“Across the sea of space, the stars are other suns.”
- Carl Sagan
Nick Bostrom is an interesting guy. A Swedish philosopher whose ideas on existential and superintelligence risks should scare the hell out of you. If they don’t, then you may not understand how smart this man is.
Or maybe you’re clinging to the last shreds of your sanity as you experience this existential crisis.
I became aware of Bostrom after he was on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Joe spent a little over two and a half hours debating various philosophical ideas with Bostrom, each one blowing my mind further and further apart.
Roughly halfway through the podcast, Bostrom gave his opinion about the colonization of Mars. He believes that if humans can get through a few key technological transitions, we will, in fact, colonize not only mars but the galaxy.
It might not be humans doing the colonizing. Yes, you read that correctly. Not humans but machines. Specifically, nanotech enabled machines will colonize the universe.
There are a few key points to consider before you dismiss Bostrom’s opinion entirely.
Meat sacks (his words not mine) are sub-optimal for space exploration
Since the beginning of science fiction literature, TV shows, and movies humans were the heroes. We traveled to the ends of the universe to make our mark and we as the audience applauded them for it.
In 1969, when America sent men to the moon, many believed our dreams of space exploration were coming true.
But, the human body is a fragile thing. We’re made of skin, bone, and soft tissue. We can withstand gravity and G-force, but only to a certain degree. You see, it’s not about the amount of force. It’s about the duration. Some scientists believe the greatest duration and amount of Gs a human can withstand before dying is 10 Gs for one minute.
You would have to be superhuman to withstand the force needed to travel in a spaceship going a significant fraction of the speed of light.
Why a signification fraction?
In the words of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
In the future, our technology may advance to the point where our fragile meat sacks can withstand the trauma of space travel. But until that happens, doesn’t it make more sense to save our bodies and allow technology to serve us?
Spreading exponentially at the same time from different points
Take the Mars Rover and the Jupiter missions. Each mission featured probes or machines collecting data about the planet.
For the Mars Rover, we are currently experiencing this in almost real-time. In fact, the Rover has its own website where you can learn more about past missions to the Red Planet and what scientists are doing to prep the 2020 mission. The same for the 2022 Jupiter mission.
So how is Bostrom’s theory supported by these ideas?
Imagine, humans had the technological maturity to create nanotech enabled machines. As Bostrom sees it, these machines would be capable of leaving Earth in a probe and travel to Pluto for example.
Once on Pluto, the nanotech would leave the probe and begin setting up a production facility. This facility would do two things:
- It would create more probes to send out to other planets
- And it would collect data on the current planet and then relay that data back to the home station
In a sense, this is exactly what the Mars Rover does, but these probes would take it to a higher level. It also gives humans a chance for greater exploration of the universe. It lessens the complications of traveling in space using the human body. Our reach would be infinite. The knowledge gained, invaluable.
Bostrom says our circle of influence would grow exponentially. It would allow humans to be the first to claim territory on a previously unknown planet.
But that’s not the definition of colonization
Now you might be sitting there thinking this idea sounds great, but it’s not the definition of colonization. Yes, that’s true.
But I would argue it is time to change the traditional definition of the word. The dictionary defines colonization as the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.
Because space is a vast unknown landscape, the traditional definition isn’t accurate. Whether you believe in aliens or not, mathematically it makes sense that we are not the only life forms in the universe. Until we come into contact with these forms, we can’t claim that humans will settle and establish control over a planet’s inhabitants?
It would be beyond arrogant to think this way. We have no way of currently knowing if other life forms in the universe are more or less advanced than us. If humanity gets to a stage where we have nanotech enabled probes, it would be safe to assume someone out there created it first. This would mean they are potentially more advanced than we are.
If they are more advanced than we are, how are we expected to establish control over them?
Where does this leave humanity’s efforts to colonize a new planet?
If these concepts are true or even have a small probability of being true, then the definition of colonization must change. We must acknowledge colonization is not about imposing one’s control.
The focus should be the exploration and collection of information from an unknown location.
Through this new definition, humanity has a chance to expand our reach and our understanding of the universe. Space exploration should not be about creating a human presence on a new planet. It should be about gathering data and learning more about the universe to help humanity reach new heights. If we figure out our meat suit problem one day, then great.
In the quote at the top of the page, Carl Sagan urged us to look at things from a different perspective. Nick Bostrom is doing that and in this regard, I propose we have already begun to colonize Mars.
The rest of the universe will have to wait for our nanotech probes.
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