Re: SETSIs (was Re: seti@home WILL NOT WORK)

Robert J. Bradbury (
Sat, 10 Jul 1999 02:29 PDT

> "Michael S. Lorrey" <> wrote:
> You are both wrongly assuming that all technological civilizations would
> have similar exponent courves in technological/population development.

I'm not making this assumption. Dyson argued 40 years ago, even if we slowed ourselves down to a 1% annual growth rate, we still reach a power consumption level of the entire solar output in only 3000 years! Another SETI researcher made the point it is difficult to imagine a society that could maintain a 0.000000...% growth rate for thousands (or millions) of years (either you have an accident or you decay away *or* you eventually evolve to your environmental limits).

Growth is a fact of life. It is built into Nature. Population biologists tell you that populations grow to the limits of the environment and then crash when conditions change for the worse. I would argue that it is highly difficult for Nature to evolve "internal" limits. The limits are "imposed" by the environment. Look what happens in situations involving the introduction of a non-indigenous species (say rabbits in Australia) -- if the environment is suitable the species expands to the allowable limits. In most other environments you don't see it because everything is in balance between the predators and the prey and the food resources and the reproduction rate.

I would also argue that by definition "technological civilizations" get on pretty exponential growth paths. Humans didn't have exponential growth (in fact we were barely surviving as a species) *until* we developed the technologies that allowed us to manipulate the environment in ways more sophisticated than our genetic program allowed.

I believe you have to make a concrete case that a developing technological species/civilization would consciously *choose* to terminate its growth. That means that you have to negate the fundamental self-preservation and/or reproductive instincts necessary for life. As I've discussed in other threads -- if you want to be immortal, you have to eliminate reproduction -- if you want to reproduce, you have to choose to die (or prevent the development of technologies that enable personal immortality). There *are* hard limits to growth. There may be a few examples of Vulcans in the galaxy, but they should not be in the majority (the majority would seem to be those species that take as much as they can and hold it the longest). The exception to that would appear to be cultures that follow a trans-humanist (trans-Natural-ist?) path where they mentally/genetically engineer out the drives that nature builds in.

As far as the exponential growth goes, we have a pretty good example in the computer industry and Moore's law (before that it might have been the industrial revolution and before that agriculture). Can you make a good argument that any of these paths could have been "consciously" arrested? If you want to volunteer to stop the $200 Billion/year+ electronics industry, I'll be happy to sit back and watch. If you can't stop it, then Moravec/Minsky would seem to have a case -- we may not know how to create intelligence (other than the good ole natural way), but if we keep at it long enough we should figure it out. Biotech enabled super-longevity and nanotech enabled ultra-longevity would seem to fall under the same development principles.

> You are assuming that EVERY society will want to transcend, rather than
> just staying at a comfortable early 21st century level.

The environmental movement has been trying for 30-40 years to "stop" our growth without much success. The primary reason is hasn't worked is that we can siphon off a fraction of our productivity growth and technological capacities and apply these to solving the environmental problems. It is pretty clear at this point that we can develop the technologies to expand to the limits allowed on the planet and then off the planet. That realization should occur in any other technological civilization as well (if you wait long enough).

Dr. Hekimi (the discover of the clk gene in nemetodes), once made the comment to me -- "if man can imagine it and it is possible, sooner or later he will do it". That seems very to true me, it seems to arise from the nature of competition and the direct or indirect advantages one derives from creating something new, different or better.

If evolving to the limit of physics *is* feasible, and "life" is designed to "evolve", can you make a case for the cessation of evolution?

> You are also wrongly assuming that following a singularity by some
> percentage of the population that the rest of the population just
> dissapears.
No, not really. It doesn't matter in my mind whether (1) Bill Gates turns himself into an M-Brain and turns off the

sun on the rest of us.
(2) We all (every single individual who wants it) turns themselves

      into a unified collective M-brain and
	(a) Takes the Hydrogen in Jupiter and leaves the solar system,
            leaving behind the luddites who didn't want to join us.
        (b) Dismantles every single aggregate of atoms in the solar
            system (other planets, asteroids, earth (and the luddites
            on it), the sun, etc.) for reformation into an optimal
            computational architecture.

The point would be that in in both (1) and (2) you still get an M-Brain and M-Brains seem to have lifetimes of the order of the longevity of the universe. In 2a the luddites probably have a maximum lifetime of a few billion years (until the sun becomes a red-giant), unless they decide to move the planet or "manage" the sun (then they aren't luddites any more). Since the M-Brains are now at the top of the evolutionary ladder (biggest, most intelligent, longest lived, able to anticipate and avoid any potential hazards, etc.) they have to become the most populous "species". [Survival of the fittest.]

M-brains don't *have* to harvest or dismantle any of the luddites or their star (there is plenty of other material around from which to construct and power themselves at the time of the singularity). Whether they chose to behave that way may depend a lot on the path by which they develop -- a self-evolving AI with no "moral" code probably would consume us to optimize itself, on the other hand if the M-brain is constructed from uploads of us, it might harbor some nostalgia towards the Earth and/or the sun and leave them intact.

For all of this not to happen, I believe you have to make the case that substantially all of the individuals who are members of an evolving technological species (on the slippery slope towards the singularity), universally decide -- "This far and no further". The "anti-technology-police" would have to enforce the decision on the non-believers. As Ben Bova has pointed out in his recent "Immortality" book, that is a very difficult thing to do because of the benefits one personally derives from breaking the rules. [BTW, this book is worth reading -- see my review comment on Amazon.]

[Yes, a technological civilization, might consist of a species that has a single or collective mind (instead of a collection of individual minds), but are they all?]

You may believe that an M-brain is a bad idea, but I assure you, that if I get my hands on a nanoassembler first, I'm not stopping until I've got around 10^20 distributed replicated copies of myself [that leaves room for anyone else that wants to hop on the boat, since the idea of talking to that many copies of myself for the next 100 billion years or so seems really unpleasant... :-)].

There is one objection to all of this and that is that the waters of the singularity slope are so rough that virtually *all* civilizations capsize trying to navigate them. However you have to invoke a grey goo type scenario that so totally destroys the civilization that it never recovers to approach the singularity river ever again.