Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Impact of Industrial Gestation

As part of the genetics grand transformation, an alien society learns the mechanism, down to the tiny microbiological details, of how aliens gestate, which means grow from a genetic seed to viable organism. Once this is learned, it is only an engineering problem to devise an artificial mechanism to do this. If aliens give birth, it means that birth will occur inside some factory or other industrial setting. This would seem to have consequences other than simply to facilitate reproduction of the species.

When first developed, like all new technologies, industrial gestation would likely be used for some medical purposes, and then gradually would be pulled over to other uses. Around the same time as this development, it would be expected that a full understanding of the alien genome would be completed. This does not mean a transcribing of each gene, but instead a complete understanding of what each gene does in the various cells of the alien. First, a mapping of the various cells would be done, and then the signals that cause differentiation to occur would be needed. Next, an understanding of which genes were active in the different types of cells would follow, as well as a catalog of the variant types for each gene in the genome, along with what effects the variants have in each cell type where they are active. There may be some variants that don’t exist in the population, and these would be found once theoretical, computational ways are found to understand gene expression and gene reproduction. Synthetic genes may involve more work that all the rest combined, but after some period of time, the alien scientists will be able to design improved versions of the alien genome.

This understanding of the genome would be coupled with industrial gestation to make improvement of the population easier to accomplish. There would be much more to the genetics revolution than these two items, but they fit together well and, in and of themselves, would have a large impact on the alien society.

If the initial use is to provide an alternative means of reproduction for alien individuals who wish offspring but cannot for physiological reasons, the effects would be minimal, not much more than any other medical innovation. But if the civilization, due to various life choices, starts to lose population, and industrial gestation becomes the solution to maintaining the population at a chosen level, the effects will grow large. If industrial gestation, having advantages of being very safe and minimizing disruption of life, starts to be a universal substitute for aliens’ normal reproduction, then a possibly subtle change happens.

There are two instincts that aliens in any civilization should have relating to reproduction. First of all, it is a mandatory instinct to keep the population of pre-alien creatures from accidentally going extinct. This has to be a very strong instinct in pre-alien creatures, and should continue to exist in aliens once they evolve into intelligent creatures. Once there begins to be a trend toward providing offspring with ideal genes, in small or large doses, the connection between individuals of one generation and their offspring in the next generation diminishes. Genetic tampering might be subtle, but over time the lack of a genetic tie between individuals and the offspring they raise would take its toll. So also would the reduction in contact between these two as tutoring or organized training becomes more dominant, all in the pursuit of the goal of making young aliens as capable as possible. Then, when industrial gestation begins to displace normal gestation, the desire to participate at all in the process of raising the younger generation may diminish and even disappear, leaving industrial gestation and mostly automated training to take its place.

This result is simply an outgrowth of the natural desire of aliens to have the best possible offspring and to provide them with all the training they would need to benefit from the opportunities that the society offers. However, step by step, the connection between one generation and the next is cut, until, when the technology is fully developed and put to extensive use, there is little connection left.

Evolving creatures are not necessarily long-term in their outlook. The other instinct, to provide sustenance, protection, shelter, care and so on, drive the creatures to have a short-term outlook. This might be affected by annual or other weather cycles or cycles driven by some other cause, but basically, outlook stays short-term. Some unique individuals may develop a long-term outlook, but the most likely cause for individuals to plan for times longer than their own lifetime is the provision for their own offspring and multigenerational descendants. This provides an impetus to preserve, build, innovate, and take other actions so that future generations will have an improved life situation. What happens when this bond is sundered by the various changes that arise during the genetic grand transition? Clearly the only direction is toward less concern with future changes that happen after one generation.

Population is one decision that an alien civilization makes, or in different words, the civilization may have a goal of having a particular number of aliens in existence at any time. Would generations living after the genetic grand transition has minimized the interest of one generation in the next one make the choice to reduce population? Why not, as offspring no longer play a role in the lives of adults?

Another choice would be the development of interplanetary mining, to provide more resources for the population. This development is a long-term project, and would it be chosen by the society as a goal, or as part of the goal of maintaining access to as much resources as possible? Alternatively, would the society just decide that allowing population to decline and eventually disappear was acceptable, as long as the lifestyle of the generation making that choice of goals was not reduced.

The other goal, an extension of the interplanetary mining one, is the expansion of the civilization to other solar systems. Since this is a many-generation task, indeed, perhaps longer than any other chosen task, it might just be ignored as of no interest and no consequence. If this is a common effect of industrial gestation, we may have found one more reason why there are no alien visitors.

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