Re: Moravec article available

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Tue May 02 2000 - 15:21:57 MDT

Robert B. wrote:
>Eliezer, the super-sluth, cited a Moravec article:
> "Harvard Doesn't Publish Science Fiction"

I especially liked this section:
Immortality and Impermanence

Wading back into the shallows, letís examine a certain dilemma of existence,
presently overshadowed by the issue of personal death, that will be
paramount when practical immortality is achieved. Itís this: in the long
run, survival requires change in directions not of your own choosing.
Standards escalate with the growth of the inevitable competitors and
predators for each niche. In a kind of cosmic Olympic games, the universe
molds its occupants toward its own distant and mysterious specifications. An
immortal cannot hope to survive unchanged, only to maintain a limited
continuity over the short run. Personal death differs from this
inevitability only in its relative abruptness. Viewed on a larger scale we
are already immortal, as we have been since the dawn of life. Our genes and
our culture pass continuously from one generation to the next, subject only
to incremental alterations to meet the continuous demand for new world
records in the cosmic games.

In the very long run the ancestral individual is always doomed, as its
heritage is nibbled away to meet short- term demands. It slowly mutates into
other forms that could have been reached from a range of starting pointsĖthe
ultimate in convergent evolution. Itís by this reasoning that I conclude
that it makes no ultimate difference whether our machines carry forward our
heritage on their own, or in partnership with direct transcriptions of
ourselves. Assuming long-term survival either way, the end results should be
indistinguishable, shaped by the universe and not by ourselves. Since change
is inevitable, I think we should embrace rather than retard it. By so doing
we improve our day-to-day survival odds, discover interesting surprises
sooner, and are more prepared to face any competition. The cost is faster
erosion of our present constitution. All development can be interpreted as
incremental death and new birth, but some of the fast-lane options make this
especially obvious; for instance, the possibility of dropping parts of oneís
memory and personality in favor of anotherís. Fully exploited, this process
results in transient individuals constituted from a communal pool of
personality traits. Sexual populations are effective in part because they
create new genetic individuals in very much this way. As with sexual
reproduction, the memory pool requires dissolution as well as creation to be
effective. So personal death is not banished, but it does lose its poignancy
because death by submergence into the memory pool is reversible in the short

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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