Re: poly: The singleton hypothesis

From: Nick Bostrom <>
Date: Thu May 28 1998 - 21:03:00 PDT

Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> ("Nick Bostrom") writes:
> >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
> Those who are trying to develop them for military purposes would be
> motivated to keep it secret, but those who are developing them for
> other purposes might well want to adopt a policy of complete openness
> as a means of convincing others that they weren't working on weapons
> (possibly the only way to convince governments not to try outlawing
> the research). Open research would probably proceed faster than secret
> military research, because of things like more peer review.

Since the open research is open, the military research could hardly
fall behind -- they too can read all the papers that the open
community publishes. The question is whether, when the breakthrough
is approaching, the military labs can push a head a little bit, at
least regarding the military applications. This seems quite likely.
(1) The civilians might not have much interest in the military
applications; (2) They might even be banned from doing research on
these aspects; (3) An organization like the US military could muster
enormous finansial resources if it thought US security critically
depended on coming first to nanotech; it could buy up most
researchers doing open research.

> And shortly after it has established this monopoly, what is it going to
> happen if I set up a research lab on an asteroid, and start moving that
> asteroid further away from earth? Is your singleton going to assume it
> can keep enough of a technological edge to reconquer me whenever it wants,
> or is it going to use whatever force is needed to stop me from doing
> research it can't control?

Unless it feels completely certain that it can keep its technological
edge, it will do the latter (possibly it would suffice to have
some nanobots keep you under close surveilance).

> >> 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.
> And it would be insensitive to the costs of those benefits? Or are
> you trying to pretend those costs don't matter?

I think it would care about burning the commons, which might mean it
might not expand at exactly the very highest velocity it could
achieve, just a velocity very close to max speed. (As one approaches
light speed, the amount of energy required to make a unit increase to
velocity, goes to infinity.) The actual expansion speed of the
singleton will still be greater than the maximum travel speed of any
humans or humans probes -- since the humans have much less resources
than the singleton. So human travel will not be restricted by the
expansion speed of the singleton. Only members of the singleton can
travel as fast as the singleton.

Nicholas Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics
Received on Fri May 29 03:14:49 1998

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