Monday, July 29, 2013

Should we worry about 1984 futures?

Summary. It seems that oppressive totalitarian regimes shouldn't be needed in the long-term future, although they might be prevalent in simulations.

When you hear the phrase "dystopic futures," one of the first images that may come to mind is a society like that of Oceania from Orwell's 1984. Big Brother eliminates opportunity for privacy, and orthodoxy is enforced by brainwashing and torture of those who fail to conform. As far as future suffering is concerned, the most troubling of these is torture.

In the short run, futures of this type are certainly possible, and indeed, governments like this already exist in some degree. However, my guess is in the long run, enforcing discipline by torture would become unnecessary. Torture is needed among humans as a hack to restrain motivations that would otherwise wander from those the authorities wanted to enforce. For arbitrary artificial minds, the subjects/slaves of the ruling AI can have whatever motivations the designer builds. We don't need to torture our computers to do what we ask. Even for more advanced computers of the future that have conscious thoughts and motivations, the motivations can simply be to want to follow orders. Organisms/agents that don't feel this way can just be killed and replaced.

Huxley's Brave New World approximates this idea somewhat for non-digitial minds in the form of drugs and social memes/rituals that inspire conformity. 1984 has plenty of these as well, and they don't represent an intrinsic concern for suffering reducers.

If we encountered aliens, it seems unlikely there would be much torture either (except maybe to extract some information before killing the other side). The side with more powerful technology would just decimate the one with less powerful technology.
Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not. (source)
Just wiping out your enemies is a lot cheaper than keeping them around subject to totalitarian rule.

The main context in which I would worry about 1984-style torture is actually in simulations. AIs of the future may find it useful to run vast numbers of sims of evolved societies in order to study the distribution of kinds of ETs in the universe, as well as to learn basic science. Depending on the AI's values, it might also run such sims because it finds them intrinsically worthwhile.

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