Dark Arts is a colloquial term for techniques or methods which involve deception and/or manipulation of others or oneself into believing things for bad, i.e., non-truth-seeking reasons. These techniques may prey on human cognitive biases.
Some use the term to refer more narrowly to techniques that work equally well to compel both true and false beliefs, i.e., they are symmetric weapons. Some focus more on the Dark Arts as applied to oneself (self-deception) vs applied to manipulating others.
An example from the Dark Arts of Rationality:
Today, we’re going to talk about Dark rationalist techniques: productivity tools which seem incoherent, mad, and downright irrational. These techniques include:
Modifying Terminal Goals
Art vs. Technology
Sometimes these arts are further augmented by the use of persuasion technology, such as broadcast advertising or PowerPoint slides. Persuasion technology may prevent the person who is being targeted from carefully deliberating on the intended message, or thinking up an effective response to it in real time.
Such effects can be caused by something as benign as the use of a specialist vocabulary which the target is unfamiliar with, or an institutional vocabulary with high-status connotations: this is one reason why many specialist professions employ ethical codes to regulate their unbalanced power relationship with customers.
The use of such techniques as whiteboards or PowerPoint slides brings additional concerns, since these tend to connote a single party as the one “in charge” of the presentation: this makes it even more difficult for the intended audience to raise any effective objection, and encourages them to focus their attention on the content of the whiteboard or slides. Said content is often presented as a list of abrupt “bullet points”, further connoting it as factual, objective and neutral. One outspoken critic of PowerPoint, management professor David R. Beatty, states: “It is like a disease. It’s the AIDS of management.” Beatty further states that Powerpoint “removes subtlety and thinking”.
Many futurists expect that a technological singularity of even a very mild character will lead to an explosion in the use of radically effective persuasive technology, or “cognotechnology”—a term coined by American military researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. The collection and distribution of information about people may spiral out beyond any feasible control, perhaps even comprising their inner thought processes; cognitive monitoring may range from non-intrusive body monitoring as seen in a polygraph to outright brain emulation. In this scenario, persuasion technology may easily blend over into outright mind control. This is clearly a rather paranoiac and dystopian scenario; nevertheless, the fact that it is being seriously discussed has persuasive potential in itself, such as for directing funding for research into guaranteed Friendly AI, as opposed to naïvely pursuing expanded funding for neuroscience or artificial intelligence.