Re: Dynamic ethics

From: Philip Goetz (
Date: Mon Jan 23 2006 - 09:39:07 MST

On 1/22/06, Phillip Huggan <> wrote:
> What resources will be scarce post-singularity? Energy? Printable polymer
> solar cells should solve this long before any AGI.


This is an ancient argument on transhumanist email lists,
which historically stems from the fact that most Extropians
are Randians and libertarians who are fans of Julian Simon
and never studied ecology and have very negative
connotations attached to the words "ecology" and

"Scarcity" in the Julian Simon sense has to do with price,
and with refuting people who claim that civilization will grind
to a halt because we'll run out of fresh water and copper.

"Scarcity" in the sense we are discussing now has to do
with the fact that any resources that can be used to reproduce
or to satisfy a creature's wants or needs, will in a short time
no longer be free for the taking. I'm not claiming that these
resources will vanish, or even that their "price" will be very
high. The important point is that many entities will want these

I don't think this is relevant to the ethical discussion anyway.

What is so hard about
> substituting a mechanical gazelle for the hunting pleasure of a real lion.
> I do the same thing with my cats using string instead of mice. Real
> gazelles don't need to be bled to death by lions to enjoy their lives.

We stand in relation to a posthuman AI in the same way that the lion
stands to us.

A solution in which whoever happens to be the most powerful species
decides what everybody gets to do and enforces it - the approach you
are suggesting - is unacceptable. That is what would happen by
default, if we fail to think about the problem now. Think about what
would happen to humans under such a system.

The lion must continue to be allowed to hunt and kill gazelles. That
is the starting point.

> There are ways to artificially push an ecology's energy requirements to a
> system's max resources (make a trillion gazelles). I don't think we should
> do this until we can safely discover exactly how much energy we have to work
> with in the universe.

I don't think we "should", but we know that "we" will, because that is
how ecosystems work. SOMEBODY is going to use those resources.
Resources are never left lying around unused for long. I have been
trying to explain this to transhumanists for 15 years now. Why is
this so hard for transhumanists in particular to accept? I suppose
because they are infected with extropian memes that preach the joy of
expansion unsullied by any problems with conflicts or resource

> You want to maintain the "law" of ecology but outlaw common-sense
>"humane rights"? The moralists you speak so highly of, are all wrong.

I didn't speak of anyone highly, and I don't know what positions
you're suggesting these moralists all take (hint: some of them take
different positions).

"Common-sense" is different for humans than for lions. That is the problem.

I think cats would have been an interesting dominant species. They
would transcend much faster, then blow themselves up. Because if you
left a hyperintelligent cat in a room with a button, and said, "This
button will blow up the earth if you press it", the cat would still
HAVE to press the button.

- Phil

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