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Benjamin C. Kinney @BenCKinney
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At the #SoCIA18 panel discussion on space settlement. Based on room setup, I might be too busy engaging in discussion to livetweet, but we'll see!
Begins with everyone around the table summarizing their positions. 16 of us. Nice mix of "humans not worth saving" to "yes let's do it (sensibly)" to "will interfere with science" or "too muddled with Earth politics/elites."
I might've been the most radical sounding with "we should create aliens" angle, but I don't take that as an ethical conclusion - just a new vector people should add to the (serious) moral calculations.
A couple people think we do have a moral obligation to colonize (eventually/carefully/inclusively), as part of what we owe to descendants & Earth life.
Important note: freefloating space colonies are very different from planetary settlements. Details & specifics matter. (Also note: as before, I am using each speaker's language, esp. on the colony/settlement terminology.)
A few late arrivals. Aha, finally we got someone complaining about the use of the term "colonization"! Other new opinions range from "problematic" to "yes" to "how?"
Proposal: we'll be discussing a moon colony, which is definitely abiotic, and has profitable resources.
First reaction is "Can robots do it? If so, why humans there?" Second reaction is that calling it a "resource" presupposes a lot.
Hah, I got to raise my insight that we METI will undercut the survival value of multi-world settlement. If the extinction danger comes from Angry Aliens instead of Asteroid Strike, sitting on the planet next door is less likely to save us.
According to @matociquala, John Varley's "Nine Worlds" books are basically about this - annoyed aliens wipe out human life on Earth (due to our destructive natures) but allow it to continue on the "uninhabited" worlds.
"Space resources" are mostly of value to people living in space - less to ship up Earth's gravity well.
Conversely, "space resources" could be genuinely cool things like "awesome telescope spot on the dark side of the moon."
In case it wasn't obvious, this is less a "panel discussion" and more "table discussion," with everyone at the table (~20 ppl) in discussion.
Mining the dark side of the moon seems okay, but it may be meaningful/accessible wilderness a few generations further.
Is it worth strip-mining the moon if it replaces mining on Earth?
Of course, that's like the argument 75 years ago about dumping New York City's garbage in the ocean. People thought nobody would notice, and they were so wrong.
Mining works differently in different places. "Minerals concentrated in veins" is a result of specific geological processes, which are not necessarily universal!
I try to spin the discussion away from the "mining" problem: what if we had a relatively low-ecological-impact thing (e.g. astronomy base)? A different question. (Both questions are interesting, of course.)
Space colonies may be helpful for astroid detection/interception? But some people think there's no hope of actual deflection in such a situation.
What about the technology used for settlement & resource extraction? How else will those technologies and resources get used on Earth?
The "backstop against existential hazards" justification requires a self-sustaining settlement.
Will the moon be full of rich tourists? Or poor miners doing dangerous work?
Are space settlements potentially useful to explore new ways of life? (Will that be dystopian corporate-controlled?)
For those who think we aren't culturally ready, how would we know when we're ready? For any possible society there will be people here in this room saying "we're not ready yet."
Not everyone in this room really cares whether we wreck the moon, if it benefits humankind. Obviously this is a controversial position.
Also obviously: of course we need to figure out how to do things better on Earth. The question is whether should do these both at once. Can we better things on Earth by going to space?
We (i.e. us here in the room) end up creating a top-down approach, because we don't represent the people possibly affected (i.e. everyone on Earth). Is a more collaborative decision-making process possible?
In any space settlement, reproduction will need to be carefully controlled, due to limited space (in the "real estate" sense).
Lots of the Human Survival arguments are red herrings. The asteroid rate is much lower now than it was millions of years ago in the solar system. Other threats (nuclear war, climate change) are anthropogenic, not external.
Counterargument: people at this table have zero influence over thermonuclear exchange. But it's still a threat. Not everything "under human control" can really be dealt with.
Some people are very strongly "no need to save humanity." Nothing sufficiently special about humankind. On long timescales, we will be a different species anyways - if we're lucky. Or else other intelligent species will arise after we're gone.
If we do propagate across the solar system, we will end up speciating. There is no persistent "us" to preserve.
I am omitting big chunks of discussion as I labor to follow some of this stuff that is too philosophically awesome/contentious to state clearly.

In other words: "[Philosophers argue]."
Thanks everyone! Great discussion, nothing solved. Break for 1.5 hours, then the final keynote talk.
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