Radical Suffering Reduction & Virtual Killings

The Foundational Research Institute says that it “brings together researchers from diverse fields to examine how humanity can best reduce suffering in the future. We draw on insights from artificial intelligence, technology, anthropic reasoning, international relations, sociology, public policy, ethics, and many other disciplines.” Its website seems to be mainly the project of one Brian Tomasik, a computer scientist and mathematician who received his undergraduate degree from Swarthmore, who has posted onto it many of his essays from another site, and who came to my attention because he was interviewed recently at Vox.com.

The interview is entitled “This Guy Thinks Killing Video Game Characters Is Immoral.” From the introduction: “He argues that, while NPCs [non-player characters in video games] do not have anywhere near the mental complexity of animals, the difference is one of degree rather than kind, and we should care at least a tiny amount about their suffering, especially as they grow more complex.” If the numbers count, then, though each killing of each NPC is only a little bad, the massive amounts of NPC killings going on the world can nonetheless add up to a tremendous amount of suffering. Of course, one of the central premises, that video game characters are capable of suffering, seems implausible (something that comes up in the interview, which ranges over other topics, as well). Maybe at some point in the future this won’t seem so implausible.

Relatedly, if the ethics of video games is of interest to you, check out “The gamer’s dilemma: An analysis of the arguments for the moral distinction between virtual murder and virtual paedophilia” by Morgan Luck.

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