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20.3.05

Settlers For A New Planet

Abiola Lapite poses an interesting problem:

... supposing that it fell to you to select a collection of individuals to reestablish as much of our current civilization as possible on a planet just like our own - with the exception that there are no humans on it - which kinds of people would you choose, and how many, keeping in mind that you're expected to keep the headcount as low as possible?


Occupation-wise, he argues for including a particular mix of scientific/technological specialists such as medical doctors and physicists. He doesn't include any computer scientists, because it will be some time before the colony is able to support a viable semiconductor industry. Yet I wonder whether that argument ought not to be extended further. Modern medicine, for example, depends heavily on an existing economic infrastructure that will be absent on our new world, rendering many of our doctors' skills moot once the ship's pharmacy runs out. It also depends on a large population to generate demand and make specialization possible, but our colonist group is probably going to be in the vicinity of only 100 people (the minimum for genetic viability) to start off with. I would be inclined to prefer some people with knowledge of "natural" medicines and other wilderness survival techniques (though their utility does depend to some degree on how closely the new planet's ecology resembles earth's, as these sorts of folk skills are often very context-dependent).

There's an interesting synergism between this concern and Lapite's other argument, that in order to maximize genetic diversity in the colonist population we should select around 70% Africans. It seems logical that any scientific specialists that we bring ought to be taken from developing countries, as those individuals would have more experience applying their skills in a context where access to resources and support infrastructure is more limited.

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