Jeff Bezos Gets It

Space colony: O'Neill CylinderEver since I read Gerard K. O’Neill’s The High Frontier (link is to my review when I re-read the book in 2013) in the 1970s, it has been obvious to me that the medium-term human destiny is to expand from using resources on the surface of Earth to exploit the abundant resources of the solar system, where more than 99% of the matter and energy are available for the taking and the constraints of a closed ecosystem do not exist.  There were technological barriers to overcome in order to get from here to there, but none of them required technologies we didn’t already understand or investments greater than were regularly squandered on futile wars or counterproductive social programmes.

I thought, “All it would take is a wealthy individual who gets it and is willing to stake their personal fortune on a human destiny which is optimistic and open-ended, as opposed to the claustrophobic vision of the slavers who see future generations confined on one planet, increasingly under the control of masters who worship at the altar of ‘sustainability’ ”.  The amount of money required to bootstrap this future would be in the round-off of the government budget of a medium-sized industrialised country, but you don’t get vision from coercive government—just control and keeping everybody in their place.

What if I told you that the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, completely gets it, and is devoting a substantial amount of his fortune to taking the incremental steps toward a future in which a trillion humans (and probably post-humans, but he hasn’t gone there yet—patience) inhabit the solar system and laugh at things like the “age of limits”, “sustainability”, “green new deals”, and landscapes covered by unsightly bird shredders.  Further, his projects, years in the making, are meeting their goals and progressing toward the next ones.

This would be pretty big news, right?  I mean, we’re talking about what is potentially the greatest change in the way humans live and the aspiration of our species since the invention of agriculture.  But you won’t find it making the headlines it merits, except here.

Here the presentation by Jeff Bezos on 2019-05-09, laying out his vision for the human expansion beyond Earth and how work underway at his company, Blue Origin, is patiently building the infrastructure for the next few steps toward this vision.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

26 thoughts on “Jeff Bezos Gets It

  1. John Walker, this is my favorite post you have written on Rat because you have ignored the annoying tabloids and focused on the brilliance of one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs.

    Bravo. Keep em coming; in fact, I’d love for you to start a series on America’s most important businessmen who changed the world. Suggestion? Start with Henry Ford because he was one of the most misunderstood misanthropes.

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  2. 10 Cents:
    What is new about Bezos’ moon project? The lunar lander is huge, right?

    The lunar lander was expected, although many of the details of the design and capabilities were new.  The complete buy-in to the O’Neill vision of mass migration of humanity and industry from the Earth into space (albeit a multi-generation project) was, as far as I know, completely unexpected.

    The near-term direction, of course, fits very well with the new NASA direction of return to the lunar surface by 2024, but with the capabilities Bezos is proposing there is no need for many of the boondoggle projects (SLS and the Lunar Tollbooth) NASA is supporting.

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  3. Caution: Bezos is a globalist, open borders supporter who also happens to own the Imperial Post (Democracy Dies in Darkness, aka Enemy of the People). His simplistic and pessimistic extrapolation of energy requirements and resources fails to account for the role of innovation in human history. The same kind of extrapolation resulted in dire predictions of Peak Oil made beginning in the 1950s. As Sheikh Yamani explained,

    The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.

    The same goes for other energy sources, including solar. A more optimistic view involves noting that nuclear fusion could access a much larger (almost limitless) amount of energy. Mastering controlled fusion is a far easier task that colonizing empty space with artificial worlds.

    It is also not a given that the population of humans will increase without limit. Other species reach a steady state within their ecosystems. Even the lame and normally alarmist UN predicts that world population will level off. In any case, neither the UN nor Bezos has any idea what the carrying capacity of Earth is. It has been increasing for millennia and it’s not clear where that ends. The carrying capacity of Earth in prehistoric times was probably less than the current population of the US.*

    There is a misunderstanding that more is always better. Bezos opines that we could have a thousand Mozarts in his utopia. He fails to note that we would also have a thousand Stalins, Mengeles, and Pol Pots. More is not always better. Quality is more important than quantity. Better to increase the proportion of Mozarts and decrease the fraction of Stalins.

    Like all utopians, Bezos fails to consider downsides and failure modes. There may not be earthquakes but there will be hull breaches. What are the political consequences of a society in which the populace is dependent on the government for the air they breathe? There’s also an arrogance in it. Bezos knows best what kind of world the little people should want to inhabit: “Maui on its best day, all year long.”

    Bezos’s views are informed by a model of scarcity and limits imposed by the environment that the Greens preach. Admittedly, he attempts to address the limits by leaving Earth in favor of greener, albeit artificial, pastures rather than by strangling growth. But he still accepts the fundamental assumptions of the Greens: the planet is limited and those limits will be reached soon (<200 years).

    Expansion into space is in our future but not for the reasons Bezos gives and not as soon as he thinks.

    * “The planet’s carrying capacity for prehistoric human hunter-gatherers was probably no more than 100 million.”

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  4. OK, suppose this is real

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/149M5BTUXbJK6q5fPKfXwmBEux2-T0yV_LlvHA9lz_wo/edit

    and suppose my explanation of it is on the right track

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROJ8hQBDHJM

    Even if the probability of me being right is 1% (I think it’s 90+% of course) wouldn’t it be a mistake for Bezos not to put some of his fortune into following on my theory?

    PS The Russians are translating many of my writings and hundreds of Iranians track my purely technical posts on Linkedin (I do not post any political messages there, only on Twitter and Facebook), and don’t forget I appear twice in middle and end of this Russian TV show of June 2016.

    https://www.5-tv.ru/glavnoe/broadcasts/509155/476/?fbclid=IwAR2JHhn4pqN8jT9XINB63X-62-8VIOxJv2wrMbdRiIqED5yI95nepQiYe-o

    The Russians also did a physics interview of me about two years before the one in 2016. At the end of the 2016 interview the Russian said “They really like you in Moscow, Jack.” Did he mean Putin? I don’t know. However, the 2016 interview of was all about how I saw Putin’s attitude about Trump, Crimea, NATO and Syria. I was surprised they asked me that. Why? Because of my close association with Michael Savage of over 40 years who Trump has been know to telephone. Savage has been to the White House at least twice in the past two years and Trump appeared on his show in the 2016 race. Also I was involved with Russian contacts in the Reagan era as part of Lawry Chickering’s Think Tank helping to formulate SDI – see “How the Hippies Saved Physics” for some of that story.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia should not have “disappointed” the West by correcting a media report which suggested Moscow may soon have its hands on teleportation.

    Russia’s work on the much-desired ability to move instantly from one place to another was reported by The Telegraph back in the summer. Saying that a “Kremlin-backed research program” sought to make the technology a reality by 2035, the report said that the “multi-trillion pound” project had been presented to Putin. …

    Vladimir Putin was reminded of the report at a Thursday meeting of the Russian Agency for Strategic Initiatives. When discussing development of new projects, one of its members said the media had reported on teleportation plans out of context and made it sound like “it was a threat to all European countries’ national security.”

    [You] should not have disappointed them. This idea should have been carried on,” Putin replied, smiling.

    The Russian agency’s plans, which were indeed revealed in the summer, included scientists and IT specialists being set a number of tasks to be completed in the next two decades.

    Moscow planned to develop its own programming language, a 5G mobile service, as well as more secure communication systems, and quantum teleportation. The entire project reportedly required the investment of 10 billion rubles ($1.58 billion).”

    https://www.rt.com/news/369700-putin-on-teleport-threat/

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  5. There will always be people who want  to live away from other people. I think the population will keep going up, if for any reason, people who want to have more kids will eventually outbreed everyone else.

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  6. Bryan G. Stephens:
    There will always be people who want  to live away from other people.

    Yeah, there’s plenty of space on Earth for that, even at triple the current population. Even the US is mostly empty space, with vast swaths of nothingness. Almost all the people are concentrated into a few megalopolises because they want to be. For those who wish to get away, there are several western states that do the trick.

    The US isn’t even the lowest density country, not by a long shot. Many countries have fewer people per unit area, including Russia, Canada, the Southern Cone, and Australia. Take a look at this map.

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  7. drlorentz:
    Almost all the people are concentrated into a few megalopolises because they want to be.

    Megas are where the jobs are to be sure but let’s not forget all the land set aside by the EPA. I’m moving into a wilderness preserve where only 50 houses are permitted to be built with a half acre allowance between lots.

    At one time, that would have been too isolated for me, but neighbors, barking dogs, and lawn blowers swiftly changed my mind. If I want company, I can eat out or travel!

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  8. EThompson:

    drlorentz:
    Almost all the people are concentrated into a few megalopolises because they want to be.

    Megas are where the jobs are to be sure but let’s not forget all the land set aside by the EPA. I’m moving into a wilderness preserve where only 50 houses are permitted to be built with a half acre allowance between lots.

    At one time, that would have been too isolated for me, but neighbors, barking dogs, and lawn blowers swiftly changed my mind. If I want company, I can eat out or travel!

    Move to rural Montana, Alaska, or Australia. You can be so far away from other humans that if you die, no one will find your body for months. I guess the same thing happens in NYC, so bad example. Instead, think of Ted Kaczynski; he managed to stay far from people in Montana… which reminds me of the Al Gore Unabomber quiz.

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  9. drlorentz:

    EThompson:

    drlorentz:
    Almost all the people are concentrated into a few megalopolises because they want to be.

    Megas are where the jobs are to be sure but let’s not forget all the land set aside by the EPA. I’m moving into a wilderness preserve where only 50 houses are permitted to be built with a half acre allowance between lots.

    At one time, that would have been too isolated for me, but neighbors, barking dogs, and lawn blowers swiftly changed my mind. If I want company, I can eat out or travel!

    Move to rural Montana, Alaska, or Australia. You can be so far away from other humans that if you die, no one will find your body for months. I guess the same thing happens in NYC, so bad example. Instead, think of Ted Kaczynski; he managed to stay far from people in Montana… which reminds me of the Al Gore Unabomber quiz.

    I didn’t mean to come across as a Kaczynski…  puh-leeze! I still want to be among the living (No FL) but just want to lose some of the annoying elements of neighborhood society as mentioned above.

    I just happened to buy into a small city that became the “it” town among the rich and famous who could afford the type of property taxes the City Council couldn’t refuse. That’s ok.

    I had 20 good years here and it validated my ability to find the next “new desirable” (you learn a lot about that living in NYC) but this time around, I have some protection from day to day nuisances. 🙂

    Looking forward to privacy, more nature and a low-key country club that doesn’t cost $150k to join!

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  10. Given enough  time, I do think we will have more people living in orbital habitats than not. I can move to Montana, but I cannot escape DC there. At some point, with something like fusion and mining asteroids, this will make sense. Maybe after a launch loop or the like.

    I don’t think it will be soon, but I am sure it will happen as long as we survive as a species.

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  11. Bryan G. Stephens:
    I can move to Montana, but I cannot escape DC there.

    I’m moving as close to Montana as I can (don’t like Senator Jon Tester AT ALL) so as mentioned, am staying in Florida, one of the four non-tax states. It’s the only defense against D.C. that is available to me and I have a great Senator Rick Scott to represent my business interests.

    Until the Don gets re-elected in 2020 this is the best I can do.

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  12. Bryan G. Stephens:
    At some point, with something like fusion and mining asteroids, this will make sense. Maybe after a launch loop or the like.

    The key thing is exploiting resources outside Earth’s deep gravity well.  Launching all of the mass from Earth is a losing proposition regardless of your launch technology (even a space elevator or launch loop), but once you have access to the abundant resources of the Moon or asteroids, all you need to launch from Earth is the technology to go there, get them, and bring them back to where you want to use them.  The distances are large, but what matters in space (as long as you aren’t in a hurry) isn’t distance but the delta-v it takes to get from here to there.  By that standard it is vastly cheaper to travel among the Moon’s surface, high orbits around the Earth, heliocentric orbits at the same distance as Earth from the Sun, and near-Earth asteroids as lifting mass from Earth.

    When Gerard K. O’Neill first studied space settlements in the 1970s, he calculated that the cost of bootstrapping a program to build a temporary space habitat using lunar resources to assemble space solar power satellites to sell power to the Earth and reach the point further construction was self-funding was on the order of a few Apollo projects.  Everything that has happened since then only makes the economics look better.

    Fusion would be great for getting around quickly in the solar system, but you don’t need it for power.  In space, near the Earth’s orbit, you get 1.3 kilowatts per square metre of continuous solar power for free and for billions of years in the future.  We now have technologies to turn that power into electricity about three times as efficiently as when O’Neill first studied the problem.

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  13. EThompson:

    drlorentz:

    EThompson:

    drlorentz:
    Almost all the people are concentrated into a few megalopolises because they want to be.

    Megas are where the jobs are to be sure but let’s not forget all the land set aside by the EPA. I’m moving into a wilderness preserve where only 50 houses are permitted to be built with a half acre allowance between lots.

    At one time, that would have been too isolated for me, but neighbors, barking dogs, and lawn blowers swiftly changed my mind. If I want company, I can eat out or travel!

    Move to rural Montana, Alaska, or Australia. You can be so far away from other humans that if you die, no one will find your body for months. I guess the same thing happens in NYC, so bad example. Instead, think of Ted Kaczynski; he managed to stay far from people in Montana… which reminds me of the Al Gore Unabomber quiz.

    I didn’t mean to come across as a Kaczynski…  puh-leeze! I still want to be among the living (No FL) but just want to lose some of the annoying elements of neighborhood society as mentioned above.

    I just happened to buy into a small city that became the “it” town among the rich and famous who could afford the type of property taxes the City Council couldn’t refuse. That’s ok.

    I had 20 good years here and it validated my ability to find the next “new desirable” (you learn a lot about that living in NYC) but this time around, I have some protection from day to day nuisances. 🙂

    Looking forward to privacy, more nature and a low-key country club that doesn’t cost $150k to join!

    Oh, no. I wasn’t comparing you to Kaczynski. My point was simply that there is a place for everyone, from those who like the extreme urban environment to the near-wilderness and everything in between. People gather in cities not just for jobs but also for amenities and personal reasons (family, friends). When I bought my house in the 1990s, I declared my intention to die there. Times change and California has become so hostile to freedom that this declaration needs revision. I still like the physical and cultural environment (beaches, mountains, climate, museums, music); it’s the people that are starting to get to me.

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  14. drlorentz:
    People gather in cities not just for jobs but also for amenities and personal reasons (family, friends).

    True dat and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a little agitation on that subject. Fortunately, I have set up schedules with favored docs and cosmetologists here in Naples on a quarterly basis until I feel comfortable in my new digs.

    A six hour drive is certainly worth maintaining my hair color alone. 🙂

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  15. Bryan G. Stephens:
    Given enough time, I do think we will have more people living in orbital habitats than not. I can move to Montana, but I cannot escape DC there.

    Do you imagine you’d escape the power of the state in orbit? You’re more likely to escape DC in Montana than in some future space habitat. Traditional powers will successfully claim sovereignty over anything in space. Just imagine how vulnerable Bezos’s structures are to attack. “It’d be a shame if something should happen to your space colony.” There’s no reason to think that governments in these places will be any less oppressive than on Earth. There are more opportunities for control in these closed worlds. Nothing terrifies me more than a place run by Amazon or Google. They’d make 1984 look like a paradise.

    The pathway for freedom in such a situation is laid out in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which the lunar colonists carry out a successful revolt against Earth’s tyrants using their superior position in the gravitational well. If it came to that and you wanted to form a revolutionary cell, I’d join. Just call me Bernardo de la Paz. TANSTAAFL!

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  16. John Walker:

    Bryan G. Stephens:
    At some point, with something like fusion and mining asteroids, this will make sense. Maybe after a launch loop or the like.

    The key thing is exploiting resources outside Earth’s deep gravity well.  Launching all of the mass from Earth is a losing proposition regardless of your launch technology (even a space elevator or launch loop), but once you have access to the abundant resources of the Moon or asteroids, all you need to launch from Earth is the technology to go there, get them, and bring them back to where you want to use them.  The distances are large, but what matters in space (as long as you aren’t in a hurry) isn’t distance but the delta-v it takes to get from here to there.  By that standard it is vastly cheaper to travel among the Moon’s surface, high orbits around the Earth, heliocentric orbits at the same distance as Earth from the Sun, and near-Earth asteroids as that lifting mass from Earth.

    When Gerard K. O’Neill first studied space settlements in the 1970s, he calculated that the cost of bootstrapping a program to build a temporary space habitat using lunar resources to assemble space solar power satellites to sell power to the Earth and reach the point further construction was self-funding was on the order of a few Apollo projects.  Everything that has happened since then only makes the economics look better.

    Fusion would be great for getting around quickly in the solar system, but you don’t need it for power.  In space, near the Earth’s orbit, you get 1.3 kilowatts per square metre of continuous solar power for free and for billions of years in the future.  We now have technologies to turn that power into electricity about three times as efficiently as when O’Neill first studied the problem.

    I think a launch loop makes sense when you have to move a lot of people up and down. You are right a lot of the infursturace might already be up there.

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  17. drlorentz:

    Bryan G. Stephens:
    Given enough time, I do think we will have more people living in orbital habitats than not. I can move to Montana, but I cannot escape DC there.

    Do you imagine you’d escape the power of the state in orbit? You’re more likely to escape DC in Montana than in some future space habitat. Traditional powers will successfully claim sovereignty over anything in space. Just imagine how vulnerable Bezos’s structures are to attack. “It’d be a shame if something should happen to your space colony.” There’s no reason to think that governments in these places will be any less oppressive than on Earth. There are more opportunities for control in these closed worlds. Nothing terrifies me more than a place run by Amazon or Google. They’d make 1984 look like a paradise.

    The pathway for freedom in such a situation is laid out in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which the lunar colonists carry out a successful revolt against Earth’s tyrants using their superior position in the gravitational well. If it came to that and you wanted to form a revolutionary cell, I’d join. Just call me Bernardo de la Paz. TANSTAAFL!

    I am sorry, I think I can escape the state in Orbit of Saturn.

    My point is not what happens tomorrow, or 200 years from now, but 2000.

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  18. Bryan G. Stephens:
    I am sorry, I think I can escape the state in Orbit of Saturn. My point is not what happens tomorrow, or 200 years from now, but 2000.

    No one has any idea what the world will be like in 200 years, much less 2000. Cast your mind back to 1819. Do you think anyone back then was capable of envisioning today? How about the year AD 19? I’m struggling to think of any accurate futurist texts from 2000 years ago. Unless, of course, you think the Book of Revelation (c. AD 95) is accurate. Time will tell, I guess.

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