SETI & singularity economics

Robert J. Bradbury (
Mon, 12 Jul 1999 07:09 PDT

> wrote>
> >interfering [regligious miracles & alien abductions excepted].
> "Excepted" in the sense that "they're of no consequence and not worth looking
> at" or excepted in the sense that "these are some examples that may well be
> evidence of interference but I'm not going to launch into detail about them"?

I've mentioned them once or twice, but see no way of confirming or denying them without, as others have mentioned, "hard evidence". They are interesting to play with from a mental perspective when you get into the discussion Re: what do SIs do with their resources.

> Why "hands-off"?

Primarily because the is a basic principle in science. You set up the experiment (or simply observe what nature has set up for you) and try to draw conclusions from it. The question is "Why do we still see stars?" -- I've mentioned several possible answers but don't have enough of an understanding of SI motiviations to select between them.

> ... I'm forced to wonder if an arbitrarily advanced civilization wouldn't
> have a plethora of artificially evolved civilizations at its disposal.

Quite possibly.

> Perhaps the "supreme" civilization uses some as controls and some
> as test subjects. My money is on us being the victims of some cosmic test,
> but that's neither here nor there.

Yep, this came up in another thread.
> Also, why "inexpensively"? I understand the concept of available resources,
> etc., but the notion of "expense" has an anthopomorphic ring to it I'm not
> sure I like--especially if the hypothetical civilization we're dealing with
> is arbitrarily advanced, as postulated above (i.e. has molecular
> nanotechnology).

Because as I've pointed out, you do have hard limits -- energy, mass and time. One long term thing SIs could very well be doing is running large breeder "reactors" to convert H & He into C or Fe (or ???) to serve as structural or long term memory storage material. It is entirely unclear if the optimal structure for such "reactors" is "stars".

Depending on what your resources and motivations are, you might devote those resources to artificial breeder reactors or you might devote those resources to experiments with "emerging life". So long as you have different resources available and different opportunities for things to do and I would propose you have "economic" costs and benefits and so there is an "expense" for any activity.

> "Expense" was Carl Sagan and Frank Drake's big argument for
> the feasibility of SETI, but their reasoning was (arguably) based more on
> depicting alien motives in popularly understandable terms than dealing with
> really _alien_ aliens.
Sure, civilizations can broadcast cheaply, but broadcasting requires energy. I believe that most of the time you would be able to receive more cheaply than you can transmit (thats why we mostly receive!).

You have to "want" to broadcast and be very committed to it -- unless you have very hard evidence for a receiver on the far end. Say you want to reach a star 10 ly away. Presumably you have to broadcast for 10 years (since you don't know when they might start listening). Then you twiddle your thumbs for 10 years (the time it would take their signal to come back), then you listen for 10 years. The point is that during that period you go from pre-singularity to post-singularity (if "they" are around our technological level). It makes little sense to start broadcasting pre-singularity (if you see it coming) because post-singularity it is so much less expensive (and you can easily send a ship). If you can send a ship, you could have a good conversation going (via a proxy) in the time it takes the ship to arrive at the destination. It would only take one individual understanding these things to point them out at a political hearing for broadcast funding to pretty much squash your chances of doing that.

NASA has this "Institute for Advanced Concepts" that funds projects 10 to 40 years in the future. I would argue that 40 years (2040) is post-singularity [P.S.] for us. Since P.S., your capacities are off of the current scale, it makes no sense at all to discuss, plan or intiate a project that spans the weeks of the singularity. Once the singularity era becomes "predictable" (say due to the demonstration of small-scale molecular assembly [which I'm sure someone will argue we have now]), then the best thing to do is to wait until P.S. time to do the project. There may be a very interesting economic "bogdown" that occurs just prior to the singularity going off the scale. The more predictable the singularity date, the earlier projects stop getting done, since people can't get the return on investment if the expected lifetime of the factory/chemical plant/plane/rail-car/etc. would normally have extended post-singularity.

But that is another thread entirely.