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I think it would be interesting if we weigh the benefits of human desire modification in all its forms (ranging from strategies like delayed gratification to brain pleasure centre stimulation: covered very well in this fun theory sequence article ) against the costs of continuous improvement.

Some of these costs :

  • Resource exhaustion : There is always the risk of using up resources earlier for relatively unimportant things, and facing constraints for later, more important, purposes. This risk ends up materialising more often as we develop faster. Undoing material exhaustion is difficult, while energy is impossible.
  • Environmental limits : Excessive global warming, pollution, etc. impose costs on humans
  • Economic : Continuous uncoordinated development likely misallocates resources due to various market imperfections
  • Social : Creating winners and losers is harmful to the happiness of people
  • Psychological : If we cannot improve as fast as we adapt to the resulting happiness, then we get less happy

A lot of singularitarian thought tries to holds human desire to be exogenous and untouchable, which seems to be a rather odd blind-spot to have... we rightly discard the notion that death is desirable because it is natural, but not the notion that desire is sacred and hence should always be fulfilled, fighting against any and all limits?

There is no guarantee that there exists some way for them to understand.

Consider the possibility that it's only possible for people with nontrivial level of understanding to work with 5TB+ amounts of data. It could be a practical boost in capability due to understanding storage technology principles and tools... maybe?

What level of sophistication would you think is un-idiot-proof-able? Nuclear missiles? not-proven-to-be-friendly-AI?

So someone has mentioned it on LW after all. Lots of singulatarian ideas depend heavily exponential growth.

Thanks :) Can you elaborate a bit? Are you saying that I overreached, and that largely there should be some transformed domain where the model turns out to be simple, but is not guaranteed to exist for every model?

Sorry, hadn't seen this (note to self: mail alerts).

Is this really true, even if we pick a similarly restricted set of models? I mean, consider a set of equations which can only contain products of a number of variables : like (x_1)^a (x_2)^b = const1 ,(x_1)^d (x_2)^e = const2 .

Is this nonlinear? Yes. Can it be solved easily? Of course. In fact it is easily transformable to a set of linear equations through logarithms.

That's what I'm kinda getting at : I think there is usually some transform that can convert your problem into a linear, or, in general, easy problem. Am I more correct now?

I argue that agw is the worst because it is the only one that hits at very deep-seated human assumptions that may well be genetic/inherent.

The first obstacle to agw is, even before coordination, is anchoring - we assume that everything must get better only, and nothing ever gets worse. Further, a lot of systems are built up on the assumption that there will always be a continuously expanding material economy. This is like the case where becoming slightly more rational from a point of relatively complete irrationality is likely to make one less effective : a cluster of irrational beliefs are supporting each other, and removing one exposes other irrationalities. Similarly agw directly impinges on several hidden irrationalities of both humans and economies, and that's why everyone is dragging their feet -- not because they're all totally evil.

I assume you're talking of around 4 degrees warming under business-as-usual conditions?

To pick the most important effect, it's going to impact agriculture severely. Even if irrigation can be managed, untimely heavy rain will still damage crops. And they can't be prevented from affecting crops, unless you build giant roofs.

If you are saying that all these effects can be defended against, I agree. But the key point is that our entire economy is built on a lot of things being extremely cheap. Erecting a giant roof over all sensitive cropland is far less technically challenging than launching a geostationary satellite, but we do the latter and not the former because of the sheer size. It's basically an anchoring effect : now that we expect basic necessities to cost so little, we are unable to cope with a world were they are even slightly more expensive.

If we could overcome these issues and embark on such large scale projects, then agw is an easily solved problem! as you said, it's just an inconvenience.

Of course, "leading to global warming" is a subset of "harmful for the environment". Agreed on all counts.

Computing can't harm the environment in any way - it's within a totally artificial human space.

The others ("good") can harm the environment in general, but are much better for AGW.

*Longtime lurker, and I've managed to fight akrasia and geniune shortage of time to put my thoughts down into a post. I think it does deserve a post, but I don't have the karma or the confidence to create a top-level post.

Comments and feedback really welcome and desired : I've gotten tired of being intellectually essentially alone.*

There are many urgent problems in the world yet Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) should be considered the defining crisis to humanity. For example, increasing drug-resistance in pathogens , reducing populations of endangered species, an increase in fundamentalism, rapid increase in lifestyle diseases, increasing inequality, etc.

The key difference is that solutions to the other problems can be either technological or economic. Even solutions to fundamentalism usually involve development and infrastructure deployment, which is a difficult, but known, process. Reducing populations of endangered species looks more insoluble, but it’s rarely land itself that’s in shortage. Better monitoring and surveillance can greatly reduce poaching.

AGW however requires, in addition to technological and economic solutions, solutions at the social, psychological, and, fundamentally, human level. Now this sounds true only in a wishy-washy way, so I’m going to back them up one by one.

AGW of course requires technological solutions. The main emitters of GHGs are electricity generation, industry and transport sector. All of these are using fossil-fuel for the energy, so we need low-carbon sources of energy. We also waste a lot of energy in various ways, and it’s a lot cheaper to not consume that unit of energy than to generate a green unit of energy, so energy efficiency is needed.

Low-carbon energy sources are relatively mature with well-known costs. Aside from certain rare metal shortages, a worldwide rollout of low-carbon energy sources is eminently possible.

Energy efficient generation, transmission and consumption devices can allow us to reduce energy consumed by half, at max. There are hard limits to the effectiveness of energy efficiency, so new low-carbon energy deployment is quite necessary.

Basically, there are technological solutions, which require gigantic capital outlay, thus passing it on to the economic sector. AGW of course also requires economic solutions, primarily for the massive capital outlay. Since low-carbon energy is more expensive than fossil-fuel energy, end-consumers will have to pay the costs in some form or the other. This would have to be accounted for by economic growth.

More insidious, however, is the requirement for continuous expansion of economy for it to remain stable. Also, economic growth and energy consumption growth are tightly linked – more energy made available creates economic value, and more affluent consumers demand more energy-intensive goods and services.

So then, we would need a way to have economic growth, without carbon-intensive energy growth – a process called decoupling. One fundamental problem with a substitution of fossil-fuel by low-carbon energy sources is the sheer scale of the operation. Indeed, “even if solar panels are as cheap as dinner plates and 100% efficient, it would still take a few decades to replace current energy sources with solar”[citation needed]. So clearly, we need to reduce energy consumption in the meantime.

Relative decoupling means the emissions intensity of the economy decreases – higher economic value generated per joule of energy consumed. This kind of decoupling means nothing for AGW if economic growth continues. Absolute decoupling means decreasing absolute energy consumed and increasing economic value. So far, this stage is proving elusive.

Unfortunately, economic growth is the only reason countries around the world can have stable societies. The moment economic growth stops, basically chaos breaks out.

This is essentially an allocation problem. We have all the technology and resources to ensure basic necessities to everyone, but

  1. We have already allocated resources in a highly imbalanced manner
  2. We don’t know how to deliver resources to only the resource-poor

Compound this with the fact when more resources enter the economy, those already with resources tend to accumulate more of it. Notice, however, that I made no moral position on inequality, except that today we do not want poor people to die out of lack of resources, and the cost of basic resources keeps rising (again due to economic growth).

The problem should be clear by now: we require an increasing amount of resources to simply keep the economy running.

Rectifying this requires us to get mentally used to the fact that things don't just keep getting better every year. And that's neither a technological problem, nor an economic one. It's psychological.

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