[ExI] Thoughts on Space based solar power (Clinic Seed & a diverse future)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 22 13:50:37 UTC 2008

hkhenson wrote:
 >> IMHO, we might see space-based power on Earth in the long term future --
 > There *is* no long term future.  I don't expect physical state humans to
 > exist long after the singularity and that's extremely likely to happen
 > before the end of the century.  The reasoning is so twisted that I had
 > to resort to fiction to get the ideas across.  Many on this list have
 > read "the clinic seed."  The reason to go after power sats built
 > entirely from the ground is to prevent famines and resource wars before
 > the singularity.
 > There is also the possibility that AIs cobbled together in the heat of a
 > war might be a lot more dangerous than ones put together in a peaceful
 > time.  But I can't guarantee that either.

Well, that remains (informed) speculation. We simply do not know what forms 
people will take (if any) after a continued development of technology beyond 
our imagining.

As I said of Kurzweil seeing his libertarian capitalist self in the mirror 
of the singularity, that's what the singularity is to an extent to us now -- 
a mirror of who we are and what we believe in. A mirror of what virtues or 
vices we take with us as we approach it.
My emails to Kurzweil, put up by Bryan:

Is this the version of the story?
   "The Clinic Seed - Africa" by Keith Henson

It's a beautiful story. Much friendlier than this graphically violent one 
about virtual ennui:

Still, every significant sci-fi story written is interwoven with assumption 
about commerce, information exchange, trust, limitations, education, travel, 
security, ecology, history, and so on. It might be right, or it might not.
For example, it assumes a strong nanotech of nanomachines, but we may simply 
never have that for physical reasons like heat dissipation limits (we may, 
but we may not). We might have only nanomaterials, but that is not the same 
thing. Like most sci-fi, it takes a single idea and focuses on it, the seed, 
but ignores that the entire world is changing up to that point (or does away 
with it somehow -- a plague). For example, how can no one in the village 
even have a cell phone with a web browser in 2041 to know what is going on 
in the rest of the world? It's "out of range"? Even low cost satellite 
phones likely ten years from now? Or super-duper OLPC XO-10s? And how, with 
all the abundance in the world right now, would we wait another 30 years to 
do more for people with parasites? One can invent answers that fit with the 
story, but they are just than, invented. We don't know. Also, you invent 
self-replicating nanotech, and then assume it can't just produce power 
anywhere and there are rectennas needed? That seems inconsistent. It's a 
wonderful story, even an inspirational one, but it shows us just one 

Also, there is an indirect reference to a benevolent "Foundation Gates".
   "Thoughts on the Gates Foundation's Investment Practices"
I've spent decades of my life dealing with the (often painful to others) 
consequences of Bill Gate's past attitude towards software and life,
and I find it hard to believe that fundamental perspective has changed much. 
:-) Still, it is possible. I've changed over the years in unexpected ways, 
so I have to accept that he might too. Especially given another three 
decades. And grandchildren. :-)

Anyway, an assumption of famine and resource wars is just that -- a possible 
assumption. We can work to avoid them by efforts on Earth towards 
sustainability that at the same time advance us towards space habitations.
Also, ask yourself, who do you want making all this stuff? Big corps (and 
their allied big foundations) or the grass roots?

We already have big AIs roaming the landscape in terms of bureaucracies:
and have had them for thousands of years back to Pharaoh's bureaucracy and 
probably earlier. Humans have eaked out a coexistence with them in various 
ways, but it hasn't always been easy. Microsoft is another such AI system 
(even though the parts are people locked into job descriptions -- see 
Langdon Winner's "Autonomous Technology: Technics out of control as a theme 
in political thought". Do you want those kinds of amoral profit-driven 
cost-cutting AIs making your clinic seeds? I kept waiting for the seed to 
turn nasty, or be taken over, especially as it got new service packs.  :-(
Or for the clinic seed to eat their souls or something.  :-( There is a lot 
to be said for "physical" and "spatial" security. Or, to quote Grand Moff 
"Governor Tarkin: You're far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote to make 
an effective demonstration - but don't worry; we will deal with your rebel 
friends soon enough."

We have a system that works now. Why should anyone throw it away to live in 
Bill Gate's next operating system? We've already seen what Vista means to 
him. :-)
   "Mac V PC ad- advertising with Windows Vista"

But there are Linux spoofs too:
   "Novell Linux, Mac, PC"
   "Second Novell Linux Spoof Ad"

Anyway, the deeper issue here is diversity. And I'd suggest that same theme 
both applies to your story and to solar space satellites. If I can run my 
consciousness in a relatively secure physical location (my head), or I can 
generate my own power on my roof, why should I give up that security to 
merge 100% into a network I know nothing about and have little control over?
And if I can locate my body in a space habitation generating its own power, 
then that's perhaps another layer of security (depends on the space 
habitat's reliability).

You paint a nice picture of life in the seed, *but* who here has not heard 
of the Gatesian "blue screen of death"? :-)

OK, so now we are talking backups -- so, fragmentation? Which copy owns the 
rights to my identity and friends? And so on into other issues (long 
discussed here). All so we can leave our humanity and physical risk behind? 
To accept what unknown risks? Even in fiction, Kirk leaves the Nexus because 
it is *boring*. :-)
"Kirk had realized that the Nexus could never give him what he really wanted 
in his life: the chance to make a difference"
Anyway, I'm not saying people won't live in simulations someday. But I am 
suggesting, unless we are in one now, that day is a longer way off for 
reasons like security and trust.

Given that there are so many unknowns about the future, why give up on a lot 
of good ideas (especially as fostered by you :-) like space habitations 
built as "clanking replicators"? We know those are possible right now. Even 
with just 1970s technology.

Strong independent nanotech (including utility fog) is essentially unproven, 
   "Is there a Nanotech Rapture to be Ruptured?"
"We shouldn’t abandon all of the more radical goals of nanotechnology, 
because they may instead be achieved ultimately by routes quite different 
from (and longer than) those foreseen by the proponents of molecular 
nanotechnology. Perhaps we should thank Drexler for alerting us to the 
general possibilities of nanotechnology, while recognizing that the 
trajectories of new technologies rarely run smoothly along the paths 
foreseen by their pioneers."

Maybe "clanking" space habitats will be superseded by strong nanotech 
someday, but even if they are, the social organizations that build the 
clanking ones may positively effect the future of the next generation of 
   "Study Reports On Debian Governance, Social Organization"

 From the book "Blessed Unrest":
   "There is a rabbinical teaching that holds that if the world is ending 
and the Messiah arrives, you first plant a tree and then see if it is true."

More on that book: "Blessed Unrest tells the story of a worldwide movement 
that is largely unseen by politicians or the media. Hawken, an 
environmentalist and author, has spent more than a decade researching 
organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social 
justice. From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person causes, these 
organizations collectively comprise the largest movement on earth. This is a 
movement that has no name, leader, or location, but is in every city, town, 
and culture. It is organizing from the bottom up and is emerging as an 
extraordinary and creative expression of people's needs worldwide. Blessed 
Unrest explores the diversity of this movement, its brilliant ideas, 
innovative strategies, and centuries-old history. The culmination of 
Hawken's many years of leadership in these fields, it will inspire, 
surprise, and delight anyone who is worried about the direction the modern 
world is headed. Blessed Unrest is a description of humanity's collective 
genius and the unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the 
environment and one another. Like Hawken's previous books, Blessed Unrest 
will become a classic in its field- a touchstone for anyone concerned about 
our future."

I'm not saying things will for sure turn out well, but at least there is the 
possibility they will. As Zinn says:
"In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in 
comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay 
involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will 
get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards 
have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play 
is to foreclose any chance of winning."

And I think the probability of a more life-affirming singularity (the kind 
that builds the wondrous and helping Clinic Seed you so beautifully wrote 
about) will increases with at least a balance between big organizations and 
the grass roots. See:
"Indeed, one must resist the temptation to make hierarchies into villains 
and meshworks into heroes, not only because, as I said, they are constantly 
turning into one another, but because in real life we find only mixtures and 
hybrids, and the properties of these cannot be established through theory 
alone but demand concrete experimentation."

But Solar Space Satellites as an economic activity pushes society back 
towards a more centralized hierarchical direction, including creating the 
risk they can all be shut off at once from a central location.

If you want a distributed wonderful network of health facilities that lead 
to clinic seeds, you can just start working on that right now. :-) You 
already painted the big picture; you could start simulating and releasing 
source on sourceforge or the Bazaar under "clinic seed" and maybe people 
like Bryan might help? (I can't speak for him, but obviously he shares that 
interest). Or you could help along one of the other free and open source 
medical projects. Anyway, that might help realize that part of your vision a 
little sooner than SPS systems.

--Paul Fernhout

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