Bitcoin And Existential Risk
A Weekly Series Of Essays About The Language Of Bitcoin by Alex McShane.
Lingua Contra Imperium
The Language of Bitcoin: 4
TL;DR – An existential risk is the possibility of an event or series of of events that could drastically curtail humanity’s potential. A hypothetical global catastrophe could be anthropogenic or non-anthropogenic and internal or external in nature. The adoption of Bitcoin will position us to better address these risks as a society.
A catastrophic collision with an astronomical object, such as an asteroid impact would be an external non-anthropogenic risk. This has already occurred here several times. During the Permian Triassic period (ending 250 million years ago) an astronomical impact killed 90 percent of the species on Earth. It took tens of millions of years for life on Earth to repopulate and Earth’s intelligence potential to recover.
One interesting external non-anthropogenic risk is Earth’s reflected light, which could be measured by an external intelligence who then come to extinguish us. (The topic of our own signal bringing about this death by misadventure is discussed further below.)
What does this have to do with Bitcoin?
Generally, hard money facilitates greater innovation and technological process. At this point one might argue that if we do not migrate to some degree from Earth as a species, and are subsequently wiped out by an astronomical object impact or a super-volcanic event, the risk becomes anthropogenic in nature. We are a centralized species on a grand scale, and at this point one could say we have through consensus chosen to remain vulnerable to a single vector of attack by staying here.
Bitcoin is not only the hardest money known to man, it is the most responsible from this standpoint. Bitcoin as it currently operates is currency that can provide a monetary framework on which humans can achieve greater capital growth, collaboration, resource allocation, and therefore technological progress. Because the terminal supply of Bitcoin is capped, we can store value in it indefinitely as a society.
66 Million years ago the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event extinguished the life and intelligence potential of the non-avian dinosaurs. This series of events was external, and broadly non-anthropogenic in the sense that no form of life on Earth at the time contributed to its own demise, but more specifically, at the time of those astronomical impacts the first humans hadn’t split from chimpanzee lineages. This split is thought to have occurred between between 4 and 8 million years ago.
An important distinction between astronomical impacts or super-volcanic events of the past and such events if they were to happen today is that one could argue that our intelligence potential is now mature enough to tackle certain of the external existential risks. Today, the risk posed by an asteroid impact or something similar would still be external in its origin, but at what point does the burden of responsibility to migrate off of the planet fall upon our population? We can surely solve for some external existential risks, and in any case, no one is going to do it for us. You could say that failing to collectively pursue a solution when technically we could have would recategorize a civilization-extinguishing asteroid impact as an external but anthropogenic risk.
At what point do innovation dampening authoritarian states and their mandated broken money cause society to stall at a local optimum? Surely the government has already caused this. It’s only a matter of time before another object strikes the Earth with devastating consequence. I would argue it is irresponsible to continue life here with government money. Government money is an existential risk. Bitcoin is not only a solution, it is a societal responsibility.
Nuclear war is one example of an internal anthropogenic risk. That is, should nuclear war arise, it would be both self destructive, and relatively self contained on a cosmic scale. It follows that biological warfare is an internal anthropogenic risk, the reality of which we as a species can surely understand now. If I were to hazard a guess I would say virtual emergencies and cyber pandemics are next. These self constructed catastrophes are the government’s misguided attempts at proof of work. This is a topic for another time. Do not surrender your ability to think and speak freely.
The second law of thermodynamics can summed thus, processes that involve the transfer or conversion of heat energy are irreversible. The law indicates we have not observed a spontaneous transfer of energy from cold to hot. Another way to think of this is that there is no such thing as cold, only lesser degrees of hot. Nothing cannot transfer. So broadly, within a closed system, the second law of thermodynamics would indicate that all differences tend to level out.
So what has this got to do with Bitcoin?
Well firstly, all hardware is subject to entropy. The distributed nature of the blockchain increases the probability that it will survive centralized entropy. At Bitcoin’s inception, imagine a failure because Satoshi’s computer randomly crashed. Distributed networks are inherently hedged against this particular centralized form of existential risk.
The second law of thermodynamics also suggests that on a grander scale, relatively isolated (centralized) systems will degenerate more and more into disordered states. Proof of work, and network growth are two ways Bitcoin fights against falling into disrepair.
Bitcoin uses proof of work to stave off entropy. The system cannot stay dormant. It must continue to use proof of work to advance the state of the chain, and to fight entropy to secure the monetary value all of the users have stored in the network. The U.S. dollar, as many have pointed out, relies on proof of war, or distributed political energies to maintain dominance. Its methodology can be described as haphazard at best.
One internal non-anthropogenic risk is that of a super-volcanic eruption, provided it wasn’t humans who brought about the eruption. Just like with external non-anthropogenic risks, Bitcoin alone cannot prevent them, but it can help humans prepare for them such that we may survive these relatively small intelligence filters the universe throws our way.
Bitcoin allows for fundamental capital accumulation and human innovation, and promotes collaboration to such a degree that we will find an increased collective problem solving power as humans the further Bitcoin adoption spreads. It is worth mentioning that Bitcoin also maintains and appreciates wealth to such a degree that often those of us to chose to live our lives on a Bitcoin standard will experience relatively greater freedoms, and vastly greater amounts of free time than our peers who chose to continue their lives on a fiat standard, and are perpetually working to outpace their chronic debt. Many Bitcoiners will likely forego that newfound free time to work and continue to provide value to others in whatever area interests them, because Bitcoin incentivizes the collaborative accumulation of capital but also the responsible reallocation of it.
An external anthropogenic risk has the least probability of occurring. This is a
problem of reach. Imagine human intelligence being sent into the cosmos and signaling or generally causing an external intelligence or astronomical object to come back to extinguish us. This is a most improbable extinction by misadventure.
The probability that we send messages of consequence into the cosmos that in turn cause some other far-flung intelligence, with knowledge enough to reach us, to come and bring about our own destruction is next to zero, but it isn’t zero.
I would posit that the probability increases every day that Bitcoin survives, with each person that chooses to hold Bitcoin over fiat, because on a fiat standard we are again, stuck at a local optimum at best, and each day the global monetary system devolves further into chaos. The fiat world may continue to be habitable chaos, but our technological progress and our greatest capacity for innovation cannot be achieved on a fiat standard.
A Bitcoin standard is not only our current best bet, it is the only monetary vehicle that will take us from here, or enable us to build technology that can effectively communicate with places in the universe where other intelligence has emerged. The other reason this fatal miscommunication is unlikely to occur is that once through a Bitcoin standard we have manage to build a society that can effectively reach and communicate at greater depths of the cosmos we will at that time have already become a multi-planetary, if not transitory, if not multi-solar system species. The topic of Bitcoin in space and planetary interoperability will be discussed in a later essay.
The most distant human made object from the earth is the Voyager 1, which is over 13 billion miles away. (For perspective, Apha Centuri, the nearest star system to Earth, is 25 trillion miles away.) Human radio signals have announced our presence and our intelligence to the cosmos since around 1900. The first human radio signals have all ready traveled 114 light years, that is 681,920,540,000,000 miles. Although the reach of our radio signals is very great, the probability of us being heard and subsequently extinguished is negligible. External anthropogenic risks are the least of our concerns at the moment.
As Bitcoin adoption grows, it serves to promote advances in artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. External anthropogenic risks will become more relevant to human intelligence at a much later time. External non-anthropogenic risks are similarly out of our hands for the time being. That is, at the moment there is nothing we can do to prevent the Sun from becoming a red giant star and subsuming the Earth.
But we do already have the monetary technology upon which to engineer solutions to some of these problems. We have the potential as humans to prevent internal global catastrophes, both those set on by us and not. Survival and longevity is arguably our greatest task as a species. Adopting Bitcoin, and protecting this network is proceeding with diligence and a long eye toward the future in all of our political and scientific affairs. The existential risks of living are great, though it is human nature for our ambitions to out pace our current abilities. The only evidence of life is change. To change is to exit fiat currency, it is to use Bitcoin instead.
5 September 2021
Read The Language of Bitcoin: 3: “Bitcoin: The First and Final Rival Money”
Read The Language of Bitcoin: 2: “Bitcoin Alleviates Future Uncertainty”
Read The Language of Bitcoin: 1: “BTC Is The Best Explanation For The Way Money Is”