[ExI] Existential Risks might be underestimated

spike spike66 at att.net
Thu May 28 20:07:58 UTC 2015

-----Original Message-----
From: extropy-chat [mailto:extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org] On Behalf
Of BillK
Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2015 10:22 AM
To: ExI chat list
Subject: Re: [ExI] Existential Risks might be underestimated

On 28 May 2015 at 13:33, spike wrote:
>>... Ja.  ... This future of humanity haunts me, not only because it is the
end of 
> every dream, but that its outcome is so easily foreseeable: all we have to
do is stay on our present course.

>...As you say, strictly speaking this is not an existential threat as some
small groups of humans still remain. Though it might be many centuries
before they develop technology. And with little fossil fuels left in the
ground, technology might not ever be developed again...BillK

Indeed so.  A few months ago I was trying to categorize all the possible
explanations for the silence of the cosmos, and this one really gave me
heartburn, for I consider it the most likely: intelligence arises from time
to time, then when it becomes technologically enabled, the population
explodes, but the less-technologically enabled subset of the species
outbreeds the others and eventually devours them.  This causes the species
to become technologically disabled, and perhaps to evolve downward in
intelligence, where the differential reproductive advantage goes to the
fierce and strong rather than the intelligent and technologically able.  In
that grim scenario, human descendants remain an intelligent and possibly
dominant species, but not as much as we are now.  

The worrisome indications that such a thing could exist are seen in pockets
of humanity here and there which evidently did experience retrograde
technology and later reached a stasis at a low level of culture.  An example
would be the local indigenous population, the Ohlone people, a few of which
were still living in the area when the Spanish immigrants documented their
existence, and even into the time period when gold was discovered in central
California.  At that time, the Ohlones were in a state where they had almost
nothing.  They lived in the forested lands around the Bay Area, without even
clothing other than a deerskin draped over their shoulders.  They had no
shoes or moccasins, nothing.  They subsisted largely on wild berries and
nuts.  At the nearby Ohlone museum, I was struck by their being called stone
age people.  We say we are space age people, because we have gone into
space.  Iron age people learned how to make stuff out of iron.  But the
critical point here is that the Ohlones did not know how to fashion stuff
out of stone.  What few stone tools they had were traded to them, or they
slew the owner and took them.  They were not stone age people: they hadn't
mastered making things of stone.

So now, we have the expression "getting nuked back to the stone age."  Why
would we stop there?  Do you know how to knap flint?  Neither do I.  Without
our technology, we would be in worse shape than the Ohlones, known to be
dirt poor dangerous people by other local indigenous tribes.  We would be
worse off because we do not know how to survive even in the mild coastal
California climate without clothing or shoes.

Note that limiting our population to today's level or stabilizing back at a
billion proles doesn't actually remove this risk.  In some ways it makes it

We can imagine an explanation for Fermi's Paradox is that the equilibrium
point for technology in any species is well below that which we are enjoying
today.  Then all this cool stuff is a rare anomaly, soon to be gone again
like an evanescent puff of mist.  Oy.


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