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Viliam_Bur comments on Open thread, 11-17 March 2014 - Less Wrong Discussion

4 Post author: David_Gerard 11 March 2014 10:45PM

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Comment author: Viliam_Bur 15 March 2014 10:59:27PM *  14 points [-]

With humans like this, we don't need the Unfriendly AI:

Could we condemn criminals to suffer for hundreds of years? Biotechnology could let us extend convicts' lives 'indefinitely'

Last year, a team of scientists led by Rebecca Roache began exploring technologies that could keep prisoners in an artificial hell. Turning to human engineering as a possible solutions, Dr Roache looks at the idea of life span enhancements so that a life sentence in prison could last hundreds of years. Another scenario being explored by the group is uploading the criminal's mind to a digital realm to speed up the 1,000 year sentence.

She teaches ethics, bioethics, and rationality. Perhaps she could write for us a new Sequence on Hell Theory.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 16 March 2014 06:54:21AM *  9 points [-]

Did you know that Rebecca Roache used to work at the FHI and even co-authored a paper with Nick Bostrom? Makes you wonder what the rest of humanity is like, doesn't it?

ETA: Although I don't think "artificial hell" is a fair description of her actual proposal, which just involves extended sentences without making them literally hell-like.

Comment author: XiXiDu 16 March 2014 09:11:48AM *  0 points [-]

Makes you wonder what the rest of humanity is like, doesn't it?

What do you think are the reasons that humanity has largely started to treat their prisoners and foes in ways that do not involve horrors such as torture? Would it happen again if civilization collapsed, or is there a chance that even an educated civilization like ours could stick to a treatment of people as known from the dark ages?

Comment author: ChristianKl 24 March 2014 11:00:19AM 2 points [-]

What do you think are the reasons that humanity has largely started to treat their prisoners and foes in ways that do not involve horrors such as torture?

Our current relationship to a concept like torture comes out of dualism. It's not cruel to put someone decades into prison for a nonviolent drug offense but it is cruel to inflict physical pain because that violates the sanctity of the body.

It's also bad to practice euthanasia for terminally ill patients that are in a lot of pain and suffer a lot.

Depending on what memes are around when civilization get's rebuild it not clear that we will get the same position and the same social consensus will arise. It also possible that over time the use of capital punishment of a country like Singapore will spread even without straight collapse.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 March 2014 06:14:41PM 3 points [-]

What do you think are the reasons that humanity has largely started to treat their prisoners and foes in ways that do not involve horrors such as torture?

Assumption not in evidence. The West started to treat prisoners and foes in a kinda-sorta decent manner as long as it doesn't matter. When people thought it's important, torture (e.g. waterboarding) and assassination (e.g. by drone) appeared in a blink of an eye.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 17 March 2014 05:08:20AM *  4 points [-]

Assumption not in evidence. In some of the most egregious cases of torture under the recent administration — Abu Ghraib under Charles Graner and Lynndie England — there was no evidence that "people thought it's important". Therefore, that was not a requirement for the withdrawal of the restriction against torture.

Therefore, the actual practice of torture (as opposed to the legal theory presented by, e.g. John Yoo) under the recent U.S. administration, appears to be better explained in terms of dehumanization of the victims as discussed by Rortynot the "ticking time bomb" scenario of the legal theory.

In gist, the culture or doctrine of the torturers declared that the victims were outside the moral consideration accorded to human beings; or even that their well-being was morally negative — that there was an obligation to cause them suffering. The torturers tortured not because they had weighed the consequences and judged that there was a positive expected outcome, but because they did not assign moral significance (or, indeed, assigned negative significance) to some of the humans involved in the outcome.

They weren't running the Trolley Problem. They were running a variant where you get to push a horrible mockery of humankind in front of the trolley — and who cares if it saves real humans?

(Why some cases of torture were later prosecuted and others have not yet been is a different question.)

Comment author: Lumifer 17 March 2014 06:07:00AM 0 points [-]

appears to be better explained in terms of dehumanization of the victims

Sure, but now ask yourself "why?" Why did dehumanization of the victims suddenly become acceptable?

I'm not talking about a reasoned weighing of pros and cons about the necessity of torture -- that did not happen. What happened was that it was decided (and I am deliberately using the passive voice here) that it's OK to declare some people non-humans and accept that laws, not to mention things like decency, do no apply any more.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 17 March 2014 06:40:45AM 3 points [-]

Why did dehumanization of the victims suddenly become acceptable?

Why did dehumanization of Bosniaks "suddenly" become acceptable to Bosnian Serbs after the breakup of Yugoslavia? Dehumanization seems to run on tribal, emotional levels — on sentiment, as Rorty puts it — and not on consequentialism.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 18 March 2014 02:34:20AM -1 points [-]

Compare that with any group besides "The West". They would do much worse things and not even bother angsting about it.

Comment author: Chrysophylax 24 March 2014 10:10:14AM -1 points [-]

Counterexample: most Buddhists.

Your enemies (and, you know, the rest of humanity) are not innately evil: there are very few people who will willingly torture people. There are quite a lot of people who will torture horrible mockeries of humanity / the Enemy, and an awful lot of people who will torture people because someone in authority told them to, but very few people who feel comfortable with torturing things they consider people. The Chinese governement does some pretty vile things; I nevertheless doubt that every Party bureaucrat would be happy to be involved in them.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 March 2014 03:47:09AM 1 point [-]

Counterexample: most Buddhists.

Look at what warfare was like in China or Japan before major Western influences (not that is was much better after Western influences).

Comment author: Chrysophylax 27 March 2014 01:56:45AM -2 points [-]

Look at what warfare was like in China or Japan before major Western influences (not that is was much better after Western influences).

Vastly inferior to, say, warfare as practiced by 14th-century England, I'm sure. I also point you towards the Rape of Nanking.

Compare that with any group besides "The West". They would do much worse things and not even bother angsting about it.

You are comparing modern westerners with historical Buddhists. Try considering contemporary Buddhists (the group it is blindingly obvious I was referring to, given that the discussion was about the present and whether contempary non-western groups all lack moral qualms about torture).

I observe that you are being defensive.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 27 March 2014 02:46:35AM 1 point [-]

Vastly inferior to, say, warfare as practiced by 14th-century England, I'm sure.

I meant the modern west. However,

I also point you towards the Rape of Nanking.

Which was committed by people who were (at least theoretically) Buddhists.

given that the discussion was about the present and whether contempary non-western groups all lack moral qualms about torture

We were? In the comment of mine that started this discussion I wasn't just referring to contemporary groups.

However, let's restrict to contemporary states. I take it you count the historically Buddhist countries that are currently under communist regimes as "not really Buddhist" since communism is officially atheist. That leaves, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka.

Japan was rather nasty until being beaten by the West, and there are signs it'll become nasty again given the chance to the extent it doesn't that's clearly due to western influences. South Korea and Taiwan are too weak to do much externally, but are admittedly nice places to live, also highly westernized. Dido for Singapore, although it has very strict laws (I approve of them but suspect you might not). Cambodia is somewhat of a mess even if you discount the Khmer Rouge as not Buddhist. Thailand is ok although not powerful enough to do much externally, also rather westernized. Burma is in the running for most oppressive government on the planet. Sri Lanka is dealing with its Tamil minority in a somewhat nasty manner.

Comment author: ChristianKl 24 March 2014 11:03:45AM -3 points [-]

There are quite a lot of people who will torture horrible mockeries of humanity / the Enemy, and an awful lot of people who will torture people because someone in authority told them to, but very few people who feel comfortable with torturing things they consider people.

Quite a few adults in the West still advocate corporal punishment to educate their own children.

Comment author: Chrysophylax 24 March 2014 07:06:31PM 1 point [-]

If we define all deliberate infliction of pain as torture then we lose the use of a useful concept. You are not cutting reality at the joint.

Comment author: ChristianKl 24 March 2014 10:00:55PM -1 points [-]

If we define all deliberate infliction of pain as torture then we lose the use of a useful concept.

I'm not. I'm defining using physical pain as a means of punishment as torture.

That's even fairly conservative. Plenty of people also consider activities such as female circumcision for religious purposes torture.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 March 2014 03:50:32AM 2 points [-]

I'm defining using physical pain as a means of punishment as torture.

That's at the very least non-central fallacy.

Plenty of people also consider activities such as female circumcision for religious purposes torture.

Ok, that's just expanding the definition of torture to "anything I disapprove of".

Comment author: DanielLC 17 March 2014 10:34:58PM 0 points [-]

I've heard tortue has inconsistent results. It will work fine for some people, but won't have much of an effect on others.

It might be more simple. If torture doesn't work, you're back to where you were before. If prison doesn't work, at least they're off the streets for a while.

I don't see why imprisonment is considered less horrifying than torture. It doesn't suck nearly as bad per unit of time, but it lasts longer. It's just a less dense version of torture.

Comment author: asr 25 March 2014 04:12:42AM -1 points [-]

What do you think are the reasons that humanity has largely started to treat their prisoners and foes in ways that do not involve horrors such as torture?

The history of this is relatively tangled. In medieval European warfare, knights were routinely taken prisoner, and were treated well. Often they could go home under parole -- basically a promise not to take up arms again until formally exchanged. (Barbara Tuchman has a long discussion of this in A Distant Mirror). Upper-class combatants were basically a transnational military caste who extended professional courtesy to each other.This only applies to nobility of course. Peasant combatants could be slaughtered out of hand.

Likewise today, different prisoners are treated differently. We have some pretty dreadful prisons in the United States.

In summary, there's an incredible diversity of how prisoners are treated and there always has been. There may have been a general rise in standards, but it hasn't been systematic and I don't think it's been monotonic.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 16 March 2014 12:47:37AM *  8 points [-]

I initially doubted that the cited individual was actually advocating this atrocity, but from this post on her blog, it sounds like she's at least seriously considering doing so:

As I say at the end of the blog, it is debatable what constitutes humane treatment in relation to such technologies: perhaps it will turn out that, on reflection, some of the techniques I have suggested are inhumane, in which case I do not advocate their implementation. (But I do advocate the debate about them.)

Shades of Banks' Surface Detail ...

Comment author: AndekN 23 March 2014 12:05:25PM 1 point [-]

This seems to be just another case of journalists exaggerating and misrepresenting a scientists point in order to create attention-grabbing headlines, at least according to Anders Sandbergs blog post about the issue.