• Moderator
    March 23, 2019, 6:42 a.m.

    Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur releases new episodes every Thursday. Each episode is packed with great content, covering a broad range of scientific concepts and speculation. If you want to share your thoughts on the newest of episodes, express great interest in a particular futurism fact or if you have questions about specific details discussed in those episodes, feel free to post here. This thread can also be used for episode suggestions.

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  • March 29, 2019, 4:52 a.m.

    Episode idea: Communication.

    How do you send a message to a colony ship 10 light years away? Do you send it directionally (assuming we're using EM radiation, instead of, say, quantum entanglement), or omni-directionally (with a lot of power)? Do you aim the signal at where you hope the ship will be in 10 year's time? If it is a small ship, can it even reply back?

    How about farther out? Imagine a mission asked for help from the home world. Do you reply, "It has been 500 years since your ancestors sent this question, and we hope you resolved the problem centuries ago, but we, long dead now ourselves, advise course of action X. We hope that was a detailed enough explanation so that you don't have to ask for further information"

    From a technical point of view, since an acknowledgement/negative acknowledgement message is impractical, do you send a message multiple times? Do you put some sort of redundancy into the information so that if large parts of it are lost, the rest can be reconstructed?

    If you were to try to send a message to an observer travelling relative to you at relativistic speeds [towards or away from you], what sort of complications does that add? Do they need to record in, say, microwave frequencies, and shift the signal? Or do you need to do, I don't know, modulate the signal at the source?

    Would we envision a network of satellites to facilitate long-distance communication (perhaps in the way e-mails used to be buffered and resent every few days)?

    How about synchronous communication over links with latency. Talking to someone on Mars would mean minutes between sending information and receiving it back; presumably asynchronous communication would be the way to go. How close does someone need to be to have a viable synchronous communication? (How about to the moon from earth?)

    It'd be interesting, too, to hear about some of the proposals for an interplanetary internet (or, heck, why not think big -- this is SFIA -- what of an interstellar or intergalactic internet?) I can't image how that'd be useful without, well, heavily caching outdated information or people having an experiencing an altered flow of time.

    If a crew was in stasis, is there computer supposed to record thousands of years worth of messages? (Talk about getting back to your e-mail to find a full inbox!) Should it wake people up under specified conditions?

    Is there such a thing as 'secured channels'? [Yes, we have encryption, but surely it becomes an arm's race -- more advanced systems can decode the messages, but more advanced systems can encode messages better -- and, oh, I hope a solar flare didn't prevent you from receiving the latest protocol update so you can decode our future messages!]


  • April 5, 2019, 9:49 p.m.

    Seeing the Amish in the Techno-Primitivism Episode reminded me of something I used to wonder years ago: Will the super-religious dominate the world in a few hundred years?

    To show the power of compound growth, the Amish population in the United States in 1920 was 5,000 and today it is about 350,000. So they've grown 70-fold in one century. And that actually understates their birth rates because various estimates have 10-20% of their children leaving the community to join "our" modern society. So they have higher birth rates than indicated above. There's apparently no stigma to that either; children are given the free choice to remain in the community or move out, with the vast majority electing to remain. There are similar Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites and Hutterites with slightly different, but mostly similar beliefs. They live all throughout the Americas including Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and Canada and their birth rates are high everywhere. If their combined world-wide population is approximately 1 million today and they double their population every 20 years then the Anabaptists will surpass 4 billion people in the mid-23rd century. I always thought that was a ridiculous & unrealistic number until I saw the Ecumenopolis episode!

    Normally when people make long-term demographic predictions they turn out to be very wrong because the world is always changing. For example, people used to think Catholics would dominate the United States because of their no-birth-control rules but the very low birth rates today in USA, Spain, Italy, Poland, says that people aren't really following that anymore. And a lot of those countries have aging populations.

    So how does this play out in the future? Do the super-religious "techno-primitive" societies dominate the Earth in the future? Possible arguments against this:

    (1) Future technology makes life so easy that most Anabaptists decide to join the mainstream society. This seems reasonable except that they currently reject modern society because they believe hard work is essential to a strong character. I'm not sure if even more advanced technology will make them change their minds.

    (2) They decide to embrace birth control to keep their numbers down. Again, this seems unlikely because it violates their core beliefs. And if one sect embraces birth-control they'll simply be outnumbered by those that continue to reject it.

    (3) They're more vulnerable to catastrophe. Maybe some event in the future will greatly reduce the human population, but disproportionately towards primitive societies. It couldn't be a famine though as we would simply help them out. And this one doesn't seem likely either because most of the population-collapse scenarios I can think of would disproportionately affect a high-density, high-tech urban population and, thus, wipe us out rather than them. I think a low-tech rural population is quite resilient against catastrophe.

    (4) Life Extension technologies will disproportionately benefit the mainstream societies and offset some of their exponential growth. Interestingly, though, they can still theoretically out-populate us by a wide margin even if we become immortal and they do not.

    (5) Expensive farmland. This is what I think will ultimately hold down their populations. As the rest of the world grows exponentially wealthy many people will want to buy large rural estates. Low-tech religious communities will find it difficult to compete for these lands and will eventually run out of suitable land for their lifestyle.

    TL;DR: I do think that super-religious "techno-primitive" societies will become a large proportion of the Earth's future population but they cannot completely dominate because they will run out of farmland and will not be able to out-compete wealthy urbanites that wish to buy expensive land in the countryside. However, my guess is that this won't happen until they achieve populations in the hundreds of millions, or possibly billions.

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  • Moderator
    April 6, 2019, 8:13 a.m.

    GregM, I think it is inevitable for religions and ideologies will change over the millennia, typically to match the environment that they find themselves in and to encourage more participants. While such sects like the Ammish are certainly regressive in this sense, they have changed over the history of their existence. The same will be true for the future, and religions of the world will need to either adapt or become extinct in the rapidly changing technological and sociological landscape. It is also entirely possible that in the future new forms of philosophy and religion could arise as consequences of the new world order. Transhumanism itself could be taken as one such emergent example, as it has plenty of potential within its worldview to become a religion to some (in a sense, it already has). Like religions, it was built upon older theories and ideologies (Humanism, Russian Cosmism etc) and furthermore, it has already fractured into several semi-distinct currents that already have the promise of becoming separate sects.