Dyson Shells and the Future… Part I

George Dvorsky recently blogged on the easy way to boot-strap civilisation into Kardashev Type II status. For those new to the Kardashev Civilisation levels, Type I uses the energy received by its planet – humans use and control about 0.01% of that presently. Type II uses and controls the energy output equivalent to its star’s output, about 2.2 billion times more than Type I. A Type III uses the energy output of its Galaxy – roughly 30 billion times the previous level.

A recent paper by Japanese theorists proposed possible ways a Type III civilisation might tap the energy potential of a Galaxy’s Black Hole, essentially creating a tame Quasar. Collectors 1,000 light years from the Active Region would beam energy to any part of the Galaxy requiring it, even to near inter-Galactic distances. To get in the way of such a power-beam would probably rapidly reduce whole planets to rock vapour, so controlling distribution will be quite a challenge.

Similarly Dvorsky envisages surrounding the Sun in energy collectors built from materials extracted from the planet Mercury, even going so far as to disassemble the planet. Then the rest of the planets might follow, to be converted into “computronium”, which is essentially smart materials for building virtual environments for virtual life-forms to live in. Alternatively large real habitats might be constructed, though these rapidly run into materials strength issues as they grow in size.

Such wholesale consumption of star systems seems kind of short-sighted to me. Enthusiasts argue that because natural planets are essentially random arrangements of elements, crafted by simple “generator codes” then simulated planets made the same way will do just as well. Perhaps. But I find the prospect of ripping apart planets without first studying them in detail kind of artless. Regardless of how elaborate our simulations, the Universe is vastly more detailed and thus escapes the necessary simplifications of our copying/mimicking of its processes. What would we miss by artless consuming it all willy-nilly?

In the long-term I am not against converting the available inert matter into living material, biological or otherwise. To be against that is anti-Life and ultimately futile. But once we reach the post-biological stage must we then hasten our pace of consuming the cosmos? The available mass-energy is only being trickled out by the stars. At most they fuse and radiate away 0.9% of what’s available. There are many trillions of years of the Age of Stars before us, as Post-Biologicals once we have our First Singularity. Why trash the planets in a few centuries?