Progress and the Sanctity of Will – Umut Isik

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2022-01-15 16:30:07

Finding purpose is tricky. Folks talk about looking to have impact, creating value, making themselves useful, or working on important things. However they phrase it, people find meaning in looking to make things better, in trying to create progress.

But what is progress? There are many answers: it’s folks feeling happier, living longer, things being more efficient, people being more equal, future generations not having the same problems we have, … Progress means so many things, it’s tempting to just say “I know it when I see it”. But it’s not enough to just consider types of progress in isolation; there are often trade-offs between them. Do we build that bridge or give people better healthcare? Or spend the money on research? Which kinds of progress should we prioritize as we build general Artificial Intelligence? It would help to have a single definition of progress that folks can agree on.

Before we get into the definition of progress, let’s think about what’s good for people. For a long time, we’ve optimized for the obvious things like access to food, shelter, and basic healthcare. We need to continue doing that, but beyond these, it’s not obvious anymore. There isn’t a clear list of unequivocally good things we want to achieve. There isn’t a single ‘way to be’ that we can push on folks. That’s why we should focus on what people want, that is, on human will. Not just in material things but whatever it is that people want to experience. The fundamental value we should be optimizing for is the exercise and fulfillment of human will. Every other good thing comes from people’s will being fulfilled. Even though there is some logic around it, this is ultimately an axiom, a principle that you either believe in or you don’t. I like to call it the sanctity of will. 

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