What's the name of this paradox?
April 26, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I have vague recollections of someone telling me of a paradox many moons ago, it went thusly: There's no point in launching a spaceship on a deep space mission, because as technology advances so rapidly (e.g. Moore's law) that any ship you build in the future will be faster/more efficient and hence overtake any craft that you launch now, inferring that one should always put off launching a deep space mission. The same person told me it was called 'Clarke's Paradox' (I think?) but I can't find any reference to it, save Clarke's Laws (i.e. "Any technology sufficiently advanced will be indistinguishable from magic" etc). Can anyone help put a name to this paradox?
posted by Rufus T. Firefly to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds vaguely like Zeno's Paradox.
posted by dfriedman at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2013

Best answer: It's called Wait Calculation
posted by griphus at 8:54 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Wait Calculation.

This was addressed in one of Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space novels (Chasm City) - colonisation ships periodically receive data from their point of origin with details on how to upgrade their ships and engines.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:54 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sorry, the refutation of it is called etc.
posted by griphus at 8:55 AM on April 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks! The 'Wait Calculation' led me on to find the 'Incessant Obsolescence Postulate'.
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 9:10 AM on April 26, 2013

The "later launched ships beat the earlier launched ones" is a pretty standard SF trope. A.E. van Vogt's "Far Centaurus" is a classic example.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:20 AM on April 26, 2013

That happens in Heinlein's "Time for the Stars", but it's cause-and-effect, not simple progress.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2013

There seems to be exactly zero basis for "assuming technology develops such that there is exponential growth in the velocity of travel".
posted by thelonius at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a similar result in computing: In the context of Moore's Law, overall productivity can be increased for large enough computations by `slacking' or waiting for some period of time before purchasing a computer and beginning the calculation.

(In particular, if computing speed doubles every 18 months for your particular problem and budget, and your computation will take at least 26 months on the fastest computer in your budget today, then you will get your results faster by waiting.)
posted by mbrubeck at 10:14 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The reference to Clarke might be because it was part of the plot in his book The Songs of Distant Earth. Like a lot of his things, it might have been featured in previous works of his.
posted by bondcliff at 10:18 AM on April 26, 2013

What thelonious said. The paradox may have a name, but it is utterly non-existent. The problems involved in velocity doubling are massively greater than for computation doubling. (Computation is essentially limitless, V only goes up to c)
However, the closer you approach c, the faster your journey seems to take...alpha centauri may take 4 years to get to as seen from earth, but from your perspective on the ship (travelling near c) it might only seem to take a few days...
posted by sexyrobot at 1:27 PM on April 26, 2013

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