Friday, October 28, 2011

Modeled Behavior on Population Ethics

Karl Smith and Adam Ozimek of Modeled Behavior bring to light some interesting questions and arguments on population ethics. Karl Smith, from The Morality of Creating People:

In the past we could be resigned to the fact that our biology was going to drive us to do this no matter what. However, we are facing an era where we may be able to create sentient life synthetically. Either through artificial intelligence or by growing individuals en masse outside the womb.

The excuse – my biological clock made me do it – will no longer cut it and we may be talking about trillions of lives here. If we get this wrong it will be the greatest moral crime ever committed.

Adam Ozimek, pulling a partial Bryan Caplan in Some non-answers on population ethics:

In this model of the world there is only resources, and they are directly consumed. Imagine, for instance, if your two people with two living children have a third child whose inventions increase the efficiency of solar power by 1%, or increases grain yields, or leads to a new low cost recycling technique. This person coming into existence has clearly increased the amount of output than can be created with the resources on earth. The way Population Matters has formulated the problem of scarcity only makes sense if… well, if you’re determined for some reason to try and argue that more population is a really bad thing.

My comment to Ozimek is a rehash of my questions for Bryan Caplan:

Both you and Bryan Caplan seem willing to trade off very uncertain, speculative, indirect effects (inventions, etc.) of population against the direct, quite certain physical effects. Why do speculative positive effects matter more than definite negative effects? Or do you think the negative effects are somehow themselves speculative? Is the reality of scarcity of important stuff really in question?

Also, your connection between having the third child and inventions seems to imply causation from population to nice inventions (which Caplan also assumes). What evidence supports the theory that population drives innovation in a significant, reliable way? It seems the global distribution of both innovation and population would call that relationship into doubt...Just looking at the distribution of patents or Nobel prizes, it seems there are dozens of variables that correlate better with these than population. Are you talking U.S. only, or is this also supposed to apply to Brazil and China and Kenya and India and Israel equally?



  2. Great link, Karl. (Paul Ehrlich: 10% chance of avoiding a collapse of world civilization)

    I particularly like Ehrlich's comment:

    "Can we solve this technologically? Theoretically, since we can't know anything for certain, so we could come up with a magic way of producing food and that could save us. But my answer, always, to that is: we have all sorts of people in despair today. Don't tell me how easy it's going to be to feed nine billion people; let's feed seven billion first, then I'll be willing to talk to you about whether technology will take care of all those people.

    "We could support a lot more people on the planet if humans were willing to share equally, but they don't: we want to design a world where everybody can lead a decent life without everybody being fair."

    (Of course, I snicker at Ehrlich's optimism that this kind of society is possible.)

  3. One thing about the future of technology is that it's not prudent to count your chickens before they're hatched. "Prudent" is one of Bryan Caplan's favorite words, along with its antonym, "impulsiveness," which, along with laziness, is why "undeserving poor" may as well be one word.

    I'm not sure whence comes the notion that rate of technological advance increases with population. It seems consistent with the idea that talent discovery is a matter of throwing mountains of flesh against the wall to see what sticks. Perhaps the really mutant-smart ideas will only come from people who are in the top 0.000000000000000000000000000001 percent of the IQ scale...those Koch-funded Masonomists have quite an IQ fetish...

  4. Please don't comment rashly on this blog post I made, on encephalitis in India. I intend this blog to also be read by non-antinatalists, and wish to gradually introduce antinatalism in it -- yes, it seems impossible, but please ...

    Anyway, thousands of years after Adi Shankara, Mahavira, Buddha and Jesus did everything they could for the world, hundreds of years after Galileo's, Newton's and Da Vinci's contributions, and several decades after Einstein, Alexander Flemming et al have done their bit, 3086 cases of encephalitis, and 488 deaths from it. Has life gotten any better, really?

  5. Sister Y, your point about Nobel Prizes across countries is awesome. India should be having about a sixth of all Nobel Prizes, if Bryan Caplan and Co make any sense at all.

  6. Perhaps the modern Malthus fears that sharing food would be EVEN HARDER than sharing writing credit...

    "Ehrlich reignited the issue in 1968 with his book The Population Bomb – co-written, without acknowledgment, with his wife, Anne Ehrlich"

    Bitches can't hang with the streets.

  7. And, yes, Caplan's innovation economics + actual population realism = a politically "repugnant" conclusion...that some lives are ex ante (as well as ex post) worth WAY more than others.

    Ashkenazi + various smaller ethnic groups worldwide ftw.

    eugenics >> rampant population explosion...for actual statistical innovation.

    At this point in human history, more tech innovation every generation is about as certain as any future estimate can be. Relevant questions are how much to expect of each kind of innovation from each candidate new each society (the Dark Ages weren't great, and neither is North Korea despite good genetics)...AND, especially since the atom bomb, what new dangerous innovations also lurk around the corner. Existential risks (to the whole of humanity) now belong in the decision tree, whether you love or hate them.

  8. I agree that not giving credit where it's due isn't very Ehrlich. Haw haw haw oh me oh my!

  9. People need to have more children so there can be war.



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