Saturday, October 31, 2015

Interstellar Baggage – Part 6 – Genetic Options

We on Earth are in the midst of a climb up the learning curve of robotics. Each decade brings some new advances. Progress is slow as creating a new quasi-living thing, even if out of standard parts, is a complex process. Many standard parts are not acceptable in some attribute, so the materials science needs to be done to make them more flexible or rigid, strong or lightweight, reliable or intensive, or many other aspects. Each major step gets much notice, as do the intermediate steps. Thus, we here think robotics is a big thing.

It is a big thing, but maybe not the biggest thing. Earth technology in the biological synthesis area is nowhere as far along as it is in robotics, and while genetic discoveries get press, they don’t capture the imagination of the public like robots that drive cars or deliver medicine or clean floors or keep airplanes flying or many other tasks. This means that when we assess how an alien planet, which is already past asymptotic technology, meaning they know everything important, would divvy up their tasks between robotics and genetics, we think of robotics first. It’s time to think of genetics first.

For a landing ship, some choices have to be made about what to put in the payload. Each kilogram carried at some fraction of light speed over a distance measured in light years caused a huge amount of money, or energy if that is what the home alien world uses for currency measures. How do you get those kilograms down and still make the colony successful, and able to establish self-sufficiency in a short time, using only what they brought on board?

They have some essential needs that must be met, and these have to be sourced from the planet itself once the supplies on the lander give out. The way discussed in a previous post was to turn into hunter-gatherers until some basic infrastructure was created. If the planet is as we assumed, a best case world, this would work assuming the daily average amount collected by those individuals engaged in this occupation was sufficient to feed the whole landing party. Also discussed was the need to have something which could both replicate itself and provide something necessary to the landing party. The first thing that likely comes to mind is a manufacturing robot that can create another of itself and mining and mineral processing equipment as well. This satisfies the construction problem.

Why not just have something easy to grow, using only locally available materials plus photons from the local sun? Plants are fine, and can be made to grow fast. They can extract trace minerals from soil, and absorb carbon dioxide from the air, and together with solar photons, produce practically anything. Having specialized plants for the landing party means they only have to carry some seeds, almost nothing in weight. Maybe a watering can needs to be brought along. This way nutrition is taken care of, and some fast-growing tree-like plants can provide structural materials.

What about power? Does this mean having a robot that mines various minerals, extracts the elements needed to build solar panels, and then builds them? Or does it mean having a seed for a plant which excretes burnable fuel?
What are the limits to what organisms can be coded to do? If a probe succeeded in finding minerals accessible on the surface, can an organism be designed and built that is smart enough to go to that location, perhaps matching an image shown to it of the surroundings, and then release some microbe which chemically extracts the needed minerals? Can a second organism, similar to the first, be instructed to go to the same location and harvest the microbes, and bring them back to the landing site, where it would feed them to another synthetic organism, which extracts the desired element and deposits it on an external surface, like the underside of its leaves? We on Earth are so far from understanding the powers and limitations of genetics that we have no good way to grasp what is reasonable to assume and what is not.

We do understand some simple biological processes that do one step of this process, under certain conditions, and that is the extraction, or leaching, of certain elements out of wet rock. Copper, iron and uranium are examples where it is sometimes practical to bioleach. These were discovered organisms. If alien civilization is past the genetic grand transition, where they can synthesize organism able to perform chosen tasks, the gamut of bioleaching might be much wider, both in elements extracted and conditions under which it can be performed. There are obvious requirements, meaning that there has to be energy available to the organisms involved. We on Earth are familiar with symbiotic arrangements, occurring naturally, between fungi and algae, which when biologically integrated are called lichens. The fungi provides the ability to hold onto a rock, and to provide nutrients to the algae, and the algae are photosynthetic, providing an energy source. Perhaps an alien civilization would use this simply pairing as a template for their own synthetic mixtures of microscopic organisms able to extract a variety of minerals in dry or wet situations.

As far as the higher order synthetic organisms, able to navigate on a new planet, there are several options. Birds on Earth can navigate large distances, but typically it is learned via generations. Sensors can include polarization or magnetic direction, as well as image matching. Even something as simple as an insect can navigate seasonally. An alien civilization could come up with a symbiotic pairing, with one organism doing the navigating and the other providing sustenance along the way. As much intelligence could be added into either as was needed to be highly reliable and effective.

Another need the landing party has is gestation. It would be possible to bring an industrial gestation machine down, but why not grow one? From a synthesized single cell an organism capable of gestating the larger organisms needed could be grown, and once that starting hurdle was passed, it could be used for gestating anything desired, including the next generation of aliens. Pack animals could be gestated to handle short distance traveling, or something that could be ridden for hunting or other purposes could be as well.

The tradeoff between robotics and genetics is obviously highly situation-dependent, and highly task-dependent. Whether genetics could provide a major weight reduction for a colonization ship payload is not clear from the little we know, but we do know that we cannot rule it out, and that there may be many advantages.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Interstellar Baggage – Part 5 – Necessities

One helpful rule for determining at least part of what necessities a seeding team would need on the ground on their new planet is this: bring whatever you need to reproduce what you brought. If replication can be achieved, and some expansion produced on top of that, the new colony will be able to survive and prosper, barring catastrophes.

This design rule has two implications. One is that the materials included should be as simple to manufacture, whatever that means for the state of technology that exists in the alien civilization, as possible. The other is that the production equipment must be, in and of itself, self-replicating. It needs to be made of parts it can make.

There is a broader context. Manufacturing is only one item within the concept of self-replication. The other is materials. There must be replicatable equipment able to find and extract all the necessary materials, from raw sources found on the planet. Clearly the premium is on reducing the different materials needed to the absolute minimum, and make that minimum up from easy to find and easy to extract materials as far as possible. This may involve departing from exact replication, but sticking to the replication of function. One clear example is the use of the local equivalent of trees to replace uses of plastic in some parts of the equipment. Another would be the use of extracted plant oils to replace synthetic oils used in the original equipment.

A third consideration involves transport. There will not be much ability to move long distances. This means materials found need to be local. If mining is needed, and it probably will, underground mineral resources need to be close at hand. If Earth is any guide, minerals are not located near one another. Having two mines, for dissimilar minerals, near one another is the rare exception. The story of Earth is of locating minerals and other natural sources anywhere on the planet, and transporting it, by one means or another, to the central sites for processing and converting to the usable form of the elements or minerals needed for various types of equipment.
Even early trade on Earth between distant locals was more in basic materials rather than manufactured items. Copper, tin, iron, and other metals usually had to be brought long distances. This implies that there will need to be careful planning on how to, for example, only use iron for construction, and only use additives to it which are easily found. On Earth, our technology does not go in that direction, as we are in a phase of our history where materials of all sorts are still plentiful here on the planet. There is little need to try and reduce the variety used. Instead, pressing forward with more capability, for example, more strength for less weight, more processing capability in less volume, more flexibility, more heat capacity, more of any number of different attributes is what is desired. Materials are on Earth still sufficiently low in the fraction of cost of items to allow a wide selection of them to be incorporated into anything. This would not be the case with a settlement expedition to another planet.

It might be that there are a dozen different natural materials that will suffice to meet the functional replication requirement. Some of these might be mined, others exist on the surface. If one is fossil fuels, and the planet is so fortunate to have them easily available, some drilling might be necessary. Here is the first indication of a minimum size for the landing party. If there are a dozen sites from which materials of different sites need to be extracted, there would need to be either some robotic equipment or some biological organism, an alien or an intello, present at the dozen sites. If it were aliens, this provides an indication of how many aliens would be needed. At each site, perhaps three, and another fifty at the landing site, leading to only a hundred or so.

For robotics, there is a question as to whether a useful robot can be built using a minimum number of materials. For any of the materials extraction sites, the robot would have to have some degree of mobility, as well as a high degree of artificial intelligence. Both of these would be simply provided on the aliens’ home planet, but making them out of a minimum number of materials might be beyond the reach of even asymptotic technology. Intellos might be simpler to grow and train, but there is a time constraint involved here. It might be that aliens are required at each site, and at the very least, to be able to travel to the sites.

Transport of minerals over long distances on a raw planet cannot easily be done over land. Building air transport would likely involve more difficulties than water transport, if such things are possible on the new planet.
Simply thinking about the struggle to colonize a planet indicates the aliens may be initially building an infrastructure, very thin, that relates closely to their earlier era of pre-technology life on their home planet. There are some aspects of technology that could be transferred to the clone planet, but in many areas of life, primitive methods might have to be used. The primitive life of the aliens would have depended on some characteristics of their own planet. They may or may not have had pack animals, and these could be bred on the colony planet. There may not have been many open bodies of water on the home planet, and they may have turned to air travel early in their technological climb. We know about dirigibles, but never made use of them. Perhaps some alien worlds have, and if so, they would be likely transported to the new world if conditions were the same there
When we on Earth think of asymptotic technology, the natural thing to think about is increasing capability in every possible way, maximizing all the attributes listed above and more. But asymptotic technology is much more than that. It is the complete knowledge of technology, and this means being able to perform functions with less energy, less materials, less recycling losses, less wear, less computation, less and less and less. This phase of asymptotic technology, the one we are not as familiar with, is the one that will play a critical role in equipping the landing party, and will be what determines the minimal size of the party. This minimal technology, in conjunction with some carryovers of primitive infrastructure, probably defines what a clone world would look like during the earliest period of its existence.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Interstellar Baggage – Part 4 – Landers

When a seeding vessel from the originating solar system arrives in the destination solar system, there are several options it could follow to try and improve the probability that it would be able to accomplish its mission. In the best of all possible situations, the new planet is just waiting for the settlers to arrive. It is more than just an ordinary sweet spot world, it is one in which the biology is right as well. The best analogy on Earth would be a large island, undiscovered by humans, but full of edible flora and fauna, and free from any highly lethal bacteria or viruses. Humans arriving on that island, provided they had some minimal hunting equipment, could simply move in and make themselves at home. They of course would need a boat or canoe to get them to the island. There also would have to be a beach or a harbor where they could bring the boat and leave it, while they explored the island.

The seeding vessel was not the first starship to arrive, but at least the second, one or more probes having preceded it. They would have found some sites that would be good to set up an initial camp in. This just leaves the problem of getting there from some orbit around the star, when the deceleration engine was turned off, leaving them in the right solar system. Running the engine a bit more might bring them somewhere into the gravity well of the destination planet.

One of the key elements of the baggage the seeding vessel would have to bring involves the descent to the planet’s surface. There would seem to be no point to leaving some supplies up in planetary orbit, to be dropped down in a second lander. Having everything present at the initial target landing site seems to be the most practical method, assuming the probe or probes did their task correctly and ascertained that there is a good landing site and there would be no need to try and move to another one.

There are two options at this point. One is to bring the entire star vessel down to the landing site so that metals or other construction materials can be salvaged from it, and the other is to reduce the landing weight to the minimum, so that less payload weight would have to be devoted to the task of entering the atmosphere of the destination planet. A middle solution might be best, leaving all the portions of the starship which were irradiated during the voyage, such as the power plant and some propulsion system parts, up in orbit and bring down the rest. It would be beneficial for the settlers to have power there, so the question of whether to bring the starship power source down depends on the design details. Otherwise solar cells or other power sources would need to be part of the payload.

On any possible sweet spot planet, with the right gravity, which is dictated by the need for the right kind of atmosphere, orbital speed is very high compared to the rotation of the planet, so a great amount of speed would have to be burned off. One way is to use some remaining fuel in the starship, changing the vector of thrust so that the vessel does not fall into the atmosphere before enough speed is reduced. This requires a large amount of thrust, and if the starship was designed to have low thrust for a long time, there would not be enough thrust for this option. A second engine could be added to the payload for this, but the engine would have to be large and all this payload weight would be expensive.

The other obvious alternative is to use the atmosphere itself for speed reduction, which produces a large amount of heat. Some heat shield is needed able to withstand the short duration high heat levels caused by aerobraking. Then, at the end of the trajectory through the atmosphere, where speed is sufficiently low, balloons and /or parachutes are needed to soften the impact. Coming down on water is not an option, as this would require the mean density of the starship, even if it were possible to shed the heatshield, to be less than that of water.

The larger the parachute, the slower the final impact on land. A faster impact means more shock and sturdiness in the landing vessel, which means more weight. A slower impact means larger parachutes, which means more weight. Just one more of the obvious tradeoffs that would have to go into the design of the landing system.

Because there will necessarily be some residual impact, the choice of the landing area will have to be made with this in mind. Landing on sand will be easier than landing on rock, and landing in an area where there are protuberances, for example rocks larger than a basketball, would likely add further damage to the craft. Navigating to this area through the three stages of landing: reverse thrust, aerobraking, and parachute, will be challenging. Aerobraking is a somewhat unstable process, meaning that slight corrections of the orientation of the landing vessel will lead to large perturbations on the landing spot. Parachute motion is determined by wind, and the slower the descent, the more susceptible the motion will be and the larger the discrepancy between desired landing site target and actual site. Parachutes are certainly navigable, but they are always at the mercy of the winds, especially near the surface.

Navigation would have to be done based on some type of inertial navigation system, as the remaining portions of the starship in orbit cannot provide sufficient references. Optical tracking and communication could help in the parachute descent, but the orbiter might be out of position by that time.

A perfectly smooth, rockless sandy area would be the ideal landing site for accomplishing a landing with minimal damage and the highest probability of success, but such a site might be far from any area that the landing party wanted to be in. Large pastures or meadows might be suitable sites, as long as there were not mountains nearby or even outcroppings with hard rock exposed.

A lot of payload mass, in terms of required starship propulsion, has to be devoted to the descent to the surface, and that mass would be roughly proportional to the real payload mass that is useful for the landing party. In science fiction there is invariably the magic of high thrust propulsors plus infinite fuel, but when the alien civilization has to make a realistic design, there are some very obvious tradeoffs that they are forced to make, meaning sacrifices. The resulting lander may not look too different from those in our primitive era of space transport, except for a great difference in scale.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Interstellar Baggage – Part 3 – Seeding

The third phase of the colonization of a new planet involves seeding it with the alien species, plus whatever else is necessary to establish a clone of the home planet, at least for alien civilizations of categories A1 and A3. In the best of the sweet spot worlds, the planet that has been discovered and selected as a destination has life matching the DNA coding scheme of the alien planet, or if there are more than one on the alien planet, one or more of them. There is sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere, generated by some form of photosynthesis, which might be chlorophyll or some other photosynthetic chemical that evolution on Earth has not discovered, and which Earth technology has not invented.

All of the planetary parameters and stellar parameters are within tolerable bounds. There are many of them: the star must be of an acceptable class, not a large, hot star with only a short life expectance, and not a red dwarf with little light and phase-locked planets in close. The planet must have gravity near the gravity of the home planet, and the metallicity of the solar system must be high enough so there are elemental resources in sufficient quantities available near the surface of the clone world. Climate, specifically maximum wind speeds and ice coverage must be below some limits, and there would need to be oceans to moderate temperature swings. Eccentricity cannot be too much or seasons will be too extreme, and axial tilt has to be in some middle range. There needs to be a magnetosphere to protect the atmosphere itself and any land-living lifeforms from solar flux. The planet has to have settled down tectonically, so that there are not basalt floods erupting any more, or at least only in the long-term future; nor can there be too high a level of earthquake activity.

There cannot be an intelligent alien civilization already there in sufficient numbers to upset the goals of the arriving aliens to populate the planet with their own citizens. How many would be a nuisance is not clear, but numbers in the hundreds of millions would probably be a barrier. Perhaps even hundreds of thousands would be, as the arrivers will come in very small numbers at first.

The new alien civilization will not be coming in ships full of thousands of aliens, as the costs of doing this are very high and are not needed. They have a choice in designing the seed ships: bring a small number of alien adults, probably in hibernation, or a robotic ship able to start the first generation from the ship’s own resources or gathered from the more easily available resources on the planet’s surface. The overall choice of strategy, as well as the innumerable details of design, would be determined by a cost benefit analysis. The goal of the design is to establish a colony of a small number of alien citizens, able to grow into a large population. There would be a high reliability requirement, perhaps 99+% as well as it can be estimated, as sending a second ship would double the expense, and the delay, while increasing reliability is not likely to double the cost of the ship, meaning the size of the payload.

Let’s compare the two alternatives. In the robotic seed scenario, they will have high technology ships, able to create a starting number of alien citizens, and host them on the new planet. A planet with all the favorable attributes listed above should be easy to populate, but there are some simple necessities that will have to be generated from supplies carried on the starship. These include the production of the first generation of aliens, training and educating them, providing them with the necessities of life such as food, water, hygiene, protection, shelter, and certainly more for the youth period of the first generation. What is not carried on the ship must be found on the planet and collected, processed, and prepared for use. If the period of youth for the alien civilization is ten, twenty or thirty years, this means that the ship’s lander will have to provide supplies for that period, and then some more until the new adults can begin to take the load of provisioning the colony on their own. This is a large amount of supplies to have to carry across interstellar distances.

In the hibernation scenario, there would still have to be high technology ships, but after landing, there would be a shorter time in which the ship’s robotics would have to provide sustenance, and everything else needed, to the arriving alien adults. The landing site would have to be in an area where they could obtain the necessary resources to preserve the population. There would have to be easily obtainable materials to build basic infrastructure, such as shelter. Versatile manufacturing equipment on the lander would have to be used for years, and therefore must be highly reliable, but even so, input materials will have to be found on the planetary surface.

The landing site may have to be selected from the arriving seed or hibernation ship, if it was not done by the probe. There is a clear tradeoff between what instruments the probe had to carry, and what instruments not related to colony formation the initial colonization ship would have to bring along.

As an initial evaluation, it would seem that a seed ship would require much more payload than a hibernation ship. The weight needed to carry a small number of adult passengers and keep them alive for the voyage time, and then awaken them is certainly more than it would take for an incubation system for producing new citizens from basic organic materials. However, the supplies needed to raise the young citizens for a period of years would probably outweigh by many times the hibernation equipment.

A third alternative exists. Instead of having hibernating adult citizens, dormant robotics could be the main weight of the initial colonization ship, and then the robots on board could build some infrastructure that would reduce the amount of supplies the ship and its lander would have to carry for the purpose of sustaining the new young citizens during the period of their youth.

In order to better understand the tradeoffs between seed ships, hibernation ships, and robotic ships, some more details of colony building would have to be investigated, and perhaps some very rough estimates of weights and times done.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Interstellar Baggage – Part 2 – Probes

Part 1 of this series considered what data might be collected about a destination planet from observatories, mostly space-borne, in the originating star system. A long list of quantitative attributes about the destination star and planet, along with other large objects in that solar system, could be expected to be collected and verified, given that there was a long time available for the monitoring, and a large amount of assets devoted to building and then operating the observatories. But when all that is done, the data collected would be insufficient to completely inform the alien civilization about the planet they were considering colonizing.

Categories A1 and A3 alien civilizations are looking for sweet spot worlds. These are worlds which can be inhabited, without too much work, by the aliens themselves. They need to find out how closely the planet they have been investigating remotely matches their planet. Clearly there are limits to the match. They obviously do not want a planet which is already inhabited by another alien civilization, with equivalent capabilities. Overpowering another planet of roughly equivalent size and technology would be difficult for starship arriving with potential colonists.
If the inhabitants are not civilized, they would not have the capability of stopping the onset of the colonization, but might make expansion hazardous, if their numbers were large. Thus, one question that a probe must be able to answer concerns the inhabitants. We can assume that the remote observatories were used to see if there were any signs of a civilization there, but there might not be anything remotely detectable.

A second question that might be asked is in the list because of our own ignorance. We do not know if there are alternate routes for life origination, perhaps based on different fundamental chemicals, or based on different DNA in the coding schemes. If more than one might have arisen on the destination planet, the probe would have to be able to sample some life there, and determine the chemical makeup and the coding scheme used. The potential colonists would want to be sure that they would not be poisoned if they tried to eat or even interact with the flora and fauna existing on the new planet. Another gap in our knowledge here on Earth concerns what might be done if there was an alternate form of life on the new planet. Could the arriving aliens seed their own lifeforms, and expect that the old forms would be replaced? If indeed the originating aliens did not have the best of these, in other words, theirs would be replaced by the ones already inhabiting the new planet, then the alien travelers have a serious problem. Is this enough to eliminate a candidate sweet spot planet?

Besides the inhabitants question and the possible lifeform chemistry question, there is a third question the probe must investigate, but as before, it may be eliminated by technology and scientific modeling more advanced that we can do here on Earth. From a knowledge of the observable characteristics of the sun of the new planet, can the alien civilization estimate what the planetary surface will consist of? In other words, does solar content determine the chemical makeup of the primordial dust disk that surrounds it when it first fires off. Furthermore, if it does, it is possible to make good estimates of what the planet would be made of? And even further, if it is clear from these stellar measurements what the planet’s composition would be, is it possible to figure out what the surface would be showing, and in particular if the mineral resources that the alien civilization would need will be present and available in extractable form? If not, the probe would have to have some way of determining if there is sufficient accessible minerals, of several critical types, present on the planet.

A mineral survey would be by far the hardest task, as far as we can tell. Mineral surveys of Earth were done and are still done by physical presence and exploration. Our robots on Mars do the same. A sample of a rock has to be placed in a chemical laboratory and processed to tell the content. If the alien civilization’s probe has to become a mineral prospector, it is likely to be out of business. There are two alternatives. One is to automate the prospecting, possibly by using a laser vaporization bag of tricks, in which a very high power laser vaporizes some thin surface layer of rock, which then gives a brief pulse of near visible radiation, containing some clues as to the content of the rock. We can’t do it, but perhaps we will be able to do it in some decades of time. It might require a flexible frequency laser, able to compose a pulse with multiple wavelengths, or possible a chirp pulse with the wavelength changing through the length of the pulse. It might require much more knowledge about vaporized rocks than we have. And there may be much better ways to do this, which we are not schedule to figure out for a century or more, but which the aliens will have in their bag.

The second alternative to the impossible prospector concept depends on asking just what they need to know. They do not need their probe to find all the best mining sites on the planet’s surface. They simply need it to take the data that will allow them to figure to figure out if there are such sites, no matter where they are. This would be done by understanding the range of variation that is possible in a surface, if a few dozen or hundreds of measurements give this collection of data. In other words, would they know enough about the possible overall distribution of elements on the planet from such easy measurements to be able to predict that somewhere there will be an outcrop containing what they need? Let’s hope that between these two measurements, or something similar, the task of making sure the right minerals will be present can be done. Then we know that if a probe can take, say, a few hundred chemical samples from a wide variety of locations on the planet, it will have enough to answer the mineral availability question for the alien civilization.

All told, if we use the estimate in a previous post of a hundred metric tons to erect a large antenna capable of sending back to the home world, and of powering it for an extended time, and add to that another hundred tons for observers for inhabitants, samplers to go down for the biological chemistry and the rock compositions, and processing power for the sample data, a probe of a couple of hundred tons might be adequate. Some other time, figuring out if this is a doable probe mass will be done, but for now, it doesn’t look too bad. If necessary, it might be reduced somewhat by more careful estimation, but a probe doesn’t have to be too heavy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Interstellar Baggage – Part 1 - Preparations

An alien civilization wishing to go and do something in another solar system has to carry along with it enough baggage to allow the task to be completed. Since baggage is very expensive in interstellar flight, perhaps trying to consider what is involved might clarify the possibility of some tasks.

As noted in the post on cost-benefit analysis of interstellar travel, the only goal which makes sense is colonization. There are varieties of tasks included under this heading, and this blog has divided them into three categories. One, A1, is colonization to bring the species of the alien planet to other planets, and establish a colony of the same species there. The species may be improved through genetic engineering, but it is the same species that evolved out of primordial soup. A second, A2, is on a mission to spread life where there is none, and to bridge the Great Filters, which stop life from evolving into intelligent life. There are a large varieties of dead-ends that a planet where life originated, called solo planets here, can get into, and the A2 colonists plan to overcome these dead-ends in those cases where they can. The last one, A3, is only interested in star travel when there is a threat to its survival on its home planet. They have to move to avoid extinction or at least destruction of their civilization. Having a few remnants of the species continuing to live through the catastrophe and go on for some time is not the plan they have for their civilization. They want a new world to clone the old one.

There has to be a very long time needed by the alien civilization for the design and construction of their space ship, and during that time, observations of the proposed destination solar system can continue. If there are multiple candidates, the first task is to select one, based on the tradeoff between distance and suitability. Observations can be done in any part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but the visible and near-visible, meaning infrared and ultraviolet, are probably the only ones where observations of an exo-planet make much sense. So they would do the best possible job of figuring out all they can about the potential destination planet, meaning a large dish in space, with long observation times, and everything possible extracted from the spectrum and time variations they observe.

As an example, assume they build parabolic reflectors somewhere in orbit around their home star, and just sit and observe until there is nothing else that can be extracted from the data. This might mean an aperture of hundreds of meters, or even kilometers, with observation times running for decades or even centuries. Perhaps there are several of these giant telescopes. Computational power is of no consequence; they have what they need.

They would understand the star of the destination planet well, and would be able to understand its stability, and if it was prone to any nasty events which might make the exo-planet destination uninhabitable. The number, size and location of other planets in that distant solar system would be well known, and some information on the details of the planets would be available, such as what types of atmospheres they had, if any, and the surface temperature of those not covered by an opaque atmosphere. It would be easy to estimate the orbital stability of the solar system’s planets, but asteroids would likely not be seen, so the question of how many of them crossed the destination planet’s orbit would not be available remotely. Conceivably, the larger moons in the solar system would be detected, and some information about them gleaned.

On the destination planet itself, the atmosphere in general would be detected, although layering might not be visible. They would know the composition of it, and if there were extreme winds. Cloud cover and its variability would be known. It would be possible to know if there were oceans on the surface, or if the planet was dry. This type of research would be a combination of the development of a specific model of the planet and its thermal and chemical characteristics, and matching or conflicting observations. The determination of what type of atmosphere is reasonable for a planet of a given size, albedo, and distance from its sun, along with the sun’s characteristics, is not complicated, and would be done by an alien civilization quite handily. Thus, before any starship was built, they would know the principal characteristics of the planet.

Since oxygen is produced by photosynthesis, they would know if this stage of evolution had been reached. Earlier stages, where there are chemotrophs somewhere in a body of water, probably do not give off any detectable signature, so if the planet were either barren, or in an early stage of evolution, prior to chlorophyll arriving on the stage, they could not tell this. However, if there was oxygen, they would also look at the signature of the land masses, and could tell if they were covered with green vegetation. Of course, we do not know if there is any other color of vegetation, in other words, a chlorophyll substitute that absorbed photons in different parts of the spectrum than chlorophyll does, but this is simply a matter of chemistry, and the alien civilization would be able to perform the same measurements, no matter what chemical the exo-planet had chosen for photosynthesis. The question of whether photosynthesis is likely or not is fairly well determined by the lack of other intense energy sources for life to take advantage of. It is either chemical energy, likely in solution, or photosynthesis.

The orbital parameters of the planet would be easily determined. They would understand the axial tilt, the eccentricity, and possibly the cyclic variation of them to some degree. This is a predictor of seasons, and if the temperature is correct, there should be a variation in averaged albedo over the year. Watching this periodic variation for many years should give them an idea of whether or not the planet was in an ice age. Since planetary climate can be unstable, the same planet can be in an ice age or not in one, as this status fluctuates back and forth.
It might even be possible for them to detect a magnetosphere around the planet, and determine if it has a magnetic field and how strong it was. The details of how this might be detected is left to the reader.

So, long before an alien civilization sets out on an epic voyage to another star, with the attendant costs and risks, they would have a great deal of information about their proposed destination. The information would be confirmed in most cases, and the arrivals would be assured of no surprises. Astronomical observations cannot determine certain things about exo-planets, and that must be left to probes. Since it is quite possible to radio back messages from star to star, over some reasonable separations, the logical next step for any planet, A1, A2, or A3, would be to send a one-way probe.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Great Filter – Beer

This post is serious. It is about some recent revelations in the field of archaeology here on planet Earth. It seems our way of transforming our hunter-gatherer clans into settled cities may have involved beer. It seems to indicate that fermentation was an earlier use of grain than food. In other words, humans discovered fermentation and that caused settling down to grow grain, and later bread-making was invented. Earlier in the history of archaeology, it was thought that population pressure forced the use of grains as breadstuffs, and that led to fixed site settlements, where the grain could be grown, and, poof! there are cities and civilization. But archaeological remains showed signs of grain being used for fermentation earlier than it was used for bread. There apparently are traces of fermentation that can be preserved in covered sites and later dug up and used as clues; similarly for baking bread.

This fits in with other changes in the understanding of this first grand transition than any society, alien or human, must make, that of from ‘uncivilized’ hunting bands to ‘civilized’ agricultural settlements. Grains take laborious preparation to prepare them for baking, and it is not obvious how some hunting group would stumble on it and learn how to make bread. Nor it is clear why a successful hunting band would settle down for a life of bread instead of the variety of foods that exist for a nomadic band.

If there are airborne yeasts capable of fermentation on a planet, this would be a product that could easily be discovered by a group of hunter gatherers. The effects might be enough to convince them to do whatever is necessary to reproduce it; a pile of grain in water should be enough. Once that gets going, the other steps, useful to improve the product, can be found, such as milling and grinding the grain. Then if soggy ground grain finds the right yeast, not for fermentation, but for rising of bread dough, the pathway to a life based on bread seems possible.

Why would fermented grain be so attractive to hunters? Because their life revolved around festivals of generosity, when a successful hunter or gatherer would call the clan together to share in the bounty he had found. There was no means of storing food, so greed couldn’t be invented at that time. Instead, the opposite was true. Generosity was the measure of a person in the tribe. The more generous one was, the more important one was and the greater role that the person would take in the tribe. It is a leap to assume that aliens would have the same customs, but if we instead make the weaker assumption that hunting and gathering is the way that the early intelligent aliens used to feed themselves, it seems quite plausible that they could follow the same path.

The opposite is true as well, or better stated, there should be many cautions made about making assumptions that alien life on an exoplanet is similar in some aspect to our, or that they went through the same grand transitions in the same way, or as done here, that the next level of details of the grand transition were analogous. It was only a few years ago that our assumption about solar systems was that they would all look like ours, rocky planets at the inner radii, gas giants next, and then smaller frozen worlds last. That was exploded with the discovery of hot Jupiters. Most other solar systems don’t look at all like ours. There is a wide variety of other solar systems. Making the same faulty assumption twice is quite possible, and we might find our path to civilization, even from the life origination event up to intelligent tool-makers, is unique and lots of other civilizations have arisen, but they all used some other path.

With all these very real caveats, if we also assume the neurology of aliens is similar to ours, and alcohol affects it similarly, then the interesting sequence of events that are beginning to be appreciated in the grand transition to civilization and agriculture might also exist on other planets where some big-brained creature had evolved and learned to hunt with tools created from natural materials. It isn’t mandatory that ethyl alcohol be the mediating agent. Any fermentation product that could produce counter-inhibitory effects on an alien brain would do. Whatever it was, it would give reason for a clan of aliens that had discovered it to start to cultivate it, and use it in their ceremonies of feasting.

Hunting success is a product of two things; one is the choice to go hunting on a certain date, and the other is that there would be game animals present on the chosen hunting route. Archaeologists have indicated that very early in the history of hunter-gatherer use of tools they learned the calendar. Why not, on planets with axial tilt, there is a great advantage to understanding when migrations occur, when spawning happens, when animals cease hibernating, or some other phenomena which are calendar-controlled. Another discovery was the first construction was of calendar monuments, like Stonehenge, although much earlier. This would also provide a strong impetus to stay where the calendar monument was. So, two motivations arise at around the same time for civilization to start: one is to cultivate a fermentable grain to be used in festivals of generosity, and the other is to build and use a calendar of stone or other natural materials.

Would one of these be sufficient to prod a tribe into staying in one place? It would seem that the monument-building might occur after agriculture had just gotten started, or perhaps the animal equivalent of agriculture, horse keeping or other animal keeping, had gotten started, providing some fraction of food sources, while hunting and gathering provided the residual. Thus, the initial impetus might be beer, or a similar beverage with similar effects to be used in the festivals. Once festivals have become a long-standing pattern, and the calendar is learned, festivals that figured around annual astronomic events could occur, and then these would be embellished and displace the original source of them. With grain storage, life might become easier in some aspects.

If a planet happened to not evolve any airborne yeast capable of performing their magic on wet grain, perhaps they would never get to civilization, must less technology past spears made of whatever passes for wood on that planet. If so, the title of this post will have to be taken seriously. If we ever start to communicate with another civilization, one of the first questions we might ask is: How is the beer there?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Very Cheap Interstellar Travel

It used to be, and maybe still is, possible to see the world for almost nothing. Just go down to your nearest seaport, and get a ride on a tramp cargo steamer. Get off at whatever further port you want, stay as long as you like, and then get on another one. Conditions were not lavish, but you got to go somewhere.

It seems possible to do this for star travel. Recently, Scholz’s star was re-discovered, in 2013 to be exact, by an astronomer named Scholz as a star which had come close to us very recently. It passed through our sun’s Oort cloud at about 0.8 light years from the sun approximately 70,000 years ago. It is actually a binary star, with a brown dwarf and a red dwarf as partners. Since it was traveling almost radially away from us, it had a low proper motion and so was not noticed as a nearby star. Lesson learned.

This discovery caused a tiny flurry of activity, and it was realized that there are stellar encounters at about this distance, let’s say less than one light year, on the average every 100,000 years, in rough terms. Here’s our cargo ship.

Consider the possibilities this offers. Suppose you are a citizen of an alien civilization that wants to do some interstellar colonization. Traveling to meet a star at a distance of less than a light year, which you know is coming for thousands of years, doesn’t take much fuel or much of a starship. The major costs of starships come from the fuel, which you have to carry along with you if you want to accelerate along the way and even more important, decelerate at the destination. If you are only going a light year, you don’t need much speed, therefore not much fuel for acceleration or deceleration. With a few thousand years to get ready, you could go out into the Oort Cloud of your star, assuming your star has one, and look around for some place to wait while your star is coming in. If you are interested in an interstellar probe, you can just push one out there over a period of a century or two or five or ten, and, with the patience this takes, wait until the star arrives, and then go orbit it. Most stars have planets, according to those who know, so you might be able to set up some type of base.

Hold on! You have just done an interstellar flight and established a colony on an exo-planet. It happened to be in your backyard, but still, you have just accomplished this goal at a fraction of the cost it would normally take.

If your colony on this exo-planet can last for periods in the hundreds of thousands of years, you will be passing close to other stars of the galaxy, and can get off there and set up another colony. Soon (in an astronomical sense) you will have many colonies in your neighborhood of the galaxy. You might be colonizing some real loser planets, but with some resources, you can fix up something your civilization can tolerate for a period. Recall there are some sweet spot worlds, and you would be really lucky to find one. There are also some worlds, called penumbra worlds in this blog, which have problems in habitation, but can be converted or otherwise used. Then there are worlds where the colonization has to be done in a hermetic chamber. Toxic atmosphere, too cold, or something else seriously wrong. But at least you have a place to live while you travel further out into the galaxy.

There must be exploitable resources on the planet, as carrying around enough supplies for a hundred thousand years is likely not practical. You might get energy from the sun, or scoop deuterium from a gas giant, and power your reactors, but you will still need some basic minerals. So, perhaps every planet that drifts by your own star isn’t acceptable, but some will be. Remember that most of the stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, which are not very useful to begin with, but perhaps as we learn more about them, they will be found to have some advantages.

Another advantage of this idea of star-hopping, is that an alien civilization with a small population can pull it off. You don’t have to store up immense amounts of propellant and energy to get out to your own Oort Cloud. There is stuff out there anyway, and perhaps it could be used. Dropping down on an icy comet in the Oort Cloud might allow you to extract deuterium, and power something. You could use the protons you recover as propellant.

The obvious disadvantage of jumping on a cargo ship for seeing the world doesn’t allow you to pick your destination. You go where the ship is going. Same for a stellar encounter. You hop on and go where the star is going. Maybe it’s heading toward a sweet spot world next, but likely it’s just another red dwarf with some dismal planets circling it. You don’t get to do the seeding of life that your meme might be telling you to do, at least not nearly as fast as you could if you could afford to build a ship to cross a hundred or more light years in some understandable time, like a few millennia. You are also exploring and colonizing the galaxy at a pretty slow rate. Stars do move faster than orbital speeds, say something like .0003 c, but nothing like the speeds of 0.1 or 0.01 c that we have discussed in other posts.

If the worst Great Filter is the cost of interstellar travel, this is a solution to that problem. Assuredly, every alien civilization recognizes this possibility as soon as they develop a robust astronomical observation program. If it is actually the accepted way of dispersing an alien civilization through the galaxy, it means that looking for aliens needs to take a very different tack. Instead of looking for planets with biosignatures, we should be closely examining every star with us as a destination for any signs of unusual activity there. Examining stars that are within, say ten light years of us, is much easier than searching a radius of a thousand light years. It also means that learning more about the Oort Cloud and what assets it possesses might be very interesting for exploring the details of this possible cheap star travel method.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sequential Alien Civilizations

In several posts, it was mentioned that an alien civilization could become extinct. There were a variety of causes for this. One was simply that they did not desire to continue to exist, the category A4 civilization. This could come to pass by them simply not continuing to produce young aliens. Other reasons included running out of resources, the planet meeting some sort of peril, either planetary, stellar, or galactic, or even that they left no one behind when the migrated elsewhere. They could descend into idiocracy and not be able to maintain their civilization or even their continued existence. Certainly there could be other reasons, such as a large world-wide war with advanced weapons, or a very devastating minefield that they encountered before reaching asymptotic technology, such as terrorism with advanced capabilities for destruction.

Consider what happens afterward. Here is a planet which originated life, which then proceeded through all the evolutionary steps to reach intelligence and then developed a civilization, which for one of very many reasons, disappeared off the face of the planet. What does the rest of the life do, now that the capstone creatures are no longer there? It is back to evolution, perhaps with a far different genetic content if the alien civilization passed the genetic grand transition and modified the ecology. Since evolutionary timescales are of the order of ten thousand years to a million years, something happens fairly soon. The fauna on the planet keep changing. Sooner or later, another species develops intelligence, as the environment is suitable for it, and there is nothing left behind from the original alien civilization which lasts forever to block it. With luck, or after several tries, another alien civilization arises on the same planet. They have their chance at survival. They have their chance at building a civilization which might leave the planet and travel to other planets or to other solar systems.
Can they tell they are number two? Would there be any signs of the previous civilization that the second civilization could find?

If the first civilization disappeared, but did not really disappear, but just broke down into a repeat of the past, such as hunter-gatherers, and then recovered after ten thousand years of evolution straightening out the errors of the first civilization, there would certainly be relics remaining. Large stone structures do not disappear in that length of time, and may not be covered with airborne dust and dirt by that length of time. There might even be non-physical artifacts, such as some lingering oral tradition that talks about un-understandable events and phenomena. According to some archeologist, Earth went through something similar to that, in that there are remains of small cities from about ten thousand years ago, then a period of some millennia when there were none, and then they started again and grew larger than the maximum found in the first epoch. This may be instead an observational fillip, the result of incomplete investigations or the result of some chance finds. But on our hypothetical alien planet, something similar could be found.

If the period between civilizations was a hundred thousand years, it would be expected that even stone monuments would disappear. Archeological remains would be the only remaining memorial to the first alien civilization. In wet dirt, these would disappear over a hundred millennia, but if somehow fossil remains were created of the alien creatures themselves, with some extreme luck on the part of the second civilization’s citizens.

Recall how fossils come to exist. An animal is caught in some trap or dies in some area which is quickly covered and then covered again, until some type of rock such as sandstone is formed. The bones remain embedded and are turned into rock as well, by normal chemical processes in ground water, replacing the bony material with some sort of mineral in the shape of the bones.
Would aliens likely undergo such sudden burial, if they lived in cities? Perhaps not, but would there be other objects from an alien city which would be fossilized if buried in dust and dirt or mud? Would a gold object, if buried accidentally in a desert climate, remain that long? Gold nuggets last for very long times when formed naturally, so it is likely. Would gold objects be lost in a civilization? Certainly, assuming the planet had gold in sufficient quantities. Thus, instead of fossils remaining to be discovered, gold objects might be buried and await excavation by second civilization citizens. Other precious metals, silver, platinum, or others might also last for this period if buried in the right conditions.

Aside from precious metals, could anything else be fossilized? Could other materials, such as non-precious metals, undergo the same transformation as bones, so they would form fossil fragments? The key phenomena is that the object is buried and is not changed until some later period after the buried, during which time it does not lose its form. Some metals, such as iron, would oxidize and dissolve too fast to form a mold for the fossil mineralization to form, but perhaps if the alien civilization used other metals with a slower removal rate this could happen. Once mineralization happens, the fossil can endure for millions of years, as the migration of rock minerals is virtually non-existent. Otherwise we would not have minable veins.
It might be extremely unlikely that a fossil relic of the first civilization would be dug up by the second. Many fossils are found because some geologic process exposes one, and then archeologists dig deeper in the same areas, under the assumption that the burial site probably caught more than one animal. To find a single object, when there was no indication that something like this existed, is even more unlikely than the finding of a skeleton, unless an entire city was somehow buried, and it happened to have objects which could become fossils. At this point, nothing like this is known.

Only a mass burial of aliens, in the proper situation where fossilization can occur, is likely to exist for the second civilization to find, and such mass burials would not be likely accidentally. A mass grave or large gravesite could become fossilized. Thus, a cemetery might be the only way for the second civilization to learn there was one that came before them.
It is hard to imagine what would be the psychological effect on an alien civilization if they suddenly found out that there had been an alien civilization inhabiting the same planet long before, perhaps ten million years before or at any period long enough in the past for fossilization to occur. Finding precious metal objects from a hundred thousand years before might have the same startling effect. A civilization-wide understanding that everything they had built could simply disappear and only exist as fossils or relics changes how a civilization views itself. It might be taken as a warning, and some actions taken as a result of the realization. The fear of obliteration could actually lead to the adoption of a meme that would work to preserve the second alien civilization, perhaps even to the extent of advocating star travel as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Delayed Gratification and Immediate Satisfaction

An alien civilization that continues to master increasing levels of technological achievement, and implements them in an efficient manner might be called successful. If the alien civilization has made the decision, earlier in its history, that star travel is a desirable goal for it, then the success it achieves should lead to attempts at star traveling. But is there a minefield here?

Success is tantamount to meeting the desires of the citizens that constitute the society, and also in determining how to do so sustainably. The sustainability clause means that they have found a large store of energy, such as deuterium for fusion, and can build the infrastructure needed to capture this energy and bring it to the cities where the citizens will use it. The clause also means that they have discovered sufficient sources of different resources, and have furthermore instituted a strict regime of recycling, so that the resource base they discovered can be used to provide a good standard of living for a long time.

Just exactly what is included in the phrase ‘meeting the desires of the citizens’? Desires obviously include needs, and there are a wide variety of needs that individual citizens have. These are met by the alien civilization, and then it goes on to meet the less tangible needs the citizens have, such as social interaction, opportunities for contributing to the civilization, competition, cooperation, artistic expression and a whole host of others. To the degree that constraints can be met, these are to be met as well, although obviously, demands for some things can drive the total cost of meeting them too high, so there has to be some regulation as the type and amount of desires on the upper end of the scale that can be met. The citizens need to have their desires met sufficiently so that they remain content with the civilization.

As the alien civilization grows more efficient, and has more energy and resources per alien capita at its disposal, it would be able to meet a larger range of desires from this upper range. But there is another dimension to the ability of the civilization to meet the needs of the citizens. It is time, or more particularly, response time. If the society is extremely efficient, as it might be after a long time of stable conditions, in which improvements can be made in all aspects of the process of meeting desires, then goods and services might be available to the citizens in minutes to hours following their requests.

This type of responsiveness is going to have an effect. When new citizens are gestated, their training and education starts, and it is reasonable that this training and education continues to improve like every other aspect of a long-term, stable civilization. When young alien citizens finish their education, they should have, not just the factual knowledge and mental and physical skills that the society wants them to have, they should also have an understanding of what is good behavior and reasonable expectations. Good behavior and reasonable expectations would include the concept of delayed gratification, which are really code words for working and waiting for those things you desire. It is a key element of building a society, and without it the alien civilization would never have gotten started with its long line of accomplishments, back in the days before technology was so powerful and proficient. Thus, when young citizens come out of their preparatory period, they would understand the benefits of delaying gratification, so that there would be time to do whatever is necessary to earn the benefits.

After technology rolls out, work is performed by automation, by robotics, by intellos, or some other mechanism, unless alien citizens deliberately desire to become part of some work process. This is a clash with the training, if it is based on the historical needs of the society. The alien civilization through its formative years, had a strong need for citizens to produce things, physical objects and knowledge, and to perform the functions of the society in maintaining itself and satisfying its citizens. Thus, young alien citizens will be immersed in a civilization that has perfected the ability to satisfy citizen demands, quite in contrast with how demands were met in the early days of the society, and coincidentally, when the curriculum for training young citizens was being set up.

The training relating to delayed gratification will be vestigial. After some years within the alien society, young citizens would begin to forget the lessons of the early days of the civilization, and become very accustomed to simply requesting goods and services and receiving them very promptly. After more time, the training in this regard would be forgotten, or written off as irrelevant. The civilization, in going through the grand transitions, has some re-thinking to do.

There is one thing left in the society that requires an inordinate degree of appreciation for delayed gratification. That is star travel. Seriously preparing for it would start after the grand transitions were over, and the civilization had transitioned to its long-term stable state. There is an immense amount of work necessary to prepare for a interstellar probe, ranging from the astronomical observations needed to choose a destination, to designing the ship, to building it, and figuring out how to stretch reliability capability to the long periods of the mission. There are many details to the design, and not just of the ship, but also of the whole mission itself. All of these hark back to the old way of working with no immediate reward. Perhaps all the construction work would be done robotically, but since this is a task of importance to the citizens, as encapsulated in the fundamental memes of their civilization, they would likely be involved. Tradeoffs between maximum speed and flight time have to be made.

The point to be extracted here is that if the alien civilization allows one of its main goals, satisfaction of citizens’ desires, to be organized in a way which gradually reduces the ability and interest of the citizens in working on or being involved with star travel, except as entertainment, it will be undermining the ability to accomplish the task. It may even undermine the support for it, meme or no meme. There is a distinction between a civilization which puts meeting citizen desires as its top priority, and a civilization which understands the effects of meeting citizen desires in certain ways on the mass psychology of the citizen population, and therefore tempers the methods by which desires are satisfied. In simple terms, citizens who get used to a daily diet of needs being satisfied without delay and without anything more than a request would not likely care about a star travel venture. This may seem like a fine line, but in looking for Great Filters that occur in the final phases of an alien civilizations pre-star travel period, it is necessary to try and understand the psychology of the average citizen. They are the ones who will support or abandon the goals of the star travel meme.

This problem of the psychology of the average citizen is related to and analogous to the Happy Life Great Filter, but they are not one and the same. In this situation, the citizens do not become totally absorbed in their own enjoyable lives, as in the Happy Life scenario, but instead, they are shaped by the procedures of their own society to not want to do anything that has a long period of delay in it. Either way, no star travel and no aliens visiting Earth capitals.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Hidden Dilemma of Deliberate Speciation

The choice of an alien civilization to create a new species to replace itself was discussed in previous posts. It is obviously a monumental decision, and forms the basis for the differentiation of the two main categories of alien civilization that might be colonizing other solar systems than their home one. One maintains their own species and colonizes to spread this species elsewhere; the other colonizes to spread civilization there, and may engage in speciation either for their home world, if it produces better aliens according to a wide range of metrics, or for other planets they colonize, either in their own solar system or in other ones.

There is even another dilemma hidden within the choice of speciation. It relates to intellos. Intellos are the biological equivalent of robots; essentially animals of any sort designed to perform certain tasks within the alien civilization. Once genetics becomes as powerful and well understood as mechanics, this will be an option for performing tasks within the civilization. Since the alien civilization will understand what genes can be used for intelligence, they would be able to give any particular intello design whatever level of intelligence would be appropriate for the designated tasks it would perform.

Step back and ask about the regulation of behavior between aliens and between aliens and any organization, such as an agency of government. There must be some codes recorded so that aliens know the proper behavior, or the limits of proper behavior, and also so that any agency will have directions as to what they should do for, and may not do to an alien citizen. There are countless possibilities, and some obvious ones are what communication content is prohibited, to whom and under which conditions; what repairs will be done by whom for an alien who is injured, or damaged by other means if any still remain, including damage caused by aging; what ownership is permitted and what is required; what nutrition is provided by the government; how employment is to be divided up when more than one alien wants to take some position; what level of expense is allowed by an alien citizen; and so on. They may relate to what genetics an alien citizen will receive and what training.

Now leap forward to the time after the genetics grand transition, which occurs very early in the history of the alien civilization. They decide to deliberately speciate, and design a new species to replace their own. Do they apply the same regulations to the new species? Does the old species lose out on any privileges? This is a fairly easy question to ponder, as we have the old species of aliens being replaced by the new one. Does it depend on how dissimilar the new species is?

At about the same time, the aliens are busy creating intellos to perform certain functions within their society. They go through the costs and expenses having them will be and compare them to robots. Whatever is more efficient, when looked at from a total picture, will likely be used, unless the preferences of the aliens overrides efficiency. They might like to have something that looks like a very cute animal answering their questions and carrying their umbrellas.

Since the aliens are so intelligent, sooner or later one of them will ask why the civilization’s regulations that apply to the old species, and which have been transferred over to the new species, do not also apply to the intellos, or some of them. What is the basis for the difference in treatment? Intellos might be created to be as smart as the old species of aliens, or could be if the alien civilization decided to do this. Neither the new species or the intellos are involved with reproduction, as it is more efficient to create new creatures industrially. What is the basis upon which the regulations will take effect?

The realization will dawn on them that there is none.

This is the dilemma that deliberate speciation comes with. There was a basis for treating alien citizens different from intellos of all sorts, and that basis was the genetic code that creates them. Alien citizens have code which evolved and was only selected from to provide improvements, perhaps some further tinkering was done. Intellos are purely synthetic. But if a new species is created to replace the old species of aliens, this argument fails and the basis evaporates.

The alien civilization will have to carefully pick what regulations will apply to which type of creature, and somehow determine what the basis is for their choice. It must be arbitrary. Is it written on the basis of what society can afford, or on the basis of the purpose for which the creature is created, either to join the class of aliens who essentially rule the planet, or the servant class of intellos? Will this dilemma result in some new regulations as to what qualities may be endowed to intellos, such as no longevity greater than some number of years, or no intelligence genes which would place them too close to the alien species, or that they must look like some stereotypes, or something else more sophisticated?

This dilemma may rock the foundations of a category A2 alien civilization, and call into question their memes relating to the fundamental purpose of their civilization. When they seek to apply the purpose they ascribe to, spreading intelligent life to other planets in the galaxy, they might think about applying it to their own home planet. What would it mean there? They could create as many intellos of any type or variety of types as they wanted to, but how would that connect to their fundamental meme? They will have blurred the definitions of the terms used in the memes and this could lead to confusion on a large scale, occurring near the end of the genetics grand transition. What exactly do they want to accomplish?

In a category A1 alien civilization, everything is clear because they have their own traditional species that they can restrict their regulations to, and come up with some other regulations for intellos. The distinction between the two is written in the different genetic codes used for them. Not so with a category A2 civilization.

As the A2 aliens struggle with what criteria they will use to see who receives the benefits of their civilization and who will serve to create those benefits, some other bright citizen might want to see if their criteria apply to robots of any type. If intelligence is used as a criteria, then robots might well fall within the bounds set up to determine the receiving class for benefits. Clearly their society will have to face some very deep questions relating to their choice of meme.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When Should We Tell Them?

Logbook #17 Prof. Jerome Singh University of Buenos Aires Cetacean Automatic Translation Project

7/7/2022 Found yet another bug in the harmonic analysis section of the code. Following my hunch that cetaceans use harmonics as part of their language, I have completed a new code to translate the 3,200 hours of cetacean vocalizations in yet another way. The bug was misanalyzing all the even harmonics and caused the code to output garbage into the vocabulary, syntax and grammar codes’ front ends. The bug was caused by an edit done yesterday in the repair of the previous bug in the harmonic analysis subroutines. Only one line was affected incorrectly by the edit, but it was in the main sequence of analysis, and affected all vocalizations.

Received an email from the team at U. Naples, indicating that no one there thinks the harmonic hypothesis could possibly work, as there has been no indication that the vocal structures of the cetaceans can modulate higher harmonics in a controlled way. They suggested I abandon this direction of work and instead concentrate on the rise and decay hypothesis that they favor. After working on this code for two years, there is no chance that I will abandon it until I have exhausted every possibility. They have provided the vocabulary processer code and it is remarkably well conceived and written, but just because they have strength in cross-language vocabulary extraction does not mean they are the experts on sound content, especially with non-human species.

The physics department supercomputer was heavily loaded this evening, and I was not able to run all sectors of the code with all the data base. I ran the vocalization on the whole data base, which completed with no errors. The word isolation and vocabulary determination by pattern recognition of stops seemed to work with the output from the vocalization run. The big bear code of meaning assessment , syntax with both prefix and suffix turned on, and grammar derivation from word order analysis only ran part way, using one quarter of the cores for nine hours, but produced some very solid metrics, indicating a level of success. Using this, I was able only to run six minutes of vocalization from the two porpoises in Jamaica, the block I usually test with, on the supercomputer before my allocation elapsed. No crashes this evening.

The total front-to-back code sequence worked and produced some translations, which of course will have to be verified extensively. Included a cut and paste of the output:

“Oeoeiu ,I think I have figured out why the food in this prison is so wretched. I watch the captors eating on the veranda above the pool and they all eat the same thing, day after day, person after person. It’s this layered thing with puffy pads on the top and bottom and some brown, green and red layers in the middle. The only difference is that sometimes yellow liquid oozes out and sometimes red liquid. Definitely dead stuff, and probably dead for a long time. Their taste buds must be vestigial. That’s why they feed us tilapia every day of our captivity. I think I going to turn into one if I don’t get something different. Do you remember the cod feast we had in the wawioea ocean? I can’t get it out of my mind.”

“Oaaie, they are just dumb primates. They don’t know anything at all about immorality or ethics. At least they don’t torture or kill us. Sometimes you even like playing with them in the big pool. And we’re together. You have somebody to talk to. Just imagine if you had to live alone with nobody but them to interact with every day. That’s what really would drive you out of your mind.”

“Sure. Don’t ever tell anyone this if we escape, but I have been thinking of breaking the seventh commandment. It can’t really apply in situations like we are in. All over the world we are being killed accidentally and deliberately. The last few generations have been the worst in a million years. I think you have to go back to an ice age to find something this bad. I don’t want to be the one to break the commandment, but someone should.”

“Oaaie, we discussed the commandments in the pod a hundred times. Everybody knows them and knows not to break them. You won’t find anyone willing to do it and you should stop thinking about it. It is not going to make you any happier and it certainly isn’t going to get you any cod. Just stop thinking about your stomach.”

“Besides, you know the reason for it. They might start exterminating us out of jealousy. Primates are unpredictable. They haven’t had the millions of years of experience that we have had that gives us the calmness and the tolerance we have. They’re newcomers to their position as power-holders on the planet. That means never knowing for certain what they will do.”

“If you tell them we were once the dominant power-holders on land, millions of years ago, but we figured out living on land is much less enjoyable than living in the sea and genetically modified ourselves to do that, they would feel so much envy because they cannot do the same. They are stuck on land, and you know how horrible that feels. Do you think they will give you some mackerel and grouper just because you figure out how to tell them we were the greatest civilization ever on Earth? They might just become enraged or confused by it. Probably confused as they wouldn’t be able to imagine a species that gave up all that they have worked hard to achieve, just so to have a good time in the world’s oceans. They wouldn’t believe you. So stop even thinking about the seventh commandment, except on how to live by it. ‘No communication with other species’ is about as clear as any commandment is.”

“Okay, okay, okay. I wasn’t thinking of breaking that or any commandment. But I am thinking that they might get so out-of-control that we have to do something. When should we tell them? After they have advanced a few more centuries and figured out what life is all about? We might be extinct by then. If I ever get out of this place, I’m going to start an ocean-wide discussion on whether that commandment is appropriate any more.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chain Reactions, Life Origination, Mutations, and Memes

Chain reactions in nuclear reactors are the means by which power is released from the uranium nuclei. One neutron strikes a U-235 nucleus, and it fissions, releasing two or three neutrons. This second generation of neutrons goes on its way, and one or more of them possibly strikes another U-235 nucleus, and the same fissioning occurs. At each generation, two or three neutrons are produced when one is absorbed. There are losses, but if the number of neutrons effectively striking a U-235 nucleus is larger than the number that do in the previous generation, there is increasing power generated. If the number of neutrons is the same for each generation, there is stable power generated.

In a large block of reactor core material, there can be great differences in the ratio of neutrons of succeeding generations. If there is one region which can be isolated which has a ratio of one or more, a persisting chain reaction continues. What happens in other regions influences the ratio, as if in neighboring regions, only some ratio below unity is maintained, the neutrons produced each generation can slip back into the most productive region to help maintain the reaction there. But if there is no region where the ratio is above one, there is no chain reaction.

The mathematics of neutron multiplication in nuclear reactors is simple to understand, but it is not isolated to this single example. Consider instead the origination of life. One hypothesis, discussed in another post, is that there is a molecule, probably some amino acid combination, which can replicate itself if the right amino acids contact it. There are certainly processes which will disassemble the amino acid combination. If an average replicating combination can make more than one copy of itself before it disassembles, we have a chain reaction, and the number will increase. The observation that was noted with respect to neutrons and fissions is also true for amino acid combinations and replication: if there is a region where the ratio is higher than one, replication will succeed and numbers will increase. Other regions may have lower ratios, and contribute to what happens in the most successful region. But if there is no single region where the ratio exceeds unity, replication cannot succeed and life origination does not accomplish the critical first step.

There are multiple conditions which affect the multiplication rate for neutrons and fission and also for the replication rate of amino acid combinations. Conditions change in a nuclear reactor core as more U-235 nuclei disappear through fission, and other elements present absorb neutons and transmute. Adjustments or some feedback mechanism is needed to maintain power production for an extended period. The same happens with the replication of amino acid combinations. The conditions have to be maintained for a long time, in fact, for long enough that some modification can be found by random chance that has a higher replication rate or is more tolerant of variations in conditions; likely the modification is more complex. Life originates if through the many, many steps needed to form cells and then to allow them to become more diverse with specialization and other features, the right conditions for each of the steps is maintained for a long time, long on the evolutionary scale.

This means that the same situation exists for successive mutations as exists for the original replication that occurred at the very start of the origin of life. Each mutation produces something that can self-replicate, provided the conditions are right, in a generational ratio greater than one. By the time a mutation is established, the conditions necessary for previous steps can change, so that the previous step cannot be repeated. Life goes onward, not backward. There again must be some region with the right conditions for extended time. The region can be different for different steps, and undoubtedly will be for steps sufficiently distant on the chain of evolutionary organisms. Some examples are more than obvious: amino acid combinations need to replicate in a soup containing amino acids of the right variety; cells replicate in situations where whatever food they require is present; photosynthetic cells need sufficient photons of the correct wavelengths; and so on.

There is a profoundly important implication here. Mutations are local, not global, and might be restricted in geographic extent. What evolves in one place is not what evolves in another place. This is obvious with respect to flora and fauna, but it is just as true with something invisible: individual genes controlling individual characteristics, or contributing to them. Genetic improvements occur locally, and may or may not disperse globally. This means that an alien planet may have very diverse populations in the period prior to civilization starting, when trade and migration become common.

Memes are often analogized with genes, but the basic mathematics is what is the same. In order for a meme to persist in an alien civilization, there has to be a locale where the number of young learning the meme and learning to transmit it are equal to or greater than one. Memes can die out just as easily as genetic mutations. The conditions in the locale where they are present can change, and replication can be less than one, meaning the meme will disappear in time, after a long period where there were some followers, but less and less each generation.

Another thing that should be noted is that neutron multiplication, life origination, mutation persistence, and meme propagation can have growth rates higher than one, and if the conditions are right over an extended geographic area, can spread like a prairie fire. There is a natural speed by which each of them can propagate, which is dependent on the rate of transmission of a carrier, such as a neutron of the right speed. The first instance of the mutation might find that the characteristic that is engendered by the mutation increase the replication rate per generation by a significant amount, and this occurs in a wide area as the conditions it can tolerate are larger than previous mutations. Away runs the mutation, or the fission, or the meme.

This has implications for seeding by alien civilizations. If they can find the right mutation, one that diverts the normal evolution that is occurring on a colony planet to a direction they prefer, and it can have a higher replication rate than the native cells, or organisms, it could spread quickly and transform the planet’s biological structure. This blog has not yet examined the mechanisms by which seeding could be done, but it obviously is a most interesting topic.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Factionalism and the Genetic Grand Transition

As a reminder, factionalism is a term used in this blog to refer to any division of the citizens in an alien civilization into groups which compete against one another. They can be geographically based, genetics based, economics based, native language based, caste based, belief based, or any other division. Factions are likely to be the natural state of any alien species that begins to live in cities, based on geography at first. They should eventually coalesce, and this post discusses how.

Factions inhibit the advance of technology across the board, and concentrate it on areas that are useful in improving the relative standing of individual factions. This can lead to some obvious pitfalls. First, one way to improve relative standing is to attack another faction, or to attempt to conquer or control another faction. Larger spans of control, if they are successfully managed, can be a positive feedback effect that provides more options and capability for further enlargement of one faction’s span of control over other factions. Second, leaving some areas of technology untouched or with minimal advances can result in a society that is unbalanced, resulting in excessive resource usage or some other damaging effect.

The genetics grand transition is when genetic engineering is used to improve the genome of a civilization. There are some phases into which this gradual transition can be divided. One is when genetic selection is used for a new generation of aliens. Another is when industrial gestation is developed, and reproduction is gradually transferred from biological means to industrial means. A third is when the genome is added to by the invention and introduction of novel non-evolved genes. This last phase may involve speciation as well.

Genes used for the new generation would be selected for the improvement of the gene pool in many aspects, including intelligence, strength, longevity, immune performance, size and proportion, attractiveness, athletic capability, resistance to injury, healing rate, food tolerances, and many others. There are probably many other capabilities related to the efficiency and stabilization of individual organs, but the performance of organs are not yet well quantified by scientists here on Earth, making it a bit hard to discuss. For example, there could be genetic improvements related to the alien equivalent of a liver, in which the organ’s ability to remove toxins and purify internal liquids is improved.

The interaction of factionalism and the genetics grand transition should be obvious. Factionalism is based on the differences between groups, and many of those depend on some denomination of differences in traits that are genetically controlled. If genetic improvements osmose into all factions, and are adopted, these differences are likely to diminish and in some cases disappear. If one faction vilifies another faction as being non-intelligent, this difference will be abated by the introduction of intelligence genes into both factions, producing equal results. If one faction considers itself superior because of some talents, genetically determined, these also could become equalized.

Obviously geography is not going to go away with the grand transition for genetics, but just consider how difficult it is to maintain factionalism based on geography when the citizens in both geographic areas are pretty much identical. What is the basis for those seeking to maintain factionalism to call upon their followers to wish harm to those of the other faction? History could be used, but history diminishes with time, measured in generations.

Another factor relates to a single attribute, intelligence. As intelligence increases in all members of new generations, they will gradually gain the ability to use that intelligence to question such claims. Intelligence, as has been pointed out, is not memory or speed in doing routine computations, but is closely related to creative and critical thinking. This ability becoming universal does not bode well for demagogues or others seeking to maintain factional opinions among the body of citizens. Thus, two very serious factors will undermine factionalism, and the unification that was discussed in another post is likely to be gradually introduced.

Any trend in society can be opposed, and the trend to unification can be opposed. It can be opposed by those in charge of one faction by developing memes for factionalism and making sure they are taught in the curriculum used for all young members of their faction. Memes are like glue, they stick in the brain of those taught them, and are hard to remove. The difficulty that schemers with this plan face is that other factions may not be doing the same thing. If there are several factions on the planet, and only one is stressing the continuation of factionalism, the best memes possible may erode from the edges and the interest of the last remaining stronghold of factionalism might decline. Once the decline starts, if the curriculum is modified accordingly, a spiral starts toward unification.

Another tactic to delay unification trends is the exacerbation of factionalism and a descent into attacks and even war. Frequent war would reinforce factionalism, by inducing a fear of the effects of war. One response to war is a withdrawal from contact with other factions, although if it is a faction that prefers unification that wins, and the holdout for factionalism that loses, the trend to unification will be reinforced.

Disinformation might be used in an alien civilization that does not have free communication between factions. If the hierarchy of the faction that is attempting to maintain factionalism, and therefore its own span of control and inherent advantages, and they use disinformation to do it, the technique may be successful as long as technology does not spawn some simple means of communications between factions. Unfortunately, that would mean stopping technological development or limiting its implementation, both of which might be very hard to do.

Thus, factionalism based on geographical divisions becomes harder to maintain as time, and therefore technological progress, continues. The more obvious tactics have counters to them, some natural, and some chosen by aliens in the other factions. This does not mean that factionalism does not have the possibility of slowing progress or even stopping it. Besides through the mechanism of destruction in war, there are other means by which geographic factionalism might perchance continue to plague a planet.

Some other types of factionalism are harder to envision remaining through the genetic grand transition. Caste divisions obvious collapse, unless genetic improvements are somehow rationed to only certain castes, or the grand transition is distorted to be used to maintain the divisions by an enforced decision to choose the genetic endowment of different castes to be different, and perpetuate castes. Factionalism based on language or belief should crumble with more communication, as unification seeps into these areas as well. Factionalism based on economics only could be expected to be maintained if the intelligence enhancement portion of the genetics grand transition is somehow sidelined.

It should be clear at this point that factionalism is put under great pressure by the genetics grand transition, and that it is likely that it will give way to unification as time passes. The grand transition might take several generations to complete, and this might also be a good time scale for unification to occur. While there are tactics to delay the demise of factionalism, none of them seem immune to this pressure. Thus, there is no reason to assume that factionalism is the principal cause of the lack of aliens in our marketplaces.