Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

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Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Exonerate » 2017-01-03 04:17am

Been thinking about a game design. Suppose we have two civilizations that have become aware of each other. How would they interact? As ground rules, let's assume lightspeed is the universal speed limit and a minimum distance between inhabited star systems is at least 5 light-years. Historically, people have traded, intermarried, and waged war against each other (if you can think of any other major interactions, feel free to chime in - I grouped a lot of things under trade, like cultural exchange). I think we can strike intermarrying across species barriers and light-years off the list of likely interactions.

So what about trade? Well, given technology feasible in the near-term (say, next century), we're probably looking at a max deltaV of 5%-10% lightspeed, so that's 50 years of travel... before you throw in things like accelerating and decelerating. Ouch. Given the startup cost of building a starship, the limited cargo volume, risk, alternative of information exchange at lightspeed, and long period of time before you break even on an investment, it seems like the only physical thing worth trading would be unobtanium, or something close to it (and if such a thing is cheap is for a civilization, one wonders whether unobtanium might not be so unobtainable by other means). Conceding that such trade may take place, it seems to me the value of trade would still be a rather minor proportion of a civilization's resources, much like the early Spice Trade.

Does this mean in the grim darkness of the near-future, there is only war?

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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2017-01-03 04:34am

Exonerate wrote:Been thinking about a game design. Suppose we have two civilizations that have become aware of each other. How would they interact? As ground rules, let's assume lightspeed is the universal speed limit and a minimum distance between inhabited star systems is at least 5 light-years. Historically, people have traded, intermarried, and waged war against each other (if you can think of any other major interactions, feel free to chime in - I grouped a lot of things under trade, like cultural exchange). I think we can strike intermarrying across species barriers and light-years off the list of likely interactions.


Honestly... humans have done stranger things.

So what about trade? Well, given technology feasible in the near-term (say, next century), we're probably looking at a max deltaV of 5%-10% lightspeed, so that's 50 years of travel... before you throw in things like accelerating and decelerating. Ouch. Given the startup cost of building a starship, the limited cargo volume, risk, alternative of information exchange at lightspeed, and long period of time before you break even on an investment, it seems like the only physical thing worth trading would be unobtanium, or something close to it (and if such a thing is cheap is for a civilization, one wonders whether unobtanium might not be so unobtainable by other means). Conceding that such trade may take place, it seems to me the value of trade would still be a rather minor proportion of a civilization's resources, much like the early Spice Trade.

Does this mean in the grim darkness of the near-future, there is only war?


Quite the contrary, I think.

Imagine the cost of trying to wage war across interstellar distances, and the absurd logistical advantages the defender would inherently have. And such a war would be all the more ridiculous when their was no real material advantage to be gained. And it gets even worse when defenders would be able to see any sub-light speed attack fleet en route well before it arrived, and have time to prepare defences and/or launch a retaliatory strike. The only reasons for war would be ideological and/or rampant xenophobic paranoia, and its been argued before (by Carl Sagan for one, I believe) that a civilization that was highly warlike probably wouldn't make it to the interstellar level.

Probably, I suspect contact would usually either not occur or be largely limited to radio signals-knowledge would be the one thing of value that could be readily traded-unless someone's star system went nova or something, which might conceivably prompt a (likely futile) attempt to forcibly colonize someone else's system (unless the receiving system was open to resettling refugees).

Unless, of course, we're dealing with a rampant xenophobe civilization (aka the space Nazis), in which case they might go around trying to murder all the other species. But I would imagine that if civilizations were fairly common, then after they pre-emptively attacked one species, everyone else close enough to detect what happened would dog pile them with WMDs out of self-preservation.

This is, of course, assuming rough technological parity between parties. The Centaurian Chimpanzees can't expect to do much if the Terrans decide that they want their planet.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-01-03 10:18am

Exonerate wrote:Been thinking about a game design. Suppose we have two civilizations that have become aware of each other. How would they interact? As ground rules, let's assume lightspeed is the universal speed limit and a minimum distance between inhabited star systems is at least 5 light-years. Historically, people have traded, intermarried, and waged war against each other (if you can think of any other major interactions, feel free to chime in - I grouped a lot of things under trade, like cultural exchange). I think we can strike intermarrying across species barriers and light-years off the list of likely interactions.

Intermarrying would be infeasible if the other species belongs to a different evolutionary tree or is a non-biological lifeform, but for sufficiently advanced machine civilizations intelligence merging and cooperative procreation would not be ruled out. So this is not an unlikely interaction if they are very developed machine civilizations.
Exonerate wrote:So what about trade? Well, given technology feasible in the near-term (say, next century), we're probably looking at a max deltaV of 5%-10% lightspeed, so that's 50 years of travel... before you throw in things like accelerating and decelerating. Ouch.

Given sufficiently developed civilizations (full biological or technological immortality), 60 years is nothing. Trade will flourish between immortals.
Exonerate wrote:Given the startup cost of building a starship, the limited cargo volume, risk, alternative of information exchange at lightspeed, and long period of time before you break even on an investment, it seems like the only physical thing worth trading would be unobtanium, or something close to it (and if such a thing is cheap is for a civilization, one wonders whether unobtanium might not be so unobtainable by other means).

This is not true. If biology is foregone and ships are sentinent machines inhabited by AIs or if biohacking/bioengineering of one of the civilizations allows organisms to survive in outer space without specific life support, civilizations can trade in very mundane things. By making one civilization bioengineers and the other a machine-based civilization, very interesting and easy-to-imagine trade dynamics could be found.
Exonerate wrote:Conceding that such trade may take place, it seems to me the value of trade would still be a rather minor proportion of a civilization's resources, much like the early Spice Trade.

Not necessarily. Civilizations can team up for expansion. A possibility that one civilization produces goods which another civilization craves, even indirectly, is also possible, with widespread consequences (ref: C. Mieville's Embassytown, as an example).
Exonerate wrote:Does this mean in the grim darkness of the near-future, there is only war?

No.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby LaCroix » 2017-01-03 10:31am

Exonerate wrote:So what about trade? Well, given technology feasible in the near-term (say, next century), we're probably looking at a max deltaV of 5%-10% lightspeed, so that's 50 years of travel... before you throw in things like accelerating and decelerating. Ouch. Given the startup cost of building a starship, the limited cargo volume, risk, alternative of information exchange at lightspeed, and long period of time before you break even on an investment, it seems like the only physical thing worth trading would be unobtanium, or something close to it (and if such a thing is cheap is for a civilization, one wonders whether unobtanium might not be so unobtainable by other means). Conceding that such trade may take place, it seems to me the value of trade would still be a rather minor proportion of a civilization's resources, much like the early Spice Trade.


You got it the wrong way round.

You know what the price for some pretty standard chinese stuff (eg. very cheapo an common there) was during the 16th century? Astronomical.
What is the price for a bit of dust from the moon these days?
What would a collector pay for _anything_ that can be verified to come from a civilization in Alpha Centauri ?

What would a collector "over there" pay for a human object? You could pretty much fill your spaceship with random crap trinkets and you will have a market, for they are "rare Terran artifacts".
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2017-01-03 10:35am

Didn't even think of that, but yeah. People will pay loads for something just because its rare, even if it has little material value.

Of course, that could be a quirk of human psychology that an alien society would not necessarily share.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby FireNexus » 2017-01-03 12:34pm

The Romulan Republic wrote:Didn't even think of that, but yeah. People will pay loads for something just because its rare, even if it has little material value.

Of course, that could be a quirk of human psychology that an alien society would not necessarily share.


I wouldn't rule out that being common among any sapient, technological species. Technology requires curiosity, and survival of an intelligent social species more generally requires that selection pressures have rewarded resource hoarding. Having an attraction to rare or valuable seeming items is probably a relatively natural outgrowth of the kind of selection pressures that would eventually lead to you being interstellar. Unless of course you start monkeying hard with your psychobiology before you get there.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Elheru Aran » 2017-01-03 12:58pm

In such an universe, relations between the various systems could resemble what we had before the age of steam... travel between systems takes a long time, so diplomatic relations tend to be in the hands of very independent and powerful embassies able to make major policy decisions on their own, trade tends to be oriented towards premium and expensive items rather than ordinary goods that make the trip worth it, and the cultures of the different systems seem very exotic and foreign to each other. It would resemble, for example, trade between England and India in the 1600s, or some such.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-01-03 01:13pm

Not necessarily, once again, if some of the civilizations are practically immortal or live much longer than humans.

Such civilizations would undergo relative time compression (60-70 years would seem a very small interval of time, perhaps the compression could go even to greater lengths and they would be operating based on 1000-year horizons, who knows).
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Elheru Aran » 2017-01-03 01:26pm

K. A. Pital wrote:Not necessarily, once again, if some of the civilizations are practically immortal or live much longer than humans.

Such civilizations would undergo relative time compression (60-70 years would seem a very small interval of time, perhaps the compression could go even to greater lengths and they would be operating based on 1000-year horizons, who knows).


If you are throwing alien species into the mix (for some reason I was thinking human settlements) then yes that adds different flavors.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Broomstick » 2017-01-03 08:25pm

You could have species that live shorter lives than humans as well as longer.

Arts and entertainment that could be transmitted across interstellar distances, or at least the information allowing copies to be made, might well be the major component of trade.

Physical object trading is more problematic but still possible if the senders and receiver had sufficient patience. For sufficiently valuable items it might be worthwhile.

Information is going to be the main stock in trade, though.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2017-01-03 08:28pm

Arts and entertainment, different philosophies (depending on how open a society was to cultural exchanges), and also, of course, scientific knowledge, especially if different civilizations had progressed at different rates in certain fields.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2017-01-03 08:56pm

This is why stories in which there is a major conflict with aliens are almost always problematic, unless someone have some form of cheap FTL.

The costs of getting there completely offsets the potential benefits in general. While there was trade for rare goods on Earth, there is no reason to believe there could be anything that would ever require travel outside the solar system as there are no materials that can not be found or manufactured more easily than they can be traded for. Anyone who can afford to trade with a world light years away can more easily afford to produce those goods themselves.

The only thing worth trading would be information, as noted above, unless you have someone both wealthy and foolish enough to want to travel themselves. And if there wasn't already an infrastructure based around trade, that would then be all but impossible. Bill Gates didn't invest in a supersonic Learjet for himself.

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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Broomstick » 2017-01-03 09:13pm

History of other worlds would be fascinating, whether biological or geological or from the standpoint of whatever intelligent species we're communicating with.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby SolarpunkFan » 2017-01-03 10:53pm

My two cents here: read Neptune's Brood, by Charles Stross. There are bits in it about interstellar commerce being based on "slow money".

As per Wikipedia:

slow money is interstellar investment instruments, understood to take centuries, even a millennium, to mature. Slow money transactions rely on a three-way cryptoverification scheme, and so trade at one-third the speed of light.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Exonerate » 2017-01-05 01:07am

The Romulan Republic wrote:Honestly... humans have done stranger things.

While true, it would be the exception, not the rule.

K. A. Pital wrote:Intermarrying would be infeasible if the other species belongs to a different evolutionary tree or is a non-biological lifeform, but for sufficiently advanced machine civilizations intelligence merging and cooperative procreation would not be ruled out. So this is not an unlikely interaction if they are very developed machine civilizations.

I'm not sure this would bear as much resemblance to human procreation as it would to engineering. Between humans, it's a pretty instinctive and natural thing to mate with attractive fellow humans... For it to work across species barriers, it would take a conscious and special effort. Not impossible perhaps, but prima facie I'm not seeing a strong motive to do so.

The Romulan Republic wrote:Imagine the cost of trying to wage war across interstellar distances, and the absurd logistical advantages the defender would inherently have. And such a war would be all the more ridiculous when their was no real material advantage to be gained. And it gets even worse when defenders would be able to see any sub-light speed attack fleet en route well before it arrived, and have time to prepare defences and/or launch a retaliatory strike. The only reasons for war would be ideological and/or rampant xenophobic paranoia, and its been argued before (by Carl Sagan for one, I believe) that a civilization that was highly warlike probably wouldn't make it to the interstellar level.

There was no real material advantage to the Cold War either but it still happened in a large part due to mutual distrust ("We got to hit those Soviets Alpha Centaurians first before they get us!"). If we're talking about a "conventional" war of sending in a bunch of ships, getting rid of armed resistance, sending troops for an occupation, etc I'd certainly agree with you. But on the other hand, if the intent is to eliminate a perceived threat, throwing a big, dense object into their planet (or several) would probably be no more expensive than trying to trade physical goods with them. You make the assumption that if one can detect the emissions of something, one will recognize it and have lots of time to prepare. Sensors have limited field of view, resolution, exposure time needed, repeated observations needed to form a track, etc, it's not inconceivable that even an object only a fraction of lightspeed could get close enough before being identified as a threat that it's too late to formulate a response against it. The ability to detect incoming objects will depend, I think, significantly on their level of technology and how many eyes they've got looking out.

LaCroix wrote:You know what the price for some pretty standard chinese stuff (eg. very cheapo an common there) was during the 16th century? Astronomical.
What is the price for a bit of dust from the moon these days?
What would a collector pay for _anything_ that can be verified to come from a civilization in Alpha Centauri ?

What would a collector "over there" pay for a human object? You could pretty much fill your spaceship with random crap trinkets and you will have a market, for they are "rare Terran artifacts".

I don't know, how much would they pay? After all, 50 years after the moon landing, venture capitalists still haven't created a company to mine and sell moon rocks.

I've read Neptune's Brood. Space bitcoins are useless unless there's some sort of underlying economic activity to facilitate in the first place.

My apologies for ignoring AI, I kind of intentionally wrote them out because if they're available, it sort of raises the question of why have squishy baseline humans on multi-decade voyages in the first place...

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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Elheru Aran » 2017-01-05 01:46pm

Exonerate wrote:I don't know, how much would they pay? After all, 50 years after the moon landing, venture capitalists still haven't created a company to mine and sell moon rocks.


Mostly because there's very little demand for moon rocks.

Now if we found some rare mineral on the Moon that can't be found here on Earth or something like that, and it turns out to be fundamental to some paradigm-altering technology, then that would be another matter. But realistically, there's not much on the Moon that can't be found on Earth, and it's still cheaper, even when it gets pretty expensive, to find those things on Earth.
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Khaat » 2017-01-13 07:09pm

"Hi, Alpha C? Sorry for not answering for a little time there, we had some interesting political developments. As an FYI, there's a fairly large mass headed your way (sorry about that), we'll be sending as much tracking data from our end as we can to assist in intercept/diversion. Are we still friends?"
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2017-01-15 09:25pm

Khaat wrote:"Hi, Alpha C? Sorry for not answering for a little time there, we had some interesting political developments. As an FYI, there's a fairly large mass headed your way (sorry about that), we'll be sending as much tracking data from our end as we can to assist in intercept/diversion. Are we still friends?"


What happened? Did Space Trump become President? :lol:

"We're going to build a giant killer asteroid bomb, its going to be big, and beautiful, and the best killer astroid ever, and we're going to make the Centaurians pay for it!

Space Trump 2500! Make Earth Great Again!"
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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Q99 » 2017-01-17 11:11am

The Romulan Republic wrote:Arts and entertainment, different philosophies (depending on how open a society was to cultural exchanges), and also, of course, scientific knowledge, especially if different civilizations had progressed at different rates in certain fields.



Information trade. Indeed, it may be quite valuable to take very open views of info trade- since haggling over price takes forever- and broadcast most advancements and other areas of interest freely, in exchange for them building on the knowledge and sending results back.

If two species spend the money to build broadcasters at each other, and little else, and just max out their broadcast capacity constantly, I bet the return on investment will be *huge* in the long run.

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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby The Romulan Republic » 2017-01-19 07:36pm

You could even see it as the ultimate extension of the current "information age", with our society becoming increasingly dependent on computers and the internet. That the most valuable commodity for an interstellar society would be data.
"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy." - Lincoln.

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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Bedlam » 2017-01-20 01:54pm

Khaat wrote:"Hi, Alpha C? Sorry for not answering for a little time there, we had some interesting political developments. As an FYI, there's a fairly large mass headed your way (sorry about that), we'll be sending as much tracking data from our end as we can to assist in intercept/diversion. Are we still friends?"


This is actually quite an interesting situation. Your previous government just fired a mass at your ally, its going to arrive in 20 years any message you send will take about 5 years to get there. If you don't tell them it's got an 80% chance not being noticed before it hits them totally wrecking their planet. If you tell them there's an 80% chance they'll be able to intercept it.

Do you tell them what happened? If you do they might well decide to fire back, of course if you don't tell them and they detect the attack they'll probably fire back anyway. They might have detected the attack shortly before you tell them.

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Re: Modes of interstellar relations in a lightspeed limited universe

Postby Q99 » 2017-01-26 07:23pm

Bedlam wrote:
Khaat wrote:"Hi, Alpha C? Sorry for not answering for a little time there, we had some interesting political developments. As an FYI, there's a fairly large mass headed your way (sorry about that), we'll be sending as much tracking data from our end as we can to assist in intercept/diversion. Are we still friends?"


This is actually quite an interesting situation. Your previous government just fired a mass at your ally, its going to arrive in 20 years any message you send will take about 5 years to get there. If you don't tell them it's got an 80% chance not being noticed before it hits them totally wrecking their planet. If you tell them there's an 80% chance they'll be able to intercept it.

Do you tell them what happened? If you do they might well decide to fire back, of course if you don't tell them and they detect the attack they'll probably fire back anyway. They might have detected the attack shortly before you tell them.


Well, *I* tell them. I'm willing to take that risk. If they have already fired... then telling them increases the chances one of us survives. Final message, "No hard feelings, best of luck, carry forward!".


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