Thoughts on Asteroid Mining
When Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis announced their founding of Planetary Resources in 2012 – with the goal of conducting industrial scale asteroid mining – many people, myself included, dismissed it as a near-insane pipe dream. Even now, a year later and after the founding of a second asteroid mining company, Deep Space Industries, and a NASA proposal to capture an asteroid into lunar orbit the idea still sounds just as kooky as it did on first impression. Indeed, with the retirement of the space shuttle and the dates for a manned Mars mission slipping further and further back, the idea of something as ambitious as asteroid mining sounds increasingly implausible. But it has been a year, and those of us with curious minds and a genuine belief in humanity’s limitless potential owe the idea a fair examination.
There are three significant barriers to development of an industrial-scale asteroid mining capability: technical, economic, and political. Each barrier is equally significant in its own way, and each poses its own unique challenges. In order to achieve success, the budding asteroid mining is approaching each of them with a separate understanding of the distinct timelines, tools, and professionals required to solve them. To help limit the scope of this article though, the primary focus will be on the approach that Planetary Resources is taking (No offense to Deep Space Industries, there’s just more info out there from Planetary Resources to dig into).
Humanity’s Path to Peace: Technological Peace Theory
Among the most well-accepted ideas in political science is “democratic peace theory”, which basically theorizes that democracies are less likely to go to war with one another. Although there is significant disagreement over the definitions used (for democracy, war, peace, etc.) and over the reasons why, the theory is generally borne out well in terms of quantifiable data, regardless of how it is examined. Like so much of political science though – with its massive scope – democratic peace theory struggles to establish controls on the vast mountain of data it draws from. Far beyond simple political motivators, there are numerous other factors that cloud the simple distinction between states and how they interact with one another.
Perhaps the most overlooked alternate explanation though is the one that optimistic science fiction has been hinting at for years: technology. Science fiction has long envisaged a future free of war; liberated by remarkable advances in technology. As much as this notion – a sort of technological peace theory – has come to be mocked in dystopian fiction, the crazy fact is that it appears to be true. Looking at the data, it seems like a quantifiable certainty that the more technologically and industrially advanced a state is, the less likely it is to go to war, particularly with other, similarly-advanced states.
Transhumanism in Developing Nations
As the imminent emergence of a transhuman society begins to take to shape and moves increasingly from the realm of theory to fact, transhumanists and futurists are going to have to start asking some hard questions. No longer can we focus simply on the technological challenges of creating such a future, but we must also consider what those technologies imply for society and the international community. Much has been written and said about the threat of uneven distribution of these technologies, and concerns over such inequality have made their way into everything from futurist fiction to academic critiques. Little has been done to address these concerns though, and what has been done tends to focus on inequality within the developed nations that most futurists are from. Despite this, it is of paramount importance that we focus strong attention on the technological and infrastructural gap that exists been post-industrial and developing nations. Unless we take strong, positive action to address these issues, transhumanism will not be the global revolution we hope it to be, and we will instead take the form of the techno-oligarchs that we fear.
Future Wars and the Digital Insurgency
Everyone who followed the events the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement last year could tell that something big was happening. To most people, the “big things” were the events themselves; they saw the toppling of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments and the large, international Occupy protests as landmark events in activism. Those who examined the events more deeply, however, saw that their true impact was not so much in their immediate effects, but in what they implied for future revolutions and guerilla movements. Military leaders, in particular, would do well to take note of these events as they offer strong hints as to the means by which future insurgencies and low-intensity conflicts will be fought.
It is often remarked that generals always fight the last war, and this is unfortunately very true. Modern militaries though have gone to pains to correct against this trend, and have begun to demonstrate remarkable foresight on a strategic level. Predictions concerning hybrid warfare in specific seem increasingly prophetic, and the ready acceptance of this by many military leaders is encouraging. For all the strategic foresight that is being demonstrated, however, the future tactical situation is being almost entirely overlooked.