Something like this sounds at first qualitatively similar to what I have in mind but isn’t really representative of my thought process. Here are some key differences/clarifications that would help convey my thought process:
1. Clarify that U=happiness-tan(suffering) applies to each individual’s happiness and suffering (and then the global utility function is calculated by summing over all people) rather than the universe’s total suffering and total happiness as I talk about here. People often talk about this implicitly but I thnk being clear about this is useful.
2. I don’t want a utility function that ends with something just going to infinity because it can get confused when asked questions like “Would you prefer this infinitely bad thing to happen for five minutes or ten minutes?” since both are infinite. This is why value-lexicality as shown in figure 1b is important. Many different events can be infinitely worse than other things from the inside-view and it’s important that our utility function is capable of comparing between them.
3. Clarify what is meant by “happiness” and “suffering.” As I mention here, I agree with Ord’s Worse-For-Everyone argument and metrics of happiness and suffering are often literally metrics of how much we should value or disvalue an experience—tautologically implying any given utility function of them should be a straight line always and regardless of intensity. Going by this definition, I would never make the claim that some finite amount of suffering should be treated as infinitely bad like tan(suffering) would suggest. Instead, my intuition is essentially that, from the inside-view, certain experiences are perceived as involving infinitely bad (or lexically worse) suffering so that if our definition of suffering is based on the inside view (which I think is reasonable), then the amount of suffering experienced can become infinite. I don’t value a finite amount of suffering infinitely; I just think that suffering of effectively infinite magnitude might be possible.
Alternatively, if we define happiness and suffering in terms of physical experiences rather than something subjective. My utility function for experience E would probably look something more like asking what (and how much) a person would be willing to experience in order to make E stop. This could be approximated by something like U=happiness-tan(suffering) if the physical experience is defined appropriately in the appropriate domain. For example, if suffering represents an above-room-temperature temperature that the person is subjected to for five hours, the disutility might look locally like -tan(suffering) for an appropriate temperature range of maybe 100-300 degrees Fahrenheit. But this kind of claim is more of an empirical statement about how I think about suffering than it is the actual way I think about suffering.
Given the choice between an opponent with APM armaments and a standard infrastructure, or an opponent with standard armaments and an APM infrastructure, the latter is a greater military threat.
I’m not knowledgeable enough about modern military affairs to be certain of anything but I currently agree with this overall—though it depends on how advanced the APM tech is. The main advantages that APM provides generally fall into the categories of increasing the resources we can use and increasing the precision of our equipment. For the most part, I have difficult envisioning increasingly high quality/precise versions of any APM-based conventional weapon making a bigger war-time difference than APM’s potential ability to make large numbers of lower quality weapons while providing cheap vehicles for troops.
Some caveats exist to this though in unconventional weapons that do rely highly on precise design. In particular, the ability to make efficient, cheaply made autonomous drones and transport vehicles for them is a massive logistical advantage. Between reducing the risk of human life and allowing local recuperation of energy***, these sorts of weapons should quickly overwhelm weaponized civilian weapons without those advantages. That being said, if APM factories for certain civilian uses like power generation are included in APM infrastructure, I can envision a less tech-advanced opponent putting up a difficult enough fight to make war unwinnable. This is one of the points against military risk being low.
Still, APM infrastructure and APM weapons aren’t an either/or situation. More frequently, the strong nations will have both. This is one of the points in favor of military risk being low.
While APM-hybrid equipment may be inferior to APM-optimized equipment, it will probably still be superior to standard equipment.
I agree with this but suspect that the weaponry possibilities that APM opens up reach far beyond the purview of upgraded civilian tech to the extent that these improvements may not matter so much. This point also applies to the question of providing APM tech to belligerents—it depends on what the tech is.
The role of logistics (which is to say, infrastructure) in modern military affairs is widely underappreciated, and I have no reason to suspect Drexler of any particular expertise in this area.
Overall, I think the crux of the impact of APM lies in how accessible APM tech will be in the future. Because geographical constraints likely won’t be a limiting factor (see PeterMcCluskey’s response), this comes down to how good APM nations feel about giving APM to others. This means that the military risks of APM is likely one of the key factors in determining its effectiveness. In Drexler’s defense, it’s hard to predict the details of a massive change like APM and logistics often come down to small details that get very confused in high variance situations.
***Unlike nuclear weapons, abandoned or broken APM weapons have a relatively high risk of being salvaged for parts. Even if it provides a logistic advantage, I’m not sure that an APM nation would be willing to send very efficient motors/engines/energy harvesters into foreign territory for risk that the opponent takes those parts and hooks them into a weapon since those simple sorts of improvements can be a nightmare to combat. This argument also applies to providing other countries with APM energy sources and motor fabrication plants too.
I recently had a conversation with Christine Peterson and she pointed out the same thing. Imagine! A materials engineer who forgot that there was nitrogen in the air!
After some thinking, I also believe that nitrogen deficiency in Africa is not the concern that I indicated it was in the paper. I also agree that with sufficiently advanced technology (even when that technology is limited by physical laws), one should be able to overcome any geographical constraint in principle. This is Lesswrong and, thus, I must say that I was wrong about this.
Given that we can construct APM factories anywhere—something we likely can do once APM tech is achieved (though I suspect international interests would want to keep the APM tech used to create APM factories relatively inaccessible)--and that they can be maintained (again, something that APM can also ensure happens), I don’t imagine geography being an issue. Thus, I don’t really expect geography to be an issue.
I’m now much more confident that APM will lead to dramatic economic improvements in the places where we most care about them. There are still some practical considerations (i.e. ensuring the accessibility of people/machines capable of trouble-shooting the factories are everywhere the factories are) but these considerations are readily achievable.