Re: poly: The singleton hypothesis

From: Nick Bostrom <>
Date: Fri May 22 1998 - 19:03:58 PDT

Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> >The reason is that in the singularity scenario things are postulated
> >to happen extremely fast. Loosly speaking, the pace of development
> >"goes to infinity". That means that even if the leading power is only
> >one year ahead of the competition, it will achieve an enormous
> >technological advantage. It will have assemblers and
> >superintelligence when it's competitors lack these technologies. With
> Speeding up all processes doesn't have any effect on the nature of
> competition. In order for your argument to make any sense, you need
> to claim something about the relative speeds of some phenomena, such
> as claiming that the spread of new technologies will not speed up as
> fast as their development.

Powers competing to win the race of developing SI and nanotech first
would have very strong incentives to keep their progress secret and
prevent the spread of the information they acquire. If it is possible
for such a power to keep the details sectret for some weeks or so,
then that should be enough.

> It looks to me like the forces that tend
> to equalize availability of new technologies are speeding up faster
> than fundamental innovations are.

I'm not sure that top sectret military research programs are more
quickly leaked today than in the past. (It will be interesting to see
how Brin's book tie in to this, but I haven't read it yet so I can't

What about civilian labs? -- I think that as it becomes clear what's
on stake either the national military organizations will take oven
in the major countries, or the civilian reseach labs will be put
under the oversight of some international organization, which will
then be the seed out of which the singleton might grow.

> >If the region that the singleton controls grows at lear the speed of
> >light, as I think it will, then I don't see how this would lead to
> >substantial restrictions on travel.
> It's control grows at the speed of light during the time when it is
> establishing its monopoly?

People can travel in space as much as they want before the dangerous
technologies become available. After that, the singleton will very
quickly establish its monopoly (instantaneously in the sense that it
will be first to develop the dangerous technologies and it will see
to that nobody else, with destructive motives, ever develops them.)

> I can't imagine why you expect us to take
> that possibility seriously. Waiting until near-lightspeed travel is
> possible seems to virtually guarantee that it can't control everyone.

It would not wait until near-lightspeed is possible. And even if it
were not expanding at all ever, it could still control everyone. My
point was that if the singleton wanted to allow independent people to
travel freely in cosmos, it could do so. They could be allowed to
travel to the edge of the singleton. If the singleton is expanding
about as fast as the independent people could possibly hope to
expand, then there would not need to be any substantial restrictions
on travel.

> I thought one of the main advantages of the singleton was avoiding
> the wastefull "burning the cosmos" strategy. It's hard for me to
> imagine that near-lightspeed travel would ever be as efficient as,
> say, 0.5c. What would motivate the singleton to expand at maximum speed?

If it (it's members) has some discount rate for future benefits, then
it would prefer to control more resources sooner rather than later.

If the universe is open then an expansion velocity close do (but
somewhat less than) the maximal speed might wel be optimal.

Even with a closed universe, it might be important to quickly reach
remote regions and turn off the taps that are running there: stars
throwing away valuable energy and negentropy into empty space.

> >Such institutions could still be useful. Say the UN is a singleton
> >and it wants to commission a superintelligence that can see to that
> >its constitution is not violated. Various groups design different
> >such systems. Then the trustworthy institutions are called upon to
> >verify that the proposed designs would function as stated. Only if
> The trustworthy institutions I had in mind stay that way by avoiding
> stands on controversial ideas. Institutions that are interested in taking
> such stands generally attract people whom I wouldn't trust.
> Can you give an example of an institution that you would trust to
> evaluate this software?

The Swedish government? (has many flaws but I don't suspect it of
conspiring to take over the world) -- I think one would want to
have several independent organizations double-checking the design.

Nicholas Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics
Received on Sat May 23 01:11:24 1998

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