Re: An essay I just wrote on the Singularity.

From: John Stick (
Date: Thu Jan 08 2004 - 01:22:14 MST

Tommy, before getting into the details, take a minute to really think
through the main point. It is basic economics. Scarcity and
superfluity of goods do not drive exchange: differences among
decisionmakers about the evaluation of the desirability of bundles of
goods, services and states of the world drives exchange. If people
disagree about how the solar system (I'll get to your fighting your own
hypothetical by shifting to the galaxy in a few paragraphs) should be
utilized, they will seek political leverage or economic property rights,
whatever is available, to get as much of what they want as they can.
 Your position is that everyone can be satisfied at once. But if some
people have diverse preferences over the design of the entire area,
whether those preferences spring from scientific, aesthetic, ideological
or religious interests, no such total accommodation will be possible.
 The first obvious split is that there will be some conservationists who
will argue that all the major astronomical features of the solar system
should be conserved: no planets or moons converted to computronium. You
rely a great deal on virtual reality to satisfy desires, but a virtual
model of the solar system will not satisfy them, and virtually real
computronium is not likely to satisfy you.

Virtual reality has significant limits. You assume below it can
substitute for scientific experiments, and it can to an extent, but do
you really think it can substitute for all possible experiments? Do you
assume that come the singularity the AI will have all possible
scientific knowledge? That would be an extreme assumption. If some
experiments using a significant part of the solar system (galaxy,
nebula, whatever) would potentially yield new information, some people
will want to do them to the exclusion of other uses, and they will
disagree over the design and who gets to participate. The number of
people with enough knowledge to take part in such debates may be small
now, but with the singularity that number should grow rapidly.

Virtual reality will not satisfy some peoples' political, religious,
historical, and aesthetic interests. Conservationists will want to
conserve the real moon, not a virtually real moon. Holy men will want to
extend the reach of God's law (whichever God they worship) in real
space, not virtual space. The artistic descendants of Christo will want
to wrap the real Neptune in pink foil to make a work of art, not a
virtual Neptune. Anyone with a romantic streak will want a honeymoon on
the real moon, not a virtual moon. You will not be able to accommodate
everyone at once. You, personally, may find these sorts of views odd,
sentimental, irrational, you might even be right, but it doesn't matter.
 If people disagree the various methods of conflict resolution (economic
exchange, political organization, terrorism and war) will have fodder on
which to feed.

And trying to evade these arguments by changing the scale to the galaxy
or even the universe does not help. Sentimental attachments of all
kinds to our solar system will not all be assuaged by offering an artist
or a religion another solar system. You will create more goods to fight
over but the goods will not be indistinguishable so the original fights
over the original solar system will remain.

Tommy McCabe wrote:

>--- John Stick <> wrote:
>>This is surely wrong. Even the non-uploaded,
>>unaugmented me can think
>>of dozens of projects that would consume more than a
>>solar system's
>>worth of resources. For starters, I would like a
>>hundred planets so I
>>can test the punctuated equilibrium account of
>>evolution. (You have a
>>slightly different design for the experiment? Go
>>get your own hundred
>Or go get a virtual reality machine, or the crust of a
>planet with a gravity generator inside, or something
>else I haven't thought of in 30 seconds...

The amount of time you took to think this through was already apparent.
 They won't do.

>>And I would like to terraform Mars so I
>>can restage the
>>Trojan wars.
>>And then there is the life size Ring
>>World museum and
>>amusement park--Earth's orbit will do nicely.
>Since when is an amusement park thousands of miles
You really need to think this stuff through in more detail. Half the
time you make dismissive comments as if after an AI develops, all
humanity will lose all of the sentimental and ideological habits of mind
it has always possessed; as if everyone will be uploaded and completely
changed. (Notice that even Ben wants to leave a meat version.) Then
you turn around, as here, and forget that uploaded and augmented people
are likely to be able to use probes and other devices as external
sensory organs. Once this happens entertainment facilities will be able
to change to be much larger (and much smaller.)

>>And I
>>want a few billion
>>space probes to send in various directions to search
>>the universe for
>>whatever strikes my fancy. Yes, I know the AI(s)
>>will be sending their
>>own, but I like control of my own data streams,
>>thank you.
>Sure. Just chew up that small asteroid over there and
>convert it to a hundred reconfigurable Von Neumann
>probes. Or better yet, send out a billion tiny grains
>of dust with a computronium chip and
>femto-manipualtor. (something that can manipulate
>objects at that scale)

So you cannot think of any purposes for which a larger probe would be
useful? So much the worse for you. I would like an assortment of all
sizes, thanks. Again the point is that once people have the capability
to do large scale constructions themselves, there will be a billion
schemes. They won't all make sense to you, or anyone. But I guarantee
there are over a thousand people who if they could would build a full
planet sized replica of middle earth, complete with Ents. There will be
thousands of full size Starships Enterprise. There will be competitions
to build the largest this, the most of that. If resources are costless,
which is your assumption in practical terms, there will not be an end to
the building schemes.

To be followed inevitably by the zoning schemes, as the first builders
try to keep their view of near space unoccluded, and try to keep
whatever they find tacky as far away from themselves as possible.

>>Don't forget that the singularity, while greatly
>>increasing the
>>resources available to effective use, will also
>>greatly increase the
>>capabilities of consumers to use resouces. There is
>>one solar system
>Try the billions that are in the Milky Way without
>sentient life on them, not counting other galaxies.

By the time you can send a probe to Alpha Centauri, I will not only
conceive of 20 different pieces of performance art which will each
consume a galaxy, but I will also make arrangements to spawn a thousand
descendents, each cross fertilized with mental attributes from people I
admire. If we are going out to colonize a galaxy, I'm willing to do my
part to create the colonists. Ben is not the only person who will want
multiple versions of himself. Again. if you assume costless near
infinite resources, population can expand to match and to exceed those

>>but billions of us. The current me cannot make
>>effective use of an
>>asteroid, but given affordable nanotech and
>>spacetravel, I could use it
>>for data storage, or to make a large sculpture, or a
>>huge number of
>>other purposes. Scarcity won't be just a matter of
>>food, clothing and
>>shelter, as it is for many people on earth now.
>>Every single person
>>will have the capabilty to transform the solar
>>system to match their
>>dreams, except for a few billion fellow dreamers who
>>will stand in the
>>The singularity will increase competition for
>>resources. What remains
>>to be seen is whether that competition is economic,
>>or political, or
>>violent, or lobbying the sysop.
>Lobbying the sysop? Not in the way we think of it: any
>lobbying would be done automatically by the sysop, no
>petitioning required.

We are off the main point, but your error is similar to those above and
thus instructive. I assume the sysop is Friendly in something like
Eliezer's sense. It respects volition and attempts, other things being
equal, to preserve our capacity for volition. So I assume people need
not live in a totally solipsistic virtual reality with no contact with
the real world or with other minds than the sysop. So in this shared,
partially virtual and partially real world, can the members of a group
of minds shepherded by a sysop influence the actions of that sysop?
 Surely yes, to an extent. If the sysop is providing you virtual
content for your private use, and it is friendly, your wishes will
influence the content it gives. Some services the sysop will provide
not to individuals privately but to as something shared among the
group. Again, the members of the group must have the abilty to
influence what the sysop does to some extent or they are being deprived
of volition. And, to get back to the main point of our disagreement, if
the sysop can be influenced to one alternative, it can be influenced to
several and there is room for competition among members of the group to
influence the sysop in the way each prefers. Now what form the
influence on the sysop will take is impossible for us to say: rational
argument? demonstrations of political support? economic bidding? But
since lobbying encompasses all of these and more besides, it seems a
perfectly good word to use.

>>Tommy McCabe wrote:
>>>Even assuming we aren't living in a virtual reality
>>>where getting something is as simple as snapping
>>>fingers, competition for resources is unlikely when
>>>you can just disassemble Jupiter and turn it into
>>>stuff that people want. As a matter of fact,
>>>that remove one of the main reasons for war, if you
>>>have the technology for
>>>instant-mansions-just-add-water? People don't
>>>compete with each other for water during a flood.
>>>Do you Yahoo!?
>>>Yahoo! Hotjobs: Enter the "Signing Bonus"
>Do you Yahoo!?
>Yahoo! Hotjobs: Enter the "Signing Bonus" Sweepstakes

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