What is the most anti-altruistic way to spend a million dollars?

post by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T21:50:29.145Z · score: -2 (36 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 94 comments

Contents

  Whoever can propose the most negative possible use for my money, in the sense that it causes the greatest amount of global misery, (feel free to argue for your own interpretation of the details of what this means) will receive $1 million to carry out his or her proposal and $1 million to keep for him or herself to with as desired. 
None
94 comments

Edit: The purpose of this question is not to make the world worse, but to see whether we actually have concrete ideas of what would, and my guess is that most of us don't, not in a really concrete way. From the downvotes I'm wondering if everyone else is thinking way darker directions than I am. If so please share.

There is a lot of discussion here about effective altruism. Organizations like GiveWell with donations, using criterion like quality-life-years-saved-per-dollar. People distinguish warm-and-fuzzy giving from the most effective use of dollars from various utilitarian perspectives.

But I want to ask a different question: What would effective anti-altruism be?

To make it more concrete:

I am an eccentric multimillionaire, proposing a contest to all of you, who will for the purposes of this exercise play greedy and callous, yet honest and efficient, contest entrants.

Whoever can propose the most negative possible use for my money, in the sense that it causes the greatest amount of global misery, (feel free to argue for your own interpretation of the details of what this means) will receive $1 million to carry out his or her proposal and $1 million to keep for him or herself to with as desired. 

A few rules:

1) Everything must be 100% legal in whatever jurisdiction you propose. Edit: People had trouble with the old phrasing, so I'll add that it should not only be legal in the letter of the law, but also in some reasonable interpretation of the spirit of the law.

1a) In fact, I encourage you to think of things that aren't merely legal but that would also be legal under whatever your favorite hypothetical laws are. Maybe that means non-coercive, non-violent, or something else in that vein.

2) This money may be used as seed funding for a non-profit or for-profit anti-altruistic venture, but I will take into account both the risk and the marginal impact of only the first million dollars.

3) Risk and plausibility are factors just as they would be in any investment for effective altruism

4) If you're going to propose that you keep and embezzle the first million dollars, you should have an extremely good justification for why such a mundane plan would match my standards for anti-altruism.

 

I hope this pushes you all to think of truly anti-altruistic means of spending this money. I think you may find that effective anti-altruism is a good deal harder than you'd believe.

94 comments

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comment by jimrandomh · 2014-03-24T21:54:23.018Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW · GW

This could be an interesting exercise, but posting actual answers in a public forum would be an extremely stupid idea. Please do not do that.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T21:59:08.752Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The real purpose it to get us thinking about whether our first impulse answers (probably industries and ideologies we'd like to take pot shots at) are actually really "the worst".

It can cast light on what effective altruism means.

And I really don't see anyone following this as a how-to manual, so I don't get why you say it's stupid.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-03-24T23:39:52.071Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The real purpose it to get us thinking about whether our first impulse answers (probably industries and ideologies we'd like to take pot shots at) are actually really "the worst".

What is a "real purpose" and why should I care about it, rather than the possible consequences a thread like this could bring about?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-25T02:02:14.266Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

whether our first impulse answers (probably industries and ideologies we'd like to take pot shots at) are actually really "the worst".

My first impulse was to try to arrange a war or at least a large secession movement somewhere in South-East Asia... :-P

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-25T02:08:31.586Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The ones that have momentum are saturated, and the ones that don't won't get going with 1 million. Also, not all secessions have turned out poorly (though certainly many have).

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-24T23:20:50.126Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most people here do not believe in a benevolent god due to lack of evidence.

But many believe in basilisks and imagine that they need to watch what they say because they might let one loose. I wonder what is the evidence for these beliefs in basilisks?

comment by RowanE · 2014-03-25T19:20:21.438Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That seems completely unrelated to the parent comment, are you sure you're responding to the right thing? Or are you just kind of spamming a "LW is a cult" type message?

comment by mwengler · 2014-04-05T18:07:19.015Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am questioning the belief of some that there is more harm from gaming negative scenarios in a forum like this than there is good from gaming negative scenarios in a forum like this. I am wondering where the evidence for this position might be. Throwing in the benevolent god thing was meant to motivate people who might take this as negative commentary to take the question seriously.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-24T23:06:13.355Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would estimate that the worst idea posted here would probably be equivalently bad to killing about a million people. Do you think there's more or less than a 1 in a million chance of someone reading and executing one of these ideas?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T23:17:09.267Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt you're correct on either of your estimates, but I am toying with putting up a new question along the lines of "what is the most anti-altruistic way to make a profit", in which case whatever ideas people have will most likely have already been tried.

comment by mwengler · 2014-04-05T18:14:22.841Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am toying with putting up a new question along the lines of "what is the most anti-altruistic way to make a profit",

There are so many examples of this in real life it would be hard tocome up with a new one. Open a casino, sell cigarettes or hard drugs, pump and dump penny stock operations, three card monty on a street corner, pickpocketing, high frequency stock trading, alternative medicine, making markets in synthetic mortgage backed securities, trafficking in human slaves, ponzi schemes, identity theft, selling things to people with alzheimers, and on and on and on.

I guess the hard part might be identifying which of these was the MOST antialtruistic.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-24T23:23:27.898Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think that might be a better question, though even better might be to specifically ask for only ideas that have already been tried.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-25T19:55:57.181Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think there's more or less than a 1 in a million chance of someone reading and executing one of these ideas?

Vastly less. I expect the chances of a given person genuinely wanting to indiscriminately harm humanity -- not just as an idle revenge fantasy or as a means of signaling cynicism, but as a goal motivating actual behavior even when it comes at high costs -- to be somewhere in the neighborhood of one in a million already, if not lower. The chance of such a person reading the offending post, following the reasoning, deciding to implement it, and coming up with the liquid money to fund it (million-dollar budgets don't grow on trees) is very small indeed.

It's much easier to find people that want to direct harm at some nation or identity group, but most of the ideas in this thread aren't so easily targeted.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-26T05:23:55.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On reflection, I think you're right that the chances are much lower than 1 in a million that a given human wants to indiscriminately harm humanity. Retracted.

comment by shminux · 2014-03-24T23:04:51.847Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

The way you formulated a question is not conducive to getting the answers you want, because people start thinking of something along the lines of the Holocaust, 9/11, or other memes associated with evil.

I recommend rephrasing it as follows: point out the most anti-altruistic legal ways a person or an organization have spent $1M. Thinking about it this way, there is no shortage of examples, none resulting in Kawoomba losing much sleep. In fact, a large chunk of what most governments do is both legal and anti-altruistic.

For example, suppressing one's right to die with dignity, and thus forcing doctors and nurses to torture thousands of helpless and elderly people against their will, often for years, before they are allowed to finally die, is arguably legal, anti-altruistic and doesn't cost a lot to perpetuate. The resulting disutility by most measures outweighs 9/11 by many orders of magnitude.

Another example: resisting self-driving car adoption. This one is even worse, given that every year self-driving cars are delayed, costs about 30,000 lives in the US only.

Just look around you, money is spent in anti-altruistic ways all the time.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T23:22:57.166Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is reasonable. I think my "not illegal" requirement should be stopping the really nefarious proposals, but evidently people here are darker than I thought (or think they are).

On the other hand, it makes it more concrete and takes on a more realistic issue of what ways people actuall spend their money are most harmful.

But remember, this is about marginal impact. 1 million to an anti-euthanasia group probably doesn't really affect policy a lot. And we haven't really even seen self-driving cars being resisted in earnest (they aren't near ready for prime-time yet, and their benefits are largely dependent on a large fraction of drivers adopting them).

comment by shminux · 2014-03-25T00:08:21.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Those are only examples, but

1 million to an anti-euthanasia group probably doesn't really affect policy a lot.

It can certainly tip the balance for a given state legislation or a ballot, such as the one in Maine.

And we haven't really even seen self-driving cars being resisted in earnest

Lobbying to shift funding away from NHTSA would be invisible.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-03-25T03:34:59.456Z · score: -6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

For example, suppressing one's right to die with dignity,

Given that advocating the right to "die with dignity" tends to have as a side effect people who are disabled (or would just be expensive to treat) being killed against their will, it is not clear that this is in fact negative. If anything I would argue that giving the money to euthanasia advocates will result in a much more negative outcome.

resisting self-driving car adoption.

It's not obvious that widespread adoption of self-driving cars is such a good idea.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-03-25T04:08:41.445Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Given that advocating the right to "die with dignity" tends to have as a side effect people who are disabled (or would just be expensive to treat) being killed against their will, it is not clear that this is in fact negative.

You assert that it "tends" to have this effect. On what evidence?

If this were the case, we might expect to see people who feared this happening to them to be migrating out of places (such as Oregon) where assisted suicide is legal.

If the opposite were the case, we might expect to see people who feared being kept alive in a state of torment to be migrating to places (such as Oregon) where assisted suicide is legal.

Which do we see?

If assisted suicide enabled the killing of inconvenient terminal patients at the convenience of their doctors, relatives, or insurers, we might expect a relatively high number of terminal patients to "choose" assisted suicide. If it did not so, we might expect a relatively low rate. For this, we might specifically look in places where assisted suicide has been legal for many years, such as the Netherlands.

Which do we see?

comment by bbleeker · 2014-03-26T13:34:46.938Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Table 1 further shows that the frequency of ending of life without an explicit patient request decreased from 0.8% of all deaths in 1990 to 0.4% in 2005 (approximately 550 cases annually). Further analyses of the cases of ending of life without an explicit request show that these concern nearly always patients who are very close to death, are incompetent but with whom the hastening of death has been discussed earlier in the disease trajectory and/or with their relatives, and for whom opioids were used to end life

The number of patients killed without consent was cut in half after euthanasia was legalized, and these deaths continue to be overwhelmingly done with reasonable justification.

From: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/08/29/fake-euthanasia-statistics/

comment by jobe_smith · 2014-03-25T13:31:44.788Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I have to say i don't get why so many of the comments on this are negative. Surely, if there was a completely legal way to inflict great harm on humanity for only $1Million then there are a ton of people/groups with the desire and resources to do those things. The idea that anyone with the desire to implement these things will learn about them first on LessWrong seems ludicrous to me.

Anyway, here is an idea:

  1. Offer a $1Million prize for a working self-improving paper-clip maximizing AI. I think that this is very unlikely to produce anything, but since it is a prize you don't have to actually pay it out until someone builds a UFAI that destroys the universe. If no one seems to be working on it, you can always rescind the prize and move on to another evil scheme. I guess the downside would be if somebody accidentally made a friendly AI while trying to win the prize.
comment by roystgnr · 2014-03-25T18:26:03.525Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Surely, if there was a completely legal way to inflict great harm on humanity for only $1Million then there are a ton of people/groups with the desire and resources to do those things.

Are you sure? Who? The people who do inflict great harm on humanity aren't cartoon monsters. They're commonly either unethically selfish, foolishly utopian, or terroristic. The selfish ones will only care about an idea for doing harm if the harm is a byproduct of an idea for getting something they want. The utopians don't try to do harm, they just create unintended consequences when trying to do good. Neither kind of person is going to be at all interested in an idea whose sole purpose is to do great harm.

Even terrorism is typically either a negotiating point for demands, a provocation to overreaction, or at worst a pure act of revenge; here they actually have a desire to do harm, but targeted harm, not generic "harm on humanity". Unless an efficient act of anti-altruism happens to affect only a subset of humanity that's contained within a set of terrorist targets, it's not even going to interest them!

comment by DanielLC · 2014-03-29T02:13:26.045Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If they have to succeed to get the million, why would they care about the prize? If they make a friendly AI they won't need the million, and if they have an unfriendly one, the also won't need it, but for different reasons. Even if it's just a human-level AI, it would be worth orders of magnitude more than that.

comment by jobe_smith · 2014-04-01T14:38:45.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that LWers assign a much higher probability to a FOOM scenario that most people. Most people probably wouldn't assign much value to an AI that just seeks to maximize the number of paperclips in the universe, and continuously attempts to improve its ability to make that goal happen. Someone could build something like that expecting that its abilities would level off pretty quickly, and be badly wrong.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T16:59:38.152Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Surely, if there was a completely legal way to inflict great harm on humanity for only $1Million then there are a ton of people/groups with the desire and resources to do those things.

There are legal ways that you get by playing off laws of different legislations against each other that are not trivial to see. Take pre-2013 Wikileaks. Immune to being sued in the City of London for defamation because Wikileaks and Julian himself have no fixed residence towards which to deliver post. Being registered in Sweden to into account their Whistblower protection laws. Having server in yet another country to profit from additional set of laws.

Neither desire nor monetary resources alone are enough to come up with such a scheme. It need people with high intelligence.

LW is a forum with educated people with a very high base IQ.

Wikileaks was well intentioned but I think you could find a bunch of people that argue that it produced significant damage in the world for a cost of less than 1 million dollar.

Bitcoin with it's enabling of payment transfer for illegal services might also produce a lot of harm for far less of 1 million dollar in initial development costs.

Ideas like Bitcoin or Wikileaks aren't expensive but they require deep thought.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-24T23:17:35.592Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Start a foundation which would support the teaching of fundamentalist religious science far beyond the confines of religious schools. So create I would seek out brilliant but deluded "values" supporting people and point out how this would reach far more people than they could ever reach by participating only within declared religious institutions. I would include teaching communist and anarchist "theories" of economics, especially including teaching that all successful corporations and the people who help them succeed are greedy and evil. I would set the foundation up so that it would be a pure meritocracy with fantastic status rewards for very capable and very intelligent proponents of the ludicrous crypto-religious positions I was advocating. I would concentrate the foundation in the newly developing countries where the cost of pulling capable of people in to my endeavour would be relatively low, and the impact of doing so would be relatively high, for example I would certainly wish to revive religious feelings in India in such a way to encourage governments go unliberalize their freeer market laws and to encourage intelligent kids from somewhat traditionally religious families to particpate in a resurgence of their traditional religions, especially their teachings against science and efficient economies.

Its possible we might identify some organizations that are already doing this with great energy and talent, in which case I would encourage joining forces with these organizations, possibly giving direct resource help.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-25T01:37:37.431Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your proposal has a lot to like. It takes EA principles of targeting developing nations where costs are lower and your own infrastructure can, relatively, go further, as well as a focus on anti-development and un-education. We can also see that similar work has been tremendously effective, for instance, in making Uganda a hotbed of homophobia.

But at the same time I worry you're getting into a crowded market and also overestimating how far your budget will take you. Even in developing areas, establishing a school is not cheap or easy. And your plan of running your organization with fabulous meritocratic rewards is sure to ad to this. The incoherence of your curriculum is another issue that could prevent it from drawing the support you'd need for the long-term. Plus, so many other ideologies are competing in the same fertile grounds you hope to enter.

And of course, if the right/wrong people get into your movement, it could all backfire. Think of the Mormons - an insular, highly-fundamentalist sect who originally lived with in borderline socialism, with some disturbing teachings in their past (and one's most people here strongly disagree with still today), but their legacy in today's Utah is largely positive, and many members are highly successful as individuals and as contributors to larger society.

I still think your plan is one of the worse ones here. Well done!

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-25T17:38:21.979Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But at the same time I worry you're getting into a crowded market and also overestimating how far your budget will take you.

I suspect the constraint of proposing something that is legal will result in all the effectively bad ideas being some version of something somebody out there is already doing. But I would love to be proved wrong by a genuinely novel, legal, and effective bad suggestion.

comment by jkaufman · 2014-03-25T18:43:45.767Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A relatively tame one: make a huge number of tiny donations to effective charities. Donations small enough that they cost more to process than they're worth:

The most extreme case I've seen, from my days working at a nonprofit, was an elderly man who sent $3 checks to 75 charities. Since it costs more than that to process a donation, this poor guy was spending $225 to take money from his favorite organizations. -- GivingGladly

comment by jobe_smith · 2014-03-25T13:41:16.445Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Another idea: One of the great anti-utilitarian movements of our time has been the anti-vaccine movement. In that vain, how about setting up an anti-bed net advocacy group to argue that the children of Africa are being poisoned by chemical laden bed nets, and a charity that will collect and dispose of bed nets that are currently in use in Africa. I'm sure there must be a celebrity that would endorse such a charity. Snookie hasn't been doing much lately!

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-25T15:54:27.413Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I love/hate this one. The anti-vaccine movement combines pseudoscientific drivel with public harm. Could a $1 million anti-net organization reverse far more than $1 million of the Gate's foundations resources in this top effective altruism area?

But I don't know if there's fertile ground for such a concept. Is there any nascent suspicion and skepticism or nets the way there is for vaccines?

A very strong contender for the crown!

comment by Cyan · 2014-03-25T03:45:10.529Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Invest in the payday loan sector, and reinvest all profits.

comment by roystgnr · 2014-03-25T18:29:31.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thereby driving up the supply of payday loans, driving down their equilibrium cost? This hurts the existing payday loan providers, but to the benefit of their customers.

comment by Cyan · 2014-03-25T21:18:40.122Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In a world with competitive payday loan markets and rational customers, sure. This is not that world.

Interest rate caps and implicit collusion: the case of payday lending

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-03-25T01:03:36.029Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What did the promotion of anti-gay policies in Africa cost?

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-25T01:41:00.019Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Quite a bit. It was the result of long years of evangelism.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-03-24T22:28:06.351Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I intend to bring utopia to the universe which will give an infinite number of sentient creatures an infinite amount of positive utility. Nothing can possibly be better than what I will do. But (for reasons you could not possibly understand) if given all the money I won't implement my plan. True, from your viewpoint the probability of my telling the truth is small, but

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T22:34:09.034Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your application. Unfortunately, I have no way to evaluate your reliability on this matter. In fact, putting the money in your hands could likely facilitate your plan, which, even if it is extremely implausible, thus producing a infinitely positive expected utility if you were to receive the award.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-24T23:08:24.053Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Okay then, I will put dust specks in the eyes of an infinite number of people.

I win.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T23:14:14.697Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry, but dust speck distribution is far more expensive than your budget will allow, unless you have a concrete plan to create and fund a dust speck foundation from that seed funding I will again have to reject your application.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-24T23:30:10.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is the chance of me of doing that conditional on your giving me a million dollars less than the chance that James_Miller will bring utopia to an infinite number of people in conjunction with the chance that he will not do that if you give him a million dollars?

comment by lmm · 2014-03-25T20:50:52.810Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Longer-term idea, for those who don't believe in the efficient markets hypothesis: hire prostitutes (legal-ish in my country) to seduce promising young mathematicians and theoretical physicists, both to directly lead them to work less hard, and to encourage them to switch into higher-paying professions, so that we end up with basic research being done by less skilled people.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-04-02T17:52:54.450Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't it pretty irrelevant how skilled the people who do theoretical physics are? It might even reduce the X-risk of grey goo.

comment by lmm · 2014-03-25T20:30:20.834Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Finance is where the actions of a few individuals have the biggest impact on world utility, right? So we just need a way to compromise their decisionmaking. I think the cheapest way to achieve this would be to run some kind of macho-culture events for financiers, promoting ideas like "staying up all night makes you manlier" and "real bankers drink four shots on their way into the office". Better still, make these things be charity events (charity awake-a-thon anyone?) - spend a small portion of the proceeds on ineffective charity, and reinvest the rest into running more events.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-25T20:49:37.358Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Finance is where the actions of a few individuals have the biggest impact on world utility, right?

Politics is. Consider the magnitude of impact on world utility that Mr.Putin or the Chinese Politbureau could make.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-24T23:00:38.087Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Have you actually thought about this for 5 minutes?

No, it's not difficult at all to think of extremely destructive but entirely legal things to do with $1,000,000 that would have an extremely negative impact on people. Look at what Norman Borlaug did to improve the human condition on a relatively small budget. Imagine if he decided he hated humanity. Now imagine he had access to modern-day technology.

Also consider how many copies of a book you can distribute for a million dollars.

And if you're taking this in directions anywhere near as specific and dark as I am, please, for the love of all that is good in this world, don't share.

For reference, I have a fair but not exceptional amount of knowledge regarding Bio and Biotech. The less destructive intervention I thought of would be about as bad as the Dust Bowl, though it would be nothing like the dust bowl (I really, really don't want to give any hints to people who don't have the requisite knowledge, or people who haven't connected the dots yet). The more destructive action involves distributing information, and has the potential to be much, much worse.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T23:08:56.272Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, bioterrorism is definitely illegal. And remember the challenge is "don't do anything illegal", not "don't get found guilty". And there is plenty of information out there about how to do bad things, though reading too much of it without a reasonable cover will get you on a watchlist. And there are plenty of books filled with both malice and misinformation. What could you really contribute at the margin? If you think you could kickstart your rise as a dictator for a million dollars, I'm afraid I think you're suffering from overoptimism/pessimism.

Norman Borlaug relied on people adopting his inventions and discoveries. If he'd been pushing agricultural practices that only produced half as much food, he'd just be crank.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T12:59:44.112Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, bioterrorism is definitely illegal.

Are you sure every country on earth has a well defined law against bioterrorism? Especially that there no country in Africa that wants to develop bioweapons themselves and might use them in practice?

No island nation with isn't up to date with their laws to the 21st century?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-25T15:18:32.427Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I expect even your island nations have laws against murder that don't care what the murder weapon was.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T15:57:31.652Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The weapon industry who's tools kill millions in regions of crisis has plenty of people who are responsible for killing in Western nations with laws against murder don't get put into prison.

In the US I'm not allowed to build a killer virus and give it some criminal organisation to use because of bio-safety legislation. Other countries might not have laws against such practices.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-24T23:18:51.299Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Bioterrorism is definitely not where I was going with this. However, it is pretty much a given that the owners of large farms will do things that will increase their crop production, even if it decreases the productivity of farms that are spatially or temporally distant from them.

Again, think about creative uses for the knowledge you have for 5 minutes before you come to the conclusion that it's not possible to do significant harm with it. You probably don't even have to think directly of doing harm -- just look for the most profitable thing you can do with that knowledge, figure out what the negative side effects would be (particularly tragedy-of-the-commons type effects), and figure out how you can maintain profitability while increasing those negative side effects.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T23:44:38.855Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm gonna guess this has something to do with bees then (or in that general direction)?

Well, all sorts of tragedy of the commons things exist. If you think you've got one that could turn a commons into a resource to be manipulated, and can convince people, there will be a dozen investors knocking at your door!

It's been done a thousand times before and not only that but there are whole philosophical movements arguing that it's a moral imperative.

Nevertheless, you seem like you're in the running for the prize.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-03-25T00:08:57.985Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Tragedy-of-the-commons-for-profit has been done quite profitably -- see swoopo.com until quite recently.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-25T01:01:59.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I agree completely. Taking a commons and turning it into a tragedy is a perfectly viable business model for many things.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-03-25T03:59:42.660Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On 9/11, anyone know if the hijackers had actually modeled the building fire so that they knew they could bring down the building?

My impression is that they just got lucky, but I've never heard any facts on the point.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-03-25T04:34:02.123Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks", was a mechanical engineer, so it seems plausible that he would have a pretty good idea about what would happen.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-03-25T09:24:37.494Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wasn't their crew full of doctors and engineers?

My recollection is that the building collapse came as a surprise to everyone, and there news programs with structural engineers discussing this fact.

After a cursory search, the few articles I saw indicated that Al Qaeda didn't know, and Bin Laden was surprised the towers completely collapsed.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-25T18:20:46.845Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Its an interestingly difficult question to answer, who would have known ahead of time that you could bring down a skyscraper with a guided gigantic fuel bomb.

I looked up and found this:

In 1993, John Skilling, lead structural engineer for the WTC, recalled doing the analysis, and remarked, "Our analysis indicated the biggest problem would be the fact that all the fuel (from the airplane) would dump into the building. There would be a horrendous fire. A lot of people would be killed," he said. "The building structure would still be there."[11]

On the other hand, on 9/11/01 being interviewed by Peter Jennings (start listening 1:40 into this) Guiliani says he was told minutes before the collapse that the building would collapse. Considering how obvious in retrospect it is, there could well have been engineers looking at the fire and what else was going on who realized the steel was softening and that the building could not possibly stand with a fire of that intensity and duration inside it.

But finally, we have Bin Laden himself. Transcript of a translation from videotape:

BIN LADEN: (...Inaudible...) we calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. (...Inaudible...) due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-03-25T19:20:39.913Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nice job! Thanks.

Guiliani says he was told minutes before the collapse that the building would collapse

From youtube autotranscript, [ed. ] by me:

I went down to the scene and we set up headquarters 75 Barclay Street which was
1:44right there with the police commissioner the fire commissioner (they had [ed. the head of]) emergency
1:47management
1:48and we're operating out of there when we were told that
1:51the World Trade Center was gonna collapse and it (it collapsed [ed. did collapse]).
1:54before we can actually get out of the building so we were trapped in the
1:57building for (it's just a minute [ed. ten fifteen minutes])
1:59finally found at Exit got out walk north
2:03took a lot of people with
2:07headquarters into which you put enormous

IMO, they certainly didn't know up front that the building would collapse, as they wouldn't have gone to 75 Barclay if they had. Minutes before the collapse, they were told it was going to collapse. I'm guessing that this was figured out using some of their observations of the fire, seeing how the fire was playing out, and then realizing that the building would collapse. Nobody knew up front. Guiliani didn't know. The lead structural engineer didn't know. Not even Bin Laden knew, "the most optimistic of them all".

Thanks again.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-03-25T03:55:29.198Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What would effective anti-altruism be?

Something that I hope no one posts a good idea about.

It's always struck me that terrorists are particularly unserious about causing destruction (OOOh, it go BOOM), but I'm hoping that no one who knows better shows them how to get more bang for their buck.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-25T18:23:21.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Was it terrorism when the Allies firebombed Dresden in Germany (WWII) or when the US dropped first one and then a second Atomic Bomb on two cities in Japan?

Terrorism is a mind-killer word, a way of describing something that you only ever apply to the people whose goals you disagree with.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-03-25T18:31:54.535Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Was it terrorism when the Allies firebombed Dresden in Germany (WWII) or when the US dropped first one and then a second Atomic Bomb on two cities in Japan?

Yes, yes, and yes. War crimes, specifically.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-03-25T04:03:31.248Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The point of terrorism isn't destruction. It's advancing some political agenda.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-03-25T17:45:35.460Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If so, they're catastrophically bad at it.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-25T19:20:14.951Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If so, they're catastrophically bad at it.

Since 9/11/01 we have spent about $5 Trillion on anti-terrorism. I have feared for my own arrest and the arrest of my crippled mother when the TSA took her out of her wheelchair and left her standing in a line for a few minutes, at which point I watched her starting to sway and took the actions that risked my arrest. Most Americans are fine with having their emails and phone calls categorized in federal databases. They are fine with having their shampoo, underarm deoderant, bottles of drinking water, souvenir bottles of wine etc confiscated after waiting in half-hour long security lines to board airplanes.

I don't know how the $5 Trillion was calculated, but I bet it doesn't include the cost of all the "customers" spending the extra time in greater discomfort and losing things that couldn't possibly bring down an aircraft in the name of security.

In what world does getting that kind of result classify as "catastrophically bad at it?"

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-03-26T16:26:17.115Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I stipulate that the U.S. government has put unreasonable and unjust burdens on travelers.

But whether the attacks were a success or a failure at advancing the attackers' political agenda has nothing to do with that.

The stated goal of the 9/11 attacks was not to put burdens on American travelers, but to change U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia — notably to end U.S. support for Israel and force the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Muslim-majority nations. Another motive some scholars have inferred was to provoke a global war between the West and the Islamic world, leading to a global caliphate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motives_for_the_September_11_attacks

Since the attacks, the U.S. has continued to increase foreign aid (including military aid) to Israel; has prosecuted two aggressive wars in Muslim nations; and maintains significant military presence in a number of Muslim-majority nations including Kuwait, Bahrain, and Afghanistan.

The U.S. also killed the leaders of the groups responsible for the attacks.

The only stated goal of the attacks that can be charitably interpreted as having come to pass is the removal of U.S. soldiers from Saudi Arabia specifically. Those soldiers had been there as a force against the former Iraqi regime, no longer a concern.

Thus, I maintain the attacks were a huge failure at accomplishing the attackers' political agenda.

Your and your mother's ill-treatment at the hands of U.S. officials is indeed an offense to good sense, common decency, and good government. But that injustice and inconvenience does not appear on the political goals of al-Qaeda. It is a consequence of domestic maladministration, sloppiness, and corruption.


tl;dr: If Clippy fails at turning the world into paperclips and is shut down, but some asshole uses Clippy's existence as an excuse to punch you in the gut, we would not say that Clippy had accomplished its goals. We would say it sucks that some asshole punched you, but Clippy still failed.

comment by betterthanwell · 2014-03-30T17:48:48.165Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thus, I maintain the attacks were a huge failure at accomplishing the attackers' political agenda.

Osama Bin Laden (2004):

...All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa'ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers as we alongside the Mujahedin bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. All Praise is due to Allah.

So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah is willing and nothing is too great for Allah. That being said, those who say that al-Qa'ida has won against the administration in the White House or that the administration has lost in this war have not been precise because when one scrutinizes the results, one cannot say that Al-Qa'ida is the sole factor in achieving these spectacular gains. Rather, the policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy their various corporations -- whether they be working in the field of arms or oil or reconstruction -- has helped al-Qa'ida to achieve those enormous results. And so it has appeared to some analysts and diplomats that the White House and us are playing as one team towards the economic goals of the United States even if the intentions differ. And it was to these sorts of notions and their like that the British diplomat and others were referring in their lectures at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (when they pointed out that) for example, al-Qa'ida spent $500,000 on the event, while America in the incident and its aftermath lost -- according to the lowest estimates -- more than 500 billion dollars, meaning that every dollar of al-Qa'ida defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah besides the loss of a huge number of jobs. As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record, astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars. And even more dangerous and bitter for America is that the Mujahedin recently forced Bush to resort to emergency funds to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq which is evidence of the success of the bleed-until-bankruptcy plan with Allah's permission.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16990-2004Nov1.html

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-26T16:40:33.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thus, I maintain the attacks were a huge failure at accomplishing the attackers' political agenda.

I disagree. I think you're misreading the attackers' goals, in particular the time scale.

First, in contemporary ideology of terrorism there is a pretty standard way in which terrorism is supposed to work. The sequence looks as follows: terrorist acts cause fear and panic; the government reacts by clamping down and increasing repression; the people chafe under repression until they revolt; a revolution sweeps away the government and ruling elites.

Note that I'm stating no opinion on whether that sequence is likely to succeed -- I'm just pointing out that in the terrorist world this is a typical expectation of how things will work.

Given this, the al-Qaida attack has clearly achieved stages one and two.

Second, a major goal of islamic fundamentalists is to bring down the Great Satan, the USA. A collapse would be preferable, but weakening it, from their perspective, is a move in the right direction.

I submit that the (anticipated) response of the US to the 9/11 attacks significantly weakened the US. In other words, the US is losing the War on Terror in a pretty spectacular fashion.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-03-26T18:36:10.046Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First, in contemporary ideology of terrorism there is a pretty standard way in which terrorism is supposed to work.

What's the evidence that it actually does work that way — or, for that matter, that these particular attackers believed it would?

I find Abrahms' theories (described by Schneier in the link upthread; use your favorite search engine to find Abrahms' papers) to be substantially more descriptive of how the world actually works. In gist, terrorism is ineffective as a means of political change, and terrorist groups are better modeled as gangs of disaffected young men than as political agents seeking change under desperate circumstances.

Also, the poor domestic policy choices of the U.S. government after 9/11 were not inevitable. Contrast them with the substantially more narrowly-tailored responses to the Oklahoma City bombing.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-26T18:48:26.022Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We don't have to concern ourselves with the general question of whether terrorism is a viable tactic for achieving political ends. We're discussing a more narrow question: were the 9/11 attacks "successful" and in which sense.

My position is that the attacks were successful beyond the hopes of al-Qaida -- they damaged the US in a major fashion (with enthusiastic cooperation of the US government, both Republican and Democratic administrations, I might add).

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-26T17:09:49.142Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thus, I maintain the attacks were a huge failure at accomplishing the attackers' political agenda.

In my opinion, it is more meaningful to examine the terrorism against reasonable counterfactuals rather than againswt absolutes. I.e., grade on a curve. I.e., maybe the terrorists have failed, but they still did far better than anybody else using any other policy had done at advancing their agenda.

The world has spent about $5Trillion to prevent the terrorists from succeeding. $5Trillion cash, what are the additional expenses of all the delays of all the passengers, the business lost because foreigners could not get visas to enter the US in a timely fashion (I watched international standards meetings stop picking US destinations for any of their regular meetings, for example).

If in the alternative to spending the $5Trillion we had acceded to their demands and abandoned support for Israel and withdrawn our goyische military from Muslim countries, one might very well argue that we would have taken far more than the $5Trillion+ hit we took. I agree!

SO in conclusion, the terrorist approach to achieving these goals, at a cost of a few $million (?) to the terrorists, cost the West at least $5Trillion to counter, $5Trillion to ensure that the terrorists did not achieve their goals.

What might the terrorists have done otherwise to advance their agenda that would have accomplished more than that?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-03-25T02:00:49.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Reminds me of Austin Powers. One! Million! Dollars! ...

A million just isn't what it used to be :-/

The legality constraint is actually very binding. Laws are meant to prevent people from doing unnice things and are often written very broadly (for the convenience of law enforcement).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T12:44:31.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Free speech laws in the US are broad. Speech that advocates violence was legal in the example of the KKK. Communists are allowed to call for a violent revolution.

A million might be enough money to fund a campaign that pushes some volatile region in the world into a civil war.

Wikileaks infrastructure costs less than 1,000,000 and before the Manning affair Wikileaks did win their lawsuits in the US because of Wikileaks complex legal strategy.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-24T22:16:09.392Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Given the declared forum rules of forbidding that advocation of violence I would judge this thread as violating them.

I hope this pushes you all to think of truly anti-altruistic means of spending this money. I think you may find that effective anti-altruism is a good deal harder than you'd believe.

You are offering a budget that double the amount of what 9/11 cost. Yes, you need to be creative to get around the barrier of 100% legality but laws have their loopholes.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-24T23:05:06.675Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Given the declared forum rules of forbidding that advocation of violence I would judge this thread as violating them.

There is a difference between advocating something and discussing it.

I am unaware of any declared forum rules, can you tell me where I might find them?

comment by satt · 2014-03-25T02:54:18.381Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am unaware of any declared forum rules, can you tell me where I might find them?

There is the deletion policy...

Posts or comments purporting to discuss 'hypothetical' violence against identifiable real people or groups, or 'ask' whether that violence is a good idea, may be deleted by administrators or moderators.

Granted, this doesn't bar advocating violence in itself, but still.

comment by mwengler · 2014-03-25T17:35:47.704Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for that link satt. I did not know that existed.

Amusingly, to me anyway, stating that I think that people who rape then murder children under the age of 13 years should be put to death would violate this policy. Certainly mentioning that you support the death penalty for a named convicted criminal who had not yet been sentenced would qualify.

My favorite line from the policy is this:

We aspire to have large amounts of common sense and are not forced by this wiki page to delete anything.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T12:25:56.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's basically what I mean.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T22:18:54.081Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I am absolutely not advocating violence or asking anyone else to, and I am frankly disturbed that you read that into my question. But I have edited phrasing a bit.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-24T22:37:27.464Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I am absolutely not advocating violence or asking anyone else to, and I am frankly disturbed that you read that into my question.

Basically you can't think of a way to do huge damage while still not violating laws. That's exactly why we should not discuss in detail how to go about creating huge damage while not violating laws.

comment by roystgnr · 2014-03-25T18:34:33.159Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If the current set of laws is sufficient to prevent huge damage, then looking for loopholes doesn't risk huge damage.

If the current set of laws is insufficient to prevent huge damage, then how could anyone fix the problem without discussing it in detail first?

If no practical set of laws is sufficient to prevent huge damage, then we might as well try to delay the damage by all shutting up, but I don't think this third possibility is likely.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T22:36:22.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like free speech laws. I wouldn't want to have huge censorship even if it prevents some speech that makes people come to harm.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T22:42:22.437Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not so, I just believe that most proposals will in fact look relatively mundane compared to what people have actually done. For instance "Start a tobacco farm" could contribute negatively to many people's health, but it has several drawbacks (in terms of anti-altruism) in terms of the employment it provides, and the slight cheapening of a commodity.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-03-24T22:12:06.929Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

These kinds of questions are near-informational hazards for me. If I were to answer this, I'd have nightmares of uniformed (funny how that word only has a Damerau-Levenshtein distance of 1 to 'uninformed') men knocking on my door. Also, my PC would probably slow down due to all the root kits being installed. However, the "$1 million to keep for him or herself" is a heavy constraint because a) if you're overly successful you won't be able to enjoy the money much, and b) to be overly successful at some point you'd have to be overtly successful, i.e. no more anonymity.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-24T22:26:46.464Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Then give a fun answer, something mustache-twirling evil instead of genuine-hatred-of-life evil and a little bit creative (but perfectly legal).

comment by HungryHobo · 2014-03-25T13:42:58.666Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm probably going to end up on a list for saying this might be possible.

Most evil thing I can think of?

I've not put much time into it but I'll take a swing at it. My top candidate would probably be to use the million to set up DNA synthesis company making custom DNA sequences to sell to university labs and similar.

The company probably wouldn't survive very long term as there's established companies already in the field but there's a good chance that it would allow you to leverage that million bucks to get more investment and most importantly leave you in a position where, once you have the equipment, you can synthesis your own sequences un-monitored. (hence why you wouldn't just use the million to pay an existing company to do it)

It'd be a huge task but then you could synthesis the 180K bases of smallpox, building it up from small synthesized sections, culture it and release it into the human population through contaminated letters sent to many many unimportant people in every country in the world at once.

Make sure to leave a manifesto where you claim to have done it "for science" to smite the "unscientific" and commit suicide in a manner which leaves no body or proof that you're dead so that there will be an eternal hunt for you and eternal fear of future attacks.

Hundreds of millions dead, one of the greatest achievements in human history reversed, economic turmoil across the globe, biotech and bio research probably permanently crippled, science itself demonized, blamed and hated.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-03-25T15:48:06.147Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely illegal, by virtue of being bioterrorism, also I believe that you underestimate the difficulty of synthesis and overestimate how fast your epidemic could spread before being re-contained.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T16:28:54.108Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I search for the price of synthesis I find at the moment $0.35/bp. That means the project is probably doable for 100k at the moment.

But there a potential that it will get much cheaper as there a company claiming to develop a 3D DNA laser printer that 10,000x as effective as present DNA printing.

There are probably countries where one could legally assemble the virus and people stupid enough to experiment with the virus in unsafe conditions that it will leave the laboratory.

As far as the topic of preventing re-containment goes, it doesn't make sense to openly speak about it.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-25T17:01:17.651Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a molecular biologist, but I imagine that the cheaper forms of DNA synthesis wouldn't be capable of synthesizing a virus's capsid. Some viruses also need a lipid envelope or other more complex structures.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T17:21:00.546Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you have the full DNA just inject it into cells. The DNA contains all the instructions for the cell to produce whatever else the virus needs.

You basically take millions of cells and a lot of copies of the DNA and hope that at least one cell produces viruses. When one cell produces them other cells get infected and produce them as well.

It might not work the first time but that's why didn't say 180k*0.35=63k but said 100k.

I'm no molecular biologist myself but I did do some labs experiments doing my bioinformatics studies and given my intuition I don't see why it should be that difficult.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-03-25T17:26:37.777Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, you're right. I'd actually considered that but thought it'd limit you to a single locus of infection; but now I realize that you could use it to culture the virus under laboratory conditions and then collect the second-generation viruses. Isolating them might be tricky, though.

As to people experimenting with the virus in unsafe conditions, though, Wikipedia informs me that that actually happened in the late Seventies, leading to one death but not a large-scale outbreak. So that's a little reassuring.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-03-25T22:51:52.614Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Isolating them might be tricky, though.

Why? I would guess that the right virus cells have a specific molecular mass. That means you just need to run everything you have through a gel.

comment by HungryHobo · 2014-03-26T00:33:40.427Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I must apologize, I only skimmed the second half and took it as just being able to find somewhere there it wasn't explicitly banned like sitting out on a barge in international waters.

So are you trying to find things which are bad but not so obviously bad to everyone that they've been banned? but it's not really limited to any particular country but if you want to apply it everywhere then it would have to be legal in every country, even those where wearing hats in church is illegal?

Intentionally causing a crisis of trust would probably be a good cheap option, so a more complex version of this:

http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2936

but may not be totally legal everywhere because so many countries have vague catch-all laws like "causing an affray" or "inciting public worry"

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-03-25T03:40:20.261Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Donate it to the Evil Blue Faction. ;)