Our species will face no scarcity of existential dangers within the coming many years, whether or not or not it’s from nuclear conflict, local weather change, a bioengineered pandemic, synthetic superintelligence, molecular nanotechnology, or threats we’ve but to conceive. Despair, cynicism, and misanthropy will get us nowhere, and we have to begin considering of sensible methods to make sure the continued survival of our species.
Our universe has been round for nearly 14 billion years and can in all probability live on for a lot of extra billion years. Homo sapiens have been round for about 300,000 years—not even the blink of an eye fixed, in cosmic phrases. We shouldn’t squander our unimaginable alternative for a protracted existence.
In fact, by “we” I’m referring to future offshoots of people, as our species is prone to change dramatically over the approaching eons, ought to we efficiently stave off extinction. Furthermore, if we’re capable of keep away from an apocalypse and get our shit collectively, it’s truthful to say that the indefinite prolongation of life is an inalienable good, assuming we enter right into a benign mode of existence. We should always wish to do that, as the choice—oblivion—isn’t a lot of a selection. Consequently, it’s one thing we ought to be severely contemplating.
Step one will likely be to avert the local weather emergency we’re embroiled in. Technological, social, and financial progress will likely be very troublesome if all our vitality and sources are used to mitigate the threats posed by a deteriorating setting. We should additionally discover methods to maintain a rising international inhabitants, alleviate stresses brought on by the uneven distribution of wealth, and dwell sustainably on a planet with finite sources.
As urgently, we have to confront a grim actuality: Our civilization will quickly must juggle an growing array of existential and catastrophic risks, wherein every added doomsday situation will enhance the percentages of our self-destruction by orders of magnitude. That we devise wise, sensible options is paramount, if our civilization—and our species itself—is to final perpetually.
Creating highly effective safeguards, accountable governments and establishments, and efficient, enforceable global-scale insurance policies are all vital if our civilization is to outlive into the 22nd century and past, however there’s a tragic reality we’ve to contemplate: Our present state of expertise is forcing us to maintain all our eggs in a single basket. Accordingly, we have to grow to be an interplanetary species.
As soon as we develop the capability to dwell off-planet, nonetheless, it is perhaps finest for us to interrupt off into separate teams and head in several instructions—even when it means perpetually shedding contact with one another. It’s an thought I name Distributed Humanity.
Discovering methods for us to dwell away from Earth ought to be one in every of our greatest priorities, however our considering must be a lot grander than that. We additionally must develop an interstellar mindset—presumably even an intergalactic mindset—ought to we wish our civilization to hold in there till the ultimate days of the cosmos.
Because it stands, we’ve but to develop a viable, self-sustaining biosphere, which, when you concentrate on it, is basically discouraging, if not utterly alarming. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviets experimented with BIOS-Three in Siberia, however the system relied too closely on sources from the skin to be thought-about a real biosphere. As for the $200 million Biosphere2 project of the 1990s, it merely didn’t work: The dwelling exhibited fluctuating CO2 ranges, inadequate quantities of oxygen, acidic water, and even inhabitants who displayed social dysfunction after being cooped up for therefore lengthy.
These failures imply Earth boasts the one functioning biosphere that we all know of. That is troubling information, as a result of we’re going to want synthetic biospheres if we’re to dwell off the planet, whether or not that’s on the Moon, Mars, or a era ship heading towards the closest liveable exoplanet. We consequently must reboot our biosphere initiatives, and never simply because they’d allow life off the planet; self-sustaining biospheres may ultimately grow to be a requirement on Earth, ought to our surroundings collapse to shit. Furthermore, they might additionally inform future efforts to geoengineer our planet, and presumably different planets, like Mars.
We also needs to undertake an interstellar strategy to house exploration. We gained’t have the ability to ship colonists to a different star system for fairly a while, however the day is quick approaching after we’ll have the ability to dispatch probes to discover distant exoplanets. An thought floated by the late Stephen Hawking and billionaire Yuri Milner requires the development of an interstellar starship that would journey upwards of 20 p.c the velocity of sunshine. Extremely, we may possess the applied sciences required to do that in just some years. Such probes could be despatched on reconnaissance missions, alerting us to the presence of doubtless liveable worlds. From there, we may construct and launch spaceships full of hopeful colonists.
Assuming we’ll discover methods to dwell off the planet, a state of Distributed Humanity would assist us to keep away from collective mass destruction, whether or not by pure or self-inflicted causes. Spreading ourselves throughout the Milky Manner would stop all of us from getting killed in a self-inflicted apocalypse, for instance, or stop the widespread proliferation of existentially harmful pathogens. Additionally, if one group had been to be destroyed, both by some pure calamity (comparable to a close-by star going supernova or by its personal arms), different teams would dwell on.
A draw back of Distributed Humanity is the potential for convergent dangers. Dispersed teams, regardless of having no contact, may nonetheless evolve alongside parallel strains and probably bump into the identical methods to die—whereas on the identical time not with the ability to alert different teams to looming threats. These convergent dangers may contain the creation of a harmful type of synthetic superintelligence, a deadly physics experiment, regressive and irrecoverable modes of existence (like a totalitarian political modality), or one thing else we’ve but to conceive.
Avoiding extinction is all high quality and properly, however we additionally must grow to be extra sturdy and resilient as people. If we’re going to dwell in house, we’re going to must biologically re-engineer ourselves. However our probabilities of long-term survival will likely be dramatically heightened as soon as we transition from organic to digital modes of existence (although engineered negligible senescence for organic organisms shouldn’t be dominated out as a chance). Sounds excessive—and it’s—however life as both a cybernetic or digital being presents some advantages.
In the beginning, we’d have indefinite lifespans. An uploaded digital being may dwell in a strong virtual-reality setting hosted inside a supercomputer, the situation of which doesn’t actually matter (although an argument may very well be made that it ought to be placed somewhere cold to maximise computational effectivity). Whole civilizations may dwell on a single supercomputer, enabling the existence of doubtless trillions upon trillions of people, every of them a single mind emulation. These supercomputers may in flip be duplicated and sprinkled throughout the galaxy and past, in what may very well be described as Distributed Posthumanity.
Varied futurists have speculated in regards to the highly effective supercomputers wanted to run these mind emulations and, collectively, posthuman civilizations. The late physicist Robert Bradbury (whom I had the privilege of collaborating with on our 2011 JBIS paper on Dysonian SETI), predicted the existence of what he known as Matrioshka Brains. These hypothetical megastructures would draw their energy from close by stars, permitting for super computational potential. The same thought, known as Jupiter Brains, would work on a smaller, planetary scale. Given the finite nature of stars, nonetheless, digital civilizations must ultimately relocate to search out different vitality sources.
One other key good thing about digital existence could be the flexibility to again ourselves as much as the cloud. The dying of a mind emulation, say on account of a pure catastrophe or some unexpected inner drawback, could be tragic, however a reinstated copy or copies of that particular person may dwell on.
Digital existence may additionally enable for disembodied journey by house on the velocity of sunshine. Touring as a decompiled stream of 1s and 0s, an interstellar digital traveler would arrive at a relay station on one other planet or another distant location in house.
That is all extremely speculative, after all. We’re not but totally certain if the human thoughts will be translated within the methods described right here or if digital life is definitely safer or saner than organic existence.
On this posthuman, postbiological digital mode, we may conceivably eke out an existence till the tip of the universe. Even then, we would nonetheless discover methods to persist till the final attainable minutes, fairly actually.
Failing all of this, we would nonetheless discover different methods of residing perpetually, although in a extra symbolic sense.
Much like how NASA’s Voyager probes had been every outfitted with the Golden Record—a 12-inch, gold-plated copper disk encoded with sounds and pictures from Earth—we may additionally ship a cultural time capsule into the depths of house, however with significantly extra element. The Voyager probes had been launched previous to the digital age, and rising storage applied sciences will maintain much more info.
Again in 2016, for instance, scientists developed a brand new storage system that may encode information on the atomic scale. In exams, the gadget was capable of pack 500 terabits onto a single sq. inch—sufficient to retailer each ebook written by people onto a drive the dimensions of a postage stamp.
Sooner or later, comparable applied sciences may enable us to pack the whole thing of human tradition onto a storage medium, load it onto an interstellar probe, and ship it into deep house. Ought to an extraterrestrial civilization be fortunate sufficient to intercept this probe, they’d have a complete civilization’s price of knowledge to parse—assuming we may create a form of Rosetta Stone to help with the interpretation. Alternatively, we may transmit this information into house by way of radio waves or laser pulses, however the constancy of this information could be vastly diminished (sending it out as a repeating digital beacon would assist).
Along with sharing our cultural, scientific, and technological information, we may additionally impart vital historic classes, knowledge, and recommendation.
Lastly, we may go away our cultural artifacts proper right here on Earth, as a form of monument to ourselves as soon as we’re gone. On the identical time, these monuments may function a cautionary story to visiting extraterrestrials—a warning that they shouldn’t repeat the errors made by a species left alone to fend for itself in a forgotten nook of the Milky Manner.