Thursday, July 27, 2017

Magnetic sail versus warp drive: two political futures

A magnetic sail is like a light sail, except that is requires a lot less material. I have seen ideas floated around that show that a mag sail constructed out of a room temperature superconductor could be used to get to nearby stars in about half a century or so. The point of a mag sail is its cost savings. A solar sail probe designed to go to a nearby star could cost trillions of dollars, but a mag sail might only be a fraction of that. Anyway, we are not here to debate technicals, but two imagine two possible political futures that that could be created by interstellar travel.

Future #1. Magnetic sail probes are sent to all the nearest stars. When a man is born, a memory recording device is implanted in his brain. It records a perfect record of all sights, sounds, and feelings of the individual throughout his life. He is trained as an astronaut. When he dies his memories are transferred to a computer as a digital record. The mag sail probe enters orbit around a new star and lands on a new planet. It is equipped with an AI designed just for that purpose. It 3D prints a habitat and, a series of human bodies. The memory of the dead guy is sent using a microwave laser pulse in advance of the spacecrafts arrival. The signal repeats several thousand times for each mind that is being uploaded to ensure that nothing is missed. An identical chip is placed in the brain of the 3D printed body at the destination. You wake up on a strange planet. At first you don't remember how or why you are there. But your brain accesses memories on the chip. Slowly you begin to remember your previous life. Neurons that fire together wire together so gradually your new brain makes an identical structure to your old brain. Eventually you remember who you are and what your mission is. Does it matter that you are a copy? No. Of course not. If you believe that you are this other guy from a previous life then it is true. Believing makes it true. Now you live on another planet that orbits a weird star. You get to live a brand new life someplace else. You meet a girl and raise a new family. Your existence is like this. Before you die you put your mind in the machine storage to be transmitted to the next destination. You hop from planet to planet over the course of endless lifetimes. You get to have new experience and see strange new worlds as you go. You are a traveling immortal.

The political outcome of this world are libertarian. It takes years to transmit a single mind and even longer to send a physical spacecraft. It is impossible for empires to form. Minds are screened before being downloaded, so there is a built-in safety feature that prevents wackos from coming out of the machine. Only sane people get to immigrate. Also, because the different planets are separated, any pathogen on one planet is automatically quarantined from all the others. All plants and animals are transmitted as sterile information. The receiving planet decides whether or not to 3D print the DNA that it has gotten from other worlds. This creates a built-in filter for invasive species.

Future #2. Some asshole invents warp drive. Your life is like Star Trek. Even if there are no aliens, humans form empires whose size is defined by the speed of the warp drive. If the warp speed increases then suddenly it becomes possible for political empires to expand, and conquer their neighbors. All over the galaxy people live in terror of being nuked from orbit by stealth spacecraft sent from an enemies empire. Life is an abysmal hell. The fascist United Federation of Prig Progs imposes its moral vision on all the people of the galaxy because the sheer threat of violence is too devastating to allow humans to do their own thing. Sheer necessity requires a totalitarian world government. After all, this is a universe where a single alien organism that evolved on another planet can devastate the the biosphere of this planet. Imagine if humans accidentally brought back a small undetected bacteria that converts the worlds oceans to hydrogen peroxide, or a bacteria that turns all nitrogen in the atmosphere into nitrous oxide. The bacteria doesn't have to kill humans; it could simply destroy the biosphere instead. This is a galaxy where a fanatical religious sect could make a tactically sound calculation that it could drop a pathogen in the atmosphere of the Earth, and all the humans would be dead before they discovered what planet it came from and could retaliate. In such a world no exit would be possible.

Star Trek would be hell.

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