Monday, September 14, 2015

Population Choices on the Minimum Side

The upper bound of the population of an alien civilization can be estimated by determining some side effects of the population, such as the disturbance of the planet’s atmosphere from heat generated by the cities of the aliens. This is not an iron-clad bound, as the aliens are already forced to live in cities for recycling efficiency, and the cities would have to be maintained at a comfortable temperature. Having the exterior of the planet a bit hotter would simply require some more power to maintain the temperature. However, if one of the goals of the alien civilization is to provide enjoyment to the citizens, as well as keeping them alive and healthy, having the exterior of the cities maintained at near normal temperatures would be a benefit. This is a weaker reason for determining the upper bound, but no reason to have a larger population was seen.

On Earth, we are used to having a growing population, for various reasons, including financial ones. Our economies work better with growing populations. Obviously, there has to be a limit somewhere, and alien economies would be arranged so differently from our Earth economy that there are few parallels. With a longevity for the civilization measured in millennia or even millions of years, growth is long past, and a constant population would be necessary, at least limited by an upper bound.

Alternative methods that the aliens might use to pick the upper bound for their population could depend on the limitations that resource loss in the recycling process imposes. If the aliens had decided to maintain their population for a given time, for example the mean time between planetary disruptions such as basalt floods, and they well understood the limiting resource, they could establish their upper bound population as that number which runs the limiting resource out to the estimated longevity of the planet. Clearly, a planet with fewer resources would support fewer citizens. Their calculations of limiting resources would be moderated by whatever calculations they might made about resource substitution. The idea that they would burn through all their resources in a short time does not make sense for an advance civilization. On Earth, we think only in the short term, and maximize other quantities, such as the wealth or income of certain selected individuals, and this results in a high rate of resource usage. This is not how a star-traveling alien civilization would manage their resources as they would not survive long enough at a high living standard to be able to reach asymptotic technology and to achieve star travel capability. So they must have adapted their economy to a steady-state system, varying only slowly over time as resource substitution gradually takes place, if at all.

This calculation is for an upper bound of the population, and there has been no discussion of why they would want to maximize their population. There is a tradeoff, given a fixed rate of resource consumption, between population and per capita resource usage. There may be reasons why they would choose a lower population than the upper bound determined by either of the two methods discussed above, but one of them is not to maximize per capita resource usage. Asymptotic technology is all-encompassing, and it also includes an understanding of human neurology. They will understand how to maximize the happiness as well as the well-being of their citizens, and this will be done with a fixed amount of resource consumption. Increasing resource consumption over that limit will be self-defeating. Individual citizens would not be seeking to consume more resources per day, nor to amass resources in some sort of storage unit, either physically or virtually. It would be pointless.

Furthermore, with artificial gestation eliminating any concept of inheritance, there is not inter-generational need to amass resources. Thus, having a lower population to allow some or all citizens to use up larger amounts of resources per day does not make sense, and does not fit in with the concept of a civilization that endures for millennia or millions of years.

For such a civilization, what is there left to do? This is why the star travel meme, discussed since early on in this blog, is so important a parameter to understand. After the alien civilization reaches asymptotic technology, they would have already, or soon thereafter, determined how their civilization would be arranged for the long-term. That long-term view implies constancy, not growth or shrinkage. Neither resource consumption nor energy production nor population would be growing or shrinking, except over the very long term. Thus the only basis for the choice of population in such a stable situation must come from the only source of non-constancy in the civilization, which is the progress of the accomplishment of whatever star travel meme their civilization has adopted.

Estimates of star travel’s cost have not yet been made, but they are likely to be high. These costs come from the usage of resources. If the aliens living on their home world are figuring out how to find the resources for spreading their population to other planets outside their solar system, having no resources available for it would halt their planning. They must allocate resources to it, and thus the population cannot be scheduled to consume all of it before their planned migration, which will also need a reserved quantity of resources.

The other side of this is that population cannot be too small or the accomplishment of colonization and migration would be affected. It is possible to think of an alien civilization which has very small numbers of population on their home planet, which is largely populated by robots and intellos, who perform all the functions of maintaining the planet’s infrastructure and providing consumable goods to the citizens. A master computer system would be in charge of planning activities. However, this strikes a very discordant note for those categories of star travel meme, most recently recategorized as type A1, A2, or A3. They value their own civilization, and to minimize it on the home planet would be the exact opposite of what they are trying to do on other planets. So, in order for a consistency to exist, aliens would tend to maintain a large population on their home planet, and by analogy, on their colonies. This does not necessarily mean that the limit is set by either of the two alternatives discussed above, heat limitations or resource exhaustion. There must be a lower limit necessary to maintain their civilization’s form. For lack of a better number, think of a single alien city as having ten million residents. For survival purposes, in other words, to guard against the unknown unknowns, perhaps ten of these would be sufficient. Thus, a population of a hundred million might be a minimum.

There is clearly the need for more thought to be given to the idea that, even with asymptotic technology, there might be unpredictable events. In the discussion of the limits to omniscience, this topic was broached, but not applied to survival of the civilization. This needs to be done.

No comments:

Post a Comment