Sunday, November 5, 2017

Rogue Asteroids


In current news, it was reported that Earth astronomers have detected their first interstellar asteroid within the solar system. Temporarily named A/2017 U1, its size has not been determined, simply its trajectory. It traveled in from the north of the ecliptic, passed by the sun within Mercury’s orbit where the orbit was bent back toward the north, and on its way out of the solar system it passed within 25 million kilometers of Earth. This latter fact allowed it to be detected by our sky survey instruments, which are looking for near-Earth asteroids.

The size was bounded by maximum 400 m diameter, as otherwise it would be less faint. There is no albedo measurement, so the true size will stay unknown. Let’s throw caution to the wind, and try and understand the implications of this detection. If we say an asteroid with diameter between 300 and 400 meters would have been detected, can this be used to figure out the number which pass through the solar system? The sky survey telescopes can see this object out past 25 million kilometers, but perhaps not detect it initially. Let’s simply suppose that this is the only one of this size which passed through the sphere of detectability of this radius during the last twelve months. Neptune’s orbit is about 180 times this distance, so by looking at cross-sections, we might say that of 32 thousand penetrations of a sphere of this radius, only one would go through the Earth detectability sphere. This means that of the order of 32 thousand asteroids in this size range come through the solar system each year.

If we assume that the size distribution of interstellar asteroids is the same as the asteroids in our solar system, this size range represents about one thirtieth of the total asteroid population with diameters greater than 100 m. So, a little multiplication tells us something like a million asteroids bigger than 100 m shoot through the solar system every year. We’ve seen one.

This number could be off by an order of magnitude or even two. If the sky survey astronomers were really lucky, and this was the only asteroid to come through the detection sphere in a century, then everything would be 100 times too high. But the simplest guess is that this is not the one year when it happens, just that there was not much interest in such objects before, and the detection rate was affected by the attention given to them. Now things are different, and the sky eyes will be looking for the next one.

This asteroid could have been formed similarly to a orphan planet, just condensing out in interstellar space from a small cloud that congealed. Probably it was instead formed in a solar system, and then chucked out in the early days of orbital interaction. There could even be some late time interactions which propel an asteroid from a solar system. We don’t live in any unusual part of the galaxy, just a normal section of a spiral arm, and so it would be reasonable to assume that other solar systems have similar amounts of interstellar object penetration. What would an advanced alien civilization make of this?

One thing they could do would be to use the asteroids as free shipping objects to other solar systems. Put some memorial on an interstellar asteroid, and a million years later it might pass through another solar system. Stars move around a lot, so it might be hard to write something that would be meaningful as to where the memorial was inscribed, but perhaps that problem would be solvable if some dating were possible. Is there anything in the galaxy that tells time?  We can date supernovas and nebulae formed by them by determining the relative speed of the nebula gas, and backtracking the trajectory to find out the date when the supernova exploded. This might be accurate enough to enable some announcement in the memorial as to when the alien civilization inscribed it.

To get the memorial out to an interstellar asteroid requires some high-power propulsion. This asteroid we see is going at about 25 km/sec relative to the sun. For comparison, LEO velocity is 8 km/sec and it is still within Earth’s gravitational well. To comprehend better what launcher requirements are, think of putting a multistage rocket into space outside of the moon’s orbit. The payload of the rocket would have to include a lander, plus control systems able to bring it into orbit near the interstellar asteroid. This would have to be done within a period of a couple of months, between detection and departure of the asteroid. It exceeds our capability significantly, but we haven’t even been launching extraterrestrial rockets for a century yet. It should certainly be within our capability within another century, probably much less.

Digging into an asteroid would provide a radiation shield for anything that the alien civilization wanted to send to another solar system. Digging machines would mean a much larger payload however. It would be good, for such a massive mission, to have as much lead time as possible. However, doing a sky survey requires a telescope that can be oriented and scanned over large sky areas. Using a kilometer sized telescope rules out rapid scans. Thus, the task of landing on an interstellar asteroid and creating something there within the allotted time is certainly technologically challenging.

Could something more significant be done with these opportunistic travelers? Perhaps if there was a rogue planet nearby. If we assume the ratio of planets to asteroids is the same in those early solar systems that were launching asteroids as in our present day solar system, perhaps one millionth as many planets would get launched on interstellar trajectories as asteroids. So, there is some possibility that one will come by. It is also quite possible that the dynamics of planets is such that there is a much lower probability of launching a planet on an interstellar path than an asteroid, so the number might be a billionth instead of a millionth. If this is the situation, we shouldn’t expect a planet anytime soon.

If there was one, and it had an energy source such as large amounts of uranium ore, it might be possible to put a robotic colony on it that would be self-sustaining. It is barely conceivable that such a rogue planet could be used on a seeding mission, especially as there is no way to choose the target solar system or the arrival time. More likely, memorials will be the only thing possible for these star-traipsing asteroids and planets.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Bubble of Life


Let’s continue exploring the case where life is hard to originate, meaning it starts itself almost nowhere, but is easy to evolve, meaning once you start it, it just doesn’t stop.  If an alien civilization realizes this is the case, and decides they want to do something about it, they can undertake seeding on all nearby planets which can support the life they begin there.  So, after they have had enough time to seed all the planets within the range capability, what would there be?
 
If you looked at a three-dimensional map of the galaxy, with red dots for planets with life and blue dots for planets without it, you would see a large disk with a central bulge, all blue, and somewhere in the disk there would be a little red bubble, the bubble of life.  Somewhere near the center of the bubble would be the home planet of the alien civilization.  Seeded planets take billions of years to evolve from simple seed cells to new civilizations of intelligent aliens, so for some billions of years, the seeded planets wouldn’t be capable of sparking new bubbles.  During those billions of years, the galaxy would be rotating and shearing, so the bubble would not stay round, and proper motions of the stars involved would make it enlarge itself and become less distinct.  The alien civilization would likely be long gone, and their home planet would have reverted to just one more planet with life.

Suppose Earth was nearby the bubble, and was a bit younger that the seeder’s planet, so that Earth blossomed into an advanced civilization after the seeders had done  their work and proceeded to become extinct.  This, of course, is some time in our future, if we are lucky and don’t make too many emistakes.  What would we see as we examined our surroundings?  If we were a half-billion of so years later than the seeders, we would see planets with oxygen atmospheres, or other signatures of life, in something like a bubble around some central point.  This pattern is almost necessarily solid evidence of a civilization that decided to seed life wherever it could. Furthermore, it is not just evidence of life in the galaxy, but of a long-past alien civilization with space travel capability.

There doesn’t seem to be other causes for a bubble of life.  If life could originate easily, instead of a bubble of life, the whole galactic disk would have specimens.  It is the localized nature that gives rise to the idea of a difficulty in origination of life, and the possibility of a civilization seeding multiple other planets.   It’s also hard to imagine something an asteroid striking a planet with life, somehow bouncing off after adsorbing some living cells, which stay alive until the asteroid is somehow propelled out of its home solar system and travels to another, and then has another impact on a planet that can support life, and the impact doesn’t kill the cells, but leaves them in some place where they are viable.   Nor could a nearby supernova blast living cells from one planet to one in another solar system. 
 
One way to look at this example of seeding is a gift to civilizations that come into existence later.  A later civilization near the bubble of life would have a myriad of planets to colonize, if this were possible and they were motivated to do so.  Colonization in a galaxy barren of life can only lead to a harsh life, probably under the surface of some mineral-rich moon or planet, with no hope of surviving long enough to transform the moon or planet into something like their home world, with the right atmosphere, vegetation and animal life.
 
What about someone inheriting the mantle of the original seeders?  The oldest stars in the galaxy are a bit better than 13 billion years old, but that doesn’t mean the whole galaxy came into existence that quickly.  The time to form depends on what preceded it, but let’s just say 2 billion years were necessary.  Then the disk of stars might have formed, along with the bulge and the other details.  If a star formed then, and had a planet or a few, one of which originated life, we might be up to 4 billion years.  If it took 4 billion more years to evolve to a space-faring alien civilization, that might be 8 billion.  Then the alien civilization seeded planets, and it is another 4 billion for the second generation of life to reach civilization level.  There could have been a hundred or so seeded planets, and if one of them started seeding a second round, we, at 13 billion, might see a second bubble of life, seemingly growing out the side of the first one.  Since we don’t know the variability in the timing of the evolution of life, or even what it depends on, it could be 13 billion years from the oldest star’s birth is not enough, or if the timing could be shorter, the second round of seeding might be more or less complete, right up to the generation of an observable oxygen atmosphere.  The oxygen atmosphere on Earth came into existence in a geologically short time, so that signal is a good early indicator of a planet with life.  Seeing a double bubble would dramatically confirm our observations of other life in the galaxy, and give us something toward a date of the first generation.

Suppose we can find no bubble of life, no matter how far out we get our giant telescopes to search for oxygen or some other signature of life.  Then we are faced with a decision.  Perhaps we are the only life form that is going to originate in the galaxy.  Should we let it all disappear?  Or should we make it the planetary goal to figure out how to seed other planets, capable of growing life, with some seed cells.  That would be a purpose that might unite mankind, and even carry over into any AI entities that come into existence.  Or we could just figure out how to have a good time until the sun burns out.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Issues with Seedships

Suppose there is an alien civilization somewhere out there, and they revere life. Let’s suppose, just for illustration, that they had an early philosopher-teacher like Buddha, and his teachings were so good, they crowded everything else out. The whole population thinks that “Life” is the greatest good, and they should spend their efforts propagating it. Their planet looks very different because of this belief, but the planet is not that important to the question facing them. That question is simply, how do we propagate life to other planets?

Let’s also suppose that life is characterized as has been guessed in this blog, that it is hard to originate and easy to evolve. Because the alien civilization has long ago reached asymptotic technology, where they understood all there is to know about the universe and its physical laws, they know this, and realize that there are large numbers of planets in the galaxy which could support life, if it had only originated there. But it hadn’t. They also understand evolution backwards and forwards, and realize that if they seeded life on these planets, in a few billion years there would be alien civilizations there, similar in many ways to theirs. They know this because they understand that technology has to develop in a certain set of steps, each one building on the previous one, and civilization is forced to self-organize according to the current technology. All civilizations at the pinnacle of knowledge are similar. So, that gives them a little more impetus to seed these planets.

What they want to do is put some simple cells down in favorable locations on as many planets as they can. How are they going to do it?

The first thing they need is patience. The mean distance to the nearest planets might be 10 or 20 lightyears, and other ones are even further. If they go at 0.1 lightspeed, it’s a hundred years at the least; 0.01 lightspeed, a thousand, and 0.001 lightspeed, ten thousand. Perhaps they live much longer that humans do, but this is still a long time.

If they want to go at 0.001 lightspeed, which is about 10^6 km/hr, they will have to boost their rocket very much. This is fifty times the speed needed to get to low earth orbit, and energy goes as the square of the speed. So, a rocket, if they use that, would have to have 2500 times the energy of a typical current-day Earth rocket. Each power of ten in speed raises energy requirements by 100. 0.001 lightspeed might be a very optimistic goal.

Perhaps one early question would be: is it necessary to decelerate in order to perform seeding? Deceleration requires equivalently huge amounts of energy per mass as acceleration, and the bad thing is that while the rocket is leaving their home solar system, it will have accelerate all the mass needed for the deceleration at the origin planet. So, if seeding can be done at fractional lightspeed, that would save a tremendous amount of resources, energy, cost and construction. Seeding at fly-by speed requires that the seed payload reduce its speed to initially low planetary orbit speed at the very least, so it can begin its seed operations from a good vantage point. There is no hope for it to decelerate by upper atmospheric drag. Too high in the atmosphere would have it slip right through, and a little lower, the energy of fractional lightspeed motion would turn the probe into a molten blob in an instant, and then it would simply vaporize. No cells would survive.

Fractional lightspeed is so fast that using other planets for gravitational slingshot effects produces negligible effects. There are no other tricks to use. Massive deceleration the old-fashioned way is the only thing that will shed enough kinetic energy to get the seed pod to be able to arrive unvaporized.

Deceleration by reverse thrusting has to remove the momentum of the probe, and the propellant has to be present to do this. If a long, slow deceleration is chosen, the thrust of the deceleration can be lower, meaning a lighter weight thruster. So, to minimize expense, it would be best to accelerate quickly near home planet and then start decelerating shortly thereafter. This lengthens the total travel time, but reduces mass requirements.

If that issue is settled, perhaps the next one is how to produce something that can work for ten to a hundred thousand years? The environment is not the most benign. Reliability failures are often extremely diverse, sometimes from multiple causes, and notoriously difficult to predict before the first failure. How would the alien technologists build something for, say, a hundred thousand year voyage when their civilization might not yet be that old? Would having asymptotic technology provide them with enough know-how so they could build such a seedship and be highly confident it would work all the way through the end of the mission?

The answer has to be yes. First of all, they would know the environment in which the seedship would operate, both during the acceleration phase, the deceleration phase, and while it was performing its mission at the destination planet. This is basically astrophysics, utilizing large telescopes and other observing instruments. A kilometer sized telescope could be built somewhere far from their sun, and operated to observe the destination solar system. Other sensors, perhaps huge, could also be built to gain an understanding of the interstellar space between the home planet and the destination planet. Models of the overall operation of the seedship should be completely accurate. They would know, for example, the radiation environment in any specialized package on the ship, both from cosmic radiation and from any radiation sources on the ship itself, e.g. a reactor for power.

Secondly, they would understand the activity and aging of any materials, based on a thorough understand of materials in general. Predicting how, for example, a power converter or a timer would operate over long times should be simply extrapolation of the processes that go on during shorter intervals.

Thirdly, reliability failures in their civilization would be almost non-existent, as the technological know-how would build up over centuries as to the potential root causes of failures. This means that the body of knowledge in how to build reliability into objects becomes asymptotic, just like all other science and engineering knowledge.

A different question arises: is it possible, even with asymptotic technology and access to any materials needed, and a very high level of effort and funding, to build a seedship? Is there an upper limit on reliability that the seedship would exceed?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Last Day: Death in Synthetic Civilizations

Recall that a synthetic civilization is used here to mean one which is a mixture of robots, other AI organisms perhaps with no bodies, modified animals with intelligence, new species that the native aliens created to improve themselves in their genetics laboratories, and perhaps some hybrids. There may be no more of the evolved species of aliens left, as they could simply choose not to have any more and only gestate some improved aliens. The new aliens might not be a species, simply individual organisms, but whether they are or not would depend on choices made in the alien civilization. If they conceive of some catastrophes in their future, they might want to make sure they are a species that can reproduce if necessary. There are certainly perils we know about, such as basalt floods and asteroid collisions, which would destroy the civilization but perhaps not all its inhabitants. Thus, having an ability to recover in case something like this happens might be a good insurance policy. Then again, they might simply have a small reservoir of their own species left to share the planet with newly designed creatures.

What would death be like in such a civilization? Robots wear out parts, but parts can be replaced, and any information in the control system of the robot simply transferred over. So, robots are almost immortal but they are not quite; there should be a new word for something which is just a set of replaceable parts. Biological creatures could have organs regrown and replaced, or perhaps a technology of regeneration would be developed which would eliminate the need for such replacements. This would be a sort of immortality, except that damage happens cell by cell, and even the best genetic copying is still going to have errors. There should be cosmic ray damage everywhere in the galaxy, not just on Earth, so they would be subject to that degradation.

Built-in cell death might be programmed away, as microbes do not have it. The process in higher organisms on Earth is that each generation of cells past some starting time chips away at a clock-like mechanism within the cell. The cells are only approximately running at the same rate, but when large numbers of cells reach their end-of-life signal, death happens. This might be written out of higher organisms, but that means that cellular damage, beyond that which can be repaired by the cell’s mechanisms, would accumulate and be inherited on a cell generation level. Thus, gradual degradation appears to be inevitable in biological organisms without some external intervention.

Possibly it will be possible for an alien civilization and their asymptotic technology to have a medical process which involved gradual replacement of the cells with cells grown in a protected environment, where they were largely free from damage, or which were grown rapidly from perfected genetic code so that no damage could accumulate. If these could be substituted by some process in a biological organisms, it would be brought back to a state of youth.

The brain in an organism, assuming it to be a neural net such as all mammals on Earth use, would be a separate issue. Figuring out how to generate new neurons in the brain without destroying the knowledge and capability of the organism might be impossible. Perhaps everyone in the alien civilization will get used to memory loss as time goes on.

Thus, immortality in a slightly degraded sense might be possible for alien civilizations. However, it is not clear that this is a realistic technology, or that the cost of it would not be so high that the civilization would just opt for death and replacement.

If death was part of the alien civilization, there is a question of how it would be handled. Should all biological organisms be grown with genetic code that stretches life to the longest extent, and medical technology, admittedly far beyond what we can imagine, used to prolong it in all cases, both from accidental injury and from senescence? We on Earth know the costs of such medical intervention grows greatly with the age of the organism, so, if costs were a consideration in the alien world, would there be some threshold upon which prolongation no longer was done?

The other alternative would be to go in the opposite direction, and provide some fixed term that each alien could expect to live, at the end of which there would be euthanasia. It is our natural instinct to avoid death, but some cultures on Earth accept it more naturally than others. Could an alien civilization go farther and make it an acceptable way of organizing a life?

In either of these two situations, there would be a date on which life no longer went on for any particular organism, either because medical intervention became too costly or because the alloted term was used up. We might refer to this as a Last Day arrangement, as each alien would understand when his/her/its last day was, and could choose to spend it as they wished.

There could be some coordination with the government, so Last Days only happened once a year, or on some other schedule, and it was turned into a type of celebration rather than the onset of mourning. Could it be possible that the culture could be adjusted so that the natural instinct to try to survive was subdued, and aliens willingly participated in Last Day ceremonies, either on a large scale or on a more private scale?

This has implications beyond the life of an individual alien. If part of their culture was the acceptance that organisms have a fixed length of time, and after that they willingly cease to exist, then they might apply that not only to individuals, but also to species, or to life in general, or to life on their planet, or to their culture. When it comes time to decide if they are going to go and colonize another planet a thousand light years away, or else just let their culture and species go extinct, this thinking may color their choices. “Everything has a lifetime, and our is up. Forget about the stars and let’s celebrate the end of our culture.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Life: Hard to Originate and Easy to Evolve

Suppose the origination of life happens in the way developed in this blog: only after an Earth-Moon collision, when many organic molecules are created in the inferno, only to cool down and form an organic ocean on top of the water ocean. Asteroid collisions, which are likely common among solar systems, don’t provide enough cooking of the atmosphere’s CO2 to provide the huge mass of heavier organics needed. If that is the case, and the Earth-Moon collision is in itself a rare thing, then life won’t originate, even on planets which are perfectly capable of supporting it.

On top of this, suppose that once life originates, by which we mean cells with external membranes and a DNA-like coding, it simply keeps going despite all the planet can throw at it, like basalt flows and atmosphere alterations, ice ages and scads of tsumanis, dirty volcanoes, and tectonic sheet collisions. These two assumptions taken together, and both are reasonable, mean that an alien civilization looking over the nearby galaxy with some giant telescopes and other interesting sensors, would decide that there are many worlds capable of being planets like theirs, but which didn’t. Maybe none did, or only one out of a thousand. What would they choose to do?

If they had had a Buddha-equivalent long ago in their past, teaching that life was the important thing, no matter what kind, and this belief spread and became the dominant philosophy during their industrial grand transformation, then by the time they reached the pinnacle of technology, there would be no question as to what they should do. They should seed the galaxy, wherever it would work.

There would really be just about no place to go and migrate to. Without life and its transformation of a planet, there are probably insuperable obstacles to an alien civilization going out and colonizing one. There is no dirt, nothing to eat or burn, nothing to breathe, maybe very hot or cold, in short, an unappetizing place to visit. Granted, it might be possible to burrow underground, mine enough uranium to support a colony, but without a logistics lifeline to the home planet, very difficult.

Seeding, on the other hand, might be a piece of cake. A one-way probe with a genetic lab inside could make some generic cells, and then dropsondes to put them into some shallow sea along the coastline. Yes, the dropsonde would have to have a re-entry shield, but this is not difficult. Once in, it would be necessary to wait some billions of years to have a habitable planet, so that can’t be the plan. The plan is pure Buddhism, support life in all its manifestations, even potential ones on a far-away exo-planet, even if it does you no good at all.

Even without a Buddhist tradition, there is little else for the alien civilization to do. It can do its own astronomical calculations, and figure out how long it could last, if enduring to the bitter end is what they want to do. Perhaps their eventual extinction would be easier to accept if they knew there were a hundred other planets that would likely evolve intelligent life. Quite an accomplishment, in some points of view. Taking a galaxy barren of life, and turning it into a future galactic network of civilizations is an accomplishment to dwarf all others. The time necessary to evolve from seed cell to city-building would vary by a factor of two or three, so there may never be many around at any one time to communicate, but there might be some overlap.

Those planets which were the rarity, ones which evolved life on their own, might be left to simply do what comes natural to such a planet, develop a civilization. Where does that leave Earth? We might think we understand the origins of life, but maybe Earth missed the mark, and there was one pre-condition we didn’t have and so life had to be seeded here, some three or four billion years ago. If that is the case, we might look around at all other potential harbors for life and see what other planets were seeded, and how far they have progressed along the expected path. Are we early achievers or the last of the bunch?

On the other hand, maybe we are the unique among the unique, the only planet to evolve life among the few planets which could have, as only we had the formation event, like an Earth-Moon collision. If so, we shouldn’t waste much of our time and resources looking for other civilizations, as there wouldn’t be any. Doing our astronomical homework and figuring out how likely an Earth-Moon collision is would help nail down this possibility, so we know if there might be one more somewhere on the other side of the galaxy or if the total is exactly zero, except for us.

This reinforces the need to figure out what the origination mechanism is for life. If it truly is very, very rare, but planets which could have done it are not at all rare just unlucky in the life lottery, then we have to ask ourselves a question. Do we want to go Buddhist? If there really are no planets with any life on them, sailing around the galaxy trying to colonize something is a long shot. But if we can start up life on other planets, should we? Does life mean something to us, or should we just enjoy our time here on Earth and then blink out of existence without a whimper? One aspect of this choice is that it provides a goal for us here on Earth. There is the terrible dragon of nihilism waiting for those civilizations which have no meaning to their existence. Even if we don’t have to go and seed life on other planets, we can make a choice to do so and adopt a goal for the human species, turning meaninglessness into meaningfulness. There is no way to answer the question of ‘should we’ as there is no shoulds in the laws of physics. There are only choices.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Nihilism in a Synthetic Civilization

Recall that a synthetic civilization is what you get after the genetic grand transformation happens, and it becomes possible to create organisms by designing their genetic code, translating it into DNA or their equivalent, and putting it into a cell and gestating it. It is the equivalent of designing a robot, going to a piece-work factory, and feeding the design into something like a 3D printing device. You turn it on, load it with the software you want, and let it go. Both new organisms and new robots will likely need initial periods in which their brains develop the necessary capability, but after that happens, you have what you wanted.

A synthetic civilization is a civilization, which is defined here as intelligent things interacting in a way to supply their needs, made up of a mixture of organisms and robots, all designed either individually or in groups. It may have aliens in it, who preserve their own species within the civilization, but perhaps more likely, it has an improved version of the alien species, or even just improved aliens, no longer part of any species but completely individual. This seems to be a possible endpoint of the development of an alien civilization, so it is worthwhile asking about it. This post concerns itself with nihilism, which is simply a flavor of philosophy which notices that life has no intrinsic meaning, only the meaning that other intelligent creatures give to it. Another way to say that is that life has not goal per se, other than ones which have persisted since the earlier days of the civilization. Back when things were simply evolving, the goal of life was simple, survive and reproduce. Then this became elaborated into all the subgoals that help that happen.

The synthetic civilization might have a speedbump here because automation will be there to ensure both survival and reproduction are done according to some plan. What does that leave for the aliens, or post-aliens, along with their robots and intelligent organisms (“intellos” for short)? Some of the aliens, robots and intellos may not be very bright, and simply do what they are told by others, but those which are gifted with a high degree of intelligence will appreciate their situation. They may have been trained during their early years, or early days for robots, that their purpose is such and such, but their intelligence would question that.

One of the hallmarks of intelligence is the ability to communicate with other intelligent things. It involves using a grammar, and one of the essential components in a language is the pronoun, “I”. Once an intelligent thing starts talking about ‘I this’ or ‘I that’, it becomes self-aware, meaning, its brain refers to itself as an object or an entity. Concepts of goals, utility, plans, and so on revolve around self-awareness. In a synthetic civilization, the more intelligent of the things that think will wonder about their own goals. They may have been trained to have some, but what keeps the brain in the thing from asking pertinent questions about why do I have such goals, and should I do something to change them.

For the sake of illustration, just assume that the upper intelligence tier of whatever is self-aware in a synthetic civilization realizes that there is no purpose to their existence, and they all are collectively depressed, which is one possible outcome of such realization. Now ask, are these thinking things going to want to travel to other solar systems and colonize other planets or start floating worldships touring the galaxy or seed other planets with the spark of life or anything else connected with interstellar travel? If you have any experience with a depressed person, or have had a period in your life when you were personally depressed, you know the answer. It is ‘No.”

There is a difference between envisioning a synthetic civilization and an alien civilization that has robots and intellos running around in subservient roles. If the alien civilization has not de-speciated, to coin a word meaning moving beyond being a single species, they can still have legacy goals which have been set in earlier eras and which are passed down from one generation of alien to the next one. They are trained in early years to know what to do, and it might include extraterrestrial voyaging. They would be in charge of the society, possibly, and able to command the robotics, including AI this and AI that, and any genetic organisms they chose to construct to help them with their goal. They could manage their civilization with a goal in mind. But in a synthetic civilization, there is no source of goals.

Nihilism can creep in and overpower an alien civilization at any time during or following the pre-genetics, pre-robotics period. That is the last period in which legacy goals can be set in concrete, and plans made to continue them through teaching and training young aliens. At that point, aliens are still constituted as they evolved, still carry the same emotional attachment as during the evolutionary period, but may know better how to preserve traditions, which are a fundamental piece of embedding goals in young alien minds. Neural networks only work one way, and that is the only way that a species can become intelligent, so we can be fairly confidence of interstellar convergence on this point.

Legacy goals can be lost through attrition and erosion, when one or two generations lose the drive to preserve them, and then technology advances to the point where goal setting is no longer something held over from evolutionary days, but becomes one more rational function of the civilization. Legacy goals can be lost from lack of care, or from deliberate or accidental sabotage of the process of preservation of goals, via the meme process. They can be lost because of distraction in a civilization that has developed technology to a sufficient point where all basic needs are met and enjoyment of civilization’s benefits becomes a dominant interest. They can be lost through war between regions or factions or from revolution by castes or some other segment of the population. There are many ways to lose the legacy goals, and only by avoiding all of them would the goal of extraterrestrial colonization or exploration be held. Considering all the loss mechanisms, perhaps nihilism, the absence of meaning in their lives, is a dominant reason why other civilizations stay at home.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Enormous Black Holes

Ordinary black holes form when large stars collapse under their own gravitational force. Stars start out with fusion fires in their cores, which generates enough countervailing pressure to keep them inflated. When the fuel burns out, the pressure from the high temperatures diminishes, and they collapse. If there is enough matter in the star, the matter condenses to neutronic matter, which is at the density of an atomic nucleus. This results in something tiny, Earth-sized, as opposed to normal star sized. This means the gravitational potential well is much deeper, and even photons have a hard time escaping. With enough matter, they can’t, and we have a black hole. It takes about 10 solar masses to do this. Stars in our galaxy go up to about 100 times solar mass, so there are very many candidates for future black holes. These massive stars burn very hot, so their lifetimes are short, and the galaxy is old, meaning there should be a lot of them around.

If you look at an globular cluster with a good telescope, you will see a million or many millions of stars, all pulling themselves together into a kind of tiny spherical galaxy. If you look closely, the hottest, heaviest stars cluster in the center. That’s simply a result of random motions in the cluster, where one star interacts with another star, sharing angular momentum and kinetic energy. The lighter stars are easier to kick around, so heavier ones lose some velocity and drop closer in toward the center. They don’t loose too much and collapse into a tiny volume, but the average distance to the center drops, and they make the core of the globular cluster nice and bright, yellow and blue.

These stars have been doing it for a long time in many globular clusters, meaning there would be a lot of black holes around, and they would be in the center as well, since their masses are about the same as the heavier stars. But they are invisible. There would be a range of neutron stars as well, also mostly invisible, and since they are lighter than black holes, they would range out farther in the cluster.

The center of the galaxy should have experienced the same phenomena, and should be full of heavy stars and black holes. Astronomers cannot see the black holes there, but they can map the gravitational potential by seeing how fast stars orbit near the core, just like we can see planets moving faster as they are closer to the sun. This provides an idea of how much mass is inside these orbits. For some unknown reason, there seems to be the idea that instead of a swarm of black holes in the center of the galaxy, there is a giant, enormous, single black hole. It would be impossible to tell the difference, and there is no obvious mechanism by which the matter in the galaxy could form an enormous black hole in the age of the galaxy, but the idea persists. A swarm of ordinary black holes could be the source of the gravitational potential, and that is a simpler idea.

But can enormous black holes exist? Do a thought experiment. Forget about time, and just imagine some immensely later time in the universe. Black holes are, so far, known only to be a one-way street for matter, and keep gobbling up anything which ventures too close to them. Suppose you are in the universe after immense amounts of time have passed, and black holes kept forming and kept accreting matter. Now there is nothing left in the universe except black holes and a bit of legacy matter. Sooner or later, actually, much later, black holes get close enough to one another and lose relative velocity, and if this happens enough, maybe quintillions of years, a binary black hole will form and tidal interactions will toss off gravity waves, carrying away the angular momentum, and they will spiral down until they merge. Again, this is a one-way street. So keep watching, and black holes will get larger and larger, but it might be a very long time.

As you keep watching, the average black hole mass will keep getting larger and larger. There is nothing known to stop this. So, from 100 solar masses to 1000 solar masses to a million and a billion. Now you have enormous black holes.

What is going on inside a black hole? The small ones have neutronic matter, as they form from neutron stars. Earth science does not know what other, more dense states of matter might be. At some pressure, do neutrons disassociate into quarks, leaving quark matter black holes? Actually, it there is a state of matter more dense than neutronic matter, it would start forming at the center of a black hole, and as more mass were accreted, increasing the pressure, the core area of quark matter or whatever matter would expand, growing larger and larger. No one has even a faint clue of what the mass required for such a transition might be. Are there further states beyond quark matter? Maybe…

Does something go wrong with the equations of general relativity at these high gravitational fields? Does it break down just like classical physics breaks down when size gets too small, requiring quantum mechanics and similar theories? The important point is, does gravitation cease when density gets too high? This might happen through an imperfection in the theory of gravity, or it might happen from the equation of state of matter at very high densities. In essence, do quarks carry gravitational force, or does it go away when a neutron oozes into a set of three quarks?

If gravitation goes away at insanely high densities of matter, we would have an instability inside a huge black hole. And the change to non-gravitational matter would have to occur at the core of the huge black hole, meaning it would want to rise to the surface. This type of instability is called a Rayleigh-Taylor instability, and it explains why you cannot have a water layer on top of an oil layer. It just inverts abruptly, no matter how carefully you do the pouring. So, if there is a cessation of gravitation inside a single, massive, gigantic, enormous black hole, you have an explosion. It might be called “The Big Bang”.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Retro Science Fiction

Retro SciFi is a name invented here to categorize one type of doomer science fiction, where society, in whole or in part, regresses to an earlier state. Technology is abandoned beyond a certain date, or perhaps a bit more finely, such as where electronics is abandoned, but mechanical gizmos keep getting invented and added to the collection of things the society in the retro scifi is concerned with.

This amounts to a very elementary writer’s trick, in that somehow a story or a novel has to be mostly familiar to its audience, with just a few novelties to make the events interesting. If one sets the novel in the recent past, the audience can immediately jump to a high level of familiarity, as we all know how the previous generation or maybe even the previous one to that had to live, what they did with their time and what problems they faced. Even if we don’t, the change back to these eras is not so large as to tax anyone’s imagination. So with this trick, the writer is free to throw in whatever he wants to as the innovative part. Perhaps it is some personal interactions, or a conflict between factions or regions, all conducted within the context of prior technology.

The reason for the abandonment of technology could be anything, after all, these are stories or novels which are wholly imaginary, and written without any restrictions. Could be some war happened, or some catastrophe that was attributed in part to some technology, or people just decided they didn’t like it anymore, or some key resource was exhausted or deeply depleted, or anything at all. This scenario might be considered for an alien civilization, which has progressed farther in development that we on Earth have, and has reached the threshold where the catastrophe happens, and technology no longer progresses, but regresses, either in one burst or gradually, down to some level where the civilization can sustain it, despite the catastrophe.

If we take this theme seriously as a possibility for alien civilizations, it would mean that the expected ordering of grand transformations, maybe starting with the use of fire, and then stone and wood, before moving onto the hunting grand transformation, followed by the agricultural, the industrial, and finally the genetic, after which asymptotic technology is available and the civilization reaches a stasis, would not run to completion. Because we are in the middle of our industrial grand transformation, current retro scifi concentrates on returning to an early phase of industry, perhaps the mechanical part, and never passing into later stages for a second attempt at the climb to the peak of technology. If this was an unavoidable consequence of prior technology development, or inevitable based on some universal evolutionary traits that all alien species would have, then it would certainly answer the question of where all the aliens were. They would all be stuck on their home planets, reduced to very pedestrian lives.

The scenario of technology level peaking and then falling back is a generic one, and does not have to be solely concentrated on the different phases of the industrial revolution. Maybe 99% of alien civilizations run out of large prey animals and slip back down through the hunting grand transformation to being tool-using fruit gatherers. Maybe agriculture doesn’t work on most alien planets for very long because of soil depletion, and so the societies go back to being clans hunting large animals. Maybe something happens with robots after they become highly prevalent, and the usual alien civilization just abandons them and AI as well, and goes back to some age similar to our own present one. Perhaps genetics has some unforeseen side effects, maybe ennui sets in, and the society goes back to having evolutionary reproduction and no new invented species, or even very smart pets.

While it is interesting to think about such possibilities, and certainly much good can come of going into details here, it is more relevant to think about why such a regression would be temporary rather than permanent, and therefore would not be the dominant reason why all the alien civilizations in the galaxy have not visited us. Technological progress has been happening for millennia on Earth, perhaps even for a million years if controlled fire was the first tool that was utilized by mankind’s predecessors. Why does it happen? Because humans and alien equivalents have needs and technology satisfies those needs. Stoicism is the philosophy that espouses not seeking anything for one’s life other than the minimum needed to sustain it. Can such a philosophy last for long? It never has on Earth. Human brains are simply computational devices used to satisfy needs, and seeking such satisfaction is the driving force behind activities, both of humans and necessarily of any aliens, no matter what shape they take.

Yes, catastrophes can happen and wars can occur and revulsion against some change or invention can happen, but as the civilization ages, technology as a means of solving the problem of satisfying needs will repeatedly be advanced forward. The group with the best technology out-competes other groups, if there is any such competition. Popular opinion against some type of technology might last for a few generations, but sooner or later the utility of technology will overcome the remnant memories of why some technology was abandoned earlier. We can expect the alien brain, in any alien species, to have the ability to be creative, and that allows the invention of new technology, or, in the case of a retro scifi scenario, the re-invention of technology. It simply proceeds onward, like water flowing downstream, moving around rockpiles or boulders in its way.

This is once again a reason why science fiction is not a good substitute for alienology, the careful and thoughtful exploration of what alien civilizations might be like. Science fiction has its own goals, principally the income of the authors, while alienology was devised to help understand the possibilities for intelligent life on other planets, and possibly its implications for our own lives.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Synthetic Civilizations

Synthetic civilization is a term coined here to represent what happens to an alien civilization after it becomes filled with intelligent things: AI robots, disembodied AI with only an interface to the world, intelligent created organisms for anything, new species of aliens created by design or even something beyond species, just individual creatures created by designing a genetic code and then growing it in some industrial or biological factory. It is hard for us to imagine such a civilization, as our only experience has been with us as the only intelligent creatures, and we are evolved organisms, not something designed by some mind and then brought to fruition.

We can fairly easily imagine the first few generations of this society, where the laws are legacy laws, and the evolved aliens own everything, and the robots just work. But after a while, this hierarchy might dissolve. The evolved aliens might start looking more and more different, as a better understanding of the genetic code is obtained, and more possibilities of variations are possible. Then when the aliens start introducing intelligence into other animals, such as their pets, things start to get weird. Making something like intelligent horses, dogs, monkeys, cats or whatever existed in the alien society leads to the idea of a granting of rights to anything intelligent. Some bright alien is sure to think of granting the same rights to robots whose AI puts them at the level of an alien.

Exactly what rights would there be? Here on Earth we think of rights as permission to vote for representatives or leaders, but would there be any representatives in a synthetic civilization? Who would govern it, or better, who would make allocation decisions as to how much of the energy of the civilization would go to infrastructure maintenance, providing services, keeping up the flows of air, water, food and whatever else the society distributes, transportation and all the rest. Why would there be anyone governing it? If the civilization has been static for centuries, they would know just how much energy to allocate to each sector, and how to distribute it further. With a many centuries old civilization, there isn’t any need to change anything. Nothing is growing and nothing is shrinking, except available resources, and that might be shrinking very slowly due to extensive recycling and re-use.

In an age-old civilization, there is no need to campaign for more of this or that, as the allocation decisions have been made centuries before, and each generation, or issue for robots, just steps into the shoes of the previous one. Perhaps it took them a few centuries to figure out what was optimal, but after that time, nobody needs to question anything in the allocation area, as the data of many decades and centuries indicates just how it should be. So, there is no point to having representatives, and no point to having leaders, and no decisions are being made except for the default decision to just keep going onward.

Did some natural phenomena happen that disrupted something? They would just work to minimize the effects like they did with the last fifty similar ones. Was there an unexpected failure of some infrastructure component, like an energy distribution node? Just do what was done for the last few hundred failures of this type. Backup that is appropriate would be in place already, and any organisms needed for repairs would be available.

Could anyone tell if an intello had rights or not? Could a robot recognize if he had less rights than a biological organism? If there aren’t any discernable rights, there would be no differences, and so the existence of some legacy document, undoubtedly electronic, giving equal rights to various things would be irrelevant in the extreme.

What about employment rights? Most likely, employment would be vastly different in a synthetic civilization. Would some new version of an alien want to work in manufacturing? Manufacturing would likely be wholly automated, under the control of an AI in a box somewhere. Would this alien want to have the process de-automated so he/she/it could sit at a factory bench assembling something? It doesn’t make sense. Would this alien want to work in food production? The food production factory is likely to be as automated as the manufacturing facility, and might be populated with specialized organisms with senses designed to detect the condition of the various biological processes going on to produce nutritious substances. No space for the alien here. Would this alien want to work in sales, when everything is done online or some more subtle prediction mechanism. Each habitat for an alien might be automatically equipped with all the necessary items, so no shopping was required.

Perhaps there are some employment slots in the synthetic civilization. They would likely be places for experiencing what it was like to work, and the occupiers of the slots might simply rotate, or be chosen by lottery. Why would a particular alien be excluded from this rotation cycle or lottery? If they could fit the slot, what would be the point? There might be no aliens on their home planet with identical genes, although the majority of their genes might be the same, if there is an optimal set of choices.

Could a robot perform the activities of this make-work slot? If so, could it fill it if it wanted to? Why would it want to?

It would appear that a synthetic civilization is like what has been imagined for an advanced alien civilization in previous posts, that there is no need for employment, but it might be done for some other reasons. If the reason involves gaining experiences, there would be no need for a robot to do this unless the robot had a brain like the biological brains of the aliens, that is, with neural nets that rely on associations to function. If the robot brain is more like an expert system, with predictable outcomes, then experiences could simply be downloaded rather than gathered in real time.

This example sheds a bit of light on how to envisage a synthetic civilization. What is necessary is to understand what differences in the organisms, including robots and hybrids, would have an effect on how they existed within the civilization, including what roles they would play. Coming up with a self-consistent vision of the lives of different organisms is a difficult task, and chipping away at it bit by bit might be the only way to get to it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Surrounded by Intelligence

The end of the industrial grand transformation for an alien civilization is the development of automation, including robotics and artificial intelligence. Once artificial intelligence is finally invented, which is a hardware and a software combination, it can be tweaked into many forms, and used in many places. In an alien civilization, this might mean that voice communication becomes the common method of interfacing with anything, or perhaps gesture or other visual signaling. Data access becomes simple and universal, which will change the attitude of the aliens toward data hiding. A more open society is essentially forced by the technology, as most information will simply reside, in organized form, on databases which can be accessed from anywhere.

Thus, aliens at this point in their civilization’s development will become very used to communicating with everything. Things might have names, or become familiar with individual aliens, so that society becomes quite different. Instead of having only other aliens to talk to and interact with, there are AI gizmos virtually everywhere. Just as first water, then gas, then electricity, then communications became universally available, so will intelligence. Aliens will grow up not thinking of themselves as anything special, as there is an automaton that can do anything any of them can do, better, or at least as good.

This trend continues with the genetics grand transformation. When it becomes feasible in an alien civilization to invent new creatures, and imbue them with intelligence, such as the intellos discussed frequently in this blog, the ubiquity of intelligence will become even more pronounced. Intelligent pets, with the owner or user deciding how much intelligence, communication, independence, and whatever other mental traits are possible, each pet should have. Pets can be anything when genetics is available to take a concept and turn it into a genetic code. Genetics will be completely understood at the end or even the middle of the genetics grand transformation, and designing a specialized organism for any purpose would be doing, probably using the automation and AI that already exists by that time.

How would this change how aliens view themselves? Even if the aliens do not decide to do away with their own species in favor of something better, or simply allow it to shift genetically as improvements are found, they would see themselves as just one of a million possible organisms, one that, perhaps mostly by chance, happened to evolve, and get technology started. “What is valuable about us?” might be asked once this stage is reached. “We’re not the best at anything. We’re pretty good at living on our home planet, but then so are another thousand intelligent organisms we have created. Anything we can do, art, music, design, invention, exploration, science, and so on can all be done better by organisms we can create or which our AI systems can create. AI can do many of these things, too, and there are some which AI works better at and some that genetics works better at. But we aren’t at the apex of anything.”

Would this mean they would simply decide not to reproduce any more of their own species, and instead make a diverse collection of other organisms? Perhaps a mixture of robots, intellos, and hybrid organisms, if there is a way to do this efficiently, will be their choices. Industrial gestation gives them the ability to produce more of their own kind, or some improved version, but industrial gestation combined with complete genetics knowledge allows them to produce more of whatever they want to, and it could very well be that the cost of a genetic code is small enough so that each organism can be designed independently. This is analogous to what we are seeing with 3D printing, except with a genetic code instead of a layered object design, and an industrial gestation machine instead of the 3D printer.

So where does this lead for extraterrestrial voyaging and colonization? Remember that there is no intrinsic instinct that drives aliens to explore outer space. There is just legacy training from the early days of the industrial revolution. If successive generations teach the next one that the stars are their destiny, then the alien civilization will go to the stars. But successive generations breaks down when training is done by robotics or intellos, and there is nothing genetic remaining from the original evolved species that has not been improved.

If the original alien species loses the sense of itself as a special, valuable thing, needing to be preserved, but instead just gets lost in the myriad of intelligent objects and organisms inhabiting the home planet, why would it want to go to interstellar space? Existence in an alien civilization may become meaningless. Why bother to go to the incredible expense of figuring out how to go to another planet and set up a colony there, and then doing it, if there is no point that can be made for why the collection of organisms on the home planet should be preserved and transplanted?

We are familiar with nihilism here on Earth, but there was always the note that human beings are special: we are the only things with intelligence. There are so many things that only human beings can do. With the commodification of artificial intelligence able to do anything at all and the development of artificial genomes for growing anything at all, that argument simply disappears in a puff of smoke. What is left to motivate whoever is left of the alien species to travel to other planetary systems? It would appear nothing.

This may however be the wrong point of view concerning advanced alien civilizations. We may have a misnomer: alien civilizations. For humans, we only have seen human civilizations. Perhaps the proper point of view is that after the genetic grand transformation, the civilization that exists on the alien’s home planet will be a diverse grab-bag of organisms of multiple kinds. How might such a conglomeration work? Who would decide what was created or grown? How many of what kind of things should be produced? It is remarkably hard to understand how such a collection of organisms would self-organize, and that needs to be done before we can ask if it would travel to other planetary systems. Some new name needs to be created. For the purpose of this blog, we will call it a synthetic civilization, meaning that everything there, including all organisms, were created by predecessor organisms.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Harvesting from Gas Giants

There has been some small amount of discussion here on Earth about mining extraplanetary resources. One subject was the He3 on the moon, which makes an excellent fusion fuel. Another has been precious metals or rare earths on asteroids. These are all high value to weight materials, found on places without deep gravitational wells. The idea would be very simple. Go out and mine them where they are found, ship them back via rocket, and land them somehow on Earth.

An alien civilization might start with such things in their early days of harvesting interplanetary resources, but what about the gas giants? Assuming their solar system has one or more gas giants, like we have Jupiter and Saturn, these planets represent the large majority of planetary mass in the solar system, meaning they might be the location of the largest amount of resources. We do not yet understand the composition of the core of these planets, as their atmospheres are too thick to see though and too dense to fly a probe into and survive. We hardly know the radius of the solid cores, or if indeed there is a well-defined one. We know what we see, the upper atmosphere, which for Jupiter and Saturn, is a banded pattern with a great amount of wind shear and turbulence. The banded patterns likely come from the mixing of lower layers of the atmosphere due to convective circulation forced by rotation, akin to Coriolis forces. The lower layers have a different composition due to the gravity gradient and therefore a different albedo shows where they are circulated upwards.

Is there any way that energy might be harvested from a planet such as Jupiter and brought back to the home planet, such as Earth, with a positive return? There must be a total amount of energy expended to both obtain the energy at the gas giant and then transport it back to the home planet and down to the surface there and this has to be less than the energy provided. These calculations cannot be done now, as we are short a hundred years or so of engineering, but some ideas as to the sources can be guessed. One source is the simplest: hydrogen. Hydrogen brought to a planet with a surplus of oxygen is an excellent fuel, only making water when combusted. One idea for alien planets is that their energy on the surface would be transported and used as hydrogen gas, but whether it is or not, hydrogen for power plants is still a viable concept.

The upper atmosphere of Jupiter and all gas giants is mostly hydrogen, with a bit of helium mixing in. Helium does not much degrade the fuel ability of hydrogen, and might be fairly valuable on the home planet in its own right, so bringing back a bit of an admixture with helium is not a bad idea. Gas giants are gas giants because they are large enough to retain hydrogen for time comparable with the age of the solar system or the universe, so any large enough planet should be mostly hydrogen at the top of its atmosphere. Skimming into that exosphere with a large tank and a large scoop should pick up hydrogen quite nicely. It might be compressed a bit more before shipping it back to the home planet, to whatever degree minimizes the tank mass per hydrogen mass.

The energy cost for shipping some tank back to the home planet is not connected to the energy for a space ship, as shuttle orbits can be used which are immensely efficient, needing only steering propulsion. There would have to be energy expended to bring the tank of hydrogen up to match the velocity of the ship transporting it, and then energy expended when the tank was dropped off into an orbit around the home planet. An empty tank would have to be attached in place of the full tank to the shuttle craft, and this could be managed as a momentum transfer, so that only the energy to decelerate the mass of hydrogen is necessary, plus some energy for steering and aligning orbits.

Once in orbit around the home planet, the hydrogen would have to be brought down to the home planet’s surface. Reusable shuttle craft is one idea, burning some of the hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen to land calmly and gently. We have only begun to perfect the art of reusable surface-to-orbit shuttles, but they obviously can be done. Another more exotic idea is to have a large diameter pipe oriented vertically, from geostationary orbit down to the surface. This idea has been discussed as a space elevator, but it is even simpler to have a hollow pipe though which hydrogen could flow. Obviously, there would be great bending moment on the pipe from the atmosphere, but if that is solved, it would likely be more efficient that reusable shuttles.

Other sources are much more difficult to harvest, but might be possible. There are tremendous wind forces on Jupiter, and likely gas giants in other solar systems. There is no clear way to put something down on the core surface to capture the wind energy and then transform it into a transportable form and bring it up through the entire atmosphere back to orbit where it could be returned to the home planet. Instead, some form of long tether between two floating objects, at different altitude, might serve to provide enough differential wind velocity to harvest power electrically. We have not mastered the art of transmitting power over long distances even on Earth or from Earth orbit to Earth surface, but it does seem to be remotely possible that a tethered platform could transmit power to an orbiting satellite, which would then put it into some form where it could be transported back to the home planet. Batteries are an inefficient form of energy storage, and chemical fuel in the form of carbon bonds is much more energy-dense. Shipping water and carbon dioxide on the shuttle back to the gas giant, where they were transformed to octane or something similar, and then shipping by shuttle back to the home planet would use very little energy in transferring orbits. The octane might be burned in home planet orbit and the exhaust packaged and reshipped to the gas giant.

Another less thought of form of energy harvesting is from the magnetic field of the gas giant. If the alien solar system had rapidly rotating gas giants, they should have strong magnetic fields, although we frankly do not understand the mechanisms for planetary magnetic fields very well. A huge loop of conductor, orbiting at low orbit over the gas giant and oriented perpendicularly to the field lines, should capture a large current which could be transformed and transferred in much the same way as electrical power captured from wind shear forces.

All in all, energy harvesting from a gas giant might be quite possible for an advanced alien civilization, and this would be manifested by large numbers of shuttle craft going to and from the gas giant and the home planet. These might be visible in very limited circumstances. Nothing else in any of these schemes would even conceivably be visible with a giant telescope from our solar system, but if we could better understand the sources of usable energy in an alien solar system, we might better understand the longevity of the civilization and their propensity for star travel.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Civilizations of Intelligent Aliens

If we are going to try and get some insight as to why aliens have not visited us, it would help to know how they think, what they consider important, how they plan their lives, how visionary they are, and many similar questions. Here on Earth we are still somewhat primitive, so we might have some difficulty in imagining how a more advanced society would consider these topics. On Earth, intelligence is very diverse, ranging from what we consider retarded to what we consider genius. On an advanced alien planet, which had passed the genetic grand transition, there might easily be only genius category individuals, or what they consider genius category. Their average might be even higher than our best.

Our society here on Earth is built on the diversity of intelligence. Intelligence makes a big difference in one’s social standing, success, living standards, and interaction with others. It is not so much IQ-measured intelligence, but the ability to solve problems, to be creative, to spot errors, to organize people and projects, to manage things, and so on. We have the people who excel at those tasks running things, and feeding information to the others further down the rungs of the intelligence ladder. Assuming there is a metric which might measure this type of intelligence, you could say that the top 20% or so are in charge of the important organizations, and have influence over all the others.

Our society is organized around this downward flowing of information. The top 20% create it and the lower 80% consume it. This holds in science, technology, governance, business, art, and other segments of our social life. The measure is not ironclad, as there are certainly exceptions, but there is a substantial correlation. This would not be so on a planet with universal high intelligence.

When there is no ranking based on intelligence, how would positions and opportunities be apportioned out? One possibility is a lottery but there are others. How would living standards be decided? Would there be only one living standard and everyone got the same; housing, materials, foods, traveling, and so on? Would there be variations, decided on some random aspects, and would they exist for the whole life of each individual alien, or would an alien experience very different living standards at different times in his/her/its life?

More to the point, without some natural leaders, where every alien could do just as good a job at leading the civilization or its regions or factions, is there any impetus to do great projects, like interstellar voyaging? With no inherent leadership, would some individual alien be chosen and given the mandate to lead the civilization, and if so, would he/she/it decide on something monumental, like an interstellar voyage? On Earth, grandiose projects are usually the project of an individual, although there may be behind-the-scenes motivation and support. The projects are often things which provide that individual with psychological benefits, such as conquests, monuments, or new forms of government. An individual in an alien civilization would be living in a time when he/she/it would already be receiving an abundance of psychological benefits, as the civilization would have supplied those needs just as it supplies all physical needs. Any training would be universal, and not designed to produce individuals who felt a need to do gigantic things. So, from an individual view, there might be no one to lead the civilization to new planets and solar systems.

Perhaps the place of individual leadership would be taken by artificial intelligence. Why would individual aliens want to take on the job of figuring out the details of how to manage the civilization, when it could be automated entirely, and left to some algorithms? But the AI being used for governance would be useful for coordinating the activities of the various robotic systems so that the society would function smoothly and flawlessly, but how would it take over the job of inspiring the aliens to go into interstellar space?

On Earth, we have no serious AI, but we have many people speculating about it, and the usual speculation is that it somehow develops human emotions and starts to act like a super-person. If It was not designed to do that, it would not. At the core of the AI program is a set of metrics and goals, and the AI seeks to take actions and make decisions so that these goals are fulfilled, or the metrics brought to the highest levels. This does not involve star flight.

There would be no individuals who would take on the job of leading a movement to go to space. Everyone would be just as able to envision the idea, see the difficulties, evaluate the benefits, and make a choice. A singular individual, taking on this mission as a human being might, would find little response among other aliens.

In earlier posts, it was discussed how the goal of extraterrestrial travel would have to be encoded into the training that each alien received during his/her/its youth, and then there would be a universal consensus that this task should be part of the civilization’s activities and should be given a portion of the planet’s or solar system’s resources. With that embedded into the tapestry of the civilization’s culture, aliens would expect to devote some part of their time to furthering that goal, or at least to sacrifice some of their resources to it. But the concept that some individual alien would arise in the absence of this portion of their training, and somehow get the idea that he/she/it should lead the civilization into extrasolar space, is more a projection of what we might expect than what might actually happen in an advanced alien civilization. We like to have science fiction stories based around some inspired hero, or we write out histories as it certain individuals made choices and led movements, but these are things that pertain to our civilization with its shortage of intelligence and its dependence on downward communication of ideas and goals. If we try to figure out what happens in an alien civilization by treating it just like Earth with its humans plus some advanced technology, then there will certainly be misunderstandings and possibly even absurd conclusions