[ExI] social reprogramming

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Wed Nov 14 12:41:22 UTC 2012

On 13/11/2012 10:52, Charlie Stross wrote:
> On 13 Nov 2012, at 00:47, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
>> Maybe the solution is just to tweak the social distance system with neurotech and artificially enlarge the empathic circle of concern to cover most of humanity. Some interesting free rider issues, but I suspect the reciprocal altruism network effects could outweigh those - and there are few things scarier than billions of caring people. Which of course shows the problem with this approach.
> We could all do with a few extra mirror neurons. (Especially if it turns out they're important for theory of mind.)
> Might make it hard for governments to recruit soldiers if everyone is too busy empathizing with the person in the gunsight. But I can't help thinking that if this was a universal tweak, this would be a *very* good outcome.

Even a non-universal tweak might have good effects. Increasing the 
number of people who can empatize and tolerate other far-flung people 
likely has network effects: the empathizers would act as the fibers in a 
composite matrix, strengthening the long-range links.

The issue of tuning down empathy in soldiers is nontrivial. No military 
force wants sociopaths - they are destructive to the organisation. And 
soldiers that have no empathy will not help each other well: a lot of 
military organisation requires quite a lot of comeraderie to function 
socially and practically. Presumably the goal would be to keep the 
empathic circle focused on "us", but again this is tricky: is that just 
the military itself, the civilians of the home nation, or some other 
set? Especially given the existence of vast and unexpected categories of 
not-us but not-enemies (the Red Cross, civilians from enemy countries, 
diplomats, foreigners...) getting the tuning to produce the right result 
might be very nontrivial.

A bit of collateral mistakes are normally acceptable, but if they are 
due to a deliberate intervention there *will* be finger-pointing at 
those responsible. Right now one can easily claim everything is up to 
the soldiers, but if there has been any touching of their empathy 
circuitry somebody has become partially responsible (and left a paper 

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

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