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[Existential Risk/Opportunity] Singularity Management
Welcome to our new publication. We hope to publish quarterly.
- An opportunity to industrialize space
- What this publication is about
Welcome to our new publication. We hope to publish quarterly.
Copyright 2015 Global Risk SIG. Rights, except nonexclusive multiple use, retained by authors. This publication is produced by the Global Risk Reduction Special Interest Group, a SIG within American Mensa. Content expressed here does not reflect the opinions of Mensa, which has no opinions. To join Mensa or just see what it is about, visit www.us.mensa.org. A copy of this publication is available at http://www.global-risk-sig.org/erosm1ef.htm .
An Opportunity to Industrialize Space
Settlement of space would reduce the impact of most (but not all) existential risks because it would provide a backup for Earth. For this to work, space settlement needs to be able to sustain itself without supplies from Earth. At the present slow rate of progress towards settlement, this seems like a prospect for the far future. That may be too late. Dr. Willard Wells (who gave a talk at the 2012 Mensa Annual Gathering at the invitation of our SIG) estimates a 50% probability that civilization won't last 100 years. [Willard Wells, Apocalypse When?: Calculating How Long the Human Race Will Survive, Springer, 2010.] However, a recent paper suggests a method for industrializing the solar system that could reach self-sufficiency within a short time. [Philip Metzger et al, "Affordable, Rapid Bootstrapping of Space Industry and Solar System Civilization," Journal of Aerospace Engineering, April 2012.]
Dr. Metzger's method starts by sending a few tons of material to the moon. We have already demonstrated the capacity to do this. That material would includes power supplies and mining equipment and also miniaturized, automated or remote-controlled machines that can make things via chemical processing, machining, 3D printing, and robotics. These would make subsequent generations of machines. The first new generation would be crude and require components from Earth because initial lunar manufacturing would not have the extensive facilities of Earth, but subsequent generations of machines would be more capable and require fewer components from Earth. Our cavemen ancestors made tools with rocks, sticks, and animal skins. Subsequent generations of their tools became the sophisticated machines of today. Metzger proposes to replicate this process in space. Exponential growth is typical of such processes, exponential growth that could industrialize the solar system in fairly short order. There is enough material in the asteroid belt to build O'Neill habitats with 3,000 times the land area of Earth. [Gerard O'Neill, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, William Morrow & Company, 1977.] This sounds like a job for government, but governments are not moving fast enough. Unlike other proposals for settling space, Metzger's ideas do not require new physics or unprecedented launch capacity, but they do require redesigning many industrial processes to work in the space environment with modified machines. Much of the redesign could be done by advanced amateurs like the Wright Brothers. There are thousands of advanced amateurs today. Many have developed and joined "makerspaces," places that acquire advanced machine tools that members can use. Targeted prizes for development of the necessary space technology would encourage some makerspace members, university departments, and garage-based inventors to work in this area. The attendant publicity and public interest might encourage governments and foundations to provide the necessary launch capacity and support.
Our SIG can do something special to help. I have written an article about this that is scheduled for publication in a Lifeboat Foundation anthology. We hope that we can recruit some of the readers of that book to help with the prize project. We can improve the prospects for that project even more if we implement pilot test versions soon so we will know the ropes when more recruits become available, and thus make better use of their availability. If you would like to volunteer for a committee to work on this, or donate money for prizes, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
What this publication is about
Our main objective is to give Global Risk Reduction SIG members something to think about, and hopefully something they can do.
Global risk reduction sounds like a job for some august world government or foundation, but it is our contention that individuals can contribute. Nuclear war is less likely today because of Gorbachev and Reagan, but they couldn't have ended the Cold War and reduced arsenals on their own. Gorbachev was almost overthrown by a military coup. However, they were supported by public opinion, and their ideas came from many sources. We can be one of those sources, and we can contribute to public opinion.
One thing SIG members (and others) can do is to help produce this publication. Suggest and write and submit material. Volunteer to edit or to help edit. We also hope to feature opportunities to do things that help. The first step in helping is to learn and think about existential risks and opportunities. We also hope to write about those.
The title of this publication encompasses this compactly. Compactness requires explication. Perhaps we should go for a simpler name. Are there any suggestions? But there are reasons and precedent for a complex name, so we will test market that. The current name is a puzzle and evokes obscure lore, but it makes an important point. Parse it and you will see that it makes important sense. Parsing should be easy for members of a Mensa group. Hopefully its very obscurity will be intriguing. This worked for Tom Wolfe.
Our title is: "[Existential Risk / Opportunity] Singularity Management." The brackets around "Existential Risk / Opportunity" tie the phrase together into an adjective that modifies "Singularity." Existential risks are risks to the existence of civilization and our species. The biggest of those risks are due to exponentially increasing technology. Technology is not the only risk. There are natural risks that have produced mass extinctions in Earth's history. However, they are rare events that happen at an average frequency on the order of one every 60 million years. Risks due to technology are emergent right now. However, emergent technology also offers marvelous opportunities. In math, a singularity is the point where a function goes to infinity. Futurists use the word "singularity" to describe that time, in what some hope is the near future, when exponentially increasing technology goes to something like infinity and becomes transcendently amazing. [See Wikipedia, Technological Singularity.] In that article, "technological" is an adjective that modifies "singularity." An "[existential risk / opportunity] singularity" is a subset, a technological singularity that can go to infinity in either the positive or the negative direction. The fact that singularities can go in either direction is an important existential insight, realization, and reality, existential in the Sartre sense. It can shake our existential roots to realize that our prospects can be that good, and at the same time that bad, and that our actions just might make the difference. Our job, the job of this group and the job of the human species, is to manage the emergence of singularities so that we increase the probability of outcomes that are amazingly good, and reduce the probability of outcomes that are amazingly bad.