10.08.2004
The Times of Mars
№3 2004 July/September

The new
century is characterized by an amazing paradox. Mankind’s profound
scientific and technological progress is turning what recently
seemed inconceivable into everyday reality. The cognitive powers of
man are working wonders. At the same time, the power of information
technologies has increased to the point where people are ready to
believe in practically anything. For example, a former French motor
racing journalist, who has assumed the glamorous name Rael, relays
the story of how he met a 25,000-year-old extraterrestrial who
visited Earth in a UFO. The tiny, green ET explained to him – in
perfect French, of course – that the first humans had been created
by aliens via DNA manipulation. Since then, aliens have been
cloning the best representatives of Homo sapiens for their
‘exemplary conduct.’


Rael founded a sect which he named the Raelian Movement. In 2002,
the Raelians declared the birth of the world’s first human clone.
It is not the Raelians that impressed me most (after all, there are
plenty of crazy people among us), but rather the newspaper and TV
journalists around the world who produced scintillating reports
about the sectarians. The members of the media all hoped to be the
first to break this spectacular news to the world.
We live in a world that is controlled by information, to the point
where it is becoming a universal instrument for attaining any goal
– political, ideological, economic or military. Like all the other
new technologies previously created, the global information
exchange is one in a series of technological achievements that
quickly change from a tremendous benefit into a destructive force;
the mightier the enemy, and the more computerized his control
systems, the more vulnerable he is to a precise information
strike.


A skillful hacker sitting at his computer in some god-forsaken
place can paralyze the entire giant Moloch of U.S. industry.
Satellite intelligence, the generation and transmission of
electricity, transport, shipping and other industries, have become
easy prey for information attacks. This is a type of asymmetric
strategy which the underdeveloped world could possibly implement as
a weapon against the developed world; it would only require a
single member of a radical organization with a talent for
computers. Such a strategy does not require much money, whereas an
effective defense against such attacks would take much effort and
investment. Technically, it would be very difficult to
build.


On the other hand, perhaps we fail to realize what great
technologies can be implemented in virtual warfare, or what
intellectual potential the enemy can use: the results of almost all
technological breakthroughs in the second half of the 20th century
quickly replenished the arsenals of the god of war. In some fields
of development, however, there was an inverse tendency: for
example, the civilian exploration of outer space was a by-product
of the arms race.

 


Outer space at the Bush administration’s
service


Years ago, like many other science-fiction writers, I wrote about
man’s travels to other planets; Mars was usually portrayed as the
most likely destination. Now it seems possible that these dreams
will be realized. Early this year U.S. President George W. Bush
announced the beginning of preparations for an ambitious space
program: the Americans will return to the Moon, and prepare an
expedition to Mars. But alas, the grandiose plans are less a daring
desire to explore the universe than a very transparent political
reckoning. The United States will soon have a presidential
election, and the international reaction to the situation in Iraq,
as well as to Washington’s achievements in the fight against
counterterrorism, is mixed. So, White House advisers aptly recalled
the effect produced by Apollo 11’s lunar landing in 1969. The U.S.
astronauts’ flight was what is now referred to as a brilliant PR
action, that is, a realization of the famous statement by Karl von
Clausewitz that “war is the continuation of policy by other
means.”

The U.S.
administration is now trying to use the same tactics – especially
since it would be impossible to hold the incumbent president to his
bombastic promises: it would take not less than hundreds of
billions of U.S. dollars and 15 to 20 years to prepare a flight to
Mars. However, Bush is not looking to the future – he is more
concerned with the nearest four years. It is not so important to
him that the next president, who will replace him sooner or later,
will most probably shelve all of his far-reaching plans. What
matters more to the White House is that Mr. Bush is presented to
the American people as a sagacious strategist and
foreseer.

 

Even the
arguments in favor of future space missions, presented by Bush
during his speech at NASA, were nothing less than humorous. The
U.S. president spoke about some “abundant resources” on the Moon
and the prospects for developing the resources of Mars. The U.S.
leader must be thinking of an interplanetary expedition as a
journey aimed to establish control over yet another oil-bearing
area.
The only substance found on Mars to date was some quantity of
frozen water. If this ice is melted, the water will cover the
planet’s surface in a four-millimeter layer. Thus we must ask: so
what? There are four oceans on the Earth, why do we need Martian
water?

 

War
instead of science

There are
still no prospects for exploring the universe in the way it was
perceived by the 20th century futurologists. What we are witnessing
today is not the exploration of the universe, but the exploration
of near-Earth space (i.e. 100 to 300 kilometers above the Earth’s
surface). And the reason for these explorations is for military
purposes. From a military point of view, the Moon, for example, is
rather unimportant: the 400,000 kilometers that divide the Earth
and the Moon is simply too great a distance. I believe that China,
the latest space nation, also has military considerations behind
its space program; last year it fired into space its first
‘taikonaut.’ Beijing has grandiose plans of its own: it does not
wish to cooperate with any other country in the exploration of
space, nor does it plan to participate in the International Space
Station project. China desires to accomplish everything on its own,
no matter how much time and effort it may cost. Considering the
resourcefulness of the Chinese people, and their strong desire to
acquire all the attributes of a modern great power, they will most
likely succeed.

As for the
Americans, space is becoming a place for establishing a military
strategic advantage. During the Iraqi war, which many describe as
revolutionary in terms of the technologies employed, satellite
communications were widely used for real-time troop control.
Washington operates a constellation of 600 satellites, and this
number is expected to soon reach one thousand. The U.S. must be
thinking that the arms race which it has provoked and extended into
outer space will require so much spending that no other nation will
be able to compete with it, let alone overpower it.
However, it is impossible to predict the outcome of the emerging
East-West confrontation. It was formerly believed that a
technological edge would provide the U.S. with a ‘computer shield.’
However, terrorism has largely depreciated America’s technological
advantage over other countries, because electronic machines are
unable to predict, for example, an Arab kamikaze terrorist’s turn
of mind. The human mind, especially if it has been poisoned with a
radical ideology, cannot be mathematically decomposed into digital
elements.

Recent developments on the Earth show that we
must address the problems now afflicting the planet, rather than
pursue space odysseys. The enormous gap in the living standards and
development levels between the North and the South is much more
dangerous than any conceivable technologies. The famous American
political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, who in the late 1980s
proclaimed the “end of history” with a universal triumph of liberal
values (in the present war against terrorism such expectations look
particularly naпve), has recently written a book entitled Our
Posthuman Future. In it, he warns about threats posed by advanced
biotechnologies which can alter the genetic code, change an
embryo’s sex, cure formerly incurable diseases and increase man’s
life span.

A majority of
the global population – billions of paupers who live (or rather
die) on half a dollar a day – are unable to comprehend the
‘post-human’ threats that the scholar from prosperous America is so
much afraid of. These people live in a different world, in a
different epoch, in a different dimension – not ‘post-human’ but
inhuman. Meanwhile, the first phase in the development of the U.S.
National Missile Defense alone will demand U.S. $50 billion, and
one launch of an antimissile missile will cost U.S. $100 million.
This world must be changed; otherwise, it will spin out of control
and begin to change us.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq has provoked a global political
regrouping on the planet. Conflicts have emerged even in the
once-inviolable North Atlantic Alliance. Professor Samuel
Huntington’s prophecy about an inevitable ‘clash of civilizations’
is becoming menacingly plausible. Hopefully, political events in a
more distant future are still so unpredictable that Huntington’s
prophecy may never come to pass. Last century, the failure of
futurology for determining future events nevertheless succeeded in
producing a saying that “nothing changes as much as the
future.”

 

Let
us save the Earth!


The future of the Earth, which is
presently plagued with numerous political upheavals, is made even
more unpredictable by climatic cataclysms. On a cosmic scale, man’s
life span is very short; this is no different when we consider the
brief life span of a civilization. (One result is that people fail
to perceive that the Sun is becoming increasingly hotter in line
with the law of stellar evolution.) Considering man’s
environmentally unfriendly activities on the planet, it is
difficult to look into the future without fear.


In the early 1960s, I wrote a satirical open letter on behalf of a
character in my book Ijon Tichy.  The letter made a plea for
humanity to save the universe from man’s destructive activities. In
reality, people are simply unable to do any serious damage to the
universe. However, on the Earth, man can do much harm. So,
paraphrasing my call of 40 years ago, I would like to now exclaim:
“Let us save the Earth!”