How To Lose 100 Karma In 6 Hours -- What Just Happened

by waitingforgodel2 min read10th Dec 2010220 comments


Personal Blog
As with all good posts, we begin with a hypothetical:
Imagine that, in the country you are in, a law is passed saying that if you drive your car without your seat belt on, you will be fined $100.
Here's the question: Is this blackmail? Is this terrorism?
Certainly it's a zero-sum interaction (at least in the short term). You either have to endure the inconvenience of putting on a seat belt, or risk the chance of a $100 fine.
You may also want to consider that cooperating with the seat belt fine may also cause lawmakers to believe that you'll also follow future laws.

If that one seems too obvious, here's another: A law is passed establishing a $500 fine for pirating an album on the internet.
Does this count as blackmail? does this count as terrorism?

What if, instead of passing a law, the music companies declare that they will sue you for $500 every time you pirate an album?
Is it blackmail yet? terrorism? Will complying teach the music companies that throwing their weight around works?

Enough with the hypothetical, this one's real: The moderator of one of your favorite online forums declares that if you post things he feels are dangerous to read, he will censor them. He may or may not tell you when he does this. If you post such things repeatedly, you will be banned.
Does this count as blackmail? Does this count as terrorism? Should we not comply with him to prevent similar future abuses of power?

Two months ago, I found a third option to the comply/revolt dilemma: turn the force back on the forceful.
Imagine this: you're the moderator of an online forum and care primarily about one thing: reducing existential risks. One day, one of your form members vows to ensure that censoring posts will cause a small increase in existential risks.
Does this count as blackmail? Does this count as terrorism? Would you not comply to prevent similar future abuses of power?

(Please pause here if you're feeling emotional -- what follows is important, and deserves a cool head)

It is my opinion that none of these are blackmail.
Blackmail is fundamentally a single shot game.
Laws and rules, are about the structure of the world's payoffs, and changing them to incentivize behavior.
Now it's fair to say that there are just laws, and there are unjust laws... and perhaps we should refuse to follow unjust laws... but to call a law blackmail or terrorism seems incorrect.

Here's what happened:
  • 7 weeks ago, I precommitted that censoring a post or comment on LessWrong would cause a 0.0001% increase in existential risk.
  • Earlier today, Yudkowsky censored a post on less wrong
  • 20 minutes later, existential risks increased 0.0001% (to the best of my estimation).

This will continue for the foreseeable future. I'm not happy about it either. Basically I think the sanest way to think about the situation is to assume that Yudkowsky's "delete" link also causes a 0.0001% increase in existential risk, and hope that he uses it appropriately.
He doesn't feel this way. He feels that the only correct answer here is to ignore the 0.0001% increase. We are at an impasse.

Q: Will you reconsider?
A: Sadly no. This situation is symmetric -- just as I am not immune to Yudkowsky's laws (censorship on LW if I talk about "dangerous" ideas), he is not immune to my laws.

Q: How can you be sure that a post was censored rather than deleted by the owner?
A: This is sometimes hard, and sometimes easy. In general I will err on the side of caution.

Q: How can you be sure that you haven't missed a deleted comment?
A: I use, and am improving, an automated solution.

Q: What is the nature of the existential risk increase?
A: Emails. (Yes, emails). Maybe some phone calls.
There is a simple law that I believe makes intuitive sense to the conservative right. A law that will be easy for them to endorse. This law would be disastrous for the relative chance of our first AI being a FAI vs a UFAI. Every time EY decides to take a 0.0001% step, an email or phone call will be made to raise awareness about this law.

Q: Is there any way for me to gain access to the censored content?
A: I am working on a website that will update in real time as posts are deleted from LessWrong. Stay tuned!

Q: Will you still post here under waitingforgodel
A: Yes, but less. Replying to 100+ comments is very time consuming, and I have several projects in dire need of attention.

Thank you very much for your time and understanding,

Edit: This post is describing what happened, not why. For a discussion about why I feel that the precommitment will result in an existential risk savings, please see the "precommitment" thread, where it is talked about extensively.
Personal Blog