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Could degoogling be a practice run for something more important?

by Quinn1 min read17th Apr 20215 comments

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World Optimization
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Andrew Critch's recent threat model ends with the following:

We humans eventually realize with collective certainty that the companies have been trading and optimizing according to objectives misaligned with preserving our long-term well-being and existence, but by then their facilities are so pervasive, well-defended, and intertwined with our basic needs that we are unable to stop them from operating. With no further need for the companies to appease humans in pursuing their production objectives, less and less of their activities end up benefiting humanity.
Eventually, resources critical to human survival but non-critical to machines (e.g., arable land, drinking water, atmospheric oxygen…) gradually become depleted or destroyed, until humans can no longer survive.

I occasionally see posts by people who believe that surveillance advertising is bad, and we should try to write google out of our lives. Regardless of the merit of this argument, I admire the discipline it takes to degoogle. Gmail and gdocs are really high quality, add a ton of value, which is why they've become so entrenched. I can scarcely imagine actually doing without google docs, at this point!

It occurs to me: should we be practicing the skill of doing without something that's pervasively adding a lot of value, just in case that skill helps to keep us from being enfeebled by an aligned AI system, or destroyed by a misaligned AI system? Is it also practice coordinating, which would payoff more generally than AI problems?

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Ascetic and stoic practices have been around for a long time, and have been invented by many cultures. There are lots of reasons to practice them. Deliberately inconveniencing yourself by denying yourself Google feels more theatrical or symbolic than efficacious. We need tools to work together as human beings to confront real world challenges. Google’s a key tool for that work.

I don't necessarily disagree, but I will note that there are a lot of alternatives to many of Google's tools.  Some are better, some are nearly as good, some are much worse, but I feel like you could get a long way to systems that help humans work together with all of the free and open source replacements that are out there.

In other words, I'm not so sure that Google and other Google-esque companies are a necessary component of tools to help us work together.

I think there's something valuable that comes with intentionally denying oneself something that is normally integral to one's life.

I could make a case here for the psychological (and ~spiritual) benefits of the kind of general resilience this helps train, but on a very practical level sometimes, for example, the internet goes out, and it's useful to know what to do if you've lost access to Google Mail, Docs, Maps, or whatever else you rely on. Doing that in a controlled setting is likely to be better because you can plan for it so it doesn't negatively imp... (read more)

I hate Gmail, because even if I don't use it, as long as people around me are using it, it is going to read most of my private correspondence anyway. (In other words, it is hard to fight an enemy when people around you volunteer to be their hostages.)

Perhaps I should keep one Gmail address and one non-Gmail address, and make it known (in the Gmail signature) that I always reply to Gmail by Gmail, to non-Gmail by non-Gmail, and that I check my non-Gmail account daily, but my Gmail account only once in a week. -- But even this seems like an extra work for me, that would bring little benefit.

I think the litmus test for the value of reducing dependency on a given product/technology is whether we think it's empowering or enfeebling. Consider arithmetic calculators: is it empowering to delegate boring stuff to subroutines freeing up your mind to do harder stuff, or is it enfeebling because it reduces incentive to learn to do mental arithmetic well? Dependence can be a problem in either case.

Each product needs to be assessed individually.