Epistemic status: Hypothesis that seemed interesting, but I am not confident about it.

In Control vs Selection, Abram Demski distinguishes between two types of optimisation. As an example of control, he mentions a heat-seeking missile which iteratively steers towards "more heat", in order to hopefully reach the point in space that contains its target. In contrast, (my) example of selection would be having a device that can teleport you to any point in space and back, and using that device to find your target.
For me personally, selection has the additional connotation that a lot of the work can be happening in the optimiser's mind, rather than in the real world: For example, when building a house via selection, I imagine considering a few different blueprints, and then only building the one I like the most. This is in contrast to building a house via control, where I just start the construction, and then add to it and modify it as I go. However, note that I am not sure whether other people would endorse this view of the control vs selection distinction.

Using this framing, it seems to me that, on the high level, the shape of our civilisation mostly changes via control, and we don't have good mechanisms for changing it via selection.

This brings up some questions:

  • Is this true? That is, is civilisation mostly using control, and not using selection?
  • Is this any different from iterative design? What is the difference betweens problems that require[1] control vs selection?
  • This conjecture makes a retrodiction: If we look at problems that require selection, civilisation is more likely to have messed up on them. Is this true?
  • And, ultimately: Might navigating AGI require selection?
    And can we make a convincing argument about this?
  1. ^

    I guess that rather than saying that a problem "requires" control/selection, it would be more accurate to talk about problems being more or less amenable to control/selection.

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Your distinction might be close what what is described in Seeing like a State (according to this review): the organic development of local communities vs. the High Modernism of the centralized state.