RE: "Web-mediated SETI": Robert Bradbury Replies

Robert J. Bradbury (
Tue, 2 Nov 1999 16:07:25 -0800 (PST)

On Tue, 2 Nov 1999, Billy Brown wrote:

> Robert J. Bradbury wrote a summary of alternatives to the "Prime-Directive"
> As the above list makes clear, you have a much bigger implicit assumption
> that is very improbable, and therefore requires a great deal of
> justification.

A list of "or"-ed alternatives is an attempt to outline the possibilities from which (given an Eliezer framework) one begins to assign probabilities.

> Specifically, you are assuming that no SI ever wants to do
> anything that would be especially visible to us.

No. *Only* if they want an experiment where the dumb-ones (us) think they are at the top of the tree of life would they consciously hide from us. Now, if they are in a situation where they want to increase diversity in the universe (suppress convergent evolution due to meme sharing) then they may do this.

What I do lean towards is -

SIs don't go out of their way to be "invisible", they are "invisible" because the most efficient structures are those that radiate their waste heat at the lowest possible temperature. This is evolution to the limits of physics.

> They don't disassemble solar systems to build things,
> they don't reorganize galaxies to optimize the mass distribution,
> and they certainly don't to any recognizable sort of cosmological engineering.

I'm not sure why you think I'm taking this position. I would argue that (a) they do disassemble solar systems;
(b) that galaxy consumption/optimization is variable depending on some

initial conditions (as Eliezer has discussed); (c) that our galaxy is by and large a Kardashev Type III civilization

(with ~90% of the mass astroengineered).

> We've been doing that ever since we learned how to pray.

Have we? Most people praying are praying to an omnipotent being. SIs know they aren't omnipotent, just very very powerful. What is the point of responding to someone praying if you are not whom they were praying to?

> If sincerity were the key we'd already be talking.

We aren't so it isn't.

> If correctly understanding what they are is important we still have a
> long way to go.

Step by step, inch by inch...

> Either way, I don't see that posting a message on the Internet is any
> more likely to work than striking up a conversation with the nearest wall.

If we *knew* the wall had nanobot monitors in it then that might be a good strategy. Unfortunately we may be dealing with a question of -- Are the majority of people "ready" to accept us? A responsible individual never knocks an expression of art off its pedestal unless it is prepared to catch it before it hits the ground. SIs could prevent most humans from despair but it would require a massive intervention that destroyed the experiment.

> What could possibly convince every single individual of every sentient
> species within a billion light years to abide by such a code?

First you *assume* that in sentient species we remain "individuals". I would argue in the long run that "individuality" may carry a price we are not willing to bear. Borg-ites may be a natural choice of rational thinkers. Even if you chose to remain individuals you have to assume that galactic species are "unaware" of the mistakes made in interference. If the history of "contact" is littered with the remains of species whose "will to survive" has been prematurely ripped away from them, then *rational* species will chose to avoid such contact.

I would hope that natural selection and species evolution favors "rationality" over "irrationality". If it doesn't I fear we are doomed.

> The Prime Directive is a human invention founded on the idea that
> all cultures are equivalent and meaningful improvement in the human
> condition is not possible. Neither of these propositions is true.

Huh? That isn't my impression. If you lose even 1 culture because it discovers itself to be woefully inferior does that justify the marginal advancement of 10 other cultures? There may be something about this point that I just don't see, if so please be more explanatory.

Ultimately contact involves the meeting of different social, developmental levels and philosophical perspectives. It would seem that the probability for "mistakes" could exceed the probability for "success". In that case contact should be avoided and any "justified" miracles should be "cloaked".

> If primitive sentient life has value then allowing primitives to die while
> they struggle towards understanding is immoral.

I've discussed this before (within the last week or two) with regard to male dolphins raping female dolphins. Morality seems to be *highly* "level of development" and "environment" specific. You cannot extrapolate our moral perspective to the realm of SIs. What you view as immoral, SIs may view as natural selection. Would you argue natural selection is immoral?

> If primitive sentient life does not have value then why not convert the
> solar system into something that does?

What is "value"??? A new supercomputer in a galaxy filled with 200 billion of them? Give me a break. Only if the marginal benefit of ~1/10^11 of what you have is better than some unknown proability of developing something you don't have (or don't know you don't have) does this make sense.

> Either way, you don't get the world we live in.

Perhaps. But I'm not saying "this is the way it is". I'm saying "this is the way it might be" and people ought to seriously look at it and raise questions about the way they have traditionally perceived things.