[ExI] Where are they? was Re: 2^57885161-1

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Thu Feb 21 11:26:22 UTC 2013

On 20/02/2013 15:48, spike wrote:
> ...Perhaps your new law of physics should be that "cultures of an intelligent species cannot exist without inherent politics."  ...Stuart LaForge
> _______________________________________________
> I have long had a notion that we are missing something fundamentally
> important in the Fermi question.  Stuart gets close to it with his comment.
> Imagine that intelligence cannot evolve without competition, generation
> after generation for eons, allowing the most extreme in every niche to
> gradually rise to the top in whatever it is, so that you end up with a
> particular species that is the swiftest carnivore, the fiercest defender,
> the smartest beast.  That part of the argument is intuitive.  Now follow it
> to the next step: that same characteristic of competition which created the
> intelligent species eventually either limits or destroys further progress.
> By that model, competition giveth and competition taketh away.

At my talk, a somewhat similar question came up during the discussion. 
Given that life is fundamentally expansive, shouldn't we expect it to be 
very competitive and hence rather aggressive?

My answer was based on an observation Drexler made in one of the agorics 
papers. Yes, replicators soon run out of unclaimed resources and 
compete. But competition can be done in a lot of different ways. Humans 
do not just compete by stealing stuff or killing each other. We compete 
by trading, creating institutions and by creating impressive 
non-rivalrous goods. The fact that it is news when somebody cheats in 
business is evidence that it is a relatively rare phenomenon: most 
business is totally win-win. In nature, we find symbiosis noteworthy: it 
is rare, most organisms just eat each other. Humans, thanks to our 
minds, are able to construct better ways of handling scarce resources. 
Sometimes these systems break down, but we also invent ways of handling 
breakdowns (and breakdowns of the breakdown handling, and so on). As we 
become more advanced we become better at coordinating what needs to be 
coordinated, and this produces a very cooperative system.

To me, this suggests that when we meet an alien civilisation it might 
not be "nice" in any moral sense, but if it is a coordinated system we 
are likely to be able to game-theoretically interact in a fairly win-win 
way. In fact, meeting a space empire might be better than encountering 
the autarchic space nomads.

There is another wrinkle. If civs are far from each other, when they 
meet they will be old: they will essentially have figured out what can 
be figured out about physics and technology. Hence they will be equally 
matched tech-wise, and if their domains are large, at the meeting point 
the amount of local resources belonging to civ A within a certain radius 
will be equal to the amount belonging to B. So they will be perfectly 
matched in a conflict, if it breaks out. Worse, if A penetrates into B's 
domain, it will now have a convex region surrounded by B stuff, so it 
will potentially be at a disadvantage. So it seems (there is a tree of 
assumptions here, of course) that there is a strong incentive to either 
ignore the other or trade with it.

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

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list