X-Risk Democratization

Yudkowsky redux: “Every eighteen months, the minimum IQ necessary to destroy the world drops by one point.”

Quibble with the (Moore’s Law satire) schedule, and the point still stands. Massive deterrent capability tends to spread.

This is ‘democratic’ in the way the term is commonly used by those seeking to latch decentralization tendencies to the ideological credibility of Jacobin legitimation principles. Consumer capitalism, the Internet, and peer-to-peer crypto-systems are notionally ‘democratic’ in this way. They subvert centralized governance, and they spread through horizontal contagion. The fact they have nothing at all to do with popular political representation is of concern only to certain rhetorical agendas, and not at all to others. It’s sophistical pop-capitalist bullshit to use the word democracy in this way, but it’s usually not worth the trouble for the Left to try to contest it, and the part of the Right that isn’t excited to be riding this propaganda strategy is usually too indiscriminate to bother disentangling it. There’s a rare piece of ‘right-wing’ functional PR here, but never enough to matter very much (and it’s too essentially dishonest for the Outer Right to defend).

Unlike Democracy® (Cathedral ideology), however, this ‘democratization’ has deep cybernetic consistency. It falls out of techno-capitalism with such automatic inevitability it’s probably impossible to shut down, without closing down the whole thing. Capital escalation produces technological deflation as a basic metabolic by-product, so the ‘democratization’ of productive capability is ineluctable. Computers have migrated from exotic capital goods to trivial components of consumer products within half a century. Study that trend and you see the whole story.

Deterrence deflation is the deep trend. Connect up the Yudkowsky quote with assassination markets to get where this is going. (Try to shelve moral squeamishness until after you’re seeing the picture.)

Imagine, hypothetically, that some maniac private agent wants only to nuke Mecca. What’s the obstruction? We can confidently say — straight off — that it’s less of a problem with every passing year. The basic historical trend ensures that. Comparatively incompetent Islamic fanatics are the only people seriously testing this trend right now, but that isn’t going to last forever. Eventually smarter and more strategically-flexible agents are going to take an interest in decentralized mass-destruction capability, and they’ll provide a far better indication of where the frontier lies.

Nukes would do it. They’re certainly going to be democratized, in the end. There are probably far more remarkable accelerating WMD capabilities, though. In almost every respect (decentralized production capability, development curve, economy, impact …) bioweaponry leaves nukes in the dust. Anyone with a billion dollars, a serious grudge, and a high-end sociopathy profile could enter into a global biowarfare-threat game within a year. Everything could be put together in secret garages. Negotiations could be conducted in secure anonymity. Carving sovereignty out of the game would require only resources, ruthlessness, brilliance, and nerves. Once you can credibly threaten to kill 100,000,000 people all kinds of strategic opportunities are open. The fact no one has tried this yet is mostly down to billionaires being fat and happy. It only takes one Doctor Gno to break the pattern.

This is the shadow cast over the 21st century. Radically hardcore, massively decentralized deterrence games are simply inevitable. Anyone who thinks the status quo state holds some kind of long-term winning hand under these circumstances isn’t seeing anything.

Global totalitarian government could stop this! But that isn’t going to happen — and because it isn’t, this will.

April 22, 2016admin 33 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Democracy


33 Responses to this entry

  • X-Risk Democratization | Neoreactive Says:

    […] X-Risk Democratization […]

    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 4:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • John Says:

    Good luck Mecca Chan!


    John Reply:

    I would attach a medium probability to there already being Chinese government scientists researching a CRISPR type bomb targeting certain haplogroups with Zika/H1N1 like results.

    Haplogroup editing is our future. Acting O-M122 will be the new acting white.


    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 5:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • John Says:

    You really shouldn’t call yourself a maniac Nick, not good for self esteem.


    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 5:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • La Fayette Says:

    Sorry, but I’m not so much an English speaker to understand “Global totalitarian government could stop this! But that isn’t going to happen — and because it isn’t, this will.”?

    Do you mean that scenario of “Evil billionairies will kill millions and unleash a new age” is very possible, or that the threat of this scenario will force ruling elites to make “World Governement” real?

    Regarding for the problem. I understand your point and consider the reality of successful massive-scale killings by small-scale agents in 21 century to be very high. But I also suppose, that ruling elites have the means (I doubt that they have brains) to prevent this/use it for their purposes. We’re successfully moving towards Electronic Konzentrationslager.

    Anyway, thanks for your texts.


    admin Reply:

    If deterrence capabilities have to be used, they’ve failed. Their function is to inhibit enemy action (and specifically, for the concerns of this blog, to annul the sovereignty-suppression capacity of state actors).

    This is the deal: Tolerate intensified geopolitical fragmentation, or the world burns.

    Realistically, some (extreme) messiness is probable.


    michael Reply:


    Heres some actual exit through tech of the kind I have been championing. That being tech allows things not previously though doable without govt to be done slowly government becomes irrelevant and more annoying and as goes govt goes democracy and in comes real world consequences


    Grotesque Body Reply:

    Too optimistic.

    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 5:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • Xoth Says:

    I seem to recall that the nuclear technology acquired by Pakistan and then the rest was bought from North Korea. That indicates an IQ floor for development with proliferation beyond that occurring through other channels ($$$ or BFFs). Is that what Yudkowsky means? he asked politely.

    However, I do find it somewhat amusing that … George W Bush was actually right. No one will ever admit it.


    Erebus Reply:

    Right. Uranium enrichment is non-trivial. Whereas CRISPR gene-drives can be made in any basement lab with equipment that costs less than a million dollars in total, and whereas chemical weapons like VX can be made by any sufficiently reckless chemistry post-grad with little more than a fume hood, it is effectively impossible for non-state actors to enrich meaningful quantities of U235 to weapons-grade purity… And, yeah, even populous and powerful states like Iran and Pakistan seem to have had a rough go of it.

    Making weapons-grade plutonium is, to the best of my knowledge, easier than uranium enrichment, but requires that a nuclear power infrastructure be in place. This makes it probably impossible outright for non-state actors to produce. (Those who hope to assume the mantle of Dr. Gno can try to buy some on the black market and pray that they’re not getting scammed.)

    I don’t think that there’s going to be too much of a spread in nuclear capability, thus. Barring great technological advances in isotope separation, I don’t think that it’s going to be democratized in the foreseeable future.
    (Even so, anti-ballistic missile technology wouldn’t accomplish a damn thing. In this era of free trade, port cities are soft targets.)

    I do think that bio-weapons can get totally out of hand, though. Everything admin mentioned about them is correct. Even a totalitarian state may not be able to stop the spread.

    Mass-produced swarms of autonomous weaponry are another interesting possibility. Their production would require a lot more money than bioweapons would — but the bioweapon is still a blunt tool, and very difficult to control. The strategic implications of autonomous weapons are even more interesting to consider.


    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 6:19 pm Reply | Quote
  • wu-wei Says:

    During the cold war, the Soviets, being the underdogs in the nuclear conflict (yes they had more bombs per se, but the United States always had the upper hand in deliverance capability), discovered the game-theoretic solution to this problem by devising the Dead Hand control system (automatic nuclear-deterrence doomsday device).

    The trick is, whether or not the device was actually “switched on” 24/7, the game-theoretic solution required them to credibly convince NATO that it was kept active; obviously, the system was worthless in a game-cooperative sense unless the enemy was credibly led to believe that it existed.

    In reality, the Soviets probably didn’t actually keep the thing rigged to blow 24/7, switching it on only during crises. All it takes is one false alarm, one unexpected meteor impact or something like it, to potentially set the whole thing off. And in a world of “democratized nuclear deterrence”, all it takes is one maniac, one doctor gno, to destroy the entire cooperative equilibrium.


    Y. Ilan Reply:

    The affect of the spread of nuclear capability may be checked by anti-ballistic technology, like the Arrow missile and further more technologically developed replacements. There is always an answer, sooner or later. I wouldn’t count on any technology having the ultimate capability to ensure a long-lasting geopolitical fragmentation.


    Y. Ilan Reply:

    Sorry, my reply was a general one and not specifically directed at wu-wei.


    wu-wei Reply:

    Anti-ballistic missile technology is, for better or for worse, certainly a dead end.

    In a game of of escalating resource deployment, the MIRV always wins: the resources required to deploy a (defensive) missile will always be more expensive than the resources required to deliver the (offensive) missile. In fact, the asymmetry becomes increasingly exponential as the amount of resources deployed by either side increases; the only way that an anti-ballistic missile system can become viable is if the defending sovereign absolutely dominates the resource equation. But because of the exponential factor involved, once a given sovereign obtains a certain level of offensive capability (far, far less than most of the present nuclear powers have acquired), it becomes in practice impossible for any other sovereign to defend – regardless of resource acquisition.

    It was the MIRV that really changed the game during the cold war in this regard. It’s easier to hit a stationary city than a moving missile, so the ABM to ICBM deployment ratio is always greater than one; the introduction of the MIRV just made it exponential.


    Brett Stevens Reply:

    This changes when we consider (1) space deployment (2) highly functional lasers.

    Y. Ilan Reply:

    If the anti-ballistic technology used can, by some mechanism, stop its target in space before the MIRV breaks apart then the cost ratio problem becomes much lesser. You don’t even need space lasers to do something like that; indeed, at least one existing piece of technology that I know about can achieve such an endeavor.

    wu-wei Reply:

    But, that would violate our transnational communist bur- I a mean, the United Nations, Outer Space Treaty!!!

    True enough though, even if weaponized lasers are considered, the paradigm changes dramatically.

    I tend to take it as being axiomatic that offensive technologies will always out-scale defensive technologies, but perhaps that’s just a foolish extrapolative bias received from the last 100 or so years of warfare technology.

    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 7:48 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Gno Says:

    No no, this is not nearly subtle enough for Doktor Gno.

    Something ordinary, something already widespread, something that simply turns on a latent capability that turns into the weapon of choice … now that’s more like Doktor Gno’s modus operandi, isn’t it?

    Consider Talleyrand for a technologically-determined era: intentionality also becomes a matter of picking dates, one might argue, at least from the Nuremberg perspective …


    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 8:52 pm Reply | Quote
  • John Morris Says:

    There really isn’t a solution long term to this problem. The destructive power a single person can harness just keeps going up. Eventually you get to a point where a single disgruntled grad student can click a few times, print out a virus and end life as we know it. Or launch a computer worm destructive enough to collapse civilization. Etc.

    The odds of changing human nature to a point where none would want to do it is close enough to zero we can round down and there we get the long term odds of survival of life on Earth.

    It is a race, spread out enough that a single event can’t wipe out all life before the capability to do it gets into enough hands that survival becomes improbable.


    Aeroguy Reply:

    There are counters to those sorts of threats, but they encourage secession. For example balkanized computer networks to reduce attack surface or artificial speciation of humanity for immunity to targeted viruses.


    A.B. Prosper Reply:

    The Royal Astronomer Lord Martin Rees while an astronomer, maths and astrophysicist though not a biologist or com-sci guy suggest humanity has about a 50% of surviving this century

    I’m not that pessimistic but civilization almost certainly won’t,, its grown too complex for safety or for an increasingly stupid species of primates.

    And yes species wide we are getting stupider, the lower IQ shorter time preference types have a much higher fertility rate.

    This isn’t always a bad thing, the chance of some lower IQ schmuck going White Plague on humanity without the smarties tech is nil but again this also means complex tech use to feed people goes away too and carrying capacity shrinks drastically.

    All a collapse is after all is a fast reduction in complexity and we are long overdo.

    Also re: nukes. They aren’t that easy to make and the kind some terror scum might make would be small and easily recovered from in a healthy society. Atomic warfare was survivable . The bigger megaton hydrogen devices used promiscuously were not

    They are not easy to make however and even a handful from some rogue country could be managed

    Robot armies used for deep strike operations targeting the civilian population are possible but difficult in a global depression. Also important, they suffer from a paradox of production.

    In any state with markets robots mean economic shrinkage not growth since all economic activity to speak of is either wages or government wealth redistribution. The more bots you have the less bots you can buy and keep.

    Caveat some totalitarian state dedicated to “all robots all he time” maybe could be a threat but robot factories could get nuked,

    Swarm bots might work but they are not really doable for some decades

    No the real threat is cheap genetic engineering .

    Take a deep green or someone like Ted Turner who is wealthy and wants 5 billion less people, give them crispr and a plausible way to move money to research and instead of Dr. Gno you get Hugo Drax from Moonraker

    Any decent sized nation state with some High IQ population that could be trusted could start this right now as could a coalition of billionaires. The problem is moving the money and keeping the scientists quiet

    also in the plus corner the Cathedral opposes this kind of thing and its spy apparatus can keep the idiots at bay for some time , maybe. I hope


    Posted on April 22nd, 2016 at 9:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • Brett Stevens Says:

    I don’t think we need to worry about the status quo state; we have to worry about whatever (inevitably, per Spengler) seizes power in its absence.

    They won’t be competent, but they will be persistent and violent and like all things, react to opportunity (wealth to seize).


    Carl Reply:

    The obvious solution is to accelerate dysgenic breeding; so we get dumber faster than the IQ floor for Armageddon drops. Problem in the process of being solved. Our government is rational after all.


    Posted on April 23rd, 2016 at 1:34 am Reply | Quote
  • michael Says:

    the problem is how are the super powers convinced its actually a rouge and not a proxy. Say some white nationalists sterilize africa better yet pan africa hows the us and china to know it wasnt the other and how are they to know they are not next. its like your AI better to just kill everyone first.


    Posted on April 23rd, 2016 at 2:26 am Reply | Quote
  • blankmisgivings Says:

    Those most likely to utilize a ‘democratic’ armageddon will be new wave Luddites; as automation dissolves the status and income of professionals – including analytically gifted and well organized ones – the temptation for them to bring the whole thing down will become overwhelming.


    Posted on April 23rd, 2016 at 4:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • World Disorder Grows | al fin next level Says:

    […] The darker side of disruptive technologies […]

    Posted on April 23rd, 2016 at 8:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • grey enlightenment Says:

    Negotiations could be conducted in secure anonymity. Carving sovereignty out of the game would require only resources, ruthlessness, brilliance, and nerves. Once you can credibly threaten to kill 100,000,000 people all kinds of strategic opportunities are open. The fact no one has tried this yet is mostly down to billionaires being fat and happy. It only takes one Doctor Gno to break the pattern.

    I lol-ed at this became of the deadpan description of what would be a grad tragedy. To a Stalin figure, what’s 100,000 or 10,000,000… just numbers, you know


    Posted on April 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dave Says:

    People who say, “Now that the government has this new technology, we’ll never escape their tyranny!” are missing the big picture. New technology *always* favors the rich and powerful at first, when it is expensive and difficult to use. A knight with a gun could kill rebellious peasants faster than a knight with a sword. But then guns became cheap enough for peasants to have them, and knights became a historical curiosity.

    So it is with encryption, drones, hidden cameras, etc. Whither tyranny, when a tyrant dares not venture outside his fortress for fear of getting hit with a flying IED?


    Posted on April 24th, 2016 at 4:05 pm Reply | Quote
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    Posted on April 27th, 2016 at 3:13 pm Reply | Quote
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