Through history people have combined their labor with increasingly advanced tools. This let us better meet our needs through easier work, and provided a higher quality of life with improved safety and health. The last two centuries have seen gradual replacement of manual labor with powered equipment. More recently, technologies like automation, robotics, software, and artificial intelligence have enabled "Smart Tools", which can replace much of the remaining labor. Along with these advances, civilization in the 21st century faces a number of current and future problems. These include uneven development, a deteriorating environment, and a precarious situation under our current system. The latter includes "techno-unemployment" - unemployment caused by smart tools.
The two volumes in the Better Worlds set are an attempt to describe how we got to where we are, what the problems are, how we can engineer solutions, and some example designs for them. Our approach includes better methods of growth and self-improvement, and treating whole systems over their full life cycle. We think a combination of the two can address these kinds of large-scale problems and allow us to build a better future.
- Volume I: Seed Factories and Self-Improving Systems
This first volume starts by introducing some of the problems, and the systems engineering approach we will use to devise solutions. It then reviews the history of self-improvement in its various aspects like expansion, growth, and upgrades. For most of history the changes were unconscious, and more recently conscious but unplanned. At some point in our history we began planning projects, but did not give much thought to their side effects. Today, the side effects of our growing civilization are becoming urgent problems. So we must not only address unwanted effects of future actions, but also try to undo some of the damage already caused.
Civilization is large and complex, so our solutions have to address both scale and complexity. At the same time we don't want to introduce more unwanted side effects. A "seed factory" is a production system which can make more equipment for itself by a recursive process, giving it the potential to grow exponentially. This can provide the scale for large solutions. "Systems engineering" is a method developed in the 20th century to handle complex projects over their entire life cycle. It considers the whole system, including all the inputs from and outputs to the outside world. If done correctly, it will identify potential problems like resource depletion, waste products, and end-of-life disposal. These issues can then be dealt with ahead of time, during design.
We think combining the concept of seed factories with systems engineering can lead to the kind of solutions we need. So this book devotes a section to the development of the seed factory concept, its current status, and what additional work is needed. Another section covers design ideas to incorporate, the rationale for building such systems, and a reference architecture to structure their planning. We then cover the systems engineering process in some detail, from specifying needs and wants through construction and operation. [To Be Added: sections on science & engineering design from vol 2 since those apply to both volumes] Since every production system involves processes and equipment, we also inventory what is available, and speculate on new ones that might be useful in the future.
The later sections of this volume present a series of examples of our combined approach. They are in order of increasing scale and difficulty. They are linked because a given seed factory can not only make equipment for its own improvement. When sufficiently matured it can also
- (1) make equipment for additional seed factories to scale by replication, and
- (2) make different and/or larger equipment for more difficult projects.
It can therefore provide equipment to grow into or start fresh one of the later examples.
A set of factory machines by themselves are incapable of doing anything. A complete production system also requires material resources to feed the machines, energy to run them, and people with suitable skills and experience to operate, control and maintain them. We refer to the combination of tools, resources, energy, and knowledge in our examples as the "TREK" principle.
For as long as the Solar System has existed, the Earth has not been a closed system. It has interacted with the Universe beyond our atmosphere in various ways. The most important interaction is solar energy from the Sun, balanced by thermal energy radiating back to space. But it is only since 1957 that we have been able to intentionally place objects into space. Prior to that the billions of people who have ever lived, all the artifacts of our civilization, and the biosphere which supports us were limited to a relatively thin layer near the Earth's surface.
The material and energy resources in space are many orders of magnitude larger than what we have access to from the Earth's surface. For our long-term future it makes sense to use those resources to supplement or replace our activity here. That can help reduce or prevent further damage to the environment in which we live, and even enable it to heal. It also presents opportunities to do new things we can't do on Earth.
The principles of engineering we use on Earth also apply to space. But reaching space is difficult, distances are enormous, and the environments are very different. Unlike Earth, everything is also in motion relative to each other. Volume II addresses these difference by first introducing the relevant science and engineering subjects. The next major section covers space transport. To do anything in space you first have to leave Earth to get there, and generally travel to specific destinations afterwards. Another section covers terrestrial engineering technologies as adapted to space, and methods that are specific to the space environment.
The rest of Volume II continues the series of examples of self-improving systems to space. Volume II follows Volume I because the first such systems must be supplied from Earth. They are organized by distance and difficulty, which is approximately the order we would attempt them. Systems in previous space locations can also be used to help build seed elements for later ones. The environments and resources in space differ for each region. So we will provide descriptions of these conditions, along with some potential projects and programs to develop for them.
Links and Sources
A two volume set cannot contain all the details needed to understand and build complex projects like seed factories. We therefore plan to link extensively to online open-source resources, such as Wikipedia and the Internet Archive. Links are generally in bold-face to help recognize them. Not everything is available this way, so we will also reference copyrighted works where appropriate. If you are having difficulty accessing them through libraries or purchase, you can contact the contributors below for help.
Project and Book Contributors
This set is being developed as part of the Seed Factory Project, an open-source collaboration to develop the relevant technology and hardware. Being open-source, we have chosen to use the Wikibooks site to host the books as we develop them, and plan to make other project data similarly available.
The original author is Dani Eder, 6485 Rivertown Rd., Fairburn GA, 30213, user Danielravennest on Wikibooks, and email firstname.lastname@example.org. Other contributors are welcome and can choose to add their names and contact info here if they wish. Otherwise the "View history" tab on any page indicates the source of editorial changes. If you contribute to the books, we ask that you provide links to sources, data, and calculations, so that others can check the work and make improvements.