[ExI] Fwd: The logical culmination of human technological progress in the self-replicating space habitat?

Bryan Bishop kanzure at gmail.com
Fri Oct 3 17:00:01 UTC 2008

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Paul D. Fernhout <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com>
Date: Fri, Oct 3, 2008 at 8:14 AM
Subject: The logical culmination of human technological progress in
the self-replicating space habitat?
To: OpenVirgle <openvirgle at googlegroups.com>

I've been busy scanning my old papers of stuff I had collected or stuff I
wrote (approaching 100 boxes to work through) to free up some physical space
and make the information more accessible and eventually searchable, and I am
am also trying also now to deal with some old computers.

Here is something I wrote using a Newton (on either an eMate or MP2000)
around April 15, 1997. I had to beam it from a Newton MP2000 via IRDA, scan
it, and then OCR it to get the text. How such things have become more easily
possible and quicker with computers than a decade ago. A new desktop
computer has the performance specs of an early 1990s supercomputer.

It had a couple of very simple diagrammatic sketches of space habitat
construction, but I will spare you the 1MB pdf file that resulted from the
scanning of what is a document in its original form was only some few K in
size. I put the OCR-d text below.

It is all very much in a Bernal-esque direction. And a little like Ian
Bankes who I had not read then. But I had read the Skills of Xanadu by
Theodore Sturgeon, and many other sci-fi writers like James P. Hogan, or
other writers who speculated from hard science like Freeman Dyson, Gerry
O'Neill, or Marshall Savage.

Anyway, this short essay shows the future landscape that I imagined inspired
by those other writers, one with both reassuring and terrifying aspects, and
filled with both beauty and ugliness. Hopefully it is a future that can
still have some balance in the style of Ursula K. Le Guin. If I had the gift
or developed talent of fiction writing, this future is probably where most
of my stories would be set.

--Paul Fernhout


Circa April 15, 1997

The logical culmination of human technological progress is the
self-replicating space habitat.

Diagram: Asteroid / Smelting mirror / Mining Vessel / Habitat [Following
Bernal and O'Neill]

The self replicating space habitat (SRSH) will be a living cell, with humans
as its organelles. Human memory aided by computers will be its DNA. It will
get its energy from the sun via a large mylar mirror. It will be the
ultimate symbiosis of human and machine, as a system designed to support
life almost everywhere in the universe.

The raw material used to construct these habitats will come mainly from
asteroids and comets. Some material may be launched from moons, or skimmed
from the surfaces of gas giants like Neptune.

Some of these habitats will be rotating cylinders kilometers across and
several times as long. These will provide artificial gravity. The interiors
will be like parks, with some small towns.

Others will be collections of small bubbles where humans and other life
forms live in weightless conditions their entire lives - much like creatures
in the oceans. In both cases, humans will live alongside other organisms
that can adapt to these worldlets.

Diagram: Asteroid / Bubble habitats under construction [Following Savage]

Within a few hundred years after the first such habitats appear, humanity
will number in the hundreds of billions in space. These habitats will be
able to function completely independently, like an algal cell. However, like
modern day bacteria, they will also be able exchange information as bacteria
exchange genes. In this way, these habitats will form a network of
interacting worlds - exchanging ideas, genes, and more rarely, organisms and
manufactured goods.

Habitats will almost never exchange common manufactured goods (like standard
furnishings, lights, and food) because they will be produced locally to the
habitat. Habitats will have flexible machine tools which can produce most
common parts on demand, for example, a new chair might be ordered in the
morning, and be ready by the afternoon - formed out of polymers deposited
layer by layer in a vat.

Some manufactured goods will be produced more rarely - such as those that
require long term processes or specialized skills - like imitation
Stradivari as violins. These will need to be shipped from the habitats that
manufacture them. But in the main, common goods and most common foods will
be produced locally and recycled locally.

What will life be like in such habitats? In many ways, at first, it will be
very much like life on earth. People will take their surroundings for
granted and spend much of their time working, playing, or being social.

In time though, things will evolve in new directions. Three of these
directions will be very different from what we now experience.

The first direction will be interactions with completely autonomous self
replicating machines. These will be created for various reasons. One reason
is out of maliciousness or vanity, the same reason computer viruses are
created today. The other is because such autonomous self replicating roots
will be very useful for building large projects quickly. These self
replicating machines will evolve their own reasons for existing. Some will
be human slaves, others may enslave humans. Some may be friendly, others may
be warlike. Still others may be ever at the frontier, racing beyond human
expansion. Some of these machines will be like sheep - harvested for their
parts. Others will be like wolves, preying on the sheep, and the occasional
human habitat.

The second thing that will change could happen on earth as well. It is the
integration of humans and computers. These cyborgs will be different from
people of today in two ways. They will have ready access to the memory and
calculation speed of the computer. In this way, they risk being sucked into
a virtual world inside the computer. The other way they will be different is
by being continually connected into a web of communication with other
cyborgs. In a sense, a human in front of an web browser is already the
beginning of such a cyborg. In the future, this will become more extreme,
ranging from everything from magic glasses that show you what you
want to see, to implanted cellular phones, to implanted neural links to the
computer network.

The third thing that will happen is the genetic evolution of new species of
humans. Over millions of years, humans communities isolated from each other
by the vast distances between stars will evolve into different species, for
some groups, this will happen much faster by active genetic manipulation,
just as today we create new breeds of of or corn. These new creatures might
even be the result of crossing human DNA with other creatures1 - for
example, human DNA might be crossed with a whale's DNA, to create a talking
space fairing whale species. Such whales could be given skin that acts like
a space suit that photosynthesizes, with flippers converted into solar
sails. Or someone with a perverse sense of humor might recreate Tolkien's
world of Hobbits, Elves, and Orcs for real in some habitat. Surely most
people would object to such tinkering, and condemn it for ethical and other
reasons, but it will be done nonetheless. In the first cases, it will
manifest itself in such simple things as children born without genetic
defects of just being extremely beautiful or smart. But in the end, it will
come to the space whales and more. At some point this trend will cross
the cyborg one, for genetically engineered organisms connected to computer webs.

So this then will be the world of the future within a thousand years:
Trillions of regular humans will live in space in self replicating space
habitats. Most of these people will have never set foot on Earth and
probably wouldn't want to. Many of these people take being linked to the
computer all the time for granted. There will be thousands of new species of
creatures, some maybe even incorporating human DNA and being sentient,
Finally, there will be an untold number of self replicating robots
interacting with these groups, both as friends and foes.

[Note from October 2008: One thing I noted on rereading this was that if
machines expand faster than humanity, this implies the mainly human sphere
may soon become enclosed in an ever widening purely machine shell or
enclosing sphere which expands more rapidly, and at some point, any human
expansion beyond that interface will be into a universe of machines that
went before if it is permitted by some of the machines. Also, I see the
Cyborg networking trend is the one playing out the fastest, so fast we now
take wireless internet access via cell phones almost for granted during
these short ten years. Also, historically a couple of days ago the first
SpaceX privately developed liquid fuel rocket went into space and achieved
Earth orbit.]

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