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Biotech NASA Space Build

'Curiosity' Lead Engineer Suggests Printing Humans On Other Planets 323

Jason Koebler (3528235) writes "Adam Steltzner, the lead engineer on the NASA JPL's Curiosity rover mission, believes that to send humans to distant planets, we may need to do one of two things: look for ways to game space-time—traveling through wormholes and whatnot—or rethink the fundamental idea of 'ourselves.' 'Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet,' said Steltzner."
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'Curiosity' Lead Engineer Suggests Printing Humans On Other Planets

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  • Are we our genes? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @01:48PM (#47121311) Homepage Journal

    I think there's a case to be made that genetically being human is far less important to being "human" than the shared culture we've developed. Organically laying out a clone of yourself is far less like yourself than raising an adopted child. This kind of program, while inspired, and theoretically plausible, doesn't actually achieve what we want to achieve.

    • I think there's a case to be made that genetically being human is far less important to being "human" than the shared culture we've developed. Organically laying out a clone of yourself is far less like yourself than raising an adopted child. This kind of program, while inspired, and theoretically plausible, doesn't actually achieve what we want to achieve.

      Theoretically plausible? Really, in what universe?

      • In one where biotechnology continues to advance at the rate we've seen in the past 3 decades.

      • It's plausible in the sense that no fundamental laws are violated. It isn't like time-travel or true perpetual motion - it's just an engineering challenge. An impossibly hard engineering challenge, true. One that may take centuries to solve. But still, it's plausible.

        • I'd hold off until consciousness is quantified before claiming such a thing is plausible.

          Without consciousness, a human body is nothing but a chemical processing facility without a crew to run it.

    • That limited definition of "clone" has recently been widely adopted simply because it is currently within reach. A full clone would be a full copy of yourself, with every neuron in place. Full cloning seems like the only rationale for "printing" people, since otherwise it would be much easier to send a frozen embryo in an artificial uterus with robot-mom to raise him/her.
      • Which is silly because:

        A. You couldn't actually produce identical biomechanical states in any meaningful capacity. The bandwidth requirement alone would be stupidly large.
        B. If you did have such an ability, biological mechanisms would continue to flow while you built "me", which result in some very very nasty artifacts. You can't bathe in the same river twice.

        • I suppose full cloning is silly, since mind-uploading seems both more technically feasible (or rather, somewhat less technically infeasible?) and also more advantageous if "you" are going into a different habitat.

          I suppose the bigger issue is that nobody but you cares whether it is you who goes, or another equally qualified individual. And the most qualified individual is sure to be one of our ancestors or creations, not any one of us reading this.

    • By "printing" I'm assuming they mean to duplicate the template person entirely - including memories. That tech might not exist today, and we might never be able to, but if we could, it would certainly work great for this.

      Depending on the data size it might be feasible to store the templates of a few dozen individuals. Half male, half female. All the varying skillsets. Send out a few hundred probes that would systematically search star systems and if it finds an uninhabited one that could sustain human l

  • Let's print up 20,000 Sarah Palin's on Orionis IV just for the hell of it.

  • by Crash24 ( 808326 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @01:49PM (#47121331) Homepage Journal
    Aside from the whole organic-3D-printing-of-entire-humans angle, this isn't a new idea. Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth [] features an extraterrestrial colony of humans descended from machine-grown progenitors.
    • Aside from the whole organic-3D-printing-of-entire-humans angle...

      The article doesn't actually describe anything similar to 3D printing either. The justification for calling it that is pretty much: 3D printing involves assembling a final product from raw materials; the proposal also involves assembling a final product from raw materials; therefore we're talking about 3D printing.

      In general the idea is interesting -- although it's hardly new, and we're so far from the technology level required to do it that it's still in the realm of science fiction -- but the 3D printing

      • Heck, you could describe a fetus developing in the womb as 3D printing - you're feeding raw materials into a biological device that essentially prints itself.

        The author of the article isn't about transferring consciousness, so "all you need" is a way to to encode the genome (doable), a way to transmit this encoding (also doable), a way to construct artificially a zygote using this genetic information (uh...), and then an artificial womb a la The Matrix to gestate the embryo. Also robots to raise the child

    • by starless ( 60879 )

      Aside from the whole organic-3D-printing-of-entire-humans angle, this isn't a new idea. Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth [] features an extraterrestrial colony of humans descended from machine-grown progenitors.

      There's also Greg Egan's fascinating short story Glory.
      A tiny anti-matter powered package traveling at near light speed is sent to an exo-planetary system.
      That's used as a seed to generate humans + technology using data sent electromagnetically. []
      (And it's in the 25th Year's Best Science Fiction)

      • And it's even been used for transit—Charles Stross's Neptune's Brood has cyborgized humans using the growth of new bodies as a substitute for light-speed travel.
  • Conforming to einsteinian space-time, it will take more than a present-day human life span to get a printer and your scan to a nice(ish) planet.

    Maybe we need to work on the lifespan.

    I plant oak seedlings; most do not.

    • I thought that was the basic concept. Spend 500 years traveling, and when you arrive, print out a bunch of 20-30 year old scientists, engineers, mechanics, etc. to start building the colony. Once you've printed a large enough group to be viable, they can make more the old fashioned way.

  • Hmmm ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @01:52PM (#47121371) Homepage

    So, start with the magic, then?

    I wonder how we go about printing humans on other planets or using wormholes.

    Why, if only we had unlimited, non-existent technology, we could do practically anything.

    • Yes! There's the solution: The wormhole printer! Just add a wormhole to the print head and you can print on other planets. Why did nobody else think of that? Jeez!

    • Where would you get the raw materials for printing humans?

      It sounds like someone has been playing too much Mass Effect 2.
  • by Stellian ( 673475 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @01:52PM (#47121373)

    You don't have to print humans, just synthesize a memorized genome and throw it into an artificial womb. Done to death in SciFi literature and certainly within the means of 21th century technology. It's certainly interesting if a human raised entirely by a computer can really qualify as human.

    And why do it ? Just to spread the human disease in the universe ? Why not simply send the artificial intelligence that is necessary anyway to make such a mission a success ?

    • by mmell ( 832646 )
      Who's going to raise the thing? Human babies (even in adult bodies) aren't exactly lean, mean surviving machines.
  • Print me up a Scarlett Johansson
    • Why bother? Even the printed one won't date you.
    • Computer - Portman, Natalie, naked and petrified, covered in hot grits

      Just steer clear of those Sirus Cybernetics 3D printers. OMG.

      • Good point. The Sirius Cybernetics Clonomatic Person Dispenser would probably decant something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Natalie Portman. And don't ask about the grits, hot or otherwise.

  • Now I'm picturing a Russel Crowe hologram waiting for the dot matrix shriek to finish before instructing the newly minted Last Son of Earth on our species' survival.
  • The end (Score:5, Funny)

    by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @02:06PM (#47121573)

    I can just see it. A billion years from now, on a planet a trillion miles away, the last remaining message from the human race will be displayed in black pixelated letters on a small rectangular display: PC LOAD LETTER.

  • I don't know if printing is the right word. I think making test tube babies that are then raised by some kind of AI to be more or less human might be the closest we get. There is still a lot of technology that we need for that (artificial womb, an AI that would simulate some kind of social interaction) .

    Most people would not go on a journey if they knew they had to spend the rest of their lives and next 500 generations' lives on that same journey.

    I have posted this before: []
  • When the universe reaches maximal entropy everything will be dead. Humans, aliens, stars, everything. Admittedly this will not happen for a very long time but it does seem to be inevitable.
    • Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?

      Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.

  • A lot of bits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @02:12PM (#47121641) Journal

    How many bits would it take to describe a human at a molecular level?

    • by dbarron ( 286 )

      I think you might be surprised how compressible the pattern might be. There's a lot of duplication in them there waters.

      • I can't remember the actual reference but someone figured out just the coordinate data to describe a grain of salt and it was HUGE.....

        • Yeah, but how much of it is meaningful. It's not as though every atom in your body needs to be precisely position, not even every cell. Heck, it's entirely possible that most of the tissues outside the nervous system wouldn't need to be placed all that accurately.

    • by crow ( 16139 )

      You don't need to describe a human on the molecular level. For the most part, go with the organ level, and you're all set. Once we can print replacement organs, it's just a small step to putting it all together for a complete person. You'll need compatible DNA to match the cells that you're printing.

      The only big deal is the brain, as you probably want to print a person with memory and skills, so you have to be able to scan a live person and then print a duplicate.

      You don't really need to match the DNA to

    • If you don't care about things like memories, about six billion bits: []

  • Yes, I have read The Songs of Distant Earth [] too.
  • I can think of some people I'd like to download, and after printing, upload.
  • This is the best idea the lead engineer on the NASA JPL's Curiosity rover mission could come up with? Find worm holes or send 3D printers to other planets. Ugh.
  • by neilo_1701D ( 2765337 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @02:15PM (#47121681)

    Old story from way back; a building has been found on the moon that contains a machine that kills people in many different ways throughout the strange building but always consistently. Almost like a mouse in a maze, the scientists figure out that if they can get through this death trap and map each method of death along the way they should be able to get further each time and eventually manage to travel out the other side. Of course it could take many lives to accomplish this so they devise a method of teleporting a copy of someone from the earth to the moon and taking a "backup" copy that shares memories with their counterpart so that when that doppelganger dies there is still a version left alive earth-side.

    The only problem is that the sheer horror of each death causes the surviving copy to be driven insane, the human mind just not able to cope, that is until they find the reckless Al Barker who's courted death all his life. It's only then that the research makes any headway.

  • by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @02:17PM (#47121721) Journal

    the cartridge would run out when it prints my wienus.

  • by Richy_T ( 111409 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @02:23PM (#47121781) Homepage

    Why not rethink the organic part too?

  • I guess Mr. Steltzner just saw The Fifth Element [] recently.

  • After reading all comments so far and thinking of the concerns mentioned, printing humans onto another world for colonising purposes is really not a fearful thing to do. I will illustrate the simplicity of it by starting with artificial insemination and sperm donation. There is a sperm pool out of which we draw readymade zoids to fecund with an egg in an ovary, when we determine there is a need to do so. In the end, it all boils down to this bare fact.

    Now, many if-s follow.. and we reach a point where if we

    • Well if we are using sperm and egg then we really need to develop robot parents that have strong AI modelled after ourselves to take care of the children and raise them as best they can. Send along all the accumulated knowledge we can, and hope for the best. Long term they probably wouldn't turn out too much different from ourselves. Even if the first few generations were really messed up.

      • Sadly I agree to that. Yet let's be optimistic. After all, we can say we have achieved some level of accuracy when we will boast that yes yes, it is really us, in all respects, that has colonised that world. We come as a package across the Universe.

  • We're probably a lot closer to replacing our bodies with mechanical equivalents than we are to printing a complete person. The biggest challenge is the brain. If you replace everything surrounding the brain with prosthetics, then it may be much more practical to suspend the function of the brain for a long voyage than it would be for a whole body.

    Or combine the ideas. Freeze a brain in a cyborg body. When you get a colony set up, print a uterus, implant frozen embryos, and then let the cyborg parent the

  • the idea of consciousness is the main problem with simply printing humans with a specific memory. if you copy someone with their current memory... the copy is now a new person, with his own actions. the main body and the new body have completely separate life after creation. if the original dies, the new one carries on. the idea of copying someone to teleport them is unsolvable before we figure out how to deal with consciousness, because that isnt 'me' on the other side, that is someone else who looks like

  • Using the current state of Ink Jet printing costs as a benchmark, I'm sure the cost of the cartridges will *far* surpass the cost of the printer any mission to send them to another planet. It will probably be cheaper to simply buy enough humans to make the trip and keep them in storage to use as-needed.

  • Doctorow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Thursday May 29, 2014 @03:33PM (#47122431) Journal

    Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom hasn't come up yet?

    Coming to terms with what it might be to actually be human... printing ourselves and transferring a back-up to that body...
    what does that mean? will consciousness go with it?

    To me, consciousness is probably just an electronic current that holds us to our memory. The terrifying moment, even if I could replicate myself elsewhere, is,"What happens when I sever that connection and transfer over/" will I just die and a perfect copy keeps living on just as I was a moment ago, or do I go with it? *could anyone tell*? It is the stuff not just of the fear of death, but no one ever knowing that makes it a nightmare.

    Sorry to post so dark... nice weather, huh?

  • there were a protein and amino acid (and enough time) for this to work!

  • Right now Charles Stross is steepling his fingers like and saying "Excellent...." []

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"