Friday, July 27, 2012

Counterfactual Blackmail

So I just want to mention a couple more horrors that are new to me and that we have to deal with if we are going to think morally about Star Trek.

Counterfactual Blackmail (due, I think, to Yudkowsky/Less Wrong and allies)

Imagine you are Captain Kirk and you are heading home after a hard day's teleportation and hoping that not too many people will be there.

And you meet a Romulan!

And the Romulan says: Not only did we mess with the transporter, we made a tape of exactly how to build a Kirk.

And as it happens we have holodecks.

So we have made a lot of new copies of you, and they are all in holodecks, and all having the same experience as the real Kirk, who has just met a Romulan while walking home.

And in every holodeck, the Romulan is demanding 50p, and if they do not hand it over, the holodeck is going to turn into a horrible torture chamber and we are going to extract the maximum amount of pain from every copy of Kirk that we can.

So give me 50p, or else...

You now have to ask yourself, well, this all sounds plausible. Do you feel lucky? It is only 50p, after all.

Romulans are known for keeping their promises.

All Kirks will make identical decisions, obviously. Why would one of them choose differently?

If you hand over the 50p, then you are either going to feel a bit of a fool, or you are going to cease to exist as the Romulans turn off the holodeck and disassemble you. Which as we've previously discussed, you can't work out whether you object to or not.

If you bravely reply "Fie upon thee, counterfactual scrounging-man", then maybe you can afford a Mars bar on the way home, but most likely you are going to get tortured to death.

They don't lie much, the Romulans.

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