The Best Way to Save Humanity May Be to Shrink It

Photo: Cathy Scola/Getty Images

Some utopian billionaire tycoons may lead you to believe that that the best way to save humanity from itself is to colonize Mars, thereby turning humanity into an interplanetary species and ensuring that once we’re done trashing Earth, we can terraform our way to a happy new home.

But in a mind-tickling Medium post, designer-entrepreneur David Galbraith argues that Elon Musk is “looking the wrong way through the telescope.” Galbraith, who had a hand in creating Yelp and the internet standard RSS, contends that since going to other planets is so insanely expensive in cost of resources and cost of life, it makes more sense for humanity to follow the lead of technology itself: Get smaller and smaller.

Indeed, this might explain why no extraterrestrials have come to hang out with humanity just yet. Instead of contending with the mind-boggling distances of interstellar colonization — which are so great that, according to Galbraith, it would “impossible to communicate across within the lifetimes of individuals (and therefore impossible to hold together in any meaningful way as a civilization” — maybe the most advanced civilizations get smaller and more efficient, allowing them to stick around their home planets.

Blogger Jason Kottke, who highlighted the post, takes the “Honey, I Shrunk Humanity” argument a crucial step further. Because of the way scaling works, it’s not like a three-foot version of a six-foot human would use half of the resources. Rather, the Lilliputian you would use between a quarter and an eighth of the resources, depending on the resource in question. Furthermore, “six-inch-tall humans would potentially use 1728 times fewer resources,” he estimates. Instead of using more energy to explore the universe’s distant stars, we could use less to explore the nanoverse’s cells, molecules, and atoms. So maybe that’s what Rick Moranis has been up to all this time.

The Best Way to Save Humanity May Be to Shrink It