Designing a Generation Ship  

Posted by Big Gav

Alex at WorldChanging points to a Charlie Stross post on designing for the long term - Designing a Generation Ship.

Charlie Stross has a brilliant post up on his blog, taking up the question of how best to design the institutions to run "generation ships" -- spacecraft designed to take large numbers of people a very long distance.
If you can crank yourself up to 1% of light-speed, alpha centauri is more than four and a half centuries away at cruising speed. To put it in perspective, that's the same span of time that separates us from the Conquistadores and the Reformation; it's twice the lifespan of the United States of America.

We humans are really bad at designing institutions that outlast the life expectancy of a single human being. The average democratically elected administration lasts 3-8 years; public corporations last 30 years; the Leninist project lasted 70 years (and went off the rails after a decade). The Catholic Church, the Japanese monarchy, and a few other institutions have lasted more than a millennium, but they're all almost unrecognizably different.

Consumer capitalism along our current model simply won't work as a way of running a long-duration generation ship (the failure modes are lethal and non-recoverable). Communism (or rather, Leninism) has a slightly better prospect, but is still a long way from optimal. Monarchism is just a pretty word for "hereditary dictatorship supported by military caste". What are the alternatives? And what do we need to consider when designing a society that can survive for a 500-1000 year voyage in a bottle without exploding?

I'm skeptical of the possibility of deep space exploration and colonization anytime in the next couple centuries, but this is a pretty great gedanken experiment. The comments are pretty phenomenal as well.

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