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Automated Asteroid Mining: Blueprint for a Glorious Future

TsaiSep 7, 2016, 7:40:59 PM

Imagine a future where abject poverty is a forgotten memory, a future where money is no longer imaginary numbers on a computer borrowed into existence by fractional reserve banking, a future where automated robotic drones will convert raw materials into money in the form of gold, platinum, silver, palladium, water, helium, and all the other resources contained within the star dust that permeates the heavens...

That future may not be as far away as you think it is.

In this article, I will describe my vision of what the future will look like, so it will involve a bit of imagination and story-telling. I will also list the key technologies that will be needed to make this future come true, and where we currently stand in our technological progress.

You may be wondering why we should indulge in fantasy given that we live in a time of impending economic calamity, political instability, and religious-sectarian violence. As Elon Musk once said, 'We can't spend all our time solving problems. We also need an awesome future to look forward to. Otherwise, what's the point of getting out of bed?'   

So without further ado, I will now describe something I call 'The Hive.' 

The Hive 

Imagine a beehive. Imagine the bees going out in search of nectar. They find a good source of nectar, they report back to the beehive, and this triggers all the worker bees to go out and harvest the nectar. They bring the nectar back to the hive, store it, and the nectar is processed into sweet, sweet honey. Some of the honey is used to feed the larvae that will then grow into more worker bees.

That is exactly how asteroid mining will work in the future, except the robotic drones will collect resources such as gold, platinum or water instead of nectar.

The biggest challenge in developing a robotic hive will be the development of the artificial intelligence required to run the hive. Compared to the mammalian mind, bee consciousness is much closer to that of autonomous robots. Bees don't have free will, and by 'free will' I mean they cannot create or modify goals. Their goals are pre-determined by biology, and these goals never change. Their behaviours are 100% controlled by chemical signalling, ultraviolet light signals, and dance-communication. We can take inspiration from what we know about bees and apply that to the mechanical level. 

Programming robots to behave like bees may not be as far off as you think it is. Check out this TED talk about robotic swarms that can sense each other, form ad hoc teams, and cooperate together to achieve specific goals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ErEBkj_3PY

Also, check out Planetary Resources at http://www.planetaryresources.com/. This company is working on developing satellites that will prospect and mine asteroids in the near-future. 

*A side note to those who fear that the Hive will overrun the Solar System. There are ways to limit the expansion of the Hive. One way is to do it economically. Program it in such a way that it must purchase fuel from human producers. If the Hive expands too aggressively, this will drive up the cost of fuel to the point where it can no longer afford to expand, and it will fall into a state of equilibrium.  

Getting to space

Talking about asteroid mining is useless unless we can actually get to space. Right now, sending one kilo to space will cost you the equivalent of one kilo in gold, which is a lot of money. The primary reason why space access is so expensive is because we throw away the rocket every time it gets used. Imagine scrapping an entire Boeing 747 after every flight. Nobody would be able to afford to fly. 

This problem may well be a thing of the past. Elon Musk's SpaceX has developed the world's first fully and rapidly reusable first-stage rocket. To date, SpaceX has successfully landed their first-stage rocket six times! And they plan on reusing these rockets in upcoming launches! Check out this amazing SpaceX landing video: 


In addition to fully and rapidly reusable rockets, we will have space elevators in the future. These are literally elevators that can move bulk cargo to and from space. The only major limitation is that we need a tether strong enough to hold the counterweight and the anchor station together. But we already know of a material that is strong enough for this task: carbon nano-tubes. Many private companies and universities around the world are working on techniques to fabricate these carbon-nano tubes on an industrial scale.   

Capitalism 2.0 (Cap2)

Now that we have the Hive and rapidly and fully reusable rockets, let's talking about something I call Cap2, which is short for Capitalism 2.0.

Cap2 is an autonomous AI-run program that will manage the distribution of resources produced by the Hive. Anybody on Earth may sign up online for one unique Cap2 account. Cap2 will package the resources produced by the Hive into resource units, abreviated runit or RU, and equally distribute the runits into each Cap2 account. A runit will consist of a fixed amount of gold, platinum, palladium, iron, copper, water, etc in an amount that is proportional to their relative abundance in space.    

You will be able to use your Cap2 account like a bank account. Whatever you want to purchase, you will purchase in runits. Since the runit is a basket of commodities, it has intrinsic value, which makes it a far superior form of money compared to the fiat currency we have today. 

Some of you may point out that Cap2 creates all the money supply and splits it equally to everyone, which guarantees everyone a steady income in runits. Is this not socialism? Why don't I call it Soc2 for Socialism 2.0?

Here's the difference between Cap2 and socialism. Cap2 is an automated process run by robots. That means no human being is sacrificing their blood, sweat and tears to earn their runits only to have these runits taken away by force. In fact, Cap2 removes the temptation to coercively redistribute wealth for the sake of helping 'the poor.' And yes, everyone is guaranteed an income. What's wrong with that? It doesn't kill the incentive to work because you'd still want to earn more runits to buy more stuff. In fact, the more goods and services that people produce in the free market, the more stuff they'll be able to buy with their runits, and the richer we'll all be.  

The main reason why I call this system Capitalism 2.0 is that it guarantees the existence of sound money, which is necessary for capitalism to work. Cap2 will completely and totally replace the destructive fiat currency system that we have today. Presently, governments can order their central banks to digitally create currency out of thin air so that they can continue to engage in deficit spending. This will eventually lead to hyper-inflation, which will hurt everyone. If the free market is forced to work with such a currency, there is no capitalism.   

So now the question is: who will set up the system? My answer is this: some super-genious trillionaire philantropist. Whoever is the first to successfully develop an automated asteroid mining operation will become an instant trillionaire. Nearing the end of his life, I think there's a good chance he'll give it away to the people. If he doesn't, then it falls upon the people to reverse-engineer and replicate his system.

Closing remarks

I have faith that humanity will overcome the problems that plague our societies today. I have faith in the destiny of our species. And no, destiny isn't something we wait for that will happen no matter what. Destiny is something we choose, something we plan for, and something we build. We will choose a better tomorrow, we will plan for a better future, and we will build it. That is what defines humanity. I am proud to be a member of the human species. Despite our flaws, we are the only species on Earth that has the ability to see the future and carve our own destiny. Let us honour this great privilege by choosing to build a glorious future.