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Being interested in Artificial Intelligence, when I ran across this article in The Atlantic I was hoping to find something interesting. The article focuses on Judea Pearl, an AI researcher who pioneered Bayesian (calling Midget Faded Rattlesnake) networks for machine leaning. Pearl is disappointed that most AI research nowadays is centered around his previous bailiwick of machine learning (what he calls fancy curve fitting) and not around his new interest, which is around causal reasoning models.
This is all well and good and somewhat interesting, however near the end of the article he and the interviewer talk about free will and have the following exchange about evil.
Hartnett: Now that you’ve brought up free will, I guess I should ask you about the capacity for evil, which we generally think of as being contingent upon an ability to make choices. What is evil?
Pearl: It’s the belief that your greed or grievance supersedes all standard norms of society. For example, a person has something akin to a software module that says, “You are hungry, therefore you have permission to act to satisfy your greed or grievance.” But you have other software modules that instruct you to follow the standard laws of society. One of them is called compassion. When you elevate your grievance above those universal norms of society, that’s evil.
This is a very simplistic and idealistic conception of evil that can only be believed by a determinism addled atheist. This description hardly rises to the level of evil, as it explains harmful actions by assuming wrong headed, selfish motives. This description leaves no room for true malevolence. People commit evil acts sometimes for a gain or in response to a grievance, but sometimes people inflict pain or harm on another for no other reason than to cause the harm or pain itself. That is malevolence, that is evil.
What I learned from this article is that I don’t want AI scientists like Pearl programming in their simplistic conceptions of good and evil into our future AI robots.