March 10, 2019

Well, There's a Bad Side to Everything

*UPDATE: Welcome Dustbury readers!*

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes reports on the evolving opinions among the intelligentsia regarding the merits of distributing our metaphorical 'eggs' among interplanetary baskets, as well as freedom and individuality in general.

"Gimme a minute. I need more coffee and a couple of BCs after watching that."

Well, while she's composing herself, let's check her open tabs and hop right into this interview of Phil Torres, by the Publisher of Universe Today, astronomy podcaster Fraiser Cain.

OK. Now MY head hurts.

Phil Torres is an expert in 'existential risk assessment' (which sounds like a potentially depressing job) and in the interview, he and Mr. Cain discuss and speculate upon various, mostly man made total catastrophe scenarios until about 35 minutes in when Cain brings up the importance of human space settlement as a potential hedge against omnicical unpleasantness.

Torres is strongly opposed to this. He believes that space settlement greatly increases the possibility of the total extinction of all life. Among his reasons is the notion that low probabilities given enough time eventually approach a value of 1. Many omnicidal scenarios involving a disgruntled knave or careless researcher with access to a lot of technology unleashing something unpleasant (like a super-flu or grey goo). Thus increasing the technology level as well as number of people exponentially (as is likely with a Dyson Swarm) will increase the odds that someone will somehow kill everyone and everything. Furthermore, he postulates that  in an age of extremely powerful technologies, game theory dictates that these societies would have to kill each other at the first opportunity.
He goes a bit further and states that the biggest problem is the impracticality of having an effective system wide government with light hour, minute, day, year lags. There will be so many different groups that they won't be controllable, thus chaos will reign and, again, game theory will dictate that they all have to kill each other, for some reason.

While this odd conclusion serves on the one hand to reinforce my preconceived misgivings about certain strict secularists who seek to use game theory as a stand in for moralitya , as someone who doesn't pretend to be particularly expert on the topic, I strongly suspect that torres doesn't quite grok Game Theory, (you know, the thought processes that got us through the Cold War without a human extinction event).

Torres does offer some solutions to his postulated problem, between 49:50 and 52:08. They mainly involve not letting people colonize space and being ruled by what sure sounds like a global totalitarian surveillance state. But it's OK because Professor Existential Risk Assessor suggests that it be run by an A.I. (!) He also suggests modifying people through drugs and gene therapy to be more compliant, peaceful and docile.

"Golly! That doesn't seem dystopian at all; She says with bitter sarcasm before getting more coffee."

 This is the kind of stuff that you hear from some tipsy caller on late night AM radio right before they cut to an interview with Richard C. Hoaglandb.

But this isn't some secondhand report of what some shadowy figure at a conference allegedly said. This is a fellow who seems to be at least respectable. And he is openly advocating crazy horrible stuff.  

Alright, so a professor at a think tank is strong with the Cray-Cray. Honestly, this wouldn't warrant so many keystrokes were it not for the fact that this fellow is getting a lot of coverage right now, with this article being reprinted in a number of places.

And he's not actually alone in this view.

Daniel Deudney, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins has, for several years, been making the rounds with a similar message that space travel beyond LEO for earth observation is a waste, potentially dangerous to humanity as a whole and, indeed, immoral.

As I tend to avoid the sorts of totalitarians that to my dismay apparently inhabit college philosophy departments, encountering this anti-humanist claptrap was disheartening. However it was not as surprising as it might be in a sane, well adjusted world. You see, similar opinions albeit with different rationale have been percolating with increasing frequency for some years as the possibility of space settlement has become more plausible.

Some of this criticism is based on pessimistic (albeit science based) assessments of the practicality of, say, a Mars colony, but there's a certain 'crab bucket' dynamic in some of the pieces expressing skepticism of the whole enterprise.  Now, the proper response to these notions has been that if one doesn't approve or think it's safe, then one is free not to go.

However, the fatuous ivory tower arguments noted at the beginning are particularly troubling as they give those opposed to the expansion of humanity beyond this pale blue dot an argument based not upon bitter resentments, but upon the notion that men of letters say other people going forth to settle the void are a threat to Earth .

The arguments by Torres and Deudeny seem to me to be dubious at best. Even assuming that their notion that existence of people are a threat to peoples existence(!) and that more people represent a bigger threat, then you still have the the fact that the threat will never be zero until people don't exist. Presumably one wants to keep that variable at a nonzero value. As Torres himself points out, the probability of a catastrophe increases with time, so you're probably best advised to disperse targets, since something bad is going to happen eventually.

The notion that game theory requires a polity to destroy its enemies preemptively says rather more about the character of America's university philosophy departments than it does any prospective espatiers. Space is big enough that if two groups are culturally incompatible, they ought to be able to live apartc.

Of course the merits of the theory are beside the point. This is indicated by the ear to ear grin Professor Torres has on his face as he explains how "sub-optimal" it is that we need to restrict people's freedom, but that it's OK because the brilliant minds proposing this are "progressives'. Once again, we have a problem, a crisis, an existential threat, and like all such solutions for every other crisis real or imagined, the academy have decided that the solution is reduced personal autonomy, increased government power and re-education. And above all, this crisis requires that those who dare to dream and have the courage to try and wrest a living from a hostiled frontier never be allowed to escape.

Be aware as well, that those who demand we put all our metaphorical eggs in one basket, have a poor record of egg stewardship. For they have a tendency to embezzle those eggs to make omelets that never materialize.

a:The crazy, evil ones mostly

b: Seriously! Can you people please come up with a plan that does not sound like two dimensional villain in a grim-dark young adult novel. This would strain credulity as a parody. Hell, Prof. Deudney is literally advocating in one of the linked papers for one world government ASAP. Giving Alex Jones credibility helps no one except those who build water purifiers.

c: OTOH if the Westborro Church and Gay Aryan Thrust set up their O'Neal Cylinders next to each other, well that's their problem and if they kill each other then it's to our benefit aside from any need to clean up the debris field.
d:A lot of space enthusiasts do underestimate just HOW hostile space is. It's dry, radioactive, has no food and ventilation is charitably described as "poor".This doesn't mean that it's unlikely to be settled or undesireable to do so. Just that some paint too rosy a picture.

"Science Babe" is actually Misaka Mikoto (or her 'sister') from A Certain Scientific
UPDATE: Edited particularly egregious run-on sentence. Replaced closing sentence that I'd managed to delete when I added the footnotes.



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