Joe Carlsmith

Senior research analyst at Open Philanthropy. Doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. Opinions my own.

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On the limits of idealized values

In the past, I've thought of idealizing subjectivism as something like an "interim meta-ethics," in the sense that it was a meta-ethic I expected to do OK conditional on each of the three meta-ethical views discussed here, e.g.:

  1. Internalist realism (value is independent of your attitudes, but your idealized attitudes always converge on it)
  2. Externalist realism (value is independent of your attitudes, but your idealized attitudes don't always converge on it)
  3. Idealizing subjectivism (value is determined by your idealized attitudes)

The thought was that on (1), idealizing subjectivism tracks the truth. On (2), maybe you're screwed even post-idealization, but whatever idealization process you were going to do was your best shot at the truth anyway. And on (3), idealizing subjectivism is just true. So, you don't go too far wrong as an idealizing subjectivist. (Though note that we can run similar lines or argument for using internalist or externalist forms of realism as the "interim meta-ethics." The basic dynamic here is just that, regardless of what you think about (1)-(3), doing your idealization procedures is the only thing you know how to do, so you should just do it.)

I still feel some sympathy towards this, but I've also since come to view attempts at meta-ethical agnosticism of this kind as much less innocent and straightforward than this picture hopes. In particular, I feel like I see meta-ethical questions interacting with object-level moral questions, together with other aspects of philosophy, at tons of different levels (see e.g. here, here, and here for a few discussions), so it has felt corresponding important to just be clear about which view is most likely to be true. 

Beyond this, though, for the reasons discussed in this post, I've also become clearer in my skepticism that "just do your idealization procedure" is some well-defined thing that we can just take for granted. And I think that once we double click on it, we actually get something that looks less like any of 1-3, and more like the type of active, existentialist-flavored thing I tried to point at in Sections X and XI

Re: functional roles of morality, one thing I'll flag here is that in my view, the most fundamental meta-ethical questions aren't about morality per se, but rather are about practical normativity more generally (though in practice, many people seem most pushed towards realism by moral questions in particular, perhaps due to the types of "bindingness" intuitions I try to point at here -- intuitions that I don't actually think realism on its own helps with).

Should you think of your idealized self as existing in a context where morality still plays these (and other) functional roles? As with everything about your idealization procedure, on my picture it's ultimately up to you. Personally, I tend to start by thinking about individual ghost versions of myself who can see what things are like in lots of different counterfactual situations (including, e.g., situations where morality plays different functional roles, or in which I am raised differently), but who are in some sense "outside of society," and who therefore aren't doing much in the way of direct signaling, group coordination, etc. That said, these ghost version selves start with my current values, which have indeed resulted from my being raised in environments where morality is playing roles of the kind you mentioned.

SIA > SSA, part 1: Learning from the fact that you exist

Glad you liked it :). I haven’t spent much time engaging with UDASSA — or with a lot other non-SIA/SSA anthropic theories — at this point, but UDASSA in particular is on my list to understand better. Here I wanted to start with the first-pass basics.

The Adventure: a new Utopia story

I appreciated this, especially given how challenging this type of exercise can be. Thanks for writing.

Distinguishing AI takeover scenarios

Rohin is correct. In general, I meant for the report's analysis to apply to basically all of these situations (e.g., both inner and outer-misaligned, both multi-polar and unipolar, both fast take-off and slow take-off), provided that the misaligned AI systems in question ultimately end up power-seeking, and that this power-seeking leads to existential catastrophe. 

It's true, though, that some of my discussion was specifically meant to address the idea that absent a brain-in-a-box-like scenario, we're fine. Hence the interest in e.g. deployment decisions, warning shots, and corrective mechanisms.

MIRI/OP exchange about decision theory

Mostly personal interest on my part (I was working on a blog post on the topic, now up), though I do think that the topic has broader relevance.

Thoughts on being mortal

I think this could've been clearer: it's been a bit since I wrote this/read the book, but I don't think I meant to imply that "some forms of hospice do prolong life at extreme costs to its quality" (though the sentence does read that way); more that some forms of medical treatment prolong life at extreme cost to its quality, and Gawande discusses hospice as an alternative.

On the limits of idealized values

I agree that there are other meta-ethical options, including ones that focus more on groups, cultures, agents in general, and so on, rather than individual agents (an earlier draft had a brief reference to this). And I think it's possible that some of these are in a better position to make sense of certain morality-related things, especially obligation-flavored ones, than the individually-focused subjectivism considered here (I gesture a little at something in this vicinity at the end of this post). I wanted a narrower focus in this post, though.

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