In this lab 100 years means nothing, but 100 qubits could mean everything

If the vision is there, the means will follow

Everyone seems to be driving in the fast lane now. Academia and industry are getting increasingly short-sighted in both evaluation and investment. Even organizations with long-term goals (such as scientific knowledge, or profound social change) attempt to characterize their progress by short-term bottom lines such as published citations or employment statistics. Though this is understandable, the short-term markers move to the heart of these organizations and will eventually destroy them. We need the long-term vision and the theory that springs from it. What good is playing chess if you do not have a board ? What is the value of astronomy without the framework of the heliocentric universe ? What good is chemistry without Mendeleev periodic table ? There seems to be a poignant need and a big opportunity for a laboratory with long horizons. When we started to use "in this place one hundred years means nothing" as a signature in our email messages, Seth Lloyd suggested we should change this to "but one hundred qubits could mean everything". So we did.

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Where is the deep future ?

There are several philosophical theories about the deep future. John Horgan wrote about some of them (the New Polynesia and Omega Point) in the End of Science .
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In the Coming of the Golden Age, Günther Stent promises the science community an era of social and intellectual stasis and universal leisure. He called it the New Polynesia. Frank Tipler's The Physics of Immortality suggests that the entire universe will be transformed into a single all powerful, all knowing computer : Omega Point. The theory goes back to a Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who had envisioned a future in which all living things merged into a single, divine entity embodying the spirit of christ. According to Tipler we will one day have the power to recreate via computers (resurrect) everyone who has ever lived for an eternity of time. In this scenario God managed to create the universe, pass on messages to it via the prophets and all this time He only existed in the future.

Michio Kaku is less philosophical about the future but quite comprehensive in Visions : How Science will revolutionize the 21st century. He sets his long horizons by a Soviet astrophysicist Nikolaï Kardashev : the K-civilizations.
Kardashev proposed a classification of 3 levels of civilisations based on their levels of technological sophistication.

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  1. Level one (also know as K1) was a civilization that advanced enough to use all of the energy resources on a single planet.
  2. A level-two (or K2) civilization would be more advanced technologically, enough to use all the energy provided by a single star.
  3. The highest or most advanced civilization (level three or K3) would be able to use all the energy of an entire galaxy.

These levels and their accompanying energy signatures were used in the speculation about extra-terrestrial life, see SETI.
We are now, according to this theory, A K0 civilization . We have just come from burning wood and coal for our energy and moved over to dead animals (fossil fuel). A K0 becomes K1 when it survives the discovery of element 92 and the development and maintenance of a chemical industry. Then it starts to work towards a synthesis of all its knowledge.


K1 The Planetary Civilization

  • ~ 4 x 1012 W energy requirements
  • It uses the energy of the entire planet : they mine the oceans, go deep in the crust of the earth and modify the weather
  • Planetary politics : the nation state will be no more. It will be understood that if one nation releases vast quantities of ozone-depleting gases, the entire planet is affected by it.
  • They will set up outposts on nearby stars
  • They will have a working planetary communication system
  • The civilizaiton will develop a planetary culture and economy
  • K1 will be one species : the larger the breeding population, the slower the rate of evolution.

K2 The Stellar Civilization

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  • ~ 4 x 1026 W energy requirements
  • Immortal. It will see the end of the universe, if there is one. Nothing known in nature can physically destroy it. It can fend off astronomical/ecological disasters by their technology (ice ages, meteors , comet impacts) probably by micro-adjustments to the planet's spin.
  • Its energy requirements are so large that it will derive its energy directly from its own sun (not passive solar collectors, but spaceships that mine the sun's energy)
  • It can build a Dyson sphere : huge sphere around its sun thereby capturing all its energy
  • Only infrared detectors will be able to spot it . It will probably conceal its electromagnetic signals or scramble their messages across the complete bandwidth and unscramble them at the receiving end. But it will not be able to conceal waste heat (2nd law of thermodynamics).

K3 The Galactic Civilisation

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  • ~ 4 x 1037 W energy requirements
  • Rulers of the universe : master interstellar travel
  • They will know the secret of Planck energy (keeps together the fabric of space and time)
  • They will be able to drill dimensional holes in space and will not need a spaceship
  • They will use Von Neumann probes or astro-chickens (Dyson) to colonize other planets. These are small robotic probes that land on the moons of distant planets and build self-replicating factories. They will be a combination of biotechnology and AI (self-repair, foodfinding, progeneration) and will have emotions (pain=danger, pleasure=refuel, joy=mission accomplished, maternal=progeneration care)