Dedicated to my family.
List of Legal Projects for EAs
Status: Draft Epistemic status: Extremely weak This is an ongoing list of ideas that people with a lot more expertise with laws could think about. If you are a lawyer or legal scholar, please visit the Legal Priorities Project. Please comment here.
1. Setting a Legal Precedent for the Long Reflection, or how to prevent Animals in Space
That animals, especially wild ones, suffer is still something where uncertainties exist, as we currently do not understand consciousness sufficiently. But we can expect this uncertainty to get resolved at one point, as future people (us included) most likely will still care about suffering of conscious beings and the stakes with wild animals are high.
Simultaneously, future people might drastically increase the number of wild animals, by expanding into space. This might happen sooner then assumed, SpaceX is already planning a fish farm on Mars. This creates an opportunity for setting a legal precedent on the concept of the “long reflection”: making sure that the colonization of space with animals only happens after we have more certainty that we are not committing a moral atrocity.
Basically there are four possible futures:
- We expand into space with our current values, taking animals with us, either for farming, as ecosystem builders or just because nature is beautiful. Space will be dominated by “Life”.
- We expand into space, but bringing animals with us never becomes economical, except for a few science missions. Space will be dominated by humans, machines or deliberate bliss-machines.
- We have a moratorium in place that prevents breeding large amounts of animals in space. This will be reviewed periodically and is lifted once a clear understanding of conciseness has been achieved and the average (or extreme) well-being of animals is determined. In this World 3 the question of if it’s ok to create more animals resolves positively, so it will eventually become legal again to cultivate animals on other planets and in artificial habitats. This world resembles World 1, but with a delay of 50-100 years.
- In this world the moratorium never resolves and we go with World 2.
I hope this illustrates my point that you should always prefer World 3 and 4 over 1 and 2, even if right now you might find World 2 repugnant.
So please, someone, make it happen. (Also the laws around this are shaped right now, by very few actors, so it seems highly neglected and tractable for a legal scholar with the right expertise).
2. Setting a Legal Precedence for Acting under Extreme Uncertainty, or how to prevent Deep Sea Mining
The International Seabed Authority is currently in the last phases of setting up a legal framework around deep sea mining. The results of this are expected to be in favor of an extremely short term position (in my opinion). Without going into the details, the proponents for deep sea mining argue that it is possible to do an unbiased Environmental Impact Assessment, and given that assessment, decide on whether or not to pursue mining operations. They also argue that the extracted minerals are net positive for global (green) development.
This is fundamentally flawed reasoning, as the long-term uncertainty around negative consequences significantly outweigh the positive benefits. Essentially, if you take a medium to longterm view on the impacts of deep sea mining the error bars become extreme, as we know little to nothing about the deep sea (and studying it sufficiently would be more costly then the potential revenue generated). To this adds, that the window in which deep sea mining is economical is most likely a lot smaller then assumed by proponents, as asteroid mining will significantly alter the mineral markets this century. I predict that deep sea mining will remain at most 10 years economical if negative externalities turn out to be small. But in most worlds it will never be economical (due to the high possible range around negative externalities), so the expected value of deep sea mining is negative.
Deep Sea Mining is not the only field that shares this risk profile, but it’s the most concrete case in which the “non-longtermist” and “longtermist” legal case diverge so strongly (and that is currently debated and worked on among legal scholars).
3. Creating a new Interpretation of Law around Public Goods, or how to punish Big Journals
This is the least thought out position of the three, and I really am not a legal scholar in any way, but I was contemplating the case of “Big Journals vs. SciHub”, which made me change my perspective of what laws are even there for.
Bascially, SciHub stole material from legal entities (Elsevier, Springer, etc.) and published them online for free, which hurt those legal entities. In a classical interpretation of law, where the law punishes those that to harm to other beings (what I would call the protect-and-punish-interpretation), SciHub has acted illegally.
This to me is repugnant and doesn’t reflect my intuitions. I think it’s the other way around: big journals have harmed the public good of what I call the “velocity of scientific discovery”, which would most likely be counterfactually responsible for harming a large number of beings. An extreme formulation of this would be to claim that pay-walling papers is a crime against humanity, the same way as releasing greenhouse gases without benefits other then for your own is.
Now what I would like is a reformulation of the role of law, in which laws act not to protect individuals, but to prevent bad game-theoretic situations. In most legal cases from murder to taxes, I would expect this theory to come to the same conclusions, but there will cases where it clearly diverges from current decisions. And those seem really interesting and potentially longterm relevant. Basically I want to live in a world where we can sue people or entities if they act in a way that they gain but everyone else loses, not because I dislike these people, but because it would align incentives towards cooperation.
- List of Legal Projects for EAs
- 1. Setting a Legal Precedent for the Long Reflection, or how to prevent Animals in Space
- 2. Setting a Legal Precedence for Acting under Extreme Uncertainty, or how to prevent Deep Sea Mining
- 3. Creating a new Interpretation of Law around Public Goods, or how to punish Big Journals