Monday, January 9, 2017

Is Industrial Gestation Magic?

Magic is a code word meaning that it cannot happen for scientific or economic grounds and industrial gestation simply means the growth of young organisms in industrial settings, as opposed to the evolutionary means, such as by budding, sprouting, seeding, chrysallis or pregnancy. On Earth, we do this with plant seeds continuously, and also with plant buds, insects and poultry, but not with mammals. The technology would be much more complex, but certainly not impossible in an advanced alien society. What is needed is a complete simulation of the environment that an embryo encounters. This includes the physical environment, as it develops along with the embryo, including the attachments if any, the nutritional and growth-controlling inputs, and the thermal and chemical baths. For some aliens, there may be tactile or auditory inputs as well. There may be a complex birth process. However, none of these would be beyond the capability of a highly advanced alien civilization. However, this does not mean that the costs could be borne if it was to become widespread.

What is feasible in a laboratory setting is not necessarily feasible on a mass-production scale. There are incredible savings possible arising from re-designing a laboratory scale device to mass production. For these industrial gestation devices, the care that might be needed in the laboratory setting would have to be automated. There would still need to be staffing, but significantly fewer per device. Robotics could be used for most of the operations, leaving staff demands for only the initiation or completion. Perhaps even the initiation could be largely automated. The separate production of the nutrient solutions or feedstock could be incorporated into the industrial facility, using less specialized ingredients.

One way to look at the cost feasibility of this technology on a mass scale is to compare the labor requirements to available labor. With everything automated to the maximum extent possible, perhaps one year of citizen-hours of labor might be required per new alien, principally at the last stage, but also at the beginning, for genetic choices to be made and during the middle, to monitor that everything was proceeding as desired. This might be an upper bound, on the premise that automation never becomes fully equivalent to an alien in intelligence or capabilities. Total citizen-hours of available labor per alien might be several decades of time, meaning that the labor costs are not prohibitive, even in this worst case scenario.

Resources are the other side of the ledger, but it is hard to imagine how these processes could consume large amounts of resources. The mass involved is not large, re-use would be overwhelmingly large, and most resources would not be unique in any way. Thus, neither from a technology nor a cost viewpoint is industrial gestation a magic concept.

The implications are extremely important. With industrial gestation, the alien civilization can much more easily take control of its own genetic makeup, and the training of young aliens as well. The development of this process would help revise the evolutionary path of older aliens having families to give rise to young aliens. The evolutionary path is one which is prone to being non-evolutionary, although this statement doesn’t make sense on first view. What happens is that as the alien civilization becomes more affluent, there is no evolutionary pressure toward genetic improvement. Genetic improvement only occurs when there is some sort of fitness testing, resulting in a difference in reproductive rate.

With no evolutionary pressure, the exact opposite is likely to occur, with the population distribution sliding toward emphasizing those genetic make-ups which maximize reproductive rate. If the alien civilization had a culture which emphasized success as a prerequisite for reproduction, some imitation of evolutionary pressure would still prevail; in the opposite situation, where reproduction was something which might interfere or distract from other goals in their society, then the reverse effect would take place. The nickname for the eventual result of this negative correlation is idiocracy, which is an unreachable situation, as the civilization would cease to function at its former level if a shortage of intelligent citizens occurred.

With industrial gestation, an attempt could be made to improve the genetics of the population, and any negative correlation between improved genetics and reproduction rate could be mitigated. However, this is a linear solution to an exponential growth problem, and it obviously cannot solve the problem by itself. As long as there is a subset of the population which uses evolutionary methods of reproduction and in which this negative correlation of genetic advantage and reproductive rate exists, there will be a growing fraction of the population with gradually declining genetic levels. Affluence is an unstoppable current in this situation.

There are many solutions an alien civilization could try to resolve this problem of affluence leading to negative genetic levels. The simplest is governance exerting some influence over the situation, through a variety of means. One would be education, another would be outreach, another would be regulation, another would be some sort of feedback taxation, and another might be a voluntary genetic improvement program. Any one of these might serve to tip the balance so that genetics could stay on the upward direction.

The feasibility of an industrial gestation process means that these solutions would not have to have as much of an effect as if there were no industrial gestation. The problem must be solved so there is no exponentially diminishing genetic level among any fixed fraction of the population, but the other side of the negative correlation between genetic levels and reproductive rate can be overcome with a constant supply of genetically improved citizens. Instead of having two sides of the problem to simultaneously solve, those in governance would only have to solve one side. The other side can be solved by simply devoting resources to the problem. Since there does not need to be a great amount of resources involved, nor an unavailable block of citizen time, there is no reason to assume that alien civilizations will be barred from star travel because of their inability to maintain good genetic levels among their home planet population.

Other implications of this realization are also large. This means that biological creatures can be created to design. If the civilization needs anything that a biological solution exists for, this will not be an insurmountable barrier for it. As one example, intellos, an artificially created biological, intelligent creature, could be created to fill various tasks or activities within the society, and if these are more cost-efficient that robotic solutions, they would be used. Other examples exist, and the availability of these solutions to problems of the civilization means it would have a very different character than one which was largely mechanical in nature.

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