April 16, 2004

Matrioshka Brains

Here's an important paper from 1999: Robert J. Bradbury speculates about how advances in computer science and programming technologies will give rise to the development of megascale superintelligent thought machines. Called Matrioshka Brains, these machines would consume the entire power output of stars and be limited only by the laws of physics. Moreover, it's through these sorts of speculations, argues Bradbury, that "we may be better able to construct an image of what alien intelligence may be like and how we ourselves may evolve."

Here's the entire abstract:
Predictable improvements in lithographic methods foretell continued increases in computer processing power. Economic growth and engineering evolution continue to increase the size of objects which can be manufactured and power that can be controlled by humans. Neuroscience is gradually dissecting the components and functions of the structures in the brain. Advances in computer science and programming methodologies are increasingly able to emulate aspects of human intelligence. Continued progress in these areas leads to a convergence which results in megascale superintelligent thought machines. These machines, referred to as Matrioshka Brains1, consume the entire power output of stars (~1026 W), consume all of the useful construction material of a solar system (~1026 kg), have thought capacities limited by the physics of the universe and are essentially immortal.

A common practice encountered in literature discussing the search for extraterrestrial life is the perspective of assuming and applying human characteristics and interests to alien species. Authors limit themselves by assuming the technologies available to aliens are substantially similar or only somewhat greater than those we currently possess. These mistakes bias their conclusions, preventing us from recognizing signs of alien intelligence when we see it. They also misdirect our efforts in searching for such intelligence. We should start with the laws on which our particular universe operates and the limits they impose on us. Projections should be made to determine the rate at which intelligent civilizations, such as ours, approach the limits imposed by these laws. Using these time horizons, laws and limits, we may be better able to construct an image of what alien intelligence may be like and how we ourselves may evolve.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Spheres don't make much sense. The sensible structure is a ring. Structural shading is no big deal - whereas having your neighbours zip past you at high speed is.