The LifeBoat Foundation: Killer Nanoviruses, Space Arks and the Salvation of Humanity

We are living in a science fiction age. Things that could barely be dreamt of 50 years ago are becoming reality. The internet, connecting the entire world with the click of a button. Genetically modified plants and animals. Robots able to mimic human beings to a surprising (although not yet perfect) extent.

For many, the increase in human technology is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we create tools that allow us to live longer and more easily, yet this same advance in technology also creates newer and better ways to kill.

This fear of technology has been around for a long time, perhaps the most analogous to the current situation is the fear of atomic power that came about after the end of World War II. However the new fear today is not of nuclear weaponry, but rather super nanoviruses capable of destroying all life on this planet.

Saviors of Humanity

To protect humanity from being destroyed at the hands of its own creations, the LifeBoat Foundation was formed in 2002 by Eric Klien as a non-profit organization. Eric Klien, a libertarian computer programmer, has made himself known in a number of different projects over the past two decades. In the beginning of the 1990’s, he was one of the major spokespersons for the Cryonicist movement.

He also became involved in national politics in the mid-90’s with his pledge to donate $10,000 to the paying off of the national debt if Congress reduced federal spending by one penny. This led to the creation of the “Not a Penny More” campaign, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

In 1993 Klien began the Atlantis Project, whose ideal was to create a self-sufficient man-made island state, somewhat following the lines of Plato’s Republic: a true Utopia. This was disbanded in 1994 due to lack of interest, although Klien always hoped to bring the project back. That is, until the events of September 11th, 2001.

9/11 brought a new understanding to Eric Klien. In this new technological age, there were technologies out there that could do significant damage to mankind, and there were people out there who would have no fear of using them. This led to the development and creation in 2002 of the LifeBoat Foundation.

The Fear: Gray Goo

While understanding that there are many technological disasters that could strike humanity, the major concern of the LifeBoat Foundation is what has been named gray goo.

In essence, what we call the “gray goo problem” is that of a self-replicating nanorobots can obliterate the genetic material of the earth in order to continue recreating itself at amazing speeds, creating a global “nano-mass” that will eventually cover the entire earth and wipe out all other life. Some potential scenarios have said that the earth could be destroyed by such a nano-mass in a period of 20 months from original infestation!

While Klien fears the potential of development of gray goo as a weapon, the possibilities of a gray goo scenario appear with any self-replicating nanotechnology, whatever its original intent. A simple lab accident involving such technology could theoretically wipe out all life as we know it.

It is part of the mission of the LifeBoat Foundation to inform the people of the world of the potential dangers of these newly developing technology. It is hoped that through education and the spread of information, any potential disasters can be held off. However, we must always expect and plan for the worst.

The Solution: Space Arks

With the possibilities of gray goo and anything else the mind can imagine involving nanotechnology and truthfully any technology, the LifeBoat Foundation feels that the best hope for the survival of humanity past the coming technological age is the development of what they have dubbed space arks. These space arks will be self-sufficient orbiting space stations that, like Noah’s Ark, will safeguard man and chosen plants and animals while the earth is destroyed.

According to the LifeBoat Foundation’s aggressive timeline, it is hoped that the first of these self-sufficient space colonies could be in existence by about 2020. This would be followed by the creation of further colonies, and ultimately an entire colonization of the solar system leaving the ravaged earth behind.

If one views their web site, one can find somewhat detailed ideas for this original space ark. Some of these ideas are quite well-fleshed out, however some of the essentials (such as food production) seem to be barely mentioned if at all. One can also see an impressive animation of a shuttle leaving earth to arrive at the station.

The LifeBoat Foundation and the Future of Humanity

Is gray goo the impending threat that the LifeBoat Foundation feels it to be? Is our only chance for survival to hide away on space arks floating in space? Obviously, the potential of a gray goo nanovirus is there, but does that mean it is inevitable? Not really.

Can the LifeBoat Foundation really create these self-sufficient spacearks? As it stands right now, it seems that their plans are a bit overly optimistic in terms of time. On the other hand, considering the rate of technological increase, anything is possible, and they very well could have fully functional space stations by 2020. Or the entire project could fold, as did Klien’s previous Atlantis Project. However, it does having the backing of some fairly large names, such as inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil or science and science fiction author David Brin.

In the end, the LifeBoat Foundation remains at least an interesting organization. For those interested in the prospect of colonizing the stars, the LifeBoat Foundation is one of the few non-governmental (if not the only) non-governmental organization seriously attempting it. And while they might overplay the dangers of things such as gray goo, the possibility is certainly there and it is something that we should be aware of.

Even if the LifeBoat Foundation fails in its ultimate endeavors in the short term, in the long term their plans are leading the destiny of mankind. One day we will colonize the solar system, and perhaps even beyond, whatever happens to earth.

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