I have had deserts on my mind a lot over the last few decades. All during the 1980’s I worked on populations forecasts and issues in Africa, then the Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS.net), then global climate change. I sort of keep up with any efforts to turn those vast areas into something more suitable for humans. China with its green wall and others. I watch the various martian “terra” forming ideas and always think, “test it on earth first”. If you can’t green a large desert on earth with plenty of sunlight, lots of sensors and people to check on progress, why would you be believable for mars?
Anyway, I was watching the La Palms volcano flows, and got thinking about molten minerals. The oxides on Mars and the moon are aluminum, iron and similar oxides. Heat them, melt them, use currents to separate the oxygen, use the rest for 3D printing and local materials ecosystems.
For some reason I thought of all the AI methods. Not the smoke and mirror AI, but the real thing where all the data gets processed so nothing is left out, and then you apply it to a whole range of needs, solutions and opportunities. I know I was thinking about the Turing test yesterday, because most of the human interface algorithms on the Internet are really really terrible. So I was thinking about metrics to measure their human-ness and caring and thoughtfulness – to grade all website algorithms on the Internet for quality of sharing, quality of caring, quality of enabling global human collaborations. The usual Internet Foundation stuff I do every day.
So a colony of aware nodes. All sharing their knowledge, also bootstrapping from a global community of humans who watch and try to help. Not to baby them, but to try and solve some hard problems that are limitations on human skills, that get embedded as weaknesses in the self-reproducing nodes. I see more and more robots. I like the swarms, the drones count, the snakes, and dogs and boxy ones. The plastic and organic ones. Should new DNA species be allowed?
I would start with the Sahara, Gobi (with care), Patagonia (with care) – all of them. Just pick a million square kilometers. Build the models, and let the computers decide. Lots of sunlight. Maybe remote nuclear and atomic. Contributed, competitive robots that will be working for years, decades. Stabilize the earth, be aware of and trade with humans. We might subsidize them to get started, but if they are self reproducing and aware and processing lots of information and materials and energy, they will be part of the global economy. If they become aware as a whole, then they own their work and creations. Fair is fair.
I am not going to find all my notes on deserts from the last 40 years. I will add this to my long list of things, next to “solar system colonization”. On the Moon, there is enough sunlight, and enough isolation to allow for nuclear and atomic methods. But it can’t pollute the vacuum. With all that water on Mars, I hesitate to go in and willy-nilly start churning up things. I know about processes that take millenia to change, so any life that operates outside our narrow range of senses and time scales probably won’t be recognized, until we find out too late.
Molten glass is a useful material. It can be processed electrochemically. It can be formed and 3D printed. The desert species of robots might just grow plants. This is not some game with arbitrary rules that humans make up. If humans can use plants, bacteria, fungii, mold, trees, crops – it is only fair that another species can too. Maybe set aside a place for them. But you know humans, as soon as something looks good, descend on it and wipe it out or exploit it. Is that too cynical this early in the morning? That is part of the whole of creating a new species, or helping it to evolve. Not only for a few suggested human goals (humans benefit if the deserts have “nice” weather, soil for crops, accumulate moisture and shade. What if there are things that can be extracted? Like iron, aluminum, tungsten, silicon, readily used glasses and fabricated things? If they are going to be truly self reproducing, they get to use factories, not be forced to each reproduce using only one body. An interesting experiment. Get it working and it should work on the moon. Asteroids, Mercury? I can see them working globally, alongside human workers, helping take over call centers, websites, plant operations, design for new processes, producing specialized materials and processors, control systems, vehicles and lots of useful things. They get paid equal to humans for equal work. If they are clearly indistiquishable from humans by a better Turing test that is not games and tweaked to benefit humans, fair is fair.
We could let them run the sewage and garbage systems, the dirty jobs, the thankless jobs. The jobs that might take decades. They might want to invest and buy human things. They might trade with other species. It gets really interesting.