Monday, December 26, 2016

Is AI Magic?

AI is what everybody knows about. It is embodied in the idea that computers will someday be able to do everything a human mind can do. For instance, to play board games, to drive cars, to recognize people, to interpret human speech and respond to it, to design circuit boards and skyscrapers, to watch for intrusions, to keep track of bills or accounts, to look up interesting facts, and a thousand more tasks. It also means the computers will learn by themselves. Humans teach themselves many, many things, and in order to equal human intelligence, AI would have to do that as well.

One could quibble and say AI begins not at the peak of human intelligence, but when a computer is just as capable as a rather dumb person. This is not as mundane as it sounds. There is a lot a smart human being can think of that a dumb one cannot.

If we wish to go on and predict how AI will transform alien civilizations, and make them more efficient, or powerful, or anything at all, it is necessary to ensure that AI is not magic. In other words, AI is not one of those things that it is easy to think of and dream about, but for some basic reason, cannot happen. A prime example of magic is faster-than-light space travel. If physics weren’t already advanced beyond many other sciences, and it did not have a handle on what was the nature of force and energy in the universe, FTL might not be so easily recognized as magic. If this latter situation was accepted, alienology might be expecting space travel to be happening a thousand times faster than is actually possible, and be a thousand times more prevalent. This would result in a huge difference in what was predicted.

Perhaps AI is another form of magic, but it simply hasn’t been recognized as such yet. While this won’t have as strong an effect as FTL would, it would have a strong effect. So it behooves us to analyze AI more carefully. This means human intelligence, the target capability, needs to be sorted out in some more detail.

Human beings process data with neural nets, and that may give an illusion that AI must do the same. The recent work with what is called ‘deep learning’, which is the same thing that has been called neural networks for fifty years, may support that illusion. Neural networks can be used in recognition situations, where a machine can observe repetitions of an activity or an image, and draw conclusions from it. Humans recognize faces using a neural network – because they do everything with one. But it is not necessary to do that. Algorithms, meaning some mathematical formulas that can be embodied in an efficient computer program, can do such recognition much faster than a neural network, measured in processing units. Algorithms can replace neural networks in very many situations. Sometimes, it is not at all clear how to write such an algorithm or what values to use for it, and running a competent neural network might assist in figuring one out.

Motion is another example of where algorithms can be superior to neural networks. Having a robot move requires complicated algorithms, and the big breakthrough was learning how to write them in layers. Since the brain works in layers, this was not too surprising, but programming in this way was finally seen to make sense.

Algorithms are very useful in trying to get a computer to achieve AI, as it simulates a neural net very poorly, and has no chance of having the same number of processors as the brain does, as each neuron is a simple data processor. Nor could anyone expect to have the same variety of processors in a computer as in the brain: the number of discrete types of neurons is large, but controversial, as some differences are hard to detect.

It can be surmised that, if there are tasks which can only be done by a humongous neural network, and not a collection of algorithms, AI will not be achievable, even in computers as large as we wish to conceive of. So, are there any of these?

The brain’s neural net is extremely good at linkages. It can remember a long series of events, and many details about each. But each detail has linkages to other things, such as other events or series of events, and each of these will have details. Each specific detail is linked within the brain, in a way that a computer database cannot imitate. A computer can have an immense database, capable of recording much more data than the brain can, but the brain remembers unstructured data, or rather data where each detail has its own unique connections, features, linkages, and events.

Memory additions in a computer database have to have some structure that the program which interprets them understands. The brain has no such structures. It operates through something that would almost appear random, if there was any way it could be recorded and exposed to analysis. For example, a unique word might be connected with a book where it was first noticed, and much could be remembered about the book. Instead, it might be associated with some individual who used it more often than most, and that individual might have a huge assortment of details, able to be structured in many different ways. A particular color might be associated with a thousand different things, and the particular thousand that one individual remembers could be quite distinct from the number than another individual remembers. These things form the context of the thoughts that emerge from one individual’s brain, and lead to the creativity that humans possess. Can an AI program be made to operate with such complete randomness of structure? Is there any AI without such creativity?

Perhaps it can be said that simpler tasks, such as face recognition or object recognition or any of a huge number of individual tasks can be translated into algorithms, and a computer possessing the ability to perform these tasks might be considered intelligent in some degree. But to be able to mimic the thinking ability of humans requires destructuring data, and algorithms do not work with that. Furthermore, it is not likely that microprocessors can ever come close to simulating the huge number of neurons that function inside a human brain, so that even if there was some way to build random linkages, there would not be enough to become equivalent to a competent person’s thinking.

So, AI is not magic, as many intelligence tasks can be done by algorithms or neural networks, or combinations of them, but building an AI that has the equivalent of talented human intelligence is. Trying to describe an alien civilization following their reaching the final step of technology will be a bit harder as the line between these two levels of AI would have to be drawn, and then the implications of that line inferred.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sustainable Interplanetary Colonies

When an alien civilization, with fully advanced technology, is making up its collective mind as to whether to travel to other solar systems, and colonize the best of the bunch, it has certain considerations. One of these is feasibility. Other solar systems are marvelously distant. Just getting a probe there takes a large effort. But even if we grant that they could be determined enough to commit the resources necessary to attempt this, there is the problem of sustainability. A colony in another solar system simply cannot depend on a supply line from the home planet. It is too far and too costly. So, plans have to be made for a finite commitment from the home planet, and after that, the new colony must be able to sustain itself.

This is one reason that origin planets, ones which develop their own life and evolve into an entire ecosystem, would be preferred far above anything else. There may be some incompatibilities between life on the colony planet and life on home planet, such as DNA differences, but these are small compared to the needs of a colony which is just planted on a lifeless rock and expected to generate everything it needs from mining there.

It may be the unfortunate actual state of the galaxy that there are very few origin planets anywhere. This means that an alien civilization has the choice to colonize planets not suited for life on the surface, not possessing the atmosphere needed by the aliens for breathing. This means domes or underground sealed chambers. This adds to the supplies that the original ship or ships must bring to the distant solar system.

One question to ask is, can there be a sustainable colony on a barren planet? Sustainability is not the same as feasibility. With enough resources flowing in from the home planet, the colony could continue to survive. This could happen on a planet or satellite within the home solar system. If the colony there was providing valuable resources, at a cost which was affordable, the colony could be supported as long as the resources kept coming. Having a supply chain within a solar system can be done in some expedient ways, but there is no analog of one for a planet or satellite in another solar system. There is one benefit that a home solar system colony provides: it is a prototype for a barren planet colony in another solar system.

This means that if there is some doubt as to how to do a colony, and the level of engineering on the alien home planet is not sufficient to determine some details of how a colony would function, they can attempt to do one without anything like the cost or risk of a remote solar system venture. By this time in their developmental progress, their engineering skills should be sufficient to answer most of the questions that would arise about such a colony, and their computational capability should likewise be able to determine, or assist in determining, if such a colony could be designed to be self-sufficient.

Consider for a moment what sustainable means in this situation. It means that every resource that is brought for the colony's use by the initial supply vessels must be located on the planet and obtained at a cost that can be accommodated by the energy sources that are found there. Energy can be thought of as the currency of the colony. The myriad materials that are needed for an energy source, such as a simple fission reactor, have to be found, as discrete ore sources, mined, converted, transported, refined, and then fashioned into useful parts and components. This has to be done for a fraction of the energy that these resources will eventually produce. It goes without saying that energy storage or distribution within the colony must also be accomplished within the same energy budget.

One aspect is the amount of fissile materials that are present. If the initial supply vessels brought with them fissile material in sufficient quantity, then simply mining fertile materials might be sufficient. A simple breeder reactor could be assembled using the ship’s fissile material and the newly obtained fertile materials, hopefully leading to a net production of fissile material. If the supply vessel did not bring this, for reasons of intrinsic radioactivity or anything else, then the mining operation would have to locate its own source of fissile materials.

The amount of this material is directly related to the age of the colony solar system. Uranium-235 is deposited in the planets and satellites of the solar system from the amount in the original cloud of dust and gas that formed the solar system, and after than formation, no more is made, any more than other elements are transmuted into existence. In an older solar system, much of the uranium-235 would have decayed into lead, leaving only very weakly enriched uranium-238 behind.

The other quantity that affects the distant colony's chances to become self-sufficient in nuclear energy relates to the amount of uranium in the original gas cloud, which in turn depends on the processes which formed it, notably the number of supernovas which have detonated nearby. This might not be a quantity which could be measured remotely, meaning that one or more probes would have to be deployed. Note that deploying a probe means a delay of centuries in the launch of the colony vessels.

If the solar system is old, or wasn’t bequeathed much uranium prior to its forming a solar system, the prospective colonists might just choose to bypass it, or else rely on some other energy source. There aren’t many to choose from. A barren planet not too far from its star might serve as a good place to collect solar photons. Again, can the materials needed to form such a system be obtained for the net energy produced during the lifetime of the system? We are not really sure yet about this aspect of solar power ourselves, but within a few decades it should become clear if a solar energy system infrastructure can be afforded based on its own power production capability. An alien civilization would of course know this long before they even contemplated interstellar travel and colonization.

One interesting takeaway from this is that we may be thinking a bit about out own interplanetary colonies, and the information we learn from this can be useful in telling us if alien civilizations could manage to pull off colonization. The very understandable return on net power calculations should translate over, with appropriate modifications for a different solar system, and inform us of this. If the answer is negative, we can say we have one very good reason why aliens have not spread throughout the galaxy: Too few origin planets and nothing else is sustainable.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Needs, Wants and Satisfaction in Alien Civilizations

It is easy to imagine alien civilizations with different levels of satisfaction of the citizens’ needs and wants. For civilizations past asymptotic technology, there are some additional considerations.

If we use the term needs to mean the biological needs of the alien citizen, meaning food, shelter and so on, and wants to mean everything beyond that, then by the time the civilization reaches this stage, they will completely understand how wants are formed in the alien brain, and will likewise understand the means for putting those wants there, mostly during the youth period of each alien’s life, but also during the adult period. What choices might whatever is used for governance in the alien civilization make?

The options they have and the motivation they might consider depend on the stage of the civilization, where we refer to the scarcity level currently being faced. An alien civilization, unless on a fairly barren planet, will have a period when its resources are abundant, and they could consume more per year if they chose to. Then there will be a later stage in which resources are no longer abundant. The decisions might be different.

In the abundance stage, the governance elements could make the decision to be as frugal as possible, or could decide to provide the citizens with a high level of consumption. The trade-off is with the length of time this abundance stage lasts. No matter where they live, the planet has finite resources that are obtainable with the best technology possible, or the solar system if the economics of interplanetary mining are favorable, and there is only the choice of how fast to use them up.

Since there is no guidance provided by the universe to an alien civilization, it has to make up its own directions and choices. There is no reason why they might be compelled to make resources last as long as possible, nor is there any reason why they might not. They have to make such choices in a vacuum. They have their own traditions, their own history to tap into, and they have a great ability to reason about their situation. But the choice of some particular tradition as a reference to follow is completely arbitrary, as is the choice of a starting point for reasoning about how to dole out resources and the products that are made from them.

The other side of this coin is that there is no pressure from the population to make any of these choices, in the long term. If, during some alien’s lifetime, the amount of satisfaction of needs and wants drastically reduces, they would experience some negative feeling, which are an inevitable result of the mismatch between the associations already established with their life and the level of resources provided. However, over the long term of large numbers of generations, resource provision can be gradually lowered with no reaction, as the neural associations associated with these resources and these effects of their consumption can be adjusted for each new generation.

A set of unsatisfied wants does more than simply provide unhappiness. If the alien civilization chooses to induce some feelings of self-reliance in each generation of alien citizens, the mismatch between wants and resources might impel the citizens to take on some tasks, otherwise done by automation or intellos, genetically designed and specially bred creatures serving to supplement or replace robots. If there was any savings in energy usage or resource consumption when aliens themselves performed some tasks in the civilization’s activities. It is hard to imagine many tasks where aliens could exceed the performance of robots or intellos.

Consider transport. For an alien to travel to a location, pick up an item, and then travel to a destination where it is left, there is the cost of moving the alien as well as the item. A specialized transport automaton would be expected to have less weight and therefore use less energy and materials. Only if there was some unique special transport situations where the versatility of an alien would be beneficial could it even be potentially possible for aliens to out-compete automatons. Only if the lack of sunk costs in the alien, as compared to the construction cost and maintenance costs of the automaton were a significant factor could this happen.

There might be some possibilities in the areas of interfaces with other aliens. Having dedicated automatons to interact with aliens again represents a cost, the energy and materials that go into constructing and maintaining it, while each alien is already provided for by the civilization, so the equivalent costs are not applicable.

This is reminiscent of the earlier eras of an alien civilization. When it first started, aliens may have been only hunters and gatherers, gradually transitioning into agriculture. There, the time horizon for planning was one or two generations. An alien would be most concerned about the survival of his group, whether that be a clan or a hunting band. After that, the young aliens might be considered. But resource usage was small in this era and the consideration of finite resources may not have even been dreamed of. It would only be during and after the industrial grand transformation that these ideas would percolate up. Thus, any traditions that the alien civilization could recall might lead to a high level of resource consumption, even without any consideration whatsoever of exhaustion. Exhaustion of individual deposits of resources would be the first sign that something different was happening, and only over time, as more and more individual deposits were exhausted, would there appear the general idea of all the resources of the whole planet being limited.

Resource exhaustion might first enter the thinking of the young alien civilization as a constraint on their growth in technology and living standards, meaning that the search for alternative deposits or substitutions would dominate their activity. There is no clear clue when an alien civilization will start thinking about itself in the long term, except that it is likely to happen after the very rapid change that happens in the various transformations leading to asymptotic technology come to an end, and civilization settles down into something quite constant for a long period. Then long term thinking might seep into the thought of the alien civilization. Then they would be ready to face the decisions discussed above, as to how long they wanted to survive before becoming extinct or declining to a very primitive level. It is this time when the alternative of star travel becomes quite interesting.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hydrogen or Antihydrogen?

Will alien civilizations in their asymptotic technology stage run on hydrogen or antihydrogen? The case for hydrogen is simple. It can be generated almost anywhere on their planet and transported, using some of the hydrogen itself for fuel, to any of the arcologies that aliens are expected to live in. It can be turned into electricity at the destination point. Even with our primitive knowledge of energy systems, it seems that making hydrogen can be done efficiently, meaning without much loss of energy. Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and only storing the hydrogen means that the atmosphere takes on the job of moving most of the weight needed for energy transformation. We assume their atmosphere has oxygen, as that is the product of photosynthesis, which in turn is the most efficient way for plants to grab energy.

At the destination end, hydrogen can efficiently be turned into electricity for those uses of electricity the alien civilization still has. We think of fuel cells, and hardly use any, but efficiency falls out at about 50%, without trying hard. Add in some centuries of R&D, and a much higher efficiency, or alternatively a more efficient replacement, should be on the table. With no pollution but only water as an output, it is a simple solution to keeping their atmosphere unaltered.

On Earth, distributing fuel was the common procedure prior to the invention of electricity distribution systems. For example, each home might get a coal delivery or a whale oil delivery or a kerosene delivery, and it would use them for heat or light. On alien planets with advanced technology, having hydrogen tanks delivered to wherever they were needed goes back to this method, and much fewer scarce resources are needed, e.g., copper. All kinds of engines can work on hydrogen, so whatever is convenient and efficient might be used for transport. Fuel cells are small in size, and could be used wherever needed; whatever the aliens invent to replace or improve them would be more so. Recall that technology is absolutely independent of who does the research. This means that all alien worlds would use the same energy system so if hydrogen works on one planet, all planets will figure it out and use the same thing. Even the details should work out fairly identically. For example, if an engine of type X is found to be the most efficient in power per weight on planet Y, planet Z will figure out exactly the same thing, and also use engines of type X.

If transportation proves to be only a small increment of cost for the hydrogen system, fusion plants or hydroelectric plants or solar farms or whatever they finally evolve into can be anywhere where transportation can travel. To be more explicit, if you need a power plant producing N terajoules equivalent of hydrogen for a city, if the plant is located near the city, and the transport from a distant location takes 5% of that amount, you need a power plant producing 1.05 N terajoules located at the more convenient site.

Some transport wouldn’t do well with hydrogen because of the low energy per weight ratio, considering tankage. The aliens would no doubt, if they had uses for it, like aircraft, come up with an efficient hydrogen to liquid hydrocarbon conversion system, using octane, dimethyl benzene, xylene or any of dozens of other options or even a combination, so they could easily fly aircraft or whatever they chose to use for long distance rapid transport. Depending on the conversion efficiency of the hydrogen to liquid hydrocarbon system, it might even be useful to have a secondary system for transporting octane around. Liquid hydrocarbons are very efficient in energy per weight, tankage included, and if produced in a process that withdrew carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the conversion process, would be neutral in atmospheric contributions.

It may seem somewhat risky to assume we can figure out the energy system for an alien planet far away in the galaxy and far advanced over our technology, but we can understand that science for them is the same as science for us, and with an atmosphere arising from the evolution of energy-seeking cells, there are not many energy-efficient options that do not include a closed cycle. Perhaps they will find some way of simply packaging energy other than in chemical bonds in hydrocarbons.

One option is antihydrogen, the simplest neutral form of antimatter. We haven’t produced it and experimented with it so that we can't tell what the tankage requirements are. It may turn out that there is a high quantum barrier to annihilation, and so a simple hydrogen tank can be used for antihydrogen. All we know about is high energy reactions that are seen in accelerators. These may be incredibly misleading. If antimatter in a matter tank is stable, the energy to weight ratio goes up by many orders of magnitude. The waste products of annihilation are nothing. Annihilation produces pure energy and leave no residue behind.

There are a number of inventions the alien civilizations would have to come up to use antihydrogen. First, there would have to be a high efficiency way to make it. We have no clue at this point, but add a hundred years to our physics knowledge and it may be that there are simple ways. Second, there would also have to be a simply and compact way to cause it to undergo annihilation. If it is stable in tankage, this means it would be stable in contact with everything. Perhaps ionization would be enough to overcome the barriers. This would simplify energy production, but it would mean there would be risk from cosmic rays ionizing something in an antihydrogen tank, leading to an annihilation reaction. If this means a chain reaction might be initiated, we are talking about the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. On the other hand, if ionization does not work to produce annihilation, tanks are safer, but energy production is more difficult. At any rate, Earth physicists have a lot to work on for the next century or two.

If we ever build big telescopes, such as kilometer-sized dishes at a Lagrange point, and can see alien planets, we might be able to discern if they are using antimatter rockets in their solar system. This would be a clue that the antimatter production problem is solvable, but not that on-planet use was feasible. Given the distances, it will be quicker to figure it out ourselves rather than try to communicate over a few hundred light years and ask them about it.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Terror of Star Travel

Much has been written about the physical difficulties of star travel for humans, and analogously for aliens. The idea that aliens could travel in generation ships, which are hypothetical huge starships able to contain colonies of aliens, serving as crew or being passengers, has popped up in multiple science fiction works. There are many difficulties with them, but one difficulty with them has not been emphasized very much: the basic psychology of star travel.

What would it be like to be on such a ship? It is not something that can easily be imagined. It is incredibly easy to think about the engineering aspects of the ship and its operations, figuring out the dimensions needed for different portions, the power aspects, the hull, the sensors needed, and so on. It is also interesting to think about the interaction of the crew or passengers on such a long voyage, with potential mutinies, factions, crimes, and so on. But there is something more basic than that.

It is very difficult to even get a glimpse of what it would be like to simply be on such a ship. Without any understanding, coming up with possible problems can hardly happen. So I was very lucky to visit the Phoenix Art Museum, where they have a work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It is experiential art. She created a large room with six reflecting walls that you can enter. The room is dark except for some tiny LED lights hanging from the ceiling on invisible wires. The LEDs are of different colors and there are very many of them. In the dark room, the little lights reflect back and forth on the reflecting walls and appear to be extending to infinity.

Fortunately, I was at the museum when there were few other visitors, and I went into Kusama’s chamber and sat on the floor and let the swinging motion of the LED strings caused by my passage damp out. It seemed to me to be like the view one would get from a port, perhaps a large glass sphere, on a starship.

This was not the intention of the artist at all. The work, entitled “You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies”, was intended to be a depiction of what she saw inside her mind from time to time. If the multicolored LED strings are set into motion, I suppose it is like fireflies in a pitch-black night. They stay on for a while and then go off while batches of others go on, non-synchronously. The turning on and off is not like what one would experience in the starship observation globe, but it happens so slowly that the effect is similar enough to a starship’s view that the effect is the same, or at least I think so.

After a few minutes sitting alone in the dark, being very calm and simply watching, it became clear to me that being on a starship, light years away from any stars or planets, might actually induce something like terror in an alien, assuming their minds were similar to ours. All the familiarity we grow up with, from the planet of our birth, is totally gone, forever. Familiarity is one thing that helps us function and stay sane. When you are in a totally, absolutely, different and unfamiliar situation, with nothing from your past present any more, your mind might start to simply rebel. I did not feel terror, as I knew I could simply get up and find my way through the dark to the exit, but when there is no exit for light years in any direction, what would happen?

The feeling of loneliness, or perhaps aloneness is better, starts to hit you, even in Kusawa’s chamber with its illusion of infinite distances. There is nothing to give you any scale in the chamber, so the lights could be nearby or a billion miles away. I don’t know how anyone could make a better illusion of star travel in such a simple way. There is simply nothing to get a mental connection to in the chamber. It takes a few minutes for the recollection of coming in the door and finding your way to a central point and sitting down to go away, and leave you with the full experience. But it did come to me, and it was simply that there was nothing of me left. Trying to explain it doesn’t work very well and perhaps someone more versed in psychology could do a better job, but the feeling is simply that of a loneliness that is more than complete loneliness. It is like you are lonely not just from the lack of other people to interact with, but that the entire planet with which you are familiar has left you as well. Perhaps there is a loneliness for things, for views, for places, for structures, for things to do, as well as for persons. Being in interstellar space is a loneliness that is total and absolute. You feel lonely for everything you ever knew.

It is not the same as traveling to another continent. The sky is still there, like you were familiar with. The ground is still there. Distances are still of the same scale. Yes, even distance has left you behind in interstellar space and you can feel lonely for that. Time is still the same on a new continent, but in interstellar space, time has left you as well. There is no time there. Time on Earth or an alien planet is governed by the rotation of the planet, and the entire planet has left you, along with the scale of time that it provides. The feeling is simply that everything that has formed your mind is now gone. It couldn’t happen in the Phoenix Art Museum, but in space, even gravity has left you alone. The strangeness of the environment seems to me to be certainly enough to induce terror, as there is nothing left familiar to mentally hold on to.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Alien Citizens with Vision

Vision is not the same as intelligence. It is something that requires a good deal of intelligence, but it is certainly possible to be quite intelligent and have no vision at all. Yet for an alien civilization to pass through the various grand transitions and proceed to become more advanced, wealthy and organized, it must have individuals with vision who foresee these changes and work to bring them about.

Citizens with vision are the opposite of citizens who focus on history. A history-oriented citizen is well aware of the past and what was good about certain eras and what was bad about them. They know what preconditions there were for prosperity and progress and they know what preconditions there were for a lack of the same. Their viewpoint is of knowledge of how to do things, based on the past. They can extrapolate, but not innovate. Historians, professional or amateur, like history, and see some periods as desirable and expect that there would be a reversal of the trends toward the future, such as advances in technology and social organization.

Unfortunately, it is much easier to become a historian than to become someone with vision. An alien citizen with vision may be a leader or simply one who foresees, leaving others to implement his/her/its vision. Yet without alien citizens with vision, the civilization might stall at some point, or retrogress, never reaching the culmination where star travel, to Earth or otherwise, is possible. So it is an important question in the study of alien civilizations to understand if citizens with vision could cease to exist, at least in the numbers needed to continue progress forward, not retrogress backward. Another alternative scenario that could result in an alien civilization not being able to more forward would be if there were alien citizens with vision, meaning ones competent at projecting future possibilities and assessing their potential for achievement and the consequences of achievement, but they were simply ignored or drowned out by other citizens, enamoured of the past so much that progress was stopped.

Progress does not have to turn into retrogression in order for an alien civilization to stall its progress, it simply needs to stop moving forward and hold in place, at least temporarily. Factionalism might be sufficient to accomplish this. If there was a faction that had control of the levers of governance, or some other means of influencing choices about the future, and was able to also control much of the resource flows on the planet, they might wish to continue their own position, and therefore preferred stasis. Stasis does not have to be uniform in order to stop the progress of civilization, as there can be minor changes going on all the time. Instead, only those changes which would impinge on the relative social and economic position of the particular faction that had control would have to be stopped. This might represent some sort of false progress, where the alien civilization was dancing laterally but not moving forward.

Alien citizens with visions relating to how the whole society might transform itself, via one of the grand transformations that lead to asymptotic technology, would be the ones who became extinct or who were ignored. Alien citizens with visions relating to details of the civilization that avoided the grand transitions would take their place as those who were listened to.

Each of the grand transitions that an alien civilization has to pass through could have these lateral movers. Hunters who disparaged the planting of crops but instead led the movement of their clan to different hunting grounds or who sought to change the targeted creatures that were hunted might succeed in stopping the agricultural grand transition. Farmers who were leaders of their own agricultural society might simply move the civilization to different crop types instead of allowing the production of early machinery and its use in agriculture, or even elsewhere. City-dwellers could similarly try to stop the industrial grand transition partway through its progress by blocking some electronic advances on some grounds, or by halting automation for some reason, or by prohibiting research into artificial intelligence. They would possibly succeed in halting society’s otherwise mono-directional progress.

There could be citizens who seek to derail the genetic grand transition for reasons of their own, perhaps to solidify their own control over resource flows. They could attempt to block it in toto, or at some stage of its progress, perhaps the invention of new animals or plants, or the invention of intelligent animals, which we nicknamed intellos, or the modification of their own genome beyond some limits, or the development of new species to transcend their own evolved species. There are even more stopping points in the very diverse genetic grand transition.

Does an alien citizen develop vision because of some condition in society, or is it like being on the upper tip of the bell curve in distribution of some mental talents? If there is a decided negative view adopted of some technology, or of technology in general, by the alien civilization, perhaps the probability of the emergence of alien citizens with vision would be reduced. Likely there must be some minimum critical mass of aliens with vision in order for the society to advance. Since, at least under the theory of technological determinism, society progresses only in synchrony with the development of technology, meaning all science and engineering, people with vision need to be associated with technology. Devastating education or training in these areas might serve the faction wishing to halt the progress of civilization by serving as a subtle means of derailing progress.

The faction that seeks to halt society on a plateau, where their ascendance is prolonged, will likely find that there are no long plateaus in the progress of an alien civilization, only peaks and cliffs. Yet the knowledge of how society might progress is something that might escape being understood or accepted for a long period in the growth of their civilization, even well into the industrial grand transition’s later stages or the early stages of the genetic grand transition. If so, there would be an impetus to try and create such a plateau, even though it could only be a temporary success. The suppression of alien citizens with vision, by reducing emphasis on technology education or by any other means, could easily prove to be a fatal error for the alien civilization.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Leadership in Alien Civilizations

Leadership is not the same as intelligence. It is again a mental attribute, based both on genetics and memetics, and it is also hard to define. Another way of saying that is that leadership can take many forms, as intelligence can, and determining some simple quantitative measures of it doesn’t come easily. But the somewhat vague understanding of what it is can be easily described. In means that, in some situation where a problem faces a group of alien citizens, someone has to both unify their actions in resolving it, and take the mantle for making that decision. These tasks are not necessarily identical and may be very different facets of leadership, and therefore it may well be that in some group, one alien possesses the first, and another possess the second.

The first skill can be called facilitating a consensus. This is not the same as the intelligence-related task of seeing solutions where no one else can. It involves situations where many individuals have full or partial solutions to the problem, but they are at least superficially different and it is not clear to the individuals how to resolve these differences and come up with an agreed-up final solution. This skill is not persuasion, where an individual with a particular opinion continues to dominate the discussion, forcing others to concede that his/her/its solution will be the one chosen. Dominance is almost the exact opposite of facilitation.

Facilitation involves obtaining a deeper understanding of the potential solutions, which involves seeing both which features of each are relevant and which may be superficial or erroneous, and how terminology or phrasing might be obscuring the identity of two or more of the different solution concepts. It involves a second part of explaining to each member what the overall solution is in such a way that they are ready to accept the overall solution and actually be willing to take the actions necessary to bring the solution into effect. Thus, it involves both an ability to decompose solutions and problems into their various pieces, and an ability to communicate with other aliens in such a way as to be convincing.

The second type of leadership requires decisiveness and the ability to inspire. Decisiveness is the ability to accept a decision made by a group, and then present it to whoever is responsible for the problem, or to begin to manage the work needed for the solution to happen, or to take whatever other steps are necessary to being the consensual solution into fruition. It involves taking charge and taking responsibility for organizing whatever has to be done to solve the problem, and this in turn involves both impressing the group that they have the ability to perform the solution’s requirements or otherwise cause them to be performed, and then to organize their time and effort to do that. It involves organization, but considerably more than that. It requires a level of self-confidence, and this, along with the organizational abilities, is what inspires other citizens to allow this individual to represent the group and give direction to them as much as necessary.

This has two general interactions with the development of an alien civilization. One is that if there is no leadership at any of the early stages, in the grand transitions and even for smaller changes in the civilization, if there is no one to perform these two leadership tasks, the civilization will not be able to move forward. Leadership is needed in many aspects and professions in the civilization, including the ones which dominate the development process: the technological professions. All through the history of the alien civilization, as they follow the developmental process that is forced upon them by the natural history of technological development and the societal changes dictated by technological determinism, they must have leadership to make those societal changes happen. Leadership must be able to find the right solutions at these forks in the pathway, and then convince the population to follow them.

This means that a lack of leadership qualities throughout the population could cause them to plateau and stop their rise to higher levels of civilization. It is true that a lack of intelligence through the population could do the same, and at the state of knowledge available on Earth at the current time, we cannot say much about what might cause it to not blossom as much as is required. Neither do we understand much about leadership, another important mental skill set, and again there is little to say about what might cause a deficit in it. The possibility of a deficit in leadership abilities in the population is a distinct possibility, as we can see from our own past how rare such abilities have been through the few millennia of recorded history that we have here.

The ignorance of the causes, genetic and memetic and whatever else, of leadership developing in an alien civilization will come to an end with what might be called the neurological branch of the genetic grand transition. Neurology is not really a branch of genetics, simply one of many biological packages that have a relation to it, but the timing is such that the unveiling of neurological insights should happen about the same time as the unveiling of genetic insights. They both have the same technological predecessors, such as large computational rate processing systems. Understanding individual neurons and the neuronal population of the brain would be assisted to a degree by genetic understandings of neurons, but this cannot be too many genes out of the few tens of thousands that makes up the human genome, and likely the alien genome. The ontology might be the most difficult part of understanding neurology, and as more sensitive instruments are developed, that will gradually give way.

The other side of the leadership dilemma is what happens on the other side of the neurological revolution. Why would leadership skills be denied to any aliens in generations following the realization of how to provide them, as well as high intelligence, to all newborns? One problem with the post-asymptotic technology period is figuring out what the society would be like with so many very intelligent members. How would they interact? A similar problem exists with leadership. How does a society go forward where everyone has the ability to be a leader, and perhaps the desire as well?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Training Protocols in Alien Civilizations

Training protocols are the procedures used for training young aliens, excluding those which might be termed educational protocols, which are used for training somewhat older aliens, those capable of reasoning or at least absorbing organized learning. They would necessarily be differently conducted in different phases of the civilization. In the era between the hunting and agricultural grand transitions, it would be largely non-existent, or completely informal. After the agricultural grand transition, training by example supplemented by explanation would be all that could be effected. But after the industrial grand transition, when automation, artificial intelligence and robotics were embedded in the civilization, training could be organized, even for the youngest ages.

Training lays down in the young alien brain the associations that determine many of their unconscious preferences, interests, behaviors, and other aspects of alien life which are not fixed by the nature and infrastructure of the civilization. That is why it is so important to see what can be deduced about training. It is not only their preference for interstellar travel that is laid down, it is preferences for almost everything in the society. There must be a good match between how society is conducted and what the youth are trained to like. Otherwise the successive generations of the civilization will change and modify either one or the other or both.

Again there is a overabundance of options and choices. There is nothing yet found that forces the society to pick one aspect and favor it, but they could if they chose to. Consider music, assuming the aliens have auditory sensors capable of processing it. They could train their youth in it, ensuring that many of them would want to hear it, support musicians of whatever sort they used, and continue cataloging it or forming libraries of it, or whatever other actions the society might take in support of a continuing interest in music. They could do the opposite, and completely ignore it in their training of their youth, meaning that few if any would be interested in it when they became adults. What would they do? There is nothing to provide any guide in this area except to state they would likely maintain their heritage in this and other matters, as there is nothing to propel them away from it. We can call this the collection of memes in the alien civilization, if the training could be broken up into discrete chunks of subjects.

There are also some basic principles in addition to their heritage that would influence their selection of training protocols. Perhaps the most mandatory of these is the need for economical use of resources, including energy, and the recycling of many different materials to a high percentage. Without these two guidelines, their society would end soon, and perhaps if the planet were not as abundant as some others, their society would run out of the scarcest resources even during the genetic grand transition. These principles do not affect many of the subject areas where the alien civilization could make options, but it could affect some. Activities which were prolific users of resource would be banned, unless there was some overriding societal goal that demanded it. Star travel is perhaps the most obvious of these.

Otherwise, the principles would affect the manner in which activities were performed, so that there was efficiency in use and conservation of everything. Individual activities which consumed great amount of the civilization’s remaining resources would likely be scorned, and training protocols would match this. No individual aliens would likely be free from this type of training, so there would be virtually no one who would contemplate such an activity. Resource preservation would be one of the strongest memes and dominant in training protocols, to the level needed to ensure it was absorbed and incorporated into the thinking of all the successive generations of aliens.

The neurological science needed to perfect these training protocols would not likely exist, in entirety, before the genetic grand transition was well underway. The goals of the training might be established during the industrial grand transition and following it, but the methods for making it efficient and most effective would not be available then, and there would still be some variation across the civilization. However, once neurology was completely understood, devising a suite of training protocols to embody all the training that the alien civilization had decided their young members should receive would be a simple follow-on. There would be a core of training that was mandatory, and then variations that could be utilized to make sure the society was quite interesting and amusing to its citizens.

The choice of memes is analogous to the choice of genes that is possible after the genetic grand transition. There are certain genetic choices that would seem inevitable in any alien civilization at this era in their history. The ones obvious to us are those related to health, athletics, intelligence, appearance, longevity, altruism, and sensory capabilities. Each of these could be subdivided into components, and further subdivided until a genetic oe memetic scheme could be arrived at which would provide them. Then variations in other aspects could be introduced to keep the population from looking and acting like clones of one individual. There is again no hard and fast principles that we have been able to envision which would explain to us what further restrictions they would place on their choices, so, perhaps the basic principles of the society and their heritage would again be two of the stronger influences on their choices.

One aspect of neurology that we do not understand at this point in Earth’s scientific history is the forced trade-offs between different training areas. There might also be similar trade-offs in genetic endowment. Intelligence is a straightforward example. Of the different skills that are bundled together in the package referred to as intelligence, there are some quite different ones, such as pattern recognition and logical ability. Could it be that achieving the ultimate in training an alien to be excellent at pattern recognition would inhibit his ability to achieve the ultimate in logical abilities? Perhaps they both require a substantial commitment of neurons in some lobe of the brain, and using up those neurons for one diminishes those left for the other. So, it would be possible to think up some trade-off choice, say involving a middle point, with a score of 50 for pattern recognition and 50 for logical ability, but if a score of 70 was desired for pattern recognition, only 40 could be achieved in logical ability. If there are such trade-offs, in training or in genetics, then the alien society would have to make choices as to what distributions of extreme talents they want in their population. This might or might not have an effect on their propensity for space travel, if there is some connections with certain capabilities and the resultant interest in exploring or conquering new worlds or simply adventure and thrill. Figuring this out without much knowledge of neurology or genetics is going to be quite difficult.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Spiral Waves in Proto-planetary Disks

Very recent observations indicate that in some proto-planetary disks, there are spiral waves. This has some interesting implications.

One thing to remember is that these waves are caused by a gravitational instability in shearing, thin, self-gravitating disks. The only other known example is spiral galaxies. If they are the same in proto-planetary disks as in galaxies, these are waves of density, not material, and it is not some selected subset of the matter in the disk which has formed into a rotating spiral, but instead it is like waves on the surface of the ocean. The seawater does not travel along the surface, just in loops near the surface. The wave is an instability formed by the shearing of the air over the ocean surface. The energy in the wind is tapped to form waves, and interestingly enough, waves are non-linear, in that having some waves creates more wind friction, coupling more energy into the water, until some saturation point is reached. The saturation point can involve huge expanses of oceans, as deep-water waves do not dissipate rapidly. If gravitational density waves are analogous, the energy in the shearing of the rotating disk couples into the wave instability, and probably having some unevenness in the density of the disk makes the shearing couple better, up to a point where it saturates.

If this phenomena has some implications for planetary formation, the timing is important. In galaxy spiral density waves, the formation time of stars is short enough so that they can get started in the time it takes the spiral wave to pass by. For solar system spiral density waves, a planet must get started in the time it takes the spiral wave to pass by, or else there is no effect. We do not know the propagation speed of solar system spiral density waves, but galaxy spiral density waves move quite slowly around the galaxy. If solar system waves are also slow, planets might get started as they pass. It may just be that the rotation rate of the spiral density wave is the same as the rotational rate at some radius, perhaps a radius located about half-way out the spiral structure. If this is the case, then the motion of matter through the wave is zero at the key radius, and slow on either side of that.

This has two possible implications. One is that, assuming they are more likely dual spiral waves with two arms rather than three or four, two giant planets might form about simultaneously. This requires that the initial condensation of the planets happen very quickly. Times in condensation are typically quick if there is no angular momentum to keep things spread out. Freefall times for a planet are measured in minutes and for a star, in tens of days, or from far out in the solar system, hundreds of days. The spiral wave does not eliminate the angular momentum that slows down the collapse, but it mitigates it. Thus, if a planetary orbit is 10 years, collapse could be a fraction of that. In other words, the proto-planet could form during the passage of the spiral density wave.

In a two-pronged spiral wave, two planets could form. If the wave was in the densest part of the proto-planetary disk, and there was enough total mass in it, two gas giants could form, and begin to accumulated surrounding matter. Planet formation is quick, once the disk becomes non-uniform. A solar system with two gas giants, which lock into perturbations around some commensurate orbital times, seems to provide a very stable home for other, smaller planets.

It would be expected that the spiral density wave was symmetric, in that both sides had about the same condensation and the same mean density. Even so, since two planets by themselves, meaning with no other larger planets to stabilize them, are unstable if in the same orbit or close to it, they would swap angular momentum and move apart. With some luck related to accidental close approaches, they would reach a stable equilibrium. One interesting question is how likely is this dispersion? Do most planet pairs formed by a spiral wave or anything else at very similar radii tend to chuck one out of the solar system or do they tend to drift into a stable pair of orbits. Some intensive but simple simulation of planetary orbits might help answer this question. The effect of the residual proto-planetary disk at inner radii or outer radii, relative to the planet pair, might be beneficial, but that will have to be thought out in more detail.

Let’s turn the situation on its head. If there are two large gas giants in stable orbits, just recently formed, and the inner residual of the proto-planetary disk has not yet collapsed into its own planets, would these outer planets induce a spiral wave in the inner residual disk? If the spiral density wave is a near stable phenomena, then it should be preferentially induced by any regular perturbation. To say this a different way, if disks tend to respond to some forcing by creating spiral density waves, then a dual planet system might provide such forcing. Ocean waves do not form because they are manipulated by the wind, as the wind has only a very simple forcing effect on the ocean. Waves are a natural oscillation of the system, but they die out without some forcing. The wind shearing over the surface of the ocean provides that forcing. Similarly, if gravitational spiral waves are a natural oscillation of a proto-planetary disk, lots of things might provide a forcing, including planets orbiting beyond it.

This leads to the second implication. If a residual inner proto-planetary disk is put into spiral wave motion, then there again might be a dual pair of condensation centers formed, one in each spiral arm. Then these dual planets, being formed in a much less dense part of the proto-planetary disk, might form smaller planets. If there is a composition gradient, they could be more metallic that the outer ones. But the interesting part is that they are in opposition, one being at one of the Lagrangian points of the other. If proto-Earth and Theia, the hypothetical planetesimal that impacted the proto-Earth to form the moon, and perhaps assist in the origination of life, did have their collision, these spiral waves provide one speculative cause of the pair. Again, some simple but extensive simulations of planetary orbits would be needed to determine if this is anything more that a wild idea, but wild ideas sometimes become less wild, and since this fits in with what we know so far, it might be worth thinking about.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Another Aspect of Technological Determinism

Technological determinism says that the structure of society follows the existing technology. This is demonstrated to us here on Earth with many examples, including the one of how interconnectedness via the internet is changing our personal relationships from face-to-face ones to remote, almost virtual ones, and indeed ones which are more ephemeral than the older style. Technological determinism has some step changes in it, when one of the grand transitions happens, as from a gathering culture to one based on hunting large animals or from a hunting culture to an agricultural one.

Mixed together with the other guiding principle, that of asymptotic technology, which says that technology doesn’t depend on the civilization, but instead depends on the nature of the universe, the laws of physics and chemistry and microbiology and all the others, and all of them will be eventually figured out by every alien civilization which lasts long enough. They will all have the same technology, as they will have knowledge of all of it, and can make the same decisions on one planet as on another.

The other side of asymptotic technology is that an alien civilization gets to the asymptote, where just about everything is known, and there is no more use doing any research as there is nothing left unknown. This is not the same as omniscience, which is knowing where all the grains of sand are on all the beaches, but practical omniscience, where anything worth knowing is known, and all the rest are largely inconsequential data, like beach sand or a trillion, trillion other data sets.

Once an alien civilization is at the asymptote, technology or science if you wish as well as engineering, is all known, and every function in society has already been figured out and optimized. So, if technology becomes constant, what does technological determinism add to that? It adds that the society becomes unchanging, from century to century and millennia to millennia. It isn’t that just scientists become readers of the past discoveries, but that science pervades every aspect of society and makes it just as well known and well-optimized as science itself. Music will be totally understood, both in how in can be made and how it can interact with individual aliens. No new instruments will be invented, as they all have been done already. No new musical forms will be possible, as all conceivable ones are already known and recorded for posterity. Nothing new under the sun.

Art, food, health, communication, puzzles, sports, in short, everything, will be examined and understood by the time asymptotic technology gets finished. Genetics will be an open book, and anything can be done with it that can be done. What can be known about the genetics of long extinct species, is known. Things that cannot be discovered are not discovered, but what can be discovered has been and the exact limits of what can be found out have been found out.

What is life like in a society where there are no new cars, no new phones, no new computers, no new foods, no new scientific results, no new art types, no new music types, no new appliance types, no new energy sources, no new revelations of psychology, and on and on? Our culture is addicted to novelty, and at this point in our history, the rate of novelty is very high. Perhaps it is so high, that it is hard to imagine, hard to conceive, hard to understand and hard to interpret what life in such an alien civilization would be like. Yet the rise of technology only occupies a few millennia; after that constancy. We can assume that things that bother us have become extinct, like war and conquest. There are no deranged individuals as health, psychological as well as physical, is completely understood and incorporated in society. The sources and causes of ill-health are understood and mitigated. Because aliens are like us, and like any species that rises up to high intelligence, are problem-solvers, once asymptotic technology gives us the means to solve problems, they are solved. They are all solved. If a tool wears out in such a society, it is because there is no other way to make the tool such that it wears out slower, given all the conditions that surround it.

Yet, if we want to try and deduce why aliens might or might not want to travel in space, to uninhabited or inhabited planets, and how they might do it, we need to understand as much as possible their society and how they live. The decisions they make, especially about something as monumental as dispersing their society to another solar system, are a product of the society they live in. What exactly is that society like?

Maybe we can come to a better understanding of what life in an alien civilization would be like if we try to imagine what life was like in previous eras, perhaps the middle ages, where change was remarkably slow compared to the industrial grand transformation. An ordinary typical person might be born in a location, have their life set up for them, perhaps by following in the footsteps of the parents, and then live out their whole life in an unchanged environment. The cottage they lived in might get a new thatch roof, maybe every twenty years, but it has been happening for generations. The individuals who come to the market every week or month might be different as the years pass, but they are all about the same. The same things are grown, and some years are better than others. As generations pass, the cemeteries get a little fuller, but only slowly. The officials from the manor house might have a bit different personalities, but they still make the same demands. There is never any news from far away. Some people have accidents, others never do. Some times there are environmental problems, such as a bad year for a kind of insect invasion, and other times are fairly quiet. In general, there is nothing besides personal interactions and environmental fluctuations that change the society, except over a long time compared to a generation. So, this type of person in those periods of time might have experienced the same dearth of innovation and news that a citizen of an alien civilization might experience.

As far as we know, medieval peasants did not go raving mad or all become too depressed to function. They simply lived. Imagine being born in the same village that you died in, and maybe even the same house. There were changes in life that correspond to the different ages of a person, infancy, youth, middle age, elderliness, but nothing from the outside that interacts with such a person.

Once we have this picture in our minds, we have to translate it to one of abundance, rather than penury. Perhaps we should think of a low-level member of the elite classes, and ask if they experience the absence of novelty, and then use them as an archetype for an alien citizen. It does not work as well, as a elite person would get news from travelers and be aware of events that a peasant would not. Clearly more thinking about what life is like in an alien society is needed; some different examples perhaps.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Attachment to Robots and Intellos in Alien Civilizations

In trying to figure out what life would be like in alien civilizations that possessed the technology and capability to travel to other stars, and potentially visit us, one aspect that came up was training. Recall that training is the predecessor to education, and is used here in a global sense as well as in a formal one. We humans start training ourselves as soon as we are born and conscious, as babies are not born with much ability to move, recognize faces or foods or other important items, or actually anything at all except suckling. That is enough to continue life and allow the magnificent neural nets we are born with to start processing information and correlating it. Humans are about at the limit of what a newborn creature can have automatically and still survive, meaning that all we know is from training, first by ourselves and then by others, and then from education. For maximal intelligence, this is probably a mandatory step, and so we would expect aliens on a species that attains high intelligence to be similar. Almost nothing programmed in, but a tremendous potential for our neural nets to correlate, see relationships, categorize and then recognize.

Call it interstellar convergence in brains if you wish, or simply a necessary condition for high, flexible intelligence of the kind needed to create civilizations and technological advances, aliens would be similar. They would not be like insects with instincts programmed in, as the genetic coding of behavior and other abilities is extremely inefficient at generating intellectual capability. This means there would be a long-period of self-training, probably guided, followed by more and more guidance in training.

It also means that any object in the field of view, auditory envelope, or tactile touch-space of a young alien is going to be incorporated into their neural nets. If robots or intellos, which as a reminder, are the less-expensive genetic equivalent of robots, are involved with interacting with young aliens, they are going to be in their attachment list, which are objects that generate positive emotions. If a young alien is fed by a robot, that robot is going to be associated, at a deep neural level, with positive feeling. Feelings are simply brain responses to situations that have enough familiarity to trigger recognition in a neural layer that is associated with positive rewards, such as food. The young alien is going to have feelings for that robot, and perhaps other robots that are similar to it.

If the alien civilization is not using robots for this, but grows intellos, intelligent creatures that perform functions in the society, to do it, then the attachment will be to intellos, notably the ones that are involved with feeding, cleaning, and otherwise caring for the young alien. With a starting neural net having few instincts, care for youngsters is going to be extensive, with overwhelming opportunities for attachment to grow very strong.

The alternative for the alien civilization is to use adult aliens exclusively in the early care of the young aliens, avoiding this attachment problem. This is possible, but will involve a large block of time from alien adults. Would the adults be willing, or could they be made to be willing, to do this, despite the pervasive presence of robots and intellos in their civilization?

There are many aspects of this question. First, after the genetic grand transition, and its subordinate transitions such as the neurology one, aliens would have all the genes needed for high intelligence. But high intelligence would be wasted if the training they received were not sufficient to boost their thinking abilities to the maximum. It has been assumed that alien genetics would be improved, in intelligence as in everything else, to the best possible. Other areas of improvement would be health, athletic ability, stamina, immunity, ability to recover, sensory areas, communication ability, and more. The adults that might be enrolled as trainers would be equally gifted, but would that be sufficient, or would some robotic artificial intelligence be needed at some stage of the early or late training?

Second, lifetimes would be extended, meaning that the fraction of an adult alien’s life that might have to be spent on training young aliens might be smaller because of it. On the other hand, with larger intelligence, perhaps larger brains, the period of training of young aliens might also be longer, increasing this fraction again. There would likely have to be one-on-one attention to allow the attachment scheme in a neural net to function, so that an adult alien would have a large fraction of their daily lives involved in this task, as opposed to a small amount of drop-in attention. Eliminating robots and intellos from training would appear to be a large demand on adult alien time.

The society that adult aliens live in would be extremely interesting, so the alternatives to young alien care and training would likely be more attractive and much less demanding of the dedication of large block of an adult alien’s life. Would it be possible to make this task desirable for adult aliens? If it was undesirable, and aliens were forced into some sort of involuntary servitude, then the training would reflect this, and certainly there would be some spill-over effects. If adult aliens disliked being the training guides and care-givers for young aliens, this would be detectable early on in the lives of the young aliens, and would have an effect. Successive generations might have stronger and stronger negative reactions to this burden and demand relief by the use of robots and intellos.

Third, what would be the effect on an alien civilization if the average adult alien felt a strong attachment to robots and intellos. Note this is not an intellectual or logical conclusion, and they all might well understand that robots and intellos were disposable parts of the infrastructure. Instead, it is much stronger than these conclusions, and represents the same feelings that one alien might develop for another alien, which is also based on the same neural net operations, leading to an attachment. Would this type of attachment move the civilization to treat robots and intellos as somehow the equivalent of alien citizens, or perhaps to have a lesser tier of rights or privileges, or perhaps to be not simply disposable items? What large-scale effect would this have on the alien civilization? Would they find themselves devoting more and more resources to robotic maintenance and intello health? Or is it solvable by other means?

Perhaps one means of dissolving such attachments to robots and intellos, short of dragooning much of the alien population into care and training of young aliens, would be to make sure there were uncountable numbers of clones of both the robots and the intellos, so the young would develop a different type of attachment to the robots and intellos they were involved with. How does a neural net attachment change if there are thousands of identical copies of the robot an alien became attached to? Does this eliminate the attachment?

It appears this topic, while perhaps critical to understanding an alien civilization’s training and therefore preferences, is very complex. Some further breakdown is likely necessary.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Chromosomal Selection

The genetic grand transformation is one of the big changes or revolutions in how an alien civilization is set up and what it is like to live in the civilization. The headline item on that, here on Earth, is changes in human beings. Science fiction has been written about it, it has become popular in the on-line press, and every scientific advance is coupled with hundreds of opinions about what it all means.

It is not likely that genetic grand transformation on any alien planet will start with the aliens modifying themselves. There are too many other simpler things, which would bring benefit to the society, which would be done first. The sum of all these things might make the eventual improvement of the aliens’ own gene pool easier to be accepted.

On any alien world, they would have been doing genetic modification, in an inefficient way, since the hunting grand transformation or at least the agricultural grand transformation, which are the first two of these transformations that shock the civilization into a new phase. Husbandry of animals, to make obtaining animal food much easier, started in one of these two, and to become a keeper of formerly wild animals, some selection has to be made. Animals of a particular species may vary in their acceptance of being corralled or penned, or in the case of tamed animals, their willingness to give up their former style of lives for a more certain food supply. The selection of adaptable animals is an act of genetic modification. There may be some non-genetic, experience factor in their adaptability, but there is also a genetic component.

Sowing seeds doesn’t necessarily involve any alien modification of natural genetic codes, but the next step of agriculture, where seeds are selected from desirable plants and then sown, as for a tree rather than something like a grain, does. Any act of selection of either the animal or plant on the basis of some desirable characteristic is an act of genetic manipulation, albeit rather clumsy.

This process of selecting improved or altered characteristics in animal and plant species simply goes on and on, becoming more organized, as the alien civilization progresses through its development. Selection becomes augmented by the creation of the variations over which the selection can be made. Two animals, each one with some desired characteristics and some less desired characteristics, can be mated, and the offspring sorted out to find one or more with more of the total set of desired characteristics than either one of the parent. Two plants can be cross-pollinated to attempt to accomplish the same goal: the collection together of multiple desirable characteristics. This is a slow and painstaking process. If the animals have a multi-year growth period before the characteristics can be reliably noted, then the cycle time for improvements is paced by this and must be slow. The same holds for those plants with an annual or longer growth cycle.

Because of the uncertainty of the mixing of the genetic codes from two individuals of the same species, there might be many generations of the species before the desired improvements are obtained. And even then, the process may be inefficient in another way as well, the improved animal or plant might not breed true, and the characteristics are not reliably transmitted to subsequent generations. For some plants, particularly trees, this problem can be solved by grafting from the successful product onto rootstock of some hardy species or variety, and then as long as propagation goes by grafting, the characteristics can be maintained. Reverting to propagation by seed would undermine this methodology, however.

Another drastic inefficiency in manual cross-breeding is that the desired genes may not be included with the offspring or with multiple offspring. Sexual mixing is a lottery, and sometimes the chromosome that has the gene that controls the desired characteristic is selected and sometimes not. With plant breeding, it is often fairly easy to grow hundreds of copies of one pairing, and then hope that at least one of them carries the desired characteristics. However, with plants that take years to get to production, the time needed to maintain all these possible copies is large and the investment large.

Perhaps one of the first steps in the genetic grand transformation on planets which have largely finished their industrial grand transformation would be to make the breeding of plants and animals more efficient. One step, even before the genetic map of a species was known and translated into characteristics, would be to make the combination process more efficient. A species with, say, eight pairs of chromosomes, would have two to the sixteenth possible combinations from two chosen parents. This is about 65 thousand combinations, which is much too large for any reasonable field trials. However, it is not necessary. Simply splitting the pairs in each parent and combining them into four descendants allows for the selection of two traits, assuming they are not recessive. Then the same process can be used again and again. To save time, four groups of chromosomes could be used.

Thus, simple separation of chromosomes and their return to a state that allows a growing plant to be started would provide a quick step up in the speed of, and rate of return on genetic selection. Any alien civilization which had passed through the later stages of its industrial revolution, which includes automation of processes, would be able to produce machinery to automate this process.

Thus, the development of improved varieties seems to be likely to be the first major, civilization-wide, step in the genetic grand transformation. At this point in the common path forward of technology, and therefore of any alien civilization, as per technological determinism, the alien civilization will still be growing their own foodstuffs in ways still recognizable as related to evolved growth. Once chromosomal selection is common, the way is paved for two other advances: the interpretation of specific genes, which allows chromosomal selection to be made even more efficient, and the alteration of chromosomes to modify individual genes. This latter step is the one that is most tricky, but the former one, if done earlier than the latter one, will facilitate it and make it much quicker to bring to success. Gene interpretation is something that will fall into place reasonably quickly, if the alien world is like Earth in that there is great genetic similarity between different organisms.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Life Around Hot Stars

This is not about really hot stars, the O’s and B’s and A’s as everyone knows that their lifetimes are too short to provide enough duration for life to originate and evolve. However, there seems to be a common misconception about F’s and G’s, and it affects the origination of life.

When you hear someone talking facetiously about life on Earth, they often say we have five billion years left before the sun turns into a red giant and engulfs the planet. Unfortunately, F’s and G’s vary their output a lot over their lifetimes, and that affects this number in two major ways. As an example of the variation, consider the sun, which has been modeled much more than any other star. The sun started out at zero power, but very quickly ramped up to about 70% of current output. From there to 100% of current output took about 4.5 billion years, and projections are that the output will go to about 200% of current output, after about another 5.5 billion years. This is when it leaves the main sequence and begins its evolution into a red giant, for the first time.

There is no need to worry about red giants such as the sun and other main sequence stars will become, as their lifetimes are much too short for a planet to originate life around them, even if the planet happened to be at the right orbital radius and had all the other correct conditions for life to originate. The red giant phase is followed by a collapse back to a much smaller phase, again moving the liquid water zone (LWZ) around.

The evolution of F’s and G’s appears to be fairly well understood, even if there is little data available. The changes all happen in the inner onion layers of these stars, being the hydrogen-burning core, the radiative transport layer, and the convective layer about that. The sizes of these layers change as the amount of unburned hydrogen changes, as it fuses into helium. These different sizes affect the output, and there is only one way it goes: hotter.

The liquid water zone starts in closer to the star, and moves out as the star grows hotter. The length of time a particular planetary radius stays within the LWZ might be thought of as the time during which life can evolve, and so it needs to be perhaps 4 to 5 billion years. This would be wrong. The LWZ is usually calculated as the bare rocky planet temperature, but atmospheres change this, if they possess greenhouse gases. Back when life was trying to evolve on Earth, 4 billion years ago, the Earth was not in the bare planet LWZ, but it was in the greenhouse LWZ. The planet would have been too cold for liquid water, if it had had, say, an atmosphere of pure nitrogen, which is not a greenhouse gas. However, back then the atmosphere had methane and carbon dioxide, and these raised the surface temperature, allowing liquid water to exist and the origination of life to begin.

The other end is less promising. As the output of a star increases, it will make the planet hotter, and this includes the atmosphere as well. A hotter atmosphere escapes more readily, so the devastation begins with the atmosphere becoming thinner and thinner as time progresses. Greenhouse gases make the temperature hotter on the surface, and as the star’s output increases, in order to keep the temperature in the liquid water range for as long as possible, it would be best to eliminate them, and go to an atmosphere with no greenhouse gases. Whether that can happen is uncertain, as it depends on what life exists. Carbon dioxide is produced by volcanic eruptions, photosynthesis, and fire or combustion of any sort of carbon-containing materials. It is a potent greenhouse gas, and only a small amount would be enough to shorten the time the planet dwells in the LWZ. Even if there are no greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere, the increased output of the star would be enough to move the bare planet LWZ out past the planetary orbit. For our own G2 star, we have about a half billion years left, which is not much compared to the five billion years that the sun will stay on the main sequence.

What this means is that our G2 star is pretty much near the top of the heap for stars that can originate life. A five billion year duration in the LWZ, aided by as much greenhouse gas effect as possible during the early cooler initiation of this period, means that if life, from the first membrane to a starship launch, takes four and a half billion, we just fit in. Maybe a G1 or G0 could also, with even less slack time. By the time a F9 is reached just about the G0, there may be none at all. So, for convenience in calculating the population of stars that could originate life, G’s and K’s are about the only good choices.

There are two numbers that could easily be calculated from this conclusion. One is the number of stars that might be have originated life all the way up to an alien civilization, no matter if it is still there or has left or gone extinct. Another is the number of stars that could originate life. They differ in the way they treat time. The second one is just the number of G and K stars in the galactic disk, which is about 11.5% by current counts of all stars in the disk, which is of the order of 10 billion. The result might be 1.1 billion, but that is too precise for the quality of data that is available, so 1 billion is a good rough estimate. The first one only looks at stars older than 4 or 5 billion years, which reduces the number by about half, if the rate of star-making has been approximately constant over the life of the Milky Way. In other words, about half of the G and K stars were formed in the last 5 billion years, and they haven’t had time yet to generate an alien civilization. This gets the number of stars that could potentially have hosted an alien civilization in the Milky Way down to a half billion.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Life Around Cool Stars

Can life originate around a red dwarf? A few elementary observations have been pointed out already. There is a liquid water zone around red dwarfs, and if an Earth-sized planet were located within it, that would be a good start. An origin planet, one that originates life but not necessarily an alien civilization, has to have certain requirements. In one sense, a red dwarf is a easier home for life in that the lifetime of a red dwarf is immense, greater that the age of the universe, and therefore there is no bother about having to maintain the liquid water zone requirement with some combination of greenhouse gases during a long enough period to get life started. Earth’s star started out too cold for us, and Earth stayed warm enough due to a combination of planetary heat and greenhouse effects during the first part of its life. This isn’t necessary on a red dwarf’s planet.

If the opposite is the case, that planetary formation heat boots the planet out of the liquid water zone for the first billion or two years of its existence, it wouldn’t be a problem as the star-generated liquid water zone is going to be available for a lot longer than that. What is possibly a problem in this case is the amount of water that is going to be held onto in the atmosphere. If the heating is not too extreme, the usual mesosphere effect might limit the loss of water molecules into space, and when the planet cools enough to have condensed water, it might have enough for the necessary liquid ocean.

A different problem entirely is the other planet problem. If there are gas giants in the system, located at more distant orbits, they will affect the eccentricity of the target planet. With the ratio between the orbital periods high, the target planet will see almost the same gravitational pull over many of its orbits, and eccentricity can mount and the argument of periapsis (the direction of the furthest point of the orbit) can vary to exaggerate the effect. This means that eccentricity can get large, and then grow smaller again, and so on. How would this affect the origination of life?

This is a question of the rate of change of conditions on the planet and how that compares with what is needed to provide an environment for life to originate and evolve, first chemically and then biologically. Later, the question becomes a comparison of this rate of change of environmental conditions and the rate at which some primitive form of life might adapt to it, once life already has been originated and the question is whether it can survive for long. Perhaps the use of the term origin planet should not be devoted to planets where chemical evolution goes on for a while and then everything dissolves back into chaos, but only for planets where biological cells have come into existence.

Mercury is our hometown example of a planet whose eccentricity varies greatly, from zero up to 0.40, as a result of the gravitational influence of Jupiter and Saturn. The same type of planetary dynamics could affect a planet around a red dwarf. High levels of eccentricity denote extreme levels of seasonality on the planet. This does not cast it out of the liquid water zone, which is, possibly vaguely, defined as an orbital range where liquid water can exist during part of the orbit. Unless there was only a small amount of water on the planet, it should not all freeze during the short winter that such a planet would have. However, if life origination occurs as in the organic oceans theory, an ice cover would freeze the upper depths of the water ocean where the meniscus was and where the first membranes formed. Would that doom a continuation of chemical evolution?

If the organics froze at different temperatures than the water did, there might be disruptive motions at the surface which would certainly disrupt a membrane, held together only by intermolecular forces. So, here is an obstacle to life formation around a red dwarf star.

If there are no other planets, especially large ones, around this star, tidal effects would eliminate the eccentricity, circularizing the orbit, and so this extreme seasonality would not exist and the planet would not have this obstacle to the origination of life. The initial planetary heat obstacle is mitigated by the long lifetime of this class of star, but that raises its own problems. As the planet’s orbit becomes circularized, it is also likely to become phase-locked, such as our moon, at a 1:1 ratio of rotation period to orbital period, or like Mercury, at a 3:2 ratio. This slowing of rotation does not only affect the crust, but also the mantle and core. And when the core stops rotating, there is no magnetic dynamo effect to produce a magnetic shell to protect the planet’s surface from charged high-energy solar wind particles.

In this situation, there is only the atmosphere to absorb the high-energy particles, and the upper reaches of the atmosphere will be stripped. Over time the atmosphere would be thinned. Red dwarfs do not have either the quantity nor the temperature to produce as much solar wind as a G2 star, but they do produce some, and thus the numerical question needs to be asked: Can the atmosphere stay heavy enough for long enough to allow this planetary heating period to pass and still have sufficient atmosphere to let life originate and evolve? Solar wind might preferentially break up water molecules in the upper atmosphere into hydrogen and hydroxyl ions, and then the hydrogen would escape from the atmosphere, essentially depleting the water supply.

Climate on a phase-locked planet would be very different that what it is on a rapidly rotating one. With concentrated solar heating on one area, either permanently or for a good fraction of the planetary year, there would be strong convection winds generated. These winds should extend both to the surface and up into the troposphere in a toroidal fashion, although topography, if it exists, might disrupt this. Strong persistent winds over an ocean surface creates great waves, and if an organic ocean existed above a liquid ocean, it might be totally broken up by waves which were deep enough to involve both the upper organic layer and the lower deep water layer. This would mean no meniscus and no origination of life, by the theory used here. There might be some craters where wind played a lesser role and origination could take place. Remember, however, that evolution, both chemical and biological, is proportional to the numbers of potential candidates for mutation, and if only a crater of them existed, life origination might need tens of billions of years instead of only a couple of billion.

This would mean that even though red dwarfs, formed near the beginning of the Milky Way, might be in the process of originating life in a crater on some phase-locked planet in the liquid water zone, the atmosphere might be lost before the process completed. Life origination involves a complex system of very diverse elements, and figuring out just how it might happen around a red dwarf star, when we have only Earth as an example, is extremely taxing mentally.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Where are the Black Holes Hiding?

Black holes were thought to have been ruled out as candidates for the dark matter present in the galaxy by the use of some interesting techniques for searching for them, such as micro-lensing. This means looking for the bending of light rays from distant sources as they pass such an object. There were none found in the multiple searches.

The searches were concentrated on the supposed location of the dark matter, which was in a halo around the Milky Way. Some measurements of the velocity of stars around the center of the galaxy were use to estimate the total mass of the galaxy and its distribution with distance; in other words, how much is in the disk and how much in the bulge and how much in the halo. Unfortunately, the measurements made indicated that the dark matter was in the halo, so that’s where the searches were conducted. Exactly why there are so few black holes in the halo should be an interesting topic for another time.

Recent results on the velocity of the stars around the center of galaxies in general, not just ours, showed that the velocity curves are proportional to the visible mass. This means that the invisible mass is proportional, in location and amount, to the visible mass. Measurements of distant galaxies can not be three-dimensional, but two-dimensional, so to be precise, the invisible mass is proportional, in distance from the center of the galaxy and the amount, to the visible mass.

The post on black holes being prevalent in the galactic disk of the Milky Way, and by inference, in other galaxies with disks, seems to have been prescient, as they serve to explain this result. Black holes, and their less-massive cousins, neutron stars, are mostly invisible to ordinary astronomical observations. A search for them using gravitational lensing, concentrating on the disk of our galaxy, would help in confirming their prevalence and their contribution to the missing mass. Where should they be searched for?

Black holes form from large stars which undergo supernova explosions, leaving a large part of their mass behind. At this time in our galaxy, large stars occupy the entire disk, meaning the entire vertical column as well. This is because they form from large clouds of gas, which have that vertical distribution. While the large stars are alive and illuminating, they should follow the same distribution. However, because they are more massive than smaller stars, interacting with these smaller stars will change the vertical distribution, much like heavier molecules and multimolecular particles drift downward in the mesosphere. This, of course, is fortunate for life on Earth, as it reduces the loss of water into space from the atmosphere, and helps keep enough here for us to fill our pools.

As a black hole ages, it interacts more and more with other objects in the disk, and since a large majority of them are smaller stars, it will exchange energy, both kinetic and vertical potential energy. This might be thought of as a kind of equipartition of energy, and has the result that the black holes drift downward over time toward the medial plane of the galaxy. Now, the medial plane of the galaxy is not necessarily a plane, but a curved surface, as interaction with dwarf galaxies in orbit around the Milky Way distort it. Yet, the basic idea holds, in that black holes should over time form a tighter distribution than their original large stars, or smaller stars. This is where they should be searched for.

The distribution of black holes is nowhere near as dense as, for example, in a swarm of them that might comprise the central mass object in the galaxy. Yet black holes in a swarm do not interact and do not collide, as their numerical densities are too low and their interaction cross-sections too small. We see no large gamma ray bursts from the center of the galaxy that would be the indicators of black hole collisions. Nor do we even see any binary black holes spiraling in to self-destruction, such as might be formed by a close encounter between black holes in such a swarm. So it is even less likely that there would be any such signature of a high population of black holes in the disk, even in the thinner disk occupied by older black holes. In other words, black holes are innocuous neighbors. In order to account for the missing mass in a galaxy, there might have to be more mass in black holes and neutron stars than in visible stars, but this still would not provide any obvious signatures. Younger galaxies should have less of a black hole count in their disks, and older ones more, and this is something that could be examined, if someone could figure out how to detect black holes in the disks of distant galaxies.

Galactic perils that might face an alien civilization include stellar encounters, where the approach of one star toward the solar system of another might disturb planetary orbits. The extreme case of this is where they strip the solar system of one or more planets, but the less extreme case can be just as disturbing to an alien civilization. If the stellar encounter results in the change of a planetary orbit, even one of the outermost, over time that change will have an effect on the orbit of the planet upon which they reside, perhaps moving it out of the liquid water zone, making it more eccentric, or causing some other perturbation of orbital or planetary parameters. This would require the alien civilization to respond, if they desired to preserve their civilization.

The rate at which solar systems are disrupted by stellar encounters in the Milky Way, especially in the further out spirals, is not large, and if it were increased by an order of magnitude, to account for large numbers of massive black holes and neutron stars, it would still not eliminate the possibility of alien civilizations. It does imply that they have another interesting observational challenge. It is very simple to measure the proper motion of all the stars in our vicinity, so we can see which ones will come close and when the point of closest approach would be. As noted elsewhere, this might be a peril for the alien civilization but it could also be an opportunity, in that interstellar travel would never be easier than when another solar system flies by the point of closest approach. But in the case of black holes and neutron stars, the location of them is not easy, nor would be the determination of their proper motion and thereby the point and time of closest approach. Alien civilizations would have to figure out astronomical equipment able to perform this search and measurement, if they were to properly plan for their long-term future. On Earth, we haven’t really put much attention into this, but perhaps, once the realization of the prevalence of black holes in the galactic disk sinks in, we will.