Re: poly: Malign Probes

From: GBurch1 <>
Date: Sun Dec 21 1997 - 06:52:41 PST

In a message dated 97-12-19 20:33:54 EST, Robin Hanson writes:

> If malign probes are not afraid to reproduce like wild, then the universe
> quickly gets filled up with malign probes. I don't see how this could
> explain what we see.

[INTRODUCTORY NOTE: Institution of this list and the parent thread to this one
has coincided with a particularly busy time for me. I'm still catching up on
reading the antecedents to Robin's post, so I apologize if the following
covers well-trod ground.]

The logic of the "malign probe" seems to be so overwhelming that, at first
glance, the absence of visible evidence of "malign probe sweeps" appears to be
the most powerful evidence yet for (1) a "great filter" or (2) that we happen
to be the first instance of intelligent life in this galaxy and, perhaps, any
galaxy that we can see. This thought led me this morning to wonder whether
there might not be some higher-order principle consistent with the existence
of one or more other intelligent species in at least this galaxy that can kill
the operation of malign probe replication. In other words, is there something
of equally powerful logic that can dampen the spread of malign probes that is
consistent with the current existence of intelligent life other than our own

Because of their speed and tendency to dominate the use of potential resources
and to destroy competing forms of organization, intelligence other than malign
probes might well consider such devices to be the analog of disease organisms.
It has been said that organisms such as Ebola have been self-limiting because
of their tendency to kill their hosts faster than they can spread. The
analogy is not perfect, since virii are essentially parasitical, and the
malign probe, by definition, is self-sufficient. However, the lethality of
malign probes to all other forms of organization makes them functionally
equivalent to a parasite such as Ebola. Because of this, I conclude that any
species capable of building a malign probe would naturally generate a powerful
aversion to them, and would actively seek to oppose their operation. Because
such a species could not count on all of its members to see the compelling
logic of NOT building malign probes, and because its members could not be
certain that malign probes might not arise from some other species (of which
they were either aware or unaware), it seems that there would be a powerful
incentive to construct active defenses against malign probes. Such defenses
seem to be the analog of an immune system, designed to detect and destroy
malign probes.

Having thought this, I realized that this is basically the amplification of
the "grey goo/blue goo" scenario to cosmic scales: Any species capable of
building interstellar replicators would have a powerful incentive to seed blue
goo as swiftly and broadly as powerful. Thus, instead of an expanding sphere
of malign probes, we should see an expanding sphere of conflict between the
two systems. It may be that this expansion would not leave the highly visible
trail of destruction one would expect from a "galactic ecosystem" dominated by
malign probes, but rather, only the occasional evidence of a malign probe
victory. (It also occurred to me that this scenario has been explored in
fiction, from Fred Saberhagen's early work on "Berserkers" to Greg Bear's
novels The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars -- the latter two now seeming more
credible to me in light of this thinking than they did at the time I first
read them.)

All of the thinking on Blue Goo seems applicable here: The problem of
recognition of malign replicators, etc. Ultimately, the problem may be
generalizable to a science -- and possibly what amounts to an objective ethics
-- of evolution dominated by mind: There may well be some high-order "laws"
that any species capable of constructing replicators develop. (Which again
lends credence to the concept of a "Ship of the Law" as envisioned in Anvil of
Stars.) [On a personal note, I find particular satisfaction in making this
last observation, as I have wondered what I might contribute to this list as
someone primarily concerned with social issues and moral philosophy . . .]

In this scenario, I wonder whether there is a memetic evolutionary process in
which species that do not develop an ethic of active opposition to malign
replicators are eventually suppressed by those who do. Malign replicators and
their parent species are the natural enemies of any entities that are not
malign replicators or their parents. From our lack of observation of the
evidence of malign probe sweeps, we can conclude that either we are alone, or
that opponents of malign replicators ultimately win on cosmic scales.

Greg Burch <>----<>
   Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
           "Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
              be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
                      -- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
Received on Sun Dec 21 14:46:10 1997

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