[ExI] breakout culture (Was: ambition)

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Feb 2 12:10:41 UTC 2013

On 01/02/2013 22:03, Tomasz Rola wrote:
> Interesting. So, I understand your sims are set up for pre-industrial
> civilizations? Or maybe even before agrarian revolution?

Yes, I am currently tuning them using late Roman/Medieval life tables 
from South Germany (Stettfeldt). I have life tables from 
hunter-gatherers, but it was the instability of these that got the 
project started (sometimes complaining aloud about having to add fudge 
factors to get reasonable results pays off! I actually asked "Is there 
an archeologist in the house?" and got a yes answer.)

>   Because for early
> industrial-like civ (say, England around 1800), my very wild guess is, it
> would require about 20-200 kilopeople - but this again depends on what is
> the role of economy, the more economy the more people needed to sustain it
> for given tech level, production needs consumers, something like this.

It is pretty complicated, and I don't think any economists have any 
quick and nice answers ("Well, dear boy, since the economy of scale 
exponent is 1.07 and the proportionality constant back in 1801 was what 
it was, your answer will be 5.7 million people") - I hope to find a few 
and pump them for more information when I get the time.

>   But
> on a space ship, no need for money (well, not sure about it but let's
> assume), so production is maintained with disregard of costs, as long as
> technical side is ok (enough energy and materials and people to operate
> the devices).

Cost is cost, even with no money. If I want a kilogram of steel it has 
to be made from the mass and energy budget of the spacecraft, and it 
will be unavailable for other functions as long as I have it.

In the case of the spaceship the bigger problem is maintaining the 
technology needed: there must be enough people who understand it, there 
must be technology that allows them to build or repair it, and there 
must be a sufficient influx of new people who understand it to replace 
those who disappear. The Apollo crews no doubt knew a lot of 
engineering, but they were dependent on ground control to solve many 
problems and could definitely not build another Saturn 5 on their own.

It really is the problem of closure in self-replicating systems. Here 
the system is an economy rather than a device.

> Hmm, I guess for real world survival longer than few (hundred) millennia a
> really good tech is a must (and IMHO we are at best halfway there, even
> without starting the whole uploading business, just for creatures
> resembling humans in form and lifestyle). And this makes any other
> assumptions, like limits based on genetics or even Dunbar's number a
> little less significant (like, we can fabricate genes out of "genopedia"
> as needed, we can integrate with some kind of info-processing implants or
> maybe grow better brains by better genes etc). Or so I would say.

 From a demographic survival perspective, having a long-lived population 
is very good (more time to fix things), having the tech to provide loads 
of resources allows you to have a high fertility if you so choose 
(especially since maternal mortality can be kept down), and you can 
counter a lot of the normal variability of the environment (be it bad 
harvests or supernovas). Good medicine indeed makes genetic problems 
manageable, and good communication/coordination tech gets around Dunbar.

There is of course the problem that more advanced tech also allows 
individuals to make more dangerous things. My Medieval Germans did not 
even know what pitchblende was (despite it being found in the region), 
let alone that the uranium inside could be super-destructive when 
extracted in the right way. Today I can write a computer virus or order 
DNA for some nasty pathogen without rising from my chair (actually 
turning these into something likely to be destructive would take more 
work, admittedly). But it is not clear that endogenous tech risks have 
to go up: they are likely a function of the coordination/oversight of 
the society, and different forms of organisation can likely manage 
these. (A crude existence proof is of course a 24/7 surveillance society 
devoted to safety, but there are hopefully liveable examples too).

So, yes, hightech societies are likely far more stable than low-tech 
ones. But they might be hard to initially achieve, since they require a 
criticial size of population and knowledge with the right memes.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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