Who Inherits The Stars?Edit
The ultimate question posed by TMP, and by the proposition of space settlement in general, is that of the ultimate fate of mankind and our civilization. We understand that our sun has a specific finite life-cycle and will eventually, in its death throes, expand to destroy the inner planets of the solar system, obliterating terrestrial life unless it has managed to somehow spread into the rest of the galaxy. This is an underlying motive to the proposition of space settlement—a cosmic insurance policy for the perpetuation of life. But what kind of life? That is a new question for this proposition that has emerged in the past couple of decades as technology now presents us with new twists on how we might perceive life and its potentially divergent evolution.
The universe was not created for us. Terrestrial life is very specifically adapted to a particular situation on Earth that will not readily be found or easily re-created elsewhere. Even now our forays into the adjacent environment of the solar system are very costly and risky endeavors for human beings and we have yet to devise the technology to truly persist there—learning how to do that being the basic objective of TMP. Terraforming planets will only really be practical in select locations and will, by any means, be tasks of centuries. There is thus an advantage for those forms—and ways—of life that, at first, might more readily adapt to differing environments and situations rather than seeking to modify that environment comprehensively or create ideal ones from scratch. This has long been the strong suit of the human species, but there are limits imposed by our biology and space seriously challenges them.
An important idea in the original TMP is that of adapting human beings through technology to the space environment in order to reduce the overhead of life support and allow habitats to be simpler in design and engineering. The key first step suggested in this is the adaptation of human beings to a lifestyle in microgravity, largely through some clinical means of overcoming the problems of ‘space wasting’; the steady deterioration of the human body in various ways when subject to prolonged space conditions. Marshal Savage felt the approach of reproducing an ideal terrestrial-like environment through giant rotating space colonies as proposed in the late 1970s was unnecessarily elaborate and untenably costly. By instead adapting humans to microgravity and a lower air pressure environment orbital space settlers would be able to incrementally develop habitats of much simpler design and construction—hence the Asgard habitat concept and, in TMP2, the EvoHab. Ultimately, a clinical solution to the problems of space habitation would tend to be more cost-efficient than a brute-force engineering one, though so far that solution has eluded space medicine. As noted in other articles, it seems that such a clinical solution may be more sophisticated and elaborate than once anticipated, putting its adoptees well into the transhuman status of comprehensively augmented human beings.
Savage went much further with this idea. He anticipated a transhumanist future based on adaptive bioengineering compelled by the practical necessity of adapting to relatively close but still problematically different variations of the terrestrial environment that might be encountered elsewhere in space. He envisioned a future purpose-driven evolution of humanity as civilization’s diaspora progressed across the galaxy, resulting in a sort of Star Trek aliens style of divergence in humanity along the lines of relatively modest anatomical adaptations to suit particular planetary conditions. This was imagined as a necessarily slow process—albeit radically faster than natural evolution—requiring multiple generations of incremental bioengineering driving deliberate clinal transitions. People engineering their progeny, and other life forms, to suit the worlds they settle on over multiple generations.
At the time the original TMP was written biotechnology had become futurology’s prime catalyst of futurist visions. We attributed much the same potential to biotechnology that we now attribute to nanotechnology. Where we today talk of human augmentation futurists of the ‘70s and ‘80s spoke of biological/genetic re-engineering. Savage saw such adaptive bio-engineering as a simple practical necessity for terrestrial life in general—the more pragmatic, economical, alternative to confinement in man-made terrestrial-like habitats when settling the stars.
In our post-IT revolution era, with our expectation of imminent comprehensive nanotechnology, a new proposition has presented itself. Nanotechnology offers the prospect of re-engineering the human body on-demand, without the contrivance—or moral implications—of multi-generational bioengineering. (or for that matter, limited to merely practical applications. As discussed elsewhere, we are likely to see a progressive morphological divergence of humanity driven more by the pursuit of aesthetic/experiential novelty and fashion than the demands of space settlement) Moreover, it offers the prospect of a radically different form of life emerging with our eventual development of artificial intelligence and the subsequent re-definition of life and human consciousness/identity/existence that is independent of the ‘machinery’ that might host it. Among today’s so-called Singularity futurists, this has resulted in what this author often refers to as a Transhumanist Proposition of space development; the proposition that artificial and transhuman life will, by virtue of superior adaptation to the space environment, supersede organic human beings as the ultimate settlers of the universe. To put it simply, if general artificial intelligence can be realized, it will have a great advantage over biological intelligence in the settlement of space simply because the inorganic technology that hosts it is so much better adapted to the conditions of space than organic/biological life and thus vastly more economical to employ. This fact is born out even today, well in advance of the advent of general AI. Space telerobotics—the projection of human intelligence through remote-control robotics—has clearly demonstrated, despite current performance limitations, its great economic advantage over the astronaut and is advancing rapidly. The overhead in human safety and life support in space is, for most foreseeable space applications, now economically unjustifiable and will be increasingly so in the future as basic performance of robots improves and their improving local intelligence bridges limitations of telecommunications latency.
Is the human race destined to be left behind? The answer depends on how you define ‘human’ and how critical the notion of ‘economy’ as an ultimate determining factor in space development. As long as space development is ruled predominately by conventional, Industrial Age, economic forces—by capital investment and return-on-investment—organic human beings will be on the short end of the stick because there will soon be no economic justification for their presence in space. Currently, only government space agencies support manned space flight, for less-than-completely practical reasons relating largely to geopolitics, nationalism, and a belief that astronauts are critical to public support. (an idea that has proven rather delusional given the popular attention commonly won by robotic exploration missions. We have more active astronauts than ever in history, yet the average person can name a Mars rover more readily than any of them) Commercial space has always had the option to reproduce the manned spacecraft developed by national space programs for its own commercial uses, but has never found any practical uses for them beyond the prospect of some future space tourism market likely long confined to marginal scales. (there are potentially more than that, due to near-term limitations in space telerobotics performance. Unexplored industrial applications that could justify intermittent or persistent use of human installation and service technicians, but probably not remotely close to the sort of scale that past futurists once imagined those vast orbital colonies serving as worker housing for…)
But if settling space can be justified in the context of a lifestyle choice, above any economic rationalization, then the cost-advantages of artificial life become moot. Beyond up-front affordability, cost-efficiency doesn’t matter to people seeking a personal experience and creative expression. In other words, if you’re really going to space to ‘live’ (seeking, so-to-speak, an ROI where you’re going, not sent to a bank in New York or London), cost-efficiency is beside the point because profit is beside the point and the robotics assumes a role as leverage to up-front affordability. Already we see such a perspective among independent space developers who, for as long as they can avoid having to justify their activity to self-interested investors, pursue manned spaceflight systems simply because they themselves want to go there. That may be the only honest reason for manned spaceflight. Ultimately, you may still be ‘behind the curve’ of an advancing front of robots and later AI settlers, but in this context you’re not in competition with them. They are the vanguard for your access to space. A way of leveraging the economy of your own access.
A key point to TMP is that space development is not merely a practical exercise. Space settlement is a cultural pursuit—a creative act of personal and community expression. A kind of art with huge science and technology dividends. At present, though, we live in a dominant western culture where primitive economic logic rules almost everything and has long hampered space activity by virtue of a compulsion to economic rationalization that remains difficult for early experimental space activity—and that means organic human life has already fallen well behind in this horse race, if it is one.
Unless, however, we look at the larger picture of ‘human life’ and what that may mean in the future. From our contemporary perspective, steeped in primitive media portrayals of malevolent alien minds in black boxes, relentless robot murder-machines, and comical cybernetic puppets with Pinocchio complexes, we tend to regard artificial life as alien, separate from us, evolutionarily competitive by default. (and thus commonly portrayed as inferior in some way to make it more comfortable. The robot murder-machine is, in fact, a much less scary prospect than the machine that’s just like us, only with our flaws engineered-out) But as we’ve discussed elsewhere, human culture may be evolving toward a very different perspective in the future as cultural impacts of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence stretch the boundaries of our perception of humanity itself. A certain meme has been emerging in our culture; the idea that what defines us as human beings is predominately the content and nature of our minds largely independent of our bodies—bodies that will become increasingly customizable and adaptable epigenetically and decreasingly confined aesthetically and functionally by biology and genetic heritage.
For millennia human culture has harbored the notion of a spirit or soul, independent of the body, that persists after death. Some have suggested that the basic perception of our conscious mind as ‘pilot’ of a body and mediator of its more autonomic impulses is itself an important evolutionary adaptation. With the exception of the religious, we have largely obsolesced this spiritual idea in our more scientific culture, but not completely dismissed it. In our post-IT revolution culture, we have cultivated an alternative cultural idea of the essence of a person as a body of information resident in an organic computer, and as we all know from everyday experience, information is generally variously encode-able and portable. Science today actively pursues the decoding of this information of the mind and the processing architectures of the brain it ‘runs’ on. And thus Singularity futurism now presents us with the suggestion that life is ‘software’ and the possibility of a transhuman existence, where the human body is an ‘avatar’ as replaceable as clothing and the living mind freely portable and as perpetual as its ability to be copied and communicated to other mediums. Along with this comes the notion of a potential social equivalence of artificial intelligence. If the human mind and its sensory experience is quantifiable information, there is no particular logical reason why one should expect the artilect—the synthetic mind—to be in any way less than the organic human being intellectually, emotionally, morally, socially, or culturally except as a consequence of design and engineering. There is potentially no line dividing human and synthetic intellect and consciousness beyond the limit, at any time, to some state-of-the-art in technology and our scientific understanding of the natural mind. Though even many scientists still persist in doing so—using incompletely understood aspects of science like quantum physics as a crutch—to suggest that there is any kind of special unquantifiable nature to the biophysically hosted information of the human mind that cannot ultimately be reproduced synthetically is to revert to magical notions of spirit. This is, slowly, becoming our general cultural POV.
What would you give to live in space, to travel the stars? What concessions or trade-offs would you make? Though it is still difficult for most of us to grasp in our contemporary context, we see in the Transhumanist Proposition a suggestion not of evolutionary competition between organic and inorganic ‘races’ or civilizations but an evolutionary transition and, for the individual, a lifestyle choice. A suggestion that a transhuman lifestyle is not only better suited to the situation of space settlement but that it is something one might adopt as an ultimately not-so-inconvenient concession to a spacefaring lifestyle. If there emerges some apparent competition, it may be more about the lag between our realization of human-equivalent AI and our means for organic-sourced consciousness to transition to it, though many Singularity futurists seem to see them as likely coincident.
Today, astronauts commonly put up with terrible inconveniences and personal risks for the sake of going to space and so it does not seem so untenable a proposition that, in order to live continuously in orbital space, one might adopt ‘augmentation’ with something like a body-resident colony of nanomachines that compensate for the negative effects of the space environment. This seems to present no challenge to our idea of humanity, since the technology is microscopic, virtually invisible, and imposes no necessary aesthetic changes to the human anatomy. And yet, by adopting such a technology the space settler would, by default, be adopting radical changes to their lifestyle, their life-cycle, and their culture. They would be nearly as transhuman as any artilect residing in a VR habitat. With such technology at hand, why would one stop at only countering the effects of space wasting? It would seem likely that one would employ these same systems to deal with all sorts of ailments, build-in personal digital communications interfaces to facilitate use of networks, computers, and telerobotics, to counter the effects of aging, to expand cognition, back-up our memories, to cosmetically and functionally alter the body as desired. In that context, just how large a step would it seem to be to transition to the artilect’s lifestyle? To inorganic life? Today it may seem a very large, frightening, step but likely far less so tomorrow because, as we’ve previously discussed, there may be no compromises at all in this in terms of ability and quality of life. There may be no perceived trade-offs. No ‘little mermaid’s dilemma’.
This is not an entirely new idea. Science fiction has long explored the notion of people employing radical technological augmentation for the sake of easing the rigors of space travel. As early as 1931 author Neil R. Jones presented the idea in his Professor Jameson series, where earth scientist Jameson perfectly cryo-preserves his body upon death by having it put into orbit where, long after the human civilization has collapsed and disappeared, it is found by traveling aliens who revive him as one of their own—equipping him with the same boxy tentacled cybernetic body they employ to survive the rigors of space—and invite him to join their travels. The Professor Jameson series was popular for at least 20 years, inspiring many writers. Even such recent SciFi as Masemune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell make reference to it—a boxy ‘economy’ robot body seen in the series referred to as a ‘Jameson Model’. But in these old SciFi characterizations the alienness of the transhuman condition is accentuated for the sake of novelty and drama. It is deliberately made a little mermaid’s dilemma—a drastic one-way choice between worlds—where, were the full ramifications of such technology actually in play, no such dilemma, no trade-off, might exist. As we’ve discussed with the Transhumanist Spectrum, the divergence of humanity is likely to be driven as much by our compulsions to seek novelty and our obsessions with fashion as much as any practical aspects of the technology. Even with the very crude and hazardous techniques available, contemporary people push all kinds of body modifications to extremes. By the time our civilization is ready to begin interstellar exploration in earnest, many may have already adopted lifestyles suited to it for other reasons.
Let’s now consider the spacefaring life in this transhuman context and how it might change our strategies for space settlement.
The Transhuman StarfarerEdit
In what ways would artificial/transhuman life have an advantage in the space environment and how would this be reflected in alternative development strategies? The two chief practical advantages are in convenience, speed, and economy of travel and economy of settlement.
Let us imagine a transhuman ‘astronaut’, denizen of the Solarian era as imagined in TMP2. They may be originally synthetic in origin—a true artilect—or originally organic and exercising the full potential of the available technology of the day to expand their personal lifestyle options to include a life in space. This person—perhaps most people of the time—would be considered to exist as a freely portable/mobile mind alternately resident in a specific personal ‘body’ or the ‘cloud’ of a global Internet hosting the Earth’s collective Virtual Habitat. Optionally, they may use physical and virtual ‘avatars’ in any number and variety to bridge between the virtual and physical environments on-demand and sometimes to facilitate telepresence, allowing them physical experience and activity in distant places linked by telecommunications. Wherever one chooses to live on the Transhumanist Spectrum, from wholly organic and biological to wholly synthetic, the technology of the time may make transition in either direction across this spectrum relatively convenient and largely a matter of personal preference and lifestyle choice. Generally, the artilect and the originally organic would be indistinguishable unless deliberately so. Even today it is rather difficult for the average human being to categorize himself as a ‘purely natural’ person after generations of medical technology intervention. The most ‘traditionalist’ members of future society may be quite comfortable with any number of radical corrective medical interventions and even such things as the digital back-up of memory and personality.
With the portability of mind comes an incredibly cheap, fast, and convenient means of personal space travel; telecommunications, at the speed of light. No need for long journeys by spacecraft. One simply transmits the information of one’s mind to a destination in space with the added safety of a secured backup at the origin. This, of course, assumes the pre-establishment of a communications infrastructure at the destination along with the systems necessary to host that transmitted person in some way, either in a virtual habitat or with the on-demand production of a new body to reside in. But that part can be handled by a vanguard of unmanned spacecraft and automated systems. By the time of the Solarian era such a necessary infrastructure may be well established across much of the solar system.
On arrival, the transhuman person has a number of options depending upon the level of development at his destination. He may take up residence as an entirely software artilect in a virtual habitat, may employ an inorganic body, or—if the location can support the necessary habitat—have a traditional organic ‘cloned’ body produced on demand from local raw materials and information transmitted about his original body. A cell-by-cell recording of an original organic body would not be necessary. Only the basic genetic make-up, apparent age (which may rarely reflect actual age—people of this future era will likely choose what age to ‘wear themselves as’), and personalized anatomical characteristics. This same approach would be used for communicating all types of terrestrial life forms for cultivation in biomes elsewhere.
As we make forays into unsettled space, the transhumanist space traveller may choose to wait for largely automated pre-settlement to establish the infrastructure for their travel by wireless or choose to be part of an exploration and settlement vanguard by traveling aboard initial spacecraft as passengers. But unlike passengers of spacecraft today, they could travel as stored data encoded in exceptionally rugged compact media—a far more efficient, convenient, and safer alternative to older notions of ‘suspended animation’.
In either case, space travel for the transhuman spacefarer would typically be perceptually instantaneous—like stepping from one room into another or taking a quick nap on a train and waking to find it arrived somewhere else. They would only be aware of the time passed by the information available on their arrival—the time displayed on a clock and the news seen on data displays. Only where their intervention might be needed to address some in-transit situation would they even need to be aware of the trip itself. Or, in some cases, people may choose to embody a spacecraft as their own avatar or use a stylized ‘metaphoric’ avatar (such as stylistically representing the act of space travel like a person flying or swimming through space) for the sake of the experience of transit, dynamically modulating their perception of time relative to the pace of activity around them.
Though it’s wild speculation today, some scientists hold out hope in the possibility of superluminal telecommunications, perhaps relating to the physics of quantum entanglement whose experimental applications today hint at this possibility though remain limited by ‘classical’ reference signals limited to the speed of light. Should this problem be somehow overcome in the future—and we can safely suggest that, if it’s possible, the countless and advanced minds of the Solarian era are likely to find a solution—then our transhuman spacefarer would enjoy an even more astounding degree of travel convenience. For with this sort of technology the most distant destinations in universe could be directly linked, without latency, to the virtual habitat of the terrestrial Internet, and thus traveling the universe would really be as perceptually simple as stepping through doorways. There would be no perceptual gaps in space or time—except for those vanguard vessels that pre-establish the communications infrastructure. The Internet would become akin to a hyperspace linking the known universe in which the transhuman person could wander as casually as one walks through a park. Even the resident location of the information of people’s minds would become moot. Transhumanity might see its life-data distributed across a universe-scale data-cloud.
Though the transhuman settler would have many lifestyle options upon arrival, even with the eventual benefit of nanotechnology, the creation of habitats suited to biological life and supporting thriving biomes would be an elaborate time-consuming process. Transhuman settlers may pursue this in any case, though for aesthetic/artist reasons more than practical ones and with more concern for plant and animal life than their own. But, initially the most practical ‘frontier’ habitat in space for tranhumans would most-likely be the VRco.
The concept of the VRco (the term a portmanteau of the acronym for Virtual Reality and the word ‘arcology’) has been discussed elsewhere in TMP2. To summarize, a VRco is a largely automated self-maintaining data facility that hosts a large virtual environment as a residence for a community of artilects and the visitation of others by telepresence. TMP2 suggests such facilities may evolve from today’s data centers as early artilects seek community and a means to self-determination through the security and management of their own data systems resources. Their external design would be largely irrelevant to their function and depending on how the cultural relationship between organic and synthetic human societies plays out, these facilities may evolve into some combination of highly secured ‘invisible’ facilities built in spaces inconvenient to organic humans and very showy sculptural architecture set in the built habitat as creative expressions of this new society’s social and cultural integration.
By the Solarian era VRcos would be integrated into solar orbital facilities called Sun Disks, Solar Snowflakes, and Solar Ribbons as well as NanoFoam-based subterranean RhiZome structures that form the infrastructures of settlements on natural bodies across the solar system. Taking their name from the root structure ‘rhizomes’ of plants, RhiZome complexes would be the chief way future nanotechnology-based infrastructures would exploit natural bodies and their resources in the solar system. Small ‘seed’ systems deposited on asteroids, moons, or planets would extend root-like complexes into the strata around them to collect and process their materials, tunneling into the ground to create networks of materials collection and transport, in the form of NanoSoup fluid suspensions, and various functional nodes for processing and information systems. Such complexes would grow various surface structures for solar power, communications, and the like and could either grow new spacecraft to transport select materials or assimilate smaller natural bodies to convert them whole into spacecraft for transport. Large subterranean data processing nodes could be grown-in-place within these complexes and used as VRcos, thus creating a ready and comfortable habitat for arriving transhuman settlers.
Given the fineness of simulation with the benefit of tomorrow’s computing power and the circumvention of the contrivance of electronic and electromechanical sensory interfacing (as organic humans may long still need to access virtual spaces), the virtual habitats of VRcos may be only subtly distinguishable from any natural environment we might imagine—the chief difference being the poly-dimensional nature of spaces and the casually physics-defying ‘magical’ nature of some systems, architecture, and people’s activities. These simulated environments may be linked to the outside physical environment by cross-mapping of remote viewing data—a ‘translocation’ akin to augmented reality in reverse—essentially the same idea as the ‘virtual windows’ likely to be common on near-future space habitats and spacecraft extended to virtual spaces. VRco settlers would operate in the surface/physical environment by telepresence using robot avatars of such parallel kinematic fineness that they too may be integrated into a translocated space, thus affording artilects and telepresence users an experience perceptually no different from actually being there even in groups. Thus this may be referred to alternately as ‘active’ and ‘passive’ translocation according to the use of physical avatars and their degree of interaction with the physical environment.
It can be difficult for us to imagine such a lifestyle given contemporary portrayals of virtual environments in media. They tend to be presented as dark digital Xibalbas, heavy stylized deliberately unreal fantasy lands, or fraudulent facades intended to confuse and deceive, hiding people’s senses from grim disturbing realities. Yet we now commonly all live in largely man-made habitats whose difference from VR is a matter of fineness of sensory experience. Almost every home can be seen to have faux materials—veneers and coverings—on furniture and appliances. And if you want to talk of architectural deceit, consider the casually winding mess of roads in suburban developments designed to use houses themselves to conceal the view of other houses and create the false impression of an environment that isn’t as disturbingly dense and barren as it really is when seen from the air. Future transhuman people will likely see little dissonance between the physical and virtual habitat and will consider the virtual environment as simply another kind of architecture to craft as they please for their comfort and aesthetic appreciation.
Presenting the lowest possible overhead in ‘life support’ and the easiest and quickest means of deployment, VRcos would be the most practical of vanguard settlements, their host RhiZome complexes providing the means to develop any other kind of habitat and facilities the civilization would be capable of. Safely secured underground or in orbital space, they need only a source of power and the access to elemental materials for their maintenance and expansion and could house large communities in rather small volumes of physical space. Virtually any natural body in the universe, no matter how challenging the environment, could readily host settlements of this sort with vast populations. A spacecraft itself may readily host a ‘beachhead’ VRco upon arrival as it also serves as the initial base camp for infrastructure development. Eventually, though, initial transhuman settlers may choose to expand their lifestyle options and create environments suited to a diversity of organic life—including human beings. The driving force of transhumanist culture is likely to be novelty and there are two chief sources of that; mind and nature. So even if it is not a strictly practical exercise, even artilects would have a reason to pursue the creation of physical garden habitats, engage in long term terraforming projects, and adaptive evolutionary experimentation spreading life to other places. Importing life forms from Earth would be unnecessary for this as it could all be transported or communicated as information and synthesized (and customized) on-site as initial seedlings and embryonic organisms.
Transhuman Interstellar MissionsEdit
We have traditionally thought of interstellar missions as requiring vast vessels hosting huge amounts of initial settlement resources. In the original TMP, Marshal Savage suggested that, for a typical interstellar settlement mission ‘fast clippers’ for settlers would be preceded by much larger and slower cargo vessels carrying the vast toolkit and store of supplies for settlement, the notion being that, launched separately, they could arrive together. But with the advent of a robust nanotechnology and intelligent materials like the NanoFoam suggested elsewhere in TMP2, vast stores of tools and supplies become unnecessary and the working structures of spacecraft themselves become the host to the full industrial potential of the civilization and most any amount of stored information needed to use it. Unburdened of massive supplies and any in-transit life support overhead, a transhuman interstellar settlement program could get by with exceptionally small payload fractions and thus much simpler, smaller, faster interstellar spacecraft. Even Savage’s fast clippers may seem rather large and slow in comparison.
Based on the needle-like designs of anti-matter reaction vessels described in the Galactia section of TMP2, these vessels would be completely self-transformable on arrival, opening like flower and seed pods to reconfigure initially into solar powered orbital telecommunications stations hosting intial VRcos and sending off tiny fractions of their NanoFoam structural material as probes to perform exploration and ‘seed pods’ to install RhiZome complexes to assimilate the most accessible raw materials—most likely asteroids and small moons that would be the easiest to transport materials from. With this supply of materials secured and, perhaps, the first artilect settlers on-site, additional orbital stations would be constructed and deployed for telecommunications expansion and continuous observation/analysis of planets. These planetary stations would, in turn, manufacture and deploy their own more ruggedized—to possibly suit particular atmosphere conditions—seed pods for establishment of RhiZomes on the larger planetary bodies. From there a very comprehensive infrastructure—in comparison, more developed than our own civilization’s today—would be established in the new solar system, ready for a steady stream of ‘wireless’ settlers to begin cultivating new homes as they wish.
Though readily terraformable worlds may be rare and terrestrial-equivalent worlds far rarer still, it may be quite the odd star system that lacks the local materials for nanotechnology to readily and quickly repurpose to some useful infrastructure to support artificial life. Almost the entire galaxy would be open to ready habitation for transhuman societies, with far more options of development than possible for organic humans limited to a narrow ‘Goldilocks’ spectrum of conditions. The various orbital settlement types suggested in our section on the Solaria phase—Sun Disks, Solar Snowflakes, and Solar Ribbons, orbital Biospheres and Gaiomes—would all be usable where stellar conditions are not too harsh while entire planets, if not suitable for some kind of either terraforming or adaptive evolutionary biomes, could be converted into single massive VRcos home to trillions. In some cases, where there might be the matter for a conventional planetary system found as yet un-coalesced, perhaps the creation of Matryoshka Brains formed of nested Solar Ribbons as solar-system-scale VRcos might be the norm.
With such immediate and comprehensive industrial capability available in such a modest package on arrival, automated starships may optionally be designed to function as so-called ‘Von Neumann Probes’. Named for the John Von Neumann who famously proposed self-replicating machines, these spacecraft would not only deposit the systems for automated pre-settlement in a destination star system but self-repair and self-replicate in order to continue and expand their mission to progressively more stars. In this way the transhuman settlement program could expand exponentially. This perpetual cycle of exploration and pre-settlement could itself be a popular lifestyle choice for the adventurous artilect.
Indeed, so minimalistic might the transhuman approach to interstellar travel be that even starships of any scale might become unnecessary. One might design ‘NanoSeeds’ light enough to be conveyed in vast swarms by light pressure on a solar-driven laser beam that doubles as a communications system. These microscopic spacecraft would be specifically designed to colonize bodies such as asteroids, using a target solar system’s own sun as a ‘braking’ force then depositing themselves on these smaller natural bodies to reproduce and thus build the receiving stations to decode the additional information in their broadcast beam instructing them to build the rest of a pre-settlement and exploration infrastructure—including the lasers and seed generators to colonize additional stars. In this way future civilization might literally ‘spray’ itself across the galaxy like the airborne spores and seeds of plants at an exponentially expansive pace.
It is easy to see how a transhumanist civilization could so very quickly spread across space, compared to a strictly organic/biological human community with even the same basic level of technology at-hand. The much greater speed, economy, and ease of travel, the incredible efficiency of ISRU, the freely adaptive means of vanguard settlement, all make for a powerful advantage in this greater ‘space race’—if it ultimately is a race. But, of course, this is speculation. The original TMP never touched on such possibilities. Though Marshal Savage anticipated a biotechnology-based transhumanism and a kind of large system artificial intelligence, TMP did not consider the potential impact of nanotechnology—the idea too new to futurists of the time. The notion of a predominately transhumanist culture—a culture comfortable with a free portability of the human mind—with its own approach to space settlement may not have occurred to him. At the time first generation AI research was running into dead-ends that made it seem a less likely prospect, especially in any form that might relate to human beings. This has been the general nature of such development—rife with phases of futurist overestimation of the near-term and underestimation of the long-term. Today the increasingly apparent possibilities of nanotechnology have inspired a host of new ideas about our future civilization. In TMP2’s vision we hedge our bets on a number of possible outcomes, seeing a strong possibility of a transhuman culture, embracing the idea of an increasingly divergent future society, a burgeoning new family of man, but taking a pragmatic view toward it’s possible evolution. The Transhumanist Proposition is one of many potential outcomes. We can easily extrapolate possible extensions of current and anticipated technology but not account for the quantum leaps or the cultural barriers and regressions that are much more difficult thing to predict. Even now we are in the midst of a western cultural conflict and rising tide of religiosity and anti-science few imagined possible in the 20th century.
But it should be apparent here that the prospect of the Transhumanist Proposition need not be such a frightening one. It need not be an evolutionary competition between mankind and some inadvertently created alien evolutionary competitor. Dark dystopian visions, paranoia, and xenophobia come all-too-easily to people today—they’re such a cheap and easy sell and we have so long been steeped in a Cold War mentality. Our common visions of the nature of artificial life are still primitive, still commonly anachronistic given how far behind the curve media culture is. Even Star Trek is now retro-futurist. But stretch our perceptions a little bit more and perhaps we can imagine a race with no losers. The people of the future may not see this as some evolutionary competition because they may simply not see a difference, an alien ‘other’, in the spacefaring society no matter how far out on the transhumanist spectrum they ultimately become. We are slowly evolving a cultural perspective where we may take as much pride—invest as much hope and love—in the possible future children of our minds as we do the children of our loins. They are equally worthy to inherit the stars.