Here we come to the end of my train of thought. This is last part of a 3 part post on a really big question. I’ve had some new thinking on this recently so I wanted to spell it all out here. You might want to read part 1 and part 2. There are many different trends affecting the future but I wanted to focus on these 6.
- Population – It’s been going up but the curve is starting to flatten out. I’ve read that it will peak when we reach about 10 billion people.
- Resources – I am in no way a green head but I do realize that many resources are finite on the Earth.
- Standard of Living – The standard of living has been increasing rapidly in the past 150 years. Increases in productivity allow people to work less and get more for it constrained by resources of course.
- Productivity – The productivity of workers is skyrocketing with the new technologies. This leads to increased leisure time.
- Creativity – Humans have always been creative beings but technology now will put that capacity into overdrive.
- Education – this is the key to maximizing human potential, but thus far is falling far short of that.
If you have been following my work for a while now you will frequently hear me mention a concept called Disaggregation. I did a big primer on it here but the short version is this:
Most things in our society are organized around physical lines. ie: you go to a public school because it’s near you not because its the best one for you. This is aggregation of resources. The Industrial Revolution did this big time and was the last big restructuring. The Internet is causing a reorganizing of all information based resources into a new structure based on similarity of ideas rather than physical location. This causes the information to splinter, or disaggregate. This also follows the Law of Entropy, which states that things tend to decay and come apart. Up until now I have not followed this idea all the way to the global scale but I realized it can work there as well. Let me lay out my case.
Humanity has always been explorers. Over thousands of years we have spread across the surface of our planet, from the deepest oceans to the highest peaks. It seems to be built into us to wonder what is over the next hill. The 21st century is un ique though because it is the first century were we had pretty much explored all of our world. Oh I know there is a lot more to see in the oceans for example, but basically we have seen it all. There are no new lands to settle. So what happens now? Politically, for most of recorded history we have tended to clump together for economic advantage, for military advantage or just because of shared religion. This lead to larger and larger organizations which I think culminated with the British Empire of the early to mid 20th century. After World War 2 though, everything started to break apart. The forces that had aggregated things, were changed and thus the world reshaped itself. This process is still going on and in fact a a main driver of a lot of the tensions in the world.
The Disaggregation of Nations
I believe that people will continue to splinter apart and reorganize. You can see this in many places. For example, the Western world has been fighting against “terrorism” for over a decade now. Unlike previous wars though there is no enemy capital to be bombed and captured. Instead, the opponents are scattered throughout the world, united by the Internet and a shared set of beliefs. This is disaggregation. In the US, what was a previously stable duopoly of political parties have begun to split and fragment into interest groups. So what happens now?
Space, the Final Frontier
According to Christianity slightly over 2000 years ago Jesus Christ was born. We call the time before this, BC and the time after AD. Therefore no matter what you believe, that was a significant event in history. I think that 1000 years from now humanity will look back on this time and remember only one really significant event. It happened on April 12, 1961.
This was the first time humanity left the planet. In the following decade we went to the moon and started launching satellites. Since then we have kept putting people into space but we haven’t really gone anywhere.
That is about to change. Check out this picture.
This is the first stage of SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket. For the first time, they have added extendable landing legs on it. Now here is why this matters and why it sparked my thinking.
The CEO of SpaceX is Elon Musk. He has made no secret that the reason he started SpaceX was to colonize Mars. Not just to visit but to “become a multi planetary species“. Up until now his company has done what pretty much all the other rocket companies have done, but adding legs… now it’s a new ball game. You see, he could just play it safe and launch NASA and commercial payloads on expendable rockets like everyone else. Adding legs is a risk to his company.
The reason for the legs is Elon wants to fly the booster back and land it for reuse. If this works, it will change the economics of space flight drastically. So this flight is where Elon puts his money where his mouth is. The technology to do this has existed for a while I think, but frankly governments aren’t capable of doing such things anymore. It takes explorers, not bureaucrats. In fact the root word of government is govern, which means to restrict. The reason we went to the Moon was to prove a political point, not for exploration. That’s why we didn’t stay.
But now the explorers are on the move again.
Have you ever heard of the term “first world problem”? For example, your $5 coffee doesn’t have the right amount of cream. There is a new term I just heard called Slacktivist. This is a person who will support a cause by clicking “like” on Facebook but won’t do anything more. It’s a useless gesture and yet makes us feel like we did something. We are too comfy. Humans need to be challenged. Teachers understand this more than most. If you want children to achieve more, give them higher goals that they believe in. Space exploration is hard. Colonizing a world is really hard. These are goals worthy of humanity. We have pretty much tamed our planet. It has few real challenges that can’t be overcome with technology. What we need is someplace new to go.
Recently the Kepler space telescope team announced finding another 700+ planets orbiting other stars. That doubles the number we know about and this is from looking at just a small section of the sky. Humans will go to them eventually. Yes I know that the speed of light can’t be broken but we will find a way around that. When cars were first invented there were scientists who thought a person’s organs would burst if they went over 100 miles per hour. The sound barrier was broken and so on. We will find a way.
Here’s why each category I spoke about will drive us in this direction.
- Population – Overcrowding will lead us to need more room.
- Resources – There is practically an infinite amount of resources in space.
- Standard Of Living – SOL is constrained by resources per person.
- Productivity – We have enough free time to spend on exploration.
- Creativity – Only a few people need to blaze the trail. The rest will follow.
- Education – Education will allow each person to develop and contribute their own gifts, helping humanity colonize space.
I think humanity is going to inevitably disaggregate away from the Earth into space. We will reorganize along many other principles but it will be guided by common beliefs not geography. The Pilgrims came to America for a common religious reason. That is why opening up this new frontier is so important. The world is too small now to let everyone live together in peace. The Internet prevents us from ignoring each other so we need more space. Fortunately, there is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored and colonized.
The words President John F Kennedy said over 40 years ago are still true today. We will go because it’s hard.
Update: Just found a great article talking about billionaires investing in space.