The timeline for the virtual colonies, it turns out, is not the digestible list of bullet points i thought it would be when i started on it a couple of weeks ago. It is 130,000 words, and i stopped myself before it sucked me in completely. It maps out how the whole society on the Moon works, how a very achievable set of technologies supports it, and how the colonies develop industry and agriculture over the course of 50 years - in a dense but readable format. Outlining decades of humanity’s greatest ever undertaking can’t be done much more briefly. That’s my story and i’m sticking to it.
It all has a pretty Utopian feel. The whole project rests on what could be done if there was a determination to do it, a Utopia just sort of springs up from that. I think that’s okay. Resolving the conflicts that perpetuate suffering in the world depends mostly on creating a sense of brotherhood. The best way to do that is for people to work together to create something. The harder they work together, and the more inspirational the result is, the greater the sense of brotherhood afterwards. So it is useful to present a picture of just how awesome our deeds could be if we acted together as a single species, united in the pursuit of a shared goal. By that i mean awesome in the original sense of the word, of causing awe, something that a person only really experiences in their life a handful of times, if they are lucky.
At any rate, the timeline uses a program where the space-faring nations unite to build the first installations. That culminates in the transport infrastructure and construction capacity for spacious habitats. Then it sells residence in those habitats to nations to recoup the cost of that construction while acquiring a highly skilled and dedicated work force at the same time. For a price of US$300 million, any nation may send 2 astronauts to the Moon for the rest of their lives. Those astronauts must meet a list of stringent qualifications, including a strong background in science and engineering, and sign a contract for life to work for the International Space Agency in exchange for permanent residence on the Moon, in an environment that sustains all their needs. Over the course of 25 years, it recruits 25,400 astronauts in this way, with the cost of a spot in the program dropping by half while the number of spots doubles in each of 7 rounds. I shall leave it to you to go read how that many people are transported, lodged, and sustained in a way that could actually work. The point i want to make here is it strikes me as probable that people who live together that way for that much time will become quite adamant it is the way people ought to live - working together and sharing everything.
Add to that the way they are socially organized and you get a lovely neotribal society. Because for most of the Residence Program water is scarce, food and power limited, and everything must be recycled carefully, the astronauts are always split into groups of 30 to 50 who all share one large kitchen with one pantry, one set of showers, and one washing area for clothes and such. By the time the program ends, it has become a firmly established cultural preference to remain organized this way, and even to continue sharing kitchens and baths though the need disappeared long before. Administration and conflict resolution becomes centered around these micro-communities. When people start having children, it becomes focused around these groups even more. After all, the pseudo-tribes have lived with no children around for decades, so once a couple in their group has a child, they all want to be uncles and aunts. And the children are thus raised very communally. Moon society recovers the strength in social bonds provided by a tribal society, while keeping all the strengths of a nation-state system based on technology. Snap! I rather adore it.
Once i return to working on the 3d models of the colony, i’ll build a few examples of what i mean, about that kind of living situation. I think that would show how well it can tap into our ancient instincts for those kinds of bonds and become second nature in no time. It will be a fun concept for people to explore within the virtual colonies, and actually may be a useful organizational tool there, so that when people start modeling homes, they become groups themselves.
Just as our futuristic tribes-people are hitting their stride, the snowball effect of robotic construction and cheap transport unleashes The Space Boom. It is said that the human mind can’t naturally appreciate exponential growth patterns. Plotting the activity of a virtual Moon colony apparently helps, based on personal experience. The more i work on this, the more i think a principal task we have before us as human beings is for a critical mass of us to understand something: that space becomes incredible soon after the moment we become able move about it with ease, and the results will changes who we are forever. Some other really vast technological achievement (read artificial intelligence) or some vast complex mechanism built to save ourselves from disaster (read geo-engineering to fix the climate) could change us forever too, but doing this in space would be the preferable venue. I think you can see why.
One of the great things about the Moon, for instance, is that you can build all the robots you want (or rather, have the robots build more robots), and make them pretty intelligent too, and it is no problem. Nobody loses their job, not a single blade of grass is damaged. (On the contrary -they plant lots of new grass.) If self-awareness appears spontaneously or is engineered, and gets screwed up, there is 380,000 km of hard vacuum and two gravity wells between those machines and the rest of humanity. And we really do need to think about such things. So note that if it is done well, Moonwards’ virtual colonies would be a great place to explore that in a way that doesn’t totally freak people out, while also getting them to learn about it in an engaging way.
We have reached a point, we humans, where we need a better societal model. Utopia is fun to think about, and doing so may sincerely help one be created, but the stakes are higher than that right now. We have powers already we are not mature enough to responsibly exercise and more such powers are arriving almost by the year. The longer we operate in social systems that can’t adapt and even becomes highly distorted by these new powers, the greater the risk of catastrophe. This is widely sensed, this is why so many great thinkers warn this could be our last century, while other great thinkers say Utopia is just around the corner. It would be nice if modeling a new way of life in an entirely new place helped people see how much greatness is already in our hands and how feebly we have been directing it. We can do so, so much better.
Also i’m hoping the fleets, and giant space stations, and the giant domed city built by robots there in the far end of the timeline - that it is all exciting enough to pull in the people who can make that virtual world come vividly alive.