Can we rebuild to have innovation without bureaucracy?
It’s not uncommon as a child to imagine that you are an astronaut exploring the vast frontiers of space. That you float serenely down from the airlock of your spaceship onto the dusty surface of some distant, desolate planet. Maybe you discover lifeforms on this planet. Maybe it becomes a beautiful haven, a sanctuary for the inhabitants of dying planet Earth.
Imagine what this new world would look like. Will it be like ours? Will it be different? If you could control how things unfolded, what would you do with this new settlement? How would you shape its progress?
When our home is about to catch fire, we’ll know it’s time to leave. Within a billion years, Earth will catch fire from excessive warming by the ageing Sun. Before that time, our descendants will likely board numerous spacecraft and engage in a massive exodus away from Earth. Quite like that fantasy of all our childhoods.
The irony in this is that most Sun-like stars are formed at redshifts greater than 1. They are several billion years older than our Sun. If their technological clock resembled ours, there must be numerous refugee camps on exoplanets or exomoons. Exoplanets and exomoons that never hosted civilisations prior to their settlement by alien refugees. We can’t be the only ones who left their home planet, and we certainly won’t be the first to do it.
For us, the trip to a second home could start within the coming decades, based on the aspirations of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the scouting missions to be performed by smart nanoprobes from the newly announced Copernicus Space Corporation.
Acquiring the status of a double-home civilisation will offer us the opportunity to reboot society, much like in our thought experiment in the beginning. The second home after Earth could be our Moon, a planet like Mars, an artificially-manufactured space platform which adjusts its distance as the Sun evolves, or objects with water oceans under an icy surface, like the large asteroid Ceres or the moons Enceladus and Europa.
A new home will offer new jobs and promote skill sets adapted to a new surface gravity, new material composition of the environment, new durations of day and year, new atmospheric conditions and new seasonal changes based on the particular orbital eccentricity and the tilt of the object’s rotation relative to its orbital plane around the Sun.
Within generations, the new environment will be imprinted on a modified physique of its inhabitants, shaping their bodily and mental characteristics to be different from those of earthlings. For example, the 62% reduction in surface gravity on Mars relative to Earth’s g would undoubtedly change the behavioural characteristics of Martians relative to earthlings and make interplanetary soccer matches breathtaking with a clear advantage for the local team.
A new beginning in a new home will also enable entirely different societies from those imagined on Earth. The lack of ancient human history in a new environment would usher in a brave new world without the familiar scars in our collective memory from terrestrial history. The organizational transformation could be revolutionary.
Returning to the thought experiment, if you were to control the society of this planet, how would you populate it? How would you organize those people? Who gives orders? Who maintains justice? Who mediates disputes?
In her book The Dispossessed, science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin explores exactly this premise. In her story, a group of revolutionary dissidents are banished to the habitable moon of the planet they came from. These people were disillusioned with the way of life that was led on the planet and chose to form an "anarchic" society where there is no government, common law, or private property.
Anarchy is only one example of the countless ways we could possibly transform our society. Consider the novel societal structure of a bee colony which consists of a queen, 95% female workers and 5% male drones. In a recent World Minds forum with the novelist Margaret Atwood, I asked her whether she would favour establishing a human society on Mars based on well-orchestrated colonies of bees. She avoided the bait and noted: “Humans will remain the same wherever they go, and I have no desire to leave Earth.” She asked me whether I would be willing to leave Earth, and I replied with a resounding yes. What I had in mind was primarily the thrill of exploration, but there was another reason for my unequivocal answer.
The greatest benefit of joining a new society is that its early phase will promote innovation to solve immediate challenges with minimal bureaucratic constraints. There will be little time and tolerance for large committees which adhere to a low common denominator. That is to say, people won’t settle just because it takes too much effort to reach a meaningful consensus or innovative outcome.
Throughout my leadership positions over the years, I noticed a universal law in administration. Just like the second law of thermodynamics, which asserts that the entropy of closed systems would only grow through irreversible processes, the bureaucracy of large traditional organizations, such as universities, government agencies or large corporations, can only grow through irreversible processes. This “first law of bureaucracy” is so prevalent in suppressing innovation on Earth that it may also apply to all societies of sentient civilisations throughout the Universe. A young society is better because it has less time to develop its bureaucratic web, capable of suppressing agility and innovation.
In the coming years, we can test this universality conjecture empirically. It implies that the most accomplished interstellar gadgets were not manufactured and launched by exo-NASA agencies, but rather by exo-Musk innovators. All we need to do for this test is read the “Made by …” label on interstellar technological gadgets.
This is not a hypothetical test. In 2023, I plan to personally search for such a label on relics of the first interstellar meteor CNEOS-2014-01-09 (IM1) by leading an expedition of the Galileo Project to collect them. We already know that this object was tougher than all other 272 meteors in the CNEOS catalogue. The key question is, then: if this object is artificial in origin, was it made by a government agency or an entrepreneur?
Finding what others have accomplished through their exploratory multi-home endeavours may inspire us to invest in new homes ourselves.