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Human Dispersion

But let us consider our own case. What is the long-term future of humans? To begin with, we will certainly spread beyond the bounds of our world. A single, round planet can’t host us indefinitely. Our initial forays will be to obvious targets: the moon, Mars, and the space in between (populated by the rotating aluminum cans promulgated by Gerry O’Neill and Thomas Heppenheimer in the 1970s). Some time early in the next millennium we will colonize the asteroids, as envisioned by Freeman Dyson.

In other words, within a century or two, at most, humankind will be dispersed. This is a potent hedge against self-inflicted catastrophe. It will be difficult to eradicate the human species once colonies are spread throughout the solar system. While I might (with difficulty) get rid of the ants in my kitchen, I cannot eliminate the world’s entire ant complement. Humans are going through a bottleneck of only a few centuries’ time - a bottleneck during which we might be able to exterminate ourselves. But given the relatively short period of time involved, we may reasonably hope to survive this peril. Professor DeVore has pointed out the large number of species that have gone extinct, sometimes catastrophically, on this planet. This is referred to as “clearing the deck.” Humans (and by extension, other intelligent beings) may not be very susceptible to such sudden elimination, simply because they are quickly off the deck.

The spread into the solar system will give humanity time. Certainly, it will allow sufficient time to push forward the type of research that, someday soon, may initiate the evolution of our own successors. At first, these will consist of artificial augmentations of our traditional biology. The immediate prospects are for engineered replacements for diseased or destroyed human tissue. Perhaps we will make some such constructs a permanent part of our anatomy, becoming like the Borg: half organic, half manufactured.

Contributed by: Dr. Seth Shostak

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Are We Alone? Topic Index
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Human Dispersion

A Rare Intelligence?
The Possibilities of a Signal
The Drake Equation
Living Machines
The Fermi Paradox
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Seth Shostak

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