RE: "Web-mediated SETI": Robert Bradbury Replies

Billy Brown (
Wed, 3 Nov 1999 19:18:31 -0600

Robert J. Bradbury wrote:
> Selection pressure as always comes from the environment.

No kidding. My question is: "Exactly what factors would create this particular selection pressure, rather than some other one."

> For example, the laws of thermodynamics say you are going to get
> the most work done if you can harvest energy at the highest temperature
> (limited by materials properties presumably) and radiate at the
> lowest temperature (dictated by the background radiation). That
> is going to provide selection pressure for you to get as far away
> as possible from radiation sources that shower you in heat/light
> (raising the temperature of surrounding space). However the
> further away you get from other SIs the greater your communications
> delays (leading to slower thought) are and higher your communications
> costs (due to increased power requirements). This provides pressure
> to stay close. Without estimates as to the value SIs place on
> "personal thought" vis-a-vis "interpersonal communication" it
> is almost impossible to determine the configurations SIs find most
> desirable.

No, but we can make some interesting observations. First off, allow me to point out that the light speed barrier does not impose a limit on the scale of computing devices. If you have a closely spaced cloud of computing systems, and you add more nodes to the outside of the cloud, the power of the overall system will increase no matter how big the cloud has become. The light speed barrier only limits your ability to apply all of that power to a single sequential calculation.

Of course, that approach will consume energy rather quickly, and may not be optimal in a universe where space-time engineering is not possible. However, that does not mean that it makes sense to just leave most of the universe alone. Stars are terribly wasteful, after all - they convert so much mass into a form that is terribly inconvenient to collect. A frugal civilization would convert them all into some form optimized for long-term storage - perhaps a large number of brown dwarfs, or black holes of carefully-chosen mass. They would sweep up all matter that might fall into black holes, collect the energy radiated by neutron stars, and generally suppress all energetic events in favor of conservation.

There are other possible scenarios one could contrive, depending on one's ideas about the nature of reality and what strategies will ultimately be optimal for surviving it. My point, however, is that the universe we see is not particularly optimal for anything at all. That is inconsistent with the idea that SIs exist, because if the do then the entire universe should be sculpted to fit their goals.

Caveat: If there is no possible way of getting around the light speed barrier, then they will have altered only a portion of the observable universe. In that case the demarcation should be obvious, and our entire galaxy is on the "undeveloped" side.

> But you are making an implicit assumption that "expansion" has value!
> I will call this the "fallacy of universal expansion". Expansion
> does have [some] value in *our* environment. In the environment of
> space there may be concrete limits to the value of expansion (due to
> the communication delays outlined above).

It isn't an assumption. No matter what problems you need to solve, controlling more mass/energy lets you do a better job of it. If there are big computational problems to solve, converting the whole galaxy to J-brains will give you a better chance of solving them. If the universe is doomed to eventually run down, a large-scale conservation project will keep you alive longer. If it is possible to profit from aggression, mobilizing all available resources will be essential to both defense and predation. The list goes on and on.

The only scenario I can see in which there would be no expansion is one in which all SIs undergo some mental transformation that leads them to end their won existence. I don't see that as a plausible scenario (especially since they haven't ended *our* existence as well). Do you have another one?

> You have to make the case that "competition" can exist on interstellar
> or even worse intergalactic levels. I will call this the "fallacy of
> small spaces and limited resources". In the year 1300 there was no
> "competition" between native Americans and Europeans. The technology
> and access didn't exist to bring them into competition with one another.

And I've already referred to this line of thinking as the "Big Universe Fallacy". Interstellar trips would be long and boring for an SI, but there is nothing even remotely difficult about them. Sending out automated devices to do things is essentially free - the energy costs of even an ambitious program are tiny compared to the energy output of a star, and you really don't have to send more than a few grams of matter.

Give me just about any set of hypothetical goals, and I'll give you a plan for accomplishing them better by remodeling a substantial amount of matter into specialized tools.

> The gravitational microlensing observations are pretty damn uniform.
> Estimates of 200 billion objects with masses ~0.4 M_sun.

I was referring to *cultural* uniformity. This is another area I feel your analysis unduly neglects. Different people choose different goals, and use different means to pursue them. The historical trend has been for this diversity to grow as we increase our knowledge (and more importantly, our capabilities). Why do you expect this trend to reverse?

> I thought I had explained this in previous messages but perhaps not.
> One fundamental reason for "non-interference" is to increase
> diversity in the hope that a non-contacted "in-the-dark" civilization
> may uncover something here-to-fore overlooked by the overlords.
> One reason to setup experiments and interfere on a "restricted"
> basis is that you have previously run all of the "unrestricted"
> alternatives and you want to drive the development of the civilization
> into a phase space that rarely, if ever, develops naturally.

But if you really want to explore possible paths of evolution this is an absolutely terrible way to go about it. It would be far more effective to apply some of that SI intelligence to inventing abstract, high-level models of biological and memetic evolution. Then you can convert the solar system to a computing device and get your results in a fraction of the time. Not only that, you gain the ability to take snapshots, add and remove unlikely events, and generally experiment with possibilities in a manner that could never be duplicated in physical reality.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I