Increasing tech makes space travel unprofitable (Re: Fermi Paradox)

From: Philip Goetz (
Date: Sun Jan 22 2006 - 09:16:13 MST

On 1/20/06, Dani Eder <> wrote:
> If they are built with the ability to communicate with
> each other, you get back the survey information without
> leaving home, and you also have built a communications
> network that can connect any civilizations in the
> Galaxy with each other. Pretty big return on your intitial
> investment in probes.

Not really - Last I checked, which was admittedly before
the crash, a venture capitalist needed about
a 30-40% yearly return on investment to invest in
anything risky. A mutual fund can return
about 10% yearly before inflation. A galactic survey would
be a risky investment. Let's say that it would not be done
unless it returned, at a bare minimum, 20% a year. Figure
out what the return has to be if you don't get paid
back for 100 million years. Not to mention that the
original investors would not expect to be around in
100 million years, regardless of any life-extension
technology; things change too much for identities to
remain recognizable over that time period.

I think that, for economic reasons and due to an increased
pace of events, people will have shorter, not longer, planning
timespans in a posthuman world. People may refuse to make
investments or plans beyond a horizon of one month. Inflation,
which is related to the subjective rate of time (how much "stuff
happens" over a time span, not how many seconds pass),
might be considered under control if it's less than 2% a week,
in a civilization of AIs for whom one week was like one year
to us. Under those circumstances, your galactic survey might
need to make a return on investment of 20% per week, 13,105%
per year.

Perhaps the Fermi paradox is because, in any civilization advanced
enough to colonize the stars, time is so valuable that an
investment in intersolar travel is never worthwhile. As technology
advances, the amount of "stuff done per time unit" increases,
but the time it takes to travel thru space never changes,
so that space travel rapidly becomes more and more
economically infeasible, regardless of any technological advances.
Even if propulsion were free, any entity intelligent enough to perform
your survey could perform tasks with more return-on-investment
without leaving home.

- Phil Goetz

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