[ExI] Easy solution to wars like that in Libya, and in these groups?

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Feb 26 14:40:05 UTC 2011

Brent Allsop wrote:
> It seems to me that if you could some way have an easy way to 
> reliably, easily, and in real time, know concisely and quantitatively, 
> what the entire population of Libya wanted, war could easily be 
> avoided.  Why do we all have to spend so much effort protesting before 
> anyone finally gets a clue as to what the people want?
Graeme Robertson has the following interesting theory about why mass 
protests are currently bringing down regimes:
Basically, they are a costly form of signalling (and hence trustworthy 
as being real sentiments, unlike pro-regime protests). Authoritarian 
regimes are usually coalitions of various elites, and protests are 
giving them information they can use to decide whether to continue 
working with the incumbents or defect.

So, at first this seems to be a strong case for sentiment mapping. But 
it must be truthful sentiment mapping that is not easily spoofed. Yet it 
must also be sufficiently anonymous that people with the wrong views do 
not get victimized (if not by the government, then by their neighbors). 
I'm not entirely sure these two factors go well together.

>   If you could easily know, concicely and quantitatively what everyone 
> wanted, obviously, if the leader was diviating from this, especially 
> if he wanted to kill anyone, everyone could just ignore him, and just 
> do what the people wanted, instead, couldn't they?  Problem solved?  
> Does anyone think differently?

"Hmm, Our Glorious Leader wants to kill those layabouts in the Northern 
Provinces. I don't like that. But I do also like my cushy job here in 
the Department for Departmental Salaries. Any change in regime will 
threaten my job. So I do not really want to protest against those 
killings, I have a family to feed..."

Most regimes stay in power through both carrots and sticks, plus a great 
deal of human inertia. Place the right carrots in the right hands, and 
you get a lot of people who are going to support you and argue against 

Now, I still think it is a good thing to give people access to 
communications and ability to develop their own online institutions (and 
the media savy that comes after one or two generations - a lot of the 
newly connected areas are still unused to handle a high meme density 
environment). Most authoritarian regimes work by limiting information, 
while open societies work well with unlimited information. But it is not 
going to be an easy solution.

Consensus building is important but hard. Especially since many forms of 
new communications makes it easy to ignore people with different views 
and form a consensus (i.e. groupthink) with the people who agree with 
us. It will not just happen because people can talk to each other. There 
has to be incentives and social constraints available to make the 
consensus something that sticks. But the right "communications 
primitives" like some good sentiment measurement method might help 
enabling it.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University 

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