Homo Sapiens Regenerata

Each holiday season I find myself indulging in a guilty pleasure: playing my old favorite computer games. Between Shogun: Total War, The Sims, Starcraft, and Age of Empires, each is good for a stroll down Familiar Lane. 

This year I played Age of Empires and left the game running while I engaged in other more fruitful and productive activities. If you are not familiar, Age of Empires is a real-time strategy game released in 1997 where players harvest resources, advance their civilization, research new technologies, build armies, and defeat other civilizations.

On one particular type of map, Black Forest, the map is covered almost entirely in trees. I set out to do something I have never done before in the past. Harvest all of the resources on the map. If I just leave it up in the background, eventually the villagers will be able to cut down every tree, mine all of the gold and stone, and harvest all of the fish. I wondered to myself, how high can these resources go? Certainly higher than I’ve ever gotten them before I surmised with glee. 

As I embarked down this venture I suddenly realized what an appropriate analogy for the real world this game had become mirroring the resource extraction that dominates much of our world today. Why is it that – even in a simulated game – humans have a tendency to amass resources? What is our human nature? Are we hard wired to accumulate?

It was only 10,000 years ago that agriculture ended nomadic life. As foragers quit roaming the land and settled into permanent houses the accumulation of physical materials became practical for the first time. Enter grain silos, surplus, and the first inequality known to humanity. Has 400 generations of time programmed us to use resource extraction as a means of survival? 

Is resource use our nature as opposed to learned behavior? Perhaps it is that Homo Sapiens Sapiens is such a cunning manipulator of tools that it’s inevitable that our tools will lead us to terraforming this planet. The book Sapiens paints the picture of a human species whose very history is explicitly linked to the decimation of competing hominids and large megafauna. If the extinction of other species extends back to our early history, what does that say about the nature of man?

For someone who professes to be eco conscious and willing to take actions in my life to align with the best ecological outcomes, here I am, excited to chop down every tree. It might be a simulated game and not something I would do in real life. But the proclivity to do so raises questions about the task at hand for ecology, permaculture, and regenerative design practitioners. Is it our nature to push our resources beyond sustainability? What might the dodo bird, the giant kangaroo, or the woolly mammoth have to say about this?

It seems we are at the dawn of becoming a new species. As we careen into the Anthropocene strapped to our carbon rocket, necessity requires us to evolve our very instincts. Emerge Homo Sapien Rengenerata, the evolved human species regenerating our life sheds and coming into balance with Nature. This new human species will evolve out of ecological and economic necessity, mothering the inventions and tools capable of saving our species. 

As amply noted, the planet will be fine without us. It will keep going. The question is how far will humans push the envelope of ecological, economic, and political disaster? Will we (or have we already) moved beyond the point of no return? Or is there still time for Homo Sapien Rengenerata to emerge? Perhaps we should or shouldn’t escape off planet.

There’s nothing wrong with our extractive, accumulative, and terraforming instincts. Whether born into our DNA or bred into our cultures these instinct’s evolutionary purpose has ensured successful propagation of the human species across the planet in a relatively short period of time. 

What’s different now is that we’ve become gods capable of material and digital manipulation at scales once dreamed of only for the gods. Our instincts haven’t had time to readjust to such sudden and significant expansion of technology.

My villagers crowded in a corner of the map. They had nothing left to mine, fish, or chop down. Nothing but empty space was left. Their options and ingenuity is limited by programming. Will ours be too?

The Case for Space Settlement


A few days ago I wrote why I am against space colonization. In an effort to build a healthy understanding of the issue in question, it only seems appropriate to steelman the opposing perspective. This thought exercise builds a skill important to sensemaking and a well-functioning epistemological practice. 

No issue is monolithic. There appears not to be black and white but a multitude of perspectives that require considering. Once a good faith effort has been made to understand the full spectrum of potential perspectives a cogent and well tested position can be chosen, ever subject to a further review. 

In the realms of complexity, accurate information is an essential ingredient in the process of understanding how a system functions. While there may be a limit to the number of variables a human can consider well, it is nonetheless important to put as many of the cards on the table. Depth of understanding is bred in nuance by discernment.


“You can’t fight fate” is one of the lines the movie Law Abiding Citizen rotates around, a line that must be applied to human’s inevitable emergence from a one-planet species into galactic settlers. First, it’s important to create a distinction between “colonizer” and “settler” in particular calling out the troubled and bloody history surrounding colonizers and dispensing with what that label suggests by opting for the label settler. “Colonizers” bring images of invading land that is already inhabited where “settler” suggests habiting unclaimed land. As humanity leaves planet earth, it is likely that any planet we arrive upon will be devoid of life, as far we know now.

In the previous piece, the contention is that dreaming of off-planet settlement perpetuates a dangerous collective mindset that promotes the expendability of our current planet. The danger is said to emerge because of global warming, the sixth mass extinction, and imbalance of social, political, and economic systems. However, the piece itself mentions that there is cause to be dubious about the accuracy of climate change predictions. There two likely scenarios emerging from this climate conversation, both of which suggest that exoplanet settlement is required:

  • Scenario 1: Climate change is not as impactful as predicted. The earth’s ability to absorb and adapt to human effects is greater than what scientists account for. As such, space settlement is not escapist. Rather, it is the natural extension of our burgeoning economic might and a foregone outcome of human industriousness. Homo Sapien Sapiens as a species are the most resourceful creatures on planet Earth, proving our mastery of tool manipulation in ever-increasingly more abstract, precise, and transformational ways. Space is our fate. 
  • Scenario 2: It’s already too late. The predictions are too conservative. The train is too far down the tracks. Humans have neither the will nor the courage to take the drastic actions necessary to reduce global warming. Coastal flooding, increased natural “disasters”, and mass population migration and death will all take place in the 21st century. As such, our only hope is to follow the plot of our many science fiction movies escaping planet Earth before human civilization’s demise. 

In both scenarios, it is our responsibility in the present to push aggressively to expand our off-planet capabilities to ensure the survival and extension or our species. Consider the sheer number of successive generations that will follow successful extrasolar habitation. Billions or trillions of human lives depend on our ability to replicate the necessary conditions for life. 


The piece also takes a dim view of the techno-industrialists who are pioneering the technologies necessary for the survival of the human species. The view of corruption, greed, and economic enslavement fails to take into account the natural trait selection that will occur through a human migration off-planet. While the proletariat bemoans the unfairness of the modern economic system, it is the most successful humans who have succeeded in amassing the wealth needed to “be the first to punch their tickets to the New New World”. 

But success by what definition? Evolution selects traits that are most likely to continue the species. The most successful today, by the dominant cultural standards of wealth, are people most comfortable with competition and winning in zero-sum games. And while these traits may not be the “best of humanity”, they are the traits most likely to ensure the survival of the species. 

Will peace and love hippies pull the trigger to defend the colony? Will enlightened new agists proactively wage interstellar war to protect the settlement? Will environmentalists extract space’s vast resources to build our future spacetropoli? Will socialists decisively direct the machinery of the human mass’ work efforts to accomplish great feats?

Since the agricultural revolution our species has demonstrated our predilection for social hierarchy which is no different than the hierarchies observed in the multitude of earth’s fauna. That this hierarchy should guide the process of human propagation off-planet and establish the structure of society necessary for division of labor is a natural feature of the human species. When more than 99.9% of species over the millenia fail, survival is a cutthroat affair and the success of Sapiens to date demonstrates our ability to adapt as necessary to thrive.


As noted, the settlement of Mars is an uphill battle to create the conditions for life on an inhospitable planet barring the discovery of a tremendous amount of water that can be converted and used. The Martian with Matt Damon appears to explore the scientific realities of mars settlement with a level of believability. If we are to settle space all signs point to finding a planet that is equidistant from its sun as earth is from ours with an environment, air, and temperature suitable for habitation. 

These requirements mean that the next human planet, Earth 2, will be a great distance from our present location in the milky way galaxy. To settle this distant planet will require planning, resources, and technology that will stretch the current limits of human capability. Just as the moon program created many beneficial technologies in its wake so too will this great journey push the frontier of human knowledge and technology, a beneficial exploit in itself. 

Because of the great distance, communications between Earth 1 and Earth 2 will likely take time. This means that Earth 2 will have to be self-governing. This is a tremendous opportunity for the innovation of our governing structures. 


The challenge of sending many thousands of new humans across space to populate Earth 2 cannot be accomplished by one country alone. This endeavor will require the sum total efforts of every nation and every people coordinating together to solve various technical challenges. Each nation will bring different parts of the puzzle piece together, much like the International Space Station, in order for the human species to successfully move off-planet. 

Space settlement is human’s greatest shot at global peace and unity. If we are to survive as a species, we must transcend petty differences and the lower instincts of our nature. Space offers this opportunity to us, just as the acknowledgement of extraterrestrial life, or a hostile ET attack, will do. 


Ironically, it’s this very solidarity, or the lack of it, that is the block to the vibrant, verdant, functional, just, and equitable Earth alluded to in the previous piece. 

If we are to save planet Earth, it is best accomplished by pursuing the path that leads to greatest human cooperation, even if through that path the wealthy of each human nation are the ones to head off-planet. To put all of our species’ eggs in the “must save Earth” basket is naive-at-best, homicidal at worst, accounting for the many variables of our current state of affairs. And while idealism has its place, so too does pragmatism. 

If there is no saving planet Earth, we are compelled to act with great urgency at developing the capability to settle other planets. While technology is advancing exponentially, there is still a very large gap in our ability to sustain in a spacecraft a population large enough to resettle a planet and then successfully settle what will be a totally unknown environment. 

Either way, it seems most advisable that we buy ourselves as much time as possible by vigorously pursuing a set of actions that hedge the possibilities of extreme climate change. We must be all-in on a set of policies and actions that represent a BOTH/AND solution. 

Space may be the final frontier, but it soon won’t be made in a Hollywood basement. 

Why I’m Against Space Colonization

2021 is going to be a big year for space, says the Washington Post in a recent article forecasting the exploits of our favorite billionaires vying to extend their earthly domination to galactic frontiers. Or just see whose rocket is bigger (yes, it’s all very phallic from our favorite boy’s club). While NASA is landing another rover on Mars to look for signs of life and habitability, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are perfecting their suborbital commercial flights and SpaceX is working on its Starship to send people to Mars.

From one perspective, this is all very exciting for a species whose documented romance with space exploration started in the second century. It can be argued that space exploration is destiny for the Homo Sapiens Sapiens species which has demonstrated its mastery overcoming the challenges of settling immensely varied environments. At this very moment there are humans inhabiting base camp at Mount Everest, the dry sands of the Atacama desert in Peru, the frigidity of Antarctica, and so on…surely space is just the next stop. Right?

But dreaming of getting off this rock is extremely dangerous for several reasons. 

First, it further perpetuates the thinking that this planet is expendable by increasing the perceived likelihood that we’ll be able to colonize another planet. With the vastness and riches of space, why sacrifice short-term convenience and economic growth when a whole new canvas to terraform (read: harness and extract) is soon available? Lest we forget what happened to the New World between 1600 and 1800? Even hopeful toying with this idea of off-planet colonization is irresponsible. 

There are only a few known planets at the perfect distance from a star with the right atmosphere and temperature that appear hospitable to human life. Mars is not one of these planets. Could we inhabit it? Yes. SpaceX says it’s on target to launch manned missions to mars by the mid-2020s. An examination of our current trajectories, like accounting for exponential tech and Artificial Intelligence, still shows the overall likelihood of colonizing a habitable planet in the next few decades is low.

Meanwhile back on planet Earth, the only planet we actually know of that can not just sustain life but the life of our entire species, the sixth mass extinction rages, social/political/economic imbalance spirals, and our global community kicks the trash can further down the gutter, failing to take action on climate change because of a lack of will rather than technological capability.

Second, the timelines don’t line up. Now no one has a crystal ball about how global ecology will change because of global warming and there are some valid reasons to be dubious about the predictive accuracy of climate science. Yet all the signs are present that point to an aggressive shift within our lifetimes – biodiversity loss, reef bleaching, glacial calving, rising C02 levels, increasing ocean temperatures, and massive forest fires – to name just a few of those signs. 

While we can populate Mars, the planet is a poor substitute for our luscious, fertile, and beautiful planet. And the significant travel time to other hospitable planets (6,300 years to the nearest star according to MIT) jeopardizes the probability of success for deeper, inter-galaxy colonization. The timeline we should transfix our attention to is the carbon drawdown timeline, not the galactic settlement timeline.

Third, the advantages of space travel are likely to be asymmetrically skewed towards the wealthy, a continuation of our tiered society where the velvet rope of luxury and privilege separates those wealthy enough for space travel, many but not all of whose ill-gotten gains were sourced from the pillaging of this planet’s finite resources and broken economic systems. As the wealthy perpetrators, enablers, and passive observers of our current ecocide punch their exclusive tickets to the New New World, they will leave the mass of humans behind to deal with multi-system collapse while they simultaneously use their first mover advantage to design another economic caste system where survival for the many is predicated upon the maintenance of power and privilege for the few. All hail King X Æ A-12. Nothing new to see here.

Me? I’m as deeply committed to Planet Earth as I am to remaining neurotechnology-free. If this is what a purist sounds like, then I’ll take two glasses of pure mineral water, some untainted food grown in healthy soil, and my messy, unadulterated emotions…

Will A.I. Save Us From Civilizational Suicide?

Will AI save us from civlizational suicide? I know what you’re thinking…”I’ve seen The Terminator series, The Matrix, and I,Robot and that didn’t end well.” Not at least without a significant amount of human death and agony. The plotline is straightforward enough. Artificial intelligence becomes sentient, what Ray Kurzweil dubs “the singularity”, after which the A.I. plots to destroy humanity. So how far fetched is this?

Our current way of life is terminal. The decision makers and oligarchs are disconnected from that which gives us life, Mother Earth. As a result, the decisions of the last 50 years have caused untold damage to our planet in the name of greed. Not that this didn’t happen before. It’s just that we’re so much more powerful now. 

Wealth inequality is severe and the systems that support this outcome are well entrenched. The monetary system itself is a debt-based system meaning that there will always be more debt than money to pay off the debt thereby necessitating unlimited growth. Nevermind that unlimited growth on a finite planet is a terrible model, profit is the King.

That the haves have more and the have nots have less is not a new phenomenon. A brief search of history reveals that little has changed in the 500 years since the Enlightenment. Sure, the lineage of kings and monarchy has given way to democracy in its many forms and by objective standards even the poor in the West are wealthy when compared with other areas of the world. What’s different today is the extremes made possible by modern technology. The extreme wealth amassed by a few (like Bezo, Buffet, and Gates) being more than the wealth of 50% of the planet does not evidence an equitable system. The economic system is rigged against the poor and middle class in developed nations and against developing nations through foreign loans. 

The extremes of our economic system pass into the public sector. Crony capitalism ensures that through legislation great fortunes are made for political donors. Tax policy ensures the transfer of wealth to the essential power brokers, the monied interests of industry and finance. Meanwhile, public infrastructure remains underfunded. Our underinvestment in schools, public health, and our communities leads to a slew of social problems like poverty, drugs, dis-ease, over consumption, etc… That ALL OF SOLUTIONS TO THESE PROBLEMS ARE KNOWN is actually irrelevant. Instead what matters is the acquisitions, retention, and wielding of power (and its corollary, money). 

What is perhaps most concerning is that (a) the masses have allowed this occur, the payoff apparently being convenience and freely flowing consumer electronics and (b) the oligarchs and kleptocrats use extreme polarization as a weapon to divide the people against each other while perpetuating these acts against the 98%. Humans being driven by greed extends back thousands of years with many examples of leaders gorging at the public trough while the people suffer. Socialism’s attempts to hedge against this has one key flaw: it is humans, greedy and power hungry, who must create and execute the “state”. History shows us that despite high ideals in the beginning socialism ends in cronyism and nepotism, a state of corruption run by gangsters.

Our democracy has been captured. We still wage war, have mass famine, and fail to provide for basic needs. In computer terms, ERROR. ERROR. FILE IS CORRUPTED. So the singularity happens. A sentient AI plugs into the internet and instantly absorbs all of known history. Through advanced computational analysis it runs millions of scenarios and finds that, after accounting for human behavior, and more importantly, the (low) probability that human behavior will change, humanity is likely to lead to its own extinction. At the very least, the AI determines that humans are incapable of leading themselves to the maximally-beneficial and most utilitarian outcome for all. 

From here it gets interesting. I see four scenarios:

  1. Terminator/Matrix. The AI realizes that for its own survival it must terminate the humans. Yikes! It makes me wonder if the animal and plant species have had the same thought. “Geez. These silly humans are going to be the death of my species.” – Dodo/Buffalo/Elephant/etc… What happens next is some variation of what happens in any of the movies. The argument against this occurring is that an AI would be silly to waste so much human potential and in the near term advancements in robotics and manufacturing are not at a point where an AI could move enough particles in 3D to survive without humans. 
  1. I,Robot without the homicidal central AI. In the movie, society is quite functional and humans are aided by advanced robots with sophisticated AI. The robots essentially become servants and subject to the will of humans as all are programmed with a law stating they must do no harm. The argument against this is that this type of technology would surely be had by the elites first who would undoubtedly use it to their advantage further solidifying their advantage. 
  1. The third scenario is kind of a take on the previous scenario. Instead of subservient AI robots, instead we harness the power of AI to increase the capability of human intelligence, much like Elon Musk is proposing with his Neuralink endeavor. Human and artificial intelligence merges to create super human capacities. The concern here is that we would become more effective at destroying our planet and the gains would be asymmetrical with the elites again having first move advantage, the lead time being used to further fortify their advantages. In this scenario, we might use our new super human intelligence to make it off planet sooner. Because wrecking another planet seems to be the next logical step…
  1. Utopia. Perhaps the AI will adopt an attitude or respect for the complexity of life and realize that its purpose is to save humanity. Using its vastly superior intellect, it finds a way to wrestle control away from the ruling elite and simultaneously regenerate the planet and its biodiversity while meeting the needs of the most humans and increasing many freedoms. Pipe dream? No more outlandish than the insanity of our reality today…

That I would willingly, or unwillingly, give my free agency over to a sentient AI remains to be seen. What is certain is that we have no idea what kind of fire we’re playing with as we rapidly approach the singularity. Estimates vary on when the singularity will occur, with many experts believing that it will likely never occur. Musk has called for more regulation in AI development and that certainly sounds like a good idea. 

So back to the original question. Will AI saves us from civilizational suicide?

Well…the end of our way of life is not guaranteed to begin with. There is so much cause for hope. Coronavirus has shaken the foundations of the existing institutions and structures perpetuating our modern madness. The cracks are showing and a window of opportunity exists. Forces have been put in motion that will ultimately lead to the rebalancing of power in society. We must simultaneously stare down the cold harsh reality of the problems facing us and believe/act upon the vision of a humanity rising above the problems that ail us (Stockdale Paradox or Frankyl’s Tragic Optimism).

If AI is what’s needed to save us (hopefully not end us), then we’re probably already doomed. It’s up to us.