19
$\begingroup$

Imagine that we live in a setting where there are a trillion humans (see linked question). A bit crowded, I know. Further imagine that at least the entire energy output of the Sun was available to this trillion humans to play with. Perhaps evenly distributed, perhaps with some variation. If evenly distributed, each individual would get at least 10 times current humanity's total power output.

Would it be possible to police such a society? In our world, if someone goes postal or runs amok (that is, goes on a homicidal spree), there's only so much damage they can cause. With Terawatts of power at your fingertips, that would not necessarily be true any longer.

So, can a thousand billion such superempowered beings live in close proximity, or do I have to disperse them like an overheated gas across the galaxy?

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I'd use my superpowered self to hunt you down for asking this question. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 17 '15 at 22:52
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Twelfth, oh my. I'd better put 20 Three Gorges Dams into the shields $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Feb 17 '15 at 22:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It might be interesting to consider what one could usefully do with such an amount of power. (Other than vaporizing one's enemies, in which case the population is soon drastically reduced.) And, for the few useful things I can imagine, such as space travel, what one does with the exhaust. It'd also be useful to meditate on the difference between power and control. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 17 '15 at 22:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Side remark: It's terawatt (from Greek teras = monster; the sequence is basically a progression: mega ("large"), giga ("huge"), tera ("monstrous")), not terrawatt (it's not related to Latin terra = earth). $\endgroup$ – celtschk Feb 18 '15 at 0:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Few hundreds years ago someone could ask the same about our world... And we somehow live with car accidents and gas explosions. $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Feb 18 '15 at 0:31
23
$\begingroup$

If you think about it, any society which can harness and manipulate the power of the sun will have tools at their disposal to harness energy. If one unruly person decides to use "their share of the power for destruction," they will have to figure out how to do damage with their portion. Mere terawatts isn't enough.

A society that can harness the power of the sun is going to have some waste energy. Consider: if society uses their energy 99.999% effectively (which is an extraordinary feat, given we're topping out around 25% efficient at our best), your share of the power is still 10-million fold less than the waste energy coming off of the rest of society. A society which cannot handle that raw power will simply not progress to the point where you have that much energy available to yourself.

Now what is more interesting is when they want to use that energy with fine-tuned control. A well controlled fine-tuned weapon tuned to a weakness is far more dangerous than a wideband uncontrolled one. Think of the strobes used by SWAT teams. The actual energy is piddly. It'd be hard to fry an ant with it. But strobed at the right frequency, it disorients the perpetrator and lets the SWAT team take them down. Rather than using a solar-furnace flash light to melt the opponent, they found a weak direction and struck with high precision.

Of course, the only limit to this is the ingenuity of a human. This is an arms race that has been going on for thousands of years (billions, if you believe in Evolution). Nothing changes except the scale. You're still going to see individuals choosing to try to attack weak-points, and individuals trying to shore those weak-points up.

So how did you get to this point of trillions of gods? It's not like you dumped a trillion teenagers on a planet surface and gave them each part of a sun as part of some TV teen drama. Along the way, you're going to have developed an entire sun's worth of safeguards and protection devices. What they look like is up to you.

I'd say the sky is the limit, but when you have the power of the sun, you have to set your eyes a bit higher than that.

$\endgroup$
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Joined this site to upvote. $\endgroup$ – Elliot Bonneville Feb 18 '15 at 3:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @IsmaelMiguel: It is how our society works today, and likewise we can look to society for a solution. People help each other. Thus our bad guy not only needs to get more power than the people around him, but he needs to get enough power to prevent the entirety of a Class II society from keeping him in check. If he never makes a mistake, he could in theory slowly conquer all of society, but if he makes a mistake, it could be fatal for him. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 18 '15 at 15:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Please don't let Michael Bay read this answer. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Feb 18 '15 at 17:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @IsmaelMiguel that pattern absolutely forms. I will not question it. However, you are assuming that the society is not adapting at all to his tactics. Remember, he has 380TW at his disposal. Society has 380000000000000 TW. If society actually has any need to enter an arms race with him, it will be very one sided. The bad guy is very dependent on his ability to focus his efforts on a few individuals at a time. While he is doing that, society simply takes ground wherever he isn't focusing. Eventually he gets spread too thin, and the power battle equalizes. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 20 '15 at 16:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As a real life example, consider that North Korea has confirmed nuclear capabilities (the US recognizes that some of their tests were truly nuclear events). Yet, through diplomacy and the balance of power, their rulers have not attacked South Korea. Why? Do it wrong, and you anger China and the US simultaneously and get wiped off the map. This is a real life example of a dissenter having great power, and being unable to use it to conquer the world because the rest of the world has more power. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 20 '15 at 16:23
6
$\begingroup$

I don't know if this future is a whole lot different than what we have now in terms of general human behavior. Lots of humans live in very close proximity to each other without major (ie, population-level) destruction. Most 'postal' types of incidents are usually somewhat targeted and aren't necessarily out to destroy a whole city, for instance.

Granted if any one person could destroy the entirety of civilization would someone attempt it? Probably. But we'd have to get to that point first, and I would imagine that we'd see that coming and some form of checks and balances would hopefully detour any such finality.

As to whether these humans could remain human...that seems like an entirely different question and I'm not sure how it'd directly relate to access to energy.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Good point, will edit the fleshy bit out. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Feb 17 '15 at 22:58
2
$\begingroup$

Backups :)

With that much energy to spare everyone will be backed up at multiple different location. If someone does flip out and take out some people then they die and their backups never get used - whereas everyone they did hurt gets restored from backup.

It's like Stack Exchange, Wikipedia, etc. If everyone can edit how come it isn't vandalized?

The answer is that some people do try, but there are more people fixing the damage than doing it and tools have been provided to mitigate (protecting questions, etc) or repair (roll back, deletion, etc) the damage.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Two problems. First, doing backups doesn't take a lot of power, it takes a lot of knowledge. Second, it's still you that dies. A backup would be a different person. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 18 '15 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf 1. Knowledge = power. (Yes, I know that's not really what the saying means but it does apply here. To achieve this sort of energy levels the civilisation must be advanced to the points where backup and redundancy in humans is achieveable. 2. Are you sure? You might lose a few hours of your life (since the backup was taken) but that's it. There's a lot of sci-fi out there exploring this concept. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 19 '15 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ Re #2, yes, I'm sure. Think about it. And there's a lot of sci-fi out there exploring really nonsensical (IMHO, anyway) concepts. Writers gotta eat, ya know? #1 would take much more space to adequately discuss, but briefly, it seems to me that most things that add to my quality of life (admittedly subjective) don't take much in the way of power (= energy), and as with lighting, the amount needed is actually declining with time. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 19 '15 at 18:01
1
$\begingroup$

The higher the threat, the more are people willing to sacrifice.

See our world - imagine Terrorists would have the means to produce nuclear weaponry and use it for bombings to destroy whole cities. Most of us would probably give up most of their rights and deal with increased surveillance and more investments into police force and intelligence agencies until we have banned the threat.

In such a future access to the energy will probably be highly regulated - either by a giant bureaucracy with surveillance and protective means to keep everyone safe from psychos. Or some major mafia-like families or super-rich companies (ala Shadowrun) who control most of the energy/weapons/defenses market and have no interest in someone blowing up half the planet and lower their profits.

Humanity will adapt to a state where everyone can live reasonable safe...

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I can't help but answer politically and or philosophically.

I'm not a conspiracy theory guy, but if I was, the one conspiracy I would throw my tinfoil hat at would be that that 1989 Time magazine reveal of cold fusion wasn't a hoax. No government would allow every citizen to carry near infinite power in their handbag. No government that has the capacity to rally the entire human race to build the infrastructure to put a billion people in play is going to risk giving the ability to deconstruct that to the people themselves. I don't think the idea is feasible logistically.

...without outside help. If our robot/alien overlords are "helping" us stay committed to the task, we could theoretically achieve a billion.

...and they would most assuredly NOT give us access to that kind of power.

The only way I can see it happening is that we are "guided" to the population point, and then loosed to our own ambitions... maybe our overlords finally succumbed to a 1000 year enfluenza virus, or it was all an elaborate setup for a robot casino game...

Then... yeah... I predict really REALLY bad things... maybe after 100 years and 90% of the populations gets killed a truly enlightened exceptional human society rises from the ashes... but there WILL be growing pains, and then retaliation for those growing pains, and then a century of fighting over arbitrary nonsense...

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

As Robert Heinlein famously said, "An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life." If you don't want to take some old writer's word for it, this is pretty much the same concept behind the modern military doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, which has successfully prevented widespread use of nuclear weapons for decades now.

In other words, if every individual on Earth has access to enough power to destroy a small city, they also have enough power to disintegrate anyone who tries. Of course, the whole strategy of "the best defense is a good offense" doesn't work so well against suicide bombers, so it would be good to have an actual defense as well. The details will depend on what you allow within your setting; we could be talking surveillance, power dampening fields, force fields, etc. But whatever form it takes, if a large majority of the population is willing to direct just a few percent of their power into a shared defense, that easily, vastly overpowers any single individual who might be tempted to go on a rampage.

So I would say not only that such superpowered beings could live in proximity, but that, just like today, they would almost have to for safety from each other.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

No, you probably cannot keep all of humanity lumped together. Simply due to individual preferences, even if the vast majority of humans choose to stay in place, you'd surely have billions (<0.1%) who would choose to go and colonize the rest of the galaxy. Since they can build their own Dyson spheres without needing to share with a trillion others, they (or their descendants) would be fantastically energy-rich by comparison, triggering further imitation immigration waves. Over the millennia, the distribution of humans would come to resemble that of a thin gas spread across the galaxy.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.