In the future, we expect to be able solve these three broad classes of technological problem we haven't got a a handle on yet:
- Very large sensors that can remotely sense distant planets accurately enough to ascertain their habitability with a high confidence.
- The hosting of a human mind on a machine substrate - i.e. a truly intelligent machine. This implies that the state of a human mind could be captured - "uploaded" onto a machine and captured in a data set. In other words, we could completely define what we now call the "self" in terms of data. The crucial thing here (within an order of magnitude or so), is how much data. Let's say it's about an exabit compressed, or 10^18 bits. Some estimates are lower that, but I think we need lots of margin.
- Travel across interstellar distance, although the problems of doing so quickly ( a significant fraction of the speed of light and exploiting time dilation effects) may prove to be insurmountable no matter how sophisticated our technology is, and at present we have only the broadest concept of how to cheat the speed of light limit.
So, our probes arrive over centuries at various star systems, probably in highly elliptical orbits with periods of hundreds of years. They unpack themselves, check on their own health, report back, and and start looking around. They will be looking for suitable sites where energy and materials can he harvested efficiently, allowing the colony to prosper. Given that our civilization has survived long enough, he first transmissions from Earth will be a library updating all the knowledge stored on board the spacecraft: all the whats, whys and hows needed to understand, build and maintain the next generation of technology.
This is how we patiently but inexorably colonize the galaxy; not as rugged pioneers in multi-generational interstellar Conestoga wagons, but as a streams of bits flying across space at the speed of light, with the physical infrastructure we already need to survive and explore waiting for us when we arrive.
Well, it's just a speculation, and I can anticipate plenty of objections. What do you think?
Dream of the Open Channel by Paul Carr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.