Imagine a 2001-like scenario on the Red Planet, suggests astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz, the current chair of astrobiology at the U.S. Library of Congress, where, instead of HAL gone rogue, a camera-operated airlock or some other system—perhaps vital oxygen-supply gear that relies on facial-recognition algorithms—never turns on for a non-white settler. A person could be left, trapped outside her own home, unable to trigger the airlock or to obtain more oxygen, literally asphyxiating in the biases of someone else’s shoddy computer program. The effects would be both fatal and enraging.
The reminder that we might go all the way to Mars only to find that our unquestioned biases have been programmed into the technical environment itself is a depressing but necessary corrective to the Utopian leanings of much post-terrestrial futurism, continues Geoff Manaugh, author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City in The Atlantic.
“There’s nothing magical about space that’s going to cure biases in machine learning, algorithmic policing, or people’s day-to-day interactions,” Walkowicz said.
Mars P.D. will have to deal with new blood-spatter patterns, different body decay rates, and space-suit sabotage—and they won’t be able to fire guns indoors.
If humans ever go to Mars, the worst of our impulses will accompany us there. The Red Planet will not rid us of murder, violence, and blackmail. There will be kidnapping, extortion, and burglary. Given time, we will even see bank heists. For generations, people have imagined life on the Martian surface in extraordinary detail, from how drinking water will be purified to how fresh food will be grown, but there is another question that remains unanswered: How will Mars be policed?
Suppose, at some date in the future, Mars has been populated for long enough that at least three generations have been born there; that’s at least three generations who have never known life on Earth. In this scenario, the human population on Mars is also large enough that a person can run into at least three strangers—three people they have never seen before—every day. And, finally, there are enough settlements on Mars—villages, farms, industrial plants, scientific labs, whole cities—that 90 percent of the population has at least one community they have yet to visit in person. What criminal possibilities will emerge in this scenario? Who will be tasked with tracking down vandals, thieves, and saboteurs, let alone rapists and serial murderers?
Image credit: With thanks to darkroastedblend.com. DRB is the online magazine to complement your daily coffee, specializing in “weird & wonderful” content, featuring fascinating art, travel and technology.
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