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

Nicholas Bostrom (
Sun, 24 Aug 1997 22:00:28 +0000

Anders Sandberg wrote:

> 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.

I think there is something that should be pointed out clearly here.
What you seem to mean is that genetic algorithms will play an
important role in designing the immune system. However, what you
often say is that *evolution* will do that. Now, that is not wrong,
but I might mislead some people. Although genetic algorithms can be
said to describe some form of evolution, there is a world of a
difference between natural, blind, Darwinian evolution and specially
designed genetic algorithms that can be Darwinian or Laplacian with
any number of sexes and variable sizes of the property chunks that
are inherited, where all the parameters can be played with by an
insightful experimenter who a guids the process with his knowledge
and overseeing intelligence. These are two separate things, but many
people tend to confuse them.

evolutionaly computing: designed & controlled
(natural) evolution: blind & controlling

> Design is good at jumping over deserts in the fitness landscape,
> while evolution is good at searching it

This would seem to lead to the prediction that the more that is known
the less useful will evolutionary computing be.

>There will be
> a certain overhead, but it is an overhead for your immune-computer
> not for your design capabilities.

What do you mean? My desigen capabilities depend on the
design-programs I run. Since the designs in question are designs for
immune-defence systems, they would run on the "immune-computer".
Hence any overhead for the immune-computer is an overhead for my
design capabilities.

> As an example, assume the worst scenario happens and an escaped badly
> programmed dishwashing nanite

This does not seem to be the worst scenario to me. The worst
scenario would be something deliberately built to eliminate all
life. (It would be even worse if it was designed to torture it.)

>starts to turn all organic life

Why just organic life? Why not dead organic substances, earth, etc.
And is there any good reason why it could not change the earth crust
into something with a higher binding energy?

> into
> more of itself. It will spread with the speed of an bacterial
> infection, and be quite deadly.

Why couldn't it spread much faster? Bacteria are limited to some
specifid kinds of hosts, the nanites could attack any organic
material and many inorganic ones too.And if they were deliberately
designed, they could transform themself to missiles after they had
eaten enough, and then swoosh accross the seven sees in a very short

>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).

They might have to go there pretty quickly, like after a nuclear
alert. They will have to make sure that not a single little nanite
finds a way in. They will have to hope that the nanite doesn't eat
rocks and cement. They will have a limited time to figure out how to
use their very limited resources to eliminate a enemy that already
forms a think deadly layer over the whole earth. They have to hope
that the nanites weren't deliberately designed to pile up explosives
on top of their bunker and blow it all away. --Yes, they *could* make
it, at least in a Hollywood movie...

> 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)

I'm sorry, but it does seem to me a bit like wishful thinking (and
reading to much SF?). I think I will call this the
go-hide-in-your-basement solution to the antiproliferation problem.

>, and then it would just evolve in an ordinary
> way

(Unless it was designed not to evolve.)

The remarks you made seem predicated on the assumption that the
nanites will be comparable to a particularly virulent biological
plague. Suppose that this isn't true. Then the only method for
avoiding disaster in a society where there are many independet
individuals with full technological access is to have some kind of
active nanotech immune system. It seems to me that the reactions
towards higher binding energy would always have an advantage, so in
this situation there would only be two ways of maintaing status quo.

The first is if all the material were already very close to its
lowest energy state, so that no more reactions were economical. Does
anyone have a good design for a computer that would work under those
circumstances (we would all be uploads then).

The second is to have the immune system quickly eliminating any
plagues, and it could use the fact that it has access to more energy.
A good design for this?

Aha, I just thought of a third way. The independent folks could all
live in a virtual reality that were designed so they could do no
major harm. They would have no access to the real reality, which
would be ruled by a single entity.

Nicholas Bostrom

*Visit my transhumanist web site at*