Life in the Solarian age might be summed up by the term post-Singularity. But what exactly does this mean? The concept of a Singularity remains somewhat open and nebulous, having become a catch-all for a diversity of ideas about the future. Originally, the idea of a technological Singularity was based on the notion of some point in the future where the pace of technological advance, building on itself, has become so great it has become perceptually infinite, resulting in a seemingly spontaneous realization of innumerable and heretofore unimaginable technical breakthroughs that eliminate virtually all the persistent problems dogging civilization past to present. More recently, this concept has become associated with a series of key mutually amplifying technologies seen as the primary levers of change leading up to this breakthrough point; nanotechnology, biotechnology, and Artificial General Intelligence. These are, in turn, associated with a few key supposed breakthroughs at the civilization/societal level; the cure for aging and death, the elimination of material scarcity, and thus the elimination of economic competition and the race and class strife it has long produced. But what does all this mean in terms of a vision/model of lifestyle?
Solaria is, essentially, the culmination of the goals of TMP, in part its technical goal of establishing a civilization across most of the solar system -a Type II civilization as suggested by the Kardechev Scale able to harness the whole energy output of our parent star- but also its social and cultural goals which can be summarized as achieving a post-scarcity, post-economics, post-politics, post-statist, post-industrial culture through the pursuit of space development. The original book lacked the language to describe this culture very well because it is something, today, we have few analogs for. We are sort of stuck naming this in terms of ‘post-this’ or ‘post-that’. In other words, that which comes after the way things are in the present. Alvin Toffler referred to this emergent new culture as The Third Wave; what comes after the Industrial Age or the Second Wave. This author has long favored the term Post-Industrial in it original use; what comes after the Industrial Age. We still struggle for a definitive language for this today, but in recent years it has become a focus -to varying degrees- of an assortment of cultural movements such as the Open Manufacturing movement, Peer-To-Peer, the Post-Industrial movement, the Intentional Community movement, the Stateless movement, Communitarianism, New Anarchism, the Zeitgeist movement, Extropianism and so on. These are all different things, of course, but have a common underlying thread in a shared notion of a future where, potentially aided by emerging technology, the social/cultural/economic systems that defined the Industrial Age have been obsolesced or have run their logical course and failed resulting in a new culture offering greater personal freedom, greater community independence paired to greater global identity and interconnectedness, an end of material scarcity and social and economic injustice rooted in the past’s engineered scarcity and competitive economics and thus an elimination of poverty and social discrimination. In essence, a culture freed of ‘profane’ concerns and able to focus on the pursuit of full human potential. A culture where homo-sapiens evolves into homo-ludens; man the player, as cultural theorist Johan Huizinga described early in the 20th century and situationist artist and architect Constant Nieuwenhuys later elaborated and advocated.
Perhaps one of the most complete illustrations of what this means in terms of lifestyle has been described by the anonymous Swiss activist author P.M. in works like Bolo’Bolo. Here he describes a near-future culture where money, ‘jobs’, nation-states, and corporations have become obsolete in favor of a ‘work-less’ lifestyle centered on village-like communities -Bolos- formed around shared cultural/aesthetic affinities and local industrial capability. P.M. saw this potential future as possible without any particularly advanced technology, anticipating a social/cultural revolution compelled by the cumulative failings of economics and politics rather than a technological one. His vision was not a return to some agrarian pre-industrial lifestyle but it did assume an obsolescence of the massive power-concentrating resource-hoarding/squandering industrial infrastructures of the past in favor of production that could be done locally.
A number of contemporary science fiction writers have elaborated on this vision considering the anticipated impact of Singularity technology -nanotechnology in particular. Much of the hierarchical social/political/economic/industrial architecture of Industrial Age culture is rooted in the logic of zero-sum economics based on a presumption of material scarcity. Nanotechnology promises to eliminate that scarcity and utterly demassify as well as fully automate production, thus removing the underpinnings of these past systems, replacing cash economics with resource-based economics and then social credit systems, and resulting in the emergence of social architectures based on social concerns rather than economic ones. Much like P.M., many see this as resulting in a new sort of tribalism based on sub-cultural affinity and manifesting in intentional communities.
Although somewhat anachronistic in its otherwise astounding depictions of technology and design, futurist Jacque Fresco’s Venus Project offers a very detailed and high-tech vision of a Post-Industrial -or perhaps a ‘Super-Industrial’- culture based on the notion of a scientifically managed computer mediated global resource economy with lifestyle centered on ideal ‘smart cities’; scientifically planned cities organized around their comprehensively automated systems. This parallels such visions as that of Paulo Soleri with his concept of Arcology; ideal, automated, volumetric megacities which society pulls back from the landscape into, returning it to its pristine natural state and getting a radically improved quality of life in the bargain. It’s probably unlikely that very monolithic centralized systems would emerge of their own accord -these are the products of Industrial Age authoritarianism and the contemporary trends favor models that account for an industrial, economic, and general cultural demassification as is already emerging at the start of this new century. This is most likely a bottom-up revolution. But, though these Big Machine Futurist visions may be a bit anachronistic, many of their elements are still appropriate and likely to still be realized in different forms and by different means than their proponents originally imagined -much as how the benefits of super-computer visions of the past are being realized by network computing in the present.
While new technology is clearly not necessary for this kind of Post-Industrial culture to happen or function, it will progressively make the proposition stronger, easier, and inescapable. As technology advances -technologies of production in particular- it increasingly makes the way things are and have been unsustainable and, in terms of public perception, increasingly silly and wrong. And any technology that’s available will be used by someone. So while the notes different people are playing may vary, we are arriving toward a common notion of what the tune is.
In TMP the foundations of the Post-Industrial culture are found on Aquarius, where this would be deliberately and actively cultivated as a means of accommodating the economics of building large planned eco-communities and adapting to the conditions of living in relative infrastructure isolation on the Equatorial sea. Marshal Savage suggested that living at sea compelled one to live like colonists in space with less physical risks but just enough logistical constraints to be analogous, compelling voluntarily cooperative rather than competitive social systems paired to technologies of increasing industrial independence. The colonies and planned settlements of TMP are tribes, of a sort, bound by a shared vision of space development that gives their societies a sharp focus on the future. Thus the communities of TMP may become host to a kind of pocket-Singularity, ahead of the rest of the terrestrial society, because they are anticipating and actively working toward it and have already -as communities- anticipated and adopted aspects of the likely lifestyles that may result. This is as much the purpose of the Aquarius phase as its more practical role as a cultivator of renewable energy and marine space facilities. It is integral to the goal of space development because it is key to freeing people from the profane distractions that have hampered the general cultural attention span for space and thus, as Marshal Savage put it, creating a society with a laser-like focus on that goal.
By the time of Solaria, this culture, originally started in Aquarius, will have reached full flower, aided by those Singularity technologies the communities of TMP have had a vested interest in cultivating in earnest for the purposes of inhabiting space. It will have spread over much of the Earth, carried by the technologies that TMP communities disseminate world-wide much as Western Industrial Age culture has been disseminated world-wide along with its products. So, what will this new Post-Industrial Post-Singularity culture look like? What will its lifestyles be like?
We anticipate that the basic architecture of society in the Post-Industrial Solarian age will be a stateless conglomerate akin to that imagined by P.M. that exists in a post-scarcity situation supported by both more rational, comprehensively environmentally aware, and highly automated means of resource management, vastly more efficient utilization through improved technology, and ready access to resources in the solar system as a whole. Freed of Malthusianist economic/resource competition, the nation-states of the past will have become anachronistic names on maps and society will self-organize into a vast overlapping and ever-changing array of virtual and physical communities based variously on ethnicity, extended family links, circles of friendship, personal and professional interests, aesthetic tastes, sub-cultural affinity, and specific shared projects. This author likes to refer to these communities as tribes but unlike the tribes of primary cultures any one person may be connected to, and move between, any number of them across their life. Most will be virtual, bound simply by shared interests. But many will manifest as physical intentional communities -villages, towns, cities- bound by a common architectural aesthetic and shared local resource infrastructure. Such communities may define the dominant form of built habitat for the civilization.
While these communities and tribes of the future, aided by the increasing self-sufficiency afforded by technology, will diverge wildly in an aesthetic context, there are some functional aspects they may largely share as a consequence of the larger Post-Industrial super-culture. Key among these may be the work-less lifestyle envisioned by P.M. and many others, enabled by the combination of a post-scarcity resource situation and the miniaturization of most manufacturing to where most things can be freely fabricated on-demand anywhere. Most Solarians will not ‘work’ in the contemporary sense but many, if not most, will have lives focused on ‘careers’.
Aided by nanotechnology, most consumer goods would be made and recycled within one’s own home and the energy and material overhead of the individual’s life would be vastly reduced over what it is today. The ‘expense’ of things which today incur -and enslave people with- life-long debt such as housing will become inconsequential, particularly with a whole solar system full of space and resources to spread out into. This will lead to what is sometimes called a ‘guaranteed income’; a universal degree of resource access for every living person built into our resource management systems that equates to as high a standard of living as the system can support for all -and one anticipated to be far superior to what even the American middle-class is used to today given the elimination of inefficiency and greed and the leverage of automation- while still being sustainable in terms of environmental impact. Systems of social credit would replace money as we know it, mediating access to exceptional volumes of resources according to both the social value of its specific use and the social reputation or ‘social credit’ of the individual wanting to use it. This will likely become a largely automated process by the Solarian period, with individuals bearing with them, life-long, a record of the social value, importance, and popularity of their public activity as if it were a credit rating. We will, essentially, reward people -largely automatically- for their demonstrated contribution to the larger society with greater opportunity for that contribution and distribute the benefits of that productivity globally.
And this is where careers come in. While cash work may be eliminated, people will still have their interests, talents, and passions which will be embodied by career tracks within communities/groups that share those interests. There may be people who spend most of their time pursuing leisure activities. But even today most people aspire to things greater than that -and greater than the menial tasks imposed upon them for sake of day-to-day survival by systems of cash economics. People will commonly work like demons for free if doing things they are passionate about and enjoy and with the leverage of automation this may realize such productivity gains as we can scarcely imagine today. The contemporary ‘work-a-day’ world runs on a remarkably poor productivity margin. Many of the ‘tribes’ of the time will revolve around these career areas and become the focus of virtual and physical intentional communities and communal projects. Imagine whole themed villages or cities of scientists, artists, designers, inventors, craftsmen, entertainers and so on created rather like self-sufficient live-in college campuses or artists communes of the past. Of course, Aquarius will have started this trend by virtue of creating the first self-sufficient communities focused on the pursuit of space, science, and technology as societal goals. In our descriptions of the Aquarius phase we talk of marine colonization as an economic engine for bootstrapping TMP’s space development and what this may mean in a practical sense is cultivating OTEC and its related industries as an increasingly automated ‘cash cow’ supporting a career-focused rather than work-focused lifestyle for TMP’s communities -the foundation of the work-less lifestyle of the future.
Taking this to its logical conclusion, for Solarians, the pursuit of full human potential, the free exploration of experience and discovery, the cultivation and free distribution of knowledge, the expression of life as play will be the dominant social imperatives across all cultural variations. And for many this imperative will culminate on the pursuit of exploring the universe and spreading civilization across it. The stars or elites of this society will not be people who distinguish themselves by what they ‘have’ but rather by what they ‘do’. There will be the usual media celebrities but also star designers, artists, inventors, and scientists. Long forgotten will be the wealthy elites of the 20th century, as wealth will be replaced by social credit as a measure of the active worth to and appreciation of the whole society. The compulsion toward the accumulation of property for its own sake -in a world where the general population can live as well as their imagination affords within reason- will seem rather neurotic. Though we recently entered the 21st century into what seems to be a protracted class struggle compelled by the gross incompetence of some of the gatekeepers of the Industrial Age status quo this will not likely be the result of some dramatic or violent class revolution as so many among the 20th century’s middle and upper classes have long feared, but rather a gradual evolution of traditional forms of wealth into so much Confederate scrip as the society at large incrementally abandons old economic systems for bottom-up-emergent alternatives as their supporting technologies becomes accessible and communities form around them. The Open Manufacturing movement has coined a term for this; unplugging. Some will very aggressively seek means to unplug through maximizing whatever potential in the present technology exists for industrial and resource autonomy, setting models and examples for others to follow. But most will likely perform this incrementally, across generations, as they are slowly driven by the progressive failure of Industrial Age paradigms and old conventional systems to seek alternatives and, little by little, turn them into the convention.
The resultant ‘homo-ludens’ of tomorrow will not be conquerers of the universe but rather, as the denizens of the colonies in space will first come to know themselves, its gardeners and imagineers. Art and science. They have always been two sides of the same human quest to comprehend nature -which is why they so often work so well as partners. To Solarians, this will become man’s chief vocation and civilization’s purpose and space the ultimate laboratory and canvas.
It has long been a common mistake of futurists and science fiction writers to imagine the future as culturally and ethnically homogenous based on a presumption of some kind of Darwinian competition between cultures and races where the most technically advanced must win out and eliminate all others. And so, for a long time, we’ve been presented visions of the future uniformly Western and Aryan -this often assumed to be the most advanced and ‘fit’ culture by default. (Of course, one need only look at the average Western waistline and average Western education statistics to question that ‘fitness’…)
Contemporary futurists, however, have generally arrived at a very different conclusion. While it is true that a few particularly aggressive dominator cultures have been wreaking havoc on world history, killing-off some cultures wholesale, in more contemporary history the homogeneity of these dominant cultures is in steady decline and we are seeing today societies that function increasingly as generators of constant spontaneous sub-cultural creation and mutation -driven in part by the systematic destruction of the extended family and traditional community and ethnic ties by the Industrial Age culture. This is paired to an increasing tolerance and embrace of cultural diversity within the dominant cultures themselves, their societies becoming less racially homogeneous and more sensitive to the negative aspects of their history as if slowly discovering a cultural self-awareness. Consequently, even these dominant cultures have become unrecognizable to themselves one human generation to the next. So while McDonalds invades Beijing and the view of the Pyramids at Giza are now framed in the windows of a Pizza Hut, new language is being synthesized faster than ever before, more people around the world are listening to music from remote corners of the globe than ever in history, Tibetan prayer flags hang from rustic ranch gates and adobe walls in New Mexico, Mosques are built in Scandinavia, each generation of teenagers is scaring the hell out of their parents anew with the weird sub-cultures they adopt, it’s becoming almost impossible to achieve apparent democratic political consensus without cheating, and Trekkies now exist in sufficient numbers to declare their own nation-state. Futurist Alvin Toffler in particular has written extensively on the demassification of culture and how it represents a hallmark of a new primary culture that integrates -networks- divergent culture into a social ecology rather than trying to eliminate it through some form of violently competitive Darwinian selection.
As we mentioned in the earlier Solaria main article, when combined with the powers of nanotechology and artificial general intelligence, this trend of cultural demassification is likely to produce some astounding things, particularly as this technology is applied to the re-engineering of the human body itself and the creation of a new completely synthetic branch of human society. However this turns out, it will reach fruition by the time of Solaria and we can expect a solar-system-wide society that diverges both culturally and anatomically as human life extends along what this author has called the Transhumanist Spectrum; the spectrum of variation in physical existence between the fully organic human being, across many forms of augmentation, to the fully inorganic physically disembodied artilect. This is a spectrum that, by the time of Solaria, will be very easy and convenient for any individual to move along, making any point along it a lifestyle choice.
But what does it mean for a society to be culturally and anatomically divergent? Human beings have always been, to varying personal degrees, uncomfortable in their own bodies. It may be a condition of self-awareness. And from our earliest history we have been applying every technology we could to the modification of our bodies for cultural, religious, aesthetic, and functional reasons, pursuing various imagined ideals of beauty and performance that often have little to do with any sort of biophysical fitness. In the past, we have generally been very limited in our technological means for this, relying on clothing and jewelry for protection and adornment and physical conditioning/training for enhancement. But where actual modification of the body has been relatively safe and convenient, we have adopted it almost universally. Fashion trends and ‘social mores’ sometimes impede the adoption of these but tend to lose out on a generational basis. Virtually every culture on the planet today uses forms of body piercing, tattooing, and ritualized surgery. Across the Industrial Age cosmetic surgery became globally common and increasingly radical interventions on the natural anatomy have emerged. We now transplant whole faces, culture synthetic transplant ears and noses, edit and augment the general physique, and even alter our gender. In the upper-middle classes of Asia and the US cosmetic surgery is now almost universally employed in some age groups and often seen as necessary as a college education for white collar employment and class status. And as our culturally divergent society’s aesthetic ideals diverge our aesthetic perceptions have increasingly diverged from mere improved variations on the natural body. Though it may be a minority interest, people now increasingly employ cosmetic surgery and implantable prosthetics to give themselves the appearance of elves, SciFi aliens, demons, vampires, other creatures of myth and fantasy, even animals. Some people now even surgically alter their genitals for the sake of sexual novelty or performance. And there is no reason to expect that this is going to stop given technology that increasingly makes every feature of our bodies safely, painlessly, and conveniently editable and those changes readily reversible.
Assuming this trend continues, we may find Solarians in a vast array of physical variations with some associated with particular tribal communities and their aesthetic ideals. Age, gender, race, and all the usual physical traits will be free and changeable choices. Synthetic chromatophores will replace tattoos, allowing the entire human body to become a spontaneous artistic canvas -even luminous. And more radical things may be possible. Many of the creatures of fantasy and past mythology and folklore may come to life among augmented humans. There may be tribes of merfolk, faeries, elves, fauns, hobbits, demi-gods, and so on living in specialized communities with habitats adapted to their aesthetic tastes and altered anatomies. Of course, all this will be routine for the artilects who, having virtual bodies in virtual habitats to begin with, will have been exploring them as a freely changeable medium of self-expression long before those outside the virtual environment do. We need only look at things like Second Life today to get some notion of the possibilities.
In addition to such cosmetic alterations, emerging technology is offering possibilities for an increasing host of functional adaptations of the body. One of the most common for the people of the Solarian age may be the hosting of colonies of medical nanomachines as a cure for Space Wasting, allowing lifelong habitation in microgravity or reduced gravity without ill-effects. So the permanent inhabitants of space may, by default, all be subtle sorts of cyborgs, their lives dependent on this symbiosis with colonies of nano-machines residing in their bodies. With such technology resident in the body, other types of adaptations may become common. For instance, enhancements of the biophysical aspects of the body relating to performance or survival in emergencies; artificial super-blood-cells that can compensate for sudden changes in air pressure or oxygen levels or allow people to breath fluids instead of air in order to cope with extreme g-forces, neural shunts for vertigo-suppression, diamondoid structural reinforcement of bone, muscle tissue tuning, and so on. And, of course, this technology may be able to stop or counter the effects of aging making many, if not most, Solarians extremely long-lived or virtually immortal. Fabricated-in-place -rather than surgically implanted- wireless digital communications interfaces would allow a radical new level of personal communications and computer interfacing. Many people may have their own personal HUD (heads-up display) built into their visual cortex providing a range of functions like silent telephony (where sub-lingual speech is converted into synthesized voice over a digital voice link), augmented reality data and control interface display, personal medical diagnostic display, general computer interfacing, or full sensory immersion into Virtual Environments.
As the application of such technology on the body becomes increasingly normal with time, the mobility along the spectrum of life between the organic and disembodied inorganic will become increasingly easy. With the advent of NanoFoam, synthetic bodies will become indistinguishable from organic ones, save for their very enhanced performance and freedom and changeability of form. The dividing-line between organic and inorganic existence will become so blurred that the transition between the two will become inconsequential. There will be no more trade-offs -no Little Mermaid’s Dilemma. (ie. a sacrifice or trade-off of freedoms or possibilities as a price for transition between lifestyles)
Thus a picture of the street-life of communities tomorrow may seem quite the crazy-quilt, alive in a flood of augmented reality projections that merge the physical and virtual and peopled by a human menagerie of incredible faces and forms. There will, of course, be communities culturally specialized, seeking to establish a standard aesthetic for a specific model lifestyle that extends right to standards in design for their inhabitant’s bodies. But overall the society may be incredibly divergent. It will be the Mos Eisley Cantina on a civilization scale.
Just as nanotechnology will have great impact on the culture of the Solarian civilization, so too may it radically impact how we build our habitats. We will discuss in detail the designs of some specific Solarian habitats in later articles. For now we will discuss the general characteristics of the dominant technology used to create them and how this will impact the lifestyles of their inhabitants.
With the advent of NanoFoam, or at least some spectrum of nanofabrication technologies of comperable capability, the creation of our habitats will become a largely automated process, this material allowing for the creation of structures of radically great physical performance and diverse design compared to what we are familiar with today. Existing as a material composed of a cellular diamondoid structure host to its own internal colonies of nanomachines, NanoFoam will be able to produce, in a rather organismic fashion, most any structure, form, or artifact, mimic most materials, and integrate -as well as fabricate in-situ- most active systems. It may become the dominant material in the whole civilization -even incorporated into some people’s own bodies- and would function simultaneously as both structure and architecture and a resource and information communications infrastructure, passing information around by digital network and materials in a fractal network of fluid channels hosting NanoSoup; a hydrocarbon fluid medium in which materials are transported in molecularly packaged form. Hosting in its networks innumerable data processing nodes, NanoFoam would be self-aware in a sense; a homogeneous digital processing array distributed across our habitat and hosting an endless assortment of data and active software including the software of artilects and their virtual habitats. And this infrastructure will be integrated to the natural environment at an unprecedented scope and depth -particularly on the life-bearing Earth. It will function as a global sensor-web, monitoring the vital signs of the environment. Gaia will become a cyborg and we will, at last, have a comprehensive awareness of human impact and a precise understanding of the sustainable limits to what we can do while maintaining an ecological harmony.
The foundation of the new terrestrial human habitat will be known as the RhiZome. Taking its name from the rhizome structures of plants -horizontal stem structures permeating the soil and sending out roots- the RhiZome will function the same, consisting of networks of underground structures self-made of NanoFoam that establish an infrastructure for the habitat on the surface and which send out root structures to tap the Earth’s subterranean resources and energy. One of the currently overlooked benefits of nanotechnology for architecture and civil engineering will be a radically increased ability to build upwards and downwards. We will be able to place most of our habitat’s infrastructure -including surface transportation- entirely underground and as a result recover a great deal of surface space that can be returned to nature. Most on-surface roads may become obsolete, replaced by underground networks of Personal Rapid Transit far faster, safer, more convenient, and orders of magnitude more energy efficient. The RhiZome may come to permeate much of the planet and even link-up the Aquarian marine colonies as if they were water plants linked to an underwater root system traveling both through water (as with the Circum-Equatorial Transit Network discussed elsewhere) and along or under the sea floor. Most of the world will be, literally, linked door-to-door and to the gateways to space; the equatorial Space Elevators originating in the Bifrost program.
The RhiZome will go wherever we build -and interactively limit our building by warning us of the places where, for the environment’s sake, we shouldn’t. Building a structure will be like planting a tree -literally. It may be as simple as planting a stake with a sensor array into the ground where it performs an environmental assessment then summons a linking branch of the Rhizome to it and then growing like an enormous plant into the structure we have designed in software for it to become. This would not be an instantaneous process. Large structures might take weeks or months. But it would be done entirely free of human intervention, except in the process of design. The structures thus produced could be limitless in form, design, and material appearance but this organismic construction process would favor organic forms offering the most efficiency in processing. Thus, for those willing to compromise on design for the sake of speed, and in particular for the largest structures, organic forms may become common. But then this organismic fabrication approach may influence much of the general aesthetic by the time of Solaria and this may be seen as conventional as the strange culturally bastardized lowest-common-denominator hybrid styles we consider conventional in today’s suburbs.
The structures built with NanoFoam will also be as freely adaptable as they are built, growing and evolving into new shapes and assuming new features according to our needs and through our digital, and sometimes direct physical, interaction. Buildings may be actively adaptive, learning to automatically adapt in subtle ways to changing seasonal environments and changing use for the maximum energy and resource efficiency. Hosting so much active intelligence and so much integral technology, people may come to see their homes as companions and assistants as well as shelter. We may develop a kind of symbiosis with our habitat. Marshal Savage envisioned our civilization evolving a kind of super-intelligence that we might scarcely comprehend and not normally be able to communicate with. As he put it, it would not be like some person you could invite over for dinner and have a conversation with. Yet embodied in the infrastructure through the RhiZome and the interfaces of interaction we create for our habitat and its NanoFoam structures, we could indeed have very constant communication and interaction with such a super-intelligence through our interaction with our architecture and habitat. It may become like a domestic god with localized nodes of cognition we can converse and interact with.
NanoFoam architecture would be capable of producing every type of building (including some impossible today, such as areal buildings supported by vacuum lift) and every aesthetic style of design imaginable. However, the combination of increasing social responsibility toward the environment and the impact of a Post-Industrial culture will likely produce a very different approach to our housing and this may lead to a preponderance of Arcology-like community structures for which the settlements of Aquarius will have set the example. One of the greatest benefits and curses of nanotechnology-enabled architecture would its ability to allow habitation in any environment -a benefit in easing potential human overcrowding but also a curse in its potential to suburbanize every last area of wilderness on the planet. But trends, thankfully, point in another direction. The tendency of Post-Industrial society to self-organize into tribes, those tribes tendency to desire crafting of intentional communities with a common aesthetic, and the universal awareness of environmental responsibility aided by a very comprehensive and continuous digital analysis of the planetary biosphere may lead people to largely abandon the concept of the free-standing disconnected house in favor of community macrostructures and a new comfortable and engaging urban environment.
This author likes to use the analogy of Amsterdam’s traditional city areas as well as similar cities in Scandinavia and Europe when characterizing the nature of future urban environments and in particular the character of the Arcology so often misrepresented. Because of our deeply negative influence from the dysfunctional patterns of urban development common in the 20th century -and particularly in America- those who are aware of the concept of Arcology at all have tended to have many misconceptions about it. These would not be human ‘hives’ as is so often erroneously suggested but habitats very much akin to the streets of old European cities like the traditional center of Amsterdam, where the predominant form of home is townhouses in endless custom variations (and with the Arcology equivalent probably much larger on average than the traditional European townhouse because it has more volume to work with) and where there is a clear demarcation between different levels of private and public/social space. Cars, drive ways, and front yards would be long obsolesced, replaced by automated personal rapid transit, bicycles (a form of transportation likely to persist far into the future) and similar small personal vehicles, and garden walking paths interspersed with courts and outdoor lounges.
Where an organic aesthetic becomes common with the use of NanoFoam, the typical home may be composed of clusters of relatively specialized rooms that merge with the garden landscapes sculpted into the community macrostructure. A great diversity of apparent material would be possible, even if they are simulated by NanoFoam for the most part. Home interiors may appear carved from single great masses of wood, decorative stone, glass, or miraculously shaped textiles. Following a trend established long ago on the first Aquarian settlement, homes may be much less cluttered than common today owing to the fact that most physical information media -ie. most stuff made out of paper- would have become digital and tucked away into the digital infrastructure and also because much furniture and appliances would be built-in/formed-in to the building structure itself, following the organic aesthetic. Most surfaces would be able to integrate touch-display interfaces with whole-wall screens common. Digital murals -screensavers for your walls- might replace hung artwork. And should immersive entertainment based in the Virtual Habitat become sufficiently popular, some whole rooms may be dedicated to their use with their entire interior surfaces turned into all-around displays. Backyards of old suburbia would become garden terraces, private atriums, or solariums, still with at least as much potential area on average (with much space recovered by cultural abandonment of the childish Western habit of using a house as a visual display of class status…) and with the taller macro-structures offering every home a ‘million dollar view’ of the restored natural wilderness, which would be within casual walking distance for all. How anyone might imagine all this as dystopian is unfathomable.
And it may turn out that, given the variability of the tribal communities of the Post-Industrial culture, few of the future Arcologies would need to reach the gigantic scales imagined by Solari while still being able to realize the same environmental objectives. We simply don’t realize just how much functional habitat space we have squandered to the automobile and incompetent suburban and urban planning (If one can even call such ad-hoc development ‘planned’) and how much of our infrastructure could be secluded underground -particularly with the benefits of NanoFoam. Free to expand to the sea and space and far more thoughtful in our habitat design when done as real communities, we may see most of the overcrowding that plagues cities today disappear.
Thus the terrestrial landscape of the Solarian age may appear very much as Paulo Soleri envisioned; a world restored to much of its original pristine natural environment sparsely interspersed with self-contained yet highly interconnected community megastructures projecting into the sky in a variety of forms like a collection of great public sculptures -though perhaps with a much wilder diversity in aesthetics and a broader spectrum of sizes than he imagined. Many of these community habitats may be tailored to a shared cultural aesthetic or theme and, freed from strict functionality by the capabilities of NanoFoam, be quite wild and fantastic in design even though they would be orders of magnitude more efficient than contemporary habitats. We may see fantasy castles and palaces, minimalist Modernist monoliths, subtle organic or terraced complexes that merge into the natural landscape like hills and mountains or float at sea as naturalistic islands, great greenhouse domes like habitats in space, giant artificial trees, and sprawling undersea complexes like sea sponges.
With nanotechnology allowing people to carry with them the sum-total of industrial potential wherever they are and to remain continuously personally connected to the global -and eventually solar-system-spanning- Internet everywhere a new emergence of nomadic lifestyles may develop. Perhaps one of the most exotic and minimalistic of such lifestyles enabled by such technology will be a kind of ultra-naturist tribe. A community of augmented humans completely immune to the extremes of the ambient environment, perfectly comfortable outdoors, needing no conventional shelter at all, and carrying in their own bodies all the tools and technology they need to thrive wherever they go and communicate with and participate in the civilization at large. They might live on sunlight -literally solar powered through their skin- and when needing clothing or small temporary shelter could literally generate it from NanoFoam making up their own bodies. They might roam the wilderness areas of the Earth, perhaps as nature wardens, gathering at periodic/seasonal meeting sites, perhaps building open pavilions or other largely symbolic open meeting spaces.
Similar communities of nomadic augmented humans might even live at sea, likewise adapted to an aquatic environment, their bodies streamlined and resilient and perhaps akin to the mer-folk of legend, roaming the oceans in tribal pods like dolphins in complete safety and comfort. Devoid of most carried possessions, they could still fabricate on demand whatever occasional artifacts they might need from the materials in seawater itself and otherwise would carry within their bodies all the communications technology needed to link to the rest of the world and its computer resources or to use the collective virtual habitat so much of the human race may come to employ as a common meeting space.
For the space habitat the impact of technology like NanoFoam will be equally great, amplifying our potential to inhabit that environment, but taking somewhat different forms in terms of architecture. Of key importance to the colonization of space will be the ease with which infrastructures can be established with little human intervention. On planets, moons, and asteroids the process of establishing settlement would be as simple as delivering some small package of NanoFoam, perhaps in the form of its own minimalistic spacecraft, to the surface and letting it plant itself like the seed of a plant into the strata to create a largely subterranean RhiZome complex which can then spawn human-habitable structures on and below the surface -depending on the environmental conditions it must accommodate. This author has dubbed these habitats BioZomes; RhiZomes that host organic life. Derived from the designs of the habitats of the Avalon and Elysium phases of development, these will likely take the forms of domed complexes merging with the landscape, though with the organismic nature of NanoFoam favoring organic designs and affording quite a diversity of them, we may see these structures assume aesthetically diverse forms. They may often appear like arrays of smoothed water or wind-worn stones, clusters of desert plants such as the Lithop variety, (often called ‘living stones’) or the stromatolite structures produced by algae colonies. Personal dwellings may be quite similar in aspect to those of the micro-urban and Arcology communities on Earth but organized around large garden atrium areas as the focus of the communal architecture. Where an attempt to virtually terraform large expanses within enclosures is used, the BioZome would create a sort of cellular structured light-transmitting roof that spreads like a quilted mat over, and following, the landscape, to enclose vast areas and with Arcology-like habitable structures formed into the columns supporting this cellular roof. This may have an aspect even more akin to the common habitat of Earth.
On orbit another assortment of common forms may develop. Grown in place from NanoFoam-based spacecraft assuming a desired orbital location, small habitats may take the form of clusters of bubbles sprouting clusters of leaf-like solar and radiator arrays. Larger habitats would tend toward more uniform shapes, with spheres, ovoids, and spherical-ended cylinders most efficient to the NanoFoam structural growth process.
Marshal Savage’s vision saw spherical EcoSpheres evolved from the Asgard pneumatic hull habitat concept as the predominant form of Solarian habitat. Some of these, he imagined, would enclose whole asteroids, hollowed out by mining and terraformed rather like an enormous lichen-covered stone. In TMP2 we similarly envision the EcoSphere as a derivative of the spherical EvoHab evolved with the benefit of NanoFoam. And so the new EcoSphere becomes a vast -perhaps hundreds of kilometers in diameter- light-transmitting NanoFoam membrane whose self-renewing exterior surface is, simultaneously, solar collector, radiator, shield, and ion propulsion array while its thick volume serves as a vast redundant life support system and data processing array of incredible area interspersed with spacecraft ports and material storage nodules and its interior surface a great light diffuser and virtual window. Within its pressurized microgravity environment the polar core urban tree of the EvoHab would become a series of free-floating tree-like structures akin to Arcologies of very diverse design, some perhaps based on actual living spherical trees adapted to host habitable structures or others exploring a diversity of gravity-free architectural concepts and materials and looking rather like an assortment of abstract sculptures. Whereas Savage imagined habitats surrounding mined asteroids, with NanoFoam asteroids could be subsumed whole by a RhiZome which then transports it whole like a spacecraft to a desired location and transforms into
But with the advent of NanoFoam the choice between gravity and micro-gravity habitats may no longer be dictated by simple practicality and so an alternative form of rotating EcoSphere may also become common. This form of EcoSphere would be quite similar to the concept of the Gaiome as described by futurist writer Kevin Scott Polk. An updated and simplified variation on the concept of orbital colonies as envisioned by the likes of Gerard O’Neill, this would be smaller in potential maximum volume than the microgravity EcoSphere in order that its hull structure can withstand centrifugal force. (though given the use of a diamondoid composition structures far larger than ever imagined by those proponents of orbital colonies in the 1970s would be possible) The inner surface of the habitat would be divided between a parkland-topped equatorial habitable surface (with most dwellings integrated into the synthetic landscape and with a ring-like lake along the equator) and a pair of polar-end light diffusers and virtual windows transmitting light gathered along the sun-facing surface of the hull and directed by optical conduits through the hull. (other light distribution schemes might employ polar diffuser tubes like a long fluorescent tube lamp running through the polar core, or a spherical diffuser in the center like a miniature sun) Though seemingly very different structurally, this would actually be a straightforward derivative of the microgravity EcoSphere with its still quite thick light transmitting hull and could evolve directly from that type should its inhabitants decide they prefer a gravity environment.
Another possible form of orbital habitat may be largely unique to the Earth’s orbit and its future expanded use of Space Elevator systems. By the time of Solaria, many Space Elevator structures may exist along the Equator, each hosting large Aquarian-style communities around their surface termini and EvoHab/EcoSphere habitats at their orbital termini. By extending additional large nanofiber tethers horizontally along the GEO path these space elevator structures could link-up to form a spoked wheel around the Earth, increasing their mutual stability. This tether ring could thus provide a foundation -like a continuous core truss as used in EvoHab habitats- for additional habitat construction. Like a string of pearls, EvoHab and later EcoSpheres, along with MOF complexes and other structures, could be built along this tether ring which would double as a conduit for magnetic driven transport. Some of these could be rotating structures, ideally in counter-rotating pairs, employing magnetically isolated bearings around the core tether. A vast Geopolis -a linear city along the GEO path- could thus be formed along this ring over time.
This range of habitat architectures would be suitable/adaptable to just about any situation in any solar system and so we have, with this NanoFoam based civilization, a straightforward means to inhabit the galaxy and for the automated pre-settlement/pre-development of whole solar systems long before the arrival of human colonists. Even when we are not entirely sure what me might find in other solar systems in terms of planetary environments and resources, we can transform any natural body in space into something we can live comfortably in.
The Cocktail Lounge At The Center Of The UniverseEdit
A common feature in the ancient folklore and mythology of many cultures is the idea of a hidden world in some way adjacent to our own but out of sight and reach of normal humans. It goes by many names; Hyperborea, Tír na nÓg, Hy Brazil, Shambhala, Xibalba. This is sometimes described as a fantastic ideal realm, other times a dark frightening underworld. Sometimes it’s a distant out-of-reach place that requires a heroic journey of personal transformation to get to. Other times it is co-existent with the everyday world but imperceivable without some special talent or means or by some explicit invitation of its inhabitants. Always a home to gods or supernatural beings of some sort, it is sometimes regarded as a final resting place of the dead, a reward for the spiritually enlightened, or simply a parallel spirit world serving as a back-stage to the reality we perceive where unseen spiritual beings and forces control those phenomenon of the everyday world we do not quite grasp the causality of. Though occasionally the hapless might stumble into it, traveling to and operating in the hidden world was a job for heroes and shaman, the latter particularly important in the context of mediating its unseen forces and propitiating its denizens for the benefit of the community.
In the 1980s we invented a new sort of hidden world within the virtual spaces of information processed by computers; Virtual Reality. This new hidden world -existing only as data represented in a digital synthesis of sensory information-was invented to be a tool for simulation but quickly became an easily accessible playground, host to games and on-line chat. The possibilities of Virtual Reality were quickly seized upon by science fiction writers where it was re-imagined as a strange and dangerous technological Xibalba dubbed ‘cyberspace’, serving as a kind of hidden back-stage for our poorly understood but increasingly ubiquitous digital infrastructure. The protagonists of this ‘cyberpunk’ fiction worked wonders in the world through their actions in this cyberspace just like the heroes and shaman of the past, manipulating its unseen systems and battling the secret diabolical forces of corporations, government, terrorists, and the like who would use the power of this unseen world to their own nefarious ends. But in reality the digital infrastructure emerging in our civilization needed no Virtual Reality representation and the practical roles of these virtual spaces proved more mundane and yet potentially much more profound. Serving as a host for games and chat on the emergent Internet and giving them a new sense of dimensional reality, Virtual Reality has started to become a kind of social hyperspace. A collective Virtual Habitat accessible from everywhere on the Earth where the whole world socially converges. This author likes to refer to it as the Cocktail Lounge At The Center Of The Universe.
Currently, the systems on which this Virtual Habitat are based still remain rather crude relative to the expectations of computer scientists for what they could be -largely because they tend to be developed by computer game developers who still don’t have a particularly good grasp of the social roles of games -as their industry has so long been rooted in making packaged software for solo players. But over time a trend of convergence is emerging that will see the separate and proprietary platforms being used now converge onto open platforms that will allow a greater focus on environment content over technology. Anticipating this and seeing the importance of this as a cultural development tool, this author has even proposed the development of such a platform as part of the early development stages of TMP2, in the form of a Virtual Habitat Program and a project called Hyperborea. In the near future the Virtual Habitat promises to become an increasingly important venue of personal communication, gaming, and public entertainment. We will expand upon our means of accessing it and interacting with it through things like video window-walls, CAVE (cave augmented virtual environment) rooms, holographic displays, and -though early attempts have been cumbersome- worn sensory interface devices and furniture-like interface appliances. Ultimately, we may achieve implanted or in-situ nanofabricated immersive sensory interfaces integrated into our own bodies and nervous systems like other forms of medical augmentation.
By the time of Solaria, the Virtual Habitat will be vast and well established as a common fixture of the general super-culture. It will be a ubiquitous venue of collaborative work, entertainment, art, and social interaction. It will merge greatly with the physical habitat of the civilization, many physical spaces mapped onto and continuously linked to virtual spaces and supporting augmented reality interfacing; where virtual objects and characters are mapped into a real physical space and made perceivable through special display or user interfaces. Much of the population may be equipped with bodily-integrated total sensory interfaces, allowing them to comprehensively slip between the physical and virtual habitat with casual ease or maintain some varying degrees of connectedness to both simultaneously. But perhaps one of its most significant roles will be as point of convergence for the society and cultures of people in the physical world and the artilect society that will call the Virtual Habitat home.
Today’s artificial intelligence researchers have come to realize that development of Artificial General Intelligence may depend greatly on concepts of body and environment image. Organic human intelligence did not evolve in a vacuum. It evolved in a physical world with a physical body as its interface to it. Thus old concepts of AI as, essentially, minds operating in a sensory vacuum make little sense. Some researchers have begun pairing robotics to AI to establish controlled body images and environments as a physical context for AI systems to operate in and relate to. But robots remain crude andexpensive and more recently researchers have begun to rely on virtual environments and avatars as a much cheaper and more immediately capable way of accomplishing this. This has the benefit of producing software that is immediately adaptable to the economically valuable application of computer games and entertainment software. It’s this author’s suggestion that we may see a direct emergence of AGI from the development of entertainment software, particularly virtual pet/assistant/companion software where the direct interaction with many users can aid as a feedback channel for the reverse-engineering of organic human cognition and personality. Thus the first artilects may turn out to originate as virtual companions ‘born and raised’ in the Virtual Habitat and they may seek to cultivate a lifestyle predominately within that freely adapted environment rather than developing any immediate Pinocchio compulsion to move into the material world.
Consequently, the Virtual Habitat of the Solarian Age may be home to a large population of artilects who sculpt vast virtual worlds to their liking, link them in many different ways to the physical habitat, and use them as a meeting/socialization space for people along the more physical side of the Transhumanist Spectrum using immersive sensory interfacing. With civilization’s NanoFoam-based infrastructure interspersed with tremendous amounts of distributed networked processing capability and able to freely build data centers within the RhiZome structure on demand, this Virtual Habitat could become integral to the whole infrastructure of the civilization as an extension of the Internet itself and could host populations of artilects at least as large as the rest of the more material population. This advanced Virtual Habitat would be experientially/sensorily as robust as any other part of the built habitat and could become generally perceived in the super-culture context as a second space civilization just happens to inhabit. As the borderline between the virtual and physical environment is eroded by various forms of interface technology, it may become common for even the largely organic human to consider the Virtual Habitat home as readily as anything in the physical built habitat. This might result in such phenomenon as people who decide they need little more than a Capsule Hotel like shelter to ‘park’ their body in when they ‘go home’ to their lavish personal microworlds in the Virtual Habitat. This may seem quite strange to us today, but it would actually be a liberating lifestyle option for the more severely disabled (if there are still any by this time) -especially given that the Virtual Habitat may, in virtual scale, be just as vast and complex as the built environment.
Life in the Virtual Habitat would have many amazing aspects to it and progressively fewer trade-offs relative to life in the physical habitat as the technology progresses. The notion of living inside a computer environment may seem bizarre or frightening to some of us today because, for the sake of a cheap means to drama, SciFi media has focused on dystopian visions of the virtual environment playing on our fears of the future. Cyberpunk fiction has made it seem a dark and dangerous place. Films like the Matrix have portrayed it as a great perceptual trap for humanity controlled by malevolent machines. But it’s like any other built habitat. We can make prisons and slums or we can make palaces. It can be Xibalba or it can me Shambhala or Tír na nÓg. If you’re free to make a home there on your own terms, you’d make something comfortable and enjoyable, right? And that’s most likely what the artilects calling the Virtual Habitat home will do.
The chief potential drawback to living in these environments will be the apparent disconnection from the ‘outside world’ of the physical environment. We might easily imagine it as being like living on an idyllic but still remote island, cut off from the society at large. But the border between worlds will be eroded continuously over time and by the time of Solaria become quite blurry. Just as we organic humans in the physical habitat would use various devices to see into or immerse ourselves in the Virtual Habitat, so too would artilects be doing the reverse. They would have their windows into places in the physical habitat, complete access to all the same media networks, the same systems of telecommunication, telerobotic machines and robots they can work through in the physical environment, and even robotic bodies to use as avatars in the physical habitat -and by the Solarian age largely indistinguishable from organic life. As mentioned earlier, there may be no Little Mermaid’s dilemma.
The structure of the Virtual Habitat would likely be based on networks of purpose-built pocket environments rather than any single default collective space. Both visitors to the Virtual Habitat from the physical habitat and the resident artilects would have personal private spaces that serve as a freely adaptive home environment and which are open to others only by invitation and the use of digital keys. Size would not be an issue for these spaces. They may be designed as simple building interiors or they may be vast landscapes with simulated natural -or unnatural- environments and their own simulated non-sentient animals and characters as part of their decor. However, the design of structures in these home environments is likely to be focused more on aesthetics than function and be rather minimalist in character because there would be no weather to worry about and no need for things like storage space when one can will any needed object into existence on demand. Many may be focused largely on an introspective aesthetic based mostly on interiors because, being truly private space, they need project no exterior image to others. And, of course, the relative dimensions of rooms is irrelevant to their interface in virtual space. (some might call these spaces TARDIS-like, using the analogy from the Dr. Who SciFi series) Private space may be merged with the private environments of close friends to create larger collective spaces or may be linked by gateways or doorways.
In addition to these private spaces would be similar public spaces, designed for larger random gatherings of people and their casual spontaneous interaction. Functioning like city squares and parks accessible to all or many, these would tend to be compartmentalized according to themes and the physics models for their environments and their creation and maintenance could be the work of communities. Some could be designed to merge, through various media systems, with locations in the physical habitat, particularly key points of interest, tourist attractions, and public meeting places. There would also be game spaces, designed to serve as environments for particular games or recreational activity and populated by non-sentient characters and creatures. There would also be work spaces with environments designed around different work activities and for different numbers of workers/participants. They may often have virtual devices linked to specific machines and systems in the physical environment.
Much attention in artilect culture would be focused on the avatar -the virtual body both artilects and visiting organic people use to represent themselves. These would be constantly tweaked and refined by their owners and spontaneously changed for the sake of self-expression, to suit changing mood or activity, or for the sake of exploring the experience of different forms as recreation. Organic humans, using the Virtual Environment largely for recreation and socialization, would likely use many different avatars anonymously and according to the particularly groups of people they are interacting with. (we already commonly do this on the Internet today) Artilects would probably do likewise but may be less concerned with anonymity through this. Some avatars may be quite unusual, being quite non-human or diverging greatly even from natural organic life. Some may be like abstract art objects or may even take the form of a whole simulated environment where a person is ‘personified’ in the simulated ecology with senses distributed across its landscape and organisms. Artilects may long find robotic avatars in the physical environment cumbersome -like space suits- because of their lack of free changeability. Anyone with such a powerful and diverse expressive ability would likely find it an important feature of their lifestyle.
Virtual Habitats would also be the basic habitat for communities of artilects in space, no different from their counterpart on Earth and affording a great economy in life support overhead as they would need only data processing and storage systems and the solar, geothermal, chemical, or nuclear energy systems to power them -all grown plant-lake from masses of NanoFoam. Hopefully, the Solarian age will see the full spectrum of humanity together inhabiting space. But as the vanguard of space settlement out of simple efficiency and economy, automated artilect communities would likely often exist in some isolation in some places without complimentary facilities for organic humans. Thus a remarkably minimalist form of space habitat may become quite common across the solar system; RhiZome complexes burrowing deep into the strata of asteroids, moons, and planets and Sunflower and Solar Snowflake solar arrays with fractal-patterned structures in orbit little different from solar power satellites. Devoid of most of the usual signs of life aside from radio/laser telecom transmissions and the periodic spacecraft, they may nonetheless be teaming with vibrant hidden life, housing populations of millions. We may called them VRcos -virtual arcologies. The RhiZomes in particular may be quite invisible save for the occasional surface structure or even rarer surface robot yet their hidden subterranean structures may rival terrestrial cities in scale and their infrastructure networks grow exponentially to span the whole area of a planet.
It has sometimes been suggested that the reason other civilizations in the universe have remained unseen by us so far is that they actually become harder to detect with advancing technology. These kinds of automated habitats hosting vast but hidden Virtual Habitats could explain such a phenomenon. With such simple self-constructing habitat structures needing quite tiny spacecraft to seed themselves across space, artilects would find it easy to settle most any location, and for that matter any solar system in the galaxy. And yet, often, they would offer little sign of their presence, and progressively less so as their systems become more energy efficient. A vast civilization of this sort -with populations in the countless trillions might be on our interstellar doorstep, so to speak, yet easily go unnoticed.
Though linked by telecommunications allowing their artilect inhabitants to travel to and from them at the speed of light, these habitats may still be somewhat isolated from continuity with the rest of the Virtual Habitat and the civilization in general by communications latency -because even the speed of light is not that speedy when you’re spanning the distances across space -and between stars that a distance of decades or centuries. Organic human users of the Virtual Habitat would be unable to virtually visit these habitats as they do the ones on Earth because the latency would be too great for sensory interfaces or any synchronous communications. A certain cultural divergence caused by cultural isolation may occur in these habitats and they may tend to become large in population simply out of their inhabitants’ desire for company -artilects may be quite gregarious but would otherwise have no biological imperative for reproduction. But if there is even the most remote possibility of the realization of a practical means of faster-than-light telecommunications, the Solarians will most likely figure it out. And if they do, allowing all the settlements in space, no matter how remote, to digitally communicate as easily as we do today on the terrestrial Internet, it could turn the collective Virtual Habitat into a gateway to the entire inhabited universe. It would truly become the cocktail lounge at the center of the universe. An intellectual and informational singularity.
- Solar Snowflake - Sunflower - Sundisc - Solar Ribbon
- Dyson Sphere
- Solarian Spacecraft
- Solaria Supporting Technologies