Expansion vs. navel-gazing

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com)
Date: Mon Sep 09 2002 - 00:59:38 MDT

(This started in a discussion on the Extropians list, but after writing it
I thought it should be forwarded to SL4.)

Let's say you're an enlightened, moral, altruistic post-Singularity 
civilization.  From your perspective, there are several possible states 
that matter can occupy:
1)  Matter can be organized into citizens of your own enlightened, moral, 
altruistic post-Singularity civilization.
2)  Matter can be organized into boring uncomplex things like stars.  This 
is rather pointless so you want to transform this matter into state (1). 
I mean, all else being equal, why not?  Also, Fred is running out of room 
for his MP3 collection.
3)  Matter can be organized into evolving but nonsentient replicators. 
This still isn't exactly a lot of complexity by comparison with (1) and is 
arguably (hey, I think so) pretty much morally the same as (2).
4)  Matter can be organized into evolved, intelligent, but pre-Singularity 
entities.  In this case their quality of life is pretty hideous by 
comparison with (1) so you want to show up and rescue them.
5)  Matter can be organized into a different enlightened post-Singularity 
civilization than your own.  In this case you want to show up and say hi - 
exchange information to increase the total nonduplicated complexity of the 
6)  Matter can be organized into shapes that are dangerous and unpleasant 
as the result of Singularities gone wrong.  You want to know where these 
infestations are, maybe even do something about them, and you certainly 
want to show up *before* that point if at all possible.  In fact, this 
alone provides an adequate rationale for cataloguing all the matter in the 
universe and making sure none of it is developing into hostile 
superintelligence.  (Alternatively, you might want to run away into your 
own little hidey-hole universe, in which case you are not visibly 
engineering galaxies or whatever, which is how this conversation got started.)
I realize we don't know what choices smarter-than-human intelligences 
would make, but the choice to sit and contemplate your own navel seems a 
lot more anthropomorphic than the alternative.  Even if you don't want to 
reproduce, or you don't want to reproduce too often, you'll still want to 
grow your mind over time.
Now, is there any good reason why an enlightened, moral post-Singularity 
civilization would *not* be out to absorb, say hi to, or rescue all matter 
in the universe?
PS:  If anyone's listening, I'd like to volunteer for the Culture's 
Contact section.
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                          http://intelligence.org/
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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