Saturday, January 25, 2014

Type 0 Blues

The entire history of humanity, everything that has ever happened has unfolded on the same planet, the same cosmic speck in a sea of galactic activity.  We are used to idea of everything we know existing in one place, but what if humanity became spread across the solar system or even the galaxy?

There is a way of rating civilizations known as the Kardashev scale,  it categorizes any society based on the amount of power it has harnessed.  A type 1 civilization has harnessed enough energy to power a planetary society, using most or all of the energy that reaches earth.

Type 2 has harnessed the power of an entire star, using a devise such as a Dyson sphere.  This is a theoretical structure that encases an entire star, turning 100% of its radiation into usable energy.  A type 2 civilizations controls at least an entire solar system, but what about galaxies?

Type 3 civilizations control at least the power of an entire galaxy, meaning that every star withing that galaxy is being utilized to its full extent to power the galactic civilization.  The power from an entire galaxy is almost incomprehensible, its hard to imagine what a civilization would do with that much power, maybe building bigger and bigger AI's or power starships that continue to spread the civilization to still more distant galaxies.

We are at this moment  a type 0 civilization, we still struggle to create a paradigm of technology with the longevity to survive becoming a type 1 civilization.  These transformations are lengthy and dangerous, based on our present course, we require a shift from an extraction based society to a recycling based society, otherwise we will exhaust the naturally deposited resources before we advance beyond type 0.

But lets say for a moment that we are successful, and that humanity transitions to a type 1 civilization.  What will it really be like to take those first steps into space and begin colonizing other worlds?  Being able to travel to other worlds and modify their conditions is a prerequisite for going any further than type 1 civilization.  But when will this kind of activity begin?

Many of the first steps are being taken by various entrepreneurs in the new space industry.  Elon Musk, the creator of Space X, started his space career with a vision of colonizing mars.  His ambition is to start a colony there some time in the next 15 years or so.  According to Elon:

"I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact."

Colonizing an uninhabited planet requires a process known as terraforming, creating an atmosphere and ecosystem from scratch.  Using various techniques, it should theoretically be possible to seed a planet with the right balance of atmospheric gasses and ground nutrient, then introduce plant and microbial life.  This basic concept could be perfected to allow for efficient terraforming, possibly with autonomous robots.  A planet could be terraformed in advance so that when the settlers arrive, the ecosystem is already in an advanced stage of growth.

We are still far from these epic ideas, but the first steps have been taken.  However, it makes more sense to begin the task here on earth, to create a society based not on extraction but on recycling, to build a society based not upon labor but upon automation, and an economy that enriches everyone, not just the few.  Once we achieve a balanced system here on earth, then we can set our eyes on the stars above.

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