The Goal of the Bayesian Conspiracy

Sup­pose that there were to ex­ist such an en­tity as the Bayesian Con­spir­acy.

I speak not of the so­cial group of that name, the ban­ner un­der which ra­tio­nal­ists meet at var­i­ous con­ven­tions – though I do not in­tend to dis­par­age that group! In­deed, it is my fer­vent hope that they may in due time grow into the en­tity which I am set­ting out to de­scribe. No, I speak of some­thing more like the “shad­owy group of sci­en­tists” which Yud­kowsky de­scribes, tongue (one might as­sume) firmly in cheek. I speak of such an or­ga­ni­za­tion which has been de­scribed in Yud­kowsky’s var­i­ous fic­tional works, the se­cret and sa­cred ca­bal of math­e­mat­i­ci­ans and em­piri­cists who seek un­wa­ver­ingly for truth… but set in the mod­ern-day world, per­haps merely the seed of such a school, an or­ga­ni­za­tion which can sur­vive and thrive in the midst of, yet iso­lated from, our wor­ld­wide so­ciopoli­ti­cal mess. I ask you, if such an or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­isted, right now, what would – in­deed, what should – be its pri­mary mid-term (say, 50-100 yrs.) goal?

I sub­mit that the pri­mary mid-term goal of the Bayesian Con­spir­acy, at this stage of its ex­is­tence, is and/​or ought to be noth­ing less than world dom­i­na­tion.

Be­fore the rot­ten fruit be­gins to fly, let me make a brief clar­ifi­ca­tion.

The term “world dom­i­na­tion” is, un­for­tu­nately, rather so­cially charged, bring­ing to mind an image of the archety­pal mad sci­en­tist with march­ing robot armies. That’s not what I’m talk­ing about. My us­age of the phrase is in­tended to evoke some­thing slightly less dra­matic, and far less sinister. “World dom­i­na­tion”, to me, ac­tu­ally de­scribes rather a loosely packed set of pos­si­ble world-states. One ex­am­ple would be the one I term “One World Govern­ment”, wherein the Con­spir­acy (ei­ther openly or in se­cret) is in charge of all na­tions via an ex­plicit cen­tral meta-gov­ern­ment. Another would be a sim­ple in­fil­tra­tion of the world’s ex­tant poli­ti­cal sys­tems, fol­lowed by policy-mak­ing and co­op­er­a­tion which would en­sure the gen­eral welfare of the world’s en­tire pop­u­la­tion – con­trol de facto, but with­out chang­ing too much out­wardly. The com­mon thread is sim­ply that the Con­spir­acy be­comes the only ma­jor in­fluence in world poli­tics.

(For­give my less-than-rigor­ous defi­ni­tion, but a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of the ex­act defi­ni­tion of the word “in­fluence” is far, far out­side the scope of this ar­ti­cle.)

So there is my claim. Let me tell you why I be­lieve this is the morally cor­rect course of ac­tion.

Let us ex­am­ine, for a mo­ment, the nu­mer­ous ma­jor good works which are cur­rently be­ing openly done by ra­tio­nal­ists, or with those who may not self-iden­tify as ra­tio­nal­ists, but whose dog­mas and goals ac­cord with ours. We have the Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute, which is con­cerned with en­sur­ing that our tech­nolog­i­cal, tran­shu­man­is­tic ad­vent hap­pens smoothly and with a min­i­mum of car­nage. We have var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions wor­ld­wide ad­vo­cat­ing and prac­tic­ing cry­on­ics, which offers a non-zero prob­a­bil­ity of re­cov­ery from death. We have var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions also who are work­ing on life ex­ten­sion tech­nolo­gies and pro­ce­dures, which offer to one day re­move the threat of death en­tirely from our world.

All good things, I say. I also say: too slow!

Imag­ine what more could be ac­com­plished if the United States, for ex­am­ple, granted to the Life Ex­ten­sion Foun­da­tion or to Al­cor the amount of money and so­cial promi­nence cur­rently re­served for mil­i­tary pur­poses. Imag­ine what would hap­pen if ev­ery sci­en­tist around the world were per­haps able to con­tribute un­der a unified in­sti­tu­tion, work­ing on this vi­tally im­por­tant prob­lem of over­com­ing death, with all the money and time the world’s gov­ern­ments could offer at their dis­posal.

Imag­ine, also, how many lives are lost ev­ery day due to gov­ern­men­tal neg­li­gence, and war, and poverty, and hunger. What does it profit the world, if we offer to freeze the heads of those who can af­ford it, while all around us there are peo­ple who can’t even af­ford their bread and wa­ter?

I have what is, per­haps, to some who are par­tic­u­larly in­vested, an ap­pal­ling and fright­en­ing propo­si­tion: for the mo­ment, we should de­vote fewer of our re­sources to cry­on­ics and life ex­ten­sion, and fo­cus on sav­ing the lives of those to whom these tech­nolo­gies are cur­rently be­yond even a fev­ered dream. This means hold­ing the reins of the world, that we might fix the prob­lems in­her­ent in our so­ciety. Only when sig­nifi­cant steps have been taken in the di­rec­tion of sav­ing life can we turn our fo­cus to­ward ex­tend­ing life.

What should the Bayesian Con­spir­acy do, once it comes to power? It should stop war. It should usurp mur­der­ous despots, and feed the hun­gry and wretched who suffered un­der them. Again: be­fore we work on ex­tend­ing the lives of the healthy and af­fluent be­yond what we’ve so far achieved, we should, for ex­am­ple, bring the av­er­age life ex­pec­tancy in Africa above the 50-year mark, where it cur­rently sits (ac­cord­ing to a 2006 study in the BMJ). This is what will bring about the max­i­mum level of hap­piness in the world; not cry­on­ics for those who can af­ford it.

Does this mean that we should stop re­search­ing these anti-death tech­nolo­gies? No! Of course not! Con­sider: even if cry­on­ics drops to, say, pri­or­ity 3 or 4 un­der this sys­tem, once the Con­spir­acy comes to power, that will still be far more sup­port than it’s cur­rently re­ceiv­ing from world gov­ern­ments. The work will end up pro­gress­ing at a far faster rate than it cur­rently does.

Some of you may have qualms about this plan of ac­tion. You may ask, what about in­di­vi­d­ual choice? What about the peo­ples’ right to choose who leads them? Well, for those of us who live in the United States, at least, this is already a bit of a naïve ques­tion: due to color poli­tics, you already do not have much of a choice in who leads you. But that’s a mat­ter for an­other time. Even if you think that dic­ta­tor­ship – even benev­olent, ra­tio­nal­ist dic­ta­tor­ship – would be in­her­ently morally worse than even the flawed demo­cratic sys­tem we en­joy here – a no­tion that may not even nec­es­sar­ily be the case! do not worry: there’s no rea­son why world dom­i­na­tion need en­tail dic­ta­tor­ships. In coun­tries where there are demo­cratic sys­tems in place, we will work within the sys­tem, plac­ing Con­spir­a­tors into po­si­tions where they can con­vince the peo­ple, via le­gi­t­i­mate means, to give them pub­lic office. Once we have at­tained a suffi­cient level of power over this demo­cratic sys­tem, we will effect change, and thence the work will go forth un­til this vic­tory of ra­tio­nal­ist dogma cov­ers all the earth. When there are dic­ta­tors, they will be re­moved and re­placed with demo­cratic sys­tems… un­der the ini­tial con­trol of Con­spir­a­tors, of course, and ideally un­der their con­tinued con­trol as time passes – but le­gi­t­i­mately ob­tained con­trol.

It is demon­stra­ble that one’s level of strength as a ra­tio­nal­ist has a di­rect cor­re­la­tion to the prob­a­bil­ity that the one will make cor­rect de­ci­sions. There­fore, the peo­ple who make de­ci­sions that af­fect large num­bers of peo­ple ought to be those who have the high­est level of ra­tio­nal­ity. In this way we can seek to avoid the many, many, many pit­falls of poli­tics, in­clud­ing the in­effi­ciency which Yud­kowsky has again and again railed against. If all the poli­ti­ci­ans are on the same side, who’s to ar­gue?

In fact, even if two ra­tio­nal­ists dis­agree on a par­tic­u­lar point (which they shouldn’t, but hey, even the best ra­tio­nal­ists aren’t perfect yet), they’ll be able to op­er­ate more effi­ciently than two non-ra­tio­nal­ists in the same po­si­tion. Is the dis­agree­ment able to be set­tled by ex­per­i­ment? If it’s im­por­tant, throw funds at a lab to con­duct such an ex­per­i­ment! After all, we’re in charge of the money and the sci­en­tists. Is it not? Find a com­pro­mise that has the max­i­mum ex­pected util­ity for the con­stituents. We can do that with a high de­gree of ac­cu­racy; we have ac­cess to the pol­lsters and so­ciol­o­gists, and know about re­li­able ver­sus un­re­li­able pol­ling meth­ods!

What about non-ra­tio­nal­ist as­piring poli­ti­ci­ans? Well, un­der an ideal Con­spir­acy takeover, there would be no such thing. Les­sons on poli­tics would in­clude ra­tio­nal­ity as a ba­sis; grad­u­a­tion from law school would en­tail in­duc­tion into the Con­spir­acy, and ac­cess to the truths had therein.

I sup­pose the biggest ques­tion is, is all this re­al­is­tic? Or is just an ideal­ist’s dream? Well, there’s a non-zero prob­a­bil­ity that the Con­spir­acy already ex­ists, in which case, I hope that they will con­sider my pro­posal… or, even bet­ter, I hope that I’ve cor­rectly de­duced and ad­e­quately ex­plained the mas­ter plan. If the Con­spir­acy does not cur­rently ex­ist, then if my po­si­tion is cor­rect, we have a moral obli­ga­tion to work our hard­est on this pro­ject.

“But I don’t want to be a poli­ti­cian,” you ex­claim! “I have no skill with peo­ple, and I’d much rather tin­ker with the Col­latz Con­jec­ture at my desk for a few years!” I’m in­clined to say that that’s just too bad; sac­ri­fices must be made for the com­mon good, and af­ter all, it’s of­ten said that any­one who ac­tu­ally wants a poli­ti­cal office is by the fact un­fit for the po­si­tion. But in all re­al­ism, I’m quite sure that there will be enough room in the Con­spir­acy for non-poli­ti­ci­ans. We’re all sci­en­tists and math­e­mat­i­ci­ans at heart, any­way.

So! Here is our or­der of busi­ness. We must draw up a char­ter for the Bayesian Con­spir­acy. We must in­vent a test­ing sys­tem able to keep a dis­tinc­tion be­tween those who are and are not ready for the Truths the Con­spir­acy will hold. We must find our strongest Ra­tion­al­ists – via a test­ing pro­ce­dure we have not yet come up with – and put them in charge, and sub­or­di­nate our­selves to them (not blindly, of course! The strength of com­mu­nity, even ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity, is in de­bate!). We must es­tab­lish schools and struc­tured les­son plans for the pur­pose of train­ing fresh stu­dents; we must also take ad­van­tage of those sys­tems which are already in place, and uti­lize them for (or turn them to) our pur­poses. I ex­pect to have the in­fras­truc­ture set up in no more than five years.

At that point, our real work will be­gin.