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Moloch is the apparently the fashionable new term for the malign Egregores in society that push us towards things that are bad for us.

Coined by SlateStarCodex and increasingly used by the AIAlignmentProblem / EffectiveAltruism crowd.

Compare : RightWingDeathCult

I was explaining this to someone ... here's what I wrote.

"Moloch" is just a rather poetical metaphor for any "system" which feels like it's getting out of control and starting to constrain / push your actions in ways which aren't in your interest.

Or to put it another way it's a convenient shorthand for "emergent badness".

People have used it for capitalism, of course, because that exerts a huge push on everyone.

In that context it's kind of the inverse of AdamSmith's "InvisibleHand". The hand allegedly guides us to do a good, that no-one explicitly intends. Moloch guides us to do a bad that no-one explicitly intends. But it's the same force at work in both cases - an emergent outcome of a lot of small decisions that don't seem good or bad in themselves.

But the metaphor of Moloch works for other systems too. (Which is the focus of SlateStarCodex's essay)

AFAIK it's Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl that first introduced the use Moloch in this way.

SSC brought the metaphor to the contemporary tech scene.

Today, even people who love and work with technology are starting to see that it can have unintended consequences, sometimes much larger and more negative than they could have imagined when they built it.

So Moloch is a good short-hand for talking about that phenomenon. How do I express my fear and guilt that this thing I'm part of and contribute to might be a force for bad? How do I exercise my responsibility as an insider to try to avoid that? These are important conversations to have. Abdicating responsibility, either by leaving the tech industry or just happily assuming it will work out for the best, feel like dereliction of duty.

And even if you didn't feel that sense of the system being out of control previously, the speed and "out-of-control-ness" at which ArtificialIntelligence seems to be evolving today makes pretty much everyone feel that way.

I don't think anybody thinks there's a real "spiritual" or "supernatural" demon involved.

See also :