[ExI] Avoiding bad black swan events/was Re: extropy-chat

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Thu Dec 13 18:11:26 UTC 2012

On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 4:00 AM,  <BillK <pharos at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 2:15 AM, Dan wrote:
>> On Wednesday, December 12, 2012 9:53 AM Keith Henson wrote:
>>> If we understand this potential problem we can take steps to mitigate it.
>>> The harder problem is taking steps to mitigate "black swan" events
>>> that we have no idea might happen at all.
>>> A large number of combustion turbines and a year's supply of oil or
>>> methane to fire them might be a prudent backup.
>> I don't disagree. I think the problem is mainly looking for the one optimal
>> solution and then enforcing it top-down as opposed to just letting people
>> make bottom up choices on what energy sources they'll use. I think the
>> top-down approach invites "black swans" because it makes for a one size fits
>> all solution, so if the solution fails and its back up fails too, then you
>> get total system interruption if not collapse.

There are different ways of enforcing.  In the case of power
satellites, you don't have to have an edict that people will use
energy from space, it's just that such energy will be much less
expensive and the vast majority of people will want to pay less for a
fungible commodity.  (Energy from space has to be less expensive or
the project will not be done.)

With thousands of power satellites, a few failing will not be much of
a problem.  The problem that might happen is something (such as a huge
radiation burst) where they were all affected by a common event.  On
the other hand, we don't have to shield for more of an event than it
would take to kill the earth side population.
> I think limited resources is also a problem.


> On the small scale as well as a large scale.
> The preppers are getting quite a lot of flak at the moment as stocking
> up with supplies and generators, etc. seems somehow to be 'unsporting'
> and selfish. And obviously if a disaster happens they will become a
> target for the rest of the desperate population.

Has this actually been a problem in recent disasters?

> But the problem I see is that a black swan event is not guaranteed.
> How much do you spend on planning for an event that might not happen?
> Do you want to double the cost of power satellites by building
> possibly unnecessary protection?

The problem is being sure you have an approach which can repair the
power satellites.  I expect there will be no way to get into space
other than laser propulsion a few years after the the first one comes
on line.  The economic advantages of laser propulsion just obsoletes
chemical propulsion.  But if you lost the entire space population in a
radiation flash that didn't kill much of the population on the ground,
how would you get back into space to fix the laser propulsion and
power satellites?

This is a background to paint an SF story upon.

Reminds me of one of the early east coast power failures.  The plants
at that time didn't have the ability to come up without external power
from the grid, and when the whole grid went down, they had no way to
restart.  There was an article (Analog perhaps?) about MIT's power lab
giving the local utility a "push start" but they had the same problem.
  The MIT students  solved the problem by ripping a mess of batteries
out of cars to get enough power to start up.

> Human history shows that usually we go for the cheapest version and
> hope it will turn out OK.

So true.


> BillK

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