By the time we develop the technologies necessary for travelling between stars, I think it is fairly likely that we would have already developed the technology to digitally augment, edit, and upload our minds. After that point, it's almost certain that transhumans are created, and posthumans shortly after that.

Is it more likely that the denizens of the Sol system that end up going out and exploring the galaxy will be humans or digitized posthumans?

Is there anything to prevent posthumanism from developing before we develop interstellar travel? Is it plausible to expect that human governments would impose legislation to prevent posthumanism, and the inevitable singularity afterward? If so, would such legislation even be effective?

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    $\begingroup$ Short answer: yes. Long answer: yeeeeeeeeeessssssssssss. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ It may be more of a matter of needing to become posthuman before we can develop interstellar travel. Legislation is more likely to regulate the implementation of posthumanism rather than prevent or foster its development. Why confine posthumanity to just being digitized? It might take many forms, & possibly simultaneously. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ We seem to be on the same page. See this question. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ See the works of Greg Egan - his sci-fi usually involves this kind of augmentation, and it seems quite plausible. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ "Is there anything to prevent posthumanism from developing before we develop interstellar travel?" - well, the technical constraints, maybe? - nowadays we know sevaral plausible interstellar scenarios, but we still have no idea how mind uploading technology should look like $\endgroup$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 16:41

4 Answers 4


Channeling the words of Charlie Stross humans basically aren't built for space.

We're human beings. We evolved to flourish in a very specific environment that covers perhaps 10% of our home planet's surface area. (Earth is 70% ocean, and while we can survive, with assistance, in extremely inhospitable terrain, be it arctic or desert or mountain, we aren't well-adapted to thriving there.) Space itself is a very poor environment for humans to live in. A simple pressure failure can kill a spaceship crew in minutes. And that's not the only threat. Cosmic radiation poses a serious risk to long duration interplanetary missions, and unlike solar radiation and radiation from coronal mass ejections the energies of the particles responsible make shielding astronauts extremely difficult. And finally, there's the travel time. Two and a half years to the Jupiter system; six months to Mars.

Admittedly Charlie was talking about interplanetary travel, and this applies in spades for interstellar travel. Stross says there are solutions to these problems, but as he suggests in his SF novel Saturn's Children (2008) robots and technological creatures are better suited for space travel. Information about the novel can be found here. A bit scant on his posthuman argument. But Stross himself gives more on the circumstances and background to Saturn's Children here. It's also an entertaining read.

One of the early versions of posthumans was proposed as a solution to the rigours of space travel by Manfred E Clynes and Nathan Kline. This concept was the cyborg.

"Space travel challenges mankind not only technologically but spiritually, in that it invites man to take an active part in his own biological evolution," the Astronautics paper began. "Scientific advances of the future may thus be utilized to permit man's existence in environments which differ radically from those provided by nature as we know it."

They criticized the idea of creating human-ready environments up in space, arguing humans should adapt themselves to extraterrestrial conditions, whatever those might be.

Clynes and Kline "coined the word "cyborg" to describe an emerging hybrid of man's machines and man himself. The word itself combined cybernetics, the then-emerging discipline of feedback and control, and organism." A fusion of human and machine as a creature fit for space travel.

Altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space . . . Artifact-organism systems which would extend man’s unconscious, self-regulatory controls are one possibility

Their September 1960 paper, Cyborgs and space, in Astronautics can be found here.

Interstellar travel will be one of the biggest challenges for space travelling human beings. When all the problems taken together it becomes obvious that mere fragile biological humans could not survive interstellar space. Converting humans into cyborgs, uploaded minds in cybernetic systems or digitized constructs may be the only solution.

Effectively interstellar travel isn't feasible until humans become posthumans. It doesn't matter if the technology for interstellar travel precedes posthumanization, travel to the stars will take place once posthumans take the helm of our starships.

Posthumans and interstellar travel are made for each other.

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    $\begingroup$ We also cannot survive for long in increased acceleration. Even if we can build a ship with an steady acceleration like 9.8m/s.s it will take a year to reach something near 300.000 km/s $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 14:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Their September 1960 paper, Cyborgs and space, in Astronautics can be found here." the link to that paper is broken (it's missing an f at the end) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MaxRasguido. Thanks. Just found out myself. Fortunately, an edit by SztupY has fixed the link. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ @SztupY. Your edit is much appreciated especially for fixing the broken link. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android Sure but the hull will need also to be thick because at relativistic speeds even white light from the destination star can reach the ship like x-rays, no to say out of magnetosphere is a harzard place anyway. To keep on the topic, once I read a book where froozen embrios are sent because of the huge accelerations and 18 years before arrive they start to be nursed by a "mother" AI $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 10:40

In the short to medium term, we have far more understanding of the sorts of technologies conceptually needed to travel in interplanetary space and even nearby interstellar space than we do in even understanding how our minds work, so the idea of post humans spreading out among the planets and stars is a bit moot. Elon Musk will almost certainly be on Mars before anyone even has an inkling of how to do mind uploading.

So the real issue is how fast transhumanism will be developed.

Moving into exotic, strange and hostile environments like the moons and asteroids of the solar system will certainly give a boost to research which will lead in the directions of transhumanism and post humanism. Creating modifications (genetic or technological) to make humans more radiation resistant, more efficient in metabolizing food, capable of existing in more exotic atmospheres and so on makes humans more capable of living and working off planet.

Even if some governments on Earth are against modification, not everyone will be opposed (some governments might actually desire better people to work on their space projects). As well, the people in space, free from their governments on Earth, may choose to carry out programs of modification of their own to better survive the conditions in space.

So in the short to medium term, humans will be spreading through the solar system, but as time passes, a larger and larger percentage of people in space become transhumans. Martians might not be visually different from humans, but microscopic investigation will show modified bone structure, glandular changes to control bone density, red blood cell production and other modifications to adapt to Martian conditions.

With the uncertainty surrounding the idea of digitally uploaded humans, trying to predict the timeframe of when this will happen isn't really something that can be predicted accurately. One thing which might seem counterintuitive is digital post humans might not even want to travel in space. Since electronic signals are faster than electrochemical signals in the brain by a factor of 1,000,000, the 1.3 second light lag between the Earth and the Moon would seem like a subjective week for such a being. The time lag for more distant planets becomes increasingly more arduous for uploaded beings, and the months or years of realtime travel between planets would seem to take centuries for an upload. If it takes a thousand years to get to Alpha Centauri using a solar sail, an upload would be stuck for subjective eons.

Digital uploads might have other means of dealing wth this (including changing their perception of time or modifying their clock speed, or simply living in Matryoshka brain living in a simulated universe. Post human futures will be virtually unknowable to people like us.

  • $\begingroup$ Your answer poses an interesting paradox. If posthumans are better suited to survive in space & yet are less likely to want to do so due to their faster time perception, do poor old natural humans have to go into space instead? Modified or stopped clock speeds are an answer, presumably there are other fixes. Perhaps not so simple after all, apart from incomprehensibility of the posthuman future. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ "an upload would be stuck for eons" Unless you put that uploaded mind onto a harddrive and shipped it via UPS to Alpha Centauri... then it would be faster. $\endgroup$
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Only if the HDD was stopped for the entire time. IF the emulation was running, then the postman would be trapped for subjective eons in the VR. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 22:09

This is something I've often wondered about myself! And the biggest deciding factor, I'll have to say, is technology. Specifically, can humans achieve FTL travel, and/or terraform. So here are two possibilities I can consider.

  1. Star Trek-Style
    If FTL travel is discovered, and humans can reach nearby systems in relatively short times, then it's not likely humans will evolve too much. The basic human form will be able to manage their own environments to fit their needs; therefore, there's need to alter the design. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Humans may be able to advance their brains' wiring (I.e., able to process thoughts better, etc.), but as far as physical alterations, it'd be fairly consistent.

  2. All-Tomorrow's Way
    Assuming FTL travel isn't possible (or, more likely, takes a really long time), then some evolution would occur when colonizing new worlds. Even considering terraforming technologies, gravity and sunlight exposure will definitely play big effects on human physiology.
    For example, Human Martians wouldn't need to be as bulky or short to live on such a world. They'd probably end up looking taller and more spindly than their Earthling counterparts. Humans out near the further reaches of the solar system might end up copying the Neanderthals body plan - short, stocky, built to keep warm.

As for digital augmentation or digital humans...that's harder to say. It depends on the path of technological development. I think it's something to consider for inter-galactic travel, but as far as anything within the solar system, or maybe even within our section of the Milky Way, I'm skeptical.

  • $\begingroup$ "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" - Unfortunately, our bodies are very broken in regards to space travel and extreme environments. We can't even survive everywhere on our own planet without significant technology. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Kys We do survive everyone on our planet without significant technology. People with Neolithic technology survived on ice floes in the arctic, 5000m up a mountainside where atmosphere is half of sea level, and wandering across a sandy desert the size of Canada with little water and 50 C days. Surely we are adaptable enough to handle space. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 16:50

I think that the first people who make use of mind uploading will be the very rich and powerful. They will lobby to ensure that it is available to them to live on past their mortal meat existence, and get to keep their wealth, influence, and civil rights.

See this question for thoughts on the timeline driven by economics: it will be open only to the wealthy at first and will gradually become possible for middle class etc.

Eventually the uploaded will outnumber the “living”. But long before that, they will be the oligarchs, plutocrats, billionaires, and heads of state from the previous century and the dominant holder of wealth and power.

In order for the luddites to stop them, even at an early stage, would require a movement of the scope and size that topples nation states. Imagine someone who controls a personal fortune of billions and directs corporate assets on the scale of half a trillion; he’s used to making government inquiries against him simply go away, and controlling public opinion not just on products he’s selling but towards his personal positions.

How could the population possibly come together to stop him? In a free republic he controls the masses through advertising and spin, and in a different kind of regime he simply pays off the government (if the government isn’t already the puppet of him and others like him).

Now this is happening to all the aging or ailing über-riche, all over the planet, so the right kind of situation such as a religious backlash or a powerful leader making him or his money “go away” would be a one-off solution for a specific case or culture—you need to stop all of them. As for the one-off, he might get out of that too, defecting to another country that eagerly harbors him (and his money) for a fee; or disappear into the underworld.

So you don’t just have to topple the power base of a nation, but of every nation, with different cultures and styles of government, and prevent it from happening covertly.

In short, you have to prevent advanced technology from existing on a global basis. It has to be cut off at a point where it would require “obvious” infrastructure to build, like chip fabs.

Or, you need a pervasive surveillance state across all nations, to prevent anyone from doing that (and anything else you want to outlaw).

I think, barring the collapse of civilization before that, that it cannot be stopped.


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