[ExI] Conspiracy epistemology (Was: cut off worried)
anders at aleph.se
Wed Feb 17 09:28:40 UTC 2016
On 2016-02-16 04:38, spike wrote:
> Camping in Death valley no Internet no radio email intermittent.
> Hearing wild stories from other campers pls refute oh pls do.
The best one I have heard is that it was Leonard Nimoy, ruler of the
Illuminati (he faked his death, you know) who ordered it. Because of
evil ObamaCare reasons. That story was made up by a spoof right-wing
site, but then a lot of people started to run with it (either to prove
the other side are nuts, or actually supporting a variant of the theory).
More seriously, after reading Tetlock's work, I have reduced my estimate
of the likelihood of clever political conspiracies. I have no doubt some
people *try*, but given that policy experts are lousy at predicting
consequences of events any plan involving steps like "And then X will
appoint Y, who will implement plan Z, with no trace back to me.
Excellent!" is very likely to fail. When even superforecasters selected
for their objective accuracy cannot do reliable predictions very far in
the future it seems unlikely conspirators are any better. Especially in
multi-agent situations like the current US election, or situations where
random events can blow up (like in many parts of the middle east).
A philosopher colleague pointed out that it is a strange world where
some of the best work in epistemology is being done by the US
intelligence community (especially IARPA). The really crazy part is that
they started only a few years ago - before that people generally thought
they knew what they were doing prediction-wise. I think that
overconfidence in how good we are at predicting consequences is driving
both conspiracy theorists (who take comfort in that somebody is running
things, even though they are evil) and would-be political manipulators
(who churn the mess with their attempts).
So if you want to run a "conspiracy", focus on actions that have
predictable effects - physical effects, things going according to the
normal legal, bureaucratic or traditional routine. Don't rely on outside
people acting as you want, don't act in domains where outside events can
overwhelm your influence. Shanteau's theory of expertise gives great
input to what skills you need to affect things. Information leakage and
side agendas grows nonlinearly with group size. And so on. It is much
easier to do a non-conspiracy where you get people with shared interests
to coordinate, pool resources, and push for changes they want to see
without all the cloak-and-dagger stuff. Non-conspiracies are also more
agile in areas where predictability is lesser, but will of course have
to deal more with opposition. Conspiracies in theory avoid opposition by
being secret, but in practice they have to deal with it anyway: the
opposing interests will be acting in unpredictable ways in any case,
potentially wrecking plans with no idea what they were about.
(I always smile inwardly when I cash checks from Steve Jackson Games at
my local bank, since the checks have the company's eye-in-the-pyramid
logo prominently displayed. I am getting paid - tiny amounts - by the
Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
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