One observation I’ve seen people make is that Elon Musk’s industrial empire seems ultra-optimized for the distinctly non-commercial ambition of establishing a Mars colony:
- SpaceX for providing the reusable rockets to throw large payloads into space at much lower cost.
- Tesla to provide the batteries for Mars vehicles.
- Boring Company to dig out the tunnels to keep colonists safe from radiation and meteorite strikes.
- Starlink for communications.
Now in fairness, colonizing Mars is something that Musk has talked about for a long time, the ultimate goal being to make humanity into an interplanetary species and hence insulate us from Earth-specific existential risks.
In particular, Musk is concerned – at least in his public rhetoric – about the risks of machine superintelligence. His spats with DeepMind and Demis Hassabis on the topic have already moved from the Silicon Valley rumor mill to MSM coverage.
Problem: As Roko Mijic points out, there are few existential risks that would doom us on Earth while sparing our remnant on Mars… and that’s assuming said presence on Mars is indefinitely self-sustaining, which requires a population of at least 1 million* (a population level that Musk very boldly projects for 2050).
Most notably, malevolent superintelligence – probably the most realistic existential risk this century – is not one of the rare cases in which having a Mars colony will be useful. It would “simply follow humans to Mars,” as Hassabis has joked to Musk himself.
Otherwise, many existential risk scenarios can be effectively hedged with costly but still much less expensive isolated colonies on Earth:
I am sure that Musk is surely smart enough to realize this, so why maintain the Mars narrative?
- Perhaps Musk has figured out how to make a Mars colony profitable within human timescales after all. I don’t see how, but Musk maxes out on the IQ * executive function scale.
- Perhaps Musk is a superintelligence himself, and has figured out how putative Martians could ward their planet against other, more misanthropic superintelligence that was to attain terrestrial overlordship.
- Perhaps it is a really cool narrative to appeal to the techno-futurists, crypto evangelists, and libertarian cornucopians who have propelled Musk into becoming the richest man in the world.
My bet is on that last option. However, there’s a big additional factor that the Mars narrative conceal, and which do not seem to have gotten any attention at all, whether from his starry-eyed fans or his coping detractors.
For the same set of technologies that will technically (if not economically) enable large-scale Mars colonization also constitute a kind of template for terrestrial military dominance.
- SpaceX for unparalleled strategic airlift – the Falcon Heavy’s LEO payload is equivalent to that of the C-17 Globemaster and can circumlocate to anywhere in the world within an hour.
- Tesla batteries for pruning logistics chains and powering electric railguns, the future of artillery.
- Neuralink for cyborg soldiers.
- Starlink for global surveillance and communications.
- Boring Company for rapidly excavating tunnels to shelter military units on the battlefields of the future, which precision railgun artillery will make deadly into a range of hundreds of kilometers. This is not as speculative as it seems at first glance – militaries have been exploring the concept of the “subterrene” since the 1930s. At any rate, a military application would explain the focus on acquiring a tenfold speed advantage over existing TBMs.
- OpenAI for autonomous weapons systems and integrating all of the above into a Skynet-like whole.
Soviet Trebelev subterrene. Materials technology of the time couldn’t handle the high heat stress – but perhaps the problem is more amendable with modern techs?
The US has scant chance of retaining its global military dominance much beyond 2050, if not earlier – much greater Chinese GDP coupled with the multiplier effects of economies of scale amidst a healthy heavy industrial base makes the twilight of US military supremacy but inevitable. Even now, at peacetime levels of military spending as a percentage of GDP, the PLAN grows by the equivalent of a major European navy every year and plans to build 1,000+ Y-20 heavy transports to attain strategic airlift dominance over East Eurasia.
Hence, perhaps, why Musk Industries has what essentially amounts to a credit spigot from branches of the American government, not all of which need be entirely or at all transparent.
Imagine you are an intelligent and perspicacious American Deep Stater, and you see the skyrocketing Chinese GDP, you see that America’s only hope of maintaining military hegemony is to make a qualitative leap, you see that dystrophic bureaucratism and affirmative action hires have made it impossible for anything interesting to get done through the old state institutions like NASA.
So why not bank on a moonshot through Musk Industries?
All the better if you can get the i❤science crowd and SWPL Tesla fans (many of them foreigners** ) who regard Musk’s EVs as the next Apple to pay much of the costs, or even bank a net profit in the process.
* In reality, I would say it would be closer to 100M. Perhaps 10M if colonists are strictly filtered for high IQ. But that’s beside the main argument.
** It would admittedly be quite funny if Chinese consumers underwrite an American victory in the next Pacific War that it would have otherwise lost.