Re: Goo prophylaxis (was: Hanson antiproliferation method?)

Anders Sandberg (
Sat, 23 Aug 1997 19:02:12 +0200 (MET DST)

On Sat, 23 Aug 1997, Nicholas Bostrom wrote:

> Anders Sandberg wrote:
> > If I
> > notice that something is building TNT out of matter in my vicinity,
> > I'm not going to stay around...
> Hmm, for concretness, let's assue you are the size of a house. With
> nanotech, the time it takes to assemble sufficient TNT to blow a
> house to pieces would be much less than the time it would take to
> move the house.

OK, you have a point. But a TNT attack is quite noticeable, and is
likely to make not just me but a lot of my friends, neighbors and
people in general react; the offender would have to deal with this.
But this is the ordinary weapons control problem (admittedly tricky),
not the more interesting (and IMHO far more dangerous) problem of
designing a nanotech immune system.

> We can call this the bee-hive scenario; there are still
> independent, humanoid beings, and each has her own cell, the cells
> being packed side by side in a three dimensional structure. The
> surface of hive is a heat emitter and energy collector... No, I
> need to think this through before I write about it. I might do a
> nanotech strategies paper when I have finished the ones I am
> working on now (one of which is on what a superintelligence could
> be expected to do etc.).

I think someone might have beaten you to it. When I was fairly young,
I read a book about all the readical possibilities predicted by
science in the early 70's (I forget the name, the author might have
been Russian. And yes, it has influenced me profoundly!), and it
mentioned a very similar scenario. The whole world is paved with
a huge 2000-story building covering all the continents, and the
oceans are algae-farms. Inside the building, people live in small
cubicles and communicate using phone and television (OK, it is a 70's
scenario). The problem of heat emissions was mentioned.

A somewhat similar idea can be found in _A Torrent of Faces_ by Blish
and Knight.

> > So it
> > might be a good idea to design *and* evolve your defenses to make
> > them unique.
> Why design *and* evolve? I mean, obviously they would evolve if we
> first design one version and then an improved version; but why would
> they evolve in the sense we were discussing, i.e. by sexual
> reproduction and natural selction? If there is an advantage in having
> a system that is unknown to your enemy, then change the design often,
> or include random elements. This avoids seriously maladaptive
> offspring, introduces the unknowability exactly where it matters,
> and is quicker. Besides, natural evolution would often be
> predictable by the enemy if he knows the fitness landscape.

Design is good at jumping over deserts in the fitness landscape,
while evolution is good at searching it. If you combine occasional
re-design with evolution, you can add optimizations and clever tricks
to the powerful abilities of evolutionary programming. There will be
a certain overhead, but it is an overhead for your immune-computer
not for your design capabilities.

> > I think complicated organisms are still quite viable, since they have
> > the advantage of fast cultural evolution before biological evolution.
> > It doesn't matter if their biology is about diamond or water.
> I would find it very interesting if you could expand a bit on this.

Nanodevices might be able to out-compete organic life, since they
could be indigestible while organics are perfectly good feedstock.
But intelligent systems communicating with each other are likely
quite good at resisting attacks from low-level systems, be they
bacteria or goo, since they can (at a sufficiently high level of
technology) develop solutions, be they vaccines, immune processors or
antibiotics using cultural evolution, which is faster than biological
evolution and able to make deliberate leaps in fitness space.

As an example, assume the worst scenario happens and an escaped badly
programmed dishwashing nanite starts to turn all organic life into
more of itself. It will spread with the speed of an bacterial
infection, and be quite deadly. Of course, as soon as this becomes
known there will be several groups who quickly enclose themselves in
their already built underground bases (Cheyenne mountain is an
example that exists today, and with this level of nanotech I think
there will be more "nanosurvivalists" waiting for the disaster). So
while the biosphere turns to dishwashing goo there will be people
around who are very motivated to find a weapon against it, for
example a tailored "predator nanite" or something similar. It doesn't
appear likely that the goo could wipe out all the people (just a very
large amount of them), and then it would just evolve in an ordinary
way while the survivors were quite busy dealing with it (or adapt
themselves to it, creating a new nano-based biosphere through
"reverse terraforming").

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