RE: The Point of No Return

Anders Sandberg (
Wed, 25 Dec 1996 16:25:03 +0100 (MET)

On Fri, 20 Dec 1996, Crosby_M wrote:

> The challenge I see here is that there might have to be a 'speciation'
> between any 'lingering colonists' and the probe 'wave-front'. I'm
> assuming that the wave-front probes could only have 'one' goal if they
> were to be able to expand at ~lightspeed: grab resources, replicate
> (if necessary) while *always* on the move. That is, they would not
> have time to stop and 'smell the flowers', analyze the environment, or
> design anything new. They would have to leave behind non-probe
> 'seeds' that would grow to fullfill these more leisurely functions.
> These lingering colonists would be the ones that would have time to
> actually interact with their environment, create art and design new
> technologies. Maybe the difference between the two groups would be
> more like sexual genders than different species?

I think it is a good analogy, although perhaps even better is the
ecological concept of ecological succession: first the probes arrive and
start to create an infrastructure (seeding asteroid belts with nanites to
build solar collectors, assemblers, computing power and lauching new
probes), then this infrastructure is colonized by infomorphs beamed over
from other systems or begins to evolve on its own, filling up the solar
system, and then it entersa mature phase where it controls most of the
system and all changes are cultural, corresponding to the climax ecology.

> If this scenario is valid then perhaps *creative* intelligence might
> only reside in the 'lingering' colonists, who would, of course, be
> free to mount their own explorations as well, just not with the speed
> and persistence of their probe ancestors.

Actually, the probes will probably be smart, but not that smart.
Evolution/design would favor designs that can be launched very quickly to
high speeds from most systems. I think this would favor small, dumb, fast and
adaptable probes, perhaps small balls of nanites launched with solar-powered
javellin launchers.

> Would there be any possibility for the always-moving-on probes to ever
> learn from the environment (other than reflex reactions, such as
> avoiding clouds of antimatter or blasts of lethal radiation)? Would
> there be any way (or even need) for the probes and colonists to
> communicate and adapt based on each other's knowledge?

This is probably a good idea. The above nanoballs would simply set up
shop on a suitable asteroid, build a solar collector, a bigger mind and
an antenna, and then download information from the stay-at homes (such as
new designs, warnings and plans for the system). So the probes could be
viewed as a two-stage lifeform, with a passive interstellar larval stage,
and a sentinent stellar adult stage. The adults could also beam out
information about the system and what they had learned backwards and to
other probes.

For an interesting fictional treatment of the technosphere scenario, with
some thoughts about nasty SI, I recommend _Scratch Monkey_ by Charles
Stross. It can be found on the net at:

(I admit I was inspired by it to write my little story posted today,
although I reverse his scenario)

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y