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Stephen Hawking on Space Colonization - The Human Future or SciFi Fantasy? (Today's 'Most Popular')


Space_colonies_2_2Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of space travel. Some even believe that colonizing new planets is man’s best hope for the future. The popular idea is that we’ll eventually need some fresh, unexploited new worlds to inhabit -a real-world Pandora.

In an earlier Galaxy post we wrote that Stephen Hawking, world-celebrated expert on the cosmological theories of gravity and black holes who held Issac Newton's Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University until his recent retirement, believes that traveling into space is the only way humans will be able to survive in the long-term, while warning about the potential threat of actual alien contact with Earth.

"Life on Earth," Hawking has said, "is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers ... I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space."

Another of his famous quotes reiterates his position that we need to get off the planet relatively soon. "I don't think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years unless we spread into space."

The problems with Hawking’s solution is that while it may save a “seed” of human life- a few lucky specimens- it won’t save Earth’s inhabitants. The majority of Earthlings would surely be left behind on a planet increasingly unfit for life.

In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars.

Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.

Renowned science-fiction writer, Charlie Stross, argued last week in his High Frontier Redux blog that space colonization is not in our future, not because it's impossible, but because to do so effectively you need either outrageous amounts of cheap energy, highly efficient robot probes, or "a magic wand."

"I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar," Stross opens his post, "domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore."

"The obstacles facing us are immense distance and time -the scale factor involved in space travel is strongly counter-intuitive."

Stross adds that "Planets that are already habitable insofar as they orbit inside the habitable zone of their star, possess free oxygen in their atmosphere, and have a mass, surface gravity and escape velocity that are not too forbidding, are likely to be somewhat rarer. (And if there is free oxygen in the atmosphere on a planet, that implies something else — the presence of pre-existing photosynthetic life, a carbon cycle, and a bunch of other stuff that could well unleash a big can of whoop-ass on an unprimed human immune system."

Stross sums up by saying that while "I won't rule out the possibility of such seemingly-magical technology appearing at some time in the future in the absence of technology indistinguishable from magic that, interstellar travel for human beings even in the comfort of our own Solar System is near-as-dammit a non-starter."

Stross's blog  received over 450 comments as of this writing. The most prescient follows:

"First, Stross's analysis fails to take into account future civilization types; I get the sense that he takes a normative view of today's technological and economic realities and projects them into the future. This is surprising, not only because he's an outstanding science fiction visionary, but also because he's a transhumanist who has a very good grasp on what awaits humanity in the future. Specifically, he should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.

"Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs (which is how the term 'cyborg' came to exist in the first place)."

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Comments

All our dearest and most hopeful expectations aside . . . I think the two most pressing and perhaps insurmountable issues for "other-world colonizations" are:

1. The total need for FTL travel. If it's possible, we have a slight chance. If not, we're stuck in our local neighbourhood forever (as would all other worldly species).

2. We are specifically adapted to the precise biosphere of Earth (having evolved solely to live within our planet's parameters). Even the slightest difference in any number of factors--atmosphere, food chain, soil, radiation, foreign bacteria, solar output, magnetosphere, DNA of any life on prospective habitable planets--would exclude us from living in an alien environment. In other words, we'd have to find a 99.9% duplicate of Earth to be able to survive. Spreading our species in small "Earth environment bubbles" would be temporary at best, and ultimately infeasible.

To survive we need only preserve ourselves for the future. That could easily be done by placing a seed bank of human embryos either into earth orbit/solar orbit, or better yet deep in a cave on the moon.

Moreover I would say Professor Hawking overstates the case. I can think of no disaster that would entirely wipe out human life from the planet, not a plague or even all-out nuclear war. There will always be a few who survive and can start over. (I assume he meant human life. The quote does not make that distinction. ALL life is even less likely.)

If we move to a hardware platform and become nearly immortal entities with superior intelligence, travel time will become less important. If it doesn't take forever to go to other stars, then obviously we wont be stuck here "forever."

Of course, Hawking is right; our planet is being overwhelmed by a series of human caused disasters, the greatest being the least recognized: OVERPOPULATION. Just have a look at the US scenario, where an alien invasion is being carried out with the help of "Progressive"?? politicians, who only care about more votes, disregarding the main negative characteristics of the invaders; total lack of education and a clear tendency to create their own environments, including traditions, language and undisputed resentment towards their hosts. Also, immediate demographic addition.
The same demographic explosion - with the honorable exception of China - is taking place all around the world. The forces in power are doing nothing to stop the consequent devastation of natural environments and resources, caused by the under nourished and uneducated masses, that have no awareness of the damage occurring due to their disregard of the above mentioned causes of their own suffering. But this disastrous reality should not be the cause of looking towards the stars in order to abandon an overcrowded and still beautiful planet. The idea is to teach the "proletariat" the simple lesson that more isn´t better in an already overcrowded house. It is something worth while and only requires the corresponding awareness and decisions. Being realistic, the idea has the same chances of success as a message written on sand on a windy day.

i hate to be the one to break it to you guys but we are never getting off this rock.

aside from the various socioeconomic problems that we face on a daily basis, scientist have already said "the nearest planet that MIGHT support life is 20 odd light years away"

light speed travel is not possible.

sorry to burst your sci-fi bubble folks but thats the fact jack.

the true goal of the government funded space agencies/projects is to keep people entertained with this meaningless nonsense in hopes that someday we will become aliens lol, now with everyone running around with that mentality we only enslave ourselves further into advancing our technology and putting more power in the hands of an elite privileged few that only seek to dominate and control the human race.

we exist now as a controlled subjugated race of over-evolved monkeys, and much like monkeys we feel as if we need "leadership" thus leading to our subjugation by the corrupt individuals that seek to "lead" .

solution? - Tear it down, return to nature.

>Skilo
This blog is too adavanced fo you.
You should not be commenting here.

Hello

Not to completely agree with "Skilo", there is much to bet that without a massive improvement in energy supply and may be traveling faster than light, it would be very surprising for human race to reach a point of "massive search for other planets".

Too too far away, even if robots find some, by the time they came back or communicate data, all this could be obsolete...

In other hands, we must face the incredible capacity of challenge and adaptation of human beings... Remember that in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific... humans colonize islands, more than 3000 years ago, they couldn't target on any map and for sure did not even know it existed... what a tremendous challenge to "sail" more than 3000 miles to nowhere :o).

Yes were are fragile, but so strong, merging nanotech and real cells would may be leads us to a very adaptive and strong body.
Storing our "souls" if one day possible, could change time scale... but without traveling faster than light, it would take half the age of the universe to visit... would it make sense ?

So much to think about...

Alexandre.

"solution? - Tear it down, return to nature."

So then what?

In about 1 billion years when the aging Sun's energy increases by 10% and all land masses between the 45 degrees marks will be arid and lifeless, where all all your human-monkeys going to go?

Are you kidding me? No disaster could ever wipe out all life on Earth? Please. Even a meteor with a diameter of just a few miles could destroy all life on Earth no matter if it hits the land or the sea. So, back on topic, we would have to colonize planets in order to cope with the ever-increasing number of humans. However only a moron would suggest faster than light travel since the human body couldn't possibly handle the pressure. But it is possible to colonize, maybe not yet but let's leave it to NASA to figure that one out.

I forgot to mention that the son will go super nova in a few mill/billion years so if we ever survive that long we will have to find another star.

To begin with:

"I only know that I don't know anything" paraphrasing that Greek philosopher of yesteryear !!

Why is it that S. Hawkins and that Sci Fi story teller, Stross like to think negatively ONLY?
Could it be that they feel sorry for not been able to live a good 20, 40 or 60 years more?
They don't seem to wish HUMANITY the best after they are gone,
So selfishness looks like to be their trade mark, lol...

In the not too distant future we will be able to travel to any place in the universe, and probably any time as well.

Just not in physical bodies!

Our minds will not only be able to imagine anywhere, but perhaps go there as well.

Our bodies, (if we still have any) will have to remain locked up here!

It's either that, or a short, boring life as smart monkeys!

Most likely, interstellar travel will be a one way trip. People will take their friends and families with them, and go into suspended animation for a hundred years (there are science articles indicating this is possible), with the knowledge that they are never coming back. There are some people who would welcome breaking all ties with Earth.

Think of it as the ultimate "witness protection program".

But there are others who would leave us forever as well.

(You could leave your mother-in-law behind, for example)

You could also leave the tax man behind.

And you could forever escape, whatever caused you to leave in the first place.

It will not matter that others will come after them, with more advanced technology, and colonize the planet first. They may even look for these people, upon their arrival. But in either event, they will not be out of place on their new world, no matter how many people from their own future they find; because they will be taking their entire social network of people - from their own time - with them.

At a velocity of only 10 percent of the speed of light, it would take 43 years to reach Alpha Centauri, assuming that it has an Earth like planet or moon. That's a long time, and so they will need to use some kind of suspended animation; but there have been people who were INCARCERATED for that long. So 10 percent of light speed, going to Alpha Centauri, is survivable.

While something of this nature can not be accomplished today, it is entirely possible for a fusion rocket - using nothing more exotic than heavy hydrogen as fuel - to make the journey. Something like this can probably be done within the next 100 years or so, if the human race doesn't kill itself off first.

>Simon Salosny

we have advanced to computers and weapons of mass destruction in a short amount of space, whats stopping us getting bigger and better, the human race is always expanding. if you cant keep up, you'll get left behind

The key here is the notion that our evolution currently is in an energy-dependent phase but future avancement will lose that dependence. This makes the Dyson Sphere hypothesis irrelevant. Doesn't it?

Stross is dead on. Compared to today's technology, the tech required to get us into space--near-light speeds, nanotech, post-scarcity energy--may as well be a "magic wand." We simply have no idea where those resources would come from, and unless we discover "magic" technology in the not too distant future, we're probably going to ruin our nest here on earth. C'est le vie.

I think therefore I am. I think there is a possibility that space and time bends and access to new worlds can be obtained relatively easily once we overcome the trappings of conventional methods of travel. One of the most dramatic inventions ever was the zipper. If only we could find a way to zip open the universe.

It's stupid & futile to even consider living on other worlds imo. To call this an uphill struggle would be a severe under estimation. When Hawking complains of the [ MAN MADE ] things like nuclear war, or the human contribution to global warming, well DUH!! It is cheaper & more efficient to address these than try to live in space, in hostile & incompatible environments. How stupid of mankind to want to destroy OUR ONLY home while holding onto the vain hope that we'd be compatible with another planet. Er, no.

I'm sure I read somewhere he also believes there could be life out there that is like us. In what way? Like in the movies? Aliens having two legs, two arms, two eys, one head & an American accent?

We haven't explored our own world fully yet, the "Aliens" are in the deep sea, not in space. ALL war needs to cease. We promote safety at work & in the home, but not on Earth? I cannot stick my fingers in the wall socket, yet the CHILDREN that run this world are allowed to dig up uranium & oil.

With Regards to natural disaster, well, erm, this is natural, we are not immortal, the Earth also is not immortal. We will all be dead long before the Earth dies. This is natural.

Governments don't want to stop the modern world & it's dependency on oil but there is supposed to be all this waiting for us on another planet? Gimme a break!

I would certainly agree on the fact that robots will replace humans as the ones that will go into space and search for earth like worlds.However,if time-travel becomes possible in the distant future, then we have hopes of reaching far off worlds.Time travel is often believed to be a myth but I believe that in the future,humans will be able to build time machines that will transport us forward into time.

To me it seems to be the next logical evolutionary step for us to colonize space. First out of the water, then into space. Our species is only at their final stage yet, if we don´t win the race: get out of here before it´s getting too uncomfortable. After some generations with no gravity, it will be interesting to see how mankind has transformed.

Hello All,

To all of you who think space colonization is possible that's great because you guys are thinking in a positive way. To all of u who don't think space travel is possible, come on man, stop thinking so negative. Be positive and think about it. when there is a challenge we are most likely to try and conquer that challenge. That's just the way we humans are. We come upon a challenge and we try our hardest to beat that challenge. We have beat the challenge of traveling to the moon. All we have to do is have positive minds and think on how we can beat that challenge of traveling through space to colonize other planets so we can survive longer and everything else like that. So just keep a positive mind and we will all be able to come up with a way to beat the challenge of traveling though space and colonizing other worlds.
Sincerely,
thestickwarrior

Oh and one more thing, if we were to travel though space the best energy source would be nuclear energy.

you are all fools we are stuck here and we will destroy ourselves before we even colonize a single meteor you people seem to forget mankind's warring nature

and it's devastating results. Let's also not forget that earth does not have the resources for us to use in this endeavor

NASA also needs money for all of it's projects do you really think that with the upcoming financial crisis and probably nuclear world war we will bw able to support such an organization? or that we will even care anymore?

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