Sysop and Population (was: "SIMULATIONS...")

From: Mitch Howe (
Date: Mon Oct 08 2001 - 01:17:07 MDT

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:

> Under a Sysop Scenario, the population growth rate is the emergent result
> of property rights and child abuse laws. At the time of Singularity, each
> of six billion initial citizens gets a resource allotment, and there's a
> Minimal Living Space requirement to create a new citizen to prevent
> peonage-based coercion. This MLS would be the amount of RAM/resources
> required to go on thinking "forever" given the expected rate of overall
> growth - that is, you won't run out of mental living space before the New
> Territory opens up. The requirement would be even higher to create a new
> citizen with the desire to reproduce. In both cases the reason is the
> same - so that you can't create a citizen that wants to live, or
> reproduce, and then control it by threatening to withhold the resources ve
> needs to accomplish these things. In other words, to create a citizen,
> that citizen has to be self-sufficient.
> Under this scenario, one of us (i.e., one of the six billion beings born
> before the Singularity) might be able to create a few trillion offspring
> immediately after the Singularity using his or her allotment of Solar
> matter - but those trillion offspring won't be able to create another
> trillion offspring in turn, and none of them (including the original) will
> run out of room to think before the Sysop manufactures more paired
> negative/positive matter, opens up a new Van Den Broeck(*) pocket, splits
> off another universe, or whatever. However, reproductive rates are likely
> to be substantially lower, and MLS sustantially higher, if we have to go
> all the way to Alpha Centauri at C to obtain more mass. If resource
> acquisition is geometric rather than exponential in the long run, then
> reproduction will also become slower as time goes on. Even individual
> subjective rates may need to become slower so that personal growth doesn't
> exceed available resources. I tend to regard that as the "pessimistic"
> scenario, although it may still permit an infinite amount of subjective
> fun over infinite time.

I agree with you that Sysop would be interested in maintaining MLS, and I
see your vision of emergent declines in population growth as plausible.
However, I disagree with you when you seem to make the assumption that a
friendly Sysop would think it fair to initially divvy up the solar system 6
billion ways. My reason for this is simple: If the Sysop is actually
thinking long-term, calculating its ability to incorporate new matter, etc,
then it ought to be making initial allocation decisions based upon this
data. Why? So that subsequent generations of citizens aren't comparatively
screwed out of large resource blocks on the mere account of their having
been created later. (I may thus be breaking the definition of Sysop again,
but if so in it may be an indication of a weakness in the Sysop concept.)

A rough historical comparison:

18th and 19th century Ireland experienced more than its share of famine,
with overpopulation cited as a serious mitigating factor, if not the root
cause. In the early 1700's, the adoption of the potato as an agricultural
gift from the Americas allowed for increased agricultural productivity.
This encouraged farmers to subdivide their plots to their sons, who
incidentally married earlier and had children sooner as a result.*
Population boomed, and with each generation the cycle continued -- higher
crop yields, more farmers, smaller plots. This was fine until 1846, when a
black fungal rot rendered the high-yield staple, potato, inedible. Other
crops could still be raised, but farmers' plots were too small to produce
enough food without potatoes. Death and emigration reduced the island's
population from 8 million to 5 million by 1850.

Was it poor decision-making on account of the farmers in 1846 that led to so
much suffering? Was the famine the result of bad government policy? No.
The mid-nineteenth century Irish farmer inherited so little land that he
could grow little besides potatoes. The reason safety margins were
non-existent by 1846 was the emergent result of individual -- and logical --
decisions made by ancestors starting more than a hundred years earlier. It
was a case of rational self-interest on a wide scale leading to even wider
scale destruction farther down the pipe.

I'm not saying that there would ever be anything akin to a potato blight in
Sysop space, although there might. I'm saying that a Friendly SI might feel
just as obligated to protect and serve future generations as present ones.
It's really not fair to be born into an MLS situation (where you can maybe
only have one offspring at an unspecified future date) while your neighbor,
who happened to be first generation Citizen sits on an unfathomable hoard of
matter she decided not to share through having a trillion offspring. I'm
not sure of the flavor of mathematics neccessary to describe the more
equitable allocation system, but the Sysop might do Friendliest to divvy up
matter based on: 1) Current population 2) Birth rate trends 3) Expected
rate of matter assimilation. 4) Significant barriers to further growth
Conservatively using its longest term projections, seeing where potentially
unsurpassable barriers to expansion exist (edge of the galaxy?), it could
come up with an MLS that is generous but applied to everyone, regardless of
when they come online in Sysop space. At its simplest, it could be a
calculation of what resources are neccessary for a comfortable, individual
MLS, and how many of these MLS blocks could likely be made out of the
refinable matter in the galaxy (if the galactic edge is likely to be an
effectively insurmountable barrier).

To quote some Native American philosophy:

"Look behind you. See your sons and your daughters. They are your future.
Look farther, and see your sons' and your daughters' children and their
children's children even unto the seventh generation. That's the way we were
    --Tadodaho Leon Shenandoah
        Speaker of the House
        Grand Council of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy

A recognized weakness in this concept of Friendly MLS allocation is the fact
that people tend to have many more children when they know they will be
provided for. An individual producing a trillion offspring who each produce
a trillion offspring would probably break the system very quickly. This
could be anticipated as part of the "growth trends" factor in the initial
MLS calculation, but the end result might be suffocatingly small MLS --
really SMLS (sub-minimal).

So in the end we may wind up back with distasteful-but-equitable enforced
limits on reproduction. Its really outside the realm of average human
experience to produce hundreds of children anyway, so a limit of 10 or 20
might be perfectly acceptable to most. It's not high enough to satisfy the
dreams of any King Solomon wanna-be, but it is already established that not
every wish can possibly be granted in Sysop space (unless some of the
wildest theoretical possibilities for, say, tapping into other universes
prove tenable).

--Mitch Howe

[* Virginia Abernethy's article on overpopulation includes concise mention
of this phenomenon.]

Do You Yahoo!?
Get your free address at

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:37 MDT