Re: Existential Risk and Fermi's Paradox

From: Adam Safron (
Date: Thu Apr 19 2007 - 18:41:54 MDT

sl4 discussants,

Thank you for this fascinating conversation. I think our discussions
could be even better if there were more citing of research/background-
materials supporting claims. If you have particularly informative
sources, please share them!

Mary, I would be very interested in reading more about the evidence
suggesting that human evolution has slowed and potential reasons for

Eliezer, I would like to learn more about the 10^8 figure for a
complexity limit to evolution. Can this be found in the George
Williams book or did you calculate this number?

A book by Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the
Meaning of Life, may be relevant to this discussion of evolution.
 From both a design and an empirical/historical perspective, Lane
argues that though simple cellular life should exist fairly commonly
throughout the universe, there is a low probability for the evolution
of eukaryotic cells. And without this symbiotic evolution producing
mitochondria containing cells, life would not be capable
(energetically) of supporting the complexity of multicellular
organisms (thus putting evolved sentience out of the question). This
hypothesis, combined with our observed timeline of evolution (http:// suggests that complex-
biological-intelligence may not be a major limiting factor when
compared with other obstacles.

Also, I would appreciate any thoughts on the following idea:
Is it possible that the astronomical observation of inter-galactic
voids ( could be
explained by Dyson Spheres or some similar technology capable of
absorbing most of the radiation of a star? If an AI were expanding
outwards from its origins in an exponential fashion, and if complex
intelligence was such a rare phenomenon that it occurred once every
several hundred (or thousand) galaxies, perhaps the universe would
look much like the one observe today: relatively dense filaments of
galaxies surrounding vast regions of "empty space" Or perhaps the
universe looks this way for entirely different reasons. And of
course, as Eliezer pointed out, this would say nothing about whether
these AI were benevolent to their progenitors.


On Apr 19, 2007, at 2:39 AM, Mary Tobias wrote:

> In fact recent research suggests that human evolution has come to a
> near stand-still and is by far the slowest rate of change for all
> primate. The possible mutations that might improve/expand a brain
> the size/complexity of ours, without causing serious problems with
> viability and survivability are approaching zero.
> The only likely changes in our neural capacity in the near term,
> won't come until we have a profound understanding of our genome,
> epigenome, and the machinery of our genetic expression, and the
> tools withwhich to manipulate them. At that point it's possible
> that we may be able make tweeks on our own construction, and eek
> out a few more CCs of prime frontal lobe real estate.
> Of course by that time, neural implants may make the whole
> conversation moot.
> Mary Tobias
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
>> Larry wrote:
>>> It now seems to be standard dogma to say "evolution doesn't
>>> advance", a
>>> reflexive response to the old dogma showing mankind as the end
>>> goal of
>>> evolution. Neither is accurate. Evolution is like a random walk,
>>> and random walks do expand over time.
>> A common misconception, which I believe was first spread by the
>> scientifically dishonest Stephen J. Gould, misrepresenter
>> extraordinaire of modern evolutionary theory. (For more on Gould
>> see
>> Evolution has a complexity limit, the amount of genetic
>> information that it can support against degenerative mutation,
>> given a copying fidelity and a maximum selection pressure. This
>> amount would not exceed 10^8 bits for mammals. It would have been
>> reached long ago. Thus, the random walk has an upper limit and
>> does not expand. Since then we have simply been substituting new
>> complexity for old complexity as adaptive challenges change.
>> Much of this discussion on this thread shows misunderstanding of
>> basic evolutionary biology combined with no realization that more
>> advanced understandings exist. I recommend "Adaptation and
>> Natural Selection" by George Williams for starters (this is the
>> book often said to have started the "Williams Revolution" of the
>> late 1960s in biology).

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