2113 (part two) – Getting stuck in progress

My series 2113 is a speculative series of articles on a fictional timeline of the future set one century from now. This time portrays the future as it might be based on several premises. One premise is that we have no major catastrophes, and progress persists more or less without major industrial or societal collapse as it has for the last few centuries. Another premise is that we’ll have not a clear-cut singularity, however that the emergence of artificial intelligence, the transition of human minds in to machine substrates and the recognition of non-human minds and human mental minds on artificial substrates is achieved seamlessly and without major societal disruption. The article also assumes a somewhat implausible continuation of the current abundance-assuming paradigm of freedom, free trade, globalism (or what might be labelled ‘universalism’, in the 22nd century), a further increase and refinement of democracy and a growth of both individual affluence of all people, as well as a vast increase in individual affluence of elites.

The series is (One, Two, Three, Four. Since I abhor comment management on this blog due to spam predation, I will eventually invite my readers to respond with questions and criticisms, for which you are already encouraged to email me.

It is the year 2113, and humanity “made it”.

It was touch and go there for a while – but the advancing tidal wave of technological progress has swept all things that could be argued problematic aside. There are over two thousand billion acknowledged citizens in the solar system, most of them in the Earth-Moon system, but literally hundreds of billions away from the inner heart of activity around the sun. There are tens of thousands of solar space colonies – most of these intricate flower-like variants of O’Neil habitats in habited by thoroughly post-humans. There are thriving colonies on all planets, on nearly all moons known a century earlier, and on dozens and dozens of centaurids, plutino’s and more distant KBO objects. And let us not forget the smaller colonies on asteroids. And nearly all of the citizens in the solar system live in a state of affluence measurably thousands to millions times as prosperous and comfortable as ‘baseline’ humans in 2013 did.

But more on that later.

In such an environment electoral politics proceeds in iterative cycles of nanoseconds, rather than primatebrain four-year voting rounds. There is great need for a consensus in the solar system, since there are many conflicts of interest. The vast majorities of the two+ trillion citizens do in fact agree on a range of matters, and one body of pervasive agreement being a diffuse alternative for the system we (even more diffusely) used to label Capitalism. There is a name for that New System, and what that new system entails is agreed upon by the vast majorities of citizens. Ingrained in that system is something we would find very strange in 2013 – the new Capitalism ‘facilitates’ discontent as part of the system. In essence the system itself acknowledges it is an act of force to implement a form of governance and some will never disagree – so it is a form of falsifiability to acknowledge discontent and make it a recursive part of the governing paradigm.

The idea that disagreement and protest would be largely anathema to 20th century thinking. Sure, in the 20th century there was the brief era of “unionization” and “populism” but this was part of the societal consensus. The version of “positively affirming discontent” in the year 2113 is an altogether novel pattern, and it emerged from the insurance industries. Around 2000 there were laws that governed society. Laws emerged from political discourse that was completely removed from the actual electorate. In 2113 every civilian has access to multiple AI systems that can represent their interests. These AIgents can be brokers for transactions, or intermediaries in disputes, or automated lobbyists, lawyers, consultants. The nett effect is that the political class itself has dwindled considerably and has been replaced by complex mechanisms of deciding right from wrong. Three hard rules remain in existence ..

1 – first consideration is survival. Citizens flock together in protecting shared interests, even if those interests are theoretical. The highest interest is survival for nearly every citizen. Hence if survival of one is threatened by some new emerging industry or technology, there is almost immediately consensus on that this development must be curtailed. This led to citizen protection laws from scarcity. In the year 2013 people would recognize this as a guarantee for all that is needed to survive; i.e. protection from toxic environment, air, energy, medical care, repairs, shelter, social interaction, education, robotic servants, whatever it takes for a very solid majority to feel absolutely safeguarded they’ll survive comfortably. In essence – there is a consensus in the entire solar system that no citizen should be without necessities. The converse is also true – citizens are not allowed to willfully endanger themselves. For example – there are no ‘organic’ human citizens allowed in the asteroids. Admittance in the complex asteroid civilizations hinges on any citizen having a very rugged robotic physique that allows survival in a range of temperatures (generally cryogenic cold) and chemical conditions (generally an atmosphere without oxygen or other corrosives). If an organic human would ever aspire to travel to the main belt Asteroids, he or she would have to bring her own conditions for survival, and that in essence would be economically unaffordable. However, if for some reason an organic human would somehow find itself stranded near Ceres (the de facto capital of the belt) then the local municipalities would bend backwards to protect such a citizen from death, even respecting the physical integrity of such a person and create an environment that would allow comfortable survival for an organic shape. Paid for by essentially billing all locals for a tax.

2 – the second consideration is a guarantee for resources that do not guarantee survival. Essentially this is a guarantee that every citizen can own a considerable number of personal properties to do with as he, she or it pleases. Generally these properties comprise automated systems that are running tasks with certain long term benefits, i.e. business. Business opportunities in the year 2113 are so universal and easy to unlock that even the smallest and outdated robotic system can find something useful to do. This means that even a very small effort by anywhere near competent AI systems generated utility, and hence profit. The expectation of profit allows for personal advancement and growth. There is however a problem that very competent systems (especially a lot of them) allow far more growth and personal advancement than others. The problem with that is that the very competent and the very rich can effectively conspire to outcompete any other citizen by a factor of millions or billions. Against such out competition there is easy consensus that the majority of citizens in any area agree they do not want it to happen to them. For example – some mogul can not be allowed to outbid everyone else on energy on local markets, since outcompeting majorities on not just survival, but also the means to have personal ambitions beyond mere survival, immediately generated democratic agreement. The converse of such agreement is that the “very successful” are taxed on property, income, predation, competition, growth, or however you dare to call it.

3 – The conclusion of the early two is that everyone in the entire solar system vehemently agrees that the number of citizens, whatever physical qualities they have, must be curtailed in procreation. Procreation is a very strong neurological force of action or desire, and it reinforced itself well in to irrational behavior. Hence the 2 trillion plus citizens of the solar system in 2113 are overwhelmingly in agreement that population growth must be curtailed. There is good news – the various authorities of the solar system have calculated that around 2150 populations will start plateau-ing around 4 trillion, and will stabilize thereafter.

All this creates some might strange tensions in the solar system. Let’s have a look at some tragedies in existence in the solar system, and to explore one particular tragedy – that of the asteroid Euphrosyne.

To understand the Euphrosyne disaster one must understand the early solar system, the tax system, how procreation worked in the middle 21st century and how travel inside the solar system works.

Euphrosyne was settled by a Terasem developmental crew in the year 2061. The crew consisted of several dozen recognizable human beings, governing a flotilla of self-assembling robotic systems. The voyage of the people took a few months, so can be classified as “harsh”. To travel to an asteroid is generally done with a cluster of ion propulsion systems driven by a small nuclear reactor. Such vessels have enormous problems radiating away their excess heat, so these vessels are usually very long, with enormous arrays that act as photovoltaics in the inner system, as coolant fins while accelerating, and as reaction mass when deccelerating the vessel. In essence such a vessel “eats up” its own mass when deccelerating towards the end goal of a voyage. For very large vessels with dozens of organic settlers, including the required payload, the required amount of thrust to attain the necessary speed for making such long hauls is brutal, and quite costly. When departing from the inner system the launch is serviced by the magnetic coil launch infrastructure near the moon, as well as the strong energy from the sun and as a consequence such a launch is cheap. Attaining a high cruising speed (“insertion”) is the relatively easy part. The tricky part is the decceleration, and such a process is even in mid 21st century market terms gruesomely expensive as well as wasteful.

Euphrosyne was a success, before people really understood what “success” means. The colony expanded explosively, and the settlers had a value system that emphasized large numbers of people. Ten years after settlement the colony had a native population of many thousands of genetically modified cyborg human beings (all of them organic and recognizable as humans) and by 2190 the population was numbering in the millions. However it should be clear that the population was by and large in complete denial about the long term lack of planning. These people would effectively become stuck on Euphrosyne. There was absolutely no way to turn these people in to much more efficient “post-organics” and even if it had been possible to bootstrap the excruciatingly complex industries required on this asteroid to turn people in to “low footprint consumers” it wouldn’t have been possible to export millions of machines or even millions of fragile and delicate uploaded minds in carrier shells to other destinations. By 2190 most asteroids that would have been accessible from Euphrosyne also had populations and those asteroids would have vehemently objected against an influx of dirt poor, welfare craving economic refugees from Euphrosyne.

The situation on the asteroid Euphrosyne is ‘harsh’ in the year 2113, yet conditions for each and every person in the asteroid would have been regarded as paradise like for people from the year 2013. Essentially the people who live on Euphrosyne are all fairly humanoid, their bodies engineered to survive in the particular atmosphere inside the endless cavernous tunnels that worm deep in to the asteroid. The amount of real estate in Euphrosyne is comparable to all the space provided by all the cities of the continental united states of the year 2013, embedded in primordial rock. This itself has destroyed the industries of Euphrosyne, since such a grotesque population has thawed the asteroid. The average surface temperature of Euphrosyne is now well over the thawing point of water ice. This has evaporated most volatiles of the asteroid, and the Euphrosynians are now forced to send their robots ever deeper in to the core of the planetoid to retrieve water and oxygen compounds. The asteroid has a very strict government – if the population of Euphrosyne would be allowed to damn well do as it pleased, the first Euphrosynians would start to die in months.

Imagine living floating in these caves, machine systems everywhere, always dozens of these beautiful creatures nearby. Euphrosyne is a beautiful place even if life proceeds very slow (by 2113 standards the rythm of organic life is regarded as snail paced). One might say that an asteroid such as Euphrosyne (and this planetoid is probably the most “dystopian” one around) is conceptually somewhat comparable to the destiny faced by “Cubans” a century before. It is ironic that the main city hub of Euphrosyne is called Habana.

Let’s face the facts – unless technology rapidly changes the feeble organic Euphrosynians are stuck on their paradisal rock. By maintaining a sustainable practices and literally cultivating a regimen of draconic recycling they will be able to survive there for at least two decades. But even when maintaining spartan practices in the long run the solar system will have to shoulder the extreme cost of either migrating these thoughtless near-baseline creatures from their self-imposed imprisonment back to the already overcrowded Earth-Moon system, and integrate them in a culture that will be able to process the quaint and outdated values of these relatively isolated living people, or venture out to Euphrosyne and literally impose an industry of uploading all these poor people in to new mind substrates and then migrate millions of them in to the cutthroat competitive environments of the main asteroid belt.

This was written by me, Khannea Suntzu. The article may be reprinted or quoted with attribution. The article has specifically been made available for reprinting for Zero State publications, IEET, Transhumanity, Singularity Hub, Turing Church, Space Collective, Singularity Network, Terasem and VenusPlusX. I may opt to slightly edit the article later on. This is the first installment of my 2113 series.