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Nov 21, 2010

TSA and the Coming Great Filter

Posted by in categories: existential risks, policy

Many people think that the issues Lifeboat Foundation is discussing will not be relevant for many decades to come. But recently a major US Governmental Agency, the TSA, decided to make life hell for 310 million Americans (and anyone who dares visit the USA) as it reacts to the coming Great Filter.

What is the Great Filter? Basically it is whatever has caused our universe to be dead with no advanced civilizations in it. (An advanced civilization is defined as a civilization advanced enough to be self-sustaining outside its home planet.)

The most likely explanation for this Great Filter is that civilizations eventually develop technologies so powerful that they provide individuals with the means to destroy all life on the planet. Technology has now become powerful enough that the TSA even sees 3-year-old girls as threats who may take down a plane so they take away her teddy bear and grope her.

Do I agree with the TSA’s actions? No, because they are not risk-based. For example, they recently refused to let a man board a plane even when he stripped down to his underwear that “left nothing to the imagination” as he attempted to prove that he didn’t have a bomb on his body. Instead they arrested him, handcuffed and paraded him through two separate airport terminals in his underwear, stole his phone, and arrested a bystander who filmed the event and stole her camera as well. Obviously the TSA’s actions in this instance did nothing to protect Americans from mad bombers. And such examples are numerous.

But is the TSA in general reacting to real growing threats as the Great Filter approaches? You bet it is. The next 10 years will be interesting. May you live in interesting times.

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Comments — comments are now closed.

  • SW on November 21, 2010 5:17 pm

    “For example, they [the TSA] recently refused to let a man board a plane even when he stripped down to his underwear that “left nothing to the imagination” as he attempted to prove that he didn’t have a bomb on his body. Instead they arrested him, handcuffed and paraded him through two separate airport terminals in his underwear, stole his phone, and arrested a bystander who filmed the event and stole her camera as well.”

    Could you please provide some credible verifying sources for this narrative? Thank you.

  • Eric Klien on November 21, 2010 5:35 pm

    “Could you please provide some credible verifying sources for this narrative? Thank you.”

    I put a link to all such sources in the original blog post. If it helps, you can go to http://www.examiner.com/county-political-buzz-in-san-diego/t…iego-again for this particular fact.

  • robomoon on November 22, 2010 4:48 am

    This blog has a function to shorten visible long URL’s automatically. Perhaps, to make links better noticeable, usage should be encouraged with an extra help page (plus a link to it) describing it somehow like this: visible long URL’s are getting shortened in any posted msg.

  • spool32 on November 22, 2010 8:24 am

    Rather than creating a help page, just suggest that people learn to use a computer. Every browser displays the URL under a link, in a little bar that appears in the bottom left corner when you move your mouse over the link.

    This has been a public service announcement from the Stealth Education Association.

  • Chris on November 22, 2010 8:32 am

    Except that the Great Filter idea is based on another idea, the Fermi Paradox, which is bunk — a Whig Biohistory, if you will. Evolution is not a ladder upon which all life is climbing, with reasoning intelligence at the top. Intelligence is just another adaptation, a series of genetic mutations that have allowed one species to take over this particular planet. It is entirely possible that the universe is teeming with life, none of it intelligent. It is silly to assume that if there is life elsewhere, then intelligence must have evolved there, just as it would be silly to expect any specific adaptation to have evolved there. Substitute “tails” or “purring” for “intelligence” in the Fermi Paradox and you see just how much it is wishful thinking and not science or logic.

  • Ted on November 22, 2010 9:29 am

    Chris, the flaw in your argument is that it reasons that purring or having a tail is equally likely to lead to extra-planetary success as intelligence is. But that is not the case, a species evolving the trait of intelligence is much more likely to overcome the Great Filter than one which has merely developed the trait of having tails or purring. I believe the reasoning should be that there is no driving evolutionary need to develop the traits necessary to overcome the Great Filter unless you have developed enough intelligence to see the need to escape and survive your own planetary boundaries. That reasoning leads us back to the initial paradox.

  • M. Simon on November 22, 2010 9:45 am

    How the Drug War Spawned the TSA:

    http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/2010/11/for-children.html

    For The Children.

    They are both looking for contraband and you looked the other way when they did it to dopers. Well friends and neighbors. We are all dopers now.

    Precedent on how to deal with contraband has been set. It is now going to be applied to everyone.

  • Alf on November 22, 2010 10:05 am

    “… whatever has caused our universe to be dead with no advanced civilizations in it“
    Just based on probabilities, life should not exist anywhere. The DNA of the smallest self sustaining life forms contain about 1MM amino acids. Assume that: 1) it takes about 1 hour to replicate (i.e. convert from inert chemicals to self sustaining life), 2) the entire mass of the universe, including dark matter is composed of amino acids (~1080) which are capable of interacting with each other, 3) the universe is 1017 hours old and 4) there are 1 quadrillion viable first life forms.
    Then the probability that life formed anywhere is 1 in (41,000,000 / 1080 / 1017÷1015). Approximately 1 in 10599,900.
    Why do we need a Great Filter theory for the absence of life again?

  • McFudge on November 22, 2010 10:51 am

    The TSA confiscated a souvenir magnet that my sister-in-law bought at an airport gift shop. It was shaped like Texas, adorned with Texas landmarks and symbols, including a little pistol sticking off the side of it. I guess they were trying to save face by pretending it was a threat after saying they saw something that looked like a gun in her carry-on and grilling her about having a gun for so long that she was in tears and almost missed her plane. The irony of it all is that many years ago she had been a security line worker herself. She was completely incredulous, but because she had to (literally) run to catch her plane, she had no time to file a formal protest and decided later it just wasn’t worth it.

  • Swen Swenson on November 22, 2010 11:10 am

    The problem with the concept of the Great Filter is that we have no way of knowing how probable the appearance of intelligent life might be. After all, how can we assign a probability to an event that’s never happened?

  • Victor Erimita on November 22, 2010 12:25 pm

    Spool32 responds to helpful suggestions about how to make hyperlinks more easily discernable by readers of the blog by sniffing that perhaps instead people could “learn to use a computer.” What excellent advice. Even though computers and the practices necessary to effectively use them are constantly evolving, people should certainly devote substantial portions of their time to keeping up with such things. I mean, these people are probably wasting their time in meaningless tasks such as reading to their kids, working at their jobs (those few who still have them,) coaching their kids’ lacrosse team, learning a language that humans speak, or perhaps even reading something printed on dead tree carcasses. These people need to get a life! Or rather, abandon one in order to keep up with the ever-changing protocols of the digital universe. The alternative is unthinkable—-that those who design software should behave like those who design every other product humans use, abandon the snobby little affect they substitute for personalities, and think of the intended user. That would be just crazy!

  • Eric Klien on November 22, 2010 3:54 pm

    “The problem with the concept of the Great Filter is that we have no way of knowing how probable the appearance of intelligent life might be. After all, how can we assign a probability to an event that’s never happened?”

    We are within a few decades of being the intelligent life described in this blog post. So this gives us some info on which we can make an educated guess. Our fossil record shows that life occurred pretty much the second the Earth cooled so the theory there is no life out there as described in the comment by Alf is very likely wrong. As to whether all life out there is stupid as described by Chris in the first comment, or is invisible, not multicelled, doesn’t like to explore, etc. is at least up to debate.

    So far all theories that we are special haven’t panned out. We now know that it doesn’t look like the Earth is the center of the universe or that the Sun and the stars are orbiting the Earth. So the odds are that out of the 100 billion trillion planets out there, we are not special and others have developed intelligence, etc. So it is a very good question what happened to them.

    As the TSA has shown, governments tend to be incompetent in protecting us against threats. The TSA can’t even tell the difference between a souvenir magnet and a deadly weapon. (A task that a 6-year old could handle.) So when we have designer bioweapons and self-replicating nanoweapons, what do you think will happen to our civilization? Our dead universe shows what will happen if we sit back and just wait for the government to “protect us”.

  • Bob F. on November 22, 2010 7:10 pm

    Victor, given that this article uses hyperlinks the way they have been used since the beginning of the WWW, what the heck are you going on about?

    (FWIW, I had assumed that the first commenter was claiming that the Examiner was not a sufficiently credible source.)

  • Dame Truth on November 22, 2010 7:40 pm

    At this point, I fear the TSA and resultant erosions to our privacy and liberties far more than I fear the Taliban. This is SO not about terrorists [save the ones at the TSA], and SO all about power. Americans must NOT submit to any of these gestapo tactics. If the TSA was truly interested in preventing terrorism they would work with Israel, learn and duplicate their system and keep Americans safe. This has nothing to do with keeping Americans safe, and everything to do with making money on cancer causing machines, intimidating and subverting Americans and asserting power over them by petty, stupid bureaucrats.

  • robomoon on November 23, 2010 6:58 am

    “…this article uses hyperlinks the way they have been used since the beginning of the http://WWW...”. So what about a Hope Page for this blog, like:

    We hope that color-blind people will take a closer look, because our hyperlinks are not underlined. Just because of the lower contrast between white and yellow letters, we also hope that color-blind people are actually reading this on white background (instead of black). If not, we hope, someone will teach them computers, like how to use the Switch to White function on the right upper part of our site.

    http://www.usability.gov/articles/newsletter/pubs/022010new.html and http://www.usability.gov/articles/newsletter/pubs/052007news.html despite of the referring source’ low credibility.

  • Michael F Dickey on November 23, 2010 4:43 pm

    It is worth noting that it is not necessary to prove a great filter is in place, or that life is abundant and then wiped out, for the actions to circumvent a great filter to be a rational course to take. There are two possible explanations for the abundant lack of life in the galaxy 1) Life is extremely rare or we are the only in existence 2) Life is common but usually destroys itself or is destroyed by some cosmic event. If we act to mitigate the possible causes of existential annihilation we make circumventing the great filters of scenario 2 much more likely. If we act to circumvent the likely causes of a great filter and scenario one is the actual cause of the lack of life in the galaxy then the only thing that is lost is some resources and some time. But if scenario 2 is the explanation and we DON’T act, then all life on Earth will end. In Game theory you never play an always dominated strategy (one that loses in every scenario) not acting is exactly that.

  • flataffect on November 23, 2010 8:45 pm

    Maybe the apparent absence of extraterrestrial intelligence is due to their advanced intelligence.

    Political correctness has killed more Americans so far than our enemies have, military excepted. Yet even our military has been affected. Guns were not allowed on the base at Ft. Hood.

  • robomoon on November 24, 2010 5:10 am

    “Maybe the apparent absence of extraterrestrial intelligence is due to their advanced intelligence.”

    Nothing would be more convenient but the idea that extraterrestrial forms of higher intelligent life did not send information to humans because of a different IQ. Its level will be only a negotiable barrier against the compatibility of communications. So a different routine — thinking and other intellectual procedures, might be even more incompatible.

    Nothing is so easy in reality. Software experts can observe that AI is becoming scientifically and economically influential while digital computing is always different from GAI with FAI.

    Nothing has replaced humans as the leading force in science and economics. Despite of calculus, data transfer, and further varieties between computers and humans — except their communications over computer networks, the routine of intellectual procedures is incompatible.

    Nothing seems to be more mathematical routine but the cooperation between a thinking supercomputer and a thinking economist. The economist does the typing and gets the result in printing. Within the procedure, human intervention does not bend a CPU for parallel processing the level a human brain does.

    Humans have no reference to alien intelligence in motion. They even do not know much about the virtues of motion inside the brain of elephants, whales, and whatever crosses their path for the creation of alternative medicine and dogfood.

  • SW on December 6, 2010 7:30 pm

    I am the one who asked for the link to the original article.

    I am aware of the protocol for embedded links. However, the first time I loaded this page, it appeared on my screen in black and white with no formatting or discernible links in the text. I could not see them but do now.

    So, for those who offered friendly help, thank you! For those who snarked, shhhh! And for those who did both, well, take a bit from both of my articulations. (smile!) — or, to indicate my web savvy :-)

  • JohnHunt on December 13, 2010 6:41 pm

    Many people (myself included) express great certainty in one or another solutikon to Fermi’s Paradox. But the fact is that we just really don’t know which one is the correct one.

    Until we figure this out for sure, it would be prudent to act as though the Great Filter is in our near future because this would be tragic and yet we might be able to do something about it. Besides, if the Great Flder is somewhere in the period from the start of life to multi-cellular life, this would be greatly comforting but doesn’t necessarily prevent us from destroying ourselves anyhow.

    Now, as I see it, the problem with the TSA is multi-fold. Of course, they are massively maldistributing their resources relative to the actual source of risks. But secondly, and importantly to iour discussion here, their extensive passenger screening program was implemented only after great tragedy. For existential risks, this would come too late. And yet we have this perpetual penchant for being unwilling to take action before a predictable event occurs. e.g. After 9/11, was there really no one in the TSA who imagined that an underwear bomb was a real possibility?

    Let’s not kid ourselves, there will be no international law being enforced which will prevent some idiot from developing the first free-floating, self-replicating chemical or nanobot. Sovereignty, liberty, money, or hope for the benefits of advanced technology will prevent such a law from being universally passed or enforced.

    However, our experience with the TSA does offer some hope. They have implemented procedures which have largely reduced or perhaps eliminated certain risks. Closed, strong doors to the cockpits would be one good example. Some of these measures have been implemented not after a great tragedy but after a “near-miss”.

    My questions is this, “Can a ‘near-miss’ be safely and intentionally created so as to create the circumstances necessary for the implementaton of reasonable measures”? Even measures that buy us a few more years time may be all that we need to finishing developing an off-Earth self-sustaining colony.

    For example, say we are to the point where desk-top nanofactories are just becoming a reality. We stick one of them in a CDC Level-4 containment lab and intentionally run it to produce chemicals of ever increasing size. Then we have some way of measuring whether one of those chemicals is a self-replicating ecophage. BUT, it’s contained. Armed with the knowledge that the desk-top equipment poses an real existential risks, laws are implemented to ensure that all such devices are not sold on the general market. If this happens in 2050, perhaps it could buy us 10 years in which a lunar or martian base could be completed.

    However,