Saturday, October 20, 2018

Financial returns of interstellar colonization for the sedentary

Summary: In thinking about the likelihood of interstellar colonization by our civilization, or possible alien civilizations, one question is motivation: how strong are the incentives to do so? If moderately fast self-replicating probes can build infrastructure in a new solar system and send back information or material goods requiring extensive experimentation or computation to produce, then even at current market interest rates a colonization mission could deliver extremely high return on investment. For patient long-lived decision-makers with strong property rights or stability, returns could be overwhelming.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Flow-through effects of innovation through the ages

Summary: Per the previous post, it appears that growth impacts of saving lives have historically dwarfed the immediate effects, by increasing technological innovation that eventually led to the rich and populous modern world. Active work on technological innovation contributes more to technology than the average of all activity in society, and so might be expected to have larger growth effects. Moreover, in ancient times not only did society have smaller population and output, it also invested much less of those resources into R&D. The greater neglectedness raised the marginal impact of ancient R&D enormously, so that past altruists who contributed to innovation could have had multiple orders of magnitude more impact on long-run living standards and years of life lived than those who saved lives or provided direct aid. The strength of this preference increases enormously as we consider earlier periods in history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Flow-through effects of saving a life through the ages on life-years lived

Summary: Historically, human populations were much smaller, and humans have long contributed to a process of technological accumulation that lead to current enormous human populations. Thus, saving a drowning child 10,000 years ago would have, by increasing economic output and technological advance, lead to hundreds of additional human lives by today, and potentially far more in the future. Because past populations were smaller by a greater factor than they were poorer, the ancients' opportunities to bring about QALYs may be much greater and closer to those of moderns than is sometimes thought, at least within the field of local direct life-saving. Impacts were also enormously greater in comparatively non-Malthusian periods, when a saved life could compound at high local population growth rates. In some ways, this is a historical analog to Nick Bostrom's 'Astronomical Waste' argument, showing that the basic logic of longtermism has held in the past in at least some domains. However, expediting growth is a relatively easy change to transmit over long periods, whereas trajectory changes that attempt to shape the character or actions of society at future technology levels (rather than when they are reached) face the problem of decaying influence.