[ Question ]

How should I dispose of a dangerous idea?

by RedMan 1 min read18th Dec 201923 comments

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I have a dangerous idea which, unlike most of my dangerous ideas, is unencumbered by any laws or non-disclosure agreements, so I can dispose of it as I wish.

In order to demonstrate that I do in fact have a dangerous idea, I would obviously have to disclose it, but disclosure would not prompt the development of countermeasures other than 'wow, hope nobody else thinks of that'. Any implementation of the idea would probably result in its full disclosure to the world, meaning, no entity could both implement the idea, and keep enough of the idea a secret to prevent others from using it.

I believe implementation of the idea by myself to be immoral, but am conflicted on the ethics of simple disclosure, which I believe would lead to its' implementation by others with more flexible ethics.

Altruistic silence is probably my default position, but from a strictly rational standpoint, is there some way to get paid for my continued silence (other than with the joy of living in a world ignorant of this idea)?

Edit per request from the comments, I work in an industry related to one of the ones EA has identified as harmful. I view this particular idea as similarly harmful to 'a proposal for a marketing campaign that would be substantially more effective than existing marketing campaigns at convicing children and teenagers to start using nicotine' (I do not work in the nicotine industry, and the analogy is imperfect because I think that countermeasures could be developed to a marketing tactic). As my subfield is arcane enough that there are not many people likely to run across my own idea, and if I keep quiet (which I intend to do), there is a good chance that it will not be discovered by someone else.

Unfortunately, my only motivation for staying quiet here is altruism, for others in similar circumstances, how could they be incentivized by the world at large to avoid disclosure of unambiguously harmful ideas?

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https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/06/14/the-virtue-of-silence/

Altruistic silence is probably my default position, but from a strictly rational standpoint, is there some way to get paid for my continued silence (other than with the joy of living in a world ignorant of this idea)?

This belies a misunderstanding of what 'rational' means. Rational does not mean homo economicus, it means doing what a person would actually want to do on reflection if they had a good understanding of their options.

I doubt your idea is actually that dangerous, so I'm treating this as a hypothetical. But in general if your idea is dangerous and you want hush money to keep silent about it then this is really more like a blackmail threat than anything else. I think you should reflect on what life decisions you've made that posting what amounts to a "it'd be a real shame if..." threat on a public forum seems like a good idea.

And while you're at it, delete this.

Unfortunately, my only motivation for staying quiet here is altruism, for others in similar circumstances, how could they be incentivized by the world at large to avoid disclosure of unambiguously harmful ideas?

I don't think we have a general solution to this problem, but it would be great if we could find one because I believe it to be equivalent to solving the coordination problems we face in avoiding unsafe superintelligent AI (assuming you believe superintelligent AI is unsafe by default, as I do). You might find some insight towards mechanism people have considered by looking at posts here about AI policy related to avoiding and preventing the development of unsafe AI.