Wiki Contributions



I'm a lawyer (NY licensed) working in Tokyo, and this account of the Japanese penal system is incorrect. Prosecutors in Japan are extremely, extremely hesitant to bring a criminal case into the penal system, and so when cases are brought they are far beyond "a reasonable doubt". As a slightly misleading short summary, this, rather than lack of concern for false positives, is the reason for the notorious 99% conviction rate of criminal cases in Japan. 

I've also been unhoused in a few different countries for short periods of time. 
I'm certain that my affinity for Japan has its roots in needing this peaceful cultural of public safety.


I wholeheartedly agree, Colin. (I think we're saying the same thing--let me know where we may disagree.)

It's a daily challenge in my work to 'translate' what can sometimes seem like abstract nonsense into scenarios grounded in real context, and the reverse.

I want to add that a grounded, high context decision process is slower (still wearing masks?) but significantly wiser (see the urbanism of Tokyo compared to any given US city).

Answer by Harold78

I’ve a developing a hunch that the abstract framing of arguments for AI Safety are unlikely to ever gain a foothold in Japan. The way forward here is in contextual framing of the same arguments. (Whether in English or Japanese is less and less relevant with machine translation.)

I’ve been a resident of Tokyo for twelve years, half of that as a NY lawyer in a Japanese international law firm. I’m also a founding member working with AI Safety 東京 and the Chair of the Tokyo rationality community. Shoka Kadoi, please express interest in our 勉強会.

As a lawyer engaged with AI safety, I often have conversations with the more abstract-minded members of our groups that reveal an intellectual acceptance but strong aesthetic distaste for the contextual nature of legal systems. (The primitives of legal systems are abstraction-resistant ideas like ‘reasonableness’.)

Aesthetic distaste for contextual primitives leads to abstract framing of problems. Abstract framing of the AI safety issues tends to lead from standard AI premises to narrow conclusions that are often hard for contextual-minded people to follow. Conclusions like, we’ve found a very low-X percent chance of some very specific bad outcome, and so we logically need to take urgent preventative actions.

To generalize, Japan as a whole (and perhaps most of the world) does not approach problems abstractly. Contextual framing of AI safety issues tends to lead from standard AI premises to broad and easily accepted conclusions. Conclusions like, we’ve found a very high-Y chance of social disruption, and we are urgently compelled to take information-gathering actions. 

There’s obviously much more support needed for these framing claims. But you can see those essential differences in outcomes in the AI regulatory approaches of the EU and Japan, respectively. (The EU is targeting abstract AI issues like bias, adversarial attacks, and biometrics with specific legislation. Japan is instead attempting to develop an ‘agile governance’ approach to AI in order to keep up with “the speed and complexity of AI innovation”. In this case, Japan's approach seems wiser, to me.)

If the conclusions leading to existential risk are sound, both these framings should converge on similar actions and outcomes. Japan is a tough nut to crack. But having both framings active around the world would mobilize a significantly larger number of brains on the problem. Mobilizing all those brains in Japan is the course to chart now. 


I don't have any terminological suggestions that I love

Following on my prior comment, the actual legal terms used for the (oxymoronic) "purposeless and unknowing mens rea" might provide an opening for the legal-social technologies to provide wisdom on operationizing these ideas -  "negligent" at first, and "reckless" when it's reached a tipping point.


(As an example, various crimes legally require mens rea, lit. “guilty mind”, in order to be criminal. Humans care about this stuff enough to bake it into their legal codes.)

Even in the law of mental states, intent follows the advice in this post. U.S. law commonly breaks down the 'guilty mind' into at least four categories, which, in the absence of a confession, all basically work by observing the defendant's patterns of behaviour. There may be some more operational ideas in the legal treatment of reckless and negligent behaviour.

  1. acting purposely - the defendant had an underlying conscious object to act
  2. acting knowingly - the defendant is practically certain that the conduct will cause a particular result
  3. acting recklessly - The defendant consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustified risk
  4. acting negligently - The defendant was not aware of the risk, but should have been aware of the risk

Just stumbled into this old thread. For anyone else who comes by, there is now an active ACX/LW group in Tokyo, meeting in Nakameguro monthly.