Re: poly: Modeling Economic Singularities

From: Nick Bostrom <>
Date: Mon Apr 20 1998 - 20:03:47 PDT

Robin Hanson wrote:

> Nick Bostrom asks:
> >Robin says that on his model, one of the necessary
> >conditions for an economic singularity is that the population growth
> >remains less than the discount factor ~3%. But suppose that
> >population growth rate were to rise to, say, 5% for the next 50
> >years. If in 20 years we develop superintelligence plus full
> >Drexlerian nanotechnology, why should it make any difference whether
> >the average couple has 2.1 children or 2.4 children? This doesn't
> >look like the sort of thing that could stop the singularity from
> >happening. What am I missing?
> In the model I gave, the supply of capital is a hyperbola, which has
> two branches. I focused on one branch, which goes negative when
> population grows too fast. But the other branch then goes possible,
> so perhaps you can have fast growth with a fast population.
> You can also get no solution to the equations, however, and I haven't
> examined the stability of this solution. But I should revise my
> paper to reflect my uncertainty here.

The model better be such that you can't avert a nanotech
singularity simply by having a polulation growth of >3%, otherwise
it is unbelievable.

I have another question/comment:

You argue that in the absense of effective property rights most
of the return above the market return should be burned up in a race
to be first to explore new investment projects. It seems to me that
the absense of property rights often have the opposite effect. For
example, I have heard that there are several drugs that can't be
marketed in the US because the FDA hasn't approved them. The reason
is that the the FDA only approves what has been proved to be safe and
effective. Since it is very expensive to prove such a thing, it is
only worth doing if the product is patentable, which isn't always the

In general, the benefits of technolgical projects are seldom 100%
excludable. Especially in the absense of property rights, competitors
will imitate. This creates a disincentive to invest in research and
innovation. The result would seem to be the opposite of a
crazy research-race to be first. An innovation would be delayed until
the general level of technology has risen to a level where the cost
of development is sufficiently small.

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics
Received on Tue Apr 21 02:10:27 1998

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