singularitarians, start your starships!
A few months ago, science fiction and fantasy writer Charles Stross tackled the mechanics of spaceships and the problems with colonizing space on his blog and came up with a very transhumanist solution to quite a few of the problems involved with sending humans into deep space: using mind uploading technology to stream pure consciousness between alien solar systems.
Now you have to admit, that’s a very creative approach. It’s also incredibly efficient because human consciousness in data form would travel at the speed of light without the limitations of the body, or in ultra low mass relativistic probes like the Starwisp concept. No need to bother with things like food, life support systems, living quarters and artificial gravity. Just get to the destination with a laser signal or stored in a computer chip on a small starship, and explore to your heart’s content.
We should note that Stross tackled the concept very skeptically and provided as good a grounding for his idea as we could reasonably expect. However, there are a few major details missing. Even if we were to ignore all the problems with mind uploading and assume that it could somehow work, there are two major issues we have to take into account.
The first is radiation. Being sent through space at the speed of light as a stream of pure data would be the one of the fastest ways to travel between stars and to the traveler, the trip would seem to take less than a second. But the cosmic rays traveling by could interfere with the signal transmitting you to your destination. Even the slightest degradation would effectively kill the data which is supposed to manifest itself as you. The second matter we need to note is aim. Sending a signal between far off alien planets needs a lot of very elaborate planning. A slight fraction of a degree off and you may end up roaming interstellar space until you slam into a star or the surface of a random planet and disperse into a stream of massless particles.
As odd as it may sound, it could be safer to drastically modify our bodies and explore space as cyborgs. We would be able to build in protection against cosmic rays, self-sustained life support systems and manipulate many of our organic components to increase our lifespans so we could survive the long trips.
Granted, this is much easier said than done and would take hundreds of years of focused efforts and research, but it’s more feasible than beaming ourselves around the galaxy with wild abandon, hoping our consciousness makes it. Assuming of course that someone, somewhere can figure out how to do the impossible and transfer human consciousness out of the brain the same way religious texts describe souls changing bodies. Of course, the term “feasible” is being used rather loosely here but when it comes to engineering problems like interstellar travel, even the most basic requirements for the technology involved are extreme to say the least…