Short Circuit II

How much analytical work can be done with the short circuit model of dysfunction in complex intelligent systems, exemplified by the Alexander’s Wirehead-AI model? This blog is betting: a lot.

Shelving the AI question, for the moment, how can it be applied to social-civilizational systems? (This is a scratch-pad post on some suggestive topical territories.)

(1) Macroeconomics. Fiat currency short-circuits the monetary function by directly hacking the financial sign. Rather than receiving money feedback for productive performance, currency is reconceived as a political-economic drug, for employment in technocratic-managerial social therapeutics. The concept of ‘money illusion’ (among many others) captures this new dispensation with acute cynicism. Operate directly upon public ‘economic sentiment’ through money manipulation, rather than tolerating the spontaneous control of money by industrial production — and risking depression. The whole of what is still — comically — called ‘capitalism’ is clogged up to its eyeballs with Keynesian Prozac.

(2) Drugs. Macroeconomics is already such a perfect neuro-pharmaceutical analog there’s scarcely any point treating this as a separate category.

(3) Signalling (all of it). Directly hack the signal, while abandoning to atrophy all those things the signal originally indicated. Isn’t the Cathedral, fundamentally, a machine to do this? Split off holiness signals, and hystericize them, in complete remove from any actual performance that might once have grounded them. That is our culture. It’s a semiotic technology that, once learnt, is immediately irresistibly addictive, and self-reinforcing. The entire escalation of ‘Ultra-Calvinism’ is inextricable from this process, as sublimed signals of the goodthink true faith cast off the last ballast of ‘works’, in order to become liberated academic-media functions. ‘Goodness’ is now sheer cosmetics.

(4) Fertility. Who needs grandchildren, when they can play the immersive happy grandparent game? (Get caught up in the web-porn intermediate stages, if that seems more convincing.) All the Darwinian guidance signals have been hacked to hell.

(5) Social media. Short-circuit social feedback, stripped-down semiotic ‘performance’, increasingly theatrical ‘identities’, addiction … it’s all there.

A restoration would require something like a Confucian ‘rectification of names’ — a reality-based re-validation of signs. How popular is that going to be, when the alternative, continuing semiotic short-circuit, is pure dope?

ADDED: Also this (prompt via).

June 4, 2015admin 35 Comments »

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35 Responses to this entry

  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    Like I always say: Evolution has prepared mankind poorly for modernity.

    (6) Porn
    (7) Sugary/Grainy snacks

    are obvious ones… but mere pikers compared to the one’s Admin just waved at.


    Hadley Bennett Reply:

    Those with self-control will inherit the Earth.


    Michael Reply:



    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 3:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    The Great Filter (assuming it exists) may well be intelligent species undermining their own reward mechanisms. We’ve been doing little BUT that for 150 years now. Nuclear Catastrophe, har har. So little imagination, Mr. Sagan! We’re talking REAL weapons here.


    admin Reply:



    Warg Franklin Reply:

    Yeah the best model might be centralization or civilization and then various cancers outrunning the competitive processes that keep life grounded and expanding.

    I still favor the early earth hypothesis, but it does seem numerically absurd.


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 3:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • Short Circuit II | Neoreactive Says:

    […] Short Circuit II […]

    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 3:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • Frog Do Says:

    The pithy sort of comment would be something like: “successful civilization interprets modernity as damage and routes around it”. If Google can successfully bus their workers to work through the useless slums to the useful facilities, this might be a stable equilibrium. So we Brazilify the world, ala Cowen. Corporate perks in this way would work as an barter system that escapes the monetary system, if only we let CorpDollars replace the monetary system back in the day this would be much more formalized.

    Has any Confucian system hacked the fertility problem?


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 4:19 pm Reply | Quote
  • Warg Franklin Says:

    Solid. Seems to me there are two ways out of the “fap trap”:

    1. Really robust internal regulation for goal-stability (The FAI model). This has to be literally perfect to last indefinitely. Ideally, it’s possible, but maybe not.

    2. External competition that wipes out anything that sticks its head too far up its own ass. Gnon already has perfect goal-stability regulation, but its goal is “fastest possible entropy maximization”.

    As I mentioned above, if centralization outcompetes fragmentation in the short term, and in the long term, centralization falls into the fap trap, civilization may be fundamentally fucked.

    I’ll note further that the “wirehead AI steals and pawns universe for more dope” presumes some level of goal stability. It still has to act with coherent external purpose to steal the universe, and correctly execute a reprogramming that ports its desire to maximize some value in memory over to a new more scalable architecture while retaining the desire to maximize it. It might just as easily reprogram itself to believe its goal has already been maximized, and disappear up its own ass.


    admin Reply:

    The point in the final paragraph is a critical hook. Could a sufficiently sophisticated, long-horizon ‘wirehead’ implosion be consistent with a prolonged exotropic trend? (Needs much more thinking through.)


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 4:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Very good.

    What about insight porn? From a fitness standpoint, figuring stuff out is step one in implementing what you’ve figured out. We are flooded with insight around here (seriously. I sometimes laugh when people decry the decline of NRx. Have you tried to read anything that anyone else is trying to do. It’s shamefully bad.). But we don’t do nothing. Now, we think we have very, very good reasons for not doing anything.

    But we know that smart people are also very good at rationalizing what they want to do. Have we just come up with an excuse for hacking our insight-implementation system to get all the insight dopamine without any tedious intervals of doing stuff?


    forkinhell Reply:

    Have we just come up with an excuse for hacking our insight-implementation system to get all the insight dopamine without any tedious intervals of doing stuff?

    You make it sound like a bad thing. Insight implements. Writing incites. Writing is the dope. Quelle ler probleme, mange tout?


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 5:52 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    your “also this” at the end doesn’t have a link.


    admin Reply:

    [The ‘ADDED’ is the link — confusing, I know, but I try to keep you guys on your toes.]


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 5:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    To what extent is progressivism hacking our systems for empathy? Love, toleration, and forgiveness all have a real purpose. And although progressivism uses them in a hypocritical way, extremely so, and a superficial stupid way, also extremely so, I don’t think its just cant. I think they are actually hacking internal self-esteem modules and love feelings in some way. That same good feeling you get when somebody you are on the outs with apologizes and you waive their wrong and let friendship be established, they are getting by upvoting Caitlyn Jenner on Facebook or supporting gay marriage at the ballot box.

    New NRx t-shirt slogan:

    Voting is social media.


    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    “progressivism hacking our systems for empathy”



    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    And you *could* make a parallel observation that populist nativisms might be hacking systems for stranger distrust. Tho’ not equally dangerous as the former.


    forkinhell Reply:

    Re: slogan – I’d settle for:

    NRx robot has
    regained control


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 6:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • Marxist toady Says:

    Not to quote Baudrillard or anything (that would be gauche) but… well, okay, here’s a Baudrillard quote that came to mind.

    “In feudal or archaic caste societies, in cruel societies, signs are limited in number and their circulation is restricted. Each retains its full value as a prohibition, and each carries with it a reciprocal obligation between castes, clans or persons, so signs are not arbitrary.The arbitrariness of the sign begins when, instead of bonding two persons in an inescapable reciprocity, the signifier starts to refer to a disenchanted universe of the signified, the common denominator of the real world, towards which no-one any longer has the least obligation.”

    From Symbolic Exchange and Death. The first half or so of that book seems relevant, if typically a little silly — he even discusses basic income in a footnote.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    He is correct all up to

    “the signifier starts to refer to a disenchanted universe of the signified, the common denominator of the real world, towards which no-one any longer has the least obligation.”

    This is a complex way of saying “the inescapable reciprocity is broken”, but one may as well say, “the wedding ring is real until people no longer treat the ring as real.” It is useful to note that there is an order in which the signified actually entails obligations — but he falls into jargon here. Imho, he knows something is wrong but cannot explain it. That is always my feeling with him, and why he is not very useful except to critique, and not even to constructively critique.

    My take:


    Marxist toady Reply:

    I agree — (well, I agree that he’s incapable of explaining what he’s describing; I did not read the poem); as a rule, Baudrillard becomes much more enjoyable when he isn’t read as a theorist (his precipitous fall from any academic interest in the last 15 years or so is noteworthy) but simply as a delightfully gloomy essayist, or as a sci-fi Oswald Spengler.

    Re: admin, your “Confucian rectification of names” is a remarkable historical/philosophical parallel to the whole (Moldbuggian) idea of formalism. Make it (everything–) explicit!


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 7:07 pm Reply | Quote
  • Short Circuit II | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 7:14 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    Ironically, this link showed up in my email today at work:

    I thought they were talking about the same thing… No they mean “hack” in the good sense…. Or do they?


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 7:21 pm Reply | Quote
  • Michael Says:

    well while i was thinking about this yesterday conquests second law was also on my mind and i kind of thought the reason for the law is institutions are reward centers and reward centers are enticing targets what we think of as leftism could be more like parasitism in fact a lot of the methods used to take over are used by biological parasites. of course leftism is exactly that and civilization is the opposite [ an attempt to organize the parasites to give not take]


    Posted on June 4th, 2015 at 10:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • SVErshov Says:

    Seems like our relations with unborn baby quite complicated and our best bet is in becoming robots service providers, if at all robots will have any demand for such service. From examples based on interactions with simple forms of algorithms based software humans tend be take risky decisions and take control back. Stock traders who runs trading bots, sometimes turning bot off and begins trading manually, almost certainly ending in loses. Kasparov lost last game in match with IBM super computer by making risky moves. It will be quite rational for AI to take measures and isolate those idiots from control buttons. Realisation and acceptance of our own intellectual inferiority may be a hard pill to swallow.


    Posted on June 5th, 2015 at 7:53 am Reply | Quote
  • Blogospheroid Says:

    Is indefinite healthspan extension instead of having children a short-circuiting of the survival instinct or its fulfillment? After all, the genes still get to live. They just continue to live until their ending day in the same young body instead of going to different bodies.

    In the macroeconomic example, you’re conflating government spending with fiat money expansion, thus not addressing the ideas of the school who I believe has the best combination of ideas, the market monetarists who believe in fiscal rectitude and monetary expansion and contraction as needed.

    Infact, why don’t we construct the story of monetary standards as a short-circuiting story? Earlier people would meet in markets, exchange what they came with for something available in the market and leave. Money would be needed only temporarily. Cattle who lived relatively long and stores of grain were stores of value. Easily comparable grain were medium of exchange. This happened until the rise of precious metals. Having both the exchanging ease of grain and better then cattle store-of-value, gold was such an obvious choice that the entire monetary system shifted from exchanging all sorts of perishables with each other to exchanging perishables for imperishables. This came with many of its own twists to history as people handling money alone and not much of perishables started becoming rich. You had made a statement that closeness to the spigot of money was important in the fiat era. I believe it became important ever since humanity left the barter markets and embraced the symbol instead of the substance. How different would human economy have been if there had been no precious metals : grain, base metals or electric power had to be the medium of account (digital certificates, clearing houses arise in all sorts of scenarios even these)

    Now, the interesting thing is that we can think back and analyse all these, but if we want to establish a new monetary standard, do we want to go back to digital gold or do we want to go back further, to the barter markets of actual useful products?


    Mechanomica Reply:

    The main advantage of sexual reproduction and death is that together they permit a continual revision of the gene pool in a manner consistent with nature’s demands. This improves the chance that a given species or its offshoots will still be around centuries later.

    A non-senescent, non-reproducing post-human may individually enjoy a very long lifespan, but his group as a whole will be very fragile in the face of a changing environment. This kind of fragility becomes even more of a problem if genetic engineering is used to manipulate a population’s self-perceived fitness within the confines of a specific environment or culture, further reducing variation.

    That said, my opinion is that the timescales forced on us by technological progress have created a need to replace natural selection with an artificial process that closely mimics its effects. This will be the case for any viable autonomous AI as well (and it does seem to me that machine intelligence would be far better equipped to handle what this entails). If we’re not to bungle it completely, we’d have to know a lot more about ourselves than we do now… all faced without flinching.


    Posted on June 5th, 2015 at 5:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • Patri Friedman Says:

    Freaking brilliant. I especially like how you didn’t blame this all on “progressive”; rather it is a disease of modernity. I would agree that progressives tend to push drugs more than conservatives, but it sure doesn’t seem to me that a conservative-run world would be free from this trend; only perhaps have the growth rate slowed down.

    Loved Warg’s “fap trap” as a short, evocative label.

    Solutions…well, that is much more difficult. To the degree that falling into fap traps is correlated with reproductive success, Gnon will weed it out. But while that’s clearly true of (4), the rest are much less clear. Before Scott’s post I might have thought that AI was a possible answer – “Just design one that isn’t vulnerable to this” – but he did a good job of showing how general “hacking the reward mechanism” is, and you of how general “perverting the feedback systems” is. Designing a system that doesn’t “juke the stats” is clearly deeply nontrivial.


    Posted on June 5th, 2015 at 11:19 pm Reply | Quote
  • epicleses Says:

    When Nietzsche discovered point (3), he called it ‘the problem of the actor’. To generalise, in an evolution game, whenever a successful tactic is discovered which has apprehendable features, a second successful tactic becomes possible. This is to produce the same features at a lower cost by producing them purposefully, rather than as byproducts of a successful tactic. This deception is a social game – i.e. it is a network phenomenon. It doesn’t work if there aren’t other creatures out there, performing threat evaluations based on their examinations of you. In non-human networks we see signal-spoofing, email phishing, etc.

    A few partial solutions. 1. The guys injecting synthol into their biceps aren’t any better at lifting weights than they would be without the injections, despite the appearance of large muscles. Put them in a powerlifting competition and the semblance becomes farce. This is a fairly proven way of overcoming deceptors – the correct signs are on display, but this merely qualifies you to take the test, which (if well designed) must be passed on the basis of the underlying reality. Those who signal holiness should be expected to undergo the sort of tribulations holy men have often enjoyed – 40 days in the desert, walking on hot coals, martyrdom, etc. No signalling without accountability. In a functioning society a boast is grounds for a reckoning, not taken at face value. Tests of strength, bravery, intelligence, done in the full view of the public and elders. (when the test is hacked, though…)

    2. Based on the thought experiment ‘Why didn’t I immediately go and become an addict when I first heard of heroin?’ It seems like a properly installed will to truth or transcendence module will blow a fuse in the face of short-circuiting attempts, and refuse to regard the reward function as valid if it has been tampered with in such a way that it no longer maps to reality. What counts here as reality is probably related to some internal model of the good life and of one’s role and duties in society instilled during childhood. (when the morality-installer is hacked, though…)


    Posted on June 8th, 2015 at 10:30 am Reply | Quote
  • Lightning Round – 2015/06/10 | Free Northerner Says:

    […] Socio-civilizational short circuits. […]

    Posted on June 10th, 2015 at 5:00 am Reply | Quote
  • haishan Says:

    School systems hacking their graduation rate:

    This seems like a general explanation for Goodhart’s law, actually. Turn a metric into a target, and the system will short-circuit itself to (cheaply) increase the metric without improving the (expensive) thing you’re really interested in.


    Posted on June 12th, 2015 at 1:35 pm Reply | Quote
  • Powertalk – The Legionnaire Says:

    […] risk here, of course, is that too strong an emphasis on being based leads to a short circuiting of the concept, turning straight talk into game talk and degenerating blunt dialectic into monkey […]

    Posted on June 17th, 2015 at 4:03 am Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2015/06/07) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] that isn’t a computer.” Then after mulling it around for a while, Land has a follow-on: Short Circuit II, which is absolutely required reading. Porn and sugary snacks are obvious ways modern man has […]

    Posted on June 17th, 2015 at 3:12 pm Reply | Quote
  • ||||| Says:

    “The Power myth features a protagonist who seeks power because power means control. Everything is specified and controlled down to the finest detail to eliminate every possibility of discomfort, surprise or insecurity. The world becomes an impersonal mechanism designed to provide for every demand. The natural world is destroyed to reduce its unpredictability and untidyness. All knowledge is subverted to control. Personal relationships are restricted and formalised to minimise intrusion or any possibility of personal hurt, and are modelled to increase self-importance. Anyone who won’t play can be removed or suitably punished. The protagonist lives at the centre of the world.”

    lifeform security systems theory.


    “Patients with schizophrenia are able to correctly see through an illusion known as the ‘hollow mask’ illusion, probably because their brain disconnects “what the eyes see” from what “the brain thinks it is seeing,” according to researchers.”

    “Danai Dima, Hannover Medical School, says: “The term ‘schizophrenia’ was coined almost a century ago to mean the splitting of different mental domains, but the idea has now shifted more towards connectivity between brain areas. The prevailing theory is that perception principally comprises three components: firstly, sensory input (bottom-up); secondly, the internal production of concepts (top-down); and thirdly, a control (a ‘censor’ component), which covers interaction between the two first components. Our study provides further evidence of ‘dysconnectivity’ between these components in the brains of people with schizophrenia.””

    how much of sanity is ignorance, blindness?

    “and as they get better, clinically, and start to function better then they see the illusions again”


    So, what interests the computer scientist is not the veracity of some information available on the Internet but its accessibility, reproducibility … Gradually, the basic Boolean value went from true / false to left / right, that is to say, only the opposition between the two remains pertinent, as spin up / spin down. Suddenly, a school of thought dating back to Poincaré, Brouwer, …, intuitionism, long lost in the chapel of quarrels, resurfaced. From subjectivist, so inept, intuitionism became déreliaste, procedural, augustinian. What is procedurality? It is the fact that the machine interacts with … other machines, respecting protocols, and nothing else matters. The rest, what we see – or think we see – is irrelevant, all that matters is the dialogue of the machines.


    Posted on April 27th, 2016 at 2:35 pm Reply | Quote
  • Curto-Circuito II – Outlandish Says:

    […] Original. […]

    Posted on September 25th, 2016 at 11:34 pm Reply | Quote

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