Space Settlement is likely to happen, and may not be as far in the future as we assume. It has the potential to decrease our likelihood of extinction at a manageable cost - but only if we do it right. Let us not squander its potential benefits for humanity.
In the attached essay which I authored for the Swiss Existential Risk Initiative's (CHERI) summer research fellowship in the summer of 2022, I tackle this subject from three main directions by...
- ...attempting to quantify the direct effects of spreading humanity across celestial bodies on the risk landscape. For each of the widely accepted X-risks, I appraise how humanity's vulnerability to it will change of we do not solely inhabit earth anymore (example: " how will the probability of all humans being wiped out by an asteroid change?").
- ...taking a systems - theoretical view on complex risk in a settled solar system scenario. I investigate the necessary conditions that an interplanetary human civilization must fulfil to ensure its resilience to system-level threats (example: "if an extraplanetary settlement is not self-sustaining, it may succumb even if not directly affected by a catastrophic event").
- ...investigating higher-order effects of space settlement on the X-risk landscape. Space settlement will impact human civilization in many ways that are unpredictable and may be intangible, but nevertheless highly impactful on our susceptibility to X-risk (example: "how will the existence of a human sister civilization alter our moral circle on earth?")
For some more detail, here is the abstract:
The survival of humanity is threatened by a plethora of hazards - from asteroid strikes to engineered pandemics. Can settling space increase our odds of survival? This article examines this question in detail and draws three main conclusions. 1) By spreading to other planets, some hazards will immediately be mitigated (example: supervolcanic eruptions) while others remain unaffected (example: rogue artificial intelligence). While this is favorable, becoming interplanetary alone will not fully mitigate existential risk. 2) To harness the full security potential of spreading to space, a matter of prime importance is to prevent knock-on effects of locally occurring catastrophes spreading to other settlements in space. This can be achieved by maximizing resilience to complex risk. This article offers some concrete policy suggestions to maximize resilience from a systems-theoretical point of view. Resilience comes at a price – the economic viability and the existential security of space settlements form a tradeoff. 3) Higher-order effects arising from the process of settlement can also act as existential security factors: next to their more general desirable effects, technological spinoffs will likely reduce the vulnerability to a number of existential threats in a virtuous feedback loop (examples: climate change and disaster shelter design). The psychological and socio-cultural effects of settlement (examples: the overview effect, awe and existential hope) are not to be underestimated and may lead to a broad risk reduction. It is likely that humans will explore and settle space driven mainly by their sense of curiosity, adventure, pride, economic gain and national competition, not the potential existential risk benefits. Thus, everyone concerned about existential risk should attempt to influence and shape these efforts while they are still at an early stage to ensure that humanity’s systemic resilience is increased. Space settlement, if done right, can significantly increase our security at a manageable cost.
If I have piqued your interest, please feel free to download the full essay from dropbox:
Thank you and enjoy!