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MichaelDickens comments on My Cause Selection: Michael Dickens - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 17 September 2015 05:26:37PM 0 points [-]

As Carl points out, it's not the case that non-human animals account for 99.9% of utility if you're using brain mass as a heuristic for the importance of each animal.

That's a good point. I'd like to see what the numbers look like when you include wild animals too.

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 17 September 2015 05:53:06PM *  2 points [-]

Most of the neural mass will be wild animals, but I think more like 90% than 99.9% (the ratio has changed by orders of magnitude in recent thousands of years, and only needs to go a bit further on a log scale for human brain mass to dominate). Unless you very confidently think that a set of neurons being incorporated into a larger structure destroys almost all of their expected value, the 'small animals are dominant' logic can likewise be used to say 'small neural systems are dominant, within and between animals." If sapient populations grow rapidly (e.g. AI) then wild animals (including simulated ones) would be absolutely dwarfed on this measure. However, non-sapient artificial life might or might not use more computation than sapient artificial beings.

Also, there can be utility monsters both above and below. The number of states a brain can be in goes up exponentially as you add bits. The finite numbers it can represent (for pleasure, pain, preferences) go up super-exponentially. If you think a simple reinforcement learning Pac-Man program isn't enough for much moral value, that one needs more sensory or processing complexity, then one is allowing that the values of preferences and reward can scale depending on other features of the system. And once you allow that, it is plausible that parallel reinforcement/decision processes in a large mind will get a higher multiplier (i.e. not only will there be more neural-equivalent processes doing reinforcement updating, but each individual one will get a larger multiplier due to the system it is embedded in).

The conclusion that no existing animal will be maximally efficient at producing welfare according to a fairly impartial hedonistic utilitarianism is on much firmer ground than the conclusion that the maximally efficient production system on that ethical theory would involve exceedingly tiny minds rather than vast ones or enhanced medium-size ones, or complex systems overlapping these scales.

Comment author: Denkenberger 26 October 2015 05:11:58PM 1 point [-]

Small insects (the most common) have a order 10,000 neurons. One estimate is 10^18 insects, implying 10^22 neurons. In humans it is 10^21 neurons total. However, smaller organisms tend to have smaller cells, so if you go by mass, humans might actually be dominant. Of course there are other groups of wild and domestic animals, but it gives you some idea.