Should humanity give birth to a galactic civilization?

by [anonymous] 9y17th Aug 2010122 comments


Followup to: Should I believe what the SIAI claims? (Point 4: Is it worth it?)

It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery.  Percy Bysshe Shelley

Imagine humanity to succeed. To spread out into the galaxy and beyond. Trillions of entities...

Then, I wonder, what in the end? Imagine if our dreams of a galactic civilization come true. Will we face unimaginable war over resources and torture as all this beauty will face its inevitable annihilation as the universe approaches absolute zero temperature?

What does this mean? Imagine how many more entities of so much greater consciousness and intellect will be alive in 10^20 years. If they are doomed to face that end or commit suicide, how much better would it be to face extinction now? That is, would the amount of happiness until then balance the amount of suffering to be expected at the beginning of the end? If we succeed to pollinate the universe, is the overall result ethical justifiable? Or might it be ethical to abandon the idea of reaching out to stars?

The question is, is it worth it? Is it ethical? Should we worry about the possibility that we'll never make it to the stars? Or should we rather worry about the prospect that trillions of our distant descendants may face, namely unimaginable misery? 

And while pondering the question of overall happiness, all things considered, how sure are we that on balance there won't be much more suffering in the endless years to come? Galaxy spanning wars, real and simulated torture? Things we cannot even imagine now.

One should also consider that it is more likely than not that we'll see the rise of rogue intelligences. It might also be possible that humanity succeeds to create something close to a friendly AI, which however fails to completely follow CEV (Coherent Extrapolated Volition). Ultimately this might not lead to our inevitable extinction but even more suffering, on our side or that of other entities out there. 

Further, although less dramatic, what if we succeed to transcendent, to become posthuman and find out that the universe does not contain enough fun for entities with mental attributes far exceeding those of baseline humanity? What if there isn't even enough fun for normal human beings to live up until an age of 1000 and still have fun? What if soon after the singularity we discover that all that is left is endless repetition? If we've learnt all there is to learn, done all there is to do. All games played, all dreams dreamed, what if nothing new under the sky is to be found anymore? And don’t we all experience this problem already these days? Have you people never thought and felt that you’ve already seen that movie, read that book or heard that song before for that they all featured the same plot, the same rhythm?

If it is our responsibility to die for our children to live, for the greater public good, if we are in charge of the upcoming galactic civilization, if we bear a moral responsibility for those entities to be alive, why don't the face the same responsibility for the many more entities to be alive but suffering? Is it the right thing to do, to live at any cost, to give birth at any price?

What if it is not about "winning" and "not winning" but about losing or gaining one possibility among millions that could go horrible wrong?

Isn't even the prospect of a slow torture to death enough to consider to end our journey here, a torture that spans a possible period from 10^20 years up to the Dark Era from 10^100 years and beyond? This might be a period of war, suffering and suicide. It might be the Era of Death and it might be the lion's share of the future. I personally know a few people who suffer from severe disabilities and who do not enjoy life. But this is nothing compared to the time from 10^20 to 10^100 years where possibly trillions of God-like entities will be slowly disabled due to a increasing lack of resources. This is comparable to suffering from Alzheimer's, just much worse, much longer and without any hope.

To exemplify this let's assume there were 100 entities. At a certain point the universe will cease to provide enough resources to sustain 100 entities. So either the ruling FAI (friendly AI) is going to kill one entity or reduce the mental capabilities of all 100. This will continue until all of them are either killed or reduced to a shadow of their former self. This is a horrible process that will take a long time. I think you could call this torture until the end of the universe.

So what if it is more likely that maximizing utility not only fails but rather it turns out that the overall utility is minimized, i.e. the relative amount of suffering increasing. What if the ultimate payoff is notably negative? If it is our moral responsibility to minimize suffering and if we are unable minimize suffering by actively shaping the universe, but rather risk to increase it, what should we do about it? Might it be better to believe that winning is impossible, than that it's likely, if the actual probability is very low?

Hereby I ask the Less Wrong community to help me resolve potential fallacies and biases in my framing of the above ideas.

See also

The Fun Theory Sequence

"Should This Be the Last Generation?" By PETER SINGER (thanks timtyler)