Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Would an Encounter with Galactic Technology be a Good Thing?

I recently came across an article by John Goodman ( putting the case that an encounter with Galactics and their technology might be a bad thing rather than a good thing for human beings.

His first concern is that some individuals – those who receive and master the technology first – would get big gains as a result, while others would face big losses. And that who won and who lost would be all but random.

His second concern is that any use of such technology, however good the motive, would be likely to have unintended consequences, at least as likely bad as good.

I find that I can’t agree with him. Of course, I have to make some assumptions. Firstly, that the Galactics are benevolent, and that the technology in question is beneficent. If what was on offer was merely a more effective way of killing people, for example, then John Goodman’s first concern would be spot on. Warmongers and warriors would win, and peaceful human beings would lose. The consequences would be all too predictable; although they would be hardly unintended by the warmongers, because that’s what warmongers do.

Also, I don’t think that the results of adopting a new Galactic technology would appear as quickly as John Goodman suggests. For most technology depends on other technology. A tractor, for example, requires fuel to support its continued running. Maybe a tractor sent back to the 18th century would have an initial impact, but once its tank ran dry...

Unless the Galactics supplied, not only one specific technology, but all the lower-level technologies required to support it, I think that changes would not be quick. Perhaps the most beneficial result of receiving a piece of Galactic technology might be identifying the technologies it depends on, and starting towards human development of equivalents.

Secondly, I assume that the Galactics are sufficiently socially advanced to have concern for the individual. I can’t imagine that species could evolve to the level where they can gallivant around the Galaxy, without also evolving social systems far superior to the outdated, corrupt, violent, unjust, anti-human and anti-individual politics we suffer today. Some kind of liberal individualism, I believe, is necessary if a species is to advance much further – or, indeed, any further - than where humans are today.

Therefore I assume that the Galactics have a strong sense of individual justice, and so are concerned about the issues John Goodman raises. They would, I think, be relaxed about inequalities which arise out of differing levels of merit, but they would strongly wish to avoid creating injustices. So, they wouldn’t randomly give their technology to some and not to others. Even if – and, perhaps, particularly if - it was only one step above current human technologies. I expect they would probably be very careful about choosing who deserves to be allowed access to their technology.

As to unintended consequences, I expect that a mature social system would hold the Galactics responsible for the consequences of any misuse of their technology by a “junior” species like humans. I doubt that they would just chuck us some technology and leave us to play with it. I expect that some of them, after “first contact,” would stay on to train people, to help with the supporting technologies, and just to check that all is well.

So, I think that an encounter with Galactics and their technology would likely be a good thing for the human race. An encounter with their, presumably advanced, social systems could be even better.

What do you think?


Daniel said...

I think, by looking at the statistics on technological versus social advancement, it is more likely we will be spacefaring ourselves before we will achieve a liberal individualist society. Once we are able to use warp drives the sky is no longer the limit and once there are no more limits, the politicals cannot impose.

Warp drives one step closer to reality:

Neil said...

Thanks for your comment, Daniel.

My take is that social advancement goes in quite sudden leaps (usually preceded by stagnation and conflict). Renaissance and Enlightenment spring to mind. Whereas technological advancement, left to itself, goes more like an exponential curve. But both are necessary to human progress.

I don’t know much about warp drives, but when you’ve built a working, affordable and comfortable spaceship, I’ll be in the queue for tickets!