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It's the year 2300, and you're on board a starship headed for distant worlds.
Unfortunately for you, you've gotten caught committing a space crime, and now that you've
done the space crime, it's time to do the space time- but what in the world will prison
in space be like?
In present day Earth we have a serious problem- many of our prisons are overpopulated, and
most governments are extremely reluctant to give up perfectly good real estate just to
house society's worst offenders.
An easy out, it seems, is to simply put them where there's lots of space for extra prisoners-
namely, well, space.
But building prisons in space comes with some serious drawbacks.
The first and most obvious is the sheer cost of operating a prison in space.
Sure, it sounds like a great idea to put prisoners in orbit where they can't escape or hurt anyone,
but with the cost of putting goods into space still running at hundreds of thousands of
dollars a pound, nobody is going to foot the bill for blasting off El Chapo to his new
digs on the moon.
But future technology promises to make access to space much, much cheaper.
Reusable rockets such as those pioneered by Elon Musk's SpaceX are a big leap forward,
but massive construction projects such as the space elevator will make it possible to
put things in orbit at a fraction the current cost.
As humanity expands to the stars, so too will humanity's criminals, who'll definitely need
a place to be housed at.
It's almost a universal theme across science fiction for prisoners to simply be frozen
or placed in stasis and forced to serve out their time as human popsicles.
While this is an extremely cheap, and very convenient way to safely store the worst of
the worst, it comes with one serious problem: for the frozen prisoner, a twenty year sentence
will basically be just one big, long nap.
Frozen prisoners will have not been aware of their prison stay, and thus have no chance
at reformation over the course of the twenty years they were sentenced to serve.
Other than briefly removing a prisoner from the flow of time, freezing prisoners serves
no viable purpose, and thus is not likely to be a punishment method for space crime.
Another popular science fiction trope is the use of prison labor to settle or work on hostile
and dangerous worlds, or perhaps asteroids.
This makes sense, as it has a huge historical precedent- Europe's expansion out of the continent
was largely the result of exporting prisoners to exotic locales around the world.
North America was a popular and convenient dumping ground for Europe's prisoners, who
would be sent to work as indentured servants and 'serve out' their sentence alongside the
early settlers.
By the end of their sentence, most decided to simply stay, and thus America can claim
the same honor as Australia of being largely founded by prisoners and outcasts.
In our own future though, it's unlikely we'll see this tactic used for space prisoners.
For one, the use of prisoners to settle lands was a way for nations to lay claim to far
flung territories and settle them before their competitors could manage it.
On earth, good land for settlement is very limited- but that's just not the case in space.
Space is so vast, and we are discovering so many potentially habitable planets every year,
that nations won't have much of an impetus to 'rush' out and colonize nearby worlds as
fast as possible, largely by using prisoners.
After all, not many people truly want to leave the safety and comfort of earth to colonize
a potentially dangerous world that could end up killing them.
Prisoners then are perfect for the job.
But as we mentioned, we're finding so many potentially habitable worlds that a land-grab
similar to the European conquest of North and South America is extremely unlikely.
Even then, these are entire worlds we're talking about.
Even with a full-blown colonization effort by all major nations, it would take centuries
to fill up just one world with human inhabitants, let alone a dozen.
Some prisoners may in fact wind up being offered opportunities to become colonists, but these
will likely only be non-violent offenders.
After all, no colonists will want to hitch a ride to the stars with a murderer along,
knowing that help is lightyears away.
But what about using prisoners as labor in hostile worlds, to mine up precious resources?
Well, this idea runs into several problems right off the gate.
First, there's the fact that by the time this is even possible mankind will have evolved
to a nearly fully automated labor force, making human labor both extremely expensive and extremely
Sure, you don't have to pay prisoners, but you still have to provide them with shelter,
air, food, and water- and getting those things to prisoners in a hostile world would be a
very expensive undertaking.
By comparison, robots don't need any of that, making it very economically unappealing to
use prison labor.
Then there's simple efficiency.
As the Soviet Union found out during the Cold War, slave labor is a pretty inefficient way
of doing things.
During Stalin's regime, he famously put the prisoners of his gulags to work, and the Moscow
canal, while beautiful, was actually constructed by prison slave labor.
This goes for many other canals, bridges, and various other major infrastructure projects
around the Soviet Union, and yet while the labor is free, it ended up costing the Soviets
in other, major ways.
For one, the sheer inefficiency of unmotivated and largely unskilled slave labor caused significant
delays, inflating the cost of the few paid specialists required on every job.
Gulag slave labor also led to very shoddy work, further slowing down progress and requiring
skilled labor to later return and fix the sloppy work done by gulag prisoners.
All in all, the use of slave labor by the Soviet Union actually cost them millions more
than simply using paid labor would've.
It makes sense after all, prisoners aren't particularly motivated to do a good, or fast
job on a project they aren't being paid for.
And, most prisoners aren't skilled experts, and thus are prone to sloppy work and making
lots of costly mistakes.
In space, where the initial start up costs are astronomically larger than here on earth,
it again just doesn't make economic sense.
It would be far more efficient to simply use machines, who can work remotely and with the
help of artificial intelligence, require little if no oversight by humans.
A special type of probe, called a Von Neuman probe, could in fact be programmed to set
up an entire mining operation and ship resources back home all on its own.
It would accomplish this by first landing and then immediately replicating itself.
The copy would then copy itself, and that copy would copy itself, on and on until you
have a whole army of probes all from one original.
These probes would be so efficient, it was calculated that as long as raw materials were
available, one probe could end up encasing the entire sun in solar panels in as little
as a century.
That's quite the feat!
There's another silver bullet for the prison labor colony idea though, and that's simply
the fact that in space resources are extremely plentiful.
Right now astronomers have tracked asteroids with mineral wealth in excess of one trillion
dollars, and they're all little more than a few weeks or months ride on a modern rocket
In fact, some companies are even now investigating the possibility of mining these asteroids,
which are basically free-floating gold mines... in some cases literally.
It was thought that there was one resource in space that was extremely rare, and perhaps
worth mining.
That resource is water, and it was thought years ago that perhaps prison labor could
be used to mine water ice in other worlds and then have tankers bring it to space colonies
that need it.
New observations of our solar system though have shown that space is lousy with the stuff,
it's practically everywhere we turn a telescope to or shoot a probe at.
Mercury, the closest planet to the sun is roasted by our star, and yet even there water
ice was discovered safely tucked away in the rims of craters where the sun's rays never
So ok, if we can't freeze prisoners, because it would be pointless, and we can't use them
as slave labor, because it would be expensive and pointless, and we're probably not going
to use them as colonists because that's also pretty expensive and there's no real 'land
rush', what's left?
Humans will inevitably commit space crimes, so what else can we do with our space criminals?
Well, many futurists believe that the future of prisons is not something the prisoner goes
into, but rather something that already exists inside the prisoner.
As technology advances, it is becoming clearer and clearer that soon we will have the means
to interface with, and even modify our brains.
The future of prison is thus perhaps the mind of the prisoner itself.
Some psychologists believe that with time and the aid of technology we'll be able to
directly modify a prisoner's brain.
The idea kind of makes sense too, because we are really nothing more than organic computers,
and all the chemicals in our brain and how they interact with each other are largely
behind the way that we react or perceive to the world.
We may still not understand consciousness, but we do understand that different chemical
balances can have a significant impact on our consciousness.
So perhaps prisoners won't need to serve any time at all, as advanced technology simply
scans their brain, identifies chemical balances that are leading to criminal, anti-social
behavior, and then simply corrects the balance.
Coupled with some psychotherapy and counseling, there's no reason to believe it wouldn't work
to completely, and very quickly rehabilitate a prisoner.
There is already evidence that this works with prisons in Europe that have shifted from
a punitive, punishment-oriented approach, to a rehabilitation approach.
Prisoners are given respect, good food, and even some freedoms, along with education and
counseling, and recidivism rates have plummeted.
Compare that with the US where the approach is purely based on punishment with none to
little chance for rehabilitation, and recidivism rates are so bad that on average 3 out of
5 prisoners return to jail within a year.
But all this takes time and money, things that will be in short supply when you're living
on a colony ship or perhaps setting up town on a new world.
So why not simply speed things up?
The human brain operates on impulses sent at around the speed of sound, yet if we integrate
with technology as we will likely inevitably do, we could achieve a form of super intelligence
known as speed intelligence.
This doesn't mean that you're smarter, but rather that with the aid of technology you
can have more thoughts quicker, and thus reach conclusions and work out problems exponentially
faster than a non-augmented individual.
If your brain operated on an optical network like fiber optics, you would think 800,000
times faster than you currently do!
So much thinking will not only make us super intelligent, but could also work to affect
our perception of the flow of time in very interesting ways, ways that could be harnessed
to rehabilitate prisoners on the cheap.
A prisoner could simply have their perception of the passage of time accelerated within
a simulation of a prison, and thus they could 'serve' a thirty year sentence in a matter
of hours.
In the simulation the prisoner will feel like they're living out thirty years of their life,
but in fact their brain has simply been 'frame-jacked' to dramatically increase their perception
of time.
The cost of running a prison like this is basically just the cost of the hardware, and
you'd need no guards or staff other than the medical staff overseeing the brief procedure.
The benefits are huge: a hopefully reformed prisoner will wake up from unconsciousness
an hour or two later, and have the experience of three decades of reformation, counseling
delivered by an artificial intelligence, and the regret over their crime.
In just half a day, you could turn a killer into a productive, and safe, member of society.
And aboard a starship, virtual prisons save on space and get crew back to their jobs quickly,
something that would be critical for a long voyage through the stars.
Want to learn more about real, earth prisons?
Check out our video What actually happens during a prison search, or check out this
other video for a change of pace!
Don't wait, click one now!


What Prison In Space Will Be Like

34 タグ追加 保存
Summer 2020 年 8 月 7 日 に公開
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