fill in the blank makes the world go round…

Not being an economist suggesting an alternative to existing answers to the problem of unlimited want v limited resources would very likely not provide a utopian blueprint. With that in mind, ideal societies are probably best left as part of the domain of satire and/or fantasy. Astral – the working title for my science fiction novel in progress – does not attempt to paint a grand and perfect future for humanity the setting. Nor is the setting a dystopia.

Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick, K. W. Jeter) mentions off-world colonies and the supposition is that they are not all people might hope. In Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity we’re told, “Earth That Was could no longer sustain our numbers; we were so many.” There’s a streak of disposable planet in science fiction that my first love in the genre – Star Trek – avoided almost completely. The inhabitants of Earth had, in fact, abandoned a dangerous courtship with self-extinction and Starfleet’s mission to seek out strange new worlds was not just about mineral rights.

better-worlds

As mentioned in prior entries here, the world(s) of Astral spans about 60 solar systems. The motivation for expansion splits the difference between Earth being used up and something Neil deGrasse Tyson said about a year ago (Oct. 2015): “If you have the power to turn another planet into Earth then you have the power to turn Earth back into Earth.”

Most science fiction does not concern itself with the cost of putting fleets of ships in space and terraforming exoplanets. Again, not being an economist, I’m not planning on making any estimates in that regard. However, just as I’ve been musing on alternative political structures, the future on Earth’s colonies is not mute about the downside of capitalism and its contentious cousins.

There are at least half a dozen private entities reinventing space travel and while that’s thrilling it also based on some aspect of a profit motive. That has certainly been part of the equation in all exploration – from Magellan and before to NASA and beyond. This is probably not going away but it could actually get us into space even in the sci fi sense.

A friend of mine once observed that the utopia of Earth in Star Trek was not – could not be – based on some flawless ideology and the logical consequences of implementing it. Someone prior to the career of Mr. Spock had invented a machine that turned energy into matter. The cornucopian replicator solved all the quandaries of what to produce, in what manner, and for whom.

I wanted to argue with him at that point and part of me still does. Pointing to the problems in Star Trek has always bothered me and quite a bit of my thinking over the years has gone over the same steeplechase as others in fandom to mend plot holes. With Astral that’s a reminder to avoid some of them during the making of.

The Federation is not faced with the riddle of a used-up planet somehow still able to build enough ships to colonize and exploit strange new worlds. The philosophy of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” is a direct and natural result of technology solving major sources of waste, class-based tensions, petty behaviors and so on.

The first human colony in the world(s) of Astral was Mars. There are at least four links in a chain from there to α Fornacis/Dalim where the story opens. That chain is not a disintegrating set of broken and corroding links. There is without doubt satirical value in suggesting any human destiny in space will be a series of strip-mined worlds under runaway greenhouse atmospheres but I remain more hopeful… still.


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матрёшка мозг…

The idea of a matryoshka brain combines Freeman Dyson’s most famous concept with an almost unimaginably large and powerful computer. A Dyson sphere would be a megastructure completely enclosing the Sun capturing all of the solar energy while simultaneously providing an interior surface area many times that of the Earth. Presuming a radius of one astronomical unit (AU), the distance between the Sun and Earth, the area of the inside of the shell would be about 550 million times the planet surface.

Robert Bradbury (presumably no relation to the famous sci fi author) proposed that in addition to absorbing all the power the Sun emits the enclosure would also be one massive computer. Assume a circuit panel about the size of a sheet of printer paper. It would take roughly 4.5 quintillion such panels to cover the inside of a 1 AU Dyson sphere. Using only today’s computing power the capacity would be mind-boggling.

A hard sci fi author by the name of Charles Stross added another feature. He has imagined that minds could be uploaded to such a computer. It has since been the subject of some speculation that an intelligent species somewhere in the multiverse has made all three of these technological advances.

All this to say that the virtual environment provided by a matryoshka brain is one of a very few in which minds similar to our own might not have some form of hierarchy. There are many variations of the notion that “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” An organizational chart is what keeps everyone from giving orders to everyone else. There’d be too much confusion. Mutually assured insubordination.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that a matryoshka brain would be indistinguishable from a hive mind. It also isn’t a foolproof method for skipping the leader-and-subordinates system. However, a computer with this much power would in all probability be omniscient about the activity of each component mind it hosted.

A matryoshka brain unimaginably far in the future. Astral is set only about 550 years from now. Today’s sociopolitical climate has become a bit obsessed with unfettered individual liberty. A month or so ago I overheard a mother trying to determine why her child was getting terrible grades in school. The frustrated student eventually said, “But you told me to never let anyone tell me what to do.” In and of itself that’s a bit of a paradox but that’s another story.

While considering this and working on world-building for the novel, which is part police procedural thriller, I wondered if authority would still be divided over different tiers of officers. In a pseudo-hive mind there’d probably be no crime; if you know what everyone is thinking anything illegal could ostensibly be prevented à la Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. He alreadyrank covered the idea of using precognition in circumventing crime and I’m going down a very different road.

So — one of the main characters of Astral is, in fact, a police officer. She does report to someone and supervises a team of seven others. She does wear a uniform and it does contain some circuitry. The exact capacity of this tiniest final doll in the metaphoric nested computer chain isn’t going to be treated here but I have been looking for a reason to have rank displayed on a special screen woven into a uniform for about three years now.

The likelihood that police detectives will abandon rank in favor of consensus or telepathic gestalt any time soon seems as remote as a breakthrough leading to the imminent construction of a computer 200 million miles across. If you discover evidence to the contrary, please let me know. The uniform rank display will turn up somewhere else.