Spurring Participation Aerospace Competitiveness & Entrepreneurship
We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution. 10,000 years ago, humans discovered how to do intensive agriculture using human and animal labor to grow cereal crops, creating enough food-energy in a small region to sustain the world's first cities. This was the Agricultural Revolution and it led to the development of written language, mathematics, regional empires, and much more. In the 1800s, humans discovered how to harness chemical energy to create steam-powered machines, leading to the Industrial Revolution. More recently we have been experiencing an Information Revolution and an explosion of robotics and computing power. The next revolution will take civilization off the planet and into space. This is made possible by robotics and artificial intelligence. Creating industry on the Moon and Mars and in space with asteroids is not rocket science; it is industrial engineering where we need to adapt existing technologies to a new environment.
Many moguls are turning into commercial space explorers: flying as space tourists, building and launching their own rockets, and starting space companies. They do this because the technology to take human civilization into the solar system has arrived. Space colonization is now possible, and we can solve many of Earth’s greatest problems, too, by bringing the billion-fold greater resources of our solar system into our economic sphere. In order to solve the global challenges such as global warming, water shortages, and abundant energy for economic growth in developing nations, it needs to start quickly. I became convinced the solution to our global problems must involve educating/involving the citizens, creating a movement that understands, expects, and demands that we do the right things, since ultimately politicians respond to them. Our actions and our leadership are essential to the cause of humanity.
Robotic industry in space will create an unprecedented growth in economic productivity. According to Bill Gates in 2007, robotics "is developing in much the same way that the computer business did 20 years ago". A 2016 review finds “robots dexterous enough to thread a needle and sensitive enough to work alongside humans. They can assemble circuits and pack boxes. The sectors most needed for space industry are also the most automatable: manufacture of computers and electronics, electrical equipment, components, appliances, transportation equipment, and machinery are at least 85% automatable today. Mining companies are now adopting fully autonomous vehicles for underground mining, dozing, and hauling. Robotics is penetrating the construction industry, as well. Masonry buildings are constructed by robots that lay bricks three times as fast as humans. Robotic systems are being developed to autonomously construct steel beam buildings, including high-rise buildings. An example is found in this fully automated factory in Japan:
At this moment, in one of Fanuc's 40,000-square-foot factories near Mt. Fuji, robots are building other robots at a rate of about 50 per 24-hour shift and can run unsupervised for as long as 30 days at a time. When they stop, it's because there's no room to store the goods. Trucks haul off the new robots, the lights are cut, and the process begins anew. "Not only is it lights-out," says Fanuc vice president Gary Zywiol, "we turn off the air conditioning and heat too."
More of these “lights out” factories that use only robots without humans are now operating. They include machines shops, distribution centers, food production plants, and electronics factories. A Chinese factory making cell phone modules in 2015 illustrates how far this automation has progressed:
…all the processes are operated by computer-controlled robots, computer numerical control machining equipment, unmanned transport trucks and automated warehouse equipment. The technical staff just sits at the computer and monitors through a central control system.
These capabilities are set to revolutionize industry on Earth, but they are also rapidly changing our prospects for starting up space industry. The less human intervention is needed for the robots, the more rapidly space industry can expand. This industry will grow because launch costs are being reduced by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA, and because mining in space will provide cheap rocket fuel. Space industry will next draw revenue from the exploding demand for Internet data and telecommunications by constructing vast antennas in orbit using materials from asteroids and the Moon. This is the only known way to keep up with the data demands in the coming decades. The Internet and Energy sectors alone will be worth many trillions of dollars, and moving these sectors into space will dramatically reduce the environmental burden on Earth. Resources in space will come from mining the Moon and asteroids and from collecting solar energy from solar cells made using the mined materials. Even as space industry is developing it will begin providing benefits back to the Earth. In order for it to solve the global challenges, it needs to start quickly.
Since space industry will grow exponentially, it can rapidly dwarf all industry on Earth, providing tremendous economic value to human civilization. It is estimated there could be the equivalent of a trillion human intelligences (artificial intelligence) provided by computing by the end of the century, and these computer-based intelligences could “live” an a virtual world in hardware located off Earth. They will be performing the engineering and science to create ever-greater technologies to take civilization to successively higher levels of development. The economic value to Earth will also include items manufactured in space and brought back for sale, space tourism experiences, and more effective science and space exploration.
The Limited Window of Opportunity.
As with every economic revolution, there will be winners and losers including the potential for abuse unless and until social structures adapt to the new regime. History tells us that the industrial revolution greatly enhanced economic productivity and wealth but was not equally shared by all. It resulted in a form of economic slavery for factory workers. In the case of technology, the extremely rapid scale-up and the extreme imbalance this produces could make it extremely difficult for social justice to be recovered once it is lost. Unless steps are taken to promote parity before it is too late, this economic revolution will also amplify the existing disparities along national and racial dividing lines. Those who have privileged locations in society and the world can get the better educations and jobs and can be involved now, at the start. They can gain shares of equity that scale as the industry scales, maintaining their economic and political relevance. Those who are underprivileged today are not taking part in this revolution. This involves the vast majority of the world where there is either no program or too small for the number of citizens. As the economic revolution proceeds, they will be reduced to political powerlessness far worse than their conditions today. The marginalization of labor from economic production is already a concern for terrestrial industry. So far, thousand stores were closed in 2020 and many more closings are expected in 2021. This is not a futuristic challenge; this is something that’s happening today. In our data when I looked, women disproportionately hold the jobs that today are at highest risk of automation. And that’s not really being talked about, and that’s in part because women are over-represented in some of their marginalized occupations, like a cashier or a fast-food worker. After ignition of AI industry, it is too late to gain equity, because Earth’s buying power will be trivialized. By then it will also be too late to seek imposition of new social controls. Also, because the industry grows exponentially, the gap will forever widen. The only opportunity to solve this problem is during the bootstrapping period while human labor is still needed in the industry. Humans will be needed to design the robotics, build and test prototypes, tele-operate them, and evolve the industry until ignition is achieved.
The case study
In addition to the ultimate goal of starting industry in space, a crowd-sourcing program will have benefits on Earth along the way. One benefit is enhanced education across the globe. Here, I describe my twelve years operating a nonprofit school in Venezuela and the experiences with the school as a case study. I found most of the children have very little hope for advancement in jobs or careers, and they do not see how education will change that. Part of the problem is that the parents also do not see the value of the education, so they do not encourage their children to continue, or they actively encourage them to quit. I also found systemic problems in the community due to inadequate community support for education. This was reflected through members of the community repeatedly breaking into the school to steal all the computers, or worse, to simply destroy the computers because the school is seen as a threat because it will take children away from working in the production of illegal drugs, so the children had to be transported to the campus secretly to keep its location unknown. In the midst of this situation, I introduced new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) educational programs that are hands-on, fun, and utilize inspirational stories of successful people to provide a demonstration that education has real benefits. I created an electronic platform to deliver the content, freeing the school from particular locations that could be vandalized. These changes were highly successful. Space exploration has been an even stronger motivator than standard STEM topics. Some days where the power is out all day long and is restored only late at night, the students go online to complete the lessons at those late hours because they cannot wait to continue. I hypothesized this can be greatly expanded to further enhance the program and eventually can be merged into a program that expands ownership of space industry. So, I formulated our program around these themes: (1) motivating students in education, (2) creating a pipeline to jobs and a community of citizen technologists, (3) supporting local economic development, (4) expanding global participation and ownership of space industry, (5) and fully integrating this with the entertainment community to spur social change. In the near term, the development of these programs is already affecting the communities by strongly motivating students to continue education. Our efforts are also affecting economic development of the communities in nascent ways. A company in a South American country was seeking employees to work in mechatronics, and I was able to recommend a graduate of my school for the job. After he was hired, he began sending back financial support to his family, which demonstrated to their community that education has value. This is helping change social values in the region that will have long-term effects. Furthermore, the hired student was able to recommend several of his friends from the same region, who now also received jobs. Thus, it has created a multiplier effect in this very poor region. It started as a project to get people in underdeveloped regions involved in the technology of space industry to promote social justice. From the strong response we are now making our program available through an open source platform. Students can go on from our program to work in any STEM field, not necessarily space, but the theme of space motivates the program.
A Program for expanded global ownership of Space Industry
Because planned economies have historically failed, new modeling techniques are needed. If ownership is to pass to great numbers of people globally, the solution will need to be developed by a person or group that wants to give it to them, and that develops it before anybody else does. That could be a crowd-sourced movement where the crowd creates the industry and therefore already owns it. A social justice goal of this project is to address these issues. I hypothesized we can create inroads to space industry for the participants in our program through intellectual property rights. My project strategically includes people around the world, especially including those who are disadvantaged, as early participants and innovators in our space future, providing on-ramps toward ownership and high value employment. Expanding ownership of space industry solves two problems. First, it will motivate people to act as pioneers, engaging their efforts and funds, making it possible for the industry to become economic. This has been a vital part of pioneering movements on Earth in the past but has been lacking thus far in space due to the biological limitation against pioneers surviving sub-economically in the space environment. Our program re-establishes the economic norms of pioneering through tele-operation of broadly owned robotics. Second, it will reduce economic and political disparity in the long run, as industry in space begins to grow exponentially and eventually dominates productivity in the human sphere.
This autonomous revolution requires a solution that supports combined strengths of experts, crowds and specialists to design innovative complex systems. In addition to the technology, we need to have the right legal frameworks, ethics, government policies and environmental standards in place. I share this holistic approach to our work and I am excited about what we may achieve together.