15 February 2024

GPT on Mars Colonization

I have taken to having frequent conversations with both Gemini (Google's AI Large Language Model) and ChatGPT. They are more similar than different. My interactions with them are driven more by curiosity than practicality. From time to time, I intend to share with my Farflung Correspondents some of these interactions, through the modern miracle of cutting and pasting. Probably a good time to reiterate that if you would prefer to be removed from my Farflungs' list, you need only ask and it shall be done, no questions asked.

Thank you.

Here's one on my skepticism of the likely near-future human colonization of Mars. I suspect that had I asked the question in a slightly different way, I would've gotten a quite different answer, because LLMs are not aware, and don't have actual opinions, feelings, intuitions, or even the basic self-awareness that, say, a lizard (probably) has. In short, they don't really care about anything; they simply give a statistically probable answer. How similar that is to a human being's expression in language is just amazing, but we need to remember, our innate "Theory of Mind" tends to mislead us: they don't actually "think" at all, so asking them what they "think" is probably not the right approach.

I read about Elon Musk's and Robert Zubrin's firm belief that humanity will soon colonize Mars and I remain intensely skeptical. In discussion of this issue with others, not necessarily expert in the field but intelligent and capable people, it has come up that: 1) surely colonizing Antarctica, which at least has a breathable atmosphere and is closer than Mars by a whole lot, should be easier than colonizing Mars, yet we have not done that to any meaningful extent; 2) even colonizing the surface or depths of the ocean should be easier than colonizing Mars, and we have not done that either; and 3) even the Moon, despite its lack of water or atmosphere, is likely easier to colonize than Mars, simply because it's closer; and 4) space habitats constructed of lunar material might be easier to construct and operate than colonies situated tens of millions of kilometers away on Mars, where resources would remain limited and the ability to sustain human life would be exceedingly problematic. Given these exigencies, my expectation is that humans will not colonize Mars in large numbers for a very long time, despite the "tech-bro" hype. What say you, GPT?


Your skepticism regarding the near-term feasibility of large-scale human colonization of Mars, despite the enthusiasm of figures like Elon Musk and Robert Zubrin, is grounded in several pragmatic considerations. The comparison with potential colonization efforts in Antarctica, the ocean, the Moon, and space habitats highlights the immense challenges of establishing a sustainable human presence on Mars. Let's unpack these points:

1. Antarctica as a Precedent for Mars

Breathable Atmosphere and Proximity: While Antarctica does have a breathable atmosphere and is far closer than Mars, the continent remains largely uninhabited due to extreme conditions, legal protections, and logistical challenges. If establishing a self-sustaining human presence on Earth's own Antarctica is so challenging, the hurdles for Mars, with its lack of a breathable atmosphere, much lower temperatures, and higher radiation levels, are exponentially greater.

2. Ocean Colonization

Technological Feasibility: Colonizing the ocean's surface or depths presents its own set of challenges, including pressure, corrosion, and isolation. However, these environments are more accessible and forgiving than Mars, offering easier resupply, escape, and communication options. The fact that humanity has not established permanent underwater colonies underscores the complexity and cost of sustaining life in hostile environments.

3. Moon vs. Mars

Proximity and Resupply: The Moon is only about three days away from Earth, making it a more accessible target for initial off-world colonization efforts. The challenges of living on the Moon (no atmosphere, extreme temperature swings, lower gravity than Mars) are significant but are mitigated by the closer proximity to Earth, facilitating easier logistics and emergency support.

4. Space Habitats

Utilizing Lunar Materials: The concept of constructing space habitats from lunar or asteroid materials offers a potential alternative to planetary colonization. Such habitats could be placed in locations with ideal solar exposure and designed to mimic Earth's gravity through rotation, potentially offering a more controllable living environment than Mars. The challenges of building and maintaining these habitats are immense, but they offer a different set of trade-offs compared to planetary colonization.

The Realities of Mars Colonization

Technological and Logistical Hurdles: Colonizing Mars involves overcoming severe challenges, including long-duration space travel, life support in a hostile environment, radiation protection, and the development of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to support human life.

Economic and Ethical Considerations: The economic costs of Mars colonization are astronomical, and ethical considerations regarding the potential for life on Mars and the impact of human presence on another planet also need to be addressed.

Timeframe for Colonization: Given these challenges, the timeframe for establishing a self-sustaining human presence on Mars is likely to extend far beyond the optimistic projections of some proponents. Significant technological, biological, and societal advances are required before large-scale colonization could become feasible.


While the dream of Mars colonization captures the imagination and drives important advancements in space technology and exploration, the practical realities suggest that such an endeavor is a monumental undertaking that may not be realized on the timescales suggested by some of its most vocal advocates. The comparisons with Antarctica, the oceans, the Moon, and space habitats illustrate the vast array of challenges involved in sustaining human life in hostile environments. Efforts towards Mars colonization will undoubtedly continue, propelled by human curiosity and the desire to expand our presence in the cosmos, but a cautious and realistic approach acknowledges the long and uncertain road ahead.

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