[April Fools' Day] Introducing Open Asteroid Impact

post by Linch · 2024-04-01T08:14:15.800Z · LW · GW · 29 comments

This is a link post for https://openasteroidimpact.org/


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comment by nikola (nikolaisalreadytaken) · 2024-04-01T13:56:25.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not worried about OAI not being able to solve the rocket alignment problem in time. Risks from asteroids accidentally hitting the earth (instead of getting into a delicate low-earth orbit) are purely speculative.

You might say "but there are clear historical cases where asteroids hit the earth and caused catastrophes", but I think geological evolution is just a really bad reference class for this type of thinking. After all, we are directing the asteroid this time, not geological evolution.

Replies from: gwern, ryan_greenblatt
comment by gwern · 2024-04-01T20:11:43.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Risks from asteroids accidentally hitting the earth (instead of getting into a delicate low-earth orbit) are purely speculative.

Not to mention that simple counting arguments show that the volume of the Earth is much smaller than even a rather narrow spherical shell of space around the Earth. Most asteroid trajectories that come anywhere near Earth will pass through this spherical shell rather than the Earth volume.

Remember - "Earth is not the optimized-trajectory target"! An agent like Open Asteroid Impact is merely executing policies involving business strategies involving asteroids which have been (financially) rewarded in the past; it in no way attempts to 'optimize impact'.

And the lack of optimization is a killer because impacts just wouldn't happen. The idea that asteroids will ever impact ignores the simple fact that the Solar System has chaotic dynamics [LW(p) · GW(p)] - it is not just a '3-body problem' but an n-body problem where n = millions. Imagine trying to predict that! And consider the simple problem of landing the same rocket you launched: as of November 2015, no one has ever succeeded in this, because everything involved is super-chaotic. Grifting tech hypebros would have you believe that 'technology improves', sometimes rapidly, and that by now we might be landing rockets on - if you believe absurd exponential forecasts - a near-daily basis. Such claims are not even worth factchecking.

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2024-04-01T21:59:19.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Open Asteroid Impact strongly disagrees with this line of thinking. Our theory of change relies on many asteroids filled with precious minerals hitting earth, as mining in space (even LEO) is prohibitively expensive compared to on-ground mining.

While your claims may be true for small asteroids, we strongly believe that scale is all you need. Over time, sufficiently large, and sufficiently many, asteroids can solve the problem of specific asteroids not successfully impacting Earth.

comment by ryan_greenblatt · 2024-04-01T20:43:24.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might say "but there are clear historical cases where asteroids hit the earth and caused catastrophes", but I think geological evolution is just a really bad reference class for this type of thinking. After all, we are directing the asteroid this time, not geological evolution.

This paragraph gives me bad vibes. I feel like it's mocking particular people in an unhelpful way.

It doesn't feel to me like constructively poking fun at an argument and instead feels more like dunking on a strawman of the outgroup.

(I also have this complaint to some extent with the top level "Open Asteroid Impact" April Fool's post, though I think the vibes are much less bad for the overall post. This is due to various reasons I have a hard time articulating.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2024-04-01T21:56:50.732Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It comes from the discussion here: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/LvKDMWQ3yLG9R3gHw/empiricism-as-anti-epistemology [LW · GW]

which also has https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/hvz9qjWyv8cLX9JJR/evolution-provides-no-evidence-for-the-sharp-left-turn [LW · GW] as a related topic.

As near as I can summarize the arguments, the argument distills to :

 What intelligence in any thinking agent does  :

        A.     Perceive the situation at present.  It will functionally always be unique in the real world.  (it will never exact match to a Q-table entry with a few exceptions like board games)

       B.  Lookup reference classes that are similar to the situation you are in.   

        C.  Use the reference classes that are similar to the situation, and assume the laws of physics will cause a similar outcome now as to then, predict the future outcomes conditional on the agent's actions.  (aka I do nothing, reality will cause outcome 1, I do action A, reality will cause outcome 2...)  (D.  choose the action that predicts the future with the highest EV from the agent's perspective)

This will fail badly when the situation is a black swan.

For example, at one point I sold 80! bitcoins for $10 each because I reasoned that it was similar to fake experimental e-currencies that had been tried in the past.

How you can project the future:

     So when people try to answer questions like 'will there be a recession' and similar, that's how.  You try to find a reference class, or a numerical variable that predicted '15 of the last 10 recessions' and project it will happen when this happens.  

     The argument for "AI won't be that bad" comes to reasoning:

               A.  A piece of software we call a transformers model is kinda like the reference classes "useful software", "useful technology tools", "military applicable technology". 

               B.  You then assume the laws of physics are similar, and assume the other tens of thousands of things that match the above will cause a similar outcome, and there you go, almost 0% AI doom because none of the other technologies risked the doom of humanity (except 1-2).  And also you hit a corollary, we know historically that countries that didn't adopt the latest and most expensive military technology got slaughtered.  Recent examples : Afghanistan invaded by the Soviets, then later the USA.  Iraq hit by the USA twice.  Ukraine.  

And we see the results in Ukraine what even a little bit of better weapons technology donated to their side does on the battlefield, the results are dramatic.  This results in another pro-AI argument, "we didn't really have a choice".

The counterargument:

        The simplest counterargument to above is to say "AI, especially ASI, doesn't match the reference classes of "useful software", "useful technology tools", "military applicable technology".   

    A.  useful software counter: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/kSq5qiafd6SqQoJWv/ [? · GW] by @Davidmanheim [LW · GW

    B.  "useful technology tools" : the argument here is usually that the ASI isn't a tool because it can betray you while a hammer can't.   Also it's smarter than yourself, so you can't really even check it's work or know when it's betraying.

     C.  "military applicable technology" : ditto, you can't trust a weapon that can think for itself or coordinate to betray you

This thread:

The "in joke" is that we all know that slamming an asteroid into the earth and causing a > 1 gigaton explosion of plasma and probably an earthquake (I checked and it's a tiny asteroid to reach 1 gigaton) is something that we know the consequences for.  It really is a bad idea and if we need platinum or iridium or other elements common to asteroids we'll have to process it in place and bring it back the hard way.  

So we're trying to play with the "reference class" to make it seem like a good idea among other purposeful argument faults.  This one is making fun of people saying the asteroid fits the 'reference class' of the one that extincted the dinosaurs and that most doom advocates, unlike yourself, aren't qualified in ML.  

 Mine [LW(p) · GW(p)]tries to say that because the reference class data is old, we should get into the business of slamming asteroids and find out the consequences later, and I also make the military applicable tech argument, which is a true argument : if you want to stop people deorbiting asteroids from out past the orbit of Mars, you need space warships and vehicles that can redirect asteroids on an impact course away.  (so the same technology as the bad guys, meaning you cannot afford a 'spacecraft building pause')  

I also made fun of Sam Altman's double dealing.

comment by Unnamed · 2024-04-01T20:54:21.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of people have this sci-fi image, like something out of Deep Impact, Armageddon, Don't Look Up, or Minus, of a single large asteroid hurtling towards Earth to wreak massive destruction. Or even massive vengeance, as if it was a punishment for our sins.

But realistically, as the field of asteroid collection gradually advances, we're going to be facing many incoming asteroids which will interact with each other in complicated ways, and whose forces will to a large extent balance each other out.

Yet doomers are somehow supremely confident in how the future will go, foretelling catastrophe. And if you poke at their justifications, they won't offer precise physical models of these many-body interactions, just these mythic stories of Earth vs. a monolithic celestial body.

Replies from: roha
comment by roha · 2024-04-02T09:13:34.691Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If everyone has his own asteroid impact, earth will not be displaced because the impulse vectors will cancel each other out on average*. This is important because it will keep the trajectory equilibrium of earth, which we know since ages from animals jumping up and down all the time around the globe in their games of survival. If only a few central players get asteroid impacts it's actually less safe! Safety advocates might actually cause the very outcomes that they fear!

*I've a degree in quantum physics and can derive everything from my model of the universe. This includes moral and political imperatives that physics dictate and thus most physicists advocate for.

comment by [deleted] · 2024-04-01T10:23:18.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's important to start crashing asteroids into the planet now, before there is a spacecraft overhang and potentially many asteroids could be deorbited at the same time.  This gives us the opportunity to learn about any dangers from asteroid impact.  A great many doomers claim it will kick dust into the atmosphere and cause global cooling, or that gigaton explosions on impact are untested and risk causing damage, but they have no recent empirical evidence.

All we have is some fossils and 66 million year old data!  Let's find out what really happens empirically.  Move fast and break things.  Think of all the benefits.  

In other related news, I've got a tender offer with some unnamed funders to start an 8 Trillion heavy spacecraft manufacturing venture.  This will pay for facilities earth and moonside to construct spacecraft with the capabilities to move larger asteroids than ever before.  


In any case, we don't have a choice.  It's a race.  Our only chance to survive the future in this situation is to have our own warships and asteroid movers in space as well, or hide under the umbrella of allies who do...

comment by Bridgett Kay (bridgett-kay) · 2024-04-01T17:38:52.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't know how to align asteroids' trajectories, so it's important to use smaller asteroids to align larger ones- like a very large game of amateur billiards. 

comment by VojtaKovarik · 2024-04-02T03:35:58.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe that a promising safety strategy for the larger asteroids is to put them in a secure box prior to them landing on earth. That way, the asteroid is -- provably -- guaranteed to have no negative impact on earth.


   | | | | | | | |
   v v v v v v v v
   __________                        CC
  |        ___      |                     CCCC
  |     / O O \    |         :-)         CCC           :-)
  |    | o C o |  |        _|_         ||  o       _|_
  |     \  o _ /    |          |           ||/            |
  |_________ |         /\           ||             /\

comment by Jiro · 2024-04-03T08:56:40.765Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to be a party pooper here and point out that though this may be presented as an April Fool's joke, its main joke is that in a live debate, it is extremely funny to strawman your opponent's side. That's bad practice whether done as a joke or not.

comment by Garrett Baker (D0TheMath) · 2024-04-01T18:41:45.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is patently absurd. The vast majority of asteroids are incredibly small, and would most likely burn up in the upper atmosphere. Your chances of finding a large one are incredibly small, even assuming you can locate & get to an asteroid in the first place. In order to even get to the asteroids, and protect them on the way down, your ship would need to be bigger than them!

Don't get me wrong, you may make a few bucks from iron mining, but claiming to be in a "race" or that "safety" is a concern? Please.

Replies from: roha, D0TheMath
comment by roha · 2024-04-02T08:55:52.909Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We are decades if not centuries away from developing true asteroid impacts.

comment by Garrett Baker (D0TheMath) · 2024-04-01T18:47:29.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I put together this quick problem factorization, and I don't think the numbers come back all that impressive:

  1. Locate asteroid (<1%, much of the space in space is not an asteroid)

  2. Get to asteroid (<1%, as in 1, since you have the same problems as 1 even if you know where the asteroid is)

  3. Get back to earth (<1%, as in 1 and 2, essentially the same problems as 1 and 2, most of space isn't the Earth)

  4. Get the asteroid through the atmosphere (5%, the asteroid would likely burn up, but perhaps you have a solution for that)

  5. Locate the asteroid on Earth (<25%, most of Earth is not asteroid, but you could use a GPS for this one. The problem is the asteroid may land in a location you don't have free access to, like... I don't know, anywhere in the ocean? If it lands in the ocean, because its made of rock, it will surely sink, and that itself will be an entirely new endeavor)

Replies from: Ilio
comment by Ilio · 2024-04-01T19:56:43.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the asteroid would likely burn up, but perhaps you have a solution for that

Yes, there’s a well known solution: just make the asteroid fast enough, and it will burn less in the atmosphere.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2024-04-02T00:09:25.817Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This signature made me laugh:

Chicxulub - Kill many birds with one stone

Also, if you haven't done so before, I recommend googling 'Chicxulub'.

comment by quiet_NaN · 2024-04-03T15:26:26.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are seriously underselling OAI. Asteroid impacts have the potential to solve many of the looming humanitarian and existential crisis:

  • Asteroid impacts are a prime candidate to stop global warming.
  • The x-risk from AI is much lower in timeline where OAI succeeds.

Basically, OAI is a magic bullet, which could enable a phase change in human technology. Global poverty will no longer be a thing. The Near East conflict will be solved. It will prevent Putin from conquering Ukraine and keep Taiwan out of the hands of China. It will end all colonialism and discrimination.

Replies from: RamblinDash
comment by RamblinDash · 2024-04-03T16:27:07.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Asteroid impacts are a prime candidate to stop global warming.


I dunno man, Randall Munroe thinks that they would cause global warming.

Replies from: quiet_NaN
comment by quiet_NaN · 2024-04-03T17:10:50.349Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I think Munroe is not thinking big enough here. 

Of course, this might increase global warming in the long run because the impact crater can produce CO2 from both of the global firestorms devastating plant life and the destruction of carbonate rock in the earth mantle, but I think that this can be minimized by choosing a suitable impact location (which was not a concern for Chicxulub) and is partly offset by a decline in fossil fuel use due to indirect effects. Also, all of the tipping point factors in climate change would work to our advantage: larger polar caps reflect more light, more permafrost binds more CO2 and so on. 

At the worst, climate engineering might require periodic impacts on a scale of one per decade, which seems sustainable. 

comment by NicholasKross · 2024-04-02T00:05:22.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will carefully hedge my investment in this company by giving it $325823e7589245728439572380945237894273489, in exchange for a board seat so I can keep an eye on it.

comment by NicholasKross · 2024-04-02T00:03:33.319Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have over 5 Twitter followers, I'll take my board seat when ur ready

comment by roha · 2024-04-01T18:31:11.031Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given all the potential benefits there is no way we are not going to redirect asteroids to earth. Everybody will have an abundance of rare elements.


Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2024-04-01T19:21:29.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

rare earth metals? More like common space metals, amirite?

Replies from: magic9mushroom
comment by magic9mushroom · 2024-04-10T12:21:13.461Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Amusingly, "rare earths" are actually concentrated in the crust compared to universal abundance and thus would make awful candidates for asteroid mining, while "tellurium", literally named after the Earth, is an atmophile/siderophile element with extreme depletion in the crust and one of the best candidates.

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2024-04-10T19:14:57.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the pro-tip! I'm not much of a geologist, more of an ideas guy[1] myself. 

  1. ^

    "I can handle the business end"

comment by scrollop · 2024-04-10T20:23:59.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rather than quickly developing large spacecraft that could rapidly intercept and guide asteroids for impact at a suitable location for mining (Canada?), would it be easier to instead alter the trajectory of the earth ("Calling all boffins! You were jealous of Oppenheimer's gang - now it's your turn!") to collide with various asteroids?

Maybe we explode all of the world's nuclear weapons in the atmosphere at one point which may suitably nudge the earth and thus aim the asteroid at a globally chosen "catcher's mitt" impact zone (Canada?), surrounded by eager bulldozers ready for the pickings.

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2024-04-10T21:38:04.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alas I think doing this will be prohibitively expensive/technologically infeasible.  We did some BOTECs at the launch party and even just getting rid of leap seconds was too expensive for us.

That's one of many reasons why I'm trying to raise 7 trillion dollars.

comment by quiet_NaN · 2024-04-03T16:51:29.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All the doomers (who are mostly white male nerds who read too much scifi) complaining that large asteroid impacts could cause catastrophic climate changes are distracting from the real problem, which is that meteorite impacts TODAY are a tool of oppression used by privileged able-bodied white cis-men. 

STEM people claim that there is no proof that asteroids disproportionally hit minorities, but a more compassionate analysis clearly proves them wrong. 

Regarding direct impacts, it is clear that healthy men are more likely to dodge an meteorite than the malnourished, wheelchair-bound or women and children. Better health care services in Western countries can further improve the survival odds for the minority of privileged people subjected to asteroid hits, leaving disadvantaged minorities to pay the price. 

Looking at https://openasteroidimpact.org/ is it clear that these are the same crowd of Silicon Valley techbros which are responsible for most of the problems in the world. They quote two deities (talk about privilege!) and a bunch of white people. Their board seems to be disproportionally White (and Asian) and male. No statement of diversity and inclusion. 

I think we should therefore shame OAI and its competitors to include mechanisms to their asteroid steering which will further social and racial justice by redirecting some of the profits from the metals to disadvantaged minorities while also making sure that the impact deaths are fairly distributed between different ethnicities. 

comment by Review Bot · 2024-04-01T15:44:16.989Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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