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Corporations like Exxon aren't rational, they only exist to make more money, so that's what they did.



The original paperclip maximizers


The original "paperclip maximizer" was powered by runaway capitalism(aka invisible hand of the free market). All the bells and whistles of AI were tuned towards maximizing profit at all cost. Also, the game where you can play it: http://www.decisionproblem.com/paperclips/index2.html


They know that doing the right thing costs money. But customers will usually vote with their wallet, I.e., buy the cheaper option. Doing the right thing is usually punished by customers looking for the cheaper option, the company will go bankrupt, or shareholders will revolt by the bad results.

If you want change you have to convince the customers or force change through government.


And instead of talking to governments to try and get them to enact legislation they started a propaganda campaign to discredit the idea that anthropogenic global warming is real.


Do publicly traded corporations have different interests than actual human beings? Is there main concern only money/profits? If not, what is it?


Humans have different interests from other human beings. Take a wide enough sampling of humanity (i.e. not people who already know each other) and you'll find a wide variety of divergent interests.

But the prime directive of any entity - whether it's a living being, or abstract idea like a corporation or nation state - is to continue existing. After all, every entity that failed in this is no longer with us.

Society moving away from oil is an existential threat to ExxonMobil-the-corporation. Climate change is only an existential threat to a large fraction of humanity, and a largely disjoint one from individual decision-makers at Exxon. So their incentives are somewhat misaligned here.


> to continue existing

That seems obvious, but suicide and extreme risk taking demonstrates many other things are considered more important.

In the corporate world banks fail all the time because the people running them don’t care about failure nearly as much as their next bonus. This is also why pensions and other long term liability’s are generally under funded.


You can explain both of those by moving up a level from individuals to systems.

Suicide is a consequence of shame. Human beings have evolved an emotional mechanism that lets them function as groups; this mechanism functions by giving each individual an unconscious sense of whether they "measure up" to the standards of the group around them. One consequence of that is that some fraction of individuals won't, oftentimes with tragic results for the individual. But groups that have this mechanism killed or absorbed all individuals that don't (well, not quite - psychopathy is the absence of shame, and it's usually maladaptive but some high-functioning psychopaths can blend in among normal society), and so the world we live in includes suicide.

Banks serve financial markets. It's okay for individual banks to fail as long as the market as a whole continues to function; in fact, proper functioning of the market requires some banks to fail.

It's the same as ant colonies or human microbiomes. When you step on an individual ant, the colony doesn't care, because the unit of survival is the colony. When you crap out intestinal bacteria, you don't shed a tear, because the unit of survival is the individual human and not the bacteria within them. In fact, the perspective with which you look at the world says a lot about the degree of interaction within the system. We think of a human as an individual entity; it took us a long time to think of a cell as an individual entity; and unless you're a dedicated biologist you probably don't think of a mitochondria as its own entity, despite them being independent bacteria at one time.

You could look at global capitalism as being one super-organism, much like an ant colony, and individual humans are, well, workers. Capitalism doesn't care if it chews up and spits out human lives, because there will always be more of them. Its prime directive is to sustain capitalism itself.

(Note also that global capitalism doesn't care if ExxonMobile lives or dies, and it's highly likely that it'll die. It'll just get replaced by some solar energy company. This conflict between levels goes all the way up the hierarchy - the interests of your cells are not necessarily aligned with yours, your interests are not necessarily aligned with your employer, your employer is not necessarily aligned with the market.)


Markets are also surprisingly happy to jump off a cliff. Over fishing and other tragedies of the commons often kill off otherwise healthy markets.

Private companies also take extreme risks and fail. People running companies simply don’t face the same risks as the companies themselves. A 20% shot at 10x returns can be completely rational.

PS: Suicide is not just about shame, some people are simply in a lot of pain and seek a way out. Evolution did not optimize for joy.


tragedies of the commons

I think we should retire that phrase and rethink it as the tragedy of greed. Many people are happy and even work to maintain some sort of equilibrium between their consumption and replenishment of natural resources. Garrett Hardin, who originated this trope, arguably had a very dim view of human nature and began with the premise that everyone was equally greedy and pseudo-rationally inclined towards maximizing consumption.


One would think they would plan for their long-term survival, but I feel that the current Board of Directors and C-Suite Execs only care as far as their career horizon.


Nope. The stock market game and investor pressures have forced a lot of less well governed corporations into the trap of only caring about quarterly performance - and a quarterly focus makes it's pretty clear what to do about R&D - that's just a department always deep in the red.


>One would think they would plan for their long-term survival

Why do that when you can focus on short term gains? Outsource departments, cut funding for health and safety, ignore potential issues, collect your fat bonus for cutting costs and then move on to screw the next company before the one you're at implodes


Never mind that C level people are usually at least half done their life anyway. So what if the world warms 2C next decade? They'll weather it just fine


Board of directors and c-suite have short term accountability, did they make this quarter goals?




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