April 19, 2006

Planning for disaster

With all this talk about potential catastrophes this century, it occured to me that we should hope for the best and plan for the worst. Consequently, I submitted a proposal to the IEET to that effect:
Recently, James and I were discussing specific policy stances the IEET may want to consider adopting in regards to pressing global issues such as the proliferation of dangerous weapons and technologies, environmental degradation, human rights, and so on.

Obviously, these issues are of paramount importance and there's lots to discuss, but I wanted to propose a supplementary policy domain that the IEET might want to consider adopting in anticipation of intractable problems and events beyond anybody's foresight or control.

As Nick Bostrom and others have cogently argued, humanity is increasingly coming into possession of technologies that are likely to result in terrible catastrophes -- if not human extinction itself. Underlying this grim warning is the fundamental fact that we are hopelessly stuck on Earth at this present time.

Thinkers like Steven Hawking, Anders Sandberg, and many others have argued that we run the risk of leaving all our eggs in one basket by remaining on Earth.

Consequently, I am proposing that the IEET adopt a set of policy issues aimed at promoting those scientific disciplines and technological endeavors that are focused on ensuring the ongoing existence of humanity and other valued aspects of Earth and its ecosystem should some kind of catastrophe occur.

Off the top of my head I can think of several areas worthy of IEET support:
- space colonization (and all the sub-disciplines this would entail, including the know-how to sustain life in space, the development of space vehicles and dwellings, etc.)
- the colonization of Mars
- gene banks and off-planet wildlife preserves
- biosphere projects
- alternative ideas (eg. deep underground biospheres)

Now, as I write this, I fear that such a policy might be considered outside the IEET's scope or mandate, or even a bit on the dramatic side. There's even the possibility that it might be construed as being too science-fictiony or ungrounded (I have images running through my mind of Dr. Strangelove's plan for post-nuclear war survival involving living underground with a 10:1 female-to-male ratio: Turgidson: "Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?" Dr. Strangelove: "Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.")

Now, dark comedy aside, the IEET was intended to be a think tank, and I hope that this is a forum where such ideas -- no matter how grim or extreme -- can be considered. At this point I wouldn't mind some feedback.


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