Home → Magazine Archive → May 2016 (Vol. 59, No. 5) → Future Tense: Becoming a Multi-Planet Species → Abstract

Future Tense: Becoming a Multi-Planet Species

By Louis Friedman

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 59 No. 5, Pages 136-ff

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Humans and robots together are symbiotically creating a new age of exploration, extending human presence and evolution to transform us into a multi-planet species. Not as humans vs. robots or as robots vs. humans. Such characterizations are archaic. Our multi-planet evolution will be a continuum of human and robot, with us physically present on Earth and Mars and virtually present beyond. Humankind must make it to Mars to overcome the physical and psychological limit of being confined to our fragile singular planet. But technologies for exploration beyond Mars are evolving so quickly that by the time we settle on the Red Planet our species will be completely immersed in and interacting with worlds throughout the solar system and even beyond. Let us imagine how that might be, looking into our future.

It is July 20, 2069, the 100th anniversary of humanity's first landing on another world. Dr. Angela Okonjo is reviewing, one last time, her prepared speech for the Anniversary Program. She is director of Mars Base 1, the highest-ranking human resident on Mars, whose population is now several hundred people distributed on three bases around the planet. "How strange it is," she thought, "that I, an information sciences major at MIT, immersed deeply in the world of robotics engineering and artificial intelligence, should be the representative of human exploration on another world." But she realized it was not strange at all; all exploration involves humans and robots, humans deeply involved in so-called robotic missions, and robotics hard at work on so-called human missions.


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