Tag Archives: Prizes

Lost Advanced Civilizations

Did life on Earth start on Earth, or did it start on Mars and move to Earth? If you frame such panspermia as an “extraordinary claim” for which you demand “extraordinary evidence”, you will of course conclude that this should be treated “skeptically” as unlikely and sloppy unscientific “speculation”. To be disdained and not treated as serious by respectable academics and science journalists. But that’s not really fair.

You see the early Mars environment is, a priori, about as likely a place for life to start as the Earth environment. So if the rate at which life is transferred between the planets were high enough, then equal chances of life starting first in both places would result in equal chances for Earth life to have started in either place. We should take the expected time difference between life starting in the two places, and ask how high is the chance that life would move from one planet to the next during that period. The more often rocks are thrown from one place to the other, and the more easily life could survive for the travel period within those rocks, then the more likely it is that Earth life started on Mars.

In addition, Mars, being further from the Sun, would have cooled first, and had a head start in its window for life. Making it more likely that life would start there and spread to Earth than vice versa. Of course life starting first on Mars would have implications for what we might see when we look at Mars. If we had expected Mars life to continue strong until today, then the fact that we see no life on Mars now would be a big strike against this hypothesis. But if we expected Mars life to have died out or at least gone dormant by now, then the issue is what we will see when we dig on Mars. With enough data on such digs, we may come to reject to Mars first hypothesis even given its initial plausibility.

A similar analysis applies to panspermia from other stars. You might think it obvious that the rate at which life-filled rocks from a star make it to seed other stars is very low, but most stars are born in large groups close together in stellar nurseries. So if life arose early enough within our star’s nursery, there might have been high rates of moving that life between stars in that nursery. In which case the chance that Earth life came from another star could also be high, and the best place to look for life outside our star would be the other stars from our stellar nursery.

Now consider the possibility of lost advanced civilizations. Not just civilizations at a similar level of development to those around them in space and time; that’s quite likely given that we keep finding new previously-unknown settlements and developed places. No, the more interesting claims are about substantial (but not crazy extreme) decreases in the peak or median level of civilizations across wide areas. Such as what happened late in the late Mediterranean Bronze Age, or at the fall of the Roman Empire. Could there have been “higher” civilizations before the “first” ones that we now know about in each region, such as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Chinese Shang dynasty? (I’m talking human civs, not others.) Continue reading "Lost Advanced Civilizations" »

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Revival Prizes

Cryonics is the process of having your body frozen when current medicine gives up on you, and calls you “dead”, in the hope of being revived later using much better future medicine. Even though cryonics has been available for many decades, and often receives free international publicity, only ~3000 people have signed up as customers, and only ~400 people have been frozen. I’m one of those customers. While many customers hope to have their current physical body fixed and restored to youthful health, I’m mainly hoping to be revived as an em, which seems to me a vastly easier (if still very hard) task.

Imagine you plan to become a cryonics patient, and hope for an eventual successful revival. Along this path many important decisions will need to be made: level of financial investment into the whole process, timing and method of preservation, method and place of storage, strategies of financial asset investment, and final timing and method of revival and reintegration into society. Through most of this process you will not be available to make key decisions, though after success you might be able to give an evaluation of the choices that were made on your behalf. So you will need to delegate many of these choices to agents who make these choices for you. How can you set up your relation to such agents to give them the best possible incentives to make good choices?

Several US states allow you to deposit money into a “trust”, which then can grow indefinitely by reinvestment without paying taxes on investment gains, even after you are officially dead. The usual legal process is to assign an “administrator” to manage the trust. Usually, you write down your preferences in words, and then pay this agent a constant percentage of your current assets to follow your instructions. In theory they do what you wanted out of fear of being sued. Unfortunately, its hard to prove a violation, and few would have the incentive to bother. This gives your agent the incentive to minimize all spending except reinvestment of the assets, or to divert spending or investments to parties who pay them a kickback. Either way, not a great system.

Here’s an improvement. Pay the agent only some fraction of the money left over in the fund after you are successfully revived. A prize for revival. Then they never get anything until you get what you wanted. Of course this requires some legal way to determine that you have in fact been revived. Instead of, for example, being replaced with some crude simulation of you. This approach seems better than the previous one, but there’s still the problem that this prize incentive makes them want to wait too long. Why risk any chance of failure, and why pay a high cost for revival, if you can just wait longer to raise the chance of success and lower the cost? So this agent will get it done eventually, but may wait too long. And they might not revive you they way you wanted.

One simple fix is that, once you are revived, you rate the whole process on a 0 to 100 scale, and your agent only gets that percentage of the max possible prize. (Maybe also guarantee that they get some min faction.) The rest of the prize can’t go to you, or your incentives are bad. So the rest of the prize would have to go to some specified charity, perhaps a pool of assets to help all other cryonics customers still not yet revived. Your agent will then try to make choices so that you will rate them highly after you are revived. You can expect them to choose a revival process where they give themselves advantages in convincing you that they did a good job. Perhaps even mind control. So steel yourself to be skeptical. They might also discretely threaten to “accidentally” lose you if you don’t pay them the full prize. So beware of that.

You might be able to do just a bit better by committing to a schedule by which the maximum prize your agent could win declines as a fraction of the total assets remaining after revival. Such a decline would encourage the agent to not wait too long to revive you. But if you don’t know the relevant rates of future change, how can you robustly define such a prize fraction decline? One robust measure available is the number of people who have been successfully revived so far. Your schedule of decline might not even start until at least one person has been revived, and then decline as some function of the number revived so far. Perhaps the function could be a simple power law. So you could specify how eager you are to be one of the first people revived.

So here’s my final proposal. You choose how much money to deposit in a trust, you write down your preferences as best you know them now, and you pick an agent who agrees to manage your trust, and make key storage and revival decisions. You agree to pay them some percent of current assets per year (preferably zero), and some max fraction of final remaining assets after revival to pay them as a prize. This max fraction follows some simple declining function of the number of people revived so far at that time. Perhaps a power law. And you have the discretion when revived to pay them less than this max value, with the remainder going to a specified charity. You initially choose the key parameters of this system to reflect your personal preferences, as best you can.

This is of course far from perfect. Problems remain, such as of kickbacks, theft, fake revival, and mind control. So there could be a place for a larger encompassing organization to watch out for and avoid such problems. And to publish stats on revivals and attempts so far. This larger organization could approve the basic range of reasonable options from which agents could choose at any one time, and have extra powers to monitor and overrule rogue agents. But it should mostly defer to the judgements of individual agents.

I can imagine a futarchy-based variation, where the “agent” is a pool of speculators who bet on shares of the final prize, conditional on making particular choices. This would cut the problem of random variation in the quality and even sanity of individual agents. But I can’t claim that futarchy is well enough tested now to make this a reasonable option if you are making these choices right now. However, I’d love to help a group do such testing, to see if it can become a viable option sooner.

Added 10:30a: It could also make sense to make your declining prize fraction function depend on the ratio of successful revivals so far to attempts that fail so badly as to make future revival seems impossible.

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