Re: Space Colony Issues

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Thu Aug 09 2001 - 23:19:42 MDT

You found a nice list of flaws. I agree, they do need to be addressed.

"Chen Yixiong, Eric" wrote:
> 1) Information Asymmetry
> Assuming that they know everything we know, but we know nothing about
> what they know except they know what we know. In such a case, the
> other party may had discovered something we had not, for instance, by
> chance (such as computer bugs) they discovered a major advance in
> nanotech. They could use this knowledge against us, even if we had
> upgraded our infrastructure because we may have too much bad luck and
> miss this discovery, even if only for a week.

The best potential counter I can immediately see is to simply be more
effective at using what knowledge we gain than they are - the classic
"small group turns on a dime, large group suffers from inertia".
Possibly this takes the form of concrete examples that we can make
available to our citizens, and documentation that we can read and
maintain but which - even if copied by enemy spies - would take a long
time to distribute and drill into all their minds. This is more
effective if we, as a society, were to embrace these kinds of changes
and build to allow them, thus allowing rapid retrofitting of our
infrastructure far faster than our enemies.

> 2) Information Discovery Difficulty
> It definitely takes more effort to discover something than to copy it
> from others. Allowing spies into our midst will merely allow larger
> military budgets at the expense of (now redundant) research budgets.

If they depend on us for R&D, they won't be able to attack us - we'll
be too valuable as is. And more to the point, our military would be
structured around tech advantages, with the acknowledgement that we
would be outspent by any enemy; 15 times or 16 times becomes less of an
issue in that case. It's analogous to the current situation with US
military vs. Chinese military: China has far more soldiers, but the US
could easily repel an all-out invasion with few casualties even if
China and the US shared a land border.

> 3) Information Utility Reduction
> Once we know enough about something (depending on the complexity of
> the subject matter), the amount of additional information and its
> utility will decrease. This means that, once they know enough, we
> would need exponentially more knowledge to stop them.

Knowledge increasing at an exponential rate would be part of the point
of the colony - though, by the time the exponent got really high, the
absolute tech difference would probably be large enough for this not to
matter. The best defense here in the early years is simply to open up
a whole bunch of new fields of research and pursue them to the point of
rapid payoffs...which would be part of the point of the colony anyway.

> How do we know whom to attack in retaliation?

Actually, refusing to retaliate will probably work wonders as far as
convincing most of the world not to attack (or keep attacking) us.

> 4) Information as Goods
> The last point, and perhaps most important one, lies with our ability
> to trade information. We can make a pact with planet Earth to
> exchange our technology with something else. We can make something
> useful we discovered very tough to reverse engineer, and sell it to
> them. Perhaps we can even sell weapons to them so that they will
> know better than to attack us.

Actually, if we're in space anyway, asteroid mining would probably be a
simpler (and higher rate of return, at least at first) way to get
funds. Once we automate the process, pulling down tons of metals and
other valuables would simply be a matter of building and launching
another robot, waiting for the robot to fetch and process the rock
(during which time we do our research, possibly with a few of us
selecting the next asteroid to bring down), deciding what mass we
wanted to keep for the station and what we wanted to sell, then selling
parts of the rock and air-dropping them to the buyers' locations.

Lots of money (mainly useful to buy what we don't wish to build
ourselves from the kept rock pieces), and no worries about IP.

> > But at the same time, we should be willing to assign the same space to
> > any other habitat...which puts a limit on how much territory we may
> > safely claim. If we orbit opposite Earth, and claim a 1 AU radius
> > sphere...what if someone puts a colony 1/6th of an orbit ahead of us?
> > It's far enough away to be nonthreatening, yet clearly within our
> > space, to say nothing of us being in their space.
> Not true. We must consider the argument about information trading as
> above. Finder's keepers, and if you don't grab the space, someone
> else will and they will put lots of weaponry to keep it when you
> think you need a little more space since you only grab such a
> reasonably small slice.

<shrugs> What's to keep them from grabbing the space after we claimed
it anyway? They will be less likely to if we only claim what we can
defend. OTOH, claiming an unreasonably (to others) large slice will
directly result in others being less likely to honor our claims.

> > Hopefully, this would make little difference. In practice, though,
> > instilling that form of loyalty might well guard against corruption -
> > say, if some hostile power somehow managed to get a "let's blow up the
> > colony and all head back to Earth to be sheep again" type elected to
> > whatever government we have.

> If you want to go back and join the herd, then by all means go ahead.
> It would seem highly irrational to having to fight an entire colony
> when you could simply walk out of the airlock into your spaceship and
> show the moon to everyone else who chooses to stay.

You seem to have slightly misunderstood my point here. In any
society, there will be some societal conditioning (norms, commonly
held beliefs that sometimes get coded into law, et cetera). I'm
saying, shape those beliefs so that no one would want to go back.
Though, you're right, keeping the option to return open will take a
large part of the pressure off, especially in the likelihood that any
acutal implementation of this has some error.

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