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.

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