British cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees sees space as the realm of robotic exploration, not human colonisation. A handful of privately funded thrill seeking adventurers will probably settle on Mars but the idea of mass emigration there, proposed by some as the solution to Earth’s problems, he views as a dangerous delusion.
The Q&A session was particularly lively.
Martin speculated the universe might be beyond the capacity of the human brain, as Euclid is beyond an ape’s.
Life might be unique to Earth or if there are other spacefarers, then as Seth Shostak suggested in his December 2020 lecture, we are more likely to encounter other civilizations’ machines than their biological forbears ─ Martin derives comfort from this as the machines, he thinks, would be more benign than biological entities. (One questioner raised the danger of robots having aggression programmed into them.)
Whilst we may be constrained by the laws of physics to remain within the galaxy, our electronic descendants could live millions of years, Martin thought.
Cork Astronomy Club was immensely honoured that Martin Rees agreed to give our January lockdown lecture. He is currently writing a book on “When we don’t need astronauts”, and looks forward to the day, perhaps 10 years from now, when the European Southern Observatory’s ELT telescope will get spectra of some exoplanets that would indicate the presence of a biosphere (chlorophyll, oxygen, etc).