Re: poly: Modeling Economic Singularities

From: Peter C. McCluskey <>
Date: Wed Apr 22 1998 - 18:56:08 PDT ("Nick Bostrom") writes:
>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

 It is easy to imagine how nearly all the benefits of the technology
that produces a "singularity" could be unowned, which would significantly
reduce the race to be first.
 A general purpose molecular assembler, if sufficiently easy to replicate,
would provide no easy way for a company that developed it to charge for
once a fair number are in use, since it would provide the ability to
produce nearly unlimited copies of itself.
 An AI would probably have rights comparable to those of a human, which
would provide a strong deterrent to further investment by a company whose
software was close to whatever threshold would give it rights.

>Many have suggested that some special new technology will induce
>rapid growth rates much more quickly than this. This is possible
>in principle, but we have identified a number of conditions which
>such a technology must meet. Investments must on average benefit,
>rather than harm, non-investors.

 If you're only analyzing high growth rates in things people value,
and ignoring possibilities such as gray goo destroying the world,
then I suspect you are correct here.

> And most difficult, the special
>technology must have such broad and attractive enough applications
>across the world economy that it dramatically raises the returns on
>the worst investment anyone undertakes. To do this, such a technology
>must dramatically improve the productivity of almost all forms of
>capital, not just a few.

 I think there has been a trend towards increasing fungibility of capital,
which might reach the point where it is appropriate to think of capital
as a single commodity whose productivity could be uniformly enhanced by
a single technology change. Or to put it in more technological terms,
the diversity of bottlenecks is decreasing and might effectively approach

 Most arguments for a sudden singularity assume that a general-purpose
assembler will convert most existing bottlenecks into programming
problems. Machine-based intelligence will cause the cost of solving those
bottlenecks to drop by many orders of magnitude.

 Here's a scenario which I would guess has a 0.1 to 10% chance of happening:
 1) a self-replicating molecular assembler becomes able to manufacture
computing power from readily available raw materials (such as sand) that
can run much existing software. This eliminates most bottlenecks on creating
computing power.
 2) This drop in the cost of computing power triggers a breakthrough in
machine intelligence, because the cost of computing was the main bottleneck
by the time assemblers became general purpose enough to affect the cost
of computing.

 There is some reason to doubt that the first assembler that produced
computing power would be easy enough to use and robust enough to justify
this scenario, but I think there's a chance that relative simplicity of
atomicly precise design will mean many fewer steps to a good design.

Peter McCluskey          | Critmail ( | Accept nothing less to archive your mailing list
Received on Thu Apr 23 01:56:39 1998

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