Robots and humans always seem to end up at odds, whether it’s battling over pieces of NASA’s budget or literally fighting in science fiction stories such as “The Matrix” and “Battlestar Galactica.”Now a former NASA historian and an American University professor suggest that the future of space exploration could very well depend on a merging of metal and flesh.Their new book “Robots in Space” (2008, The Johns Hopkins University Press) looks at the competing visions for robotic vs. human space exploration, and concludes that neither will get far beyond the solar system without one another.That means humans may need to draw from the Sci-Fi realm yet again and morph into something new, like a cyborg, to head for distant stars.
The idea of the cyborg (cybernetic organism) is an old one in science-fiction and in space science. I remember reading about it in the 1970s when I was in high-school. The idea wasn’t pushed hard in the interplanetary exploration theme because it was always assumed that humans will eventually explore and colonise the Solar System. The apathy that pervades the mainstream space program today didn’t exist then. But when the discussion turned to interstellar exploration, robots and possible joining with them to become something ‘more than human’ wasn’t considered crazy. In fact it made good sense because of the huge distances between stars, the travel times involved and the short human life span. It was, and still is thought today that if human beings are going to settle other extra-solar earth-like worlds, it won’t be humans as we are now, but something different. The analogy often given is when the first stiff-finned fish decided to crawl out of the water onto land to get to the next puddle without being eaten, a stage in biological and social evolution.
Now we have the beginnings of the tools we might need to change ourselves in order to return to another larger, vaster ocean to spread Terran life. Who can deny that nanotechnology, creating artificial bacteria, optical quantum computer chips, improved prosthetics, Google-plex and yes, Second Life can not only be tools on Earth, but can be utilized to help Mankind colonise the Cosmos?
Will our descendents be some form of Cylon, or some other form of ‘damned offspring’?
Let’s hope they don’t inherit our worst traits, like our taste for genocide!