Seems like you're crediting techno-optimism with all of the advancements in computing technology up til now - this seems incorrect, in my personal experience of 25+ years in tech. Many if not most of the critical advances in personal computing, the Internet, and the Web were made by hippies, weirdos, and geeks who were inspired and motivated by humanity much more than technology. I'd say that these people were already techno-humanists in the way that you described. Only in the last 15 years or so has the tech industry become infested with the type of simplistic tech determinists who have cynically rebranded themselves as techno-optimists. Techno-humanism is in this sense a revivalist movement rather than a new evolution.

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I'm somewhat frustrated by electionscience.org


taking an activist stance on approval voting and not actually giving a balanced comparison of both its strengths and weaknesses relative to rcv/irv. Contrast the picture painted by that first link with the one painted by this other source


Afaict, the "approval voting beats rcv" cases outlined in the first source are specific to particular (potentially large) ranges of numeric ratios between the candidates, but the articles on electionscience.org present them as if they were universal patterns. Meanwhile, I can't see it acknowledging any of the ways in which approval voting incentivizes its own types of strategic behavior (see second link), or the impacts on election civility of each voting method.

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what's the tagline we put in our twitter bios? tech/hum?

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What if understanding human values (techno-humanist) is an AGI-complete problem (techno-optimist)? The Enlightenment was all about neutralizing any single voice to define our values, but what if a single voice is required to safely steward exponential tech? e.g. China has zero qualms about limiting online gaming to an hour a day, for no other reason than it conforms to China's definition of the "good". Understanding human values with a precision necessary to govern exponential tech may not be structurally possible within the liberal democratic project. Would that be a fatal flaw?

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Richard -- great post. I've been advocating a similar set of ideas for a few years now (https://medium.com/swlh/gaianomics-or-the-self-designing-earth-971eaeec9656). I even use a similar metaphor: "we’re driving a car with our foot firmly on the gas pedal, while our hand is pulling the parking brake. Sure, we could just wait to see whether we’ll run out of fuel, the transmission will go bust, or some other wacky failure mode, and then take the car to the mechanic, attempt to fix the breakage and try again. Or we could just give up going anywhere, thus “solving” the problem. But what we should and must do is learn how the car actually works and how to drive it correctly"

More recently, we have started to assemble similar-minded organizations in a consortium (https://gaiaconsortium.org/) whose mandate is exactly to build the infrastructure that empowers us -- whether humans or AIs -- to make consistently more thoughtful decisions and build more intentional and robust systems for our civilization.

Looking forward to chatting more about this. Best,


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>When the next weapon with planetary-scale destructive capabilities is developed, as it inevitably will be, we need far more robust mechanisms preventing it from being deployed.

It’s an interesting challenge. Maybe the absolute best models will never run on consumer hardware, but it increasingly seems like you’ll be able to get very good capabilities for everyone, so maybe not planetary scale destruction, but more capability for everyone. Like you said, hard to tell who this favors

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Oct 28, 2023Liked by Richard Ngo

Phenomenal article. Extremely well conceived and explained. I’ll be sharing and referring to it frequently.

One challenge that was noted but wasn’t fleshed out to my satisfaction relates to the issue of multi-polar traps. You mentioned Moloch but didn’t seem to address that Moloch is the roach in the cream of free market fundamentalism in general. Since techno-optimism largely stands on the shoulders of libertarianism and free market fundamentalism, it’s hard to endorse this philosophy without solving the issue of multi polar traps, perverse incentives, and externalization. To me, this is the most general argument against the techno-optimist creed, and the three gaps you highlight fold in under this general concept.

In future missives, I’m keen to understand in greater detail how techno-humanism seeks to overcome these traps. I note the seeds of solutions in your nods to more scientific ways to understand and guide toward pro-human priorities. I think it would make your proposals more powerful and persuasive to address how these may short-circuit the multi-polar trap that is inevitable in an unconstrained free market ecosystem.

Thanks again for writing and I look forward to following your journey.

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Oct 28, 2023·edited Oct 28, 2023Author

Thanks for the comment, glad to hear you like it! Agreed that this is one of the biggest and most important questions; my next two posts will be addressing some of these concerns at a high level (although it'll probably take a while for me to get into the specific details).

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