Constructing fictional eugenics (LW edition)

Yvain asked:

So if you had to design a eugenics program, how would you do it? Be creative.

I'm asking because I'm working on writing about a fictional society that practices eugenics. I want them to be interesting and sympathetic, and not to immediately pattern-match to a dystopia that kills everyone who doesn't look exactly alike.

My reply was too long for LiveJournal, so I'm posting it here:

1.  The real step 1 in any program like this would be to buy the 3 best modern textbooks on animal breeding and read them.  (My grandfather is a researcher in this field so I'm unusually aware that it exists.)

2.  If you give me genetic selection on multiple possible embryos where I can read off the genome of each one, I can do much better, much faster, than if I'm only allowed to look at the mother and father's genome and predict on that basis.  If I can only look at the mother and father's relatives and life achievements, I do worse, but modern tech is very rapidly advancing to be able to read off the parents' genome cheaply.

3.  If society's utility has a large component for genius production, then you probably want a very diverse mix of different high-IQ genes combined into different genotypes and phenotypes.  (Although some recent research suggests that the most important thing for IQ may be avoiding mutational load, i.e., the modal genome would be super-von-Neumann.  Even so, we'd want a diverse mix of everything else cognitive that wasn't about modality.)

4.  Doing a Bayesian value-of-information calculation on rare alleles and potentially interesting allele combinations will automatically include a value for diversity into your eugenic program, based on the value of promoting a gene / combo in much larger numbers if that gene or gene combo is found to be successful.  You would get much *more* interesting diversity in the next generation automatically, as many previously low-frequency alleles were combined in greater numbers and greater diversity than before.  *Not* doing a value-of-info calculation accounts for a lot of the dystopic load of alleged dystopias.

5.  The obvious basic instrument in a society depicted as well-intentioned would be an economic policy of trying to internalize the externalities of a child, just like a well-intentioned society might try to internalize the externalities of e.g. carbon dioxide emissions, instead of regulating/capping them directly, in order to maximize net social welfare.  There would be a tax or benefit based on how much your child is expected to cost society (not just governmental costs in the form of health care, schooling etc., but costs to society in general, including foregone labor of a working parent, etc.) and how much that child is expected to benefit society (not lifetime tax revenue or lifetime earnings, but lifetime value generated - most economic actors only capture a fraction of the value they create).  If it looks like you're going to have a valuable child, you get your benefit in the form of a large cash bonus up-front (love that hyperbolic discounting) and lots of free childcare so you can go on having more children.  The marketed social goal would be to avert the modern trope where parenthood is this dreadful burdensome inconvenience compared to playing video games, and this is bad for society because society runs out of valuable future workers whose benefits-to-society the parents mostly don't capture.  Probably the hard part from a marketing standpoint would be the proposal to do actual genetic calculations, even if it's to allegedly increase social benefit and prevent the system from being "exploited" (i.e. going dysgenic-Malthusian).

6.  As suggested in an earlier comment, financializing progressive shares of future income (as diverted from tax streams, maybe) is an obvious way to privatize prediction, but only of tax streams, or at best revenue earned by the prospective individual.  (I hadn't thought of this until I read that comment, so credit where it's due.)

7.  Taxes on expected-negative kids are more icky but would still have the obvious economic justification.  A nicer-sounding way of framing it would be requiring parents to post bond corresponding to the baseline government cost of each child in schooling and healthcare, with expected value potentially helping to make up the bond.  An interesting question is whether anyone would really work out to expected-net-negative under this system, which question is isomorphic to asking whether it ever makes selfish sense for a country to restrict immigration.  But adding at least some burden here makes sense from a cognitive perspective, because adding a cost is better at shaping behavior than adding a potentially foregone benefit.

8.  The incentive for e.g. taking advantage of sperm banks is automatic in this system - you can either pay a bunch of money to have a kid with your current husband, or you can be paid thousands of dollars and get free child care to be inseminated by the sperm of a Nobel winner who never had to diet.  I think that, in practice, the basic test of a system like this would be whether it could get people to go over the inconvenience threshold of actually using sperm banks and egg donors.

9.  More interestingly, there's a built-in incentive for most people to have daughters rather than sons under this system.  If we take the expected externalities of grandchildren into account in calculating the expected externalities of a child, then daughters can bear children using the best sperm via gene banks, while men have a harder time getting at the best eggs, making the grandchildren of daughters much more valuable if you'll assume they'll all be Nobel-laureate-descendants.  Daughters also add more marginal children to society than sons, since adding another son does not increase the marginal reproductive capacity of society unless single women aren't willing to reproduce using sperm banks (even taking into account subsidized childcare) and the polyamory factor has gone over what women with children are willing to tolerate.  So if grandchildren are net positive, daughters are more marginally valuable to society until the sex ratio has gone well over 1:1.  This is leaving aside generally larger criminal downsides of men, the fact that men do worse in school (which may be a mere artifact of our horror of a school system), and so on.  However, if the sex ratio becomes very extreme and the system is supposed to stick around for many generations, then most of the males generated will be by people defying system incentives; and unless very few women reproduce with those males, there will be a large selective advantage for having sons outside the system.  I.e., the system will be selecting for those who defy its incentives, which is a key design criterion for avoiding.  (Though on yet further reflection, if there are many males with suboptimal genetics being produced and then reproducing, child-value calculations would rapidly yield the social advice to start birthing more above-average males even if they won't win the sperm-bank contest; and if women have a strong preference for present fathers, you could directly calculate that as social value as well as a factor in calculating expected genetic impact of males.)

10.  In the end, all of this just adds up to, "If you can correctly internalize these externalities, the following social welfare factor will be increased..." and the key part is of course that "If".

(See Yvain's post and comments as well.)

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I predict two problems (though problems are not limited to the first problems I predict).

Humans will dramatically overprice the "sacred" value of natural children. So any policy based on internalizing costs of a sacred value may mostly just make people pay costs, not change their behavior.

Dumb people are going to have kids. If the people least likely to change their behavior based on an incentive are also the ones being fined the most, you just go from having dumb people to having poor dumb people.

Dumb people should be given free computer games, so they don't have time to reproduce.

Imagine a monastery, just replace praying with playing. A place where people can move, play computer games all day long, and get free food. They can have competitions in the games, have status in the community based on their playing results (so they are emotionally motivated to play more), a small world separated from all the troubles of the outside world. A wireheading, without putting a wire to the head. In separate buildings for males and for females, aside from the rest of civilization. Voluntary participants.

I am not sure but I think that a eugenics-friendly billionaire could build such an institution now, legally.

Which is why we have the dysgenic trend of college degrees having a strong negative impact on female fertility.

Some people do get laid in college, even if that's probably rarer than elsewhere. Also, it's not dumb people who go there.

Rarer than elsewhere? That's not my impression, at least of universities with co-ed dorms, which is probably the main and critical difference between them and Viliam's Monastaries.

I seem to recall statistics according to which the percentage of graduate students in certain faculties who are virgins was two-digits, whereas the percentage of twenty-year-olds in the general population in the same country who are virgins was less than 5%.

Dumb people should be given free computer games, so they don't have time to reproduce.

Or, once technology is slightly more advanced, give them sexbots. You could also develop robot kids that were cuter and easier to take care of than real children, and give those to the dumb people. (I think some sci-fi story had cute robot kids causing the extinction of the human species, but I forget which one this was.)

Of course, this has the obvious problem that if you only make things too easy and fun for the dumb folks, you're incentivizing the smart ones to pretend to be dumb.

if you only make things too easy and fun for the dumb folks, you're incentivizing the smart ones to pretend to be dumb.

Easy - just make the computer games really dumb, and easy. But you can blow stuff up and win points!

Explosion physics is moderately difficult to program. Instead, click on cows and win points.

I suspect that doing that all day, all year would eventually bore even not-so-dumb people (say, IQ 85).

The number of Farmville posts on my Facebook wall serves as a counterexample to this claim.

I had interpreted "click on cows and win points" literally. I've never played FarmVille, but I guess it's a constructionand management simulation game, and as such not that boring. (I spent plenty of time playing Sim City, Roller Coaster Tycoon and Age of Empires back in the day.)

In terms of richness of gameplay, Farmville is closer to "click on cows and win points" than to Sim City or Roller Coaster Tycoon. It may be closer to those in terms of graphics and the diversity of choices you have, it's just that those choices are not very deep (you won't need to balance any feedback loops or anything, you can just put anything that looks pretty).

And of course there's the actual Cow Clicker game.

if you only make things too easy and fun for the dumb folks, you're incentivizing the smart ones to pretend to be dumb.

It would be good if taking the "dumb path" is easier if any only if the person is dumb (or has other negative characteristics), otherwise taking the "normal path" is better. Assuming a normal person can get more utility from their life than a dumb person, and that normal people value other things than dumb people, the "dumb path" should provide utility somewhere between these levels, and it should focus on things dumb people value more. For a dumb person, choosing the "dumb path" should be both the rational choice and the immediate gratification maximizing choice.

For example, in the "gaming monastery" situation, a smart person can find a work, buy a computer and the games, and play at home, so they probably would not gain much by going to the monastery. For the society, maintaining the monastery should not be very expensive even in short term, and certainly it would save costs in long term. The money saved by running the monasteries and the gains from increasing IQ of population should contribute to well-being of people outside of the monasteries.

(Giving dumb people cute robotic kids would not work. They would probably have sex anyway, which is the part we want to avoid here. It requires some intelligence to understand the relation between sex and reproduction, and even higher intelligence to remember it when the opportunity for sex becomes immediate. The only thing that would work is either contraception, or physically separating males and females. Bonus political points if they do that voluntarily; if you bribe them instead of forcing them.)

Giving mean people cute robotic kids might be a huge win. Designing and distributing kid-shaped robots which are optimized for attracting abuse would have a huge squick factor.

For extra squick-factor-despite-potential-benefits, I present to you ... the rapebot! A humanoid robot you can rape in the quiet of your own home, that will fight back realistically! For use in delux detain, er, entertainement facilities! For more information, contact your local peace and love officer!

For double extra squick factors, make some robots look like schoolgirls.

Meh. Rape play is pretty common. Actually I think the "robot girlfriend" doll already has a personality setting for not consenting. I don't think there is any healthy, consensual, adult outlet for people who think "Man, I wish there was an ethical way to get the kick of abusing", unless I'm wrong about the psychology of abusers.

Giving dumb people cute robotic kids would not work. They would probably have sex anyway, which is the part we want to avoid here. It requires some intelligence to understand the relation between sex and reproduction, and even higher intelligence to remember it when the opportunity for sex becomes immediate.

Sex = pregnancy risk is pretty straightforward. You would have to be literally retarded to not appreciate it.

Pregnancy rates varying with IQ is more about culture and SES than "how girl get pragnant how is babby formed" - they get pregnant to hook their boyfriend, because the guy insisted on sex without protection, because unprotected sex is a sign of trust, because having a baby gives meaning to their life, because everyone else is, because they left contraception at home and the passion of the moment is too strong etc. (If these reasons are completely alien to you, well, that's an example of the culture thing. I found reading Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage really interesting.)

None of those are because they don't understand the "baby comes 9 months after sex with a man" theory; it's worth noting that even indigenous tribes suffering from iodine deficiency and endless infectious diseases and all sorts of problems like that all understand that sex causes pregnancy.

I added the book to my "to read" list, but my quick reply is that there may be different incentives for having the first child and having the fifth child.

Also the book describes situation in USA, while I am usually thinking about Roma communities in Slovakia. So we should not generalize across cultures, which was my fault in the first place. There are some differences, e.g. in poor communities of my country the male-to-female ratio is close to 1:1, and the marriages tend to be stable, as far as I know. On the other hand, their ability to think long-term is sometimes pretty low. (For a specific example, imagine poor people who in every spring throw away their winter clothes, because the winter is over, so they won't need them anymore. Or spend all their money on food on the first day, make a huge party, and then starve towards the end of the month; predictably month after month, year after year.) As far as I know some women in this community are aware of the fact that unprotected sex will lead to more starving children, and would like to prevent it, they are just not very good at planning and handling money; especially because their culture does not support the concept of private property, so even if they set away some money for contraception, any family member, or actually any member of the village, is free to take that money and spend it on alcohol. (There were some political proposals to provide free contraception, but they were opposed for religious reasons.) -- This is just a situation in one specific culture, where cute robotic babies would not help, and probably even free contraception would not help if there would be any trivial inconvenience, such as having to remember to use it every time.

To be clear I don't think that dumb people (unless seriously retarded) don't understand the concept that sex causes children. It's more like that beliefs don't propagate automatically, and the thought chain: "any sex has a chance to result in pregnancy... so even this specific instance of sex could result in a specific pregnancy... which means that there will be one more baby... and the baby will need to eat... which means that after a period of breastfeeding we will have to buy food... and it will cost money... and we do not have enough money... so there may be not enough food... so the child may starve... and I don't want my child to starve... so I should use contraception now or avoid sex for now" is too long to be thought clearly and in a near mode during the moment of passion.

Not everybody makes the link:

But the most fascinating and strange part about the islanders are their beliefs on the subject of pregnancy, also described in Malinowski’s classic article “Baloma: The Spirits of the Dead in the Trobriand Islands”. When people die, you see, their spirit takes a canoe to the island of Tuma, which works very much like the normal island except everybody is a spirit of the dead. When the spirit gets old and wrinkled it shrugs off its skin and turns back into an embryo, which a spirit then takes back to the island and inserts into a woman. This, you see, is how women get pregnant.

That’s right. The islanders do not believe that sex causes pregnancy. They don’t believe in physiological fatherhood. Malinowski was incredibly skeptical about this, so he tried all sorts of ways to see if this was simply a story they told, while they actually the real deal. But no, they assured him that it was really true, that all the white people who insisted otherwise were being silly, that the spirits caused pregnancy, not sex.

They argued the case quite logically. After all, they noted, one fellow went on an expedition for a year or two and when he came back, he had a new son. He obviously wasn’t having sex with her while he was away, so where did the kid come from? (Cough.) And, they note, there are some really hideous people on the island who nobody would dare have sex with, yet they manage to become pregnant. (Malinowski spies some kids looking sheepish when this subject is raised.)

They also argue the other way: people on the island are having sex all the time from a very early age and yet they very rarely get pregnant. (Naturally, the islanders don’t practice any form of contraception; the very idea doesn’t make sense when sex doesn’t cause pregnancy.) The white man’s argument just doesn’t make sense. Indeed, recent visitors report, the islanders still believe that sex doesn’t cause pregnancy, despite the best efforts of health workers.

You know, it's funny - before typing that I thought to myself 'didn't I read about one very obscure tribe in the whole world & history which had managed to not believe that men impregnate women?' but after thinking about it for a little while and doing some Google searches, all I could think of was that weird tribe in Patrick Rothfuss's Kvothe fantasy novels who don't believe in 'man-mothers'.

Like Randy, I'm always a little skeptical of these things lest there be another Mead/Samoa incident, and assurances like

That’s right. The islanders do not believe that sex causes pregnancy. They don’t believe in physiological fatherhood. Malinowski was incredibly skeptical about this, so he tried all sorts of ways to see if this was simply a story they told, while they actually the real deal. But no, they assured him that it was really true, that all the white people who insisted otherwise were being silly, that the spirits caused pregnancy, not sex.

Don't necessarily resolve the issue especially since the data was from so long ago. But looking in Wikipedia, I see nothing disagreeing and an interesting mechanism:

Although an understanding of reproduction and modern medicine is widespread in Trobriand Society, their traditional beliefs have been remarkably resilient. The real cause of pregnancy is always a baloma, who is inserted into or enters the body of a woman, and without whose existence a woman could not become pregnant; all babies are made or come into existence (ibubulisi) in Tuma. These tenets form the main stratum of what can be termed popular or universal belief. If you question any man, woman, or even an intelligent child, you will obtain from him or her this information. In the past, many held this traditional belief because the yam, a major food of the island, included chemicals (phytoestrogens and plant sterols) whose effects are contraceptive, so the practical link between sex and pregnancy was not very evident.[2]

So it sounds genuine. Still, one indigenous group out of the many thousands studied demonstrates the point: everyone understands the connection between sex & pregnancy.

I've heard similiar stories before that ended up being due to the westerner's credulity rather than the islander's ignorance.

(I think some sci-fi story had cute robot kids causing the extinction of the human species, but I forget which one this was.)

I read a story where prospective parents had to first take care of a robot baby for training, but it was so awful that many decided to just not have children ... resulting in the demographic decline of America, and Chinese supremacy (the Chinese had designed the robot with that result in mind). It may or may not be the one you were thinking of.

That would be "The Education of Tigress McCardle" by C.M. Kornbluth-- one of the top satirists from Golden Age sf.

Of course, this has the obvious problem that if you only make things too easy and fun for the dumb folks, you're incentivizing the smart ones to pretend to be dumb.

Really smart people would agree with Eliezer here and not want sexbots... or would they?

(As for me, I'd say that “sex” with a non-sapient partner doesn't count as “sex” any more than masturbation does, but YMMV.)

Really smart people might also have sufficiently many things that they were interested in that, even without sexbots, they might consider finding a mate too much effort for the gain. While they'd probably prefer a real partner to a sexbot, they might very well prefer masturbation-with-a-sexbot to masturbation-with-just-ordinary-porn, and the difference might be enough to further reduce their interest in acquiring real mates.

Not sure if it's the one you had in mind, but Suzette Elgin had a series of short pieces on her Livejournal about cyberdragons - cute robot dragons who triggered all the same nesting instincts as real children, and who adults loved more than their children. Several of the pieces deal with the interaction of a horrified society with a terrorist group called Humanity First or somesuch, who basically go around kidnapping and publically destroying cyberdragons

I am not sure but I think that a eugenics-friendly billionaire could build such an institution now, legally.

What about the “dumb people” part. I'm not sure the self-selection would achieve that -- stereotypically it's nerds who play lots of video games, not jocks.

Smart people get entranced by video games too.

It seems to me that you're actually selecting for people who want to affect the real world, and that might not be especially correlated with intelligence.

The interesting thing is that the desire to affect the real world is probably anti-correlated with doing well in school.

With school as it is now, yes. But perhaps the designers of this eugenics system have control over public education (which in some places and times means all education, private schools being illegal). Then they could guide the people they wanted to the monasteries.

Even in the ems/Hanson scenario having children will be a value. In the timeline, eugenics come before, but don't will extinguish these psychological traits. They could become a religion, for example.

Though conversely a random element (normal non-directed breeding) might mitigate the overspecialism problems other people have been pointing out.

It find it odd that your system assumes an intrusive central government to coordinate eugenics. For myself, any utopia that requires the government to be more intrusive in my life than my current one doesn't get to count as a utopia unless it's got some serious amenities (eg catgirls). Non-dystopian eugenics needs to work with people instead of against them.

My own idea is to just make DNA sharing, modification, and combination easy enough that everyone can do it. Parents already want the best for their children, so just give them the tools for it. They'd take their own dna, slap in MarilynVosSavantIQv241.dna, UsainBoltPhysique(2012).dna, Akrasia-Zero(9001-willpower-edition).dna, XxNoSicknessHackxX.dna, and whatever else they find nice then have a kid. You'd have open source places like github, you'd have dna sets for sale (or on piratednabay), you'd also have antique family genes that you don't share with anybody. The biggest problem people would have would be choosing between ET_JaynesRationality.dna, Lesswrong(2032).dna or the rationalwiki R-pack, and deciding which one is compatible with the IQ boosting suites they've already chosen. Within a few generations of remixing, even the dullest children will be smarter/stronger/healthier than we could imagine.

The biggest downside is that certain groups will make really sucky, self perpetuating dna packs that all their members have to use. I'd assume the fantasy equivalent of the Mormon church will have a dna pack that makes you 100% believe everything you hear for the first 5 years of your life. However, these sorts of situations seem unavoidable in any eugenics scenario to varying degrees. Eg, in Eliezer's scenario I'd terrified if the fantasy equivalent of the Texas school board got political power over the scoring criteria and decided that any child who becomes an atheist or homosexual would be taxed $1,000,000 for destroying the fabric of society.

Edit: Although I'm assuming a significantly higher tech/magic level for Yvain's scenario than Eliezer is.

For myself, any utopia that requires the government to be more intrusive in my life than my current one doesn't get to count as a utopia unless it's got some serious amenities (eg catgirls).

You don't think that being born into a world where the average IQ is 140 (i.e. corresponds to IQ 140 in our terms) counts as a serious amenity?

The Montana Genetic Board is an obvious problem, but if in the long run Montana perishes and Singapore wins, that seems acceptable.

You don't think that being born into a world where the average IQ is 140 (i.e. corresponds to IQ 140 in our terms) counts as a serious amenity?

If I'm going to be average or below average, I'm going to take a serious look at the kindness waterline before I accept the offer.

Sorry, what? I'm missing how this is relevant. Is it that you expect to need significantly more kindness if you are below average in an IQ 140 society than a IQ 100 society? Or do you expect the "kindness waterline" to fall as IQs rise?

I was assuming that a lot of random factors go into a society, so I'd want to have some idea of the particular society I might be joining. It might be kinder, it might be less kind.

If I had to bet on a technologically advanced eugenics practicisng civilization descended from Mormons or one descended from modern New Englanders, I would bet on the former.

I think in the long term "farmer" values win in a fair competition because they scale far better. I'm ok with shifting rich human settings towards farmer quite a lot, indeed I'd prefer it at this point because of the great benefit it would bring as well as pushing the smart fraction opinions closer to my own values. But pushing it too far would pretty soon lead us out of recognizably human ranges. Not cool.

Currently I think we are at risk of in the long term pushing in the forager direction out of recognizably human ranges or at least beyond the threshold where we see non-trivial increases in existential risk because of it. Not cool.

Which is why I currently like going "Yay farmer values!".

You don't think that being born into a world where the average IQ is 140 (i.e. corresponds to IQ 140 in our terms) counts as a serious amenity?

If I happen to have IQ, say, 120, moving to a world with average IQ 140 isn't going to sound like a good news, at least to me.

I live in Cambridge in England. It's a small town which until recently was dominated by its famous university. Everyone here is very clever (the local bar staff are usually writing up PhDs, the local juvenile delinquents are the sons and daughters of academics). And it's lovely.

Every time I go somewhere else I'm just bewildered by how stupid people are. And I really hate it. Whenever I leave Cambridge for more than a couple of days I pine for it and long for proper conversations where people can think straight.

It's probably true that if I went and lived somewhere else, then qualifications that are commonplaces here would grant me some sort of raised status for free, and I can believe that might lead to a long-term increase in happiness. But there's no way I'd ever be able to do it. Within a week of arriving here I knew I'd probably never leave.

I live in Cambridge in England. It's a small town which until recently was dominated by its famous university.

What happened?

Lots of tech startups mean that there are now things to do here that aren't university related.

Are you sure? For myself, I should say that moving to a world where everyone's two standard deviations smarter than me might be a blow to my pride, in fact it would be a huge blow to my entire self-concept and conceived role in existence, but I'd expect the fringe benefits to more than make up for it.

Hell yeah.
That said, don't overestimate IQ relative to other important cognitive and behavioral traits.

I am not sure, of course, since I don't trust my ability to imagine such a world too much. But the simplest model I have is that my status would be such as the current status of people having IQ around 85, with all consequences: difficulty to find decently paid work, perhaps chronic unemployment, risk of being legally declared mentally retarded and possibly locked up in some institution... I am not sure about the fringe benefits, but I care a lot about status and it's not only because of pride.

When you consider this, consider the difference between our current world (with all the consequences for those of IQ 85), and a world where 85 was the average, so that civilization and all its comforts never developed at all...

Even if it were true that average IQ 85 meant that civilisation never developed at all (an assumption I find dubious), being a chief in a neolithic tribal society still doesn't sound dramatically worse than being a village idiot in a civilised society.

Also, saying that I would profit from a marginal decrease in average IQ at level 100 doesn't imply that I would profit from similar decrease at any level. I am pretty sure I wouldn't want everybody else being dramatically different from me, thus there is some point below which I wouldn't like the average IQ to plunge. This point may lie quite above the level where civilisation of any kind becomes impossible.

being a chief in a neolithic tribal society still doesn't sound dramatically worse than being a village idiot in a civilised society

Until you get a toothache.

Few people spend most of their lives having toothache, even in primitive societies.

In primitive societies, few people spend most of their lives having teeth.

My understanding was that pre-contact or historical primitive societies had fairly decent dental health, with low tooth decay - such problems being more of a sugar-heavy modern society issue.

I am not an expert, but isn't the entire reason we have two sets of teeth that we could be reasonably expected to lose much of the first set anyway by the time the others appeared? By what mechanism would the second set last significantly longer?

Gwern is correct here -- paleolithic populations tended to have excellent dental health if skeletal evidence is anything to judge by, and the case of modern forager groups is often determined mainly by the degree to which they now consume high glycemic-index commodities. Chukchi and Eveny groups in Russia have appalling dental health statistics due to poor nutrition and lots of refined sugar (to the point that one Eveny nickname for sugar is "the white death" -- they have really high rates of diabetes too). Khoisan folks in South Africa, on the other hand, tend to have excellent teeth when they eat something like their traditional diet.

I've always thought the reason we have milk teeth is that there's just no room for adult teeth in a small child's jaw.

That's plausible, but what about wisdom teeth? They appear when the jaw is already full-sized; I have heard that they wouldn't historically be a problem because you'd have lost teeth and there would be room for them.

Oh, I hadn't thought of that. I've been taught that they're vestigial, and that our ancestors had bigger jaws. But they can in fact grow into the space left by an extracted tooth. It happened to me, a few decades ago. I had a bad back molar, and instead of making a crown or something, the dentist pulled it, saying the wisdom tooth behind it would replace it. And it did!

True, but when they do, they surely must suffer horribly... and of course it's not just about dental care, but medical care in general. For example, the first time I had a bladder infection, at twenty-something, it was very bad (peeing blood and all). I really think I might have died without antibiotics.

And of course, there are lots of other things I'd miss about modern society. Books, the internet, showers...

It's not just pride and self concept. Your relative status in society would take a huge hit.

Everyone smarter than you by two standard deviations? You're the stupidest human in the world, by two standard deviations? Let's just confine ourselves to conscious humans without brain damage. I can't think you even mean that.

Let's go even higher and just take 2 sd as the lower bound, from which you are 2 sd lower. You're fine with being in the bottom 0.003%?

If everyone else is that smart, then we will probably soon no longer be in a scarcity economy, and we'd probably be functionally immortal to boot. At that point, I'd take it, period. Even if I was just effectively some ordinary person's pet, I'd still be waaay ahead of where I am now.

Being an immortal pet might get rather depressing. I don't think that's how you dreamed your future life, and regardless of dreams, I don't think a lot of your basic drives will be satisfied as a pet.

But better to be alive as a pet, than dead. If that's really the trade off, then I might take it too. But that's practically what it would take for me - a choice between being alive as a pet, or dead/

Exactly. I like life enough to suffer degradation in one aspect to reap super-massive benefit on the 'being alive' front. Plus, if I can hang in there, then they may be able to enhance my cognition up to parity eventually. I don't see this situation as being permanent.

And remember, living in a world in which the average person is as smart as an upper-level computer programmer still isn't nearly as humbling as the fact that a well-organized cubic centimeter of carbon could be millions of times smarter than anyone.

I figure this to be a good general rule on these matters: unless you designed your own brain, you should not be proud of your own brain.

Do people get any points for taking good care of their brains and stocking their brains with ideas and information?

Sadly, in our world, the influence you have over yor brain is quite small compared to environmental and old-age factors we have no control over. So you can take pride in taking care of your brain, but it's hard for you to be very effective right now, even on the scale of existing human variation.

For me at least, that's the primary / most effective source of points in the first place. Doing some meta related to that earns them even more points from me just because of the apparent scarcity (i.e. I rarely see people outside LW do any of it).

It's not just a matter of pride -- ISTM that people with very different IQs usually find each other boring (EDIT: see johnlawrenceaspden's comment -- his experience is pretty much the same as mine). Now if I have IQ 120 it doesn't matter under this aspect whether the average IQ is 100 or 140, but if I had IQ 90, moving to a world where the average person has IQ 140 would mean that it'd be very hard for me to find suitable conversational partners, as everybody else would find me terribly stupid and uninteresting, and I would find everybody else hard to understand.

Changes made to future generations don't deprive you of conversational partners less than 20 years younger than you. And they can invent ways to bring you up to their level.

Changes made to future generations don't deprive you of conversational partners less than 20 years younger than you.

Changes don't guarantee one conversational partners, either. Do you see very many current retarded adults hanging around their kid peers all day? For that matter, the elderly hang around their grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the modern world probably less than at any time in humanity's history...

All I meant was that most of your friends, colleagues, and mates are not going to be 20+ years younger anyway, which limits the loss if it is hard to keep up with and understand some of the young whipper-snappers.

If I happen to have IQ, say, 120, moving to a world with average IQ 140 isn't going to sound like a good news, at least to me.

Would you prefer to move to a world where the average IQ was lower than the current average?

I am used to the current world and not completely immune to status quo bias, so I am not sure. But as far as I can imagine a choice in which maintaining current friends and relatives wasn't at stake, the optimum would be a world where my overall mental capacities would ensure my being part of the global intellectual elite; that would certainly require the global IQ average lower than today (not sure how much), if my brain had to remain unchanged.

Edit: all that holds ceteris paribus; if I had the option to gain status otherwise, e.g. by inheriting an awful lot of money, I'd prefer that to acquiring status by intelectual superiority over others.

I guess I am in the range of 110-115 and a world with an average of 130-140 sounds great.

  • Much better movies and media in general.
  • Much more reasonable political debate.
  • A decently higher standard of living just because of the inventions that could happen.
  • Longer lifespan, maybe.
  • Greater choice of occupations like asteroid miner

I guess I may not have my choice of mates, but the bots should more than make up for that. :)

Much more reasonable political debate.

That's a convenient assumption. Why do you think know high IQ is correlated with reasonable politics? Maybe it's just correlated with being better at the dark arts.

Greater choice of occupations like asteroid miner

You want to be an asteroid miner? Why? That sounds even less fun, and more dangerous, than an ordinary miner.

Why do you think know high IQ is correlated with reasonable politics? Maybe it's just correlated with being better at the dark arts.

The biggest effect would be from the IQ increase in voters, not in politicians.

There's an arms race between politicians and voteres. The politicians try to convince the voters to vote for them, promising to do something while in office. The voters try to correctly predict what they will really do once in office.

If both sides become smarter, then the techniques both sides use improve. The politicians become better at convincing and lying, and the voters become better at predicting behavior and perhaps detecting lies.

Why would this lead to more reasonable debate? Let's make sure we think of the same thing when we say "reasonable".

You might be thinking of reasonable in the sense of rational debate, where politicians on TV and in Parliament must explicitly state their terminal goals, then propose instrumental goals, and argue about them only on the basis of evidence, effectiveness, and alliances and compromises.

Or if applied to voting, you have rational voting, where voters vote based on their best prediction of politicians' behavior in office; not e.g. on how tall they are, their party affiliation, or their speech mannerisms. They want politicians to approach the ideal of making every decision in office the way the voters would want it made.

Or you might be thinking of reasonable in the sense of "moderate", so that opinions you label as "unreasonable" would be less represented than they are today. Fewer politicians who are religious, or anti-science, or whatever.

I don't see strong evidence that higher IQs would lead to any of these results.

Or you might be thinking of reasonable in the sense of "moderate", so that opinions you label as "unreasonable" would be less represented than they are today. Fewer politicians who are religious, or anti-science, or whatever.

I don't see strong evidence that higher IQs would lead to any of these results.

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/10/intelligence_ma.html

It's true that intelligence is strongly correlated with political opinion - both the opinions listed in that article, and other ones (and political opinions tend to form clusters with strong internal correlations).

So if you select the top 10% most intelligent people today, the spectrum of opinion would be different from that of all society. And perhaps it would also be narrower, meaning no new extremist opinions would emerge that are at merely 1% today but happen to be held by 10% of the 10% most intelligent people.

But it's not clear to me how much of that correlation would go away if you control for all the other factors that intelligence is also correlated with, and that would still be varying in a higher-intelligence society. For instance intelligence is correlated with wealth, status, certain social circles. It's correlated with certain political affiliations beyond those examined by the article you link to, and political affiliations tend to clump into highly correlated clusters.

Being conscious of one's own high intelligence is probably correlated with respecting intelligence as such, and hence respecting the opinions of other people known to be intelligent; whereas being conscious of having low intelligence is probably correlated with anti-intelligence (anti-rational, anti-science) beliefs. (Which partly explains why more intelligent people agree more with economists, who are high-status on the intelligence scale. After all, the study doesn't say that intelligent people independenly came up with the same conclusions as economists. At least I assume it doesn't, since it's behind a paywall.)

Some of my uncertainty is merely a matter of how we construct our counterfactual intelligent society, so let's take a concrete example. Suppose all new people born starting tomorrow will have the mean IQ of their parents + 40%. Would the current correlations between intelligence and political opinion win over the current correlations between the political opinions of parents and their children, or of children growing together in communities with uniform political opinions? I don't feel I have enough evidence for a high degree of confidence here.

The data from twin studies and intrafamily correlations suggest that their political beliefs would change substantially, but their partisan affiliation not so much. This would change policy by changing what wins primaries in parties, and what parties fight over vs agree on.

That isn't especially related to my original point, because it seems specific to the current structure of U.S. politics; it's not very applicable to countries that don't have a few large long-lived political parties. For instance, in Israel, many people were born before the establishment of the state, and no party has survived since then.

We need to look at aspects of U.S. political belief to make good U.S.-specific predictions. And in that, you are surely better informed than I am. So I accept your conclusion that in that context, intelligence is causative of rational and of moderate beliefs. But the specific reasons and dynamics that lead to that seem highly contigent.

Yes, the first-past-the-post geographical constituency system has quite different effects on partisan structure than many other electoral systems, and other countries have more fluid partisan identity.

"So I accept your conclusion that in that context, intelligence is causative of rational and of moderate beliefs."

I think the belief point holds much more broadly. Similar studies have been done with data about other political beliefs from European countries, e.g. by people in Deary's lab in the U.K.

You might be thinking of reasonable in the sense of rational debate, where politicians on TV and in Parliament must explicitly state their terminal goals, then propose instrumental goals, and argue about them only on the basis of evidence, effectiveness, and alliances and compromises.

I was thinking of something more in that ballpark, though not particularly in terms of explicit goals; more in terms of the content of political debates (candidate vs. candidate, or politician vs. journalist), where cheap shots, simplifications, righteous indignation and misdirection would be less effective, and nuance, complex models and discussions of tradeoffs and incentives would be more effective than they are now.

Complex models provide more room for complex rhetorical and logical maneuvers that trick or mislead your opponent in the debate.

If two people debating publicly are dishonest, willing to lie or mislead when they can get away with it, and are not trying to refute their own argument the way a truth-seeking rationalist would, then increasing their intelligence only improves their techniques, it doesn't force them to be more honest. Unless you think that with higher intelligence, defense will become stronger than offence (i.e. it will become harder to decieve than to expose deception and prove it to a third party observer).

I'm not claiming the politicians would be more honest, I'm claiming we would see less idiotic arguments, which to my eyes counts as "more reasonable political debate".

If two people debating publicly are dishonest, willing to lie or mislead when they can get away with it, and are not trying to refute their own argument the way a truth-seeking rationalist would, then increasing their intelligence only improves their techniques, it doesn't force them to be more honest.

Again, the biggest effects doesn't come from improving their intelligence, but improving the public's intelligence: even if those two people stay completely dishonest, a smart public shifts the topics they can talk about; instead of birth certificates and conspiracy theories and Jesus they can talk about fiscal policy and other substantive issues (even if they lie just as much as before!).

So instead of idiotic arguments, they'd be presenting cunning, apparently sane arguments that are actually full of misleading lies and traps. I prefer the idiotic arguments - at least then I can easily tell they're wrong, and they're not wasting anything but the time spent arguing.

Why do you think know high IQ is correlated with reasonable politics?

The Bryan Caplan link by Carl Shulman below and some other similar material. Plus, it takes some time to go through arguments. Even that level of input requires factors that are generally associated with a high IQ.

You want to be an asteroid miner? Why? That sounds even less fun, and more dangerous, than an ordinary miner.

Sorry, an old childhood dream surfaced here. My more general point about greater choice of occupations holds.

Eliezer spoke of being born in such a world, not moving to it. The appropriate comparison to make is therefore between the life of someone at your percentile level in this world and someone at the same percentile level (hence around 40 IQ points higher, depending on what happens to the standard deviation) in the hypothesised world.

Eliezer spoke of being born in such a world, not moving to it.

Fair enough. I have been assuming the context of discussion about eugenics and thinking about younger generations being genetically modified for higher intelligence while older generations remaining the same. My fault, I should have read more carefully.

That could indeed be a problem (so in this context, something to put into the novel as part of the world-building), depending on how fast the eugenics programme had effect. 60 year old grandparents outstripped by their 10 year old grand children, and not just by the latter growing up with stuff that's still a novelty to their elders. Individual prodigies, people can handle, but when every child is noticeably smarter than their gramps there's going to be some social friction.

It is to me -- but if I happened to have IQ 90 it definitely wouldn't.

The Montana Genetic Board is an obvious problem, but if in the long run Montana perishes and Singapore wins, that seems acceptable.

Um, sorry? Come again, Eliezer? You have broadly (small-l) libertarian convictions, right? You clashed with Hanson on the moral acceptability of his em-slavery future, going so far as to state that you'd fight it tooth and nail even if humanity as a whole was resigned to it.

So why wouldn't you prefer an admittedly corrupt, stupid and irrational liberal democracy to a corporate state (corporate both as in "Ran like a corporation" and as in "Resembling Mussolini's and Franco's regimes") where one could be savagely caned for a felony or hanged for possessing weed [1], where the security apparatus has no limits and uses torture routinely [2], where the founding father's power grew and grew with the state's prestige and perceived legitimacy (as he turned from Marxism to "enlightened" authoritarianism and a weird kind of centrally-planned capitalism)?

Just confess: you haven't read that much on Singapore. Well, neither have I, but I've read more, and a lot of it is simply shocking.
Exhibit 1: compare, no contrast. "Disneyland with the Death Penalty" by William Gibson - and Devan Nair's foreword to a book by a local political prisoner, who got tortured for attempting a very legal electoral campaign. Nair had been one of Lee Kuan Yew's old guard, a loyal follower for 2-3 decades, and even held the (ceremonial) post of President. What's shocking, then, is that his criticism of Singaporean society is very similar to that offered by Gibson's cursory glance. That two unconnected people with such dissimilar backgrounds and occupations would say these things almost in unison... well, it has to count for something.
Exhibit 2: a collection of quotes by Lee Kuan Yew, on his philosophy and policies, from the early and late years of his career. This one speaks rather clearly about him and his pet state's values, I'd say.

So, what was that first alternative again? Oh, Montana? Yes please! I'd be willing to bring ten Commie scalps and put "God Hates Fags" stickers everywhere, just as long as the good people of Montana give me shelter from this glorious new age! (Oh, here's the actual eugenics BTW. How do you like the song?)

P.S. Sorry if that was too charged and snarky. Blame my manic phase, my political bias and my overly high expectations for things said by SIAI employees.

P.P.S.: Oh, to keep this on topic - there's more about the specific issue of eugenicism in Singapore in the aforementioned list of quotes by LKY; see the section On Equality.

Not all would-be eugenicists are like Hitler! But...

Edit: damn, flipped a sign there.

And Western liberal democracies do not torture people? Assassinate them too actually. Create vulgar disturbing cultural trends? Impose arbitrary and harsh punishments out of reasonable proportion? Speaking of unreasonable punishment, Is canning a man really more inhuman than locking him up for several years and exposing him to a double digit chance of rape?

From a utilitarian POV there is nothing you can say about Singapore that outweighs the great strides in quality of life and wealth that the city acquired versus what it would have likely otherwise. How would Africans or Indians vote with their feet if given the chance? One should not speak ill of Singapore until spending time in a less successful "democratic" former British colony elsewhere in the world or a Malay fishing village.

Taking your criticism seriously from the non-utilitarian POV I think you are coming from means condemning democracy for much the same reasons. To give an example, let us take New York city clearly a "democratically" governed realm, yet tell me on the list of criticisms you listed is Montana nearer or Singapore? If you claim the right to be unhappy why don't you shun New York as well as Singapore? The step between them is not that large.

I challenge the wandering reader who may not understand what I'm talking about here to take off their WEIRD glasses and try to view it as a normal human in a wider historical and global context. Which of the two societies is more human?

One should not speak ill of Singapore until spending time in a less successful "democratic" former British colony

At least at one mostly-democratic former British colony had been very "successful" on such metrics up until the 1990s. Then it ran into some trouble - either having been subverted by ingrateful meddlers, or having reapt what it had been sowing for decades. You can probably guess which one I mean :)

Oh now you're just trolling the utilitarians. :D

condemning democracy for much the same reasons

Sure, sure, you know that I've hardly ever written anything in praise of Democracy :D;

The "real" Democracy (that of 19th century USA) looks just awful, and I only really want to stick with modern "democracy" (meaning rule by an expert/bureaucrat caste + corporate interests + academia as formal and ineffective priesthood + demagogue politicians that are supposed to be an emergency brake but are more of a self-destruct button) out of fear and conservatism.

In the end, the modern power structures seem to retain a very faint, lingering sense of guilt (see e.g. Christopher Hitchens' reflections on his support for the Iraq War) as they wage another brutal "war on drugs/terrorism/etc" or conspire to fool voters or make other mischief. In practice, rules and barriers and Universalist traditions are smashed outright or bent out of shape - but they are at least supposed to be there. And - for a bit of dialectical bullshit - as long as there's an image, there's hope that it will acquire another stubstance. See Zizek, again.

Lee Kuan Yew's government is ashamed of nothing, NOTHING. It doesn't even have the capacity to. Unlike Nixon, LKY is not a crook and can't be one within his system. That is already reason enough to be scared!

Also:

From a utilitarian POV there is nothing you can say about Singapore that outweights the great strides in quality of life and wealth that the city acquired

There are human utility functions that aren't centered on material wealth and QALYs, you know! It's just that they're difficult to specify and detail. Which reminds me: "Humanity is OK, but 99% of people are boring idiots"

P.S.: again, this is much like what people, including myself, have observed about such heated binary-choice clashes - the emotions might run so hot simply because both sides are absolutely correct in calling the opponent's position insane/evil/indefensible. It might be a choice between two evils of such magnitude that weighing them against one another has little point.

Up voted for consistency.

out of fear and conservatism

Surely you see that conservatism as it exists in the world will morph to such an extent that in a few decades you will be the "cultural conservative". Indeed I bet on many issues you already are. Can I expect you to change your stance then?

And - for a bit of dialectical bullshit - as long as there's an image, there's hope that it will acquire another substance.

Actually memetically this make sense so perhaps not so bullshit-y. But are you sure you are using this image for hope rather than anaesthetic? Not only personally, but what if our society is using this image as an anaesthetic. Remove the anaesthetic and maybe someone will wake up and scream.

But do you realize this feeling you seek, this "shame" is the very heart of farmer social morality?