Can AI optimise governments?

The Role of the Government

Societies are in a constant fight against corruption. A constant conflict between its values and its members’ self-interested goals. The role of the government is to align the two by enforcing rules that ensure that a selfish acting agent is simultaneously an altruistic acting agent benefiting society.

the role of the government is to enforce rules that make selfishness = altruism

The Need for Competition Amongst Governments

Governance is generally a service provided by our governments. Some people pay a high price for this service and they don’t get much value in return. They wish to change their service operator but changing governments, if possible, has a big cost as it often requires people to move to a different nation. Whenever there is a big monopoly people’s choice is limited and the quality of the service provided is lower. Is there a way to give more options to the people?

The Roots of Corruption — how citizens get misaligned with their society:

One might think that the major cause of problems in society is a lack of ethics from their citizens. Could we fix things by simply educating our children to be moral according to our society’s values? To do good (according to society’s ethics) in all situations despite their individual goals? To respect the speed limits not because there could be a fine to pay but because it is the right thing to do? We will argue that it is indeed important to teach ideology and moral to future generations but a society where the goals of individuals are not aligned with the goals of the society is generally an unstable system that will eventually disappear.

evolution results from a simple universal truth

We’ve been assuming that society’s members are self-interested but we haven’t yet defined what are they self-interested in. Is it food? Shelter? Money? Power? Love? Sex? It could be all of that, but none of that matters if it doesn’t make them better replicators. Evolution has been picking the best biological replicators for a long time. It turns out that having a brain that pursues and feels pleasure when it finds food, shelter, money, sex or power increases an individual replication success. Our world is now evolving at a much faster pace and our biology sometimes struggles to keep up. Some of our biological hard-coded pleasures often feel outdated as they can in-fact decrease our reproduction abilities. We now live in a world where companies provide us with high-caloric food, contraceptives, video games, porn and drugs that exploit our biological pleasures for profit. In fact, business plans are another type of replicator that consumes a common limited-resource (capital) in order to grow and replicate. It turns out that exploiting human biology is extremely profitable, and therefore, it leads to business plans that are good at self-replicating. So, we will be seeing more of those in the future.

evolution changes our biological pleasures and corrupts our societies based on our natural environment and our artificial rules

1st principle: The society-simulator should assume that its members are interested in self-replication (other interests will eventually go extinct), while its AI Ruler is interested in enforcing a certain value system.

How do Behaviours Spread?

Societies are defined by their people and businesses behaviours. Therefore, we are interested in studying how policies (also known as strategies) evolve.

some policies spread like genes do, some don’t.

Ideas or behaviours that spread through non-genetic means such as writing, speech, and gestures can be called memes. The term was coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene[4] and defined as the unit for carrying cultural ideas or practices that can self-replicate by being transmitted from one mind to another. The study of memes and its replication mechanisms was named memetics. As an example, through the lens of memetics, the success of religions can be explained by their members’ ability to hold and spread their beliefs. In fact, the promise of heaven to believers and hell to non-believers provides a strong incentive for members to retain their belief and convert others. Believers see conversions as saving non-believers’ souls from eternal damnation — a religious duty (selfish) and an altruistic act.

The Society-Simulator

We now propose a framework for the society-simulator:

  • The static natural rules from physics and biology: how a citizen can move in the world, give birth, transform resources, build products, consume resources, die, and so on.
  • The governing rules that provide incentives and penalties for certain behaviours, these include taxes, subsidies, fines, access to public infrastructures, and so on.
  • Observation space: vision, internal state of the citizen (health, age, energy) or internal state of the business (employees, debt, profits), etc.
  • Action space: move, trade, negotiate, mate, consume, etc.
  • Observation space: macro-statistics such as wealth distribution, tax evasion rate, population literacy, crime rates, etc.
  • Action space: governing rules.

Final Words

To decide the right ideology to optimise we need to understand what people want. We already know that one: they want to survive and reproduce! Therefore, the right ideology is one that maximises its citizens ability to survive and reproduce. Also, rulers that don’t do this will see their population size decrease in comparison to other rulers, and will eventually disappear.

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João Abrantes

João Abrantes

AI researcher into reinforcement learning, complex systems and collaboration tech.