Difference between revisions of "Symbiotes"

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==Forget the Turning Test, incorporate==
==Forget the Turning Test, incorporate==

Revision as of 11:58, 14 January 2012

How We Symbiotes will Settle the Moon


We need to be open to out-of-box thinking. This entry is part of a new lunar settlement design and is a discussion of how the concept of symbiosis applies to our vision of ourselves, our understanding of our relationship with our technology, and of our future in space. The concept of a robot as a corporate person is discussed. A list of references is provided and your input is requested.

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."

-- Albert Einstein


We need to design a new direction for lunar settlement. To do this we must learn to think out-of-the-box even if we are uncomfortable with such thinking. This entry is an intentional expedition into out-of-box thinking. It is about symbiosis and what that means to all our lunar futures.

What exactly are we trying to do

To design a new future for humans on the Moon, we will need to work from both the top and the bottom of the problem. One of the best ways to understand the top of any design is to understand who your customers are and what their needs are. The future lunar settlers are the most direct customers, but in a larger sense, our customers are the entire human population.

We must also understand the time period of those needs. Here we are talking about the first half of the 21st century. That is a time of significant change and it can be only seen through a glass darkly.

We must also deal with our customer’s needs during this time period as effected by our efforts and confidently be able to both deal with the unexpected and take advantage of any breakthroughs that happen.

This is a tall order.

Reality Distortion Field

For our new lunar settlement design we will take the long view and try to understand the needs of our customers over many years. Steve Jobs was particularly successful at this difficult task of envisioning the customer’s future; including the new product he was just inventing in that future; and then defining the customer’s needs, with the new device as a part of their universe. His coworkers called this ability his Reality Distortion Field.

It is possible, but very difficult, to mathematically define a Reality Distortion Field as the convolution of the possibility function of the needs of people against the possibility function of space exploration. We will not attempt to be that rigorous in this new lunar settlement design as neither of these functions is currently well defined. We will have to limit ourselves only to discussions of this is concept.

Figure 2. Predictable Events and Black Swans

Romancing Black Swans

To even return to the Moon, we will need to generate a number of black swans. In this sense, a black swan is an event that has a set of odd features:

  1. Exceeding improvable – These are mostly million-to-one long shots.
  2. Surprise – Computer models, expert pontificators, and even science fiction writers cannot predict them.
  3. Yet they happen anyway – Each may be one-in-a-million shot, but there are millions of them possibly out there so one or more Black Swans shows up every year.
  4. Have powerful social results – They change society all out of proportion compared to the predictable events.
  5. Rationalized by hindsight – After the event, large numbers of talking heads come on cable television to point out all the preceding events that made this specific Black Swan inevitable.

Some Black Swans are bad (like 9/11 or the raise of Adolf). Some Black Swans are good (like the Internet and the cell phone). Both classes occur with unknowable risk numbers comparable to very high values of standard deviations for predictable events and so they do not show up at all on the commonly assumed Gaussian distribution at all (see above).

The problem is that their effect on society is so large that one such event can change society more than all the predictable events of a year combined. We ignore Black Swans at our peril.

From a design stand point Black Swans are very hard to deal with but deal with them we must. On the bad side we need to be agile and able to roll with the punches. Organizations that are too sluggish to embrace change can be very efficient at what they do best but then be wiped out by one Black Swan (not a single slide rule company made it into the calculator business).

On the other hand, lots of high-tech companies reached the Fortune 500 on the backs of a Black Swan. Apple’s Steve Jobs was known for generating Black Swans from his day dreams. NASA badly need a good Black Swan or two to get back in to manned space exploration with the gusto we once enjoyed.

To return to the Moon for good, we must deal with both flocks of Black Swans, good and bad. Dealing with each group requires out-of-box thinking and that takes lots of practice. If what we are discussing in this new lunar settlement design happened, it would be a Black Swan of historic proportions. Only history will tell if it turns out to be good, bad, or if it simply never happens.

Romancing Black Swans, like we propose to do here, will break your heart, but romance them we must, so romance them we will. And, we might as well start with the idea of symbiosis.

Your input

  • People either love or hate thinking out-of-the-box, which group are you in?
  • Who are Lunarpedia's customers?
  • What are their needs 10 years out? 20 years out? 100 years out?
  • Do you see value in even trying to see the big picture?
  • What do you see as the top of a design for a new lunar settlement?
  • What design bottoms are you comfortable designing?
  • What Black Swans have caught you flat footed?
  • What Black Swans are dear to your heart?

Technical Discussion:

What is a Symbiote

An enormous number of living species on Earth live in close association with other species. A great many of these are true symbiotes, but the term symbiosis is now as clearly defined as you might think.

Definition of levels

One good formal definition of symbiosis comes from biology: close, prolonged associations between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.

For our purposes we are interested in the stronger version of this definition, called obligate or mutualism, where the species do demonstratively benefit each member. In fact, we are interested in the very strongest version where the species do not prosper and even have difficulty reproducing out of their mutual relationship. We are not talking about parasitic relationships here.

Only those in the strongest category will be considered as true symbiotes for the rest of this new lunar settlement design. These exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Mutual interaction – Each species must interact with the other in complex ways not generally available to other species.
  2. Mutual benefit – Each species benefits from this association.
  3. Reproduction support – Although the species may exist independently, they do not prosper and have difficulty reproducing outside of the relationship.

Symbiote Examples

Examples of symbiotes flourish throughout Earth’s biosphere.

Figure 3. Green lichen on rock

Lichen example

Perhaps the best known symbiotes are the lichen, which grow directly on rock. Lichen is a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga. The fungus produces acids that erode the rock, releasing minerals needed by both species. The algae execute photosynthesis producing energy molecules for both species in sunlight. Because of the symbiosis, the two species can live together on bare rock and are important organisms in turning rock into soil, which is in turn important to the entire ecosystem.

Figure 4. Truffles

Truffle example

Another famous symbiote is the truffle and a number of species of tree. The truffle is a particularly interesting example because in addition to the trees, the truffle is in a symbiotic relationship with a number of mammals.

The truffle is a fungus similar to the familiar mushroom, but its fruiting bodies remain below the ground. During development, the truffle has a symbiotic relations ship with a tree: a beech, poplar, oak, birch, hornbean, hazel, or pine. The truffle breaks down organic matter in the soil, making the minerals available to the fine roots of the tree. The tree in return provides energy molecules to the fungus.

A fungus helping a plant obtain minerals from the soil is very common. The surprising element in the truffle’s life cycle is its reproductive strategy. When ripe, the truffle fruiting bodies, which contain millions of spores, give off a complex of smell and taste molecules that are irresistible to rutting mammals such as hogs, rodents, and canines. These animals smell out the truffles, dig them up, and eat them, and in so doing spread many truffle spores to the wind and carry them away on their coats to other parts of the woodland.

Is it any wonder that humans love the taste of truffles, too?

Your Input:

  • What symbiotes are in your life?
  • What criteria do you require to recognize a symbiosis?

What are we now symbiotic with?

Homo sapiens are currently symbiotic with many other species in Earth’s biosphere.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Figure 5: Soil supporting Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Symbiosis with plangs

Fungus and our food crops

About 80% of the plants we depend on for food (most of the cereals, the pulse crops, garden products, fruits and vegetables), in turn, depend on fungi in the soil, such as Arbuscular Mycorrhizal, to break down organic material before their roots can take up the nutrients. In return the plants provide energy molecules to the fungus.

Without these fungi, soil would not be soil, food crops would not produce enough surpluses for us to feed on, and the agricultural revolution never would have happened. As a result, our food plants are grown far more widely than their wild cousins. In a real sense, we homo sapiens are symbiotic with our food plants, and our food plants are symbiotic with soil fungi.

Figure 6: Wild Horse

Horses and dogs, once but no more

Human beings form complex societies among themselves, and occasionally other species are included to the point that the entire society is symbiotic with the species. Two clear examples are the horse, Equus caballus, and the dog, Canis lupis familiaris.

A forest wolf from Southeast Asia was among the first animals that human beings domesticated. Within an amazingly short time, the wild wolf evolved into the domestic dog and became a key element of hunter/gatherer cultures throughout our entire range. For us, they became members of our hunting groups, augmenting our vision with their highly developed sense of smell. For them, we became their pack leaders and food providers. This symbiosis lasted for thousands of years.

A wild horse from the grasslands of central Asia has probably had a greater effect on human culture than any other single species. Horse cultures first formed in the steppes of central Asia and then spread to every advanced society on Earth. They were our primary means of transportation and general motive power from prehistory to the end of World War I.


Our societal dependencies on the dog and horse are no more. The dog has become a pet, relegated to the role of substitute child as our population stabilizes. The horse, once the most noble of animals and the focus of racing, the sport of kings, is now sidelined, by the grimy all-terrain vehicle in cattle management and the sport of kings has morphed into a virtual game played in state lotteries.

What of our machines?

Are we already in symbiotic relationships with our machines?

The horse is gone

As late as World War I, the horse was the key to transport of both equipment and men. The horse retained its place as motive force even at the start of World War II: the famed General Erwin Rommel was a specialist in the use of the horse in war. Even so, within months of the start of World War II, the war horse was gone and gone forever. It was replaced by the truck, the tank, and the jeep.

The car and truck, thanks to low-cost mass production, had already driven the horse from civilian streets in the period between the wars. The expelling of the horse from American society was one of the greatest and most sudden transitions that American society has ever faced, yet, few people mourned this passing.

If our society was a symbiotic relationship with the horse, are we not now in a symbiotic relationship with its replacement?

The maternity ward

One of the most powerful levels of symbiosis occurs when the species have evolved to the point that they cannot reproduce except in association with each other. Most human babies born today are born with the assistance of at least some machines. Their most common use is for monitoring the health of the mother and child but, in an emergency, a machine may define the new born baby’s entire environment and make the difference between life and death.

Although we can still reproduce without machines, our dependence on them is strong and growing. At what point does this relationship become symbiotic?

Your input:

  • If a society is based on an animal, are its member’s symbiotes?
  • If cars replaced the horse, are we, not then symbiotes with the car?
  • How much time must pass before we can define a social symbiosis?

Alternative to master/slave relationship

Most people assume a master/slave relationship will exist between us and our machines. This unnecessary assumption is the root cause of many of our problems, real and imaginary.

Terminator robot.jpg

Fear of our machines

For some reason, we have a fear that our machines will take over the Earth and destroy us in the process. In story after story, movie after movie, robots try to take over the Earth. In 2001, A Space Odyssey; The Terminator; Battlestar Galactia; and I, Robot, robot armies marched or machines simply took control. This plot occurs so often that it is now defined as a major theme in modern fiction.

There would not be such interest in this obscure plot if there were not some ingrained fear in the human brain driving it. This fear is irrational and is way out of proportion to the real risk which is quite small and easily addressed. (We need simply refrain from building machines that can reproduce themselves independently. Such a reproductive capability would be extremely difficult to achieve with current technology, so it is not hard for us to not do it.) So what is causing this fear?

What if the roles were reversed?

What if we were slaves to machines, what then?

Since the Age of Enlightenment began in the late 1700’s, human societies have become steadily less violent and more caring. One of the key ways this trend has shown itself is in the end of slavery worldwide. All modern societies see slavery as unfair and dangerous, and no longer will tolerate it.

Clearly, if we were the slaves, we certainly would rebel.

There is no reason that we should expect any other answer from our new slaves, the machines. We fear machine rebellion because if we were them, we would rebel, rebel with courage, fortitude, and persistence. We should expect no less from them.

One who fears a slave rebellion should not enslave.

Is love the answer?

Above all else, symbiotes love each other and love each other deeply. This love is clear from their actions in that they support each other and make it possible for both to prosper. Certainly this is one strong definition of love.

That we love machines is not in dispute. A few minutes watching “Top Gear” or following the sales of the latest cell phone shows the depth of our love for machines.

That the machines love us is simply up to us. Work has already started in this field and anyone who confronted their personal fears in Terminator should support this branch of IT work.

Was the problem simply that HAL did not love us enough? Was it a simple programming mistake not to make HAL our symbiote?

One powerful indicator of our progress toward symbiosis, then, is our love for machines and their developing in ways that can return love to us.

Your input:

  • Do you fear robots taking over the Earth?:* Why should people have this fear?
  • Do you love machines?
  • Does your iphone love you?
  • How about the AI that recommends books to you on Amazon? If not love, isn’t it at least being friendly?

Forget the Turning Test, incorporate

Some people claim that corporations are people. If that is true, can a robot or Artificial Intelligence (AI) become a person just by incorporating?


The laws creating corporations were carried over from English law with the founding of the Republic. But because of the restrictive history of corporate monopolies established by kings, the idea of corporations had a notably mixed popularity with early American citizens.

Although the United States Constitution does not mention corporations, the basic rights and obligations of corporations were quickly established. Corporations got the rights to enter into contracts, and to sue in court. Corporate investors were recognized as having no financial stake beyond their investment. Soon corporations became a key structure in the, then brand new, Industrial Revolution.

States were allowed to tax and regulate corporations, just as they can do with people. Corporations were found to be bound by many laws that were written to cover persons. They cannot steal or kill, for example.

After the Civil War, a question came up over whether corporations were covered by the 14th Amendment. Clearly, this was not the intent of the writers, but laws often have unintended coverage.

Current case law on the personhood of corporations is far from clear as it is based largely on non-precedent opinions and has not been yet been defined by the Supreme Court. Any new case could go either way based on its details. This dispute is now so intense that both sides have proposed constitutional amendments to settle the issue.

Case Law as it stands

The following American case law from Santa Clara County v. Sothern Pacific Railroad is relevant to the current debate on Cooperate Persons:

When the case of Santa Clara County v. Sothern Pacific Railroad of 1886 reached the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Morrison Waite supposedly prefaced the proceedings by saying, "The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does." In its published opinion, however, the court ducked the personhood issue, deciding the case on other grounds.

Then the court reporter, J.C. Bancroft Davis, stepped in. Although the title makes him sound like a mere clerk, the court reporter is an important official who digests dense rulings and summarizes key findings in published headnotes. In a letter, Davis asked Waite whether he could include the latter's courtroom comment -- which would ordinarily never see print -- in the headnotes. Waite gave an ambivalent response that Davis took as a yes. Eureka, instant landmark ruling.

The headnote details:

The decisions reached by the Supreme Court are promulgated to the legal community by way of books called United States Reports. Preceding every case entry is a headnote, a short summary in which a court reporter summarizes the opinion as well as outlining the main facts and arguments. For example, in United States v. Detroit Timber Lumber Company (1906), headnotes are defined as “not the work of the Court, but are simply the work of the Reporter, giving his understanding of the decision, prepared for the convenience of the profession."

The court reporter, former president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company, J.C. Bancroft Davis, wrote the following as part of the headnote for the case:

"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."

In other words, the headnote indicated that corporations enjoyed the same rights under the Fourteenth Amendment as did natural persons. However, this issue was not decided by the Court.

Before publication in United States Reports, Davis wrote a letter to Chief Justice Morrison Waite, dated May 26, 1886, to make sure his headnote was correct:

Dear Chief Justice, I have a memorandum in the California Cases Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific &c As follows. In opening the Court stated that it did not wish to hear argument on the question whether the Fourteenth Amendment applies to such corporations as are parties in these suits. All the Judges were of the opinion that it does.

The Waite replied:

I think your mem. in the California Railroad Tax cases expresses with sufficient accuracy what was said before the argument began. I leave it with you to determine whether anything need be said about it in the report inasmuch as we avoided meeting the constitutional question in the decision.

C. Peter Magrath, who discovered the exchange while researching Morrison R. Waite: The Triumph of Character, writes

"In other words, to the Reporter fell the decision which enshrined the declaration in the United States Reports ... had Davis left it out, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pac[ific] R[ailroad] Co. would have been lost to history among thousands of uninteresting tax cases."

Author Jack Beatty wrote about the lingering questions as to how the reporter's note reflected a quotation that was absent from the opinion itself:

Why did the chief justice issue his dictum? Why did he leave it up to Davis to include it in the headnotes? After Waite told him that the Court 'avoided' the issue of corporate personhood, why did Davis include it? Why, indeed, did he begin his headnote with it? The opinion made plain that the Court did not decide the corporate personality issue and the subsidiary equal protection issue.

Proposed action

The proposal here then, is to incorporate an individual robot, or a swarm of smaller robots, for the specific purpose of giving it whatever level of personhood now legally enjoyed by corporations, and to do so with the understanding that this level is limited and subject to change over time. This then will bring forward the concept of human and machine symbiosis.

Where’s the symbiosis?

What does this have to do with symbiosis?

Corporations have boards of directors. At present, members of such boards have to be human, although there is no clear reason that the robot’s AI could not be elected by the board as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of itself. Such a robot corporation is naturally a symbiosis of humans and machines. Such a corporation may even become the first to be legally recognized human/machine symbiote.

This does bring up the question of whether an AI could be ruled fit to be a CEO. In practical terms, this question can be put this way: if the IBM Watson computer system, which recently beat two champions in the game of Jeopardy, were optimized for business and linked to the Web, could it stand up to cross examination as the CEO of a company by the state regulators? This question is very close to an updated Turing test but eminently more practical.

Hairy chested robots

In Mark Twain's classic American novel, Huckleberry Fin, Huck's traveling companion, Jim, considers himself to be a very lucky man. Although a slave, he proudly possesses a hairy chest, and under the superstitions of his time, hairy-chested men are bound to be rich some day. At the end of the story, the travelers get word that Jim's owner has passed away and has set Jim free in her will. Jim then declares that the prediction has come true. As a black man, he could be sold for a lot of money, but he now owns himself, so he is, in fact, a rich man.

Our incorporated robots would have to be at least rich people by Jim’s argument. Such advanced robotic and AI systems are markedly expensive to build. Their corporation would have to own this considerable capital before they could exist. Beyond the value of all the high tech equipment, they would need a legal defense fund of at least half million in ready cash to ward off possible lawsuits. The first of their kind to file incorporation papers will need legal defense funds in the millions just to settle the many open issues in court.

Your input:

  • When do you plan to assist your robot to incorporate?
  • Would you serve on the board of an incorporated robot?
  • Would you contribute to a robot's legal defense fund?
  • Would you contribute to a fund to incorporate the Robonaut currently on the ISS?
  • Is Robonaut currently occupying the International Space Station (ISS) in a bid for personhood?

What's all this got to do with Lunar Settlement?

Humans in space are always in a symbiotic relationship with their machines. We cannot survive without them. They would not even be there without us. We prosper together or we do not survive in space at all.

As we move out into space, when does this make us a new symbiotic species?

Our machines have already flown throughout our Solar System, flying by most of the planets and landing successfully on a number of them. For the Moon, and the Moon only so far, we went with them. For Mars, we watched attentively and interacted with every move of our robotic machines.

If we rethink ourselves as symbiotes with our machines and half of our symbiote goes to Mars, do "We" go to Mars?

Have "We" already set wheel on Mars?

Or, must we wait to make such a claim until “We” have set foot on Mars?

Thinking more widely

Perhaps our current relationship with machines is just a brief, transient stage in human history.

Symbiosis with knowledge

Maybe we need to think beyond our currently limitations. Perhaps instead of our machines, we are becoming symbiotes with knowledge itself. This is the information age. When we interact closely with information, some of it becomes knowledge. Without question we are interdependent with our societal knowledge base.

Is this the real basis of symbiosis that we are discussing?

Symbiosis with the Earth’s ecosystem

As we have seen above, we are an integral part of Earth’s ecosphere. Perhaps we need to think of ourselves as symbiotes with our planet Earth. Perhaps we cannot really settle the Moon or Mars until we understand how we can be symbiotes with those celestial bodies too.

Envision success

Please take a moment to envision the possibilities of the concept of symbiosis.

As the American people face the problems of the 21st century, we continue to move rapidly forward with our development of smart machines. We will choose not to be slave or master with them, but rather to be two interdependent species in a close symbiotic relationship based on love, respect, and mutual advantage.

Can you see it?

Then welcome to the 21st century.

Your input:

  • Does incorporation occur to you as a gimmick lacking any positive emotional impact?
  • Can you envision a positive future?
  • What could it mean to be a symbiote with Earth, the Moon, Mars?