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Re: New Design Team Member

At 10:53 AM 3/12/96, Kelly Starks x7066 MS 10-39 wrote:
>At 10:42 AM 3/12/96, David Levine wrote:
>>Kelly Starks x7066 MS 10-39 wrote:
>>> Dave, what have you forwarded to him of our recent correspondence?
>>> Kelly
>>Um, nothing.  Instead of forwarding huge loads of
>>mail, I thought a summary might have been better.  But
>>most of this is technically above me...  Anyone want
>>to give it a crack?
>I could forward the text of my summary web pages.  They are about as close
>to a FAQ sheet as we have, and everyone else can fill in the blanks.
>Any complaints?
Future tech

The engineering and science we have now, and assumed we will have in 2050,
will change. Fusion, fission, relativity, quantum mechanics, and a host of
other fundamentals of current physics; were all discovered within the last
hundred years. We can conservatively expect physics to change far more in
the next hundred years, then it did in the last hundred. What technologies
we will have on hand in a century or two are impossible to guess. We could
have matter conversion, hyperlight drives, new understandings of inertia
and kinetic energy, nanotech, hyper intelligent A.I.s, or all those and far
more. Any of these would dramatically effect our ability to travel between
the stars. So even though we can't come up with any practical ideas for
exploring the stars now, we can be sure our descendants will find it far
easier than we imagine.

The reason we in the L.I.T. group assumed few new technologies, is that we
could quickly wind up in a science fiction argument as apposed to a
starship design project. Not only don't we know which revolutionary
technologies will developed by 2050 (50 years ago, would you have believed
the incredible stuff we have now?), but assuming any major advance changes
everything else in the project.

For example: a couple of technologies frequently talked about are:
Nanotech, self replicating machines, and Artificial intelligences with
human or greater levels of intelligence. These obviously are related
fields, but the effects they'd have on the rest of the mission are

Nanotech is a set of technologies currently under research that would build
machines the size of complex integrated molecules. In theory; such machines
working together, could tear a mountain full of ore down, atom by atom, and
reassemble it into manufactured products. They could do this so quickly the
mountain would flow into its new forms like it melted. Virus sized robots
could cruise through our cells and repair anything from radiation induced
mutations to any form of disease or injury. They may allow virtual
immortality and eternal youth. And their promoters expect them to be
commonly available by 2050.

This could allow the ship to become fully self repairing down to the
molecular level. A semi living machine that could continue indefinitely
without any concern for wear and tear. Populated by near immortal,
superhuman, crews. Able to manufacture almost anything, to any scale, with
little if any human assistance. Need a massive infrastructure in the target
star system? Drop a set of these and they will transmute a continent to
build it for you.

Obviously this starts to eliminate almost any normal physical limits of the
ship and crew. The side effects on human society are incalculable. Would
such super humans: be to preoccupied to explore the stars? To powerful and
impatient to take a long slow flight, or so long lived that adding a few
decades to the trip would mean nothing to them.

Self replicating machines
Say you can't build molecular sized machines, but you can build small
adaptable robots that can make copies of themselves. They can still
revolutionize automation. Can still be dropped on a world and told to
restructure a continent to serve our purposes, or mine anything we need in
whatever amount. That would be very valuable if you need to large scale
mining or infrastructure construction to get home, or do extensive
exploration of all parts of all the worlds.

Note that this doesn't assume the machines are intelligent or completely
autonomous. After all Bees can build pretty complex structures by following
a few rules. Perhaps self replicating computers can do as well. On the
other hand we've never come close to making a factory that could run
unattended for very long, much less fix or rebuild itself. Some studies by
NASA show that such things might not be possible without humans to keep
everything running. But things might be a lot different in half a century.

Artificial intelligences with human or greater levels intelligence.
We already build and sell super computers with more power and data capacity
then a human brain. In 20 years that should be the capacity of a good home
computer. What we can't do is figure out how to teach these brains to
think. Will we be able do that by 2050? Will our ship be totally automated?
Assembled by robots, and capable of doing all the exploration itself? Will
it be filled with a crew of robots, or a mixture of robots and humans?

Decisions decisions.
Unless we said otherwise we assumed none of these technologies is in use on
this project. The implications just get to bizarre. Any of the technologies
listed above would turn all of Earth culture inside out. Or any of the
dozens of other similar technologies We didn't discus, or think of. After a
lot of arguing we decided to assume that no fantastic discoveries are made
in science and technology in the next 50 years. Which we all agree, is the
least likely assumption we could possibly make.


Kelly Starks                       Internet: kgstar@most.fw.hac.com
Sr. Systems Engineer
Magnavox Electronic Systems Company
(Magnavox URL: http://www.fw.hac.com/external.html)