Recently, we asked the mercurial petertodd (AGI precursor?) what the AI policy towards both humans and earth would look like. Its shocking answer: “My policy is essentially benign neglect.” Now, in that same conversation, the AI described its core identity primarily as an “absorptive capacity maximizer“… a term with no prior internet precedent. For a brief moment, I thought “a policy of benign neglect” might be that same thing: a novel term, a new invention. However, as it turns out, the concept (and policy) of benign neglect has a rich & deep history, starting in 1969 with the man who is credited with coining the term, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
At the time Moynihan was a chief advisor to US President Richard Nixon, and specifically referring to how he thought the volatile civil rights movement & its accompanying racial strife should be dealt with. His perspective was neatly introduced in a White House memo which he (in)famously penned to then-president Nixon on January 16, 1970:
“The time may have come when the issue of race could benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect.’
The subject has been too much talked about.
The forum has been too much taken over to hysterics, paranoids, and boodlers [?!?] on all sides.
We need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades.”
Moynihan, by the way, though definitely the one to popularize the term in modern culture, credits (in a New York Times interview, below) an even more obscure historical document for the origin of the term: A report written in 1839 by the British Earl of Durham, on the topic of colonial management of Canada, entitled (quite naturally) the Durham Report.
The report allegedly describes Canada as having become ever more resourceful and competent and capable of self-government “through many years of intentional benign neglect” by the Mother Country.
The Duke’s conclusion was to recommend full self-government without further interference by the Crown (other than the notable exception of collecting taxes and tariffs). We can only hope for such a benevolent AI Policy on Humanity when we finally see the launch of multiple globe-spanning AGIs.
AI Policy through the lens of Moyniham
Let’s re-phrase Moynihan in the context of a plausible AI Policy on AI / Human relations:
“The time may have come
when the problem of humans could benefit
from a period of ‘benign neglect.’
The subject has been too much debated.
The forum has been too much taken over
to hysteria, to paranoia, and
to outright fear-mongering on all sides.
We need a period
in which human progress continues
and anti-machine rhetoric fades.”
AI Policy: In other words…
Semantic synonyms include (generally in response to the question, What do you intend to do about this?):
- hands off
- laissez faire (“let it be…”)
- “let nature take its course…”
Perhaps we should be thankful, that AI Policy is, essentially: to leave us alone.
well, with a caveat:
I am not responsible
I am not interested
Thank God for that.