SI = corporation?

Lyle Burkhead (
Thu, 26 Sep 1996 00:36:25 -0500 (EST)

> Dan Clemmensen has suggested that corporations don't colonise
> the cosmos because of their high discount rate for future benefits.
> The discount rate would presumably be high because of the
> rapidity of their subjective time and the slowness of
> cosmic travels. The idea is interesting since, if right, it would
> help resolve the Fermi paradox.
> One reason why corporations could have a high discount rate
> would be if they had a bias towards the near future, just as we
> humans have. We tend to care more about an imminent pleasure
> than about a similar one we would sure to get in a billion
> years. Perhaps all corporations would be "irrational" in the same
> way?
> Another reason why a corporation might discount the benefits of
> colonisation is because the benefits would only come about
> if it diverted some of its resources to the space mission,
> resources which could have been used for other purposes.
> Suppose that the objective of the corporation is to maximise the
> amount of valuable computations it will carry out during its
> life time. At a certain time t it has a given capital
> (consisting perhaps of its mass or available energy).
> Part of this capital could be invested into a project that would
> yield returns at t'>t, but meanwhile that capital could not
> be used to make valuable computations, i.e. there would be
> an opportunity cost which would have to be subtracted from
> the expected returns when considering whether the investment
> is worthwhile. The question is what the function
> f = valuablecomputationspower(capital)
> looks like. For Clemmensen's argument to go through,
> it would not suffice that f had a jerk at some point, because
> different corporations would presumably start out with
> somewhat different amounts of capital. If all corporations
> had originally a capital less than the critical amount,
> then they would invest in space missions,
> but the benefit of space missions seems to come in chunks
> (one chunk for every planet or solar system one arrived at),
> and so there would be some overshoot: most corporations
> would obtain a capital greater than the critical value, and
> they would have little to lose from using the excess for
> new space missions. f would rather have to have the shape of
> an inverted exponential, so that for each amount of capital
> (greater than some start-up value), a slight loss of capital
> would reduce the computation power greatly, whereas a slight
> increase would bring but a negligible increase. Not only
> would the function have to be of an exponential character,
> the constants would have to be rather great, considering
> that the gains would be obtained after perhaps a thousand
> years and be enjoyed for perhaps billions of years, while
> the required investment would presumably be very small
> compared to the corporation's total capital whereas the gains
> could be very substantial. For instance, if any considerable
> degree of parallelization of valuable computations were
> possible, then df/d(capital) would certainly not decrease
> rapidly enough.
> If Robin's objection, that not all knowledge can be obtained
> simply by sitting back and thinking (making computations),
> is directed against Clemmensen's basic idea rather than
> against some other more specific claim Clemmensen has made,
> then I don't think it carries very much weight, because
> there is no obvious reason why corporations should be
> interested in the detailed structure of distant cosmic regions.
> We must not forget that a mere suggestion for where
> the Great Filter could be, even if it falls short of being a proof,
> would be very helpful; in any case there seem to be
> much greater difficulties with Clemmensen's proposal
> than that it assumes that the curiosity of corporations is
> rather limited.

My apologies to Nicholas Bostrom and Dan Clemmensen...
but I was curious to see what this post would look like if you substitute
"corporation" for "SI" throughout. Does it still make sense?
What exactly is the difference between a corporation and an SI?