Shocklevel 5

From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Fri Dec 07 2001 - 18:39:50 MST

The question of risk and risk reduction is, IMO, a very interesting one
and essential to any long-range planning activity. The point I've been
trying to illustrate is obscured, perhaps, by a kind of "shocklevel"
problem --- and though I've been accused of anthropomorphic reasoning and
because Eli has himself made that claim in the past, I feel I need to
clarify a few points.

The "risk" argument has nothing to do with any anthropomorphic
assumptions; to the contrary, the counterarguments --- and indeed
perhaps the whole notion of "Friendliness" --- is grounded in a kind of
anthropomorphic reasoning and constrained by shocklevel-deficient "event
horizons." The examples I've used have probably compounded the
misunderstanding, so let me try to put together an argument that is
totally (or nearly so) divorced from an anthropomorphic context. I'll
try to be very clear about the assumptions.

We are explicitly ignoring the following topics:

(1) Whether an immediately pre-Power mind is likely to develop along
Friendly or malevolent lines.
(2) Whether any particular course of action is likely to result in
Friendliness or malevolence.
(3) Whether an emergent Power has any interest at all in its precursors'
individual survival.

Let us assume that you are the first Power that results from human
technological advance. Let us assume that, like all living beings that
we are aware of, you are concerned about "survival." Let us define
survival to be "continuity of awareness over time, perhaps punctuated."
You might be concerned about this for your own sake, if you had an
individual sense of self, or you might be an altruistic uberbeing
concerned only with the survival of your own constituents. It doesn't
matter which: the latter case implies / requires the former, as the
altruistic uberbeing must ensure its own survival in order to ensure the
survival of its constituents. Regardless, the essential challenge is
simple: continue to function and pursue your goals indefinitely over


Let's call you "Alpha."

You (Alpha) are a Mind, but your substrate (at least initially) is normal
matter. Let's assume that you cannot use spacetime itself as a
computational substrate --- there is no particular reason to believe you
can't, but there's also no particular reason to assume you can. Let's
assume that you can turn normal matter into perfectly efficient
computronium. Even so, whatever mass / volume makes up your substrate is
subject to physical risks in the long-term in the form of disastrous
events: planetary events like collisions, stellar events like novas,
interstellar events like supernovas, reality-changing events like
collapse of a metastable vacuum state, universal events like the heat
death of the universe, etc. There are three general strategies for
dealing with those risks: minimization of your "profile" relative to
such events by minimizing the volume / mass involved in the substrate or
changing the characteristics of your interaction with other normal
timespace / matter, hardening physical security from such events if
possible, or making yourself as distributed across timespace as possible
to amortize risk from single-point failures.

There is a minimal volume / mass substrate required for you to
There is a maximum amount of physical security that can be achieved.
The lightcone constrains maximum distribution.
The speed of light constrains interaction across a distributed body.
The risk of annihilation approaches unity over time no matter what.

How do you achieve the penultimate objective, which is to ensure your
*own* survival so that you can continue to perform your other functions,
which might be protection and perpetuation of some external constituency?

Bottom line, in the limit: you cannot. Extinction of the "individual"
--- even a distributed, omnipotent ubermind --- is 100% certain at some
future point, if for no other reason than the entropic progress of the


Welcome to Shocklevel 5. Infinite survival is an impossibility, even
(especially) in an infinite universe.

You can *maximize* survival probability over a finite time, but you
cannot guarantee immortality even given wildly optimistic assumptions ---
if the universe is open. (If it's closed, it might be a different story
--- but that's a longshot.) There are specific things you *can* do ---
moving the substrate to a dark matter basis minimizes its interaction
with normal matter and energy, minimizing many of the risks (planetary,
stellar, interstellar) but still leaves you exposed to reality failure or
universal catastrophes.


So what does this have to do with Sysops? Well, admittedly, we're on the
far reaches of implication -wrt- Sysops. The point I'm making is really
about risk; my fear is that we are too anthropomorphically constrained
to evaluate risks in longer-than-human timescales. The notion of
Friendly seems to assume a particular set of imperatives for such a Mind
that may, in fact, be unduly influenced and constrained by those notions
of "safety," what's desirable, etc. Evolution has numerous deadends; it
would be horrible to condemn the human line (not physically, but
considering all our possible antecedents) to such a deadend through
mistakes that trade temporary security for long-term viability.

Long-term species viability and long-term individual viability may not be
compatible. If we build a system that ensures the latter, we may deny
ourselves the former. And without long-term species viability, the
long-term prospects for the viability of intelligence in the universe go
to zero, as it will certainly take engineering effort on a massive scale
to minimize some of the large-scale extinction risks.



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