Re: LIST: the Gooies

Lyle Burkhead (
Tue, 20 Apr 1999 21:27:28 -0700

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:
> Please understand, Lyle, that I don't give a damn
> whether or not an ecosystem of hard organisms is gooey.
> What I care about is the human race being
> prematurely wiped off the face of the Earth.
> It doesn't matter whether the replicators can "really"
> compete with a rabbit or if this is just an illusion of scale;
> if they can outcompete the cells that make up the rabbit,
> the rabbit ceases to exist.

Rabbits, in their present form, will probably cease to exist, eventually. So will humans. Geologists have found that more than 90% of the fossils that are found in the permian layer are not found afterward. Extinction events do happen. The most recent major one was about 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared. There have been quite a few others, of varying severity. It looks like we are headed for another one.

If you think the human race is going to be wiped off the face of the earth suddenly, as a result of Drextech, then your logical course of action would be to go to Palo Alto and kill Eric and Ralph, and everyone else who is working on nanoscale replicators. This would (a) shock the nanotech community and bring research to a halt, at least temporarily, and (b) generate enough publicity to make everyone aware of the danger of Drextech. If you don't do this, then you have to admit that you don't really believe what you are saying.

In fact the emergence of a new life form isn't going to happen suddenly (maybe suddenly on a geological time scale, but not on our time scale), and Drextech has nothing to do with it. Nor is it something to worry about. Either we die, like all generations before us, or we change our own cells and become a new form of life. In any case I intend to enjoy life to the fullest, day by day, and not waste a bit of my precious time worrying about what may or may not happen to the human race in the distant future.

> My understanding of the goo scenario is that even if it takes a decade to
> start, once it does start it is supposed to happen very quickly indeed.

> Sure. Imagine bacteria that doesn't stop when it reaches
> the edge of the petri dish.

But they do stop. They are constrained, like any other organism, by bioeconomics and bioenergetics (concepts that you won't learn much about in science fiction books). Any new form of life will face the same constraints. Any organism can only eat certain things, can only exist in certain environments, can only grow so fast, etc. Damien Sullivan says that diamond dust will have to find some way to protect itself from sparks, otherwise it will blow up like a grain silo. This had not occurred to me, but it's just another example of the constraints that all organisms have to deal with.

Ultimately what I find absurd about the goo scenario is that your goo, or whatever you want to call it, exists in some other space, science fiction space, where there are no physical constraints.

What I call "calibration" is basically establishing inequalities, a fundamental tool in the mathematical sciences. It doesn't need to be defended.