The Next Giant Leap

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. Only crew.”
- Marshall McLuhan

Scarcity Zero is a framework designed to solve core human problems. Its intent is to provide blueprints for a system that can permanently address the maladies that have plagued our species since the dawn of time; software to support the foundations of the human condition. Further, it is intended to allow – as I believe it to be true – the best parts of our nature to emerge, and flourish, in a world where their absence has caused no shortage of rue and woe. But as a writing, The Next Giant Leap is intended to provoke thought, and the consideration of ideas. It’s meant to be a conduit for a conversation among ourselves about how we might evolve the hindrances of our existence, and build, truly, a better world.

To build a better world.

I have rewritten this chapter many times. Yet each instance I read those words I must admit I become pained in a way that is unique and profound. That such a conversation needs to happen in the first place is, on its face, a travesty of potential, and an abdication of promise. It was fifty-one years ago, nearly to the day these words were written, where mankind took its first giant leap and set foot upon our lunar surface. It was a moment that reflected the culmination of unquantifiable sacrifice, and immeasurable investment, into our ability to accomplish the impossible. 200,000 years of human evolution and the lives of billions converged at a single moment in time – and we leapt forward.

That was the hope our future was meant to be built on. That was the light by which we were meant to find our way.

Now in the decades hence, where the problems of our time command headlines of newspapers instead of chapters of history books, I am haunted by a deeply lonely and desolate sense of shame to think this future might be forsaken. That for all of the nameless sacrifices people made throughout history, the future they died for would nonetheless yield to a world where billions of others wallow in needless, purposeless suffering. Where our ecological home is dying. Where the possibility of nuclear extinction is an everyday fact of life. Where we are dominated, again, and again, and again, by the petty conflicts that for millennia have devoured the brightest elements of human potential.

Yet even in the face of these circumstances, I refuse – to my core biological basis – to grant them surrender. Because our future is not yet forsaken. Because that light has not yet left us. I believe it is still a guiding beacon, waiting to be once again embraced as torches in our hearts, small as they may be against the shadows of our time – yet together bright enough to beat the darkness. And with the tools that can today be in our hands, I believe sincerely through every fiber of my soul and being that we can accomplish exactly that, once and for all.

Because “the way things are” and “the way the world works” are not reflections of incontrovertible destiny. They’re forces of circumstance, reflections of an old model that, for all its faults, got us this far – yet is now too broken to carry us further. We now require a new model, one that upgrades our existential framework on a civilizational scale. A task that, at the pinnacle of our technological prowess, is now at last possible.

It only takes our choice, like those who came before, to make that leap.

Thus, I am now speaking to you – as one person to another – in perhaps the only opportunity I can in such a context to tell you that there is still a way to fix this. We can still build a future where we can strive for higher aspirations and retire each evening feeling legitimately hopeful for the days ahead. To hold belief that we can embrace our full potential as a people and reach a harmonious plane of existence with our environment, with our planet, and, most of all, with each other.

These aspirations are not “lofty,” nor are such appeals evocative of flowery rhetoric or emotional cliché. They are core perspectives. If there is meaning to this life, if life is precious and worth cherishing, worth empowering and worth saving, then there is no greater goal we should have for ourselves. There should be nothing more important that we would see achieved. This is the foundation of existence. And by engaging these newfound capabilities at this critical time, we can evolve the fundamental structures on which that foundation stands.

This mindset encapsulates an expansion of perspective that our nationalist, tribalist tendencies might consider unrealistic, cynically ignoring that the blood spilled and resources wasted by their tenets may, in fact, have been better invested in causes other than our own destruction, or annihilation. This mindset looks beyond that, into something greater and something deeper.

In 1964, a Soviet astronomer named Nikolai Kardashev postulated the idea of civilizational “tiers” – quantifiable metrics of how objectively advanced a civilization has become or could become in the future – based on the perspective of a sentient, carbon-based biological lifeform.[1] Known as the “Kardashev” scale, his model had three tiers:

Type I: A civilization that sources its energy and resources from its planet.
Type II: A civilization that sources its energy and resource from its star.
Type III: A civilization that sources its energy and resources from its galaxy.

Other scientific philosophers, Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, John Barrow – and several others[2] – have made their own models using their own insight and expertise.[3] Even if I had the intellect or standing to disagree with any of them, I don’t. Yet deep within my mind is another tiered model, one that has influenced my worldview and perspective starkly throughout my life. It’s not much different than others like it, but it is a reflection of who I believe we are, what I believe we are capable of, and what I believe we can become – should we so choose.

The Ten Tiers of Civilization

Tier 1: Fire and Stone: control of fire and the ability to craft stone tools, subsisting exclusively on a hunter-gatherer diet. This tier represents approximately 95% of human history.

Tier 2: Agricultural: the ability to grow crops and raise livestock, accelerating population growth. Social hierarchies and customs form, and the possibility of organized conflict becomes a fixture of life. Humanity reached this tier during the Neolithic Revolution, around 10,000 B.C.E

Tier 3: Pre-industrial: command of simple metallurgy with a basic understanding of math, science and astrology. Written language and laws are established, as are formal relations between governing regions. This tier was reached at the founding of Sumer in ancient Mesopotamia, roughly 4,000 B.C.E

Tier 4: Industrial: complex self-powered machines are invented, including mechanized assembly and transportation systems. Economic trade becomes globalized and conflict carries consequences of increased severity. We reached this tier during the Industrial Revolution, approximately 1760.

Tier 5: Atomic: civilization discovers atomic energy and has the ability to build large-scale infrastructure. Population grows exponentially. Potential for resource conflict increases, as does the potential for mass destruction. We reached this tier on 16 July, 1945 when the first atomic bomb was detonated.

Tier 6: Orbital: civilization can defy gravity and even orbit. Electronics and globalized communications emerge. Transportation over terrestrial distances becomes trivial. Population continues to grow exponentially. Potential for resource conflict is extreme, which for the first time can potentially be an extinction-level event due to nuclear arsenals and global delivery mechanisms. We reached this tier on 4 October, 1957 at the launch of the first satellite. This is the tier we are in now.

Tier 7: Ascendant: civilization has developed technology capable of synthesizing unlimited energy, resources and materials, thus ending resource scarcity and resource conflict. Maslow’s needs are met,[4] addressing most social problems and stabilizing population growth. In turn, civilization is able to devote the entirety of its resources to collective social advancement with ever-more sophisticated infrastructure. This is the tier Scarcity Zero bring us to.

Tier 8: Transcendent: civilization has crossed the biological threshold and is able to store and transport consciousness outside of a physical body (sophisticated brain to computer interface). Complex artificial intelligence exists and both biomass and bionic structures can be synthesized effectively, leading to the possibility of synergy between organic and synthetic life.

Tier 9: Interstellar: civilization has reached the mastery of planetary existence and becomes capable of inhabiting other planets. Intersolar and interstellar transportation is invented, as is greater command of nanoengineering.

Tier 10: Intergalactic: A hypothetical Tier 10 civilization is capable of intergalactic space travel and can artificially create habitable worlds. It would furthermore command a comprehensive knowledge of universal physics, both on micro and macro scales.