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The Problem of Scale and the Case for Cybernetic Communism [pdf] (caltech.edu)
13 points by pizza 23 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments



One thing I've been thinking about recently is what would happen if government was automated. We now have better automation and computational capabilities so creating a government with programmed agents instead of politicians is a legitimate possibility.

Turns out Soviet mathematicians had similar ideas

> Economic reform became a pressing need in the mid ’50s, after Stalin’s rule had left the country in shambles, the chain of supply and the agricultural sector nearing collapse and a serious risk of another major famine looming. Amidst a very rapid expansion of the techno-scientific sector, from the early successes of the Soviet space program to the first large developments of computer systems and automation, several competing proposals for economic reforms were presented that promoted the idea of a “computational solution” to the severe mismanagements of the planned economy.

> The original plan of the cybernetics approach was to implement a decentralized computational system, capable of processing feedbacks in real time and handle the simulation of complex dynamics. In terms of providing a scalable computational model, they mostly focused on Kantorovich’s linear programming, which seemed the most promising mathematical tool at the time. As we mentioned, the scalability of Kantorovich’s valuations is subtle, and we will discuss a possible more modern approach to scalability in the next section of this paper. However, the most important aspect of this proposal was the main idea of a cybernetic computational network and its role at implementing a decentralized autonomous computational mechanism for a communist economic system that would not require any centralized planning.


I believe that giving final say to computers is the only way to ensure survival of humans on large timescales (tens to hundreds of thousands of years).

Since we've built up large storage of nuclear weapons, the clock is ticking. Even if the chance of one crazy guy coming to power in one of the governments that can nuke the planet is 0.01% per year, after a few thousand years it will approach dangerous levels...

And I'm not just talking about nukes, but about other potentially mankind ending threats like superviruses, hauling large asteroids onto earth, etc. The more technology we discover, the more methods to end each other's existence. Also, as technological progress continues, so does the spread of these technologies over the world. Smaller and smaller groups get access to them and with the larger number of groups, the likelihood that one of them wants to end all life on earth increases.

Preventing us from inventing these things would require halting and reversing progress in most scientific domains, a pretty sad idea. You can't have nuclear reactors without the danger that someone uses the knowledge of the people who built it to build nukes (I know the two are not the same but so often you hear countries claiming their nuclear program is civilian while in reality it isn't). You can't build rockets without the danger that they might be converted into ICBMs. You can't do advanced biology without understanding infection well enough to know which changes might make an infectious agent more easy to spread, more deadly, etc. You can't do asteroid mining without giving the mining company the power to misdirect the asteroid from an assigned target area to inhabited areas.

So one should rather manage the existence of these technologies instead. No organization ran by humans can reduce the chance of one of these fermi filters from going off well enough to stop them being a threat over extremely long time scales. Only computers can achieve that. I imagine building a computer that is tasked to prevent humans from intentionally destroying large subpopulations of their own. One would have to give it absolute power so that it can ensure this, but one should instruct it to otherwise let humans figure out their governance on their own.

Structures where humans are involved are simply too fragile over the long term.


I don't share the same viewpoint nor do I fear technological advancement. We need more powerful technology as widely spread as possible to empower people to achieve their goals. Only way to fight tyranny is to make sure every individual is capable of resisting whatever control others might want to impose upon them. By empowering each individual with technology we give them the best chance of doing so.

We don't solve the problem of nukes by limiting who has access to them. We solve the problem of nukes by moving beyond them and making them obsolete, e.g.

> A defensive shield, commonly referred to as simply a shield and sometimes as a Holtzman shield, was a protective energy field that could surround the person who wore it. [0]

We can start by making bullets obsolete and then slowly move up to nukes.

--

[0]: https://dune.fandom.com/wiki/Shield


Haven't you just yielded control to the creators of the AI? AIs are not de novo genesis. They are created things and embody all the biases and goals of their creators. There is no escape from the responsibility of self-rule. If we humans can't handle it maybe we don't deserve to survive?


Better than the soviets, were Allande's Chile, which brought in the world's leading cybernetics experts and seized the country's telex network to create a proto internet where they tried to run the whole economy sort of like a giant nested agile team, with central computing tasked with balancing out resource allocation.

They only got a few months into it before the CIA in their own words couldn't tolerate the potential of a "successful socialist experiment", and installed Pinochet.

It's unfortunate that the only vaguely socialist governments capable of withstanding the immediate total war inflicted on them by the capitalist powers are the authoritarian ones.


If I were the CIA and interested in hastening the collapse of Chilean socialism, I would do everything I could to encourage them to use 1960s technology to compute the national PPF and allocate resources accordingly. Heck, I'd open a tab for them at IBM and invite them to order whatever they needed, free of charge. Then I'd sit back and watch the mayhem.


Also, errors would accumulate and accelerate all bad decisions.


1960s technology did a great job managing the complete Apollo supply chain, which was about the same order of scale as the Chilean economy of the time.


I seriously doubt it. The population of Chile in 1969 was about 10 million. Let's say that, at its peak, there were one million people working on the Apollo program - which I think is a vast overestimate, but still. Even if all of those people were working full-time on Apollo, their labor and material inputs to the program were only a fraction of their total economic lives - they still had to make decisions about housing, food, clothing, transportation, etc. that had nothing to do with putting men on the moon.

And that is to say nothing of the fact that a space program is very, very different than a national economy.


The system wasn't tracking each person's individual purchases either. It was working on the order of "we expect this kind of demand, let's make sure that raw materials and intermediate are being allocated to the right factories at the supply chain level".

And it's not like the entire population of Chile was employed, and it's not like that 1 million in the Apollo program accounts for spouses and children.

They're for sure on the same order.


Respectfully, I think you have no idea what you're talking about. The "we expect this kind of demand" is an breathtaking amount of hand-waving; that's where most of the complexity lies. If it were that easy to make those kind of forecasts - and make them with mission-critical perfection, since millions of lives are at stake - fintech would be trivial and boring. I assure you, it is not.

Chile was never going to orchestrate its entire economy with punch cards and 300 baud phone couplers.


> Respectfully, I think you have no idea what you're talking about.

Right back at you.

It doesn't have to be perfect, just better than the alternative, which was 1960s Chilean forecasters working in their firms individually with next to no data.


This is a great point. Cybernetic methodologies are consistently applied in most successful endeavors but for some reason people get tripped up by the ideological barriers. YCombinator itself is an error correcting cybernetic loop.


Cybersyn and Allende’s Semi-Automated Luxury Socialism (scottlocklin.wordpress.com)

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21673423


I.... don’t know.

One, you put a whole hell of a lot of people out of work (they’re like ~roughly 20% of the Econ)

Two, it’s too damn efficient. Government needs to be slow and frustrating. You don’t want to have lightning fast change. Natural change follows generational change... which is why you don’t want a world of super centenarians...

Efficient government is a double edged sword. Sure, it can be efficient and save money.... it can also be efficient about the bad things (imagine efficient govt coupled with Stalin or Mao to get a picture).

So, yeah.... No!

Inefficient governments leave you alone more.



So I read this until the parts with the formulas, could have used some of the 2-dimensional visualisations she wrote of.

Am I making a category error(as in not even wrong!) when i miss mentions of

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_system_model and

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation ?

Furthermore: Just because some countries have absurd health-scare systems, doesn't mean it has to be so. That is one single aspect, many other countries with 'markets' have implented in better, less scary ways.

Also: Instead of electing smooth talkers, horror clowns and other sociopaths one could opt for a mandatory lottery akin to jury duty/lay assessors/judges, thereby denying them planned paths to power, and simply less wasted energy because lack of campaining. IMO it couldn't be worse than it is now.

Anyways, this is all way above the realities of real life(TM), human nature, and the disruption/distributed denial of service by advertisment, disinfo and outright fraud our minds are.

I'll tick this off with [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/(I_Can't_Get_No)_Satisfaction




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