Well, the day has come. I think we all knew it had to end like this; whether it was the environmental collapse, Robot Revolt, or some villain’s unexpected superweapon, the Earth’s time is up. But, hey, this isn’t the time for getting down. Just because the Earth is doomed doesn’t mean the human race has to be. And hell, what have we got left to lose by trying? Even if you and I don’t make it out, we can at least fight against the encroaching darkness by making sure that our achievements aren’t forgotten. So here’s to you, my fellow Ozymandias; perhaps one of these four choices will ensure our memory fairs a bit better than our namesake.
4. Evacuation Procedures
Obviously, our best option is to get the hell out of here. Live to fight another day, and all that, am I right? And while the logistics of this aren’t exactly easy, they aren’t quite as impossible as they may seem. A “Minimum Viable Population” of humans has been estimated to be 160 people, and can be made to work with as few as half that, especially if you have access to things like cryogenic freezing. All we have to do, then, is get at least 80 people in good health into orbit for long enough that the Earth makes some kind of recovery, or failing that, to kickstart the colonization of another world–let’s say Mars, for convenience.
If our catastrophe was a slow one, like the environment, then the governments of the world may have already set this in motion, and likely for far more than the meager handful of people needed. Another alternative, if getting offworld is just absolutely impossible, is to hide underground. This was the plan for nuclear war, after all, and re-colonizing a barren Earth isn’t so different from taking on an entirely alien world. Of course, the robots might find you underground…
3. Genetic Ark
Even if it’s possible to evacuate that minimum population to a place where they can wait it out, there’s no guarantee we personally will survive; perhaps things are way too far gone, such that it’s unrealistic to expect any living human to get through this. But we can always break this down a little farther: the whole role of that population is to provide enough genetic diversity that the human race can work its way past the bottleneck and thrive again without being debilitated by genetic diseases. What if, instead of having to provide food, water, air, and space for 160 people, we just hold onto their DNA to grow new humans from scratch down the road? DNA is relatively easy to encode and store, so we could potentially do this for far, far more people–not to mention other life forms of the Earth that deserve to be saved, like whales, elephants, or even plants (which already exist today). It’s hard to have a thriving colony, or terraform another world, without plants and livestock, after all.
Aside from the clear downer that individuals won’t survive, this is sort of a risky plan. It requires that our machines function perfectly long after anyone’s around to fix them, and do so well enough to incubate and foster humans to at least a young adolescent level where they might be capable of performing repairs and maintenance. This also needs a TON of legwork collecting all that DNA and making sure you’re not introducing those aforementioned genetic conditions yourself. Even if the machines fail, though, the data is still there, and perhaps someone or something of the far future will be able to read it and revive the Earth’s lifeforms.
2. Digital Descendants
In the event of anything short of an earth-shattering explosion, our artificial constructions will continue to exist, at least for a while. And while nature may slowly reclaim them on Earth (provided there’s a nature to do that), anything standing offworld will likely remain as it was for millions of years. If we’re already going to have to build extremely durable machines to pull off the previous plan, why not simply have those machines serve as the continuation of this world in our absence? If you ask a Transhumanist, the replacement of flesh with tech was inevitable anyway, so all we’ve done is hurry along the process. We can preserve our culture and knowledge this way, and if mind uploading is an option, even specific personalities and “people” can be brought along. Perhaps these android descendants of ours (though they need not be humanoid at all), might even be able to reconstruct the genetic code of lost species and bring their creators back from the grave.
On the other hand, much like real children, our artificial progeny may not listen to their parents’ wishes. And that’s fine, too; we can’t do anything about it, and if they should decide we don’t deserve a second shot, then they have every right to do so. It’s not as if we’ll object. Hell, for that matter, even if the robots wiped us out themselves, we still created them and they’ll never be able to erase that fact. Just imagine: the machines humanity built, turning on their masters and eliminating all life on Earth, only to go out and live their dream of laying waste to every organic being among the stars. There’s worse ways to be remembered than as the creators of the most dangerous beings in the galaxy.
Or maybe not…
1. Cosmic Graffiti
Alright, so the bunker’s busted, the ark is empty, and our attempts at AI have been less than successful. Things are looking grim, there’s no denying that. We’re toast, it’s our own fault, and that’s all there is to it. But even a senseless death can have meaning brought to it, if others are there to witness it. The most noble thing we can do now as a species is to serve as cautionary tale–take care of your planet’s environment, no conflict is worth extinction, or DON’T. DATE. ROBOTS. We need to draw attention to ourselves in the hopes that someone comes by to check it out and see what we left behind. So yeah, last one out of Earth, don’t turn off the lights; turn ’em all on, in the hopes that the neighbors can learn from our mistakes. Broadcast on all frequencies, send satellites and landers with protected data to each and every body in the solar system. Fire them into the void. Scratch them into mountain faces and carve them into the Earth itself. The best part is that we’ve already started at this, with things like Pioneer and Voyager, millions of miles away with messages left to whomever should be so lucky.
Because everyone who passes by must know: Mankind was here. We fucked up, and it’s too late for us. Learn from our mistakes, lest you be doomed to repeat it. Like the great Ozymandias, our hubris led us to believe our works would stand forever. And while they wither away, eroded as with the stone statue, our one last hope lays in the observing eyes of a stranger. Remember us, if only as a name lost to the sands of time, because even Ozymandias lives on in the words of a poet.
I guess that’s all for this week. Have any secret plans for avoiding the end of the world you’d care to share? You can let me know in the comments, or on twitter @RetroPhaseShift. I’m really hoping to have a big announcement for you all soon, as we approach the site’s anniversary, but in the mean time…
If you’re in the Durham area, you can come say hi at the Geekcraft Expo this weekend! I’ll be there with the last print run of my books as they currently are, so grab up these limited editions while you can. Like I said, big things.