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Should We Be Colonizing the Universe?

Repost of a Quora answer found here

This is going to turn into a monumental answer, so I guess get ready. We’re going down the rabbit hole.

People have complex goals for why they support offworld colonization. Some do it for humanist reasons, or reasons of intelligence or competition. Some just see it as inevitable.

This factors into the answer for this question I think, so I’ll lay out a few of those options here.

  • See intelligence spread. This is sort of where I’m at. The universe is indifferent. Intelligence then, no matter it’s species of origin, is a worthwhile thing to have spread into the universe to …. then I’m not sure. Husband it? Be its guardian? To what end? Especially if multiverse theory is true, then this becomes complex. Is there an end goal or outcome of intelligence in a universe that can be tracked or measured? Say we had one with and one without. Which would turn out “better”? S
    omething to think about.
  • See humanity reign. Some people believe in humanity’s ascendency as a sort of evolutionary peak. They’re not technically incorrect as we are thus far the smartest species ever discovered (by us). I think this could be short-sighted. As I’ll point out later in detail, homo sapiens days are likely numbered no matter what.
  • See something of humanity’s creation reign. This could be machine intelligence. Or perhaps robotic probes that colonize for us. I think some people just want to know that humanity had a point. That we lived and contributed something of meaning to the wider universe.
  • See other things not reign. If colonization is a sport. One thought stream is to get the most “points” over any other species. Think slash and burn colonization. We’d expand faster than them and be the species that “makes it” even if that’s at the expense of others.
  • Survival. This is implied in some of the others but I think it deserves its own distinct point. By spreading we mitigate our risk of some existential event ending the only intelligent life the universe has ever seen (that we know of). Why survival is a “good” thing or if it is, depends on your perspective on the earlier points.
  • It’s inevitable. I don’t agree with this whatsoever. But it’s worth noting. I think the notion does exist that humanity will inevitably seed the cosmos. That by virtue of us existing at all we were gifted the entirety of existence. I think we’re either a statistical oddity or a certainty depending on the odds. But that we’re here because things happen to have evolved so that we could be. No meaning attached.

Mars ColonySo there’s quite a few reasons why someone would want to see humanity spread. I’ll factor that into my overall answer.

To do that let’s look at some options for WHERE we could expand to. I won’t name any particular locations but I think appropriate planets could be found in all the listed locales. Especially if our magic wand let’s us terraform as we see fit.

  • Really close. Mars. This is obviously what’s most likely as well. Some people head over to Mars, start terraforming it. Some more people head over and eventually it’s a colony. Humanity’s second bastion. Our contingency plan. Since this question has a magic wand implied where we appear somewhere with all requisite technologies. In this example humanity remains one united species.
  • Somewhat close. Another planet within the galaxy. Maybe a different spiral arm, maybe not. I think we’d still be close enough so as to remain in contact. But science would divulge. Maybe one place would fully integrate with AI while the other would go genetic. Or not augment at all. We’d be far enough away that humanity would evolve twice simaltaneously. Barring any sort of galactic destruction this would act as a contingency plan for humanity.
  • Somewhat far. Outside of the solar system but still pretty close. Think a habitable planet within a neighboring galaxy like Andromeda. the advantages are that we’d still evolve together and communicate BUT we’d be far enough away that VERY distinct cultures would form and we’d potentially clash as our futures divulged within our respective galaxies.
  • Pretty far. On the direct opposite side of the obersvable universe. This would definitely lead to humanity divulging. But it would double our chances of some intelligence remaining in the universe. Assuming these two races ever did meet. They wouldn’t recognize each other. Evolution would have taken two distinct paths. We might fight. Or we might have both discovered complimentary information about the structure of the universe. Perhaps this would halve the time for us to venture into the wider multiverse.
  • Really far. Somewhere outside the observable universe. The effects would be similar to “pretty far” but perhaps by being even farther there would be some unknown advantage. Maybe things are different out there.
  • Who knows how far. In a different universe. Perhaps not so long down the road we’ll discover how to travel inter-universe. Or we’ll quietly go into the night as the universe runs out of energy. Maybe our universe doesn’t have the requisite variable in place to allow interuniverse travel. Maybe this other one would. Essentially this would double our chance of intelligence seeding the multiverse. However they may start “human” but they would not BE human if by some circumstance we ever were to encounter them.

So some pretty interesting locales to choose from. I’m partial to the same galaxy option. The payoff for the later one’s seems so unimaginably distant that I’m struggling to fit into my perspective of intelligence being good no matter where. Perhaps thats my limited bias. I still want to see humanity, the humanity I know, reap the benefits of this thing.

Human evolution colony

With that being said, let’s look at some potential methods we could use to colonize Again these will be influenced by what “race” you want to see colonizing the universe.

  • Go ourselves. By far the hardest option. We send live, grown humans to colonize. They land, begin terraforming and surviving. Breed and grow and eventually capture the requisite resources to send out our next fleet.
  • Seed and breed. Shoot capsules which have non self learning robots to terraform. Once their pre-programmed sensors have deemed the planet habitable. They’ll breed the humans that were encapsulated and let them loose. These people will be human. But they won’t have our CULTURE. They’ll develop a distinct one based off the planet.
  • Self learning robots. Send robots into space to colonize on our behalf. They go to a new planet. Quickly deploy resource gathering equipment and send new probes onto the next one. Very fast and efficient and if humanity remains we can go to these planets as we see fit. The risk being we’re sending other beings out that have some sort of sentience. I’m not necessarily sure what that could even entail. If the AI decides humans are deadweight or something. But the increased speed comes with increased risk.
  • Send humanity 2.0. I think much later down the line this is actually the most likely. Merge humans and AI and develop a fourth “layer” of the brain, so to speak. This would essentially integrate all of humanity into one system. This is what Musk and Neuralink are trying to accomplish to mitigate the AI destroying humanity threat. By humans becoming AI and vice versa. This would likely give us control over biological functions. Other technologies simultaneously being developed would only enhance this likelihood.
  • Send something new. Genetic augmentation techniques are advancing. Perhaps we develop something non-machine but non-human to go as a sort of stormtrooper of colonization. It could be seen as a lower power race that we use or a partner race that we share the universe with. I don’t think this is likely but it also might help us evade the threat of developing something more intelligent than us that we can’t control.


Wow. That turned into something large. I enjoy questions like this as they’re fun thought experiments. But that’s pretty scary. As I research and learn more I’m becoming more confident “humanity”, that is homo sapiens won’t colonize the universe.

Whether we evolve over time, change ourselves genetically, merge with AI or create our replacement or some other possibility. It seems likely we’re just a stage in the evolution of intelligence. Spooky.


Written by Andrew Walls

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