The Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation – The Longevity of High-Tech Civilizations (L)

After numerous posts, we’ve now reached an analysis of the final term in the Drake equation, L, the average lifespan of high-tech civilizations. If you thought putting a value on f_c, the likelihood of an intelligent civilization developing a high enough technology to make its existence known across interstellar distances, was a prime avenue for political and ideological axe grinding, this one is even more.

Still, we have to try. First, we’ll look at some factors supporting a large value for L, then, some factors supporting a small value. If you’re playing along at home, pick the one that most appeals to you.

Factors supporting a large value for L

Sustainability is one of those teeth-grating buzzwords of contemporary life, but it’s still the case that a civilization not much more advanced than ours could sustain contemporary US levels of per capita energy consumption for billions of years. Capturing energy from hydrogen fusion would consume just 0.1% of the oceans’ volume by the time the sun turns into a red giant and swallows our planet.  Even nuclear fission, making use of relatively rare isotopes, could fuel a contemporary level of civilization for 5 billion years. Covering a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface with solar panels would do the same.solar-land-area

(We don’t have the technology for hydrogen fusion or long-range transmission of solar power, you ask? True, we don’t. Yet. But today’s nuclear fission would give us more than enough time to develop those technologies, if we need to).

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The Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation – From Intelligence to High-Tech Civ (f_c)

So far in the series, we’ve gotten a range for N, the number of detectable civilizations in the galaxy, to [5e-7 to 8e-6] * f_c * L. Today’s post will estimate the value of f_c, the fraction of intelligent species that go on to develop a civilization detectable (through electromagnetic transmissions and/or probes travelling at a sizable fraction of lightspeed) across interstellar distances.humanity's first interstellar probe

A common assumption in science fiction is that intelligent life forms will inevitably build high-tech civilizations. Similarly to the typical view of inevitable evolutionary progress toward intelligence which I demolished previously, this common assumption smacks of whig history. Of course progress is a law of nature. It gave rise to the pinnacle of existence: us.

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Two new books

I’m pleased to tell you about two new books I have coming out this summer from CV-2 Books.

Coming July 17, 2014

OPERATION IAGO

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On July 17, 2014, return to the Confederated Worlds in the thrilling sequel to Take the Shilling

The Confederated Worlds lost the war.
Can Lt. Tomas Neumann win the peace?

By the terms of the peace treaty, the citizens of the planet Arden will vote to stay in the Confederated Worlds or join the victorious Progressive Republic. Newly-minted Lieutenant Tomas Neumann leads his overstretched and demoralized Confederated Worlds Ground Force platoon in a mission that pushes men and machines to their limits, against elusive, deceptive foes out to tilt Arden to the Progressive Republic—and turn the Confederated Worlds against itself.

Find out more about ebook and paper editions, including ebook preorders, at CV-2 Books.

 

Coming September 25, 2014

THE ALECS QUARTET

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He had a month to learn the planet’s secrets– and Juliette’s

His Cover Story

Return to Elard to dismantle his sect’s missionary work to the planet’s natives.

His True Mission

Investigate decades-old mysteries of love and death.

His Objective

Return to Earth with his discovery–if he can.

Find out more about ebook and paper editions, including ebook preorders, at CV-2 Books.

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SFWA Grand Master – next prediction

You may have heard that Samuel R. Delany was recently named 2013 Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). He will receive the award at the Nebula Awards weekend in May 2014.

Long time readers of this blog knew he would win the honor last September. Following up on my prediction that Gene Wolfe would receive the award in 2013.

To whom will SFWA give the Grand Master award in 2015?

To be eligible, a candidate must be a living writer of sf/f. It helps to have a long career, a productive career, and mutilple award wins or other acclaim.

Recent events involving SFWA and sf fandom suggest future winners will tend to be one or more of non-white, non-straight, or non-male. (Take this statement as is, not should be).

Given all that, my prediction for the next SFWA Grand Master: C.J. Cherryh.

Long career? About 40 years.

Productive career? Over 60 books.

Award wins? A Campell for Best New Writer, and three Hugos. Probably best known for Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

Non-male? Check, plus the oppressed woman marker of being forced into her byline to disguise her sex and sound more rigorous than “Carolyn Cherry.” And “She now lives… with science fiction/fantasy author and artist Jane Fancher.”

Caveats: I’m not a SFWA member, and wouldn’t bother spending time in the organization’s private chat rooms if I were. I don’t know what sort of gossip, back-scratching, and other primate coalition building goes on in there that can impact the grand master selection. Also, I’ve read a few of Cherryh’s novels and some of her non-fiction on her website. I don’t know Cherryh at all. Given her subject matter and themes, she doesn’t seem the type to wilt and complain about sexism. She seems she could fire a rifle, field dress a deer, solve a calculus problem, and translate text into Latin. In sum, to my mind, Cherryh has some parallels to Elizabeth Moon. And we all know what happened to her.

They say prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Check back in a year to see how it turns out.

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The Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation – From the Cusp, to Intelligence (f_i, part 2)

In our last post, we looked at some of the many ways life could be prevented from giving rise to a pre-intelligent species–say, an animal like Proconsul, the earliest known ape, living about 25 million years ago. In doing so, we knocked f_i down to 0.02. Here, we’ll look at what could prevent the descendants of a pre-intelligent species from evolving intelligence.

First, we have to set aside our self-centered bias and admit a blunt truth: Evolution has no goal. It blindly pursues local optima. There’s no guiding hand ensuring that evolution reaches an unsurpassable pinnacle, i.e., us.

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Ebook Sale, Final Weekend

My ebook sale is entering its final weekend. Now through Sunday, every ebook edition of all my stories and novels are on sale at over 50% off list price. That’s right, for less than the price of a latte, you can buy a novel or three short stories, from most major ebook retailers in countries around the world, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and more!

But remember, this is the final weekend. Don’t miss out!

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Ebook Sale, Over 50% Off!

As I mentioned previously, now through November 11, every ebook edition of all my stories and novels are on sale at over 50% off list price. That’s right, you can buy a novel for $2.99 or a short story for less than a dollar, from most major ebook retailers in countries around the world, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and more!

But remember, this sale ends November 11. Don’t miss out!

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The Universe Doesn’t Care

I had a marvelous image: a synthetic planet in the Kuiper Belt–deep deep space, far beyond the orbit of Neptune–made solely from water. We let buoyant fusion reactors drift in its depths, fusing deuterium extracted from all that water to provide the light and heat needed to keep the planet liquid. (All that water makes a great neutron absorber). With a large enough volume, it would have a surface gravity close to Earth’s, or at least, strong enough to keep an oxygenated atmosphere from escaping to deep space. Imagine cities floating on the surface, with permanent night above and deeply lit ocean below, with enough cheap energy to fuel a civilization of a billion people, ten times richer than the modern day US, for ten million years….

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Ebooks on Sale, Over 50% Off!

Autumn is the season to sit near the fire with a good book. To help you do that, now through November 11, every ebook edition of all my stories and novels are on sale at over 50% off list price. That’s right, for less than the price of a latte, you can buy a novel or three short stories, from most major ebook retailers in countries around the world, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and more!

But remember, this sale ends November 11. Don’t miss out!

 

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Panel: The Interplay of Science and Science Fiction

Thanks to Asher Pembroke and Victoria Astley, a while ago I was on a panel with “Analog MAFIA” member Alexis Glynn Latner, and Chad Wilson of the University of Houston to the Rice Physics and Astronomy Graduate Student Association about “The Interplay of Science and Science Fiction.” There’s about an hour of great video that barely scratches the surface of this topic. Check it out!

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