Re: Dreams of Autarky

Robin Hanson (
Fri, 17 Sep 1999 09:36:16 -0400

On 9/10/1999 David Blenkinsop wrote:
>Don't forget that it's just plain simpler to look at a complicated
>global situation by way of ignoring interdependencies most of the time,
>so as to focus on whatever the local problems are. You are doing this
>yourself when you think of organisms as "autonomous" while ignoring the
>ever present demands of ecology and of trying to make a living in those
>biological niches! Admittedly, though, the long distance trading
>relationships of humans are a really new form of interdependence.

Yes, I meant "relatively autonomous, when compared with current dependence.

>Ah, more about pros/cons of a Singularity, or as you indicate more
>specifically, a "Local Singularity", with the tech power of one group
>steamrollering the world! One tricky thing about this seemingly
>unprecedented scenario is that it's not really unprecedented? What's a
>political "coup" but someone seizing of all the military connections
>needed to control the soldiers, tanks, etc., in some particular country?

The chances of one small group taking over the entire world in a military coup are pretty small at the moment. Since it is an ancient fear, people are quite alert to watch for and squelch any movement in this direction. Local singularity scenarios are different in that they are technology driven, whereby a sudden and huge tech advance allows gives incredible power to one small group. The claim is that few are watchful to or able to squelch such an advance.

>Is this something to worry about, that the world's most powerful
>countries might get tech-couped, and just roll over the rest of the
>globe in some strange new empire? This seems to be the center of your
>concerns, but I'm not sure that your comments do anything to prove that
>it's really impossible!

The fear is usually more of a small lab or county taking over, instead of a few countries. I find it hard to take seriously as a concern, but others on this list most clearly do.

>Fortunately, the step by step nature of technology advance *does* tend
>to argue against the likelihood of an easy or thorough global coup.
>Actually, to be a bit more precise about it, surely the halting, trial
>and error process of technology argues against a global coup done solely
>or even primarily through tech advance!

Yes, that is my intuition. But the question I was facing was why others have such dramatically different intuitions.

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