Icarus Interstellar is starting project Astrolabe to study the future of civilization

Icarus Interstellar has started project Astrolabe to study the future of civilization.

If we really want to quantify signs of technological civilization in the universe, we need to think about how SETI and METI programs are or will be integral to any interstellar effort, as both are about the quest for knowledge as an active engagement with the world.

In parallel with these efforts, we will want to study the technological trends emerging from our rapidly changing civilization, for what they portend for the future. What technologies our science develops for us, and which among these technologies prove to be practicable and adaptable to the peculiar architecture of our civilization, will shape every detail of the future, and may prove the difference between human civilization being viable or non-viable. Every particular interstellar propulsion technology, or life sciences technology, or computing technology – everything, in short, that goes toward building a technological civilization – interacts differently with the individual life making use of such technologies and the socioeconomic structure within which the individual finds a home.

The study of the future of civilization, then, requires that we engage with questions of detail in regard to the particular means of securing our long-term future, as well as engaging with the big picture of difficult issues that will be posed by future developments, such as the economics of spacefaring civilization, transhumanism, computational infrastructure, and the profound moral dilemmas of expanding the terrestrial biosphere and human civilization beyond Earth.

Nick Nielsen will lead Project Astrolabe in these investigations, with Heath Rezabek as Deputy Project Lead. The Project Astrolabe Project Proposal Outline here.

If you’re interested in joining the study team, please email info@icarusinterstellar.org with a short statement of interest and brief background information. We are looking for people with interest and/or experience in anthropology, sociology, transhumanism, futurism and other disciplines relating to assessing the past and future of social and technical evolution and thought.

How are we to understand civilization, so that we can form an idea of its future permutations, and perhaps even to assert a measure of control over what we are to become? There is no science of civilization, and if there is a philosophy of civilization it is nowhere as focused and disciplined as, e.g., epistemology or ontology.

If the study of civilization is a science, how is it to be quantified? How are we to conduct observations of civilization? If civilization is an active area of philosophical research, what are the problems and issues in the study of civilization being debated by contemporary philosophers? I think that an honest individual would have to respond that there is, at present, only the haziest notion of how civilization might be quantified for measurement, and similarly only the haziest notion of what the great controversies are in the philosophy of civilization.

The scope of this project will include, but is not necessarily limited to:

1. Investigation of methodological considerations in the study of civilization, including investigation of the kind of concepts (historical, scientific, philosophical, etc.) employed in the elucidation of civilization.
2. Review of extant definitions of civilization
3. Review of extant typologies and developmental schemata for civilization
4. Review of quantifiable metrics that have been applied to civilization
5. Formulation of new definitions, typologies, developmental schemata, and quantifiable metrics for civilization.
6. Application of definitions, typologies, developmental schemata, and quantifiable metrics to the future of civilization: how can these ideas be extrapolated?
7. Development of a short list of likely future scenarios for the future of civilization.
8. Review of existing risk concepts and metrics applicable to humanity and civilization.
9. Developing a list of global catastrophic risks and existential risks that threaten civilization today and in the future.
10. Weighting of known global catastrophic risks and existential risks relative to each other.
11. Developing a conceptual framework adequate to the rational discussion of unknowns and uncertainties (i.e., “black swan” events).
12. Cost/benefit analysis of global catastrophic risk and existential risk mitigation.
13. Formulation of recommendations for addressing global catastrophic risks, existential risks, and future unknowns.

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