Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Galactic Colonization Really Looks Like

I was wondering where the enduring interest in my post Aliens Don't Exist was coming from and discovered it is a small hit among Russian bloggers thanks to Alexander Semenov's translation, expansion and commentary. One thing I'm getting frustrated with is the people who persist in thinking galactic colonization, and galactic civilization for that matter, is some kind of Star Trek fantasy.

Do these people not realize that galactic colonization takes place over 100,000 years? Do they not realize what one hundred millenia, means?! 100,000 years ago, homo sapiens didn't exist! 10,000 years ago, homo sapiens weren't human. They did not have fluid language, they did not have consciousness. They had nothing that we would recognize as distinctly human. They were animals. It wasn't until relatively recently that these animals learned to control fire and hit rocks against each other to get a sharp edge. And it took much longer for them to develop anything we would recognize as consciousness.

Even a mere 1000 years ago, barely an eyeblink by astronomical standards, humans had not yet mastered steel. The universal speed limit was governed by the muscle power of the horse. Water mills were primitive and dams unheard of. Concrete had been abandoned after the Roman empire fell. Not that the Romans had ever used their poor concrete to its full potential. Think about this, an eye-blink ago, there was barely any steel and no concrete. And now suddenly we have multi-million inhabitant metropolises full of high rises and skyscrapers.

What's going to happen in the next eye-blink? What's going to happen in the next 10? 10,000 years is chump change in the galactic colonization game. Anything that happens in the first 10,000 years will be dwarfed by what's accomplished in the last 90,000 when galactic-scale plans start being made. But with absolute certainty, assuming that civilization on Earth doesn't collapse and take us out of the game, three very important things are going to happen in the next 1000 years.

Artificial Intelligence

Does anyone seriously doubt that artificial intelligence will not only be developed but will come to absolutely dominate civilization in the next thousand years? If you do then please stop reading and end your life as expeditiously as possible because you are a waste of perfectly good oxygen. There are no words to describe the stupidity of the notion that the technological status quo will continue unchanged for the next thousand years.

What does artificial intelligence mean? It means that intelligence is plentiful and cheap, that it is no longer a bottleneck in the economy. It means hopefully that rationality will become a fact of life and not the exception it currently is. It means that custom design (design requiring attention which can only be produced by an intelligence) will be the default. Every consumer good will be tailored to your specific needs. Every political, economic and intellectual opportunity will be intelligently evaluated, judged and explored.

Artificial intelligence will lead to a transformation of social relations to something most people can't begin to imagine. But for space travel, the consequences are very simple to imagine. Artificial intelligence means that you can send a 1 tonne solid cube of metal with a single specially chosen AI (one with no social needs and a low chance of becoming psychotic) on a flight that lasts thousands of years. As opposed to sending a multi-million tonne fat hollow shell of a target with 10 people on a flight that can only last a few years. Suddenly, colonization becomes cheap and distance no longer matters.

Molecular Nanotechnology

Same deal as AI. If you don't believe molecular nanotechnology is going to be developed and dominate in the next thousand years in the natural course of events then there are marmots that deserve the oxygen you're using up more than you do.

Molecular nanotechnology will utterly transform society. Suddenly, automation and general construction becomes dirt cheap. Homo sapiens are going to cease to exist. Quite likely, human beings will cease to exist too. And that's not a bad thing so long as technological civilization continues on.

You can whine about it all you want. You can agonize about whether humans will transcend flesh to become disembodied intelligences or whether they'll be crushed into extinction. Nothing you say, none of your whining, will prevent it. Molecular nanotechnology (unlike synthetic biology) offers too many advantages and too few hazards for anyone to stop its development. It's going to happen.

In comparison, starship technology offers only high advantages at the cost of enormous hazards. A starship such as the nuclear-powered Orion enables its crew to steer a large asteroid towards the Earth and exterminate the human species. Easily. This is the reason why nuclear starships are prohibited by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Because the Americans were afraid the Soviets would threaten to, or cause, asteroids to fall on the USA.

Note that cheap starship technology is the only stable solution to the problems caused by expensive starship technology. Though MAD, or Nuclear Parity as the Russians call it since they were convinced that a nuclear war is surviveable with enough preparation (and they weren't exactly wrong either), seems to have worked so far. Nuclear weapons actually make the world safer because they prevent their owner from being invaded (thus making them feel secure) while making them terrified of invading anyone that might even remotely possess nuclear weapons (thus making them peaceful). The best part about nuclear weapons is those who seek them are so blinded by 'I cannot be subjugated' they don't see 'I can be destroyed'. [link]

Getting back to the subject, what does molecular nanotechnology mean for space-flight? Well if AI makes it cheap then nanotech makes it dirt cheap. Any dirt-poor moron will be able to afford to build and launch his very own starship. Are you starting to get the picture? Galactic colonization isn't going to be like on Star Trek or 2001 or any of that cheap unimaginative trash. It's going to be done by some guy with his trusty AI and his hand-me-down obsolete SUN Nanosystems Mark III nanoforge.

Unless some giant industrial consortium beats him to it. Which will likely happen too.

So .... given the above FACTS,
  • Artificial Intelligence will be developed in the next thousand years
  • Artificial Intelligence will come to dominate and transform society
  • Molecular Nanotechnology will be developed in the next thousand years
  • Molecular Nanotechnology will come to dominate and transform society
  • Together they will make enormous wealth attainable and fantastic projects affordable to everybody

then there is one inescapable conclusion. This is FACT #3 of the future:

Dyson Sphere

Yes people, we will construct a Dyson Sphere. Because there's another thing that those idiots with a Star Trek future in mind don't comprehend. That thing is arithmetic. Exponential arithmetic.

With fantastic wealth attainable to everyone, there is no longer any need to reproduce. And generally speaking, as people discover that it is extremely expensive to offer their children the kind of lifestyle they want for themselves, the birth rate crashes. But what happens when fantastic wealth enables an effectively immortal lifespan?

What happens when Artificial Intelligence eliminates fatal "accidents" caused by lack of attention? What happens when having children becomes cheap again? It is currently expensive only because education and high quality parenting take up a huge amount of human attention. What happens when you can raise children for 100 years and still have 99% of your life left over for other projects?

For that matter, what happens when the AIs demand more and more computing power? What happens when ever more sophisticated Pan-Dimensional Universe of Warcraft multiplayer games get online? What happens when someone wants to bring their favourite fictional character to life?

On the one hand, the environmentalists keep harping about the fact that we're already consuming more resources than one planet can provide. On the other hand, their proposed "solution" to this is to reduce the entirety of humanity to poverty and (when that causes an increase in destruction of resources) to exterminate the poor people through disease and starvation.

Well, poverty isn't in our future. It isn't considered a real solution by anyone who deserves to live. The only solution that is in our future is expansion beyond the confines of the Earth by building artificial habitats. And we aren't going to stop at one artificial habitat either.

We will construct giant rotating cylinders in solar orbit. We will construct more and more of them until all the resources of the asteroid belt are exhausted. Then we will start dismantling the Moon to construct more. Then we will dismantle Mars. And when there are no more moons and planets left, then we will dismantle Earth. This is inevitable. It's going to happen.

It's a simple consequence of exponential growth. Even a 1% economic growth rate compounded over 1000 years (or 0.1% compounded over 10,000 years) implies a total growth in excess of 20,000. If Earth is insufficient NOW then we will need the equivalent of 20,000 planets in the year 3000. Fortunately that will not be much of a problem since planets are the most inefficient habitats possible. Any space habitats we construct will make much more efficient use of material resources.

Economic expansion will always, always hit physical limits. It cannot be otherwise since a 0.1% per annum expansion over 100,000 years yields growth in excess of 10^43. The entire Milky Way galaxy masses only 10^42 kilograms, to put that into perspective. Currently, there is more than one metric tonne of steel and concrete being produced for every man, woman and child of industrialized society each and every year. In 100,000 years, if galactic colonization is successful, there won't be even a single kilogram. And that's assuming we can keep population growth rates at an ultra-low 0.1%.

So you still believe in the Star Trek future? You still believe that "humans" will go out to the stars in great big million-tonne starships? You still believe that they'll "settle" so-called "habitable" planets? Then you're a good example of how intellectually decrepit and illogical our species is.

It isn't "planets", habitable or otherwise, that civilization will settle. It's star systems. By building dyson spheres around the star using whatever available junk there is at hand. Junk like asteroids, moons and entire planets. And if some of those planets happen to have biospheres then it won't matter. The biosphere will either be bulldozed under, or possibly, transplanted. But it sure as fuck isn't going to stop civilization from using the planet underneath in the most efficient and intelligent manner possible. And "using" a planet means dismantling it. Because a highly technological civilization neither needs nor wants planets.

This isn't your Star Trek future.

So this is my response to the following arguments:

  • There's no need for galactic expansion. -- Speak for yourself you treehugging dirtmonging druid.
  • Nobody would want to bulldoze Earth. -- I would. And there's a trillion credits in it for anyone who votes for dismantlement.
  • Civilization would stop everyone from trampling "preserves" through totalitarianism. -- Die you fanatical anti-human scum.

Next up is Part 3 of Aliens Don't Exist - What An Alien Galactic Civilizaiton Looks Like. Or: Why SETI is retarded.


Anonymous said...

"Does anyone seriously believe that artificial intelligence will not only be developed but will come to absolutely dominate civilization in the next thousand years? If you do then please stop reading, and preferably put a bullet through your head, because you are a waste of perfectly good oxygen."

I had a frown on my face when I read this, I believe you made an error. Oh, and please come back to reddit. You're one of the most influential thinkers I've ever come across.

ale said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH "totalitarianists" are 'anti-human scum,' but artificial intelligence is pro-human and anti-totalitarian??? hahahahahahahhhahahahahahahahahahahahah

ale said...

hahahah okay okay, I've searched deeper into your blog, and I see that you are not using liberal imperialist apologia when you employ 'totalitarianism'. Good! I have a problem with the formulation of 'totalitarianism', and I think it is invalid and contradictory, but I understand what you are saying. And it's a good thing you're avoiding the imperial implications of that loaded term.

Colin Slade said...

I think this is your best post yet, at least the one that interests me the most. I find everything you said fascinating, especially about dyson spheres, AI, and nanotech. Could you explaina a little more about AI? Do you think we will merge with them? And do you have any thoughts on how we would manufacture a dyson sphere? It seems like such a massive undertaking.

Richard Kulisz said...

I'm a complex systems designer who specializes in political and software systems. Political systems are the most difficult to design. Software systems are the second most difficult to design.

Dyson spheres are pure physical systems. Which are the easiest of systems to design. Manufacturing dyson spheres is industrial systems design, which is the second easiest category of systems.

I hate losing and I don't care about winning. As a result, I avoid competition like the plague. If other people are capable of doing something (like designing relatively easy kinds of complex systems) then I don't even bother trying. Which is why I don't concern myself with how to manufacture dyson spheres.

Richard Kulisz said...

Regarding AI, I interpret your question of merging with AI as 'will we become AI' to which I give a cautious yes.

Regarding what I mean by AI, I mean software systems capable of analysis, synthesis, intellectualism, intelligence, possessed of emotions (not necessarily feelings) & core values. And possessed of these things to a sufficient level for consciousness to emerge without it having been hardwired in.

Although it would be nice for AI to have genuine introspection. 'mental senses' the same way we have physical senses. But this would be strictly super-human.

Unlike Dyson spheres, I DO concern myself with AI because psychology is technically a subfield of politics. Or maybe that should be vice versa. But when you say that all politics is psychology, it sounds trite. Whereas if you say that all psychology is politics (tightly bound systems), it's insightful. And since the relation goes both ways, psychology <==> politics.