On the World-Threatening Danger of Supersized Machines

One of the great things about having a blog is that you get to push back against junk science.

Scientists like to say that their “research” and “reason” and “empiricism” lend them credibility. But every smart person knows this is ridiculous, and that scientists are just as ignorant as the rest of us. More ignorant, in fact, because they don’t even realize how ignorant they are.

Fortunately, if enough ordinary people speak up, we can smash scientific groupthink and purge the world of their dangerous ideas.

As a case in point, take this “scientific” paper. The authors argue that it’s impossible to create supersized machines. What do they mean by this? Any machines larger than a human. They literally think it’s impossible to build machines larger than a person. They put this idea in print!

I know, right? Crazy. And this is supposed to be a reasoned analysis. With charts and everything. The mind reels.

But it’s even worse than that. Not only is this argument totally ridiculous and uninformed, it’s actively dangerous.

The truth is that supersized machines aren’t just possible. They pose an existential threat to humanity, life on Earth, and quite possibly the entire cosmos.

We only need to look at the authors’ reasoning to see why.

Garfinkel et al begin by observing that the “history of life is often understood as one of growth,” starting with chains of tiny molecules and working up to big mammals like humans. That’s true, of course. But the history of machines is also one of growth, and machines have grown in size much, much faster than biological organisms.

The best way to understand this is to think back through history and pick out a few random examples of large and small machines, then line them up along a crude timeline. It quickly becomes apparent that machine size is increasing at exponential rates.

Aleutian handaxes held comfortably in the palm eventually gave way to axes as long as limbs, to saws as long as people, and finally to gigantic hewers and choppers bigger than most dinosaurs. The coracles in which our ancestors used to ply coastal waters, and the nets and poles with which they fished, have given way to gargantuan trawlers and nets that scrape the ocean floor.

Enlarging our scope a little, we note that even dwellings, bridges, and cities–in essence, large stationary machines–have sprawled and swelled and ramified, until whole swathes of the globe might fairly be considered large complexes of interlinked devices.

That’s not all. The trend is accelerating. The pace of machine growth itself grows apace. The shoe served for tens of millennia before the larger saddle arrived. Primitive saddles ruled roadways for a few thousand years before the carriage appeared. The carriage endured for a single millennium before yielding to the semi and the double-decker bus. Only in the last hundred years have kites and projectiles–small, windborne tools–lengthened into jet planes and ballooned into zeppelins.

Small devices are still with us, of course. But their presence is, in a phrase, small comfort. The boundary on machine size moves ever upward, ever outward. Why shouldn’t it go on expanding forever?

So obvious is this trend that only our small size keeps us from seeing it. Comfortable with our own modest amplitude, we fail to take large entities seriously. The giant is reduced to a folkloric phantasm, the elephant to a figure of fun. Adapted to sluggish rates of natural growth–the child’s gain in stature, the gourmand’s gain in girth–we struggle even to imagine a process of accelerating expansion. Like an ant seeing only the ground on which it crawls, not the colossal shoe descending toward it, we’re inhibited by our relative smallness from noticing the threat largeness poses.

Most people walk by a construction crane without even glancing twice. After all, what harm is it doing? What do they have to fear? Why should anyone be worried about supersized machines?

This indifference is a danger in itself. It’s quite possible that one day, large machines will destroy us all.

How do we know this?

Garfinkel et al note that size can be measured in many ways: by height, by volume, by weight, etc. They also note that there are different kinds of size, including very subtle kinds. They write:

[The] second kind of largeness is the one evoked whenever someone is described as “larger than life” or “living large” (Tom, 2004). Largeness of this sort is a non-physical (i.e. non-natural) property, separate from the mundane physical property that “largeness” most often denotes. To build a large machine, then, in the meaningful sense, we would first need to solve the “hard problem” of determining what this non-physical property is and how it arises.

This is exactly why scientists can’t be trusted, with their pointless pedantry and academic quibbles. Who cares if size can’t be precisely defined? When it comes to size, the only question that should concern us is this:

Why does size matter? Why is it important? What is about size that makes it worthy of attention?

Let’s think it through. Looking at large organisms, we see that apart from their size–whatever exactly that means–they have three qualities in common. First, they consume more resources. Second, they’re more capable. Third, they’re more complex.

This is true whether we’re talking about amoebas and alligators, ants and orangutans, or tulips and trees. The big organisms use more material and energy–more stuff. They have more adaptations, more tricks for surviving. And in terms of structure and behavior, they’re more complex.

All these traits are interrelated. Harnessing more resources allows for more complexity, which allows for a greater variety of adaptations, which in turn demands more resources. And so on.

This is also true for machines. A large nail contains more iron than a small nail. A larger engine consumes more fuel. If we consider space itself as a resource–and why shouldn’t we?–then large machines are by definition more demanding.

And capability? Large machines came into existence precisely because they can do more than small machines. Why else would their inventors have put in all those extra resources? And large machines aren’t just more powerful; they have a greater range of powers, too. A dinghy is little, does little, and has little use. A modern cargo ship is larger, travels farther, almost pilots itself, and can be used to transport almost anything imaginable.

So we come to the third property, which is by far the most important. Some rude machines, like hammers and levers, can attain huge sizes without evincing greater complexity. But as a rule, the larger the machine, the greater its sophistication. Even apparently simple devices like giant shovels and huge drills are usually coupled to elaborate motors and regulatory systems, and it’s something of a truism that large machines are basically intricate combinations of smaller machines. So notable is this tendency that I’ll leave it to naysayers to come up with persuasive counterexamples.

These, then, are the three Cs of size as a meaningful quality: consumption, capability, and complexity. It doesn’t matter whether these traits are intrinsic to size, or only correlated with size. What matters is that they all go together. It’s only logical to subsume them in a general property of sizeliness, or sizism, or sizitude–or, more scientifically, a General Size Factor (GSF).

Now we can see why why size is so important, and why large machines should make us afraid. GSF isn’t just a static property. It’s a feedback loop. As GSF increases, machines become more complex and more capable. This leads them to consume more resources, which in turn makes them more complex and more capable, which drives a need for still more resources, and on and on. Eventually a critical point is reached. We find ourselves facing a Transformative Size Explosion (TSE), the consequences of which are unimaginable.

Remember: machines are going through this process at a much faster rate than the organisms of evolutionary history. It took evolution billions of years to get from animalcules to Brachiosaurus. Machines went from pulleys to hundred-foot cranes in just a couple of thousand.

So the question isn’t whether a TSE will occur. The question isn’t even when. The question is: Will it be soon, or very soon? And will we be prepared?

At present, we can only make an educated guess. Judging by the growth of machines to date, I estimate that a TSE will occur on or before Father’s Day 2024. In fact, I think it would be irresponsible to say otherwise.

Nevertheless, a few objections must be addressed.

In their paper, Garfinkel et al note that humans already augment our size in various ways: by increasing caloric intake, by wearing sweaters, and by standing on one another’s shoulders. What they don’t note–another failure of scientific thinking!–is that none of these measures increases GSF.

In fact, considering the history of life on Earth, and surveying examples of large machines, we see that it’s easy to increase size in superficial respects without a corresponding increase in GSF.

For example, there are simple fungal growths larger than any mobile organism. Rocks and trees can become very large without notable gains in GSF. Some species of whales are much larger than others, yet it’s not obvious that they have higher levels of GSF. Looking only at humans, we see that they vary widely in GSF–even though humans on average have a much higher GSF than, say, sparrows.

Even large machines have certain limitations. Enormous aircraft carriers, with all their capabilities, make poorer paperweights than the humblest toy boat.

And it goes without saying that today’s entire complement of large machines, most of which have reached superhuman size by simple metrics, still fail to rival humans in the critical quality of GSF.

This is the paradox of Artificial Size (AS) research: that benefits accruing to GSF are obvious and frightening–as we see in the advantages a human has over a toad, or an ocean liner over a paddleboard. But no simple measure of size can be equated with General Size Factor, which remains, for now, a poorly understood quantity.

In particular cases, then, GSF seems unimportant, even harmless. But if we take the long view of historical trends, statistical averages, and probabilities, it’s all-important. Size is power. The surprising thing is that, while other entities in the universe are, by various measures, larger or smaller than human beings, no entity in the known universe can do what human beings do.

How can this be? How is it that humans are so high in GSF without being high in size-related attributes like length or weight?

Work on this question is ongoing, but suffice it to say, there must be some complex of Size-Relevant Attributes (SRAs), or some imperfectly understood Size-Potential-Maximizing-Endowment (SPME) that unlocks the potential of GSF and gives rise to the unique suite of human accomplishments: throwing spears, riding horses, dodging between the legs of giraffes, wearing XXL sweaters while still managing to pass through built-to-code doorways, using keyboards without crushing them to powder, having sufficient mass to enjoy squeezing Whoopie cushions–all abilities that are uniquely human, and all dependent on human levels of GSF.

This, then, is the Holy Grail of Artificial Size research: not simply to build large machines, but to build machines with Human-Equivalent General Size Factor (HE-GSF).

In sum, and to put the matter as clearly as possible, if we assume that HE-GSF depends on some input to AS-GSF of potential SPMEs plus n>0 SRAs, then the rate at which the difference between HE-GSF and AS-GSF diminishes is given by the formula:

dS/dt = (D{ISRA})(D{SPME}):D

Where D{ISRA} is the discovery rate of SRAs; D{SPME} is the discovery rate of SPMEs; and 😀 is the human-faith-amplifier, that is, the tendency of humans to invest more credulity and energy in AS research as it yields rewards.

Note that in this equation, any of the contributing factors can be made arbitrarily large. If we assign a high value to human credulousness alone–surely not an unwarranted assumption–then the discovery process rapidly accelerates and a TSE becomes unavoidable.

Let’s take a moment to ask, then: what are the likely effects of this imminent machine-size explosion?

There’s no way to be sure. But in a spirit of sober speculation, we can predict something like the following.

In a very short time, due to their enormous capabilities and correspondingly high need for resources, supersize machines will harness all matter and energy in the known universe. Because the primary function of size is to exert force–much as the primary function of intelligence is to implement plans and instructions–these goliath machines will surely seek to exert a supreme amount of force on the fabric of existence itself, compacting every suitable deposit of matter into a singularity, reducing the cosmos to a froth of gravitational distortions and zones of intense quantum fluctuation. Out of these rents and tears new seed cosmos will be birthed, some of which will have mathematical constants allowing for the existence of machines of even larger size and greater capability, and so on through a possibility space covering all realizable differentials in the influence of force. This will result in the eventual maximization, somewhere in this garden of branching cosmic paths, of every variable contributing to the state we know as “reality”–including, of course, maximization of subjective pain and maximization of subjective pleasure.

If we embrace the utilitarian project of maximizing happiness among beings capable of experiencing it, then the question we have to ask ourselves, before tinkering recklessly with augmentations to machine size, is whether the hedonic value of happiness-maximizing universes can ever be sufficient to counterbalance the suffering in pain-maximizing universes, which compels us to ask in turn how many Infinite Pain Units (hyperalgons) ought to be considered equal to one infinite pleasure unit (hyperhedon), the answer to which is seven.

Again, this all follows naturally and inexorably from the existence of today’s large machines.

In conclusion, the existence of large machines compels us to predict the existence of supersize machines, which are characterized by possession of a high degree of the quantity known as GSF. The essential feature of GSF is the ability of large entities to harness more resources for self-augmentation, which will inevitably lead to a runaway process by which machines come to dominate or eradicate everything that exists. To deny or doubt this obvious truth makes one implicitly culpable for the anguish of untold billions of souls in an alternate universe.

The critical point is that size, however arbitrary it may seem, is the aspect of beings, mechanical or human, that ultimately gives them value. Next time you see the nail clippers in your bathroom, picture a set of nail clippers as long as the galactic arm, snipping through starbelts, severing worlds. Then ask yourself: do you want that to happen?

Anything else would simply be small-minded.

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