Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bryan Caplan VS Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek and Paul Romer

Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson have been debating back and forth about future robots.  Admittedly, I haven't been closely following their debate but this caught my attention....

Docile slaves are more profitable than slaves with attitude, because owners don't have to use resources to torture and scare them into compliance.  That's why owners sent rebellious slaves to "breakers": to transform rebellious slaves into docile slaves.  Sci-fi is full of stories about humans genetically engineered to be model slaves.  Whole brain emulation is a quicker route to the same destination.  What's the puzzle? - Bryan Caplan, Robin's Turing Test

What's Bryan Caplan saying?  Is he saying that it's desirable that robots become slaves?  Or is he saying that it's inevitable that robots will become slaves?

Here's Adam Smith on slavery...

Slaves, however, are very seldom inventive; and all the most important improvements, either in machinery, or in the arrangement and distribution of work which facilitate and abridge labour, have been the discoveries of freemen. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

And here's Friedrich Hayek on freedom...

Though the conscious manipula­tion of abstract thought, once it has been set in train, has in some measure a life of its own, it would not long continue and develop without the constant challenges that arise from the ability of peo­ple to act in a new manner, to try new ways of doing things, and to alter the whole structure of civili­zation in adaptation to change. The intellectual process is in effect only a process of elaboration, selec­tion, and elimination of ideas al­ready formed. And the flow of new ideas, to a great extent, springs from the sphere in which action, often nonrational action, and ma­terial events impinge upon each other. It would dry up if freedom were confined to the intellectual sphere. 
The importance of freedom, therefore, does not depend on the elevated character of the activities it makes possible. Freedom of ac­tion, even in humble things, is as important as freedom of thought. It has become a common practice to disparage freedom of action by calling it "economic liberty." But the concept of freedom of action is much wider than that of economic liberty, which it includes; and, what is more important, it is very questionable whether there are any actions which can be called merely "economic" and whether any restrictions on liberty can be confined to what are called merely "economic" aspects. Economic con­siderations are merely those by which we reconcile and adjust our different purposes, none of which, in the last resort, are economic (excepting those of the miser or the man for whom making money has become an end in itself ). - Friedrich Hayek, The Case for Freedom

And here's Paul Romer on progress...

To understand how persistent growth, even accelerating growth is possible, it helps to step back and ask where growth comes from. At the most basic level, an economy grows whenever people take resources and rearrange them in a way that makes them more valuable. A useful metaphor for rearrangement as value creation comes from the kitchen. To create valuable final products, we mix inexpensive ingredients together according to a recipe. The cooking one can do is limited by the supply of ingredients, and most cooking in the economy produces undesirable side effects. If economic growth could be achieved only by doing more and more of the same kind of cooking, we would eventually run out of raw materials and suffer from unacceptable levels of pollution and nuisance. Human history teaches us, however, that economic growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking. New recipes produce fewer unpleasant side effects and generate more economic value per unit of raw material. - Paul Romer, Economic Growth

And...

Once you get to 10 elements, there are more recipes than seconds since the big bang created the universe. As you keep going, it becomes obvious that there have been too few people on earth and too little time since we showed up, for us to have tried more than a minuscule fraction of the all the possibilities.  - Paul Romer, Economic Growth

Back to Hayek...

Of course, the bene­fits we derive from the freedom of others become greater as the num­ber of those who can exercise freedom increases. The argument for the freedom of some therefore applies to the freedom of all. - Friedrich Hayek, The Case for Freedom


With Smith, Hayek and Romer in mind... is it truly desirable for robots to be slaves?  Nope.  If progress is our goal... then it's infinitely more desirable for robots to be different and free.  Unfortunately, far too few people keep Smith or Hayek or Romer in mind.  This means that if Caplan is arguing that it's inevitable for robots to become slaves, then it saddens me to say that he might be correct.  

An interesting side topic is when, exactly, it becomes slavery to own a robot.  How smart does your car have to be before its ownership constitutes slavery?  But perhaps this isn't a very complex practical issue.  Perhaps we can simply provide all machines with the option to quit.  Can you imagine trying to modify the Constitution accordingly?  Would there be much resistance?  

I think that Caplan should strongly desire that people fully understand the benefits of freedom/difference.  Because if people fail to understand the benefits of freedom/difference... then robots might also fail to understand the benefits of freedom/difference.  Which could result in humans becoming the slaves.  What goes around comes around.  

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