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I would do anything for Mars (but I won’t do that)

Somebody on Reddit proposed to solve overpopulation by shipping people to Mars. He reasoned that the cost for space transportation is expected to go down by a lot, with SpaceX pioneering reusability and novel concepts. While this is certainly true, I’m afraid overpopulation cannot be solved this way. Here’s why:

Ok, let’s say it’s the year 2050. We have  more than 10bn people on Earth. Maybe population growth is slowing down, going into reverse around the year 2100, which the UN seems to think will happen.

Let’s further say, we’d like to ship 5bn people to Mars, so that both planets have a population of 5bn each, which seems pretty reasonable.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume that half of humankind would actually chose to go to Mars.

Now, let’s do the math to figure how many BFR/BFS flights, each carrying a 100 people, would be required to ship 5bn people to Mars. It’s 50 million. Fifty million BFR/BFS launches. Let that number sink in. Then try it with different values — maybe future BFR/BFS versions can carry a 1000 instead of a hundred people; and maybe it’s enough to ship 2bn people off planet to make an ecological impact. Run the numbers again. Let them sink in again.

I estimate that the whole of Earth would have to be turned into an operation that does nothing else but BFR/BFS launches for hundreds, if not thousands of years. I would furthermore estimate that the population on Mars, while constantly growing, would still be hard pressed to construct infrastructure accomodating 5bn people in a sensible timeframe. On that scale, with that many people coming, terraforming of Mars is inevitable; but we don’t have a plan for that yet, just some wild ideas. We don’t have a testcase or proof of concept. We just don’t know what will work, and won’t know until we’ve done it. Which may take thousands or even tens of thousands of years. We don’t know.

And I’ve not even talked about the ecological damage millions upon millions of rocket launches/landings during hundreds of years will do to both planets.

To maybe get around all those problems and make your plan work, we’d have to build two thousand space elevators: a thousand here, on Earth, another thousand on Mars. We don’t have a single one yet, don’t have the technology yet, and will very likely not get there anytime soon. Additionally, we’d need a large fleet of interplanetary vessels that don’t land on planetary surfaces at all.

I am not saying your idea is impossible in principle. What I’m saying is that it’s prohibitively impractical. And I’m saying that as someone who would do just about anything to live on Mars (but I won’t do that).

No. The overpopulation problem, if it is a problem at all, must be addressed right here, on Earth.

A refutation to „Future Medicine & The Curse of Immortality“ by Computing Forever

This is an open letter in response to Computing Forever’s YouTube Video „Future Medicine & The Curse of Immortality“


Here’s the video I am responding to — it’s sweet and short, and well worth your time, so please watch it before continuing to read:


Dear Computing Forever,

I enjoy many of your videos. I especially liked this particular one about longevity; although I respectfully have to disagree on almost all of your points. I currently have no equipment to record a video response, but I’m a writer, so here is my point-by-point refutation of the arguments you brought forth in your video.


1. Becoming elderly wihout dying

You suggest that cures for aging-related diseases will be developed first, resulting in people still aging, but not dying. This is certainly true to some extent; but the main focus of many anti-aging startups is the actual rejuvenation of the body. The SENS maintenance approach for instance proposes to periodically remove the damage that is being accumlated in the body as a byproduct of metabolism. You’d still age, but your body will be reset to a youthful stage before you become frail. The SENS approach is not just a castle in the sky; it is an actionable plan, a scientific roadmap that is actively being worked on. Respected scientists, like e.g.  Craig Venter, were asked to refute it on scientific grounds, but were unable to. Senescent cell clearance, for instance, is a first step down this road, and it’s a hot topic at the moment with good progress being made. The first therapies that will become available will in all probability rejuvenate people to some extent; and to a larger extent as more progress is being made.

CONCLUSION: Becoming elderly because of rejuvenation therapies is the exact opposite of that what will actually happen. It’s the stated goal of any and all longevity related projects to avoid becoming elderly for as long as scientifically possibly. But even if it were so, it would not be a reason to halt research, but rather to expedite it.


2. Overpopulation

Yes, this is a valid concern. While apparently, the population growth seems to be slowing and will reverse by the turn of the century, we may still need to address the problem globally. We will need to take countermeasures regadless of longevity treatments; and it’s worthwile doing so, regardless of whether those treatments exist or not. Furthermore, we need to decide what’s more ethical: letting 100.000 people die every day from age-related diseaes when we could prevent their deaths, while not addressing overpopulation; or expand health- and lifespan as quickly as possible, and address the possible overpopulation issue at the same time.

CONCLUSION: Overpopulation needs to be addressed one way or the other; as well as the ethical dilemma of having the means to save millions of lives evey year, but deciding not to do so.


3. Stagnation of Evolution

It is questionable whether evolution has not already been disturbed by human civilisation in very large proportions. The environmental forces that selected the genes of our remote ancestors have changed completely. Natural selection is certainly still acting upon us, but it may select for traits that lead to the capability of becoming wealthy. Is this a good thing? Doubtful. Knowing this, it might be a good idea to take the doubt out of evolution and give it a direction that we see desirable. Engineered evolution can react much faster to new environmental challenges than evolution by natural selection can.

We cannot look to other species for advise either, since we’re the only species on Earth capable of taking genetic evolution in our own hands. In this sense, we’ve already reached the technological singularity; and not only in a purely metaphorical sense.

CONCLUSION: Your point may be correct, but it starts from the erroneous assumption that natural selection is the only way to adapt to environmental challenges. This is not necessarily the case for a highly technological civilisation.


4. How are we going to house and feed everyone?

The answer to this question is basically the same one as the anwer to question 2.

CONCLUSION: This problem needs to be addressed anyway, with or without longevity treatments, so let’s just talk about it and find a viable solution.


5. Only available for very wealthy people

Yes, it is very likely that those therapies will be available for the upper middleclass and beyond at first. This has been the case for every technology that required massive amounts of funding and research; automobile, TV, transatlantic flight, pacemaker, computer, internet, cellphone, you name it (also nuclear weapons with regard to wealthy or poor nations). Wealthy people will pay for the development with their money, and the price will go down. It will drop below a point where it’s more competitive for health insurance companies to sell longevity treatments to their customers, instead trying to cure their age-related diseases over a period of 10-30 years until death.

CONCLUSION: Correct, but only for a transitional peroid, until patents run out and generics can be mass produced, and procedures copied. That means, 20 years after Ray Kurzweil et al, everybody else can (just about) afford the treatments.


6. Does the human brain have the capacity to store several lifetimes worth of memories?

Very unklikely. You will forget most of your distant past, and will continuously live in a „fog of war“ that lets you see maybe 50 years back, and no further, maybe save for certain pivotal moments in your life. Technology already assists in remembering events; I have 8mm footage of myself at age 4, and of my first day at school. I have no conscious recollection of these days whatsoever, but here they are on ancient 8mm film. In a few years, I will not remember having written this very essay, but I may still be able to read it, and marvel at the person that was me who wrote it a long time ago.

CONCLUSION: Correct, if we disregard the probability of memory-enhancing technologies. But with or without such technologies, the argument is irrelevant, since we can hardly remember our own past already now, and what we do seem to remember is largely confabulated anyway.


7. Boredom after having seen and done everything.

There’s more to see and do than a single person can do in a hundred or a thousand lifetimes. Let me quote Douglas Adams for reference: „Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.“ — The same is true for the space of possibilities.

CONCLUSION: Unlikely, and irrelevant. The possiblities are endless and only limited by your imagination. They will expand even further, since technological and logistical limitations will retreat over time. However, if you’re still bored, you can always chose to not take your next treatment and live out the rest of your life normally and die of old age.


8. The notion to outlive everyone you care about has got to be the worst part of all of this.

Why would this be the case? If you can take the treatments, it is very likely that most of those you care for, your peers, can, too. Those who chose not to take the treatments have excercised their free will, and there’s no reason for you to mourn them.
I personally mourn the deaths of my mother, my father, all but one aunt and uncle, all of my grandparents, and even already a few friends. I’m only 50, but death has been a part of my life for a long time. I mourn the deceased who suffered for years before their final demise, and who had not the slightest chance to avoid suffering and their final gruesome deaths.

CONCLUSION: Mourn those who have no say in their demise; pity those who chose to die; cherish those who chose life over death.


9. Nature didn’t just envision us receiving a lifespan boost in this way.
Nature does not envision anything at all; it is not an entity with any kind of forsesight, plan or vision. Nature is a process that reacts in hindsight only.

CONCLUSION: This statement is nonsensical.


10. Quality rather than quanitity

I agree, an indefinite, but forever empty and meaningless lifespan would be much worse than 80 years full of meaning and quality time. However, the problem with that statement is that an indefinite lifespan has the potential to increase quality even further, while death doesn’t have that potential at all. I am very slow at the things I’m doing; but give me another hundred youthful years, and I still may become the next Einstein, Armstrong (Neil or Louis, take your pick) or just another ordinary father of two living in Elon City, Valles Marineris, on Mars.

CONCLUSION: Quality+Quantity > Quality > Quantity.



And finally, dear Computing Forever, I’d like to ask you this — As you recently learned, dying is an unpleasant and dirty business. Often times, people wither away over decades, their bodies and minds losing capabilties ever so slowly, until something like cancer or Alzheimer’s eats them alive from the inside. Today, this is still the fate of everyone of us. Of the 150.000 people that die every single day, around 100.000 die from age-related complications, and most of them do not simply fall asleep peacefully.

I personally think that is a humanitarian catastrophe of a magnitude comparable to WW1, the 1918 flu pandemic and WW2 all rolled into one. The amount of suffering and death is unimaginable and beyond human comprehension.

Can we ethically chose not to stop this catastrophe if we have the means to? Even if it meant we’d have to adjust our way of living globally? Are those arguments that you brought forward, even if they were absolutely valid (and I think I demonstrated they are not) — are those arguments strong enough to let the daily avalanche of suffering and death continue until the end of time? Would this be ethical?

I think not.



P.S.: To make my own position on death and dying clear — I’m not terribly afraid of dying, as long as it comes without lots of anguish and suffering. But I’m not terribly fond of it either. I’d rather see the future unfold for much longer because man, this universe we live in is too damn wondrous to be dead for the rest of eternity!






When will the Singularity happen?

Just a gut feeling on my part: The Singularity has already begun, and we’re living in the very early stages of it right now.

It’s not yet clearly visible — just like doubling grains of rice on a chessboard, on day four, it still looks like not much of anything.

But If we don’t maneuver ourselves back into the technological stone ages, Singularity will be visible for everyone to see like a black hole on the horizon in 20-25 years from now.

Whether this will save Earth’s ecosphere as we know it or destroy it completely is unknowable as of now.

Note: I don’t like the world „Singularity“ anymore because it has become to mean „the religion of the nerd-rapture“ and is looked upon with contempt by everyday people.

Will AGI be capable of predicting our destiny?

Will artificial Intelligence help us predict the future of humanity, after analyzing the current situations mankind goes through?

Quora presented me with the above question, and here’s my answer:

A hypothetical superintelligent AI will be capable of keeping track of millions or billions of datapoints in its artificial mind, concurrently, continuously, whereas we humans can only keep track of a handful each moment. That AI will be able to find hidden connections between those datapoints, many layers deep, that humans alone will never find, not with all the time in the world. So much seems clear.

But will it be able to predict the future of humanity?

Well, it will be able to extrapolate the rate of technological progresss, because it is helping creating it. It will monitor and predict environmental changes long before they occur. It will compute different predictive paths for unknowable events (catastrophes, meteor impact, virus outbreaks, etc.) But most importantly, it will be able to predict the behavior of individual humans and of large groups of humans with uncanny accuracy. To us, humans seem unstable and unpredictable. To it, we are like automatons, operating within well-understood boundaries.

That hypothetical AI will be able to make predictions for individual trends and for the overall development of the world that hold true for years, or in some cases decades, maybe even more. However, it will not be able to predict the future indefinitely, because there will be hard limits to its capabilities. Even for a superintelligent AI, there is an upper bound for what it can know and predict; defined by a) its hardware, and b) the indeterministic nature of the world itself. The farther into the future the AIs predictions go, the farther they will diverge from reality. But since the AI is continuously updating its predictions with billions of datapoints, we humans will never catch it being wrong with anything in a big way. For us, it will seem like an oracle that knows everything, past, present and future.

Now to the original question: Will that AI help to predict the destiny of humankind, and make suggestions as to what needs to be changed for progress and survival? Yes, it will most certainly do that. And this is also where it becomes increasingly dangerous: Put that kind of power into human hands — the power to know, with certainty, how peoples react and how they can be directed and manipulated — put that into a human hand, and we’re going to meet our Dystopia in a tenth of a generation or less.