What analysis has been done of space colonization as a cause area?

post by reallyeli · 2019-10-09T20:33:27.473Z · EA · GW · 8 comments

This is a question post.

From "Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction", by Jason Matheny. (http://wilsonweb.physics.harvard.edu/pmpmta/Mahoney_extinction.pdf)

Colonizing space sooner, rather than later, could reduce extinction risk (Gott, 1999; Hartmann, 1984; Leslie, 1999), as a species’ survivability is closely related to the extent of its range (Hecht, 2006). Citing, in particular, the threat of new biological weapons, Stephen Hawking has said, "I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years,unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet" (Highfield, 2001). Similarly, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin (2006), recently remarked: "The history of life on Earth is the history of extinction events, and human expansion into the Solar System is, in the end, fundamentally about the survival of the species."

Can anyone point me to existing thought on space colonization from an EA perspective?


answer by MagnusVinding · 2019-10-10T16:10:54.879Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some have argued that space colonization would increase existential risks. Here is political scientist Daniel Deudney, whose book Dark Skies is supposed to be published by OUP this fall:

Once large scale expansion into space gets started, it will be very difficult to stop. My overall point is that we should stop viewing these ambitious space expansionist schemes as desirable, even if they are not yet feasible. Instead we should see them as deeply undesirable, and be glad that they are not yet feasible.[…] Space expansion may indeed be inevitable, but we should view this prospect as among the darkest technological dystopias. Space expansion should be put on the list of catastrophic and existential threats to humanity, and not seen as a way [to] solve or escape from them.

Quoted from: http://wgresearch.org/an-interview-with-daniel-h-deudney/

See also:




Regardless of one's values, it seems worth exploring the likely outcomes of space expansion in depth before pursuing it.

comment by reallyeli · 2019-10-11T21:24:50.955Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the perspective on dissenting views!

Replies from: MagnusVinding
comment by MagnusVinding · 2019-10-12T10:20:22.861Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You're welcome! :-)

Whether this is indeed a dissenting view seems unclear. Relative to the question of how space expansion would affect x-risk, it seems that environmentalists (of whom there are many) tend to believe it would increase such risks (though it's of course debatable how much weight to give their views). Some highly incomplete considerations can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_colonization#Objections

The sentiment expressed in the following video by Bill Maher, i.e. that space expansion is a "dangerous idea" at this point, may well be shared by many people on reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrGFEW2Hb2g

One may say similar things in relation to whether it's a dissenting view on space expansion as a cause (even if we hold x-risk constant). For example, space expansion would most likely increase total suffering in expectation — see https://reducing-suffering.org/omelas-and-space-colonization/ — and one (probably unrepresentative) survey found that a significant plurality of people favored "minimizing suffering" as the ideal goal a future civilization should strive for: https://futureoflife.org/superintelligence-survey/.

Interestingly, the same survey also found that the vast majority of people want life to spread into space, which appears inconsistent with the plurality preference for minimizing suffering. An apparent case of (many) people's preferences contradicting themselves, at least in terms of the likely implications of these preferences.

Replies from: reallyeli
comment by reallyeli · 2019-10-12T16:01:42.937Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I don't find it at all surprising when people's moral preferences contradict themselves (in terms of likely implications, as you say). I myself have many contradictory moral preferences.

answer by Jamie_Harris · 2019-10-13T10:35:31.918Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"Will Space Colonization Multiply Wild-Animal Suffering?" by Brian Tomasik https://reducing-suffering.org/will-space-colonization-multiply-wild-animal-suffering/

(I have a feeling that Tomasik and others at the Foundational Research Institute might have written elsewhere about how space colonisation might affect S-risk)

answer by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2019-10-10T04:56:55.708Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I shared some prelimenary thoughts [EA · GW] to influencing the governence of yearly off-earth civilizations. I remember a brief search of existing literature focused on the governance perspective, but did not find anything. This review by Nick Beckstead [EA · GW] tries to clarify whether we will ever colonize space.


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