My sense is that, the discovery and colonization of space are endeavours that are going to occur in stages.
That for the next couple of hundred years, growth will occur in seven stages.
That sentient growth, in a biological sense (including synbio), will be inextricably tied in with the expansion of the frontier.
Here are the seven stages and how, I think, they have been developing.
Stage One: Chart a Course
Stage one has been underway for a couple of hundred years now and the pace of change is increasingly picking up steam.
During this stage we have worked on mapping the inner and outer solar system. Further advances in astronomy have helped us with the mapping of the galactic quadrants and we continue making slow, yet steady progress when it comes to mapping the rest of the 'observable universe'.
Off-course, considering the enormity of the Universe, there is so much more to be done here.
I get excited, thinking about the prospects of leveraging machine learning and machine vision and using these technologies and then some more, in order to map and chart out the various areas across the Galaxy and the wider Universe.
Sometimes, I also think about the technologies of the future, that will, one day, allow us to travel to distances beyond our Galaxy and places beyond belief. And this what prompted me to think of the 7 stages, that I believe will occur for the next couple of hundred years.
During this blogpost, I will try and demonstrate, how I think, from a high level overview, the evolution and expansion of sentient life-form will occur throughout space.
Thought experiments are always interesting and reality could indeed be very different. As one scientific discovery can put us on a very different trajectory. As always, there are multiple and various realities that are also possible.
In terms of expansion, I suspect, that for the foreseeable future, there is a lot to discover here in the Galaxy that our solar system happens to be in. Planet earth is just one of the 100 Billion planets in our Galaxy alone. 100 Billion!
With the passage of time and with the rise of the technological curve, we are going to be able to do more with fewer resources. Increasingly, this is going to result into a reality where by the pace of change is going to become better and faster. Where, increasingly, quality solutions are going to be developed for a fraction of a price.
It is, I believe, important to take some time and think about the amount of effort it has taken in order to get to where we are today. The spectrum upon which the many scientific developments have occurred is enormous. Also, so much has been sacrificed. The father of modern science died nearly penniless.
It is also important to realize that no matter how far ahead you have gone, the work has just begun. Because, it appears that we could very well be inhabiting one of the many many universes (read: multiverse) out there. The exploration of our own Universe could easily keep us busy for the next couple of million years.
Image, courtesy of wikipedia. Galileo and Donato.
Stage Two: Open Frontier
I suspect that in the current dimension of space time, the beginnings of a functional space age will find their underpinnings, more so on some Sciences vs others.
Here, I think that following technologies (mentioned below) will serve as the base. A base, upon which an eco-system will develop and many companies will emerge. The set of technologies include, but are not limited to, re-useable rockets (to help bring the cost of transportation down), further advances in robotics, further advances in artificial intelligence – as in many advances on the narrow AI front, further advances in materials science. Also, we will require a fair number of people with a training background in Physics. Individuals who can visualize the shell of a problem and work their way through the problems with that mindset.
Before I go along, I think it is important to realize, that, various stages over-lap with each other, as the discovery aspect will be on-going for a potentially indefinite amount of time. I don't think that the discovery aspect will stop and the voyages further and further into space will continue and they will not be dependent upon how our individual or collective consciousness will choose to evolve.
Right now, we are in a very nascent era when it comes to the discovery and colonization of space.
From a historical point of view, there were individuals who were diligently planning the colonization of space as early as the 60's. I have a blog-post here, on this subject, which comes in the form of a book review of a title called 'The visioneers - How a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies and a limitless future'. Here, individuals such as Erik K. Drexler and Gerrard K. O'Neill had created designs, whereby they were able to calculate what the pressure per square inch was going to be on the kind of space habitat constructs that they have designed. It just goes to show, how serious these individuals were and I wonder, only if only our species had focused on opening up the frontier, then we would be living in a very different reality in terms of being able to power a world of abundance. Another project that I find was simply remarkable and way ahead of it's time, was Project Orion, which was started by Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson. I think, I heard Mr. Dyson mention in his one his talks that at one point they were already thinking about packing supplies for a couple of years and heading over to Mars and Jupiter's moons. The sheer size of the transports that were being designed as part of Project Orion, is what is interesting. I think, I could be mistaken about this one, but the designs could accommodate entire buildings and even tennis courts!
Then for a variety of different reasons, we, the humans, forgot about the Space Age. Here, I think, that one of the reasons was the 'Limits movement' from the 60s played a very damaging role. There isn't much text on this subject on the Internet, but 'Visioneers' explains some of the root causes of why the Space Age didn't take off past the 60's. Another reason was, I think, that Space exploration was largely being leveraged for political purposes and with the end of the cold war, there wasn't much of an incentive to invest in Space based initiatives anymore.
And so we forgot about Space.
But, one man kept the dream alive.
Peter Diamandis is an individual that I have a ton of respect for. Someone, who I admire greatly.
From what I gather, Peter has been into Space from a very early age. When I was young, I used to dream of buying a knight rider. But man, I've been following Peter for a couple of years now and man, what a vision!
Coming back to the subject, I believe that it is individuals like Peter Diamandis who kept the dream alive and continue doing so. And that our species is and will forever be thankful to individuals like Peter. I mention Peter specifically, because he has done a lot to keep the dream alive.
If you like Space and Technology, then you should definitely follow Peter through his blog at http://diamandis.com/
Our collective future can only be safeguarded with the opening up of the frontiers.
This expansion, through the physical realm requires energy and resources. Both of which, are scarce on earth , but enormously abundant in the limitless space out there.
Coming back to the blogpost, in this current phase (stage two) that we are in. We are in this early phase, where beyond observation, we are now trying making serious and concerted attempts when it comes to the opening up of the frontiers. When I say we here, I mean, we the human species. The bulk of the activity here is led by private enterprises across United States. But we have also witnessed an uptake of space based initiatives by the various government funded institutions around the world. From India to China, Europe and United States With a lot of other countries performing satellite functions.
Right now, amongst many other things, space based initiatives require two critical ingredients. One is the collective will and the other is a platform upon which an eco-system can thrive in the near future.
Already, we have seen a ton of success in this area. I do not think that big companies can innovate on a scale, that is required, when it comes to the opening up of a frontier. The design of a big company prevents it from moving quickly.
And this is precisely why, I think, that almost all the growth when it comes to the development of an eco-system around space, is going to come from companies the likes of SpaceX, Planetary Resources and Blue Origin.
It is difficult to ascertain how long Stage 2 is going to last for. But, rest assured, we will be witnessing the following during our lifetime.
Stage three: The Settlements
In order to power stage three, my sense is that we will need:
Note: To state the obvious, you'd have to balance the activities and sub-activities when it relates to the procurement of advanced energy systems and good talent. Regarding the acquisition of talent, the systems for education and training in the future are going to somewhat different vs what we have today. Largely and by this time and amongst other things, a collective yet distributed form of intelligence will emerge. Most constructs would first be simulated and modelled in virtual constructs and on a scale which would be referred to as parallel realities.
Before we move on, the two obvious and important things to keep into perspective here is that:
That's all fine and dandy you say, but what exactly will be powered up in stage three?
During stage three, humans will collectively have the ability to power mega-projects such as O'Neill colonies and Stanford Torus.
Here, my sense is that we have a solid chance of putting the foundations in place, for stage three today. Cause surely, we don't want to get to stage two, exhaust the resource (including energy) spectrum and then wonder what comes next.
I sense, that that is the kind of conditions we are under today and we have been warned about this mismanagement of resources before. Mismanagement, as in not anticipating the collective use of and not doing well in order to augment our systems in light of the technological curve. As well, not building better tools, such as modelling systems.
In order to put the foundations in place for stage three, we need an equivalent for the space age, the kind that we've witnessed for the computing industry since the 70's. Meaning, it starts small and grows into this enormous and richly diverse eco-system powering hundreds of thousands of different businesses and realities.
However, the opening of a frontier is 10x times more difficult vs the creation of a new vertical (at the time). Opening up of a frontier requires that much more hard work. The kind of work that is being undertaken at companies like SpaceX and Planetary Resources.
What I anticipate is going to happen in stage three is that we will witness the kind of growth, when it comes to Space based initiatives, the kind that we witness today in the computing industry. Again, something that starts small and mushrooms into something richly enormous and super diverse.
If you try and plot the timelines on a graph, then, it is unknown, when, this stage will actually come about.
There may be multiple sub-phases within stage 3 that may or may not govern the outcome of successive stage(s).
But, as highlighted above, we will witness:
About the maturation of technologies, I've been casually observing and monitoring the kind of technologies required to power such construct. Estimates suggest that we are 15 years away from making use of technologies that are considered advanced today and in a functional sense, in the realm of powering such constructs. By the time we get to the beginning of stage three, the use of these technologies will be ubiquitous and we will be making use of them in a manner, by which we make use of computers today. Concurrently, there will be other Sciences that would have developed and fully matured by this time. Here my sense is and I strongly suspect that genetic engineering and making use of the many developments that synthetic biology is/are going to power in a future sense, that these are going to be a need if biological sentience is to evolve on non-terrestrial surfaces.
Stage three will involve mapping almost all the known surfaces across the solar system in their intricate details. Including, the surface areas, under-water facilities of all sorts, caves e.t.c. This series of activities, will be similar to the kind of activities that have been underway, here at terrestrial earth during the past couple of decades. Here, we have gone from mapping the surface of our planet in a geospatial sense, to mapping our streets and now our indoor surroundings in their intricate details. In a couple of years worth of a time, we will have access to perfect knowledge, meaning that at any given time, we will have the ability to know what is going on anywhere, in any given part of the world. Amongst other technologies, the rise of ubiquitous computing along with the proliferation of advances sensors is what is going to power this phenomenon.
So you have to keep that development in mind and anticipate how the mapping of the different habitats is going to occur across the solar system, both in their natural and man-made environments. The man-made environments are probably going to be mapped upfront (as part of the build process), where as some time is going to be spent mapping the rest of the surface. It is not a multi-generational endeavour though.
Migrations to such man-made habitat will also happen quickly.
Also, on an on-going basis, further advances in AI, in robotics, in astrophysics and astronomy in general, as well as advances in computing will allow us to map the farther corners of the solar system. At this point in time, it is difficult to predict by what extent and how large the non-earth based sentient population is going to be during different phases of stage three.
However, if the rate of expansion continues at a steady progression, then some resource constraints will be felt. These constraints will necessitate that sentient lifeforms work on finding or building newer habitats that they can call home.
Population projections in terms of the sheer size of the sentient population will necessitate the need for newer models. Modelling such projections in advance is what is going to become the foundation of stage four.
Stage Four: The Colony
Stage three will give us the critical mass required, when it comes to the various space based activities underway, In mining, exploration, scientific endeavors, commercial, leisure/travel/colonization, exploration and other facilities.
This critical mass across the solar system will necessitate the creation of larger structures.
As sentient life-form continues moving up on the Kardashev scale, the constructs it will enable would probably come in the form of a ring world (as envisioned by Larry Niven) or dyson spheres/swarm.
I think, I suspect, that stage four is a couple of hundred years out.
Once designs in stage four are exploited, then the sentient life-form would not have much of a choice then to either create a new Star or find other habitats.
The former is, I think, going to prove to be much more difficult vs the latter. As the former, I suspect, will require unimaginable amounts of computing (think multivacs). Hence, the imperative for some sentient life-form, for them to leave the solar system in search of newer lands.
The good news will be that with further advances in Astronomy, we would have been able to map out the location and composition of most exoplanets in nearby clusters. Well ahead of time.
The thing that would have to be figured out at that point is, where to head out and how best to go about doing that. Because, amongst other things, even with the acquisition of sufficiently advanced technologies, voyages beyond the solar system will require a longer duration of time.
It would be ideal, if today, in 2015, a portion of the human cognitive capital was focused on solving problems that are 500 or 600 years out. Because the complexities involved when it comes to solving some of these problems, I think it will take us more than a couple of generations to get there. http://bit.ly/1IFf7ID
Stage five: The Voyage
Here we will witness the very first journey to a nearby star system. A one-way journey. I don't think that this will be a journey in flesh and blood, even with radical gains when it comes to life-extension.
The vessels that leave the solar system, are going to be completely manned by AI. And they may come in various sizes, all the way from micro to potentially mega sizes. Almost, all life-form will exist in the form of information or DNA.
It is unknown whether these vessels would also have the capability of powering a galactic version of the Internet on their way. And hence, most probably, many ships are going to be sent in multiple directions.
Once, the ships near a star system, they will dock at a location and advanced probes are going to be sent to the surface of the planet that had been identified before the journey even began.
These probes will determine the type, composition of the surface, climate. Once enough data has been gathered and enough simulations have been run, the system will try and render the kind of models (life-form) that would be ideally suited to thrive in such conditions.
Ethical decisions will be made by the AI, whether the introduction of a life-form, earthly in it’s origins, could cause the wiping out of other life-forms that are native to the planet. And how best could various life-forms co-exist. This is a maybe, as the probes we send, could simply decide to create a mini-dyson sphere around an nearby star and not disturb the microbial life that happens to exist on the planets nearby. I believe, this is how Iain Banks has hypothesized the fictional reality to be, in most of his works. That we create newer constructs and do not colonize newer planets.
Stage six: The Foundation
It is difficult to hypothesize, in a Drake’s equation sense, of the kind of interactions that will occur, when it comes to the sentient life-form that can be traced back to earth and it coming into contact with another intelligent species.
In the absence of data relating to such a development, it is difficult to hypothesize, how far out in the future, such a development is going to be.
That being said, this is not a blog-post about contact with another intelligent biological and/or other life-form. I do think, that is an interesting thought-experiment, to ponder the implications if contact does happen. Here I place the reality on a quadrant with multiple matrices. I believe the term I should be using is a priority-matrix. Whereby the ratios would be, I think, friendly/hostile, passive/aggressive, technologically superior/inferior.
I bring up Drake's equation, because Stage six may be focused on our expansion through the galactic system. This is pretty far out, so it is difficult to hypothesize whether there will be any requirement for life-form to be in a biological form at all. So I think, it is better to stop thinking in terms of expansion at this time and try and hypothesize instead what may or may not occur next.
It is difficult to hypothesize, for how long, the exploration of the Galactic system would continue for.
However, at some point in time, sentient lifeforms (in any form) will start making attempts to explore and eventually live inside or near the event horizon. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1103.6140.pdf
Stage seven: The Tesseract
Developments in stage seven, will largely be focused on solving the problems of ‘what’s on the other side’ and getting a better understanding, when it comes to the ‘fabric’ of space time.
It is not inconceivable that there could indeed be many different 'sides'. Here, in this part of the Universe, there could be multiple variations of time. Also, if it happens to be the case, that our Universe is inextricably linked with other universes out there, then this would be the time for us to map such journeys. The equivalent of Columbus setting the sails for the first time, on a multi-verse level or on the level of multiple trajectories in time.
It is unknown, whether developments and as they have been highlighted in stage seven will actually occur in stage seven or whether we will start making progress right after stage five.
Bending space/time and the way I understand it requires a ton of energy. Or not. So does the expansion of something that is referred to as quantum foam. Invariably, in the next couple of hundred years we will better our understanding of how the Universe actually functions, by unravelling more secrets and capitalizing upon them.
I think, I suspect, that further developments will be made, beyond the realm of advanced energy systems. Although I am not sure what those developments will be. And this, I think, again, will be predicated upon what secrets are unearthed.
It is difficult to hypothesize the kind of form and type, consciousness or sentience would actually be, during stage seven. My sense is that during this stage, there will be no dependency on any kind of a physical or biological construct. That life, during this phase, would, I suspect, largely be energy patterns.
It is conceivable that individual sentience would just be a part of a larger collective. Kind of like how trillions of cells in our body, power, what we refer to as consciousness, with intelligence as a sub-construct.
Next, if we take the lowest projections from Drake's equation, then there is a high degree of probability that by this point, sentience that we think originated on earth, would have come in direct contact with another sentience.
It is difficult to hypothesize how this contact will occur, if it will occur. If it does occur, it is difficult to hypothesize the kind of changes that will occur as a result of these interactions.
Considering the general state of the Universe, where matter of all types appears to be, what I call, the minority in the minority. My sense is, that the interaction of different sentience with each other is something that is going to be an on-going development. But what of the world's that are not composed of matter and energy. Will sentience have the ability to also start engaging with such worlds. Have we always engaged with such worlds and not know it. Such constructs exist in the same Universe and I am hoping that we would have demystified some of these secrets by then.
Overall, I suspect, continued developments, from that point onwards would be ‘focused’ on the opening of portals into the farther reaches of other galactic systems and potential pathways into different trajectories of time. I am not so sure about the trajectory in time, but if you look at existence of any type of matter, then it is really matter burning in time that powers something that we call existence (intelligent or not). But the question is, what purpose would that serve? (as in opening portals into different trajectories in time)
It remains to be seen, whether the possibility of opening up portals to other universe(s) also exists.
Overall, with further advances in energy systems, the chances or opening portals to other galactic systems is higher, compared to the rest.
So overall, I cannot think of a serious roadblock, that would be standing in the way of the continued expansion through space.
Coming back to the existing dimension of space time, right now, the immediate risk that our species faces is our ability to be able to make use of amazing technology.
To me, it seems like we are having a tough time controlling how we should be making use of all the technology that we have been creating. It is a development that we have to manage, as the collective evolution of our consciousness depends upon it.
Right now, we are unable to make use of technology across the board, because we do not know how to communicate. A phenomenon, which leads towards the usage of technology for purposes that are bad and hurtful.
There is a lot of amazing technology that is sitting in the pipes and not being leveraged.
If we can put technology to use and let go of our neanderthal tendencies, then there are places beyond belief, that are waiting to be discovered. These words from Neil Armstrong come to mind.
I do not know what the purpose of existence is. Existence of matter. Hence, I would not know what the existence of the Universe ought to be.
It does appear though, that the Universe is quite fascinating in all of it's different ways. What we know today and what we have uncovered, is probably the equivalent of a grain of sand compared to all the sand in the world.
What I do realize is that we even with the possibility that we could spend the next couple of millions years and still not be able to map out the farther reaches of the Universe. Even with all of that exploration, we will still remain a minority in the minority.
And hence, whether the Universe is conscious or not, that is a question that I am comfortable in contemplating, for eternity at large.
Now, I did mention the seven stages, but it is possible, that some of us may directly leap into stage seven and others wouldn’t even notice it. You get what you focus on.