Mitigating Humanity’s Existential Risk

Elon Musk wants to preserve the species. The ONLY way, he thinks, to do this is to make humanity a multi-planet race.

Ignoring the fact that the Universe is Absurd, that ultimately everyone and everything will dissolve into the void, let’s examine the factors that support or refute his hypothesis and come up with an alternative.

Let’s say we want to plan humanity’s continued existence out a billion years, out to when the Sun begins to bloat and heat Earth’s surface to the point of boiling off the oceans and roasting the biosphere to a crisp. What will we need to prepare for?

  • Asteroid/comet impact
  • Super volcano eruption
  • Narrow beam gamma ray burst
  • Solar eruption
  • Nuclear war
  • Plague

There are other risks that don’t really rise, realistically, to the level of “end of days”: antagonistic AI, global warming, alien invasion, and those unknown unknowns. But I wager that humanity’s existence is not actually threatened by such things.

I’ll clarify here that we’re not talking about human civilization. Let’s start first with just persisting the species out into the future a few thousand to a few million years. Yes, we stated that a billion years is our target, but let’s start small and see how far we can get.

There are a few factors we’ll need to address. The first is timing, how quickly will humanity need this capability. Then there are resource requirements, sustainable independence, minimum viable population, and, if we want to retain or return to a technological civilization, the reemergence of industrial capability. We won’t get to all of these but we’ll skim over them for completeness.

Why are we bothering with this discussion?

Right. Here’s the gist: I posit that there’s an alternative means of human preservation that we should be pursuing right now, in lieu of and/or in addition to, spreading humanity’s legacy out among the planets.

What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of the surface of our planet becoming uninhabitable. Mitigating every one of the above listed risks involves sequestering an enclave of humanity *somewhere* safe, for years if not decades. We want to hide out in some protected, self-sufficient place until we can resume activities, hopefully Earth-top-side.

What if the surface of Earth never returns to a livable state? Bah! Five massive extinction events resulting in five returns from the brink of annihilation prove that, until the Sun swells to consume the inner planets, Earth will always return to a state of habitability.

Is space the only alternative? If not, then where, other than the surface of Mars or the Moon, can we squirrel away a self-sufficient, re-emergent pocket of humanity?

Queue the music…

Under the sea.
Under the sea.
Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.

Who’s up for a little cocktail (sauce)?

A city on Mars?

Bullshit. Build a city at the bottom of the sea. Or deep within the Earth.

Such a metropolis would be protected from cosmic radiation, volcanic winter, nuclear fallout, a ravaging plague of zombies, and all the toxins and trauma, malcontents and mayhem. We wouldn’t need to spend $billions blasting resources into space. Or traversing billions of miles of a very nasty inter-planetary void. We could leverage all the benefits of cheap labor, cheap materials and exhaustive know-how right here where we need them.

Within a few years we could build a vast network of cities, all self-sustainable, all independent. Such preserves could be supported by tourism yet isolated at the first signs of trouble.

Every disaster movie ever made makes provisions for such failsafe protections of humanity. And there’s a reason why — it make sense. Even if (or when) the worst of the worst calamity takes place, the buried and submerged cities would weather the situation far more easily than some half-baked outpost on Mars could survive the decades alone without support from Earth.

Eventually, if humanity can survive its own self-made ills, it might construct the means to disperse its seed into the cosmos. (Why we, here and now, should give a shit about that, is beyond me.) But, even if Elon wants to immortalize himself as some savoir of Humanity 2.0, then building a city on Mars shouldn’t be the first step. Establish a subterranean city for the Morlocks and Mermaids and then shoot for the stars.

Comparing a Martian colony to Nemo’s Atlantis we have the following factors:

  • Timing: How long will it take to get a viable habitat built, stocked and operational? Do we have 10 years before the next apocalypse? 50? We don’t really know, but surely sooner is better. With Nemo City we could start tomorrow.
  • Resource requirements: Besides air, water, nutrients and nearly everything else, what does Mars need to establish itself as a potential sanctuary for, not just humanity, but all of humanity’s dependencies? Think biosphere/ecosystem here. Again, for a earthly solution, all the stuff required for existence is right outside our front door. For Barsoom City? Oy! Maybe you won’t have to bring dirt for farming (provided you can wash the peroxide salts from the Martian soil).
  • Sustainable independence: Will a Martian colony EVER actually become independent? With technology, industry,  agriculture and growth enough to blossom and return the favor back to Earth? Sure science fiction thinks so. But reality?
  • Minimum viable population: We know humanity prospers in the gravity well, with the oxygen levels and sunlight saturation of Earth. On Mars? What strange illnesses will reveal themselves, both on the red planet and along the months long trip to get there? Will human births suffer? Human fertility? What of restocking Earth with surplus Martians and surplus supporting biota (animals, plants, bacteria and fungi)?
  • A technological civilization and the reemergence of industrial capability: It took humanity thousands of years, and terrajoules of energy to lift itself up to a technological society. Will Mars be able to repeat this?

Elon, do you really want to preserve humanity? If so, maybe you could turn your sights down from the heavens to the ground beneath your feet. Use your Boring company to tunnel into the earth and there build an actual salvation city.

We are NOT living in a simulation

Do not contact your SimAdmin, he can’t help you.

You’ve no doubt heard the theory that our reality, all of ours reality, may actually be a simulation running in some cosmically vast computer system created by monumentally intelligent beings.

A guy named Nick Bostrom originally dreamed this up and so far, no one has figured out how to refute the premise. (Nick was the guy who also proposed the Great Filter theory where humanity is either on the good side or the bad side of the cosmic crap shoot.)

This simulation theory states that, given our understanding of computer simulation and the logarithmic nature of its advancement, the probability that we, ourselves, are artifacts existing within a simulation is not zero. That is, it is possible that we are all just fabrications of some uber-alien intelligence having coded our reality in his basement.


And here’s my theory as to why:

• The computer simulations, you know, games, that are currently being created are far more engaging and empowering than the shit-show we have going as our current existence. And these virtual reality games are only going to get more and more amazing. No future “us” would build an imaginary world of such despicable, detestable agony and hatred and call it an artificial world of entertainment and wonder. Our reality is a hellish existence for billions of humans — why would anyone want to simulate that?

• Or maybe our reality is not a game, it’s a scientific simulation experiment. If this is the case then there are numerous reasons why our “universe” and all its fake physical laws and fabricated history are beyond extreme for an experiment.

  1. If our simulators wanted to recreate our universe as we experience it they would have to have simulated 13.5 billion years of universe generation spawned by some imaginary spark (the Big Bang and all the assumptions that accompany how this reality operates). That lengthy process would take far too long for any superior race to put up with. Even at a time ratio of one of their seconds to a year of ours (they have vastly more powerful computers) it would still take over 150,000 of their days to recreate our current situation.
  2. Why all this bizarre evolutionary complexity? Why go through five separate extinction events, the evolution of reptiles, then dinosaurs, then mammals and finally, only within the last two million years, create a creature that “might” evolve to build a complex society? Just jump to the chase, already.
  3. If they fully fabricated a “fake” starting point, that is, dream up all this fabricated evidence to give us humans the false sense of deep history, again, why so fricking deep and convoluted. And why so much misery and evil in their scenario(s)? (We assume we’re just one of billions of simulations.)
  4. If we are just one of billions, why? For what purpose would any superior race build a computer system just to fabricate a false sense of this frankly mundane scenario? I’m gonna create a billion ant farms with differing sand, water, food, physics just to watch the fake ants live and die. That is how our vastly superior ancestors/predecessors spend their time? If that’s their past time, and they wanted to do it right, they’d seed the ant farms and let them evolve — but again, that would take forever.
  5. Computing is not cheap. A system to simulate our current reality would be costly — energy wise — to run for this long. And if you’re running billions of these… Well, you’re gonna run out of star-power pretty damn fast.

I personally like the first premise the best. If you’re gonna build a simulated universe, give everyone super powers, or the chance to discover or grow them. And for godsake, don’t bring anyone into the game who’s crippled, or sick or too stupid to play it well. “Yeah, I’m gonna create The Sims, and make everyone work for their food, suffer constant disease and depravity and then die bitter and without hope — that’s the game I’m gonna build.”

Nonsense. We’re here living the ugly reality that it is, no simulation, no fabrication by some lofty intellect. Plain old nothing-special life. No superpowers possible.