Hiveminds and the Great Filter

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Mon, 08 Mar 1999 20:57:16 -0600

David Blenkinsop wrote:
> What I really notice here is that the above comment from Billy Brown seems to
> suggest that an obstacle of something being "a few orders of magnitude more
> expensive" would necessarily be overcome eventually, maybe taking only a "few
> hundred years" at most before the cost barrier is reduced to something
> manageable. The trouble with cost barriers is that, if the cost of breaking
> through the barrier is too high, maybe no one will do it! As the old saying
> says, "you have to walk before you can run"; what if most would-be space
> travellers never learn to "walk"?

The problem with this theory of the Great Filter, like the simple Singularity theory, is that it doesn't take into account psychological differences between races. I suspect that most races are much like humans in the sense of being individualistic rather than altruistic, and not very cooperative; it's a stronger evolutionary attractor.

However, I also suspect that at least one in a thousand races will be strongly cooperative, perhaps hivemind-like, or with authority-related social emotions so strongly developed that the entire civilization can be controlled by a single individual. Unlike our race, such a civilization has a real chance of deliberately avoiding a Singularity (and surviving) if such is the group consensus; some such races will also be relentlessly expansionist, and also interventionist. All the factors, total, sum to no more than a hundred thousand to one, I think - more than enough for such races to have developed in our own galaxy or one nearby more than a billion years ago.

Such a race would not be stopped by any cost of spaceflight, nor by a Singularity, nor by nanowar.

Where are they?

--          Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.