Re: Stopping the Singularity

Anders Sandberg (
Wed, 2 Oct 1996 17:54:00 +0200 (MET DST)

On Mon, 30 Sep 1996, Chris Hind wrote:

> The singularity is right around the corner and you or I can do
> nothing to stop it even if we wanted to. What could stop the singularity?
> Hire a hitman to take out Eric Drexler? Traces of Terminator 2.

No, the tragic death of Drexler might even have the opposite effect by
creating media attention.

Here is a more realistic scenario, based on an upcoming paper about
scenario planning (this is the "House of Cards" scenario):

An international stock market crash occurs for one reason or another
(Earthquake in Tokyo, Bill Gates converts to Islam or a little computer in
Ulan Bator gets a stupid idea); this upsets the world economy a lot, and
several influential banks or insurance companies crash or get into serious
trouble. This causes a feedback - for example, all insurance companies are
cross-insured, and if one goes down the others will feel the

The economic chaos affects the national economies and currencies badly.
Many customers find their savings inaccessible or even gone, a lot of
companies are forced into layoffs. A new depression seems imminent, but it
has appeared much faster than anybody had planned for, and it is almost
impossible to do anything constructive against it (whether this is true or
not doesn't matter, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy). In developing
nations things turn very nasty, since foreign capital suddenly vanishes
together with the market of many export products (like coffee or cacao).
Things are not much better in the industrialized world, since there are a
large group of unemployed, suddenly poor people who have not enough
savings, will not get enough wellfare (since the government is busy having
to save the remaining banks, the currency and keep vital installations
running) and beside have lost all confidence in the official currencies.

As violence and poverty rise, many people band together into communities
for mutual protection and survival. This of course makes the state even
jumpier, and it has to prevent these communities from becoming too
powerful, otherwise it will loose its remaining control - and of course,
sending out the police and military consts valuable resources, which makes
the situation worse. And when things really start getting bad people
become even more desperate...

The end result, when we played out this scenario, was a world dominated by
many more or less independent agrarian communities focused on staying
alive, most strongly defended or part of neo-feudal states. Long range
trade will probably return in the future, but it will take a long time.
Mongolia suddenly looks like a developed country in this world - they are
good at horsemanship, independent and self-sufficient.

Meanwhile, advanced research and development is practically impossible
(ever tried to do genetic engineering without access to purified enzymes?
Or how do you rebuild the internet when electricity is a scarce
commodity?). Drexler and us are (if we are lucky) building generators or
tending the sick.

No, this may not prevent the Singularity from appearing later, but it
will delay it considerably. You could of course make this scenario even
darker by assuming bioweapons or similar tricks, but a global market
crash can be bad enough.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y