VH and Space Exploration

Alongside the short/medium term impact of virtual humans on employment our two biggest interests in the long-term future of virtual humans are in (the closely linked topics of) digital immortality and space exploration. Having explored digital immortality in Chapter 12, we conclude Chapter 13 by looking at Virtual Humans and space exploration.

Why do Virtual Humans and space exploration go together? Well space is big, really big. Using realistic near future (c.100 years) technology we can see how we might build a probe which could get to the closest star, 4.3 light years away. in about 100 years, or more like 200 years if we actually want to slow down and stop there. But this only a probe. Building a craft which would take people is well beyond current capabilities given the huge mass increase required. But a "probe" could be a lot of things. One thing it could be is an "ark" for virtual humans. They could "live" in a virtual world running on servers on the probe to stay "grounded". They could run at reduced clock cycles so that subjectively the journey only takes a few years (the ship systems would of course run on real time), and when they get their they can take over physical robots (or all shapes and types - called Gleisner robots) in order to explore the system, and build "factories" to make more robots, more spaceships and a big communications antenna.

Then whilst their newly built ships head on out on further 100/200 yr journeys (pushing the wavefront of virtual human exploration out ~ 5 ly a a time), the comms link back to earth means that new virtual humans, new digital immortals can be transmitted out to join the virtual colonists. Repeat ad infinitum as the ship+comms virtual human wavefront extends through the galaxy.

There are though three interesting issues that follow from this:
  • If physical mankind finally cracks some form of faster than light drives (assuming virtual humans don't get there first) then when they expand science-fiction style out into interstellar space it won't be empty, or even filled with aliens, it will be filled with the virtual humans. Think how different that makes most of our current science fiction!
  • If we can conceive this plan, and think that we can make a start on it in the next 100 years or so, then how come nobody elses "virtual alien" wavefront hasn't already passed through us on their way to explore the whole galaxy? Essentially the Fermi Paradox - "where are they"? We did a load of sums on how fast the exploration might take but they didn't make it into the book, so we'll post them up here in due course, but its an exponential equation, helped by the fact that the galaxy is actually pretty thin, so in galactic terms its not a long time.
  • If the answer to the above is "they just haven't got here yet" then what that probably means is that our first "close encounter of the third kind|" will not be with "flesh and blood" aliens, but with their virtual alien counterparts.
As I said this is one area that gets us (well David) really excited so we'll post more and in the blog on this over the coming months and years.


Some key and interesting papers on this are below. We'll try and avoid more general papers on interstellar travel, SETI, exoplanets etc unless they are really key.

Virtual Human/AI Space Exploration

Andreas M. Hein and Stephen Baxter (2018). Artificial Intelligence for Interstellar Travel

Centauri Dreams website - great resource

Gilster, P. (2019) AI Colonization: The Founder and the Ambassador. Centauri Dreams.

SETI Foundations

Drake, F.D., (1961). Discussion of Space Science Board, National Academy of Sciences Conference on Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life, November 1961, Green Bank, West Virginia

Jones, E. (1985) ‘Where is everybody?’, An account of Fermi's question’, Los Alamos Technical report LA-10311-MS, March 1985.

Interstellar Probes

British Interplanetary Society - Project Daedalus

Freitas Jr, R. A. (1980). A self-reproducing interstellar probeJournal of the British Interplanetary Society,33(7), 251-64.

Long, K. (2010)  PROJECT ICARUS: Son of Daedalus Flying Closer to Another Star (successor to Daedalus)

(a reprod classic Daedelus project - still probably the best thought out model, now updated in the Icarus probe)