PHYSICS PIT STOP – Episode 2 – End of Our Civilization

PHYSICS PIT STOP – Episode 2 – End of Our Civilization


Two hyper-intelligent zebra-oids were having
brunch at a fine Cafe in Paris. One asked “Remember when humans were so
ugly?” The other said “Yes, it took us a hundred
generations of captive breeding to get them to look normal.” I’m Bill Lee. And I’ll be discussing how long will civilization
last? I mean OUR civilization, not Zebroids. And if you think I have all of the answers,
you’re seriously deluded. However, let’s get into it. Let me define the term self-perpetuation. Complex structures usually degenerate over
time. For example, if you make a nicely detailed
plaster of Paris sculpture, don’t expect it to look the same a million years from now. Even the transistors in integrated circuits
will degenerate over periods of decades or centuries due to diffusion. However. certain types of complex structures, like
LIFE, can RESIST this degeneration. Living structures do so by making new copies
of themselves, also by self-repairing, and by doing what you might call self-improvement. (altho Darwin had aNOTHER name for THAT.) I call this ability to maintain complexity
over the eons “self-perpetuation”. How long can this self-perpetuation last? Some species of cyanobacteria are essentially
unchanged from a few billion years ago. That fact alone is proof of concept that it’s
possible, within the laws of physics, that matter can be organized into complex forms
that continue to exist, one way or another, for billions of years, despite the tendency
toward disorder. In addition to maintaining the same form,
we know that other lineages have changed over time, in the sense of becoming even MORE complex
and having MORE moving parts, eventually becoming ants and blue whales and these guys who are
right on the very verge of creating a self-perpetuating technology. Can machines self-perpetuate? [I point to my laptop] This is mister Lappy. “Mister Lappy, go find some Lectricity… . Go on! Scat!. . . Oh, you big silly, I always have to help
you with your Lectricity!” [I Plug in its power cord]
Mr. Lappy could never survive by himself in the woods. Even if he had solar cells for power, those
cells would eventually degenerate and he has no way of mining silicon and fabricating new
cells, to say nothing about the diffusion his transistors will undergo. He can’t even begin to fix or copy himself. Therefore, he’s not able to self-perpetuate
in any sense, even though he’s way better than me at math. Technology and Manufacturing is a huge interconnected
economic system, It’s run by humans but most of the technical stuff is now done by
machines. What I mean by that is that when integrated
circuits are fabricated, we don’t have trained Artisan humans chiseling the patterns onto
silicon. Rather, very precise robots do this with X-Rays. Right now, humans do some of the important
things. Like fixing glitches or figuring out where
to drill for oil. These are things machines will probably be
able to do soon. Then the technology of Earth would be able
run itself and even improve itself for a very long time. Remember the example of cyanobacteria? Let’s talk about the meaning of the term “civilization”. Suppose everything goes peachy Keen and humans
flourish. Does this mean that a thousand years from
now, everyone should be driving themselves to work while listening to LL Cool J on their
Sirius Radio? Well, no not exactly. I don’t think the world works like a Futurama
episode. If everything goes as well as expected and
there’s no mega virus that wipes out everybody or something else like that, we personally
will be dead in a thousand years and our distant descendants will be kicking around somewhere
and doing things that we can’t begin to predict. Now, who cares whether these distant descendants
are synthetic or DNA based? Either way, we in the present helped make
them, so they are a continuation of our civilization. When and if the technology of Earth becomes
a giant self-perpetuating entity, subsequent miniaturization will allow smaller and smaller
entities to self-perpetuate, In other words, going from big to small. (Ironically, this is the opposite of how life
on Earth evolved, which was from small cells to big whales.) Eventually, small machines could be created
that mine and manufacture everything they need, potentially even recreating all of Earth
technology, provided that such a small machine is given enough time and a big asteroid to
mine. There’s no theoretical reason that this small
machine couldn’t self-perpetuate indefinitely. Let’s call this little critter a synthetic
being. How long will civilization last? Pessimists say we’re likely to kill ourselves
within a few hundred years. However, suppose we exist long enough that
Earth Technology becomes self-perpetuating. Then suppose synthetic beings start moving
off the Earth and set up shop on asteroids or start traveling into Interstellar space? What could possibly wipe THEM out? The only thing I can think of is other machines
coming from Earth to track them down and eat them and then those machines would subsequently
have to self-destruct, although I’m not exactly sure what the motivation would be for that. However, if even ONE of those synthetic beings
managed to escape to a distant chunk of rock near a star, it could recreate a civilization
that is a direct descendant of OUR civilization. How long will civilization last? Perhaps a very long time, if we can just hold
on for a few more decades. Your mission is to make sure we hold on, by
pushing that subscribe button. We don’t want anything bad happening do we? Oh yeah, you can also do thumbs up and comments. it’s up to you. How charitable are you?

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