Re: poly: Are von Neumann machines inevitable, or even likely?

From: Perry E. Metzger <>
Date: Sun Dec 21 1997 - 18:46:15 PST

Tim May writes:
> There are factors which I think are plausible for why continued expansion
> of the "Jupiter-sized brain" (to borrow a phrase popular when I was on the
> Extropians list several years ago) will be a higher priority than sending
> out replicator/Berserker von Neumann probes:

A society doesn't have just one set of goals. Individuals have many
diverse goals. I suspect that the difficulty of sending out von
Neumann machines in bulk is so low in a post-nanotechnological world
that the odds of none of the billions to trillions of intelligent
entities in the solar system over the next millenium trying it are
vanishingly small. I mean, at some point, this is going to practically
become a high school science project. What are the odds of *no one*
trying it? What are the odds that there are a lot of technological
civilizations out there and no individual member of any of them
decides to try it?

> 4. The logical complexity in a relativistic von Neumann probe (such as
> described by Tipler in the last Appendix to "Immortality," or such as
> Drexler and several others have described) is likely to be trivial compared
> to the complexity of the launching system.

Dunno. Bussard ramjet style probes would probably be fairly trivial to
construct -- or especially to self-contstruct.

> 6. The "Other" Problem. Why would any intelligence in its right mind send
> out instructions which might result in an Other being built which could
> come back and destroy it?

One could conceivably avoid this problem, but again, the evolutionary
question arises. Sure, most bunches of molecules in the early oceans
didn't self reproduce. I mean, what's the "point" of self
reproduction? However, the ones that did exploded to fill the
planet. Similarly, I can see why one would say "what is the point of
the von Neumann probes", but then again, what are the odds that there
are trillions of intelligent entities out there and no one out there
would create them?

> And sending out "dumb" von Neumann machines AS SOON AS ONE IS ABLE TO is
> stupefyingly dumb.

How would you stop it? Remember, "civilization" does nothing --
individuals do things. In a solar system full of entities we would
think of as god-like thanks to nanotechnology, how would you stop one
of them from playfully sending out von Neumann machines -- even ones
with merely superhuman intelligence?

> 7. The Great Silence = The Great Procrastination? Advanced intelligences
> may keep delaying the sending out of von Neumann replicators while the
> implications are pondered, while simulations are run, etc.

Again, what are the odds of no one "trying it out"?

Received on Mon Dec 22 02:37:50 1997

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