Dr. Michio Kaku reminds us of the scientific possibility that DNA originated on Mars, arriving on Earth via debris from a giant meteor impact. He explains that “the DNA molecule is continually terraforming the Earth,” sharing Dr. Robert Zubrin’s observations that life on Earth has been shaping our atmosphere, soil, oceans and climate for the last four billion years. In this sense, terraforming is not a foreboding concept, but rather a natural process inherent to life.
Colony takes this understanding of terraforming and combines it with deep thought about the definition of life to produce a utopic design fiction in which novel Martian ecosystems are seeded with biological Earth organisms and managed robotically.
Imagined on a future Mars in which an artificial magnetosphere has been implemented and orbiting mirrors heat the ice caps, Colony proposes a vision for ecopoiesis: seed pods containing robotic super-insects and carefully selected biological organisms are dropped on the surface of Mars. Programmed with behaviours based on social insects such as bees and ants, the super-insects build colonies using Martian regolith. They then arrange the organisms within the regolith structures and begin a process of monitoring and management similar to the way some ants cultivate fungi and aphids.
Using fuel drawn from microalgae, the super-insects are responsible for ensuring the survival of the biological organisms, and thus exist in a symbiotic ecosystem containing artificial intelligence and organic life. Possessing sufficient intelligence to adapt to environmental conditions and modify behaviours, as well as carry out repairs on other super-insects, the proposal imagines that both ecosystem biota and artificial intelligence will rapidly adapt, spreading across and under the Martian surface and evolving into novel lifeforms suited to their conditions. They will contribute to the terraforming of Mars in the same sense that life has and continues to on Earth.
Able to collect data and communicate with scientists on Earth, the super-insects allow humans to witness the emergence of new lifeforms within designed ecosystems, providing valuable scientific knowledge and challenging ideas about the meaning of both ‘life’ and ‘nature’.
Colony is a vision for sustainable terraforming which is not inherently anthropocentric but is centred, rather, around life. This process will be slow, requiring life to evolve in a feedback system with the Martian atmosphere as its chemical composition changes and it thickens and warms. However, resulting forms of life will be Martian, and some may eventually reach conscious intelligence.
While the proposal does not take the sustaining of human life as its objective, it does not preclude it – the initial landing pods are suitable for human habitation and can be occupied by researchers on short visits or by pioneering human populations should Mars’ biosphere become able to support human or transhuman existence.
Colony seeds an interplanetary future with a symbiotic ecosystem of artificial intelligence and extra-terrestrial life, questioning the anthropocentric focus in space travel dialogues and imagining an alternative future where life can manifest in new organisms.
Colony is about ensuring the future of life, rather than humanity.