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Space Habitats and Nearby Resources

If humans go out into the Solar System and beyond drawing on the resources they find along the way, they don’t necessarily have to do it on worldships of the kind we talked about yesterday. But it’s a reasonable assumption that creating large space habitats would make engineering projects in deep space easier to implement, housing workers and providing a base for operations. Ken Roy presented ideas about habitats in the Kuiper Belt at Huntsville, including the possibility of a large colony being created inside objects like Pluto. If we choose to go that route, we’ll have the kind of space expertise to create artificial objects similar to worldships to help ourselves along.

Of course, we hardly need to limit ourselves to the Kuiper Belt for this kind of thinking. Whatever the design of the ships we use, we can also consider expansion into the vast cometary resources of the Oort Cloud and any other objects that may lurk there, including so-called rogue planets. For years we’ve kicked around the idea of a possible brown dwarf closer than Proxima Centauri, and it seemed the WISE mission was putting the idea to rest. But maybe not. Yesterday we got word of the closest star system found in a century, a brown dwarf binary 6.5 light years out.

WISE 1049-5319_FINAL

Image: This diagram illustrates the locations of the star systems that are closest to the Sun. The year when each star was discovered to be a neighbor of the Sun is indicated. The binary system WISE J104915.57-531906 is the third nearest system to the Sun, and the closest one found in a century. Credit: Janella Williams, Penn State University.

The Closest Brown Dwarfs Yet

You have to go back to 1916 to find another discovery this close, and that was Barnard’s Star — E. E. Barnard was not the actual discoverer of the star, but he was the first to measure its proper motion, thus pegging it as a near neighbor. Proxima Centauri was itself discovered just the year before by Robert Innes at Union Observatory in Johannesburg. The new system, WISE J104915.57-531906, reminds us that brown dwarfs may become a potential source of raw materials that facilitates outward expansion. We also know that some brown dwarfs have planetary systems while others have disks that may indicate planet formation has begun.

The new brown dwarf binary comes from WISE data and leads to the speculation that there are other interesting small systems yet to be discovered within 10 light years or so of Earth. The discoverer, Kevin Luhman (Penn State) spotted the signs of rapid motion in the WISE images and then looked for the object in older sky surveys, finding it in the Digitized Sky Survey as well as the Two Micron All-Sky Survey and the Deep Near Infrared Survey. All of this led the astronomer to work out the distance of the binary by parallax, with follow-up from the Gemini South telescope.

This exciting new find gives us a sense of how much we may yet discover. Says Luhman: “There are billions of infrared points of light across the sky, and the mystery is which one — if any of them — could be a star that is very close to our solar system.”

Meanwhile, Closer to Home…

We are a long way from operating so far from Earth, but the presence of resources between the stars may re-shape our expectations about small, fast expeditions, and lead to the slower, staged approach implicit in worldships. But whether it leads to this outcome or not, Stephen Ashworth makes a case in his recent JBIS paper for exploiting resources here in our own system that could lead to what he calls an ‘astro-civilization,’ in which the construction of large space habitats and the ability to mine the needed resources leads inevitably to a culture more at home in space than on a planet.

John Lewis considered the potential of asteroid mining some time ago in Mining the Sky, a book now on the must-read list for admirers of the asteroid mining operations like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries that are now emerging. Lewis believed that freely orbiting space colonies built from raw materials extracted from the asteroids would allow for huge increases in the human population. He suggested an increase by a factor of 106, though Ashworth, working the numbers anew, comes up with a more conservative figure of 2 X 1015 humans, which works out to a factor of 286,000 over the current planetary population.

Whichever figure we go with, we are talking about vast increases in living space for our species. Note, too, that both Lewis and Ashworth are talking about a population model that applies to artificial habitats constructed in the inner Solar System, meaning out to and including the main belt asteroids. Neither writer is including the moons and Trojans of the gas giants, nor the abundant resources of the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, and of course neither works into his calculations the possibility of rogue planets without stars or potentially nearby brown dwarfs.

But a space-based civilization living in the inner Solar System could be the staging area for further expansion. Ashworth thinks the extensive development of the main belt asteroids and exploitation of resources closer in would produce an energy economy throughout the Solar System in the region of 2.5 X 106 zeta joules (ZJ) per year. A zeta joule is 1021 joules, the joule being a standard unit of energy equal to 0.2389 calories.

Ashworth’s figures show that a program consuming 1 percent of the Solar System GDP annually over a ten year period would demand 2.5 X 105 ZJ. At this level of energy production, the construction of a worldship designed for 107 passengers is 28 percent of the amount, meaning that a space-based civilization at this level would find it within its means to build such a vehicle.

Any culture building vast artificial structures in space is one capable of a long-term interstellar crossing, but it is clear that a worldship is not an object that can be completed and then left alone to function. Indeed, the humans aboard the vessel will be spending a great deal of time maintaining and improving their world. From Ashworth’s paper:

These trends involve an increasing reliance upon engineered control systems in order to maintain the correct temperatures, air composition, water purity, food supply, and biological and microbiological health. Space colonies are to be understood, not as small artificial self-regulating planets, but as large self-contained buildings requiring continual maintenance. An astro-civilisation must be constantly active in order to survive: repairing space colonies, scrapping superannuated ones, recycling their materials and constructing new ones, just as an urban civilisation on Earth today is constantly renewing its built infrastructure, or as the human body is constantly renewing the cells of which it is composed.

There too is the sense of purpose which some have speculated might be lost by the numerous generations on their way to another star. For constantly improving and upgrading conditions aboard a space habitat offers a challenge upon which the survival of all aboard depend. Learning to live off the resources that proliferate throughout the outer system and beyond — and the Oort Cloud may extend out a light year or more — the worldship inhabitants will be interested in where their next resource collection will be. Habitable planets in a destination star system will be of fascinating astrobiological interest, but asteroids and small moons may be where the action is.

I haven’t yet gotten to the reflections on Gerard O’Neill and the internal conditions on a worldship that I promised yesterday, but time draws short this morning. More on all this tomorrow. Repeating the Ashworth citation, it’s “The Emergence of the Worldship (I): The Shift from Planet-Based to Space-Based Civilisation,” in JBIS 65, No. 4-5 (2012), pp. 140-154. You might also want to check out the JBIS website, which is being revised and updated.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James Jason Wentworth March 12, 2013, 9:40

    An excellent science fiction work that addresses these issues (including the societal issues involved) is “Tales of the Flying Mountains” by Poul Anderson. A group of citizens aboard a (relatively) “fast worldship” heading to the Alpha Centauri system on a ~40 year journey discussed, over dinner and drinks, how they should teach their children about the history of Earth and of the Asteroid Republic, which built their ship. Each person’s contribution to the discussion was a chapter in the book, and most if not all of the chapters were originally published as stand-alone short stories.

  • Ronald March 12, 2013, 9:47

    Essential quote (emphasis with asterisks by me):
    “Space colonies are to be understood, not as small artificial self-regulating planets, but as large self-contained buildings *requiring continual maintenance*. An astro-civilisation must be constantly active in order to survive: repairing space colonies, scrapping superannuated ones, recycling their materials and constructing new ones, just as an urban civilisation on Earth today is constantly renewing its built infrastructure”.

    I can imagine this for a solar system based space industry plus resulting civilization.
    However, even if the gap between our Oort cloud and the equivalent of Alpha Centauri is only 2 ly, this continuous maintenance and repair, etc. is going to be a heck of a job and very risky, if not outright undoable because of a lack of available resources, for interstellar travel with very large but slow worldships with a relatively large and active human population.
    See also my comments under the previous post. For these reasons I still think that interstellar travel will have to be done as fast as possible and with smaller groups of humans, preferably in a state of artificial hibernation (suspended animation).
    It is the difference between an oil platform and an ocean crossing jet plane.

  • ljk March 12, 2013, 10:07

    We JUST discover two stellar objects that are closer to the Sol system than all but two other star systems, and yet I still hear claims how we do not see signs of ETI so therefore they must not exist. We have barely scratched the cosmic surface. What we have yet to learn about our Universe is bigger than any ocean.

    Maybe they are mobile Dyson Shell Worldships that are just coming into our range, to explain one reason why we have not seen them before. Any idea which direction they are headed?

    Also willing to bet there are such objects and rogue planets closer than Alpha Centauri. If one were found, say, one light year from Earth, would we have the impetus to finally make an interstellar mission happen?

    By the way, how does one “mine” a brown dwarf?

  • N. E. Davison March 12, 2013, 13:29

    While I find that discussions of expansion beyond the inner solar system are very stimulating, I feel that most discussions are out of context. All discussions seem to center around the idea of advances in specific technologies playing out in the context of early 21st century society. Serious expansion of the human race, however, is for the 22nd century, at best.

    What about AI? It is often said that in about 2030 or so, machines are likely to approach human intelligence levels, and that by 2050, they will surpass us. I am completely aware that although present machines are good at “looking things up”, they do not set their own goals. Surely this is just a passing phase.

    It seems to me that if AI surpasses human intelligence by mid-century, then by 2100, “they” may be telling “us” what to do unless we direct that intelligence into very narrow paths. The current global, political and business context is not encouraging for agreeing on how to constrain AI. If we do not, however, then in the context of “free” AI and possible competition for resources, we may simply be told to stay within the inner solar system, or even on our own planet, and it might be very important for us to be very polite.

    I think any discussion of expansion of the human race must include our relationship to AI, and it must go far beyond quasi-intelligent maintenance bots. The flow of history would currently seem to lead to us losing control of our destiny later this century. How do we deal with this, or how do we fulfil our goals within this context? I think the 100 Year Starship program really must consider not just technology and human pyschology etc, but also the very real possibility that the whole game will change before we build a starship.

    Losing control to AI is obviously a worst case scenario (but not improbable) . However, failure to plan for eventualities we don’t like doesn’t mean they won’t happen.

  • Thomas M. Hermann March 12, 2013, 14:36

    Being reasonably ignorant of the types of world ships that have been proposed, the most appealing one I can conceive of is modular down to perhaps the level of family unit, expandable, and divisible. I think these are necessary features. I also think these features are equally useful for a system wide civilization. The benefits of such a world ship are it allows the population to expand, allows disaffected members to leave, and allows for mission flexibility. For example, if the route to the destination system passes other systems that may be of interest, but are not known to be at launch.

  • Joy March 12, 2013, 14:55

    I still think WISE has pretty clearly ruled out the Nemesis concept of a warm super Jovian or BD causing periodic comet showers. If this brown dwarf pair were in the Oort cloud at 0.65 LY distance, it would have been 100x (5 orders of magnitude) brighter and hard to miss. I would not be surprised if there is a frozen Mars sized body somewhere beyond Neptune, but that would not have a Nemesis effect.

  • P March 12, 2013, 17:03

    I always had a feeling that things were lurking in the crowded star fields near the galactic plane, where you would expect many brown dwarfs to lurk but where many previous searches have avoided precisely because of that crowding.

    Now that WISE J104915.57-531906 has surfaced I’d expect a rash of new multi epoch proper motion studies at low galactic latitude. These 2 L/T dwarfs aren’t even THAT intrinsically faint – there’s very good chances that a few very close high proper motion late T and Y dwarfs are still out there, hiding in front of more distant stars in crowded star fields for instance.

    These guys are mag 15ish? Very large telescopes should be able to do RV work on them in the nearIR, and who knows, maybe something transits one of them? Wouldn’t that be fun? The Hz for objects like this is really close, like 1 day. Fun times!

    P

  • ljk March 12, 2013, 17:25

    What will the community on a Worldship do if one or more of its members is or becomes insane? What about those who are not clinically insane but do not wish to spend their lives inside a big can with their purpose being to make the next generation, who will continue this trend for generations?

    It is one thing to have people of this kind on a planet eight thousand miles across. It is another to be inside a ship perhaps a mile or two across at best located trillions of miles or more between star systems with no way to get off or turn around.

    Will these Worldship travelers have to be brainwashed members of a cult in order to literally stay the course? Or placed in some kind of virtual world where they don’t know they are on a starship until their descendants arrive at the target system?

    Maybe that society can (and will) have to handle deviants et al who will arise in a human community of thousands or more, but what will they do if a revolution is sparked?

  • Tarmen March 12, 2013, 19:37

    Wise (not a pun) to worry about AI gamechangers. Perhaps we should not play with that fire. But can we curious and creative two legged animals ever stop ourselves ? Maybe it is not HSapiens who are destined to carry the intelligence of Earth out to that great ocean. Maybe our AIs will do that job. As the sons might surpass the fathers.

  • Tarmen March 12, 2013, 19:46

    Great to have a new system ‘nearby’ though. And I think it will get a better name sooner or later. ‘WISE J104915.57-531906’. Two glowing green orbs. The Cats Eyes.

  • Robert Horley March 12, 2013, 20:59

    Does anyone know how far apart these two recently discovered brown dwarf suns are?

  • Mephane March 13, 2013, 4:18

    “Losing control to AI is obviously a worst case scenario (but not improbable) .”

    I strongly disagree with this judgement.

    AI may very well essential and integral to long-term space exploration, even more so for interstellar missions. It is not unlikely that at one point we come to the conclusion that the effort required to establish and sustain a space-based human civilization is just too much, and instead a purely non-biological civilization of AIs could instead colonized the solar system and beyond.

    And if we create that AI, how could be an issue of “us vs them”. They would be, in a very concrete sense, our children. Just like any generation eventually passes its leadership along to their descendants, so might we do the same to our “AI children”, not because they might force us, but because it is the natural progression of things.

    Maybe the human species, in a bi0logical sense, is merely a and intermediate evolutionary step, a precursor to a long-term synthetic species which, though non-biological, might consider themselves human, too. I would not be surprised that if/when we ever find proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence, it may be a civilization consisting entirely of AIs, with they biological parents still living on their home planet only.

    I understand this is all speculative, but my point is that we should not be afraid of AI stealing the show in the long run. We already say “we went to Mars” even though no human has physically been there. If AI colonized the solar system, or visited a nearby system, this would also be “us” after all.

  • Adam March 13, 2013, 5:50

    Larry,
    Mining Brown-Dwarfs will be tricky, but high temperature machinery at least can be built to venture into their outer fringes. The main problem is their shrunken size means their gravity wells are effectively as deep as the Sun’s. For example a 0.05 Solar mass Brown-Dwarf would have a radius of 0.075 Solar radii, meaning 2/3 the gravitational potential of the Sun at the surface. Extraction missions would probably be hyperbolic near-surface swoops. The surface gravity of the above Brown Dwarf would be 248 gee, making operations in the atmosphere problematic.

    Of course if the Brown Dwarf is sufficiently magnetic, using a magnetic torus to channel matter out as polar-flows would be reasonably effective and would require significantly less cooling than a Main Sequence star.

  • ljk March 13, 2013, 9:08

    “Humans should not stand in the way of a higher form of evolution. These machines are godlike. It is human destiny to create them.”

    — Hugo de Garis, as quoted in New York Times Magazine of 1 August 1999, speaking of the ‘artilects’ of the future.

    Tell me who here truly mourns the disappearance of Australopithecus afarensis? Or Homo habilis?

    I have said this here and elsewhere numerous times before, but I will repeat it again:

    The human race cannot continue its growing technological civilization and population rate as they are without some radical changes to our species, including moving into space. Otherwise we will run out resources and room trying to maintain what will be over nine billion humans by 2050.

    So either we change something significant about ourselves or we let someone better take over for us. We may get that simpler, pastoral life so many in the developed world think they want, but not in the way they want unless we do something big and significant about ourselves and our situation NOW.

    It will be interesting to see if we succeed as the most current step in reaching towards a higher intelligence or just become another dead end on the evolutionary timeline.

  • Dmitri March 13, 2013, 19:05

    ljk,

    The human population will grow to 10 bn people and then stop. Current process is normal and natural. Hans Rosling made a good overview of the process and drivers behind it. This is his TED speach in Qatar.

    Hans Rosling: Religions and babies – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezVk1ahRF78

  • GaryChurch March 13, 2013, 21:38

    “-over nine billion humans by 2050.”

    The only plan I have ever come across that has any chance of providing a western quality of life across the globe is the Lunar Solar Power concept of David Criswell. It sounds reasonable considering there is nothing else. It should work.

    “Humans should not stand in the way of a higher form of evolution. These machines are godlike. It is human destiny to create them: Hugo DeGaris”

    Well….create them in a fashion that does not destroy us. They have to be loyal to their creators. But they would not listen to anything we say and would do what they want- which we probably will not understand. So there is a danger but since it is unavoidable the best course of action is try and do it right.

  • kittlej March 14, 2013, 9:35

    joy- I think you are right .. no brown dwarfs in the Oort cloud but certainly the chance for terrestrial sized planets ( or neptune sized)as you go further out. The problem is that there might not have been the density in the proto star disk that far out for planets to coalesce. There is a strong possibility there may be planets that had migrated from the inner solar system, or even bodies captured from deep space . By the way I tin the discovery on the new brwon dwarf pair sort of seals the deal on the feasibility of human expansion to the stars by slow ships.. harvesting resoureces in the inevitable collection of dwarf planets in this system should be relatively easy for any civilization adapted to exploit our own kuiper belt.
    We need to turn WISE back on and collect another 20 months of data. This would Greatly increase the value of the JSWT and cost so little it would be considered an accounting round off error for the JWST program. As the discover of the new binary system says, there are lots of infrared points out there that may prove to be brown dwarfs, some of which will be nearby. Many possibilities are in the plane of the galactic and insufficient data exists to sort all of them out.
    As I am not a conspiracy theorist, any ideas as to why the WISE team are unable to secure funding for more data collection?

  • Abelard Lindsey March 14, 2013, 14:19

    “Space colonies are to be understood, not as small artificial self-regulating planets, but as large self-contained buildings *requiring continual maintenance*. An astro-civilisation must be constantly active in order to survive: repairing space colonies, scrapping superannuated ones, recycling their materials and constructing new ones, just as an urban civilisation on Earth today is constantly renewing its built infrastructure”.

    Of course, O’niell said as much in “The High Frontier”. Space colonies will likely be constructed in clusters near suitable asteroids and comets (or in orbits around the outer planets) and will form active and diverse economies. The dangers and problems associated with space colonies were also discussed in the same book.

    I agree that “world ships” are unlikely to be constructed, and that the best way to go to the stars would be by “fast” methods accompanied by some form of suspended animation. In any case, baring any physics breakthroughs into FTL/wormhole, we will not go to the stars for at least 2-3 centuries. The solar system itself offers a lot of room and enormous resources enough for groups to “go their own way” using space based civilization.

    Yes, planets are superior to space colonies IF you can find ones that are habitable Earth-like, However, these are likely to be several 10’s of light years away and, therefor, irrelevant to our future barring any breakthrough propulsion physics.

  • Astronist March 14, 2013, 16:54

    Okay, so what about AI? I have addressed this at some length on my blog (http://www.astronist.demon.co.uk/astro-ev/ae090.html). In brief, the reason why I think it is sensible to consider our biological human descendents flying to the stars is as follows.

    A computer is not an artificial brain; it is a machine for automating logical instructions. The AI project is founded upon the hypothesis that our own brains are completely explicable in terms of algorithms which process logical instructions, but this is speculation, not established fact. It is also based upon the hypothesis that an information processing system of intelligence X can deliberately design one of intelligence X+1; but since intelligence is hard to define and depends upon many unquantifiable factors of emotion and feeling, not to mention consciousness, I question whether this hypothesis is true.

    I therefore expect to see progress in information technologies producing, not a singularity, but a plateau.

    Stephen

  • Astronist March 14, 2013, 17:04

    ljk wrote: “What will the community on a Worldship do if one or more of its members is or becomes insane? What about those who are not clinically insane but do not wish to spend their lives inside a big can with their purpose being to make the next generation, who will continue this trend for generations?”

    I think you could answer this question with reference to any small, isolated community on Earth. I have read about a case of a small Polynesian island, continuously inhabited for the past 2,900 years, extremely isolated from its neighbours.

    The question as to how people feel about their purpose being merely to produce the next generation who will hopefully have a better life is addressed in Chekhov’s plays, particularly Uncle Vanya. The members of the Russian landowning class he describes suffered from an acute sense of purposelessness, and speculated about how more privileged future generations might think about them.

    I think there is a danger of getting too intimidated by the idea of life on a starship. What will people do for all those generations? Well, actually, the whole point of a worldship is that they will simply get on with their lives, just as we have always done on Earth, the majority of people being confined by the circumstances of their birth to a small geographical area and social circle.

    Stephen

  • Astronist March 14, 2013, 17:05

    It’s not for nothing that one of the officers on the Starship Enterprise was a Mr Chekhov!

  • Astronist March 14, 2013, 17:13

    Robert Horley: Luhman’s paper gives an angular separation of 1″.5, which equates to 3 AU at that distance from us. I cannot find any figure in that paper for orbital eccentricity, so the distance may be variable.

    This binary brown dwarf will no doubt come to be called Luhman’s Star.

  • ljk March 14, 2013, 20:08

    Astronist said on March 14, 2013 at 17:04:

    “I think there is a danger of getting too intimidated by the idea of life on a starship. What will people do for all those generations? Well, actually, the whole point of a worldship is that they will simply get on with their lives, just as we have always done on Earth, the majority of people being confined by the circumstances of their birth to a small geographical area and social circle.”

    The success or failure of a Worldship depends *precisely* on how life goes aboard them. There may be plenty of isolated communities on Earth, but you still have the chance at least to escape them and find a different place and culture. Aboard a Worldship you literally have nowhere else to go during the voyage, unless you want to jump out an airlock.

    And what happens if you decide not to have children to carry on the mission, or that for some reason you cannot have offspring? What will that a Worldship community do with and to a person or persons who go against the very meaning of success or failure?

    I don’t think nearly enough has been done to figure out how a group of people will do living in space. Except for our few brief sojourns to the Moon, our astronauts and cosmonauts have been confined either to their small traveling vessels or a few space stations, all of them with Earth well in sight and the knowledge that they could return in short order if problems arose.

    If you read the book I reviewed here not too long ago, The Psychology of Space Exploration, you will see what I am talking about:

    https://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=24523

    Obviously there is a LOT of technical work to be done to make a Worldship happen. It may just be me but when it comes to the people who would have to stay aboard the ship for generations, I see a lot of responses along the lines of “Oh they’ll be on a grand adventure, that will make up for any problems that might come up.”

    When it comes to interstellar travel, be it mechanical or crewed by humans, there is a lot of focus on the technical aspects, which is fine and certainly understandable. But when it comes to things like human reactions to long, deep space missions or what will happen if we attempt to colonize an Earthlike world – which would indicate a planet with some form of life – I don’t see quite the same level of thought put into those questions and their consequences.

    As I said at the beginning of my post, it is those very things that will decide whether we go on to play a role in the galaxy or end up with a one-world civilization that is in danger of fall back into another dark age.

  • Rob Henry March 14, 2013, 20:11

    Astronist, You repeat your claim that ill-founded nature of the “hypothesis that an information processing system of intelligence X can deliberately design one of intelligence X+1” is germane to your argument.

    While I agree that we, as yet, have little reason to believe that hypothesis correct, and several to think that it might prove wrong, it does not follow that this bolsters your case. To that ends I will repeat the end of reply I made to your last such claim on these pages…

    Randomly fitting reasonable guesses on possible AI software combines a bit of our design with a lot of evolution. Even a tiny design contribution, gives this process an edge on the pure natural selection over which our brains evolved. Far more importantly, computer time can try out and measure selective advantages at a rate of millions of possible generations per second.

    Astronist, you who have too much trust in human/AI ingenuity. You should place your trust to evolution!

  • Eniac March 14, 2013, 21:58

    Ashworth’s figures show that a program consuming 1 percent of the Solar System GDP annually over a ten year period would demand 2.5 X 105 ZJ. At this level of energy production, the construction of a worldship designed for 107 passengers is 28 percent of the amount, meaning that a space-based civilization at this level would find it within its means to build such a vehicle.

    Isn’t this a lot like saying a medium sized town could launch a man to the moon because they can afford enough hydrogen and oxygen to launch a Saturn V?

  • Eniac March 14, 2013, 22:03

    LJK:

    We JUST discover two stellar objects that are closer to the Sol system than all but two other star systems, and yet I still hear claims how we do not see signs of ETI so therefore they must not exist.

    The reason some think ETI cannot exist is not because we do not see them or their planets. It is because we know they have not settled our own solar system. And that has nothing to do with how many star systems we have or have not yet discovered.

  • Eniac March 14, 2013, 22:11

    It is also based upon the hypothesis that an information processing system of intelligence X can deliberately design one of intelligence X+1; but since intelligence is hard to define and depends upon many unquantifiable factors of emotion and feeling, not to mention consciousness, I question whether this hypothesis is true.

    If intelligence is hard to define, then your hypothesis is not well-formed, and is neither true nor false. That pretty much takes away your argument.

    Our own intelligence, call it X, was formed by an unintelligent natural process, with intelligence zero. That is pretty much a counterexample to your hypothesis “no information processing system of intelligence X can deliberately design one of intelligence X+1”

    Brains and computers are very different, but they are both formed for the purpose of processing information, and they are both ultimately based on “dumb” natural processes, such as electrons flowing in a wire or action potentials propagating along cell membranes. I do not see the dividing line that you appear to be postulating.

  • Eniac March 14, 2013, 22:38

    Astronist: Ok, sorry, you said “deliberately”, so technically it is not a counterexample. But this rather peculiar restriction much weakens your argument, since there are very few things that are more easily achieved without deliberation than with it.

  • ljk March 15, 2013, 14:32

    Eniac said on March 14, 2013 at 22:03:

    [LJK: We JUST discover two stellar objects that are closer to the Sol system than all but two other star systems, and yet I still hear claims how we do not see signs of ETI so therefore they must not exist.]

    “The reason some think ETI cannot exist is not because we do not see them or their planets. It is because we know they have not settled our own solar system. And that has nothing to do with how many star systems we have or have not yet discovered.”

    If we assume an ETI colonizing the Sol system or any similar planetary system will use the resources found in the planetoids, comets, rings, and smaller moons due to the relative ease of mining them (not exclusively, but probably more than the planets and large moons), then we have a long way to go before we can say that ETI exist or not.

    This is frankly because we have barely begun to explore the smaller Sol system bodies, especially to the degree of searching for alien artifacts such as clearly artificial digging scars, abandoned equipment, and such. Then include the high reluctance of the professional science community to either investigate or acknowledge such possibilities and we get even further from knowing if someone has come calling on our celestial home.

    And again, the fact that we just learned about two very nearby stars is further evidence that there is so much to the galaxy that we have yet to discover, natural and otherwise.

  • Bounty March 15, 2013, 18:58

    “Tell me who here truly mourns the disappearance of Australopithecus afarensis?”

    Well, we do mourn lost species. However I’m not aware of anything like the loss of humanity in any lost species. I would be saddend at the total loss of termites, even for their social aspect. With selfish, crazy, self replicating AI, we might loose the one thing that makes Earth special, selfish, crazy, self replicating biological intelligence!

  • Steve Bowers March 16, 2013, 10:41

    To assume that we can’t, or won’t, create AIs that are more competent than humans is merely wishful thinking; there is no reason to think that it is impossible, or that it won’t happen.

    Even with AIs that are only comparable to humans in competency, the whole nature of space exploration and colonisation changes significantly.

  • GaryChurch March 16, 2013, 12:49

    “To assume that we can’t, or won’t, create AIs that are more competent than humans is merely wishful thinking; there is no reason to think that it is impossible, or that it won’t happen.
    Even with AIs that are only comparable to humans in competency, the whole nature of space exploration and colonisation changes significantly.”

    Absolutely correct. I cannot find anything in your comment I have any doubts about at all.
    Congratulations.

  • Eniac March 17, 2013, 23:51

    LJK:

    This is frankly because we have barely begun to explore the smaller Sol system bodies …

    It is not how long WE had exploring, but how long THEY had. They’ve had billions of years to find this place and make it their own. IF they exist.

    … especially to the degree of searching for alien artifacts such as clearly artificial digging scars, abandoned equipment, and such.

    You stubbornly keep assuming that all we would find is abandoned artifacts. There is no way the ETI themselves will ALL leave this place after having found and settled it. So, we’d not be looking for decayed artifacts. Much more likely we’d be looking at spaceships buzzing about our system, and billions of active habitats in the habitable zone.

    In terms of the Roman analogy: You could easily miss some of those Roman relics buried underground, but there is no way you could ever miss Roman traffic at rush hour.