What Do Advanced Aliens Want? (was: Dyson shells are possible)

Robin Hanson (rhanson@gmu.edu)
Fri, 17 Sep 1999 20:50:46 -0400

I wrote:
> You seem to be saying that you *know* that *all* advanced aliens
> want *only* "computational throughput", *and* that colonization
> cannot typically offer such throughput well. I'm skeptical about
> both claims. Almost all creatures today do not value only
> computational throughput; why should we expect such creatures to
> dominate the future?

Robert J. Bradbury wrote:

> I am talking about technological civilizations advanced to the
> limits allowed by physics. Maybe some civilizations stop short
> of those limits, but I would argue that is a risky position to
> be in, since galactic accidents in the long run will eliminate
> those civilizations that do not prevent or avoid those accidents.
> Natural selection favors those civilizations/entities that can
> predict & avoid or stop those things which can destroy them.
> Computational thoughput provides these abilities.

That is valuing computation as an intermediate good, not as an end good. It is very different from claiming that aliens value only computation. One can easily value other things and yet choose to let technology grow. That's what we all do now. I could more easily argue that natural selection will favor civilizations that try to expand spatially.

> > And I'm sure we could ifeden.computational problems that are so
> > hard that one could compute them more quickly by sending out probes
> > to turn the universe into computers, rather than just using one system
> > to compute with. How can you know that advanced creatures aren't
> > interested in such problems?
> Yes, but there is probably only a small set of computational
> problems where the data can be separated into logical subdivisions
> that do not require significant communication of inputs and outputs.
> ... You win much more by figuring out the optimal computer architecture
> and building it locally, than you do by colonizing the nearest stars.

I'm not going to take your word on this. I want to see some analysis before I'll be persuaded.