Monday, 6 June 2016

Does History Repeat Itself?

There were empires in the past. There are accusations of "imperialism" in the present. Does history repeat itself? Will there be empires in the future? Poul Anderson's science fiction systematically addresses every possible answer to a question. Thus, his History of Technic Civilization presents an interstellar Terran Empire whereas several later works present futures where imperialism is not an issue:

if space travel is limited to sub-light velocities, then interstellar imperialism or even colonization become less probable;

when technology generates abundant wealth, there will no longer be any reason either to hoard wealth or to fight for sources of wealth;

if mankind does not contact alien intelligences but instrad creates artificial intelligences, then the interaction between organic and artificial intelligences might move history in an entirely new direction.

In presenting this summary, we have touched on two other issues to which Anderson presents different answers:

Is faster than light travel possible? If so, how? If not, then how might slower than light interstellar travel be made practicable?

Is Artificial Intelligence possible? If so, would people create it and what would be its consequences?


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

The mere fact that ISIS has proclaimed itself a new caliphate is enough to show that the ambition to create empires still exists! And, of course, there's the recent aggressive moves of Vladimir Putin to reassert Russian dominance in Ukraine and the Caucasus to give my view additional support.

Of the empires Poul Anderson speculates about in his stories I far prefer his Terran Empire. Partly because of how it arose, as a means of restoring order after the collapse of the Solar Commonwealth and Polesotechnic League, and partly because the Empire wasn't such a bad thing after all and governed quite mildly. In fact I told Poul Anderson in one of my letters to him that compared to most actually existing regimes the Empire was better than them.

I agree with your second paragraph. But Anderson's short story "Time Lag" gives us his speculations about how an interstellar empire might be attempted using STL.

Regretfully, I disagree with your third paragraph. I fear you take too optimistic a view of mankind. If the kind of economy we see in first "Quixote And The Windmill" and in more detail in the HARVEST OF STARS books and GENESIS ever appears, I think human beings will STILL fight and quarrel. If only over who will rule and have power.

Fourth paragraph, I agree. IF the kind of AI Anderson speculates about in the HARVEST OF STARS books and GENESIS is ever practical and comes to exist.

Your fifth paragraph: Anderson was a strong advocate of interstellar travel and exploration. And believed that it was possible even without FTL. And we see him exploring several different ways of reaching the stars by STL in ORBIT UNLIMITED, TAU ZERO and STARFARERS. And at the CENTAURI DREAMS website I've seen or read many articles discussing non fictional means of getting to the stars. With Poul Anderson being sometimes mentioned as an inspiration.

Your sixth paragraph: I don't know if FTL is possible but I do know SOME scientists don't entirely rule it out. I, frankly, would far prefer a FTL means of reaching the stars.

Your last paragraph: Anderson's HARVEST OF STARS books and GENESIS gives us his most sustained speculations about AI and its consequences. Hopeful in the first and far less so in the second.


David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
I have to agree with Sean on the third paragraph. For some people, it doesn't count as being rich unless there are poor people over whom they can lord it. (I've seen that cited as part of the reason poor whites in the Confederacy were pro-slavery: they might be impoverished, but they could still look down on slaves even if they didn't actually own any.) If enough wealth "for everyone" is ever produced, such people will want to seize other people's shares so THEY can remain "THE RICH."

I'm not going to take the paragraphs one by one as Sean did, mostly because I think he did a good job of covering the main points. I'll just quote Chives, who told Kossara, "But as for the Empire, like the proverbial centenarian I suggest you consider the alternative."

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

Many thanks for your comments! Yes, I agree, envy and malice WILL cause some to resent the well being of others and strive to ruin them. But I didn't have wealth as such particularly in mind--I was thinking more of how many people will care more about having POWER. Even in a hypothetical economy of plenty I argue that politicking and a desire for power will motivate many, many people.

Interesting that you quoted the invaluable Chives! And I agree with his point: very, very often the devil we know is better than the devil we don't know.