Category: Main

Bitcoin as a Model Voting System

November 3, 2018


Comments Off on Bitcoin as a Model Voting System

[note: this is the thread that I was in the process of tweeting when my account got locked]


Bitcoin is fundamentally a voting system. That is the clever bit. Answering “Did A transfer his funds to B?” is a trivial piece of public-key cryptography. “Did A transfer his funds to B before attempting to transfer them to C?” is decided by vote. How is that not terrible???

Reason 1 is that it’s costly to vote. That has to be better than letting any scumbag vote for free. But not that much better.

Reason 2 is that you are then rewarded for voting, if and only if you voted for the winning side.

What that means is that there is a huge incentive to vote for what you believe to be true. Trying to vote against it is bound to fail, because everyone else has huge incentive to vote for it, and because it will cost you big money.

Forget the fashionable silliness of applying “blockchain” to every problem. Think about applying “give people incentives to get it right” to every problem. Think about making “non-human value maximisers” out of people.

Related: are secret ballots the worst thing you can do to a democracy?

Anomaly UK Banned from Twitter

October 31, 2018


Comments Off on Anomaly UK Banned from Twitter

My Twitter account just got locked. I can’t unlock it even with my phone number, it just says “Sorry, this carrier is currently not supported.” Normal UK mobile phone number that I’ve had for at least 10 years. There doesn’t seem to be any way to give it a different one, either.

I’ve no idea why I was locked — presumably if I could get past the phone number thing it might tell me, but I can’t begin to guess.

In the meantime, see my contact page to get in touch. The twitter account @jagifier might also be of interest



It seems my tweets are still visible (but shadow-banned and behind a warning), but I can’t log in.


Update 21st November 2018: When I checked today my account had gone from locked to suspended. There was still no indication of why it was suspended. I filled in the appeal form and it got unsuspended within about 10 minutes.

My hypothesis is that this tweet thread triggered some “election interference” heuristic, and the technical problem with my cellphone number meant that the account lock was an absolute barrier.


Contempt of Court

October 26, 2018


Comments Off on Contempt of Court

Here’s the background. None of this is even controversial, it’s all covered in official government reports.

In a number of towns around England, organised child prostitution has been happening on a large scale. The gangs organising this have been made up overwhelmingly of British Pakistanis, and the girls abused have been mainly white, mostly from the care system.

Protecting children in the care system is the job of local government, but the local government bodies have been slow to act on the problem. People in those bodies and outside who tried to act were accused of being racist, and publicity relating to the problem was avoided on the grounds that it would encourage extremism in the country.

The Times published a large feature on the situation in 2011. Even then, action was not taken; local government officials in the towns named maintaining that the article was “racist propaganda” from the “Murdoch press”.

Eventually the responsible bodies, including the police, were pushed into action. Over the last few years, a number of child prostitution gangs have been prosecuted around the country, and dozens of men convicted and imprisoned.



One such case finished last week in Leeds. ….

This is the case that resulted in Tommy Robinson’s imprisonment for Contempt of Court. While the case was going on, he livestreamed his opinion on the case on his facebook page, from outside the court. The judge saw his stream and ruled that the content was prejudicial to the case: that if any jurors saw what he had been saying, it would have prejudiced their verdict. Juries are supposed to be given information on the case only within the court, according to the procedural rules of the court. The common-law principle of Sub Judice has for many years restricted what can be published relating to an active legal proceeding, but in Britain it was replaced in 1981 by statute.

These statutory rules are consistently and firmly applied to media organisations. Reporting of a jury trial that is still going on is limited to the bare facts of what has happened in court, without commentary or implication. In practice, the media generally does not publish any report at all on a jury trial until it ends, at which point they can say whatever they like. Though aimed in 1981 at media, the law applies to any publication of information that might reach a juror, including websites and social media.

Tommy Robinson was convicted of Contempt of Court for streaming information about a case in Bath in 2017, and given a suspended sentence. On his second conviction in Leeds in 2018, he was sentenced to 13 months. He is now awaiting a retrial: the original conviction was quashed as being overly hasty.

He claimed in his stream that the case was being covered up, as it was not reported in the media. This is an idiotic claim: trials are not usually reported in the media until they finish, because of the law on prejudicing juries. The other trials of child prostitution gangs had been prominently reported as soon as they finished, just as this one is now. Even the left-leaning media such as the BBC and the Guardian give them heavy coverage, and the more populist media can surely be counted on to do so. Of course, if anyone with a web site or a facebook account feels that detail or emphasis is missing in the media reports, they are totally free, now the case is over, to add to it.

That would be a good thing to do. While the trials themselves are heavily reported, the background and context of the events is still seriously underreported. In a piece that repeated a lot of the errors that were going around about Contempt of Court, Mark Steyn made one extremely good argument:

Tracking down the victims of Rotherham required a bit of elementary detective work on my part, but it’s not that difficult. What struck me, as my time in town proceeded, was how few members of the British media had been sufficiently interested to make the effort: The young ladies were unstoppably garrulous in part because, with a few honorable exceptions, so few of their countrymen have ever sought them out to hear their stories.

It is not hard to guess why this is: reporting a court case is clearly something the media is expected to do, but going out and finding stories that, once again, will get you accused of being racist for writing, probably isn’t worth the effort. This in-depth reporting of the issue is missing, and needs to happen.

But that is not what Robinson was doing. He was standing outside the court whose verdict is now front-page news, and falsely claiming it was being covered up. Nobody who understands the court process in Britain would take such a claim seriously, and those who he deceived will look less credible in future. It was for that reason that I tried to push back at the time on people who were repeating the false claims.

Aside from this specifc incident, it’s not unreasonable to say that Robinson is unduly harassed by the authorities. This is partly because they object to his politics, and partly because it’s just easier to get him out of the way to calm down the situation than to face the other side. It is standard police tactics in the case of a disturbance to arrest the weaker party for breach of the peace, and then let them go once things have calmed down.

On the other hand, he does tend to make it easy for them. His style is still that of the football hooligan looking for a punch-up. I’m not sure exactly what would have happened if he had streamed his comments on the Leeds case from his house, instead of going to the court and parading outside it. Legally, his offence would have been exactly the same, but at any rate someone would have to have seen his broadcast, identified it as prejudicial, obtained a warrant for his arrest for contempt of court, and then gone and arrested him. That probably would have all happened, but it would have taken a while. By seeking out confrontation, he made it as easy as grabbing him off the street and convicting him straight away, which is the question on which his conviction was quashed (there are strong echoes of this case: the authorities needing to play a bit loose with the rules to keep the peace. That said, I will be a bit surprised if he isn’t found guilty — the unusual rapidity of his conviction was, I assume, driven by the need to protect the ongoing case, but given the outcry the high court presumably felt a more careful proceeding was needed. Note, by the way, that my speculations here are not contempt because the Robinson case does not involve a jury — otherwise I would still be keeping my views to myself a bit longer. Note I wrote most of the rest of this post months ago, with the intention of publishing after the Huddersfield case).


@Outsideness, when I pointed out that the cases weren’t being covered up and that he was repeating blatantly false claims, took refuge in the opinion that protecting juries from prejudicial information, and for that matter the concept of jury trials themselves, are probably doomed. In the long run, I agree. Information wants to be free, and all that. If someone wants to broadcast information about a trial anonymously or from overseas, there’s not much the court can do about it. Further, the concept of the jury is that there’s such a thing as a “typical citizen” who can be represented by a juror, which is less and less true. But I’d say the current system has a good few years left yet. One of the reasons many people were so confused by what happened is that the question of discussing an ongoing trial generally doesn’t come up. Because the media saves its reporting for the end of the trial where they can report freely, as a rule when a trial is happening nobody who isn’t involved even knows that it’s going on. Anyone who wants to can turn up at the court and view the lists and sit in the gallery, but that’s work. So the vast new amateur publishing ecosystem doesn’t comment on trials because they are still reliant on mainstream media to find out that they’re happening. And, ultimately, there’s nothing to gain by breaking the Contempt of Court law. If you want to have your say in a public debate, it’s better to have it when the debate is actually happening, which is when it’s legal. It’s so rare for someone to be done for prejudicing a jury that a lot of people didn’t understand it — and it’s rare not because the law isn’t enforced, but because it’s almost never broken.


The actual drawbacks of the restricted reporting came up shortly afterwards. I saw in my twitter feed a photo of a demonstration from a few years back: muslim protestors with signs like “As muslims we unite & we are prepared to fight”, “behead those who insult Islam” and “massacre those who insult Islam”. The twitter caption was “Thinking of Tommy Robinson being jailed for standing in the street talking into a microphone, how many of these fine upstanding citizens were arrested?”

OK, Robinson was bound to get jailed, but aside from that, this is just the thing I was complaining about before: by tolerating this sort of thing, our society is effectively pushing Islam to become more radical, more detached from the society it’s located in.

But hang on, that tweet was quote-tweeted. What was the comment?

“At least 5 immediately and several more later. I then charged the most serious offenders with Soliciting Murder rather than just Public Order offences. They went to prison for between 4 and 6 years. You don’t see those placards anymore on UK streets. Next?”

Well, that changes the story a bit. Who is this guy who claimed to have personally rid Britain of open calls for Muslim terrorist violence?

That would be @nazir_afzal. Former chief public prosecutor for North-West England.

Back to him in a moment. First the protesters. This is where the problems caused by reporting restrictions on trials really kick in. I saw reports of that demonstration and those signs. A bunch of the protesters were arrested, and some of them charged with serious crimes, but I didn’t know that. If the media reported it at all, it would quite likely be in such vague terms that I wouldn’t know whether those arrested were the Muslims with the signs or other people getting into fights with them. When they were convicted, that would, I’m sure, have been reported, but that would have been months later, and I might easily have missed it. Because there was no contemporaneous reporting of their trial, there would have just been that gap, destroying a continuity of context that might possibly (and to be fair, it is a stretch) have caused me to remember the original demo as something that people got imprisoned for. So that’s a motive for finding some other way of ensuring jury independence. (I’m not going to get into possibilities, that would require a lot more expertise and interest).

So, Nazir Afzal. I’m a bit embarrassed I hadn’t heard of him. For one thing, our knowledge of the background that this posts opens with is partly down to him: he made the decision to prosecute the Rochdale child prostitution gang after a previous decision elsewhere not to.

It kind of jumps to one’s attention that Afzal is a Muslim of Pakistani ancestry himself. I wouldn’t want to belittle his personal achievement in doing the good things mentioned here, but where his colleagues would have been intimidated by the threat of being labelled as racist from taking the necessary firm line against criminality by British Muslims, he had a freer hand to act.

The liberal line at this point would surely be that our problem is that we don’t have enough Muslim senior lawyers like Afzal. Promote more brown people, and everything will be fine. That is wrong, because what is significant about Afzal (again, aside from his individual personal qualities which I don’t want to play down) is that his background is different from that of the Pakistani Muslims that are involved in the problem. The subcontinent is big and complicated. The large Pakistani communities in Britain are overwhelmingly those who were resettled from Azad Kashmir when the region was flooded, their families who have come later, and their children born here. Afzal is something else: “his father’s family worked for generations in catering for the British Army”. So while the “normal” British Pakistanis are resettled intact clans, and he is basically on his own and consequently, though he retains his religion, much more assimilated to British society. Numbers matter. The child prostitution problem is basically an organised crime problem, and organised crime works better for an ethnic group with links that are strong and opaque to outsiders. The teachings of Islam maybe have a part to play, but the American Mafia were Catholics, and they still ran whores. (The fact that the leader of the Huddersfield gang appears to be a Sikh is rather odd, but, I suppose, consistent with the theory that what matters is that the ethnic gang produces a cohesive group, that trusted outsiders can be brought into if they have something to contribute. Again, this isn’t fundamentally about religion or culture; it’s fundamentally about organised crime).

The thing that we can conclude from Afzal’s efforts is that the system works better when people in authority aren’t terrified of being called racist.

If we could fix that one thing — well, the large resettled clans are never going to be easy given the numbers, but we would be in with a chance.

But we can’t fix that. Anti-racism is the religion, and we can no more wipe it out than we could convert the Pakistanis to Mormonism. So this is all a bit academic.

An interesting view of our decline.

Bronze Age

June 17, 2018


Comments Off on Bronze Age

Moldbug wrote, “White nationalism is the most marginalized and socially excluded belief system in the history of the world.”

And he was right. But, even so, in the decade since he wrote that, many fringe-right beliefs, including even white nationalism, have prospered beyond what I think he or many other people would have predicted.

We can point at a few causes — the overreach of liberalism is my first pick — but combining fringe-right comment with humour has been very effective. By 2007, every right view from prewar conservatism to nazism had been comprehensively demolished in popular culture for half a century, which has greatly contributed to excluding them all from social acceptability. But a fringe right that is willing to laugh at itself is a very long way from the generations of stereotypes that have been used to inoculate the populace, and causes chaos in its enemies. Pepe is a hate symbol! Nazi dogs in Scotland! Feminism is cancer! These jokes get around some of the defenses that have been set up.

They don’t do more than that.To win in the political sphere, at some point you have to be taken seriously. But winning in the political sphere isn’t my objective — just leaking a few ideas, a few facts, into the common consciousness is laying groundwork for serious responses to serious crises that haven’t happened yet.

Bronze Age Pervert fits perfectly into this strategy. Nude bodybuilders destroying the cities by fire cannot be painted by journalists as a clear and present danger without making themselves ridiculous. BAP can raise recognition of various concepts — that relations between the sexes have gone disastrously wrong, that rights for the many are suppressing the freedom of the exceptional — and he can do it without looking like a school shooting or a Nazi occupation.

If that was all he did, it would be worthwhile. But the mix of serious ideas sprinkled through his book are worth attention.

A repetition of the Late Bronze Age Collapse is not really the goal most of us are working towards. But for myself, I do see it as a realistic prospect within the next century, so it’s absolutely worthwhile to be raising it as a discussion. The  Pervert projects it as a sequence of developments: megastates losing their global control as their competence and effectiveness decline, bandits establishing themselves in the abandoned edges, and later descending on the decadent cities for loot and glory. In the last part of the book he explores these possibilities in a bit more detail.

The projection seems more than plausible. It’s worth discussing how to take advantage of it as well as how to prevent it. It’s not a goal of what I think of (questionably) as “mainstream reaction”, but it obviously has overlaps with concepts of Patchwork or true sovereignty. Imagining possible futures is one of the most important and underexercised activities of our movement.

The sticking point of BAP’s future is the actual destruction of technological civilisation. Maybe we could sort of skip that bit? Maybe technological civilisation doesn’t actually require a world population of billions? From 20,000 Leagues to Aristillus, the union of piratical independence with high technology has been imaginable… could it be practical?

In a similar vein, my “mainstream reaction” seeks the return of monogamy on the pattern of Christendom, and the Pervert specifically rejects that, though admitting it superior to the present situation. It comes down to the same question: that civilised pattern is valuable ultimately a mechanism for mobilising a mass industrial population. Can a mass industrial population be preserved? Should it be? Or is it a 20th-century phenomenon that has run its course?

It’s a bit callous to be debating the pros and cons of billions of deaths, but it’s not as if it’s going to be the reactionaries doing the killing. Those deaths are on the agenda already — how large a population can Europe support with African government? The question is what to do — if anything — to prevent that collapse.

Any modern reactionary must remain conscious of the fact that by existing within modernism he has some degree of complicity with it. The Bronze Age mindset is a reminder that that is not the only path; a yardstick against which to measure the compromises he is making.


In conclusion, I find Bronze Age Mindset worth reading, thinking about, and promoting. It is not my manifesto, but it contributes serious thinking and an attitude of seeking alternatives.

Components of Growth

June 16, 2018


Comments Off on Components of Growth

Where does economic growth come from?

I’m going to break it into four components

  1. Innovation. By “innovation”, I mean using more effective production techniques than before. The normal implication is using newly discovered techniques that are more effective than older ones, which is probably the most common, but I am going to stretch it, and, for instance, still count abandoning a newer technique for an older one as innovation too if it improves production.
  2. Capital accumulation. Making things to make things. It’s a bit unnatural, but for my purposes, this is a technique in itself, so really it’s just a variety of innovation. However, you still need to be able to afford to delay production, in order to produce more, so to that extent it is a separate element of growth.
  3. Scale. As a rule, you can produce more effectively at larger scale than at smaller scale. Further, scale can support innovation if there are different techniques that are more effective than old techniques at large scale but not at small scale.
  4. Mobilisation. You can produce more if you devote more of the available resources to production. This is a bit of a catch-all, it can include working more hours, eliminating unproductive activity, reducing unemployment.

Am I talking about economic growth for a company, for a society, for the world? At this point it doesn’t matter, you can always break it down into those four components.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that economic growth is good. But growth by the three components is not the same. Innovation is the good stuff. Orders-of-magnitude increases in wellbeing haven’t been powered by improved mobilisation, and not by scale directly, except insofar as it has enabled innovation. They’ve been powered by innovations.

Mobilisation is a very mixed bag. Cutting out pure waste is good. But a lot of what appears as waste is actually production of something you’re not measuring: social capital, antifragility. On the other hand, relative to innovation, the goals of greater mobilisation are small.  If you get waste down to 50% of effort, then a further doubling of output is the most you can achieve by reducing waste.

Scale is generally good up to a point, but again you reach a point the gains become small and the social effects can become large.

I’m not convinced that capital accumulation deserves as much attention. Even quite backward subjects of study usually have access to capital proportional to their production. The main point is that it causes growth to be exponential: your rate of growth is dependent on your level of growth. Innovation is also a cause of that phenomenon.


What drives growth is the market and competition. Where there is competition, competitors will seek additional growth in all its components. Where there isn’t, growth usually just doesn’t happen at all.

What I’m getting at is that there is a reasonable political case for restraining scale and mobilisation, but much less of one for restraining innovation. In practice, though, this is generally very hard to do. Once you take the authority to overrule the market and prevent competition, the incentives to interfere in innovation are every bit as strong as those to interfere with mobilisation and scale. This is the orthodox libertarian view that you will find throughout the early years of this blog.


There isn’t a conclusion. This is just a problem that hangs over every political view that isn’t pure market liberalism. It’s part of the context of everything I think about. For an example, see The Trichotomy Explained


Hollywood, and Media as a Business

One of the most critical features of the Modern Structure is the relationship between the media as a capitalist business and the media as a channel of the Cathedral.


There’s a ton of history here. I saw it suggested recently (by @clarkmicah ?) that the BBC was deliberately constructed as a counterbalance to the right-of-centre newspaper industry. Hearst newspapers in the US also had a right-of-centre bias.

(I’m using the term “right-of-centre” not to imply that some tendencies on the right are closer to an objectively determined “centre” than some others on the left, which I don’t think is even meaningful, but because subjectively from an #nrx point of view, things like Fox News are still leftist, just a little less so.)

Since the early 20th C, the Cathedral has increased its control over media industries, but not completed it. In both Britain and the USA, Rupert Murdoch has established media business with right-of-centre alignment and significant market share.

There are two forces pushing these businesses to the right: First, the owners of media businesses tend to be right of centre, particularly in the 20th C, because the left and the right largely lined up with interests of labour and capital respectively, and business owners are by definition capitalist. Secondly, because the cultural elite are always to the left of the population, there is market pressure pushing media businesses towards the right to attract audiences.

In the 21st Century, the first of those forces has declined to the point that it can be practically ignored. What is crucial is the tension between market forces impinging on media and Cathedral orthodoxy.


It has been suggested that key parts of the media industry, notably Hollywood, are effectively insulated from market pressures. @Stoner_68 said on twitter:

“It takes more than cocktail parties to convince studio execs to take multimillion-dollar losses, over and over again.
It’s as if risk isn’t even a factor. But that can’t be true. They know someone will reimburse their costs.”

I remember Spandrell claiming something similar a month or two ago.

The theory is that either the government or another source of funding (Soros is often mentioned) are subsidising the media; that the only goal of Hollywood etc. is propaganda, and they are only pretending to be profitable businesses.

This is not insane. Obviously, the BBC is, by design, almost totally resistant to commercial pressures. A rich guy can own a newspaper and run it at a loss as a propaganda organ. It would be possible to subsidise movies that pushed a favoured point of view.

A key fact is that the movie industry is extremely opaque financially. Much is written about “Movie A cost X dollars” or “Movie B lost Y dollars”, but these are always guesses by people writing without direct knowledge of the actual receipts and spending on the movie. It is therefore not impossible that the movie industry is running on hidden subsidies and would otherwise be losing money.

However, I do not believe that is what is happening. The general assumption is that the studios are secretive about money because they are ripping off minor investors, writers, actors and everybody else in the world. That seems to me the more likely explanation. The stories become public often enough: The Lord of the Rings went to court and was settled, also the TV series Bones (good detail here),

The main reason for believing that American movies and TV are profitable industries is that they behave like profitable industries do. They pay shitloads of money for top performers. They copy the most successful products until everyone gets sick to death of them. Several of the big studios are public companies with very large market capitalisation.

That is not to say that the movie industry is solely motivated by profit and uninfluenced by ideology. That is obviously untrue. The people in the industry are overwhelmingly left-wing, and their bias clearly influences their product.

There are films made which are not intended primarily, or necessarily at all, for commercial success, but to validate the film-makers view of themselves, and to impress their social and professional peers. “Oscar bait” and art house films both fall into that category. However, while not aimed at profit, these movies are made on limited budgets to at least limit the losses, and to make it possible for them to be profitable.

The big budget films are quite another matter. They are clearly made for profit, because they are managed in the same way as other profit-making enterprises. Actors are paid their market rate based on how likely they are to make the film successful. Huge amounts are spent on promotion and marketing. The studios push some of the financial risk onto top actors and directors by paying them percentages, and those actors and directors are willing to take the percentages because they expect them to be valuable, which they usually are.

Even these big movies carry political bias. They are made by the same people as the more indulgent films, but with the addition of big money and big investors. There is also the influence of the media culture, which also has a left-wing bias and therefore will reward bias in the films with favourable publicity. A film that is seen as having right-wing elements can cause social and professional problems for those involved.

But in spite of all that, nobody is putting hundreds of millions into movies that they don’t expect to make them a profit, and nobody is deliberately wrecking big-budget movies for political motives. Occasionally they accidentally wreck them, but not as often as some people seem to think.

The finances of movies are somewhat opaque, but there’s a lot of business interest and they’re not completely secret. There’s a rule of thumb that a film will break even if its worldwide box office gross is about two and a half times its production budget. That’s taking into account the cost of marketing and distribution, the payments that are made as percentages of the gross, and the other income from TV, DVD rights, spinoffs and so on.

This is a good site with estimates of movie financials.

It’s not possible to validate the truth of that rule of thumb, but the industry acts as if it’s true. Movies that appear to make profits are treated as successes, the people involved and the ideas involved are used again. Movies that appear to make losses by this rule are treated as failures; they aren’t repeated and the people involved will command lower payments for future projects. There are sometimes disputes about the shareout of the profits, these go to court with expensive lawyers and are generally settled quietly.

For this to be all an illusion would involve so many people that faking the moon landings would be easier. Most big-budget movies are profitable. The Last Jedi grossed 1.3 billion from a 220 million budget, so by the rule of thumb it made over half a billion in profit. 2016 Ghostbusters grossed 230 million from a 144 million budget, so it lost the studio money – one of those accidentally wrecked by political bias, in my view. Note that if The Last Jedi had lost money, that would also be put down to its social / political agenda, but the studios believed it was a good investment despite that agenda, and they were right.

Because of the big money going to the most successful, “tournament” style economics apply. Many of those involved in the industry outside of the blockbusters are doing badly; they are underpaid for their work, or losing money on their investments, but they accept that because they are trying to win their places in the top rank that makes the big money. Most fail, but the few who succeed make enough to make entering the tournament attractive. That is one part of the basis of the “art house” sector.

Could a less politically-correct Star Wars have made even more money? Quite possibly, but they would have needed actors, writers, and so on that would have been affected by media opposition to political incorrectness, and managing high-value, temperamental stars is difficult enough at the best of times.

As far as spending money on propaganda goes, blowing tens of millions of dollars on big-name actors who are already on your side anyway just isn’t a sensible use of funds. A few foundations like Soros’ are spending tens of millions a year on propaganda, but they’re making much better use of it than that.


The really interesting question is about the trends. Hollywood is making big money, but sometimes losing it too, and the business side can be held hostage by the demands of politically biased creatives. Audiences might get so irritated by the industry’s politically correct smugness that they lose interest. Ghostbusters is evidence that that is possible. Alternatively, someone might be able to compete with the whole Hollywood establishment by producing movies with the same attractive features but a political tone more in line with the audience. It’s easy to say that the iron grip of leftists is too strong to allow that, but don’t forget Rupert Murdoch managed to do it to the newspaper and cable TV industries. I think it’s significant that newspapers, even in the 1980s, were in decline, while cinema is strong and growing, but the precedent is there.

Climate Update

March 22, 2018


Comments Off on Climate Update

As I wrote in 2016, I don’t cover Climate Change any more, because it’s over. In the sense that Climate Change was ever “a thing”, it was primarily a media phenomenon, and now the media has lost interest, there really isn’t anything to talk about.
As a by-product of the media interest, there was a whole chunk of what passes today for scientific research going on, filling in details for the media to report. Like so much current science, it was basically worthless: a grinding out of suspect results from statistical analysis of big noisy data sets, and of computer modelling. It’s still there, but it’s declining, and will have pretty much died out in another decade.
It’s interesting to try to work out how the Climate Change phenomenon of the last quarter-century will be seen by history. I think mostly it will be just ignored. The fact that a large proportion of the most intelligent and educated people in a handful of western countries seriously believed that humanity was under threat from a warmer climate just won’t make it into popular history. I used to think that the internet made it hard to rewrite history, but I’ve had the experience a few times recently of trying to find news stories from just a few years ago, and it’s really difficult. They are there, in the main, but I don’t think doing a really thorough survey of what people were saying and thinking a few decades ago is going to be any easier than it was in the days of newspaper archives.
I was moved to re-address this dead subject because Ed West quoted from Stephen Pinker’s new book, which says

A recent survey found that exactly four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming, and that “the peer-reviewed literature contains no convincing evidence against [the hypothesis]”

As I remarked, this causes no problems for history, because it has no relevance to the Climate Change media issue which is the real thing that happened in the 1990s and 2000s. The hypothesis that human CO2 emissions have a warming effect on the climate is reasonable, quite likely true, and fundamentally impossible to disprove. It is also of no practical importance. Climate change was an issue because of the idea that this warming effect would be large and self-amplifying — that is the question which was under serious scientific dispute. But both sides of that dispute were part of the “97%” who accepted that humans cause global warming. If it turned out eventually that the vast majority of scientists were wrong about the climate, that would be something difficult to explain away. But they weren’t and aren’t, at least in any kind of recorded formal way. If someone in 2040 were to claim, “Everyone in 2004 believed that we were under threat from Climate Change”, the answer would be, “no, no, there was a lot of hype in the press, but the science at the time was pretty cautious and sound, and didn’t imply anything of the sort. It was just a bit of media hysteria that some politicians made capital out of”.

Human Goals

January 27, 2018


Comments Off on Human Goals

In writing about the behaviour of superintelligent AIs, and then going off on a tangent about the behaviour of sovereigns, I’ve adopted the paradigm of “optimising a long-term goal”. I picked that up from the “paperclipper” idea that the AI Risks people talk about.

The problem with assuming that any intelligence has a goal of maximising some quantity over the long term is that no natural or artificial intelligence we know of actually does that. The only relevance of the discussion of instrumental convergence caused by long-term goals that my recent posts have contained is as a distant ideal that might be approximated to.
Actual AI systems today are generally aimed at maximising some quantity within a finite time horizon. I have not seen anybody seriously think about how to build an intelligence with an indefinite time horizon. (That was the point of my “Requirements document for paperclip-maximising AI” tweets, which were playful rather than seriously falling into any of the misunderstandings Yudkowsky mentions).

And humans, well… What is human life for? Lots of people think they can answer that, but they don’t agree.
One can deduce that humans are a product of an evolutionary process that has optimised for reproductive fitness. But that isn’t an explicit goal, represented symbolically within the human body. Most importantly, there’s no mechanism to preserve goal-content integrity. That’s because humans aren’t superintelligences, and are not designed with the assumption that they will be able to manipulate their own minds. Throughout evolutionary history, our ancestors didn’t modify their own goals, not because they were constructed to resist that, but because they weren’t sophisticated enough to do so. Now that humans are symbol-manipulating intelligences, there is no constraint on the human intelligence subverting the implicit goals of the human genome.
Daniel Dennett is good on this, in Freedom Evolves: he talks about the “as-if intentionality” produced by evolution giving rise to a real but subsidiary intentionality in human minds.
Existing machine-learning systems also do not have goals explicitly and physically present. They are more akin to humans in that they have been tuned throughout their structure by an optimisation process such that the whole tends to the goals that were intended by their designers.
As with humans, that kind of goal, because it isn’t explicit, isn’t something that can be protected from change. All you can do is protect the whole mind from any kind of change, which is contrary to the idea of a self-improving intelligence.
Indeed the whole existing technology of “machine learning”, impressive though it is, simply isn’t the kind of logic-manipulating machine that could capable of changing itself. That’s not to say the whole concept of self-accelerating AI is not sensible; it’s just that the ML stuff that is making such waves can only be one part of a composite whole that might reach that stage.
The AI Risks crew are thinking about different kinds of goals, but I’m not in their discussions and I don’t know what sort of conclusions they’ve so far reached; I’ve just seen things like this defining of terms. which shows they are thinking about these questions.
Getting back to humans, humans do not have explicit long-term goals, unless they accidentally pick them up at a cultural level. But the point of instrumental convergence is that one long-term goal looks pretty much like another for the purpose of short-term behaviour. If you can culturally produce a sovereign with some long-term goal, the result will be a polity that seeks knowledge and resources, which is well-placed to pursue any long-term goal in future. Given that humans have been produced by a process optimising to some non-explicit goal of spreading copies over the universe, having some other intelligence use humans as assets towards some arbitrary long-term goal of its own would not seem all that unpleasant to individual humans. Of course, per my last post, that outcome does depend on humans actually being assets, which is not guaranteed.
However, I still don’t really believe in superintelligences with long-term goals. As with my paperclipper project, it’s hard to see how you would even set a long-term goal into an intelligence, and even harder to see how, if it had power over the universe even as much as a human, it wouldn’t modify its own goals, just as part of an experiment, which after all is exactly what humans have been doing at least since Socrates.
It seems far more plausible that any AI would be built to optimise some quantity in the present or near future. The real issue is that that might approximate some other emergent long-term goal — that, I think, is what Yudkowsky is getting at in his tweet thread above, and is why my “what does optimising for paperclips really mean” analysis is silly even it is reasonable. No intelligence is going to explicitly optimise for paperclips.
The three-handed argument on twitter, between @AMK2934, me, and @Outsideness, was kind of funny. Axel was claiming that intelligences could optimise for any arbitrary goal, on the grounds that humans optimise for a stupid arbitrary goal of reproduction. Nick was arguing that intelligences could only optimise for core sensible goals, on the grounds that humans optimise for the core sensible goal of survival and reproduction. I was arguing that intelligences won’t optimise for anything consistent and will behave chaotically, on the grounds that that’s what the more intelligent humans do. We were disagreeing about the future only because we were disagreeing about the present.

Assets, Parasites and Pets

In my last post, I wrote:
An inhabitant of a polity is either an asset, or a parasite, or a pet.
The argument I was making was that if a sovereign has a long-term final goal, then his short-term instrumental goals will be to increase capabilities and acquire resources, and if he owns an subject who has a long-term final goal, that subject’s short-term instrumental goals will be to increase his own capabilities and acquire resources for himself, and if that subject is an asset to the sovereign, then those goals are fundamentally compatible. They’re not identical — the distribution of resources among subjects will have some optimum for the sovereign’s purpose which differs from that of any individual subject, but valuable subjects in general will have their goals met about as well by an efficient sovereign as by any other governance mechanism which could exist.
But what of subjects who are not assets? The sovereign does not have any interest in increasing the capabilities or resources to subjects who are not productive of any value.
The first thing to do when considering this is to be realistic: any system of government depends on the able, and has little incentive to cater to the unable. It doesn’t make sense to go into this question expecting too much. That’s a point I’ve made before: “Ultimately, no blueprint can protect the native population if it truly doesn’t have any value to contribute”
Nonetheless, many actually existing human societies do care for the unproductive, with varying degrees of effort and effectiveness. They do this because humans do not have purely long-term goals, but actually want that to happen.
When thinking about the welfare of the unproductive, it makes more sense to see this as a bonus to the productive, rather than as a matter of rights of the unproductive. I am not looking at the question from a moral standpoint, remember — this is all based on the concept of a sovereign with his own long-term goals. Since his interests include increasing the capabilities of his able subjects, and their interests include (to some variable degree) caring for the unproductive around them, the optimal policy is going to include some level of such care. Care for the unable is always going to depend on some able people wanting it. If nobody has any reason to keep you around, they won’t.

Goal-Content Integrity

January 24, 2018


Comments Off on Goal-Content Integrity

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Instrumental Convergence.
The thing that immediately struck me when I read The Superintelligent Will was that the very concept of Instrumental Convergence was exactly the neoreactionary argument for sovereignty.
If you have any long-term goals, the best way to achieve them in the short term is to accumulate knowledge and resources that can later be employed in the desired direction, provided that you can achieve what Bostrom calls Goal-content integrity.
Goal-content integrity means being able to hold to the same final goal over time. If you do not have confidence that your final goals in the future will be the same as they are now, then resources and capabilities that you acquire could be used by you in the future for goals other than those you currently intend.
If we model a polity as an intelligence with some long-term final goals (and I will address the problems with doing this later), then the logical instrumental goals of that polity are: self-preservation, goal-content integrity, increased capability, resource acquisition, just as Bostrom deduces. (I am rolling his goals of cognitive enhancement and technological perfection into a simpler “increased capability” — those goals are more important to his overall argument than they are to mine).
The difference between a reactionary polity and a liberal polity is that the liberal polity disclaims goal-content integrity. It does not have a long-term final goal, because it assumes that elements within it have different final goals, and they will continue to compete and compromise over those goals forever. Because it does not have long-term final goals, it has no steady interest in increased capability and resource acquisition. Conversely, a reactionary polity with a defined long-term goal, such as increasing the glory of the Royal Family, or of God, or both, will seek increased capability and resource acquisition.
The obvious problem with modelling the polity as an intelligence is that what that “intelligence” seeks is not necessarily good for anyone in it. However, this is where Instrumental Convergence becomes important. A polity that is seeking increased capability and resource acquisition is highly likely to benefit the immediate instrumental goals of its population. An inhabitant of a polity is either an asset, or a parasite, or a pet. An able human is still capable of being an asset, and as an asset is likely to gain from the resources and capabilities of the polity. Being a parasite to any polity of any kind is likely to cause you problems, so don’t do that. The role of humans as pets becomes interesting in the case of superintelligences (which I am not really discussing here, despite the starting point), but less so for human societies.
This is why it is better to be subject to a sovereign than to have a share in power: as a subject of a sovereign you are part of a polity with goal-content integrity, which, whatever its final goals, will pursue instrumental goals that will enable you to benefit. As a citizen of a democracy you are part of a polity without goal-content integrity, where the zero-sum struggle over the direction of the polity dominates any instrumental goals of increased capability or resource acquisition that you would be able to benefit from.

Recent Comments