We're working under the constraint that by default, technology and ideas accelerate progress, and progress can lead to doom via technological x-risk. This is our main bottleneck.
So we're going to want to work on changing that.
But, in case we fail, we're also going to want to bring back as little as possible in the way of modern technology, and obfuscate what we do bring back.
I propose that the main modern technology we allow ourselves is antibiotics. Bring back a large amount of many varieties, with extensive instructions as to their uses and dangers. Ideally, bring back a medical doctor with you, with any other supplies they recommend. This will help us survive to do whatever we intend to do.
My primary angle of attack will be to raise the sanity waterline by encouraging political systems which are marginally less insanity-inducing. The insanity of politics touches everything else, because the state is (for the most part) the one entity that can make top-down decisions which "change the nature of the game" to encourage or discourage insanity across the board. A wise state leads to wise decisions which engender further wisdom. ("Wisdom" here is intended to be "alignment" on the capabilities-vs-alignment spectrum; I'm trying to give humankind the best lever with which to choose the course of the future, in a value-aligned sense rather than a maximum-impact sense.)
This would hopefully improve the overall situation humankind faces today with respect to existential risks, by virtue of improved institutions for social coordination, saner public discourse, saner political dynamics, and perhaps improved relations between nations.
To this end, my goal is to fix the American constitution, primarily by getting rid of first-past-the-post voting in favor of better options. Other voting methods have many advantages, but the issue most salient to me is whether a voting method results in a two-party system; two-party systems create political polarization, resulting in increasingly tribal political discourse.
Why intervene in the American revolution in particular?
1. It plausibly set a standard for democracies to come. A better constitution for America might mean a better constitution for many others.
2. I'm somewhat familiar with it. Unlike the formation of democracy in ancient Greece, or the Roman Republic, we have a pretty detailed and reliable information about its foundation. (But clearly I should bring back a knowledgeable historian of early America, not rely on my own knowledge.) I speak English, I am familiar with Christian culture, etc.
3. It seems to me that the foundation of America was unusually ideologically driven, and thus, open to the influence of forceful argumentation.
I've stated my basic objective. My means is as follows: write a persuasive series of essays, and deliver these essays to the doorstep of all the relevant people. The founding fathers. The essays might also be published more broadly, like Common Sense.
The date of delivery? I'm not sure, exactly, but I want enough time for the ideas to sink in and feel "long established" by the time of the writing of the constitution. On the other hand, the further back the ideas are delivered, the greater the risk that we change too much -- somehow derail the revolutionary war, or greatly change the nature of early deliberation about government (possibly for the worse), et cetera. So, it might be better to deliver the ideas as late as possible.
But I imagine a pamphlet received close to the writing of the constitution might be seen for what it is, a transparent attempt to manipulate the contents of the constitution. The closer we get to the actual writing of the constitution, the more the founding fathers might be in compromise-mode (trying to figure out the minimal reasonable thing that will be accepted by everyone), and the less idealistic and utopian. I therefore suspect they'll be much more receptive to these ideas as younger, more optimistic, less war-torn men. So, perhaps, juuust after the start of the revolutionary war itself?
In any case, on to the contents of the pamphlet.
What voting method should we advocate for?
If I had my free choice of voting method, I would select either 3-2-1 voting or STAR voting, as these voting methods are robustly good. However, I think these are too complex to explain in a forceful and convincing argument. I myself forget the details of these methods and the arguments in their favor. Furthermore, none of these methods are practical for quick in-person votes during meetings, the way a show of hands is practical. I suspect a prerequisite of common acceptance of an improved voting method in the 1700s might be its practicality for quick in-person votes.
Approval voting is, therefore, a likely candidate.
What argument could be issued in its favor?
I would want to defer this question to a team of excellent writers and voting theorists, informed by a historian familiar with the popular ideas of the time and the writing of the founding fathers. However, here is my take:
In order for approval voting to persuasively win out over first-past-the-post, we need to overcome the forceful "one person, one vote" motto -- the idea of approval voting is precisely that you can vote for multiple options.
My idea is to lean heavily on Bentham's utilitarianism, emphasizing that the goal of a democratic voting system is the greatest good for the greatest number. Perhaps the title of the series of pamphlets could be "The Greatest Good for The Greatest Number".
In this context, the various now-well-known failures of first-past-the-post voting would be illustrated through examples, such as this excellent illustration of why first-past-the-post is the worst, and instant runnoff voting is the second worst.
Primary arguments would include:
1. One-vote-per-person is really two-choices-per-election: due to the spoiler effect, only two primary candidates can plausibly run. This works against the common good, as can be illustrated forcefully with examples.
2. Approval voting is just the simplest version of score voting. Score voting has an obvious close relationship with Bentham's utility theory. So we can argue for score voting from first principles, while endorsing approval voting in the end on merits of simplicity. (If the founding fathers decide to go for range voting instead, even better.)
Since STAR voting is a very simple improvement on score voting, which is relatively easy to motivate, STAR and its advantages could be explained in one of the essays -- as a stretch goal, just in case we have success beyond our expectations. However, even that essay should reiterate the sins of first-past-the-post and the idea that approval voting is the simplest fix. We really, really, really don't want to spoil the debate by offering too many alternatives to first-past-the-post; we want one solid improvement that can stick. It's great if the founding fathers end up debating approval vs score vs STAR, but realistically, I worry that too much debate of that sort might result in a compromise on first-past-the-post, as no one can agree as to which improved method to take.
We would not hide ourselves as the origin of the pamphlets. If the founding fathers are sufficiently interested, let them approach us -- all the better if we can get a seat at the constitutional convention out of this. To better exploit that possibility, we should bring along a good orator/negotiator. This person can pose as the author of the pamphlet if the need arises.
Since we're going back in time anyway, we want to accomplish whatever else we can.
In addition to making a compelling case against first-past-the-post voting (and for some specific alternative), it likely makes sense to bring back as much solid political theory as we can, particularly with an eye toward information which helps reduce corruption and increase the sanity waterline.
- As much technical voting theory as possible, re-written to suit the times. We may not want the founding fathers to get overwhelmed with ideas and options, but it's fine if other nations have a wealth of material to mull over when considering their constitutions.
- Some solid economic theory? I'm thinking especially of information about the ills of monopolies, to minimize the influence of large companies on the government.
- Game theory and mechanism design, to aid in the formation of fruitful social institutions?
In addition to this, we would of course want to take back as much information as possible relating to AI alignment theory.
- The formal theory of computation.
- The formal theory of logic. This seems necessary just to open people up to the idea of artificial intelligence.
- Formal decision theory. This would include a great deal of information about Bayesian epistemology, which might itself serve some role in helping to increase the sanity waterline -- especially if Bayesian alternatives to p-value hypothesis testing can be adopted early.
- As much information as possible related to Goodhart-style failures. The idea of a thinking machine with a utility function should be vividly discussed, along with the perverse potential of optimizing incorrect utility functions.
I'm not sure what the best way of delivering all of this information would be. My first inclination is to sneak it into the archives of the Royal Society.
EDIT AFTER READING OTHERS:
I agree with Gurkenglas's idea that we should wait some time, to bring back as much relevant safety research as possible. This seems like a significant boon to the plan.
It's hard to compete with Daniel K's plan, which we can be much more confident in, due to the short time-period involved and the direct relationship between actions and outcomes (IE, we remain in control, rather than simply hoping that we've created a better environment for the people who eventually are faced with existential risk).
I'm amending my plan to specify that we take a number of rationalists/EAs back. (Note that there's a trade-off with the current timeline -- this timeline doesn't disappear, after all! So we don't want to entirely drain it of people working against x-risk.) We would establish a society for the preservation, improvement, and careful application/distribution of knowledge from our time. This society would be the source of the initial publications about voting methods, and would ideally continue to publish influential literature on governance and public policy -- it would operate somewhat like a think tank. Not sure how to make it stable across generations, though. The hope would be to use all that time to work on x-risk solutions.
ETA: Another mistake in my original answer was that I focused so much on single-winner elections (EG the presidential election) to the exclusion of multi-winner elections. It's important that STV or another good multi-winner method become the default for electing representatives in legislative branches.