Re: >H: The next 100 months

Xiaoguang Li (
Thu, 21 Oct 1999 15:08:16 -0400 (EDT)

here's my understanding of Eliezer's argument for actively pursuing the creation of a power:

destruction is easier than construction: given humanity's lackluster record with past technological advances, nanowar (read: armagedon) is virtually certain.

evolution is messy: even if humanity survives the advent of nanotech and gives rise to transhuman powers, these powers would have no more chance of being benevolent than powers designed de novo. the dichotomy -- if transhuman powers retained evolutionary baggage such as emotional attachments or moral inhibitions, then they are prone to inconsistencies and self-contraditions and are therefore untrustworthy; if they did not, then initial conditions are insignificant, and there's no functional difference between transhuman powers or powers who arise otherwise. the caveat -- AI is easier than IA, so this scenario would require active suppression of technology, the ills of which are well-known.

power before nanowar: creation of a power designed de novo before nanowar will result in a singularity -- that is, all bets are off (read: no more house advantage against the survival of humanity).

now for my doubts. does the creation of a power really increase the chances of our survival? it seems that the odds of humanity surviving a singularity are significantly lower than a coin flip. given the enormous difference between the creation and its creator, it seems most likely (> 99%) that humanity would not be significant to a power. that is, perhaps less significant than virion particles to a human being.

it is true, however, that a fledgling power would probably protect itself and incidentally prevent a nanowar on its host planet. but what after that? if the power needs to rearrange the planet to provide substrate for its intelligence, would it pause to consider the parasites on the planet's surface? what does the term "benign power" really mean? is this "benign power" to favor the survival of humanity, against profoundly implausible odds? or, do we thank our stars if the power would only make its exodus quickly and leave us untouched?

indeed, next to dismantling the solar system, the exodus seems a distinct possibility. however, if the power leaves humanity as it was, then is not humanity free to pursue the old road toward nanowar and self-annihilation all over again?

if the above were true, it brings us to the trichotomy -- 1. the power may interfere on humanity's behalf; 2. the power may functionally act against humanity's survival; 3. the power may leave humanity more or less untouched. the first possibility is slim to none, the second is moot, and the third would not improve humanity's odds beyond current estimations.

thus, it seems the advantage of creating a power asap is not very obvious. moreover, no better approach seems to be in sight. if one or more of the above risks were not significantly revised, humanity's future looks grim indeed.