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

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat Nov 22 17:45:36 UTC 2008

At 06:50 AM 11/22/2008, you wrote:
>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.
>   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue
>   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice
>My emails to Kurzweil, put up by Bryan:
>   http://heybryan.org/fernhout/
>Is this the version of the story?
>   "The Clinic Seed - Africa" by Keith Henson
>   http://terasemjournals.net/GN0202/henson.html
>It's a beautiful story. Much friendlier than this graphically 
>violent one about virtual ennui:
>   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Metamorphosis_of_Prime_Intellect
>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.

Of course.

>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).

This is *extremely* well understood.  Nanotech is just braking and 
making chemical bonds.  The heat from each is well understood, as is 
the total.  Eric Drexler and Ralph Merkle were discussing this at 
least two decades ago in the context of repairing cryonics 
patients.  It's why the clinic seed had to cool patients and why it 
took so long to repair major damage.

>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 

It's a stand alone story, but it fits into a larger work that spans a 
century.  (The chapter is there to explain how the population moth 
balled their world and vanished.)  The technology is in a flux, this 
story is set right at the cusp of the singularity.  There is another 
flashback section 20 years earlier that describes building a moving 
cable space elevator and using that to transport millions of tons of 
materials for power sats.  Of course the story cheats, all stories 
involving the singularity have to.  Otherwise you have no characters 
to identify with.  The main thread of the story involves a remnant 
population in an almost empty (but well maintained) world.

Would Togo in west Africa have cell towers in 2040?  I don't 
know.  The story assumes a serious population reductions before this 
point due to epidemics and strongly restricted travel (reason not stated).

>It's a wonderful story, even an inspirational one, but it shows us 
>just one possibility.
>Also, there is an indirect reference to a benevolent "Foundation Gates".
>   "Thoughts on the Gates Foundation's Investment Practices"
>   http://www.idealog.us/2007/01/thoughts_on_the.html
>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,
>   http://philip.greenspun.com/bg/
>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. :-)

If someone had a creative commons clinic seed design, including the 
base AI that runs it, then chances are that some foundation would 
fund making and distributing them.

>Anyway, an assumption of famine and resource wars is just that -- a 
>possible assumption.

Given *current* technology, i.e., no nanotech, then the consequences 
of running low on energy are gigadeath.  We burn huge amounts of 
energy to grow and distribute food.  The existing population is not 
sustainable without a huge replacement energy source.

>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?

Do we have any choice?

>We already have big AIs roaming the landscape in terms of bureaucracies:
>   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood_debate
>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.  :-(

In case you didn't notice, it did.  It even felt slightly guilty.

"Can you teach me this language and how to read?"  Zaba asked.

There was a short pause, which was really a very long pause for 
Suskulan as he projected what would happen and thought about the 
unstated (though obvious) reason he had been given the upgrade.

""Yes" Suskulan said at last inflecting his voice to a sigh.  "But it 
will change you and the rest of the people of the tata in ways you 
cannot foresee and may not like. You can sleep through the nine or 
ten days it will take to finish healing you.  Are you sure you want 
to do this?

"Yes," said Zaba firmly, "I want to learn."

And thus was the fate of this particular tata determined,


This AI and the other million instances of it wiped the _whole 
continent_ clear of humans.  The leopard got to sleep in the 
village.  The humans got what they wanted or were seduced into 
wanting.  Editors who looked at the story said it could not be sold 
told me it didn't have enough violence.  It has a graphic description 
of a high velocity bullet going through the spine of a 12 year old 
girl--what more can they ask for?

>   http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=microsoft+service+pack+snafu
>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 Tarkin:
>   http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0000030/quotes
>"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"
>   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pqugg-br0Cw
>But there are Linux spoofs too:
>   "Novell Linux, Mac, PC"
>   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa1RCg-Ccp0
>   "Second Novell Linux Spoof Ad"
>   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVOnFdMf0RU
>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"? :-)

Sheesh.  At _best_ that story paints an ambivalent picture.  It can 
certainly be read as an "end of humanity" tragedy.

>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*. :-)
>   http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Nexus
>"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, see:
>   "Is there a Nanotech Rapture to be Ruptured?"
>   http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/2481/
>"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 habitats.
>   "Study Reports On Debian Governance, Social Organization"
>   http://linux.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/04/14/1349202
> From the book "Blessed Unrest":
>   http://books.google.com/books?id=S75R90V1IlUC
>   "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:
>   http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1108-21.htm
>"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:
>   http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/meshwork.htm
>"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 
>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.

World power consumption is around 15 TW.  Say we put in 25 TW of 5 GW 
power sats over the next 25 years.  That's 25,000GW/5GW or 5000 power 
sats.  I can't think of any reason for one company to own them all 
and many reasons for them to be owned by many companies and 
countries.  As I said, a really big solar flare would take out PV 
cells, but there is no reason to build them with PV cells anyway.

>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.

I think I need to work on making my writing a bit more obvious.

>Anyway, that might help realize that part of your vision a little 
>sooner than SPS systems.

If we don't solve the energy problem, my vision of the future is more 
like a nightmare.  http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf


>--Paul Fernhout
>extropy-chat mailing list
>extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org

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