Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And WTF is an "existential threat", anyway?

kingubu said,
May 5, 2007 at 2:04
Its when Nietzsche shows up at your door with a hammer, brandishing his giant mustache and muttering ominously about what nice idols you have and how it would be a shame if something were to happen to them.
Alternatively it's when you meet Camus wandering along the beach with a gun, and you tell him that there's no reason to shoot some stranger and he says that there's no reason not to either.

Alternatively you can take your bad self to The Lifeboat Foundation, where the musicians aboard the Titanic are only too glad to explain that
An existential risk is a risk that is both global and terminal. Nick Bostrom defines it as a risk "where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential". The term is frequently used to describe disaster and doomsday scenarios caused by non-friendly superintelligence, misuse of molecular nanotechnology, or other sources of danger.

The Lifeboat Foundation was formed to prevent existential events from happening, as once they occur, humanity may have no possibility to correct the error. Unfortunately governments, and humanity in general, always react AFTER a disaster has happened, and some disasters will leave no survivors so we must react BEFORE they occur. We must be proactive.

The Lifeboat Foundation is developing programs to prevent existential events ("shields") as well as programs to preserve civilization ("preservers") to survive such events.
I always imagined that the band who kept playing while the Titanic sank was a full symphony orchestra, with double strings and a ruthe in the percussion section so they could play Mahler's 2nd, but it turns out to be merely an octet. There was the usual quintet who "played at teatime, after dinner concerts, Sunday service etc.", with another three musos drafted in from the "trio of violin, cello and piano that played in the reception room". I had no idea that the Titanic was such a threadbare shoestring operation. You could look it up

It turns out that there are so many urgent crises converging upon us that the Foundation have had to prioritise their efforts and work on the most immanent ones first:

Space Habitats
LifeShield Bunkers

With those problems solved, some time in the future they will turn their ingenuity to devising a Climateshield. Evidently climate change is a relatively non-pressing threat to human survival, which is reassuring... along with "abuse in the areas of neuropharmaceuticals, neurodevices, and neurodiagnostics. Worst cases include enslaving the world's population or causing everyone to commit suicide" (to be addressed by NeuroethicsShield) and "particle accelerator mishaps including quantum vacuum collapse, mining the quantum vacuum, formation of a stable strangelet, and the creation of artificial mini-black holes" (ParticleAcceleratorShield). With the problems of aliens and antimatter barely visible on the horizon, there can be no doubt about these people's solidly-grounded sense of perspective.

Future programs:

Long Range programs:

Going back up to the truly urgent issues, details are meagre about the AIShield that will cope with "against unfriendly AI (Artificial Intelligence)". The panel concludes that it would be a Good Thing for the coming AIs to be friendly, but they are vague about the nature of AI, and also about the nature of friendliness (this being an emotional state, which they have already determined to be undesirable in an AI). They may have been watching The Forbin Project.

In a vexing lacuna, nothing at all is said about the existential threat posed by hostile AIs decades in the future using time-travel technology to send cybernetic assassins back into the present day to wipe out individuals with the potential of threatening them later.

As compensation there all the detail you could possibly desire about Nanoshield, and more neologisms than you could shake a stick at:
Another method is to examine chunks of material. If we assume a possible size on the order of 10 cubic microns, detection of a potentially dangerous nanodevice in a cubic meter of material would require that 1017 chunks of material be examined. To perform such an examination for each of the 1015 cubic meters within two meters of the earth's surface using "rod logic" (nanomechanical computation at the molecular level, as proposed by K. Eric Drexler in Nanosystems) would require roughly the Earth's incident solar energy over a 15 minute period for every computational operation involved in characterizing a particle as a threat.

It would also require the practical disassembly of every object on earth and some technique for utilizing the information acquired. Because some defensive probes would be expected to fail in the ordinary course of events, this technique would also fail to detect ecophagy armed to defend themselves. Even a less thorough examination, testing a single 10 cubic micron sample volume chosen randomly in each 10 cm3 region of space (a one-in-a-trillion sampling rate), would be disruptive, computationally intensive, and relatively easy to circumvent.
In the aftermath, advanced molecular manufacturing and nanomedicine should allow us to repair many forms of damage to biological organisms, including individual human beings. Much, although perhaps not all, of the natural global ecological infrastructure might be reconstituted if proper genetic and statistical records have been maintained that describe the location and design of every large object and organism.
The whole section has a barking madness that I cannot recommend sufficiently... a kind of hard-edged cold-light-of-day surrealism, resulting from the authors' hope that speculative magic and visions of god-like omnipotence will not seem so magical (or indeed, speculative) if coated in a patina of clinical language. Talk of "21 THz infrared radiation, the approximate resonant stretching frequency of the Ge-C dimer bond" is all very well, but it does not address the Ya-canna-break-the-laws-of-physics-captain concern.

There is no time, alas, to look at the SecurityPreserver, which was contributed by someone selling surveillance technology, and addresses the existential threat posed by people who want privacy.

See too, and also.

¹ No-one ever talks about the musicians aboard the life-raft of the Medusa, which is a bit rough, they deserve recognition too.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Where's the plan to prevent Dick Cheney?

Substance McGravitas said...

Ha! No Goatse shield.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...


Zombies aren't considered a worthy threat?


J— said...

Nick Bostrom defines it as a risk "where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential".

The Obama Administration's proposal on whaling, for example. Or are these risk things limited to humans?

J— said...

BP used to have a shield, but they traded it for a pretty flower.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

No-one ever talks about the musicians aboard the life-raft of the Medusa, which is a bit rough, they deserve recognition too.

Au contraire, mi amigo! They received a fair amount of recognition

Another Kiwi said...

Phew, thanks to the Lifeboat persons the first 10 micron analysis is complete at Chez Kiwi.
Results: 1. A book
2. Cheese
3. A book
4. Mrs. cat
5. Bandage
We appear not to have a band so are probably doomed.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I can play guitar, slightly.


Smut Clyde said...

4. Mrs. cat
5. Bandage

These two often seem to appear together.

Kathleen said...

this post required too much brain power. can someone sum up?

Smut Clyde said...

can someone sum up?

Weird people are weird.

What I like most about the particular Lifeboat flavour of weirdness -- their confluence of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and orbital space colonies -- is that it's an exact repeat of the same confluence from the 70s / 80s.

The other technofix trend from the 1970s was cryogenic preservation. Lots of overlap -- if you belonged to the L-5 Society to lobby for O'Neill space colonies, there was a good chance that you'd also join the Life Extension Society who were promoting cryonics at the time.

And yes, the Lifeboat Foundation people do believe in having themselves frozen.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Weird people are weird.

Which should be the fcuking motto of this fcuking bloggo.

Besides, of course, "So clear the road my bully boys and let some thunder pass
We're pain, we're steel, a plot of knives,
We're transmaniacon MC"

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

is that it's an exact repeat of the same confluence from the 70s / 80s.

Good dog, do you recall the mega-structure movement? You really need to be careful about how many drugs you feed to architects. Except me.

Smut Clyde said...

Arcologies. Paolo Salieri. FLASHBACK.

We're pain, we're steel, a plot of knives,
We're transmaniacon MC

Excellent title. You should use it for a blogpost.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I believe that is SOLERI.

I have one of his chimes on my house.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

plus, this kind of graphic:


is easily the equal of any woodcuts you have posted, IMZO. EVEN IF it is lacking in penis content. Marion Mahoney reminds you some archtiects are female, even now.

I hope we don't have to have this discussion again.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...




Smut Clyde said...

Everyone knows that the mobile megastructure of the future will be designed like a giant tardigrade.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...



that can be considered a threat.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I won't forgive you for that, Smut. Expect you house to be walking down the lane next time you come home from the pub.

Smut Clyde said...

The Riddled time machine comes in useful sometimes.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

at least we can agree that you should be giving drugs to architects.

Smut Clyde said...

We are simple country folk and know nothing of these "drugs" whereof you speak.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

ll, if you don't give your architects drugs, they will give you Levittown.

Is that what you want?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

since you are so visually oriented, I will give you a visual:



zombie rotten mcdonald said...

So here, since I in a foul mood:

An existential threat is one which threatens your existence; and life is threatening my existence. Therefore, I am justified in removing Life from all the nearby and available sources. So I will work on a basis of a radius of opportunity, and analyzing the nearby repositories of Life, discover that....

hey. the first target of opportunity is pretty much congruous. Hmmm...

Martin Finnucane said...

Every time I rob a man I knock him dead because I have no respect for life, not a little. If I kill enough men there will be more life to go round and maybe then I will be able to live till I am a thousand and not have the old rattle in my neck when I am quite seventy.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Martin is making sense.

Substance McGravitas said...

This was a fun film.

Smut Clyde said...

the first target of opportunity is pretty much congruous

At Riddled we work on the incongruity, so I figure we're safe.