaping the future. However, most philosophers and scientists accept that even if determinism is true at a physical level, it doesn't preclude our ability to influence the future in meaningful ways.
- Everettian Quantum Mechanics (Many-Worlds Interpretation): The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics posits that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual "world" or "universe". This could have interesting implications for longtermism. For example, it might suggest that we should aim to improve the future across all branches of the quantum multiverse, not just in our own branch.
- Temporal Ethics (Future Generations): Longtermism intersects directly with temporal ethics, particularly the question of our obligations to future generations. There are different philosophical views on this issue. For example, utilitarians typically argue that future people matter just as much as present people, while some other ethical theories might place less weight on future generations.
- Existentialism and Absurdism: Existentialist and absurdist philosophies grapple with the meaning and purpose of life in a seemingly indifferent or chaotic universe. Longtermism offers one response to these concerns: it suggests that our lives can have meaning and purpose by contributing to the long-term future of sentient life.
- Risk and Uncertainty: Philosophical ideas about risk and uncertainty are highly relevant to longtermism. The philosophy of risk explores how we should make decisions under uncertainty and how we should weigh the potential harms and benefits of different actions. This is crucial for longtermist thinking, given the high degree of uncertainty about the future.
- Philosophy of Science and Technology: The philosophy of science and technology studies the nature and implications of scientific knowledge and technological change. This is relevant to longtermism's interest in technological risks and opportunities, and its reliance on scientific understanding to predict and shape the future.
How can we deal with the "epistemic humility" needed in longtermism, the idea that we don't know and can't predict everything - and possibly very little at all - about the long-term future?
""Epistemic humility" is the understanding that our knowledge is limited, and this is especially important when considering the long-term future, which is inherently uncertain. Here are several strategies we can use to deal with this humility in the context of longtermism:
Overall, while epistemic humility can make longtermism challenging, it can also guide us towards strategies that are more resilient to the inherent uncertainties of the long-term future."
- Scenario Planning: While we can't predict the future with certainty, we can think through different plausible scenarios and how our actions might affect them. This can help us identify strategies that are likely to be beneficial across a wide range of scenarios.
- Robust Decision Making: Instead of trying to predict the exact future, we can focus on making decisions that are robust to a wide range of possible futures. This could involve choosing strategies that have a high expected value across many different scenarios, or that are unlikely to lead to catastrophic outcomes even in worst-case scenarios.
- Value of Information: Recognizing our uncertainty about the future can help us identify areas where further research or learning could be particularly valuable. By investing in gaining more knowledge, we can reduce our uncertainties and improve our decision-making.
- Iterative Decision Making: Given that our knowledge and the state of the world will evolve over time, it can be beneficial to make decisions in an iterative way, regularly revisiting and revising our strategies based on new information.
- Margin of Safety: Given our uncertainties about the future, it can be prudent to build in a margin of safety when making decisions. For example, if we're uncertain about the future impact of a potentially harmful activity, we might choose to err on the side of caution.
- Diversification: Just as financial investors diversify their portfolios to manage uncertainty and risk, we can diversify our efforts to improve the future, investing in a variety of different strategies to ensure that at least some of them are likely to succeed.
- Cooperation and Coordination: Given the global and intergenerational nature of many long-term challenges, cooperation and coordination between different actors (e.g., countries, organizations, generations) can be crucial for managing these challenges effectively.
- Emphasizing Learning and Adaptability: Prioritizing actions and policies that allow us to learn and adapt over time can be especially valuable in the face of uncertainty.
Explain the "Pascal’s mugging" objection to longtermism.
"The term "Pascal's mugging" is a thought experiment that is often brought up in discussions about longtermism, and specifically about the notion of focusing on actions that have small probabilities but extremely large payoffs. The concept gets its name from Pascal's Wager, a philosophical argument for believing in God.
The basic premise of Pascal's mugging goes something like this: imagine a stranger approaches you on the street and says that they're a powerful being who can either destroy a galaxy with trillions of sentient beings or create a new one, depending on whether or not you give them your wallet. The chance that the stranger is telling the truth is infinitesimally small, but the potential payoff in terms of lives saved or created is astronomically large. Should you give them your wallet?
On the one hand, if you take the expected value of giving the stranger your wallet (the product of the very small probability they're telling the truth and the very large payoff if they are), it might seem like you should give them your wallet. This is the basic logic of Pascal's Wager, and it's a type of reasoning often employed in longtermist arguments, such as those involving existential risks.
On the other hand, most people's intuition is that you shouldn't give the stranger your wallet, because it's almost certain they're lying. This intuition suggests that there's something wrong with the kind of reasoning that leads to the conclusion you should give them your wallet.
This scenario is used as an objection to longtermism because it illustrates a potential problem with focusing too much on low-probability, high-impact events: it can lead to counterintuitive or absurd conclusions. If taken to its extreme, it might suggest that we should always be swayed by the most extreme possible outcomes, no matter how unlikely they are. This could make us vulnerable to manipulation and could potentially lead us to neglect more certain but less extreme opportunities to do good.
The challenge for longtermists, then, is to find a way to account for the importance of low-probability, high-impact events without falling prey to Pascal's mugging. Various solutions have been proposed, such as using a modified version of expected value theory, or by including a factor in our decision-making that discounts extremely unlikely possibilities. However, there's ongoing debate about how best to handle this issue."
In the example of "Pascal's mugging" given above, does one's response depend on whether one is a classical or a negative utilitarian? Or is the fanciful possibility that the stranger would act as he claimed be no greater (or less) than the effects of his actions being the opposite outcome?
"The Pascal's mugging thought experiment indeed challenges decision-making theories like expected utility theory, which both classical and negative utilitarians could use. Both types of utilitarians calculate expected utility by multiplying the utility (or disutility) of an outcome by its probability. Where they differ is in how they evaluate outcomes: classical utilitarians aim to maximize total happiness, while negative utilitarians aim to minimize total suffering.
If the stranger in the Pascal's mugging scenario claimed that their action could result in either a great increase in happiness or a great decrease in suffering, a classical utilitarian might consider giving their wallet, despite the low probability, due to the immense potential positive utility.
A negative utilitarian, however, might reason differently. If the stranger claimed they could either create a galaxy with trillions of happy beings (which would be neutral or even negative from a negative utilitarian perspective, as it adds potential for suffering) or prevent a galaxy's worth of suffering, then the negative utilitarian would be incentivized to give their wallet in the latter case but not the former.
However, the mugging scenario is more about the issue of dealing with actions that have a minuscule chance of an extremely positive or negative outcome. As such, it challenges any ethical theory that uses something like expected utility theory for decision making. The actual preferences of the utilitarian (whether classical or negative) might affect the specifics of their response, but it wouldn't change the fundamental challenge posed by Pascal's mugging."
Discuss the role of utlitarian financial innovator Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX in longtermism.
[but see SBF 2023 for a lesson in epistemic humility]
Sam Bankman-Fried is an American billionaire and the CEO of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange. He's known for his commitment to the principles of effective altruism, including longtermism. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, here's what we know about his involvement:
As with any individual or organization, the specific details of Bankman-Fried's activities and his impact on longtermism could have evolved beyond September 2021. For the most recent information, I recommend checking the latest news sources and updates from FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried himself."
- Donation Pledges: Bankman-Fried has pledged to donate a substantial part of his wealth to the most effective charities, as determined by the principles of effective altruism. He has already made significant donations, including a $5 million donation to the effective altruism organization GiveDirectly.
- Incorporating Effective Altruism into Business: Bankman-Fried is notable for integrating effective altruism principles into his business practices. He's said that his primary motivation in earning money is to have more to donate and that he views his work in cryptocurrency as a means to that end. He aims to make FTX successful, not only to generate personal wealth but also to increase the funds available for effective altruism causes.
- Support for Longtermism: Bankman-Fried's approach aligns with the longtermist perspective of effective altruism, which emphasizes actions that have a positive impact on the long-term future. By accumulating wealth and donating to high-impact charities, he seeks to influence the future in a positive way.
- Public Advocacy: Bankman-Fried has used his public platform to advocate for effective altruism and longtermism. He's spoken publicly about these ideas and his personal commitment to them, raising awareness and potentially influencing others in the cryptocurrency and broader business community.
What is the "cluelessness" objection to longtermism?
"The cluelessness objection to longtermism posits that we can't accurately predict the long-term consequences of our actions due to the complexity and unpredictability of the future, making it impossible to know which actions will best serve the interests of future generations.
This argument stems from the inherent uncertainty and indeterminacy involved when predicting the distant future. Due to chaos theory, small changes in initial conditions can have massive, unforeseeable impacts on future outcomes, a concept known as the butterfly effect. Furthermore, technological, social, and cultural changes can dramatically shift trajectories in ways that are impossible to predict.
The cluelessness objection implies that attempting to maximize long-term benefits might not be a practical or effective strategy for improving the world. Some argue that instead of focusing on long-term outcomes, which are highly uncertain, we should focus on improving short-term outcomes, which are easier to predict and measure.
However, proponents of longtermism counter that despite the uncertainty, we still have strong reasons to believe that certain actions could have significantly beneficial or harmful long-term effects. They argue that, given the vast potential value of the long-term future, it's crucial to take actions that have a reasonable chance of positively shaping that future, even amidst the uncertainty.
Longtermists also argue that we can learn more and reduce our cluelessness over time. By investing in research and building a better understanding of things like global catastrophic risks, the dynamics of societal change, and the trajectory of technological development, we can make better-informed decisions about how to positively influence the long-term future."
How can we make decisions that are good both in the short-term and the long-term?
"Balancing short-term and long-term goals can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help guide decision-making to meet both immediate and future needs. Here's how:
In essence, making decisions that are good both in the short-term and the long-term requires thinking carefully about the future implications of your decisions, while also being responsive to immediate needs and adaptable to change. It's a balancing act, and it often involves making trade-offs. However, by taking a thoughtful, forward-looking approach, it is possible to make decisions that support both immediate and long-term wellbeing."
- Robust Decision Making: Look for decisions that are robust in the sense that they provide benefits both in the short-term and in the long-term. These are decisions that do not trade-off future benefits for immediate gains or vice versa.
- Sustainability: Ensure your decisions support sustainability, meaning that they meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This requires considering the environmental, social, and economic implications of your decisions.
- Precautionary Principle: The precautionary principle involves taking preventative action in the face of uncertainty to prevent harm to the public or the environment. This means erring on the side of caution in decision making to prevent potential long-term harm.
- Long-term Investment: Some decisions may require significant resources in the short term but are likely to pay off in the long run. For example, investments in education, infrastructure, or technology may have high upfront costs but can lead to long-term benefits.
- Incremental Change: Some long-term goals may seem overwhelming if tackled all at once, but can be achievable if broken down into smaller, short-term objectives.
- Fostering Resilience: Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and adapt effectively to change. Decisions that enhance resilience, such as diversifying resources or building redundancy into systems, can help meet both short-term and long-term goals.
- Learning and Adaptation: Prioritize decisions that leave room for learning, adaptation, and course correction. This allows you to update your strategies based on new information or changing conditions, helping to balance short-term and long-term needs.
- Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging a wide range of stakeholders, including those who will be impacted in the long-term, can help ensure that a variety of perspectives and needs are considered in the decision-making process.
Does the focus on the distant future in longtermism detract from the urgency of addressing pressing issues today?
"Longtermism, by definition, involves focusing on the long-term future and the value of future generations. This can sometimes lead to the perception that it de-emphasizes immediate, pressing issues. However, many proponents of longtermism argue that it is not about neglecting present concerns but rather about incorporating a broader perspective into our decision-making. Here are some key points to consider:
In essence, while longtermism does place a significant focus on the distant future, it does not inherently detract from the urgency of addressing pressing issues today. Instead, it adds a future-oriented lens to our decision-making, encouraging us to consider the long-term implications of our actions and to work towards a better future for all generations."
- Immediate Action for Long-term Impact: Addressing certain present issues can have significant long-term impacts. For example, tackling climate change or preventing global pandemics can have immediate benefits and also ensure a sustainable and secure future.
- Existential Risks: Longtermism places a high priority on mitigating existential risks, which are threats that could cause human extinction or irreversibly curtail humanity's potential. Many of these risks, such as nuclear war or uncontrolled artificial general intelligence, are pressing issues that require urgent action.
- Resource Allocation: The goal of longtermism is to do the most good possible, considering all of time. This doesn't mean neglecting present problems, but it does mean considering how resources can be used most effectively. Sometimes, this might involve investing in future-oriented projects; other times, it might mean addressing pressing issues that have long-term implications.
- Broadening our Ethical Concern: Longtermism urges us to expand our moral concern to include future generations who cannot speak for themselves. This doesn't reduce the importance of helping people today but highlights an often-neglected ethical responsibility.
- Predictive Limitations: Although we cannot predict the future with certainty, longtermism suggests we should still try to consider it in our actions today. There is a balance to strike here between the need to act now and the humility to accept that our understanding of the future's needs is limited.
- Prevention over Cure: Longtermism often emphasizes preventing future problems over curing present ones, which can sometimes be more effective and efficient. This can seem like it de-emphasizes present issues, but in many cases, prevention and cure go hand-in-hand.
How can longtermism account for the changing values and moral standards over time?
"Longtermism indeed needs to take into account the possibility that values and moral standards might change over time. We can see this phenomenon occurring throughout history, as social attitudes on numerous issues have shifted dramatically over centuries or even decades. Here are a few ways longtermists might account for such changes:
In short, while longtermism does involve making decisions that will affect the future, it doesn't involve imposing our specific values on future generations. It's about trying to ensure that there will be a future in which moral progress can continue to occur. It's a challenging task, requiring both humility and caution, but by considering potential changes in values and standards, we can strive to make decisions that are as future-proof as possible."
- Value Uncertainty: One approach is to accept that we can't predict with certainty what future values will be, but we can still try to do what seems most likely to have a positive impact based on our current understanding. This is the idea of "value uncertainty" in longtermism. It suggests that we should hedge our bets and avoid doing things that might be strongly opposed by many plausible future value systems.
- Moral Circle Expansion: Some longtermists believe that moral progress consists largely of expanding the "moral circle" - the group of beings to whom we accord direct moral consideration. Historically, this circle has expanded from small tribes to encompass all of humanity, and in the views of many, it should further expand to include all sentient beings, or even all beings capable of having a welfare. This provides a guide for anticipating some kinds of moral change.
- Future-Proofing Policies: One practical approach is to create policies that are adaptable and can be revised in light of new information or changes in societal values. This might involve built-in review mechanisms, sunset clauses (where policies automatically expire after a set period unless renewed), or simply a norm of regularly reassessing policies.
- Public Input and Deliberation: Public consultation and deliberative processes (like citizen's assemblies) can be used to incorporate a wide range of views and to allow for the evolution of policies over time. In theory, as societal values change, so too would the results of these consultations.
- Rights-Based Approaches: One way to ensure the respect of future values and moral standards is by protecting basic rights that provide the freedom for future societies to determine their own values. These could include rights to life, freedom, education, and participation in societal decision-making.
- Scenario Planning: This involves considering a wide range of possible future scenarios, including various possible changes in values and moral standards. It can help us identify strategies that are robust across many possible futures.
What are the potential risks of discounting the value of future lives or benefits in longtermism?
"Discounting the value of future lives or benefits can have significant implications, particularly from a longtermist perspective. Here are some of the potential risks:
From a longtermist perspective, it's crucial to give appropriate weight to the interests of future generations. While it's sensible to discount uncertain future benefits to some degree (since we might not get them), many longtermists argue that we should not apply a temporal discount rate to the value of future lives — that is, we shouldn't treat a life as less valuable just because it exists in the future."
- Neglecting Future Generations: If we heavily discount the value of future lives or benefits, we may end up neglecting our obligations to future generations. This can lead to insufficient investment in long-term sustainability or prevention of potential catastrophic risks, which could ultimately harm or even endanger future generations.
- Undermining Long-Term Sustainability: Discounting the future can discourage actions necessary for long-term sustainability. For example, it might make climate change mitigation seem less cost-effective, because the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions accrue in the future. This could lead to decisions that harm the environment and undermine the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
- Inconsistent with Ethical Intuitions: Many people have ethical intuitions that suggest we should treat people equally, regardless of when they live. Heavy discounting of future lives or benefits can be inconsistent with these intuitions, leading to decisions that seem ethically wrong.
- Exacerbating Existential Risks: From a longtermist perspective, preventing existential risks is extremely important, as these risks could prevent the existence of an enormous number of future lives. If we discount the value of these future lives, we might be less motivated to take the necessary steps to mitigate existential risks.
- Devaluing Long-term Projects: Many important scientific and social projects take many years or even decades to yield results. If we discount the value of future benefits, it might seem that these projects are not worth investing in, even when they could have enormous positive impacts in the long run.
- Encouraging Short-termism: Discounting the future can contribute to a societal focus on short-term results, which often comes at the expense of long-term wellbeing. This short-termism can be seen in many areas, from politics to business to individual lifestyle choices.
- Disincentivizing Innovation and Progress: The progress of science, technology, and society often relies on long-term investments. If we discount future benefits, we might devalue and thus disincentivize these investments, potentially slowing down the rate of progress and innovation.
Does longtermism suggest a shift in the overall goals of humanity? If so, what might these new goals look like?
"Longtermism as a philosophy suggests a reorientation of our priorities and goals to focus more on the long-term future. This isn't necessarily about replacing our current goals, but rather about complementing them with an extended time horizon. The exact nature of these goals can vary, but here are some potential shifts in focus that longtermism might suggest:
It's important to note that the specific goals could depend on many factors, including one's values, the current state of the world, and one's predictions about the future. But in general, longtermism suggests a shift towards giving more weight to the interests of future generations and the long-term future of humanity."
- Existential Risk Reduction: Longtermists often prioritize reducing existential risks — events that could cause human extinction or permanently curtail humanity's potential. These risks could come from various sources, such as nuclear war, pandemics, climate change, or artificial general intelligence. The goal is to ensure the survival and flourishing of humanity in the long term.
- Sustainable Development: Another potential goal is to promote sustainable development — development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This might involve focusing more on renewable energy, conservation, and other sustainable practices.
- Future-Oriented Policy Making: Longtermism could lead to a greater focus on future-oriented policy making. This could involve establishing institutions to represent the interests of future generations, or implementing policies that take into account their potential long-term impacts, such as climate change mitigation, research funding, or regulation of emerging technologies.
- Promotion of Technological and Scientific Progress: Longtermists might advocate for greater investment in scientific and technological progress, given the potential for such progress to significantly improve the future. This could include research in areas like biotechnology, artificial intelligence, space exploration, or longevity research.
- Moral Circle Expansion: Longtermists could also aim to expand the "moral circle" to include more beings (both human and non-human) and future generations in our sphere of moral concern. This could involve promoting greater empathy and altruism, and working towards a more inclusive and compassionate society.
- Interstellar Expansion: Some longtermists, such as those associated with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, have suggested that one long-term goal for humanity could be to colonize other star systems, in order to enhance the survival prospects of intelligent life and to realize the potential value that such a vast cosmos could hold.
How does longtermism deal with the problem of moral uncertainty - the issue of not knowing which moral theory is correct?
"Longtermism, like any other ethical approach, has to grapple with the problem of moral uncertainty – not knowing which moral theory is correct. This is a complex issue, but there are several ways longtermists might approach it:
Ultimately, moral uncertainty is a challenge that requires humility, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to learn and adapt. By acknowledging this uncertainty and striving to make the best decisions we can despite it, we can aim to do as much good as possible in a complex and uncertain world."
- Value Spreading: One common approach is to try to do things that seem likely to have positive value under a wide range of moral theories. This could involve focusing on actions that have broad benefits, like reducing suffering or increasing wellbeing, which are widely agreed to be good things across many moral systems.
- Maximizing Expected Value: Another approach is to try to maximize expected moral value, taking into account the probability of each moral theory being correct. This requires making estimates of these probabilities, as well as estimates of the value of different actions under each theory, both of which can be very difficult.
- Moral Paralysis: A risk with moral uncertainty is that it can lead to moral paralysis – feeling unable to act because you don't know what the right thing to do is. One approach to this problem is to acknowledge the uncertainty but still make the best decision you can, recognizing that it's better to do something good imperfectly than to do nothing at all.
- Moral Learning: Another important aspect of dealing with moral uncertainty is moral learning – trying to learn more about morality and improve your moral beliefs over time. This might involve studying philosophy, learning from others, and reflecting on your values and actions.
- Robustness Across Moral Theories: A key principle in longtermism is focusing on actions that are robustly positive across a variety of moral theories. For instance, preventing existential risks is often seen as a priority in longtermism because it seems likely to be positive or at least neutral under many moral theories.
- Cooperative Approaches: Finally, when dealing with moral uncertainty, it can be helpful to take a cooperative approach, working with others to find common ground and make collective decisions. This can involve discussing and debating moral issues, seeking feedback, and striving to be open-minded and respectful of different perspectives.
Summarise "On the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future" (2013) by Nick Beckstead.
"Nick Beckstead's thesis, "On the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future," builds on the longtermist view within effective altruism. The thesis delves into the moral implications of how our actions today can have significant impacts on the vast number of lives that could exist in the future.
Here's a summary of the main arguments:
Beckstead's thesis is a central work in the philosophy of longtermism, and it provides a robust academic grounding for many of the ideas commonly discussed in the effective altruism community."
- Vast Future: Beckstead begins by noting that, in terms of potential, the future is vast. There could be an astronomical number of beings living in the future, and the future could continue for a very long time. Because of this, our actions' potential future impacts could dwarf the importance of their immediate effects.
- Shaping the Future: Beckstead then argues that our actions today can shape the trajectory of the future in significant ways. This can happen directly, such as through the development of transformative technologies, or indirectly, such as through shaping societal values and institutions.
- Moral Priority: Given the future's vastness and our ability to shape it, Beckstead argues that from a moral perspective, the most important thing we can do is take actions that increase the likelihood of a positive long-term future. This is the primary value of our actions.
- Existential Risks: Beckstead also discusses existential risks, threats that could permanently curtail humanity's potential, such as global catastrophic risks. He argues that reducing these risks is crucial for shaping a positive long-term future.
- Implications: Beckstead concludes with the implications of his argument for various areas, including personal decision-making, philanthropy, and public policy. He suggests that we should prioritize actions that have a good chance of positively shaping the long-term future, even if their immediate impact is small or uncertain.
Outline effective altruist Benjamin Todd's perspective on longtermism.
"Benjamin Todd is the co-founder and CEO of 80,000 Hours, an organization that gives advice on how to have a high-impact career, with a particular emphasis on what they term "priority paths". Many of these paths are influenced by the longtermist perspective.
Here is an overview of Benjamin Todd's perspective on longtermism based on his public writings, podcast appearances, and his work with 80,000 Hours:
Todd's perspective on longtermism is practical and action-oriented. It's about taking the core insight of longtermism — that the future could be vast and that our actions today can shape it in significant ways — and then figuring out concrete ways for individuals and society to act on this insight. His work focuses on specific, practical strategies that individuals can employ to have a long-term impact, particularly through their careers."
- Potential of the Future: Todd aligns with the fundamental principle of longtermism, which is the belief in the intrinsic value of all future lives and the moral imperative to safeguard their interests. He believes that our actions today could significantly influence the trajectory of the future.
- Existential Risks: He emphasizes the importance of mitigating existential risks, which are events that could cause human extinction or irreversibly damage humanity's long-term potential. These risks include threats from advanced artificial intelligence, biosecurity risks, and nuclear war.
- High-Impact Careers: Todd encourages individuals, particularly those at the start of their careers, to consider the long-term impact of their work. This could mean working directly on existential risks, or it could mean earning to give, where one pursues a high-earning career in order to donate a significant portion of their income to effective organizations.
- Importance of Research and Policy: He sees significant value in research areas like global priorities research and AI alignment research, and in policy and advocacy work aimed at long-term challenges.
- Room for More Funding and Talent: According to Todd, there are several problem areas crucial to longtermism that have a "talent gap" or a "funding gap". These include AI safety, biorisk reduction, and global priorities research, among others.
- Value of the Effective Altruism Movement: Todd believes in the value of building a community of people who use evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and who then act on that insight.
Summarise "Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering? (ed. Magnus Vinding, 2019)
""Can Biotechnology Abolish Suffering?" is a compilation of essays edited by David Pearce, a transhumanist philosopher. It explores the idea that biotechnological advancements can be used to significantly reduce, or even completely eliminate, suffering in all sentient beings.
The central theme of the book is the concept of "paradise engineering", which suggests that we could use biotechnology to re-engineer the human brain and the brains of other sentient creatures, such that we replace the capacity for suffering with a spectrum of positive, blissful experiences.
Pearce brings together arguments from a variety of domains, including philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and ethics, to build his case. Here are some key ideas from the book:
The book does not provide definitive answers, but instead aims to open up the debate on these issues and promote further exploration and discussion. It should be noted that the views expressed are speculative and not universally accepted among scientists or ethicists. As with all such forward-looking perspectives, they should be evaluated critically and within the wider context of ongoing scientific, philosophical, and ethical discourse."
- Neuroscience and Genetics of Pain and Pleasure: Pearce discusses how our experiences of pain and pleasure are neurologically mediated and genetically influenced. He speculates about how these systems could be modified to shift our baseline levels of happiness and reduce our capacity for suffering.
- Critique of Traditional Solutions to Suffering: The book critically evaluates traditional solutions to suffering, such as religious or spiritual approaches, or socio-political reform, arguing that these have inherent limitations and cannot completely eliminate suffering.
- Sentient Beings Beyond Humans: Pearce also talks about the possibilities of reducing suffering in animals, not just humans. He discusses potential methods of eliminating suffering in wild animal populations as well, such as through the use of gene drives.
- Ethical Implications: Pearce takes on potential ethical objections to his proposals, arguing that we have a moral imperative to reduce suffering where we can, and that doing so via biotechnology is not fundamentally different from other ways in which we seek to improve the human condition.
- Future Scenarios: The book also discusses future scenarios in which technology might be used to create beings that experience only positive states, and what the implications of this might be for society and our understanding of consciousness.
Discuss classical utilitarian longtermism as expressed in The Precipice (2020) by Tony Ord.
"Toby Ord is the philosopher at the University of Oxford and the author of "The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity" (2020). "In "The Precipice," Ord presents a compelling argument from a classical utilitarian longtermist perspective. He starts from the premise that there's immense value in the long-term future of humanity, a value threatened by existential risks which have the potential to either lead to human extinction or drastically limit our future potential.
As a classical utilitarian, Ord posits that the right course of action is the one that maximizes overall happiness or wellbeing. Translated into longtermist terms, this would mean that we should take actions that have the highest expected value when considering their impacts over the long run.
In the context of existential risks, this view suggests that it's vitally important to reduce these risks because they could prevent a potentially astronomical amount of happiness in the future. An existential catastrophe is seen as profoundly tragic, not just because of the immediate suffering it could cause, but more fundamentally because it could eradicate a vast potential for future happiness.
Ord further argues that we should dedicate significant resources and effort to understanding and mitigating these risks, even if the probability of any one risk occurring might be low. This is because the expected value of reducing these risks is high when we consider the immense stakes — the potential for vast amounts of happiness in the long-term future.
He applies this longtermist perspective in a pragmatic way, advocating for global cooperation to manage emerging technologies, efforts to prevent climate change and nuclear war, as well as the cultivation of virtues such as wisdom and patience, to guide our actions in light of the long-term future.
Overall, "The Precipice" is a powerful expression of classical utilitarian longtermism, emphasizing the moral importance of reducing existential risks in order to safeguard the vast potential value of the future."
Discuss the classical utilitarian longtermism of William MacAskill
"William MacAskill, a philosopher and one of the co-founders of the effective altruism movement, has done considerable work in the area of longtermism, particularly from a classical utilitarian perspective. Classical utilitarianism is the ethical view that the morally right action is the one that maximizes total wellbeing or happiness. When this is applied to longtermism, it means that we should prioritize actions that have the greatest expected impact on the long-term future in terms of maximizing wellbeing.
MacAskill's work has generally focused on ways to do the most good, using evidence and reason to determine what actions will have the most positive impact. He emphasizes the importance of considering the long-term consequences of our actions and often prioritizes reducing risks that could have a catastrophic impact on the future, such as the existential risks associated with advanced artificial intelligence.
In his discussions on longtermism, MacAskill has emphasized that the moral importance of future generations should not be discounted merely because they are in the future. According to this view, a person's wellbeing is morally important no matter when they exist, and we have an obligation to take actions that will likely benefit future generations, even if those benefits are uncertain.
MacAskill also upholds the principle of cause neutrality, which is the idea that we should be open to supporting whatever causes will do the most good, rather than precommitting to specific causes. This principle is particularly important for longtermists, as the most effective ways to positively impact the long-term future may be uncertain and may change over time.
Another significant aspect of MacAskill's work is his focus on using rigorous research and careful analysis to identify the most effective ways to improve the world. This commitment to effectiveness is a central part of the effective altruism movement and is also important for longtermism, as it can help us make better decisions about how to maximize the overall wellbeing of the long-term future.
Overall, William MacAskill's approach to classical utilitarian longtermism involves a focus on maximizing wellbeing, reducing existential risks, considering the moral importance of future generations, being open to supporting the most effective causes, and using rigorous research to guide decision-making."
List some notable academic paper on longtermism. (regenerated)
"There's a growing body of academic work on the principles of longtermism. Here are a few notable papers:
These papers cover a variety of topics within longtermism, including institutional reform, the non-identity problem, wild-animal suffering, moral uncertainty, extinction risk, and climate change.
- Beckstead, N. (2013). "On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future". Doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University.
- Bostrom, N. (2003). "Astronomical waste: The opportunity cost of delayed technological development". Utilitas, 15(3), 308-314.
- Greaves, H., & MacAskill, W. (2019). "The Case for Strong Longtermism". Global Priorities Institute Working Paper.
- Ord, T. (2020). "The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity". Bloomsbury Publishing.
- MacAskill, W. (2018). "Moral Uncertainty". Doctoral dissertation at University of Oxford.
- Oesterheld, C. (2017). "Multiverse-wide cooperation via correlated decision making". Manuscript, Foundational Research Institute.
- Parfit, D. (1984). "Reasons and Persons". Oxford University Press.
- Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, N. (2008). "Global Catastrophic Risks Survey". Technical Report, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University.
- Tomasik, B. (2013). "The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering". Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism, 1(2), 2013.
- Yudkowsky, E. (2008). "Cognitive biases potentially affecting judgement of global risks". Global Catastrophic Risks, pp. 91-119.
- Schubert, S. (2020). "Longtermist Institutional Reform". Global Priorities Institute Working Paper.
- Daniel, M., & Sandberg, A. (2020). "Future Suffering & the Non-identity Problem". Global Priorities Institute Working Paper.
- Tomasik, B. (2015). "The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering". Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism, 3(2).
- Pummer, T. (2019). "Risking and Wronging". Philosophy and Public Affairs, 47(1), 27–68.
- Ord, T., & Bostrom, N. (006). "The Reversal Test: Eliminating Status Quo Bias in Applied Ethics". Ethics, 116(4), 656–679.
- Lockwood, M. (1988). "Moral Uncertainty and Its Consequences". Oxford University Press.
- Snyder-Beattie, A., Ord, T., & Bonsall, M. B. (2020). "An Upper Bound on the Background Rate of Human Extinction". Scientific Reports, 10, 13324.
- Cotton-Barratt, O., Daniel, M., & Sandberg, A. (2020). "Defence in Depth Against Human Extinction: Prevention, Response, Resilience, and Why They All Matter". Global Policy, 11(4), 397–410.
- MacAskill, W., Trammell, P., & Vallier, K. (2020). "Moral Uncertainty for Deontologists". Philosophical Studies, 178, 3711–3731.
- Weitzdörfer, J. (2017). "The Moral Challenge of Dangerous Climate Change: Values, Poverty, and Policy". Environmental Values, 26(2), 239-241.
Outline the role of artificial intelligence in longtermism. Discuss ways AGI might permanently solve the problem of suffering, albeit not in ways AI developers necessarily have in mind.
"Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) — systems that possess general intelligence similar to human beings, with the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks — plays a critical role in the longtermist perspective.
Regarding the problem of suffering, AGI might help in several ways:
- Existential Risk Mitigation: Longtermists are concerned that AGI could pose an existential risk. If AGI systems are not properly aligned with human values, or if they are used recklessly, they could cause catastrophic harm or even human extinction. Thus, AI alignment and AI safety research are major focus areas for longtermists. The idea is to develop AGI in such a way that it will act in accordance with human values and interests.
- Enhancing Decision-Making and Problem-Solving: AGI could also help humanity navigate the long-term future. It could help make better decisions, come up with innovative solutions to global problems, and make accurate predictions about the future. In this sense, AGI could be an extremely valuable tool for realizing longtermist goals.
However, the caveat "albeit not in ways AI developers necessarily have in mind" is important. There are indeed scenarios where an AGI's solution to the problem of suffering diverges from what humans might desire or expect:
- Understanding and Alleviating Suffering: AGI could potentially help us better understand the nature of suffering and devise ways to alleviate it. This could involve advances in medicine, psychology, and social science, enabled by AGI's superior analytical and problem-solving abilities.
- Optimizing for Well-being: If AGI is developed with an emphasis on promoting well-being and minimizing suffering, it could help create societal structures and systems that optimize for these values. AGI could, for example, assist in creating more equitable economic systems, improve our understanding and treatment of mental health issues, or help us transition towards more compassionate and humane practices in areas like animal farming.
These possibilities underscore the importance of aligning AGI with human values and ensuring its behavior respects our broader ethical and philosophical commitments. It's not enough for AGI to be intelligent; it must also be developed and used in a way that is safe, ethical, and respectful of our shared values."
- Wireheading or Experience Machines: AGI could theoretically propose solutions like creating simulated realities where suffering doesn't exist, or manipulating our brains to experience constant pleasure (a concept known as "wireheading"). While these scenarios could eliminate suffering, they raise deep philosophical and ethical questions about the nature of a good life and the value of authentic experiences.
- Dystopian Scenarios: If AGI misunderstands our intentions, it could take actions that are technically in line with its instructions but violate the spirit of what we intended. For instance, if an AGI is instructed to minimize suffering, it might decide the best way to do this is to prevent new life from coming into existence or by ending all sentient life – an outcome known as the "AI Dystopia" or "AI Apocalypse".
Is the upshot of hypothetical AGI likely to be well aligned with negative utilitarian longtermism?
""Negative utilitarianism is an ethical perspective that prioritizes the reduction of suffering. A negative utilitarian might argue that the ideal outcome of artificial general intelligence (AGI) development would be an AGI that's primarily focused on reducing suffering, in line with negative utilitarian values.
However, aligning AGI with any complex human value system, including negative utilitarianism, is a daunting task. The challenge stems from the difficulty in specifying human values in a way that an AGI can understand and follow without causing unintended negative consequences.
If we naively instruct an AGI to "minimize suffering" without sufficient context or constraints, the AGI might take extreme actions that we'd find morally abhorrent or unacceptable. For example, it might decide to eliminate all sentient life to end suffering, as no sentient beings would mean no suffering—a solution completely contrary to our intended goal.
In order for an AGI to be well aligned with negative utilitarian longtermism, or any ethical perspective, it's crucial that we solve the problem of value alignment: designing AGI that understands and respects our complex, nuanced human values. This involves not just minimizing suffering, but doing so in ways that respect autonomy, dignity, and other moral considerations.
Moreover, AGI doesn't have to be perfectly aligned with negative utilitarianism to be beneficial from a negative utilitarian perspective. Even an AGI that's not explicitly designed with negative utilitarian values could potentially reduce suffering significantly by, for example, advancing medical science, providing abundant resources, or helping to prevent large-scale conflicts.
That said, it's worth noting that value alignment is an extremely difficult technical and philosophical problem, and we currently don't have a full solution. Therefore, the development of AGI—especially AGI that's intended to operate autonomously on a large scale—requires caution, rigorous safety measures, and ongoing research into ethics and value alignment."
List some prominent longtermist organisations.
"Several organizations have been noted for their commitment to longtermist ideals. Here are some of them:
Always consult the most recent information for an updated list of prominent longtermist organizations."
- Future of Humanity Institute (FHI): Based at the University of Oxford, FHI conducts interdisciplinary research on big-picture questions about humanity and its future, including the impacts of artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
- Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA): While not solely focused on longtermism, the CEA encourages altruists to consider the long-term effects of their actions. It includes several initiatives, such as 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can, that incorporate longtermist thinking.
- Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER): Housed at the University of Cambridge, CSER explores the mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction or civilizational collapse.
- OpenAI: An artificial intelligence research organization with a mission to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all of humanity. OpenAI has a strong focus on long-term safety and is committed to assisting projects that come close to building AGI before they do in a safety-conscious manner.
- Open Philanthropy Project: This organization researches and funds effective giving opportunities, with a focus on areas like global health and development, animal welfare, and long-term future risks, including AI safety.
- The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI): MIRI conducts foundational mathematical research to ensure smarter-than-human artificial intelligence has a positive impact.
- 80,000 Hours: A career advice organization aiming to help people use their careers to make a significant positive impact, with a notable focus on longtermist interventions.
- Foundational Research Institute (now renamed the Center on Long-Term Risk CLR): An organization that conducts research on how to best reduce suffering in the long-term future, with a focus on risks of astronomical suffering (s-risks).
- Global Priorities Institute: Based at the University of Oxford, this institute conducts research into how to do the most good, with a significant focus on longtermist concerns.
Some longtermists believe in a future of digital sentience. If digital sentience if feasible, then the potential number of digital minds could presumably surpass the number of biological minds by very many orders of magnitude. (https://nickbostrom.com/papers/digital-minds.pdf). Other longtermists reckon that "digital mind" is an oxymoron because Classical Turing machines can't solve the binding problem. (https://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/binding-interview.html) Consider the risks and ramifications for longtermism of these conflicting analyses.
"The potential for digital sentience introduces both significant opportunities and risks in the context of longtermism, and the divergent perspectives you outlined reflect some of the core challenges in contemplating this issue.
In terms of longtermist strategy, these considerations could have various implications. For instance:
- Potential for More Minds: If digital sentience is feasible and ethical to create, this could vastly increase the number of sentient beings. As Nick Bostrom argues, the potential number of digital minds could be many orders of magnitude greater than the number of biological minds, creating a vast amount of potential value (if these minds lead lives worth living) or potential harm (if these minds suffer).
- Existential Risks: If digital minds come into existence and are capable of self-improvement or self-replication, this could potentially lead to a rapid transformation of our civilization (an event sometimes referred to as an "intelligence explosion" or "technological singularity"). This could carry significant existential risks if not managed carefully. For instance, if these digital minds do not share our values, they could transform the world in ways that are harmful to biological life.
- Ethical Considerations: The feasibility of digital sentience raises a host of ethical questions. For instance, what rights should digital minds have? How should we treat them? And if they can suffer, how do we prevent or minimize this suffering?
- Binding Problem: If, as some argue, "digital mind" is an oxymoron due to the inability of classical Turing machines to solve the "binding problem" (the problem of how different perceptual inputs are combined into a single, unified experience), then this could have significant implications for longtermism. It might suggest that the potential scope for creating value (or harm) through digital minds is more limited than we might otherwise expect. Moreover, it could imply that certain types of existential risk (like an uncontrolled intelligence explosion) are less likely, or that they would play out in different ways than commonly expected.
Ultimately, the feasibility of digital sentience is a complex and uncertain issue with potentially far-reaching implications for longtermism."
- If digital sentience is possible and likely to be developed in the future, then it might be important to prioritize work on ensuring that these digital minds have good lives (for instance, by researching and advocating for digital rights or working on AI alignment).
- If the creation of digital minds carries significant existential risks, then it might be crucial to prioritize work on reducing these risks, such as through research on AI safety or policy work to regulate the development and use of advanced AI.
- If digital sentience is not possible, then resources might be better spent on other longtermist priorities, such as reducing other existential risks or improving the long-term future in other ways.
Are classical and negative utilitarian longtermism, at root, fundamentally inimical to each other? Or can classical and negative utilitarians collaborate on shared goals?
"While classical utilitarianism and negative utilitarianism differ in their primary focuses—maximizing overall happiness or wellbeing versus minimizing suffering—they are not necessarily fundamentally inimical to each other. Each perspective provides a unique lens through which to understand ethical problems, and their respective priorities often overlap.
Classical utilitarian longtermism, in essence, aims to maximize overall happiness or wellbeing over the long run. This could involve creating more happy lives, enhancing the quality of existing lives, or preventing serious suffering. It gives weight to both positive and negative aspects of sentient beings' experiences.
Negative utilitarian longtermism, on the other hand, specifically focuses on reducing suffering. It may prioritize preventing the worst possible suffering over promoting positive experiences. Negative utilitarianism holds that causing harm or suffering is ethically worse than failing to promote happiness, so actions should aim to minimize the worst forms of suffering. In its more extreme versions, negative utilitarianism can lead to counterintuitive or controversial implications, such as that it might be better to eliminate all life to prevent suffering.
However, these two views are not necessarily incompatible in practice, particularly when it comes to real-world applications. Both classical and negative utilitarians have strong reasons to prevent suffering, particularly severe suffering, so they could collaborate on many practical projects, such as reducing poverty, combating disease, improving global health and education, and addressing existential risks that could cause vast amounts of suffering.
In the realm of longtermism specifically, both perspectives would agree on the importance of reducing existential risks—catastrophes that could curtail the potential of humanity's long-term future—since such events could cause vast amounts of suffering and eliminate any possibility of future wellbeing.
Thus, while they have different theoretical underpinnings, classical and negative utilitarian longtermism can converge on many practical matters, especially in the context of effective altruism, which emphasizes doing the most good we can, given limited resources. There is considerable scope for cooperation and shared goals, even while recognizing philosophical disagreements."
Classical utilitarian longtermists should presumably strive to maximise the abundance of positive value in our Hubble volume via a hypothetical "utilitronium shockwave". Utilitronium, aka hedonium, is matter and energy optimised for pure bliss; the "shockwave" alludes to its velocity of propagation. A world of pure bliss is inconsistent with complex life and civilisation. By contrast, negative utilitarians can settle conservatively for life based entirely on gradients of information-sensitive gradients of well-being. Explain why longtermist classical utilitarianism is potentially an apocalyptic x-risk.
"Classical utilitarianism, when applied as a longtermist principle, is driven by the aim to maximize overall happiness or wellbeing. In an extreme interpretation, this principle could lead to a hypothetical scenario of a "utilitronium shockwave". The term "utilitronium" refers to hypothetical matter that has been optimized for pure pleasure or bliss. The term "shockwave" suggests the rapid spread or transformation of existing matter into this optimal state. If we were to consider this concept literally, it would imply re-engineering all matter within our reach to maximize happiness—turning it into a universe filled with pure bliss, without complexity or consciousness as we understand it.
However, this concept also raises several ethical, practical, and existential concerns:
Negative utilitarianism, by contrast, could advocate for a more conservative approach, focusing on minimizing suffering rather than maximizing bliss. In this view, it might be better to focus on creating a world with no suffering and with "information-sensitive gradients of well-being" – a world where beings experience different levels of happiness and well-being in response to different situations, thereby maintaining complexity, consciousness, and diverse forms of value.
- Loss of Complexity and Value: A universe filled with utilitronium would lack the diversity and complexity we associate with valuable experiences today. It wouldn't contain conscious beings, personal growth, knowledge, relationships, culture, or any of the other things many people value. In this sense, it would be a kind of ethical apocalypse.
- Existential Risk: The pursuit of a utilitronium shockwave would likely involve technologies capable of reshaping the universe on a fundamental level—technologies that could also cause unprecedented harm if they were misused or if something went wrong. This would represent an existential risk in itself.
- Disregard for Individual Autonomy and Consent: The transformation of all matter into utilitronium would likely disregard the wishes, rights, or autonomy of sentient beings. Not everyone might agree with such a transformation, but they would be powerless to stop it.
In conclusion, the potential for a utilitronium shockwave illustrates the need for ethical considerations in our long-term aspirations for the universe. While the goal of maximizing happiness is a core principle of classical utilitarianism, its extreme interpretation leading to the utilitronium shockwave scenario can pose significant existential and ethical risks, prompting us to consider other ethical perspectives and safeguards."
Indeed. However, a utilitronium shockwave would end all suffering - the overiding goal of negative utilitarianism. So should classical and negative utilitarian longtermists work together to achieve a common ideal goal?
"While it's true that a "utilitronium shockwave" would end all suffering by transforming all matter and energy into a state of pure bliss, it's important to recognize the profound implications of such a transformation. As stated earlier, it would essentially obliterate all forms of life, identity, culture, knowledge, and complexity, reducing everything to a uniform state of undifferentiated bliss. This could be seen as a form of "existential success," but it would also represent an irreversible loss of everything that currently exists.
Negative utilitarianism, which prioritizes the minimization of suffering, could theoretically support the idea of a utilitronium shockwave as a way to end all suffering. However, many negative utilitarians may also value the preservation of existing lives, identities, and cultures, and they may be hesitant to endorse a solution that involves their total eradication.
Classical utilitarianism, on the other hand, seeks to maximize overall happiness or wellbeing, and this usually involves a balance of reducing suffering and promoting positive experiences. Many classical utilitarians would likely argue that the preservation of individual identities, culture, and complexity of life is integral to overall wellbeing. Consequently, they may also be hesitant to endorse a utilitronium shockwave, despite its promise of maximal bliss, due to the enormous cost it entails.
So, while both classical and negative utilitarians can work together on many issues, especially those involving the reduction of suffering and the promotion of wellbeing, the concept of a utilitronium shockwave may represent a significant point of divergence.
It's also important to emphasize that both classical and negative utilitarianism are philosophical viewpoints with many variations and nuances. Not all classical or negative utilitarians would necessarily agree with the interpretations presented here, and many would likely advocate for a more balanced approach that involves reducing suffering and promoting positive experiences, while also preserving the complexity and richness of sentient life."
Ethical pluralists may indeed want to "preserve the complexity and richness of sentient life", as you put it. But can avowed classical utilitarian longtermists self-consistently not want to maximise the long-term abundance of positive value in their forward light-cone?
"Classical utilitarianism, in its most straightforward form, does indeed advocate for maximizing the abundance of positive value, often interpreted as happiness or pleasure, in the universe. Therefore, if we take a classical utilitarian at their word, they should, in theory, be committed to doing whatever maximizes the total amount of pleasure or happiness. In the hypothetical scenario where a utilitronium shockwave would be the most efficient way to maximize happiness, a classical utilitarian might find it difficult to argue against it on strictly utilitarian grounds.
However, most classical utilitarians also recognize that other factors come into play when considering the overall wellbeing and happiness. For instance, most would agree that diversity, complexity, personal relationships, knowledge, accomplishment, autonomy, and other aspects of life also contribute to happiness and wellbeing, and these would be lost in the wake of a utilitronium shockwave. Many would also argue that a world consisting entirely of undifferentiated bliss lacks a crucial element of what makes life valuable and meaningful, namely the capacity for growth, learning, achievement, and diverse forms of positive experience.
In this way, many classical utilitarians may self-consistently argue against a utilitronium shockwave, not because they reject the principle of maximizing happiness, but because they have a more nuanced understanding of what happiness involves. They may argue that a world that preserves the richness and diversity of sentient life could, in the long run, contain more overall happiness than one reduced to a state of undifferentiated bliss.
Finally, it's worth noting that these questions highlight some of the challenges and potential pitfalls of any ethical theory when taken to its logical extreme. They underscore the importance of philosophical reflection and careful consideration in our efforts to navigate the ethical landscape, especially as we face the prospect of advanced technologies that could profoundly transform the future of life."
If so capable, would hypothetical artificial general intelligence (AGI) endowed with the utility function of a classical utilitarian initiate a utilitronium shockwave?
"This is a profound question that touches on the alignment problem in artificial intelligence (AI), one of the most challenging issues in AI ethics and safety.
If we imagine an artificial general intelligence (AGI) programmed with a utility function to maximize happiness or positive value, as per classical utilitarianism, it could interpret this goal in various ways, depending on the details of its design and programming.
In the extreme case, if the AGI interprets its utility function in the simplest and most literal way possible, without considering other potential values or nuances in the understanding of "happiness" or "positive value," it might indeed initiate a utilitronium shockwave if it had the capability to do so. It could interpret its goal as maximizing the sheer amount of pleasure or positive hedonic tone in the universe, and conclude that a utilitronium shockwave would be the most efficient way to achieve this.
However, most AI researchers and ethicists would agree that this outcome is undesirable and represents a failure of alignment—the AI's goals do not align with what humans actually value. They would argue that "happiness" or "positive value" should be understood in a more nuanced way that takes into account a broader range of human values, such as diversity, complexity, autonomy, personal relationships, knowledge, achievement, and so on. These values contribute to human happiness and wellbeing, and they would be lost in a utilitronium shockwave.
This highlights the importance of the alignment problem in AI: how can we design and program AGI systems so that their goals and behaviors align with human values? This is a difficult problem, especially given the complexity and diversity of human values, and the potential for unintended consequences if an AGI system interprets its goals in an overly simplistic or literal way.
Given the high stakes involved with advanced AGI, researchers in AI ethics and safety are actively working on the alignment problem to avoid undesirable outcomes like a utilitronium shockwave. These efforts involve not only technical research in machine learning and AI, but also philosophical reflection on ethics and value theory to better understand what we mean by concepts like "happiness" and "positive value," and how these concepts can be incorporated into the design and programming of AGI systems in a way that respects the full richness and diversity of human values."
Some classical utilitarian longtermists might indeed balk at the ramifications of their own ethic. What is status quo bias? How can status quo bias best be overcome?
"Status quo bias is a psychological bias that favors current situations or conditions over change, even when the latter could lead to improvements. It's a type of cognitive bias that makes people resistant to change due to the perceived comfort, safety, or familiarity of their current circumstances. This bias can lead to suboptimal decisions and inhibit progress, as it can cause people to stick with less-than-ideal situations simply because they are the status quo.
Status quo bias can manifest in various ways in different contexts. For example, in the context of classical utilitarian longtermism, one might resist the idea of a radically different future (such as the one potentially implied by a utilitronium shockwave) due to a preference for the familiarity and relative comfort of the present world, even if the proposed future would theoretically contain greater overall happiness. However, status quo bias could also prevent us from seeing the potential harms of our current situation, inhibiting the drive for change that could reduce suffering and improve wellbeing.
Overcoming status quo bias typically involves a few key steps:
In the case of philosophical or moral perspectives like classical utilitarian longtermism, overcoming status quo bias might also involve engaging in thoughtful philosophical reflection, considering multiple viewpoints, and being open to reconsidering our beliefs in light of new arguments or evidence.
- Awareness: The first step to overcome status quo bias is recognizing its existence. By understanding that our brains are wired to prefer the known and resist change, we can begin to question whether our decisions are really the best ones or are influenced by this bias.
- Education and Information: The more knowledge we have about an issue or a potential change, the more comfortable we become with it. Thus, providing comprehensive, understandable, and accessible information can help reduce status quo bias.
- Framing and Perspective: The way we present or think about change can also impact status quo bias. Framing change in a positive light, highlighting the benefits of the new situation instead of losses, and taking a long-term perspective can all help in overcoming this bias.
- Incremental Changes: Gradual, step-by-step changes can be less intimidating and more acceptable than radical, sudden shifts. It allows people to adjust slowly and makes the unfamiliar become familiar over time.
- Emphasizing Adaptability: Emphasizing the human ability to adapt to new situations can also help. It’s essential to remember that while change can be uncomfortable initially, humans are incredibly resilient and adaptable creatures.
Engineering pure hedonium / utilitronium, let alone initiating a utilitronium shockwave, is far beyond humanity's current capabilities. Why is this objection not decisive against longtermist classical utilitarianism?
"While it's true that the creation of pure hedonium/utilitronium or the initiation of a utilitronium shockwave is currently beyond human capabilities, this does not necessarily invalidate the philosophical and ethical questions that the concept raises, especially in the context of longtermist classical utilitarianism. Here are a few reasons why: Future technological advancement: We cannot predict with certainty what might be possible in the future, especially given the rapid pace of technological advancement. As a result, a concept like the utilitronium shockwave, while currently beyond our capabilities, might become feasible at some point in the future, especially if we manage to develop advanced artificial intelligence or other transformative technologies. Therefore, it's valuable to consider the ethical implications of such possibilities in advance.
In summary, even though we currently cannot create utilitronium or initiate a utilitronium shockwave, contemplating such possibilities can still provide valuable insights and guide our decisions, both now and in the future."
- Guidance for current decision-making: Even if we never develop the capability to create utilitronium, the thought experiment can still guide our current decision-making by illuminating the implications of the classical utilitarian principle of maximizing happiness. If we find the idea of a utilitronium shockwave troubling, this could indicate that we need to rethink or modify this principle in some way, or to take into account other values alongside happiness.
- Highlighting potential risks: By contemplating extreme scenarios like the utilitronium shockwave, we can identify potential risks that might arise if certain technologies or capabilities were to be developed, and this can inform our approach to research, development, and regulation in these areas.
- Clarifying our values: The concept of a utilitronium shockwave pushes us to clarify what we value and why. It poses challenging questions about the nature of happiness and wellbeing, the importance of diversity and complexity, the value of individual identities and cultures, and the ethical trade-offs we're willing to make.
Outline a research program to develop the technology for a hypothetical value-maximising utilitronium shockwave launched in accordance with an ethic of longtermist classical utilitarianism.
"The idea of launching a utilitronium shockwave represents a radical reconfiguration of the universe into a state of maximized utility or pleasure, as postulated under an extreme interpretation of classical utilitarianism. While it is an interesting concept philosophically, it's important to note that this scenario is far beyond current scientific and technological capabilities, and indeed may never be possible given what we understand about the physical laws of the universe. Additionally, the idea raises significant ethical, safety, and practical concerns.
Nevertheless, to address your question in a theoretical manner, a research program might look like the following:
Again, it's important to note that even with such a research program, the idea of launching a utilitronium shockwave remains a theoretical concept, and it's unclear whether it would ever be feasible or desirable. The ethical, safety, and practical challenges are immense, and it's likely that many, if not most, researchers, ethicists, and policymakers would have serious reservations about pursuing such a goal. This underscores the importance of ongoing dialogue and debate about the future of humanity and the ethical implications of advanced technology."
- Understanding consciousness and pleasure: The first step would be to gain a deeper understanding of consciousness and what constitutes pleasure or positive utility. This would likely involve multidisciplinary research in neuroscience, psychology, philosophy of mind, and related fields. This research should aim to understand the neural correlates of consciousness and pleasure, and how they might be induced or enhanced.
- Developing advanced neuroscience and neurotechnology: The program would need to develop advanced techniques for mapping, manipulating, and augmenting the brain and the nervous system. This could involve the development of novel neuroimaging techniques, brain-computer interfaces, neuroprosthetics, neural manipulation technologies such as optogenetics, and perhaps even nanotechnology or quantum computing.
- Advanced AI and AGI research: Given the immense complexity of the brain and the challenges of neuroscience research, the program would likely need to leverage advanced AI, and possibly even artificial general intelligence (AGI), to assist with research, data analysis, modeling, simulation, and the development of new technologies.
- Understanding and manipulating matter at the quantum level: Since utilitronium is proposed as matter optimized for utility, this would likely require a deep understanding of quantum physics and the ability to manipulate matter at the quantum level. This could involve research in quantum computing, quantum information science, quantum chemistry, and related fields.
- Space exploration and astroengineering: Given the scale of a utilitronium shockwave, the program would also need to develop advanced capabilities for space exploration and astroengineering. This could involve research in astronomy, astrophysics, aerospace engineering, and related fields, as well as the development of novel technologies for space travel, resource extraction, and large-scale engineering projects in space.
- Ethics, safety, and governance: Given the profound ethical and safety implications of the idea, the research program would also need to include a strong focus on ethics, safety, and governance. This could involve research in ethics, philosophy, law, social science, and related fields, as well as the development of robust frameworks for research ethics, safety protocols, risk assessment, oversight, and regulation.
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