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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Charles St Pierre: on 6/7/14 at 4:10am UTC, wrote Dear Toby, Thanks for reading my essay, and your vote. Some disconnected...

James Hoover: on 6/6/14 at 5:30am UTC, wrote Toby, In your abstract you speak of scientifically evaluating economic and...

Ross Cevenst: on 6/5/14 at 13:40pm UTC, wrote Reply to your thoughtful comments added!

Ajay Bhatla: on 6/5/14 at 12:59pm UTC, wrote Hello Toby, Your point on "basic requirements of living" is the right one...

Toby Lightheart: on 6/5/14 at 3:50am UTC, wrote Hi Peter, Thanks for reading my essay and leaving a thoughtful response. I...

George Gantz: on 6/4/14 at 15:45pm UTC, wrote Hi Toby - I posted this reply on my essay page, but to make it easier for...

Peter Jackson: on 6/3/14 at 10:41am UTC, wrote Nice essay Toby. A valid case and interesting proposition, well argued and...

Ross Cevenst: on 5/30/14 at 8:04am UTC, wrote (above was me)


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FQXi FORUM
October 17, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: The Incentive for Humanity by Toby Asher Lightheart [refresh]
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Author Toby Asher Lightheart wrote on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 13:14 GMT
Essay Abstract

How should humanity steer the future? One interpretation of this question leads us to moral philosophy: how ought humanity act? Meta-ethics may cloud the issue, however, formalisations developed in the computer sciences that provide a framework for optimal decision making are used to attempt in-roads into this philosophical landscape. This essay explores and develops the relationship between Markov decision processes (MDPs) and morality. A discussion of how MDPs and reinforcement learning are related to biological and social rewards extends to the proposal that humanity is steered by these mechanisms. The suggested way forward for humanity is to scientifically evaluate economic and social systems that focus on aligning ethical values with social and economic rewards.

Author Bio

Toby Lightheart is a PhD student studying computational neuroscience at the University of Adelaide.

Download Essay PDF File

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Stuart Marongwe wrote on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 17:08 GMT
Hello Toby

You really give an economic perspective on how to steer the future of humanity.My question is since a capitalist system is driven by the profit motive how do you propose that it is steered towards moral driven or social rewards?Will it still be called capitalism then?

Regards

Stuart

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 04:11 GMT
Hi Stuart,

Thanks for your questions. You seem to be pointing in the direction I was heading with the essay.

I think many decisions that people make are already driven by moral and social rewards. Many businesses, on the other hand, seem to be primarily driven by the profit motive. I don't think the profit motive is inherently bad, but the profit motive doesn't distinguish between acts that are morally and socially good or bad.

There might need to be more of an effort to adjust the current economic systems so that morally and socially good actions are financially rewarding. Otherwise, it could also be hoped that if the incentive of the profit motive was reduced, that the incentives of moral and social rewards would take over as the primary factors that influence actions.

There are probably a large number of ways that the incentive of the profit motive could be reduced and many of them would be to use or devise systems that don't have the traits of capitalism.

At the bottom of this I think we need to return to the debate over what can be owned. It has taken a long time for humanity to come to a consensus that people shouldn't be allowed to own slaves. The private ownership of capital motivates many to seek profit and increase their capital and wealth. The personal ownership of goods that aren't consumed through use encourages consumption. The ownership of intellectual property may protect inventors and investors, but it also restricts the access and use of information and innovation.

I don't think private ownership or the market are inherently bad, but changing how ownership is handled might decrease the impact of the profit motive and reduce consumption. Then the incentive for morally and socially rewarding actions might take precedence.

Regards,

Toby

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 03:37 GMT
Toby,

Good and bad are the biological binary code. Attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken, yet there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. From this arises the intellectual dichotomy of yes/no, on/off.

The problem is we tend to view reality from a top down perspective of a few decades, but it is a bottom up process that has taken billions of years. Our lives and bodies are extremely complex computational processes involving quite a lot of such switches and so while one level might be saying yes, a broader context might be saying no. Or vice versa. The logical fallacy of monotheism is assuming absolute is apex, but it is basis, so a spiritual absolute would be the elemental essence of conscious being from which we rise, not a moral, intellectual and judgmental ideal from which we fell. So in a sense, that elemental sense of I is shining through a funhouse of mirrors, each expressing different perspectives and emphases. That niggling thought in the back of your mind, that doesn't quite rise to the surface, is as conscious as another person trying to get your attention. Just that in order for people not to be functionally schizophrenic, the executive function has to then focus those impulses in a singular direction. Society then contends with a multitude of people, each expressing their views and if sometimes the result seems like herd behavior, consider it an extension of that singular executive function expressing itself, for better or worse. The result is a form of punctuated equilibrium, as a useful frame, habit, belief system, political motivating factor or group, etc. becomes ingrained, until other circumstances eventually force it to change.

Regards,

John Merryman

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 04:27 GMT
Hi John,

Thanks for your comments.

Many of our experiences elicit biological responses (e.g., pleasure and pain) that we consider good or bad. I don't think I would go so far as to say that it is binary, however. Some things are more painful and more pleasurable than others. Furthermore, I think more abstract concepts of good and bad are important in guiding what actions we choose. Not all biological interactions are zero-sum either. If the predators are removed from an ecosystem animal populations can rise until their over-consumption of resources causes a population collapse.

I'll need to think a bit more on the rest of your comment. I will try to read and comment on your essay soon.

Cheers,

Toby

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Michael Allan wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 13:32 GMT
Hello Toby, May I offer a short, but sincere critique of your essay? I would ask you to return the favour. Here's my policy on that. - Mike

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 04:28 GMT
Hi Michael,

Thanks for your invitation. I'll try to critique your essay soon.

Cheers,

Toby

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Michael Allan replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 18:22 GMT
You're welcome, Toby. Thanks in return. - You make a brave foray into the steering problem from a moral vantage, but fail to master that vantage (I think), and your own thesis. The light manner in which you dismiss all prior moral philosophy (waving the wand of moral relativism, p. 2) doesn't encourage the reader to trust your judgement, or to give a fair reading to your own ideas. I tried, but couldn't assume with you that "each agent's morality, from a person to a nation, may be calculated as a reward function." (p. 3) From here, I saw you struggle earnestly to deduce what might more convincingly have been assumed: that we value our own existence. You then deduce that we place a supreme value on learning in all decision agents, human and non-human (p. 4), but this doesn't seem well supported by the argument, nor does it seem a moral principle in substance or form - not like those of the philosophers you dismissed earlier. Your conclusion feels equally shaky: that we should "search for good mechanisms" for steering, but "using scientific processes to decide whether a political or economic mechanism is effective". You spring this in the final two sentences without explaining it further (p. 7), as though you yourself were not quite convinced. - Mike

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 19, 2014 @ 03:19 GMT
You're welcome, Toby. Thanks in return. - You make a brave foray into the steering problem from a moral vantage, but fail to master that vantage (I think), and your own thesis.

Thank you for your honest and critical appraisal of my essay. I did find it a challenge to communicate the ideas that I thought most relevant to the essay topic. Your feedback has been helpful in prompting me...

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Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 15:05 GMT
Toby, I fully agree with you that a way to give everyone access to the knowledge they need, to make good decisions, and provide everyone the basic physical needs, for health, will allow us to have a much healthier system where individuals are supported in being their best possible selves, so that we can find better solutions to the problems we face as a planet.

You say that “there are no distinct properties of “good” and “bad” that have been measured”, except that there are very clearly systems in all living beings that let the individuals know if something is harmful/bad, or healthy/good. In humans, we’ve not only got a low level system in our cells that does this, but we also have a higher brain function that does it as well, using the reward systems of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and so on for good things, and the stress chemicals for the bad things. It’s a fairly reliable tool for us to understand what works and doesn’t work when it comes to individuals being able to attain their goals in life (as defined by the combination of their genes and their environment). Certainly nothing will be perfect, ever (that would mean a dead/unchanging universe), but it’s the most proven system out there, and all we need to do is to organize ourselves a little better so that we can make use of all that highly reliable data that we’re getting about people of all sized, shapes, species, etc., and how they are feeling about their situations. And while health is obviously subjective, since one individual can be harmed while another is healthy, when looking at the whole planet as a system, judging the health of the system is all about how all the individual that make up the system are doing. As always, you combine the subjective experiences of all the parts of the system to get the state of the whole. (In other words when one individual is suffering unnecessarily, then the whole system suffers, since we’re all connected and interdependent.)

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 04:48 GMT
Hi Turil,

Thanks for your comments.

Hopefully most people would agree that access to information is important and we should be encouraging people to be and do the best that they can.

When I say that "there are no distinct measurable properties of 'good' and 'bad' that have been measured" I mean that there are no fundamental physical properties (like mass or charge) that have been identified as good and bad.

The biological signals and related feelings of pleasure and pain that we experience are merely signals that give an approximations of what is good or bad for us. Hence there are drugs and addictions to food can cause unhealthy states. Not all things that are bad for us cause pain, and not all things that are good for us make us feel good. These biological signals are often a reasonable approximation, but they aren't infallible.

I'm afraid we probably need more than biological signals and feelings to organise ourselves. That's why I spend some time in my essay discussing moral and economic systems that also guide and incentivise actions. The actions that these systems suggest might conflict with our biological desires, but they are capable of steering with much more foresight and providing more long-term benefit.

Regards,

Toby

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Turil Sweden Cronburg replied on May. 7, 2014 @ 14:29 GMT
Toby (sorry to have ignored this post! I wish they had a notification process for replies that aren't on one's own page!), on a biological level from what I've seen everything we do is the best option available at the time, given the situation. Nothing will ever be perfectly good, since reality is all about change and fractions (we're all parts of a whole), but even addictions that are harmful in...

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 23:31 GMT
The concept of an unregulated market based economy results in a 2-class social system. Those that have significant low-risk opportunities, and those that are manipulated into the equivalent of slave labor.

Regulation is necessary.

Example: in countries like Mexico, Iran, and Syria the brand name of drug found here in the US has been cut in concentration or replaced by something...

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 05:25 GMT
Hi James,

Thanks for your comments. I see that you've posted a second comment after re-reading my essay. I feel it's worth responding to both of your comments.

I agree. A totally unregulated free-market capitalism is very unlikely to result in a fair and prosperous future. That doesn't mean that market mechanisms can be a good way of distributing resources and labour.

As I've tried to argue in my essay, I think the problem is with incentives. Regulations are necessary because the incentive is too great for people and businesses to do things that are bad.

The capitalist economic model encourages greed. Proponents of free-market capitalism often see greed positively. I don't think wanting more is inherently wrong, but the profit motive is concerned with maximising profits regardless of whether an action is good or bad by other measures.

As I've mentioned in a response to an earlier comment (by Stuart Marongwe), I think there needs to be more of a debate about what can be owned. This thought is motivated by the belief that we might benefit from finding a way to decouple the success of businesses from the capital gains and wages of individuals. That might mean regulations or a system that has more socialist elements.

I'll write more of a response on your second comment.

Cheers,

Toby

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 00:56 GMT
I had to read the essay again. The concept of a logical control structure with scientific generated values for variables is not a bad idea. But how would you isolate corruption from the control system?

A centralized control system would be a significant target for corrupting influences. However, if the control system is distributed with a large ethics-based expert oversight commmittee where each member represents their state's constitution, then perhaps corruption can be kept at a distance so that there is time to respond concerning any ethical issue.

To stop corruption, one necessary component is that a time delay sufficiently long to allow for critical assessment of ethical issues is built into the administrative system. A common tactic of corruption is to quickly take control of resources/opportunities and become entrenched so that others cannot obtain access to the horded resources/opportunities. Glass-ceilings as one example; Empire Building.

But.... I can see the value of a control system; adminstration with feedback/feedforward relationships based upon social, emotional, and communication processes.

I don't agree that an ethical free market will become viable in our lifetimes. The exception might be if the NSA comes to be further developed and managed by doctors of science and philosophy from every state and supporting their state's constitution.

As an essay author, I will rate this essay in relation to others when I finish reading all of the essays and no new essays being entered.

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Anonymous replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 08:19 GMT
Hi James,

Thanks, I think being mindful of the sort of incentives for actions that an economic or political system creates should be fundamental in choosing what systems we use going forward.

I was hesitant (perhaps too hesitant) to recommend any particular economic system or method of governance in my essay and I would like to clarify why.

I think lots of people gravitate...

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Anonymous replied on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 19:01 GMT
Socialism has got a bad reputation here in the US. But if you talk with anyone from Sweden or Norway you will tend to find people are quite content. The problem I see is that the level of comfort a people enjoy in a socialist government seems to be strongly related to the resources of the related country. Soft-resources like intellectual property are not stable, but I am sure soft-resources are...

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Charles Gregory St Pierre wrote on May. 3, 2014 @ 07:05 GMT
Thank you for your essay.

A moral perspective is necessary for any 'steering' of humanity. Indeed, creating a global system such that the local activities of each individual are 'moral,' beneficial to the rest of the system, would seem to be the essence of the problem.

Locally, this would seem to be each individual producing more and consuming less. This would seem to include the reduction in the amplification of productivity of labor (through the increasing consumption of energy,) which leaves a greater proportion of people idle, or engaged in 'non-productive' labor even as more 'stuff' is available for consumption. Much consumption is the consequence of 'non-production.' As you point out. Developed countries have certainly over-shot the optimum distribution of productive labor.

Mankind will never possess complete information of the consequences of his actions. However, complete information is not necessary to, say, drive down a highway.

Charles Gregory St. Pierre

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 02:52 GMT
Hi Charles,

Thanks for reading my essay.

It seems we agree on many things. I'll post be sure to post some feedback on your essay.

We'll never have complete knowledge of what the consequences of our actions or inactions will be, but gaining more knowledge can help us make better choices.

I think I fall into the consequentialist camp, so making the right choices for the wrong reasons is better than making the wrong choices with the right intent, in my opinion. Unfortunately, similar contrary outcomes are conceivable for making choices with incomplete knowledge: selectively gaining knowledge of the positive outcome of, say, a medication without being aware of the side-effects can have a net negative outcome.

Cheers,

Toby

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Joe Fisher wrote on May. 5, 2014 @ 13:57 GMT
Dear Mr. Lightheart,

I thought that your essay was very well organized and I do hope that it does well in the competition.

Regards,

Joe Fisher

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 02:54 GMT
Thanks, Joe. I hope that you have found entering this competition valuable.

Cheers,

Toby

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George Gantz wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 21:56 GMT
Toby - Thanks for the interesting essay. It would seem that the risk/reward and inventive/disincentive tradeoffs for human agents is particularly difficult to evaluate algorithmically as a means to determine an optimal morality. Another method of analyzing such complex interactions would be simply to look at the actual results of several hundred thousand years of human progress - this is something I attempted to do in my essay The Tip of the Spear. From this vantage point, the empathic qualities and corresponding moral framework of humans stand out as critical to progress - in the past and in the future.

Cheers - George

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:04 GMT
Hi George,

Thanks for reading my essay.

Thankfully, I think many societies have advanced enough ethically that we don't need to iterate through all the possible systems of morality (as one might do for a reinforcement learning simulation) to know that some are going to "better" than others. Empathy, sympathy, reason and imagination are a great skills for evaluating the morality of choices.

I guess that much of what we have learned from the past efforts of societies could be considered iterations of this variety, so they should definitely be mined for all the knowledge they possible can give us.

I'll be sure to read your essay and give you some feedback.

Cheers,

Toby

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George Gantz replied on Jun. 4, 2014 @ 15:45 GMT
Hi Toby - I posted this reply on my essay page, but to make it easier for you I will also post it here (and I think you get an automated notification....)

Toby - The big question is how to develop a shared culture / morality that will keep "love at the tip of the spear." Historically, building and sustaining a shared morality across many generations is a role that religions have played. In our post-modern, secular, increasingly digitized world, what does that look like? There seems to be a little work going on in this area ( see: Big Questions Online series, or the RSA project on the Social Brain) but the chasm in language and sensibilities between science and religion seems to be incredibly wide..... We need better bridges. (See my website at www.swedenborgcenterconcord.org - The ISAS Forum - for some early efforts in this regard.

Thanks for asking! - George

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on May. 10, 2014 @ 02:12 GMT
Dear Toby,

As the Markov Decision Process is a discrete time stochastic control process, in that the current state and action are conditionally independent of all previous states and actions, it is effectively applicable to describe the cause effect chain of actions of the Universe while the matters of universe is in holarchical organization; and not applicable to Humanity for the optimal control of its environment, as Humanity is external to the Real-time system of Universe while its economy depends on the impact of climate change.

With best wishes,

Jayakar

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:15 GMT
Hi Jayakar,

Thanks for your comment. I'll try to have a read of your essay and leave you a comment in return.

I think it is very important to careful with how models are used to come to conclusions about how the world works. I'm aware that the Markov decision process is a drastic simplification of how humanity might make choices to steer the future. As a result, I've tried to be careful not to draw too much from MDPs for making inferences about the nature of morality, the human condition and how humanity might evaluate its choices. I'm certainly open to being told I've made errors. If you think I've made an error I would appreciate you making a clear case.

I'll be interested to see how you have gone about answering the essay question.

Cheers,

Toby

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Georgina Woodward wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 01:22 GMT
Hi Toby,

an enjoyable, very well written essay that I have found educational and thought provoking.

Your consideration of incentives for people reminds me of these videos, that I have found really interesting.I don't know if these relate to your references 4, 5, as your references are forthcoming.

How Motivation is Driven by Purpose and not Monetary Incentives Mentions freedom, mastery and purpose.

Some concrete examples in this next one, I love the Legos experiment and the realization that lack of acknowledgement is almost as bad as shredding a persons work.

Dan Ariely, what makes us feel good about our workMentions "ownership"/connection to work and importance of acknowledgement of effort.

Both videos show that monetary reward is incidental to tasks requiring more than basic skill. One of the great things about the FQXi site, and its competitions, is being able to obtain acknowledgement of ideas rather than thinking they may as well have just been put into a waste basket. By the way I read from beginning to end and was impressed by your well set out arguments: )

Good luck, Georgina

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 03:32 GMT
Hi Georgina,

Thanks for your positive feedback. I'll be sure to have a read of your essay and leave a comment.

I think I have seen the Dan Ariely video before. Those videos do seem directly related to the work I was meaning to reference. There are now a list of references and further reading posted below.

I've taken a great interesting in trying to think about technology, morality and economics and how it might combine into future social and economic systems. The question of how money is used as an incentive has been one of many things I have found interesting to think about. When market mechanisms are working well I think they do a good job of conveying information about the scarcity of goods and labour; telling us what jobs people should be taking and what goods we should be trying to ration and produce. Wages are, ideally, an indication of the demand and supply of a type of labour. Unfortunately, I imagine many people choose professions based on the incentive of wages rather than for the interest in doing a good job or helping society. This also gives people an incentive to manipulate the labour market.

I'm hopeful of reading more of the essays and exchanging ideas. I would be happy to have more of a discussion about the ideas in my essay or other ideas.

Cheers,

Toby

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart wrote on May. 19, 2014 @ 04:56 GMT
References and further reading:

1 Bellman R. (1957). "A Markovian Decision Process". Journal of Mathematics and Mechanics 6.

2 Sutton, Richard S., Barto, Andrew G. (1998). Reinforcement Learning: An Introduction. MIT Press.

3 Gowans, Chris, "Moral Relativism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

4 Grant, Adam and Singh, Jitendra (2011). "The problem with financial incentives - and what to do about it", Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

5 Ariely, D., Gneezy, U., Loewenstein, G., and Mazar, N. (2009). "Large stakes and big mistakes", Review of Economic Studies, vol 76, no 2, pp 451-469, 2009. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-937X.2009.00534.x

---

Barto, Andrew. G. (1995). "Adaptive critics and the basal ganglia", Models of Information processing in the basal ganglia, pp. 215-232. Houk, J. C., Davis, J. L., and Beiser, D. G., (eds.), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Moore, Andrew, "Hedonism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Manfredi, M., Bini, G., Cruccu, G., Accornero, N., Berardelli, A., Medolago, L. (1981). "Congenital absence of pain", Archives of Neurology, vol 38, no 8, pp 507-511, 1981.

Joyce, Richard, "Moral Anti-Realism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Singh, S., Kearns, M. (2002). "Near-Optimal Reinforcement Learning in Polynomial Time", Machine Learning, vol 49, no 2, pp 209-232, 2002.

Rittenberg, Libby and Tregerthen, Timothy (2009). Principles of Microeconomics.

Kohn, Alfie (1993). "Why incentive plans cannot work", Harvard Business Review.

Pink, Daniel H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

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Ross Cevenst wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 11:48 GMT
Hi Toby,

Thanks for an interesting essay. Your reference to MDPs is novel - I wasn't expecting to see them mentioned in this context. I feel like there is something brilliant in the making here but perhaps not quite finished in its formulation. However I did find myself very much enjoying your method of description of the problems we face. In particular I like that you seem to have a peculiar talent for phrasing highly politicised topics in quite objective and neutral language, while still meaningfully engaging with them. I find myself in agreement on the value of survival and learning. I guess in conventional economics the goals you mention would be regarded as externalities, and in theory they would be priced and integrated back into the market system. Would you see this as the likely step forward or do you imagine something either more innovative, or more radical, would be required? In my attempts at philosophy I have come to similar conclusions regarding the value of survival and learning, and I've tried to explore whether the traditional political cliches of collectivism vs individualism can be avoided by a greater focus on innovative economics instead of politics. In any case thanks for an interesting read.

I'd love for you to take a look at my own entry and rate it. If you're interested some of my own perspectives on survival and economics you can also view my website here. Thanks again and good luck!

Ross

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 05:12 GMT
Hi Ross,

Thanks for reading my essay and your feedback. I'll be sure to read your essay and post a comment.

I'm glad you liked my idea of considering what can be said about morality from the Markov decision process model. I did find it difficult to get the ideas into anything like a cohesive argument. This is something I would like to try to formalise more precisely, write about and...

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Anonymous replied on May. 30, 2014 @ 08:03 GMT
Hi Toby,

Looking forward to your comments on my entry (I should probably mention its got some fictional elements to it). I'm very keen to hear what someone actually working in the field of AI feels about the comments I make on moral philosophy.

It does seem like we are in times of increasing economic instability. I do note that there is some pretty significant political opposition to...

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Ross Cevenst replied on May. 30, 2014 @ 08:04 GMT
(above was me)

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Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 23, 2014 @ 20:03 GMT
Toby,

I am glad someone else also struggled with "questions and definitions". Just got to your essay and remembered all the questions and definitions I had struggled with in writing my essay (here).

Good discussion on decision processes.

The point you make towards the end is the right one on the approach to take: "to be more aligned with our ethical values yet remain functional". What do you think of the approach I lay out in my essay? I use the incentive ordinary people have to improve their lot in life.

-- Ajay

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 05:15 GMT
Hi Ajay,

I'll have a read of your essay. On face value, I think whether people trying to improve their lot in life being a good thing depends a lot on the society and environment in which they find themselves. There needs to be more done to address how our society and economy operates to give people a better chance to improve their lot in life and for it not to be at the expense of others.

Cheers,

Toby

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Anonymous wrote on May. 29, 2014 @ 12:02 GMT
Dear Toby,

Very in-depth analytical essay with deep philosophical ideas, new concepts and new scientific method. I think, as good a deep analysis of the whole path traversed Humanity. Then we can all to act together more easily.

We need a Great Dream and "Common Cause". We need a "Great Common Cause" to save Peace, Nature and Humanity. Great Dream always go alond with Freedom without fear, Hope, Love, Justice. It's time. We start the path. New generation tells us the right path... High score.

I invite you to comment and appreciate my journey into the past and the future

where I draw the path of Protogeometer and new eidos of Universe, filled with limiting thoughts of the "LifeWorld".

Best regards,

Vladimir

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Vladimir Rogozhin replied on May. 29, 2014 @ 12:32 GMT
Sorry, Vladimir Rogozhin

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jun. 3, 2014 @ 10:41 GMT
Nice essay Toby. A valid case and interesting proposition, well argued and clearly written. Also I practice altruism which is indeed its own reward, and sell the concept; 'benevolent self interest i.e. sponsorship of ethical projects. With scoring criteria settled I'm interested in your views on more sophisticated decision making ('new ways of thinking') which I try to show is needed and works....

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Author Toby Asher Lightheart replied on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 03:50 GMT
Hi Peter,

Thanks for reading my essay and leaving a thoughtful response. I will do my best to return the favour before the extended deadline.

First on Markov decision processes, a solution for an MDP is usually based on the expected future value of actions, not just the immediate reward. Algorithms, including temporal-difference learning, typically search for "solutions" iteratively.

Unfortunately, humanity doesn't have much chance to iteratively search for solutions to our global problems. Fortunately, people are capable of making predictions of future rewarding states and actions far in advance of them occurring and, accordingly, assign value to actions that are likely to bring them about.

Ideally we would look as far forward as we possibly can into the consequences of our available actions. For example, we could consider the stability and health of Africa as a great "reward". Actions that have a high probability of achieving this would increase the expected value of these actions. Outcomes further into the future could likewise be incorporated into the expected value of actions.

A point I raise in my essay is that many incentives, or rewards, are too far removed from what we should actually be considering morally good. Politicians may be more motivated by desires to be re-elected and getting "donations" than a desire to achieve the greatest long-term public good. The incentive for re-election heavily biases decisions for short-term gain and donations from private interests could have strings attached that are not in the public interest. How incentives influence behaviour needs to be considered much more than it currently seems to be.

I totally agree that learning is important. It may be the most important thing we can do. Learning improves our chances of making accurate predictions about future outcomes and choosing our actions accordingly.

Cheers,

Toby

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Ajay Bhatla wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 12:59 GMT
Hello Toby,

Your point on "basic requirements of living" is the right one and should include being knowledgeable on the society, the economic system etc but also on how nature works I.e. The knowledge we hold in science.

Good luck on your essay

- Ajay

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 05:30 GMT
Toby,

In your abstract you speak of scientifically evaluating economic and social systems focusing on aligning ethical values with social and economic rewards but near the end don't see it in the foreseeable future, subsequently speaking of good mechanisms in a manner similar to the evolution of animals.

How would this work and why don't you see any focus on ethics aligned with social and economic rewards soon?

It's a daunting problem and I'm not sure I make headway in my essay. Good marks late in the contest.

I would like to see your thoughts on mine: http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2008

Jim

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Charles Gregory St Pierre wrote on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 04:10 GMT
Dear Toby,

Thanks for reading my essay, and your vote.

Some disconnected thoughts on your essay:

To say there is no collectivity, (which you don't,) no such entity as society, is the ant denying she is part of an ant colony.

I think pleasure exists beyond reinforcement mechanisms. Life is good. Internal feedback mechanisms can result in positive outlook, or a negative one, independent of environment. Is the development of such internal feedback mechanisms a proper goal of education? Does meditation help you cope, or is it a happy delusion?

Moral philosophy may be intrinsically unsolvable, (or just poorly posed.) Consider just the 'Problem of Evil.' (See Wikipedia) Any explanation of evil excuses, and in a sense, justifies it.

Yet there seems to be such a thing as an absolute good. Societies most of whose individuals adopt 'good' behaviors tend to prosper. If we may use that as a definition?

"Though the many ideologies are developed with little regard for evidence or rigor, the belief in these ideologies have had a significant influence on the development of society, its laws and its economic activity." Very nicely said.

As for feedback, I am interested in how people can be incentivized to do the 'global' good, to do that which is good for all, and not just for themselves. If everyone externalizes the costs of their profits onto others, the net is everyone is worse off. And the harder people work at this, the faster the worse off they are. One must do good by oneself, and others, but one must internalize the costs. Anti-pollution laws, for instance, are a good step toward this.

PS. Time's up. I never did figure out about my author code.

Charles

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