Saturday, July 22, 2017

Buzz Aldrin and the Outdated Dream

The argument against sending flesh to Mars. Originally published 2017.1.30 on LinkedIn Pulse.
American legend, Buzz Aldrin, was greeted with rock star status at Beijing's GeekPark Innovation Festival (GIF'17). Buzz shared some fun tales about his trip to the moon -the first selfie in space was cute- but it was far more priceless to hear him compare and contrast on big government and private enterprises in regards to space exploration. To hear these insights coming from a man who was central to one of humanity's largest scientific endeavors--he was perfect to headline this year's GIF.

We explore, or we expire. -Buzz Aldrin, GIF'17
Buzz Aldrin has a clear view of government's role in what America achieved in 1969. "Apollo could not have happened without many people working together towards a shared goal", he said. Government was necessary for such a large project, yet no one can ignore the recent achievements of SpaceX. In certain aspects of space exploration the private sector has produced amazing innovation, most notably the reusable rocket. "Rockets are expensive, and then it just goes into the ocean", the one use rocket clearly pained Buzz for many years, "Let's try to use it again. I tried to tell the government to do that." Perhaps feeling his suggestion fell on deaf ears, he went on to say, "In my experience, government is not innovative." Now, fast forward five decades and "some people with a private company say, 'I can do that all by myself'", and that is exactly what SpaceX did.
However, a reusable rocket is not Buzz's end game. not even close. The man dreams of going back to the moon, to establish a permanent base there, and to send humans to Mars. Buzz knows this is not feasible by private companies alone, nor even one nation alone. Buzz Aldrin, calls himself a Global Space Statesman, but is he really just a Global Space Salesman peddling a used dream? Throughout the presentation, he did a great job selling Mars to the crowd in Beijing, "I believe China should be part of this mission.", and while SpaceX is also thinking about the Red Planet, the Apollo 11 astronaut questions Elon Musk and company in the scope of their vision, "[they] haven't thought of what to do once we get to Mars. What do we live in? It takes a joint effort."
Go to Mars, but don't come back. -Buzz Aldrin, GIF'17
This dream of going to Mars seems to be trending. Last November, humanity+ (h+) teamed up with the Global Innovator Conference (GIC) for The Future Wild Dream discussion forum. The forum, hosted by Wei Sun, had no shortage of wild dreams; José Cordeiro handled a radical life extension doubter with examples of amazing developments in the field. Ben Goertzel talked about the wildly large scope of artificial intelligence and possible ranges of consciousness, while Adam Ford explored a few wonderful implications of the emerging global brain. This forum was the best I have attended on transhumanism yet, but even this historic forum started off with a debate on sending fleshy humans to Mars. The consensus at this forum was not to abandon plans for Mars, but not a top priority either. When questioned if we should we go to outer space or inner space, Ben Goertzel said, "We could do both", but I'm not to sure we can afford to do both. Mars is an outdated dream. Here are three reasons why.
  1. Promoting the dream of migrating to Mars potentially diminishes the will to maintain a habitable planet Earth. As of last year, China became the world leader in green tech investment. We must prioritize funding. Even when SpaceX comes up with exciting cost cutting measures, getting to Mars will still be very expensive. Too expensive to move billions of bodies. The climate crisis is an existential threat. Let's save Earth first.
  2. Mars is a dead planet inhabited by robots. Let's send more robots! Buzz Aldrin told the audience, "In the past year, I have been part of a virtual reality project to simulate what it's like to be on Mars." Buzz is onto something with his virtual reality simulation, Apollo 11 Experience. Using virtual reality (VR) in lieu of traveling is shaping up to be one of the technology's greatest aspects. Google Earth VR is receiving awards and inducing epiphanies--something I predicted years ago. Sports viewing is also experiencing a VR revolution. I suggest we send camera equipped drones to Mars. Then, we can experience Mars without leaving Earth. Drones can send us VR feeds from the Red Planet.
  3. Human beings are weak and heavy.  During the Space Race, that Buzz clearly remembers, the Soviet Union was pioneering early transhumanism. They wanted to create supermen that could endure the hardships of space, but even if we toughen up, we are still massive in comparison to a piece of computronium the size of a football, which by Ray Kurzweil's estimates could hold all of human intelligence. We should be prioritizing transcending biology. Not only could travel be a heck of a lot easier then, but we would also be super intelligent, and death would be virtually eliminated.
I wanted to change the name of 'science fiction' into 'technology projection'... try and make it true. -Buzz Aldrin, GIF'17
Super intelligence is the next great dream. In 1969, landing on the moon was an epic achievement of mankind, and Buzz Aldrin will forever be a hero. Since then, the only human accomplishment to eclipse the lunar landing has been the Human Genome Project. I predict humans will never step foot on Mars, even if world governments foolishly decide to prioritize a mission to the dead planet. The Law of Accelerating Returns strongly suggests a technological Singularity is near. We will achieve post-humanity before our flesh hauling rockets can make it to Mars.

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