Difference between revisions of "Great Filter"

From Lesswrongwiki
Jump to: navigation, search
m
(Consequences: fix link to observation selection effects)
 
(12 intermediate revisions by 3 users not shown)
Line 1: Line 1:
 
{{wikilink}}
 
{{wikilink}}
The '''Great Filter''' is a proposed explanation for the [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox Fermi Paradox]. Robin Hanson coined the term in his 1998 essay [http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html The Great Filter]. The titular Filter refers to whatever forces prevent the development of an interstellar civilization. These forces might be present at any stage of development, i.e. an "early filter" which prevents the formation of life, a "middle filter" which prevents life from attaining sentience, or a "late filter" which prevents sentient life from spreading beyond its home planet. Any of these filters could account for the lack of visible evidence for extraterrestrial life. Hanson argues that our lack of knowledge regarding the position of the filter should make us more cautious, as a "late filter" would imply that we have low odds of successfully colonizing space and our survival may be in danger.
+
The '''Great Filter''' is a proposed explanation for the [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox Fermi Paradox]. The development of intelligent life requires many steps, such as the emergence of single-celled life and the transition from unicellular to multicellular life forms. Since we have not observed intelligent life beyond our planet, there seems to be a developmental step that is so difficult and unlikely that it "filters out" nearly all civilizations before they can reach a space-faring stage. Robin Hanson coined the term in his 1998 essay [http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?].
  
Katja Grace [http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/sia-doomsday-the-filter-is-ahead/ argues] on her blog that the [[self indication assumption]] should lead us to suspect that the Great Filter is still ahead of us.
+
==Should we worry?==
 +
The Great Filter might be a step in our evolutionary past, in which case our civilization has already passed it. But the hard step might also be ahead of us: surviving the creation of nuclear bombs, [[AGI]], biotechnology, [[nanotechnology]] or an asteroid impact [http://www.global-catastrophic-risks.com/docs/Chap01.pdf]. In that case, we should be worried, as the Great Filter seems to have been successful in stopping the development of every other civilization so far. Estimating the location of the Great Filter is thus important for helping estimate the magnitude of [[Existential risk|existential risk]]. [http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html Many] [http://hanson.gmu.edu/hardstep.pdf efforts] [http://www.stat.berkeley.edu/~aldous/Papers/GF.pdf have] [http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/fermi.pdf been] [http://www.global-catastrophic-risks.com/docs/Chap01.pdf made] [http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/sia-doomsday-the-filter-is-ahead/ in] that direction, but much remains uncertain.
 +
 
 +
Traces of life on other planets are evidence for a later Great Filter[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W8zu7lFmhY]. If we were to find that complex life had evolved independently both on Earth and some other planet, it would suggest that getting to such a developmental stage was relatively easy. Thus the Great Filter would have to be at a later stage.
 +
 
 +
The study of [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event#Major_extinction_events past mass extinctions] and astrobiology can provide ideas for estimating the location of the Great Filter. However, there are many difficulties involved. For instance, the time that it takes to pass a step doesn't reveal much about how easy or hard that step was. Robin Hanson gives the following example in his [http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html seminal paper]:
 +
 
 +
"…say you have one hour to pick five locks by trial and error, locks with 1,2,3,4, and 5 dials of ten numbers, so that the expected time to pick each lock is .01,.1, 1, 10, and 100 hours respectively. Then just looking at those rare cases when you do pick all five locks in the hour, the average time to pick the first two locks would be .0096 and .075 hours respectively, close to the usual expected times of .01 and .1 hours. The average time to pick the third lock, however, would be .20 hours, and the average time for the other two locks, and the average time left over at the end, would be .24 hours. That is, conditional on success, all the hard steps, no matter how hard, take about the same time, while easy steps take about their usual time."
 +
 
 +
==Consequences==
 +
[http://hanson.gmu.edu/hardstep.pdf In a subsequent paper], Hanson constructs a simulation of the distribution of the hard steps, which suggests that there should be about four to seven hard steps, uniformly distributed in our past. It also suggests that there has been at least one hard step since the evolution of hominids, and that the best extinction model that fits all these requirements is [http://www.pnas.org/content/91/15/6735.full.pdf William Schopf's model]. Taking evolutionary arguments for [[AGI]] and [[observation selection effect]]s together, [http://www.nickbostrom.com/aievolution.pdf Bostrom and Shulman argue] that Hanson’s results can help estimate the difficulty of creating AGI.
  
 
==Blog posts==
 
==Blog posts==
Line 15: Line 25:
 
==External links==
 
==External links==
  
*Hanson, Robin (1998) [http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?]
+
*Robin Hanson’s Great Filter original paper: [http://hanson.gmu.edu/greatfilter.html The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?]
 +
*A simulation of the hard steps distribution: [http://hanson.gmu.edu/hardstep.pdf Must Early Life Be Easy? The Rhythm of Major Evolutionary Transitions] by Robin Hanson
 +
*Strong candidates for present Great Filters: [http://www.global-catastrophic-risks.com/docs/Chap01.pdf Introduction of the book “Global Catastrophic Risks”, summarizing it] by Nick Bostrom
 
*[http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/sia-doomsday-the-filter-is-ahead/ SIA Doomsday: The filter is ahead] by Katja Grace
 
*[http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/sia-doomsday-the-filter-is-ahead/ SIA Doomsday: The filter is ahead] by Katja Grace
 +
*An audio with Bostrom talking about how finding traces of life on mars is terrible bad news: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W8zu7lFmhY Nick Bostrom on life on Mars]
  
 
==See also==
 
==See also==
*[[Existential Risk]]
+
*[[Existential risk]]
*[[Doomsday Argument]]
+
*[[Doomsday argument]]
 
*[[Self Indication Assumption]]
 
*[[Self Indication Assumption]]
  
 
[[Category:Concepts]]
 
[[Category:Concepts]]

Latest revision as of 00:29, 7 September 2014

Smallwikipedialogo.png
Wikipedia has an article about

The Great Filter is a proposed explanation for the Fermi Paradox. The development of intelligent life requires many steps, such as the emergence of single-celled life and the transition from unicellular to multicellular life forms. Since we have not observed intelligent life beyond our planet, there seems to be a developmental step that is so difficult and unlikely that it "filters out" nearly all civilizations before they can reach a space-faring stage. Robin Hanson coined the term in his 1998 essay The Great Filter - Are We Almost Past It?.

Should we worry?

The Great Filter might be a step in our evolutionary past, in which case our civilization has already passed it. But the hard step might also be ahead of us: surviving the creation of nuclear bombs, AGI, biotechnology, nanotechnology or an asteroid impact [1]. In that case, we should be worried, as the Great Filter seems to have been successful in stopping the development of every other civilization so far. Estimating the location of the Great Filter is thus important for helping estimate the magnitude of existential risk. Many efforts have been made in that direction, but much remains uncertain.

Traces of life on other planets are evidence for a later Great Filter[2]. If we were to find that complex life had evolved independently both on Earth and some other planet, it would suggest that getting to such a developmental stage was relatively easy. Thus the Great Filter would have to be at a later stage.

The study of past mass extinctions and astrobiology can provide ideas for estimating the location of the Great Filter. However, there are many difficulties involved. For instance, the time that it takes to pass a step doesn't reveal much about how easy or hard that step was. Robin Hanson gives the following example in his seminal paper:

"…say you have one hour to pick five locks by trial and error, locks with 1,2,3,4, and 5 dials of ten numbers, so that the expected time to pick each lock is .01,.1, 1, 10, and 100 hours respectively. Then just looking at those rare cases when you do pick all five locks in the hour, the average time to pick the first two locks would be .0096 and .075 hours respectively, close to the usual expected times of .01 and .1 hours. The average time to pick the third lock, however, would be .20 hours, and the average time for the other two locks, and the average time left over at the end, would be .24 hours. That is, conditional on success, all the hard steps, no matter how hard, take about the same time, while easy steps take about their usual time."

Consequences

In a subsequent paper, Hanson constructs a simulation of the distribution of the hard steps, which suggests that there should be about four to seven hard steps, uniformly distributed in our past. It also suggests that there has been at least one hard step since the evolution of hominids, and that the best extinction model that fits all these requirements is William Schopf's model. Taking evolutionary arguments for AGI and observation selection effects together, Bostrom and Shulman argue that Hanson’s results can help estimate the difficulty of creating AGI.

Blog posts

External links

See also