Interstellar Travel - The Wait Calculation and the Incentive Trap of Progress

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A. Kennedy (2006), JBIS, 59, 239-246

Refcode: 2006.59.239
Keywords: Interstellar travel, incentive trap, the wait calculation, expansion of civilisation

This paper describes an incentive trap of growth that shows that civilisations may delay interstellar exploration as long as voyagers have the reasonable expectation that whenever they set out growth will continue to progress and find quicker means of travel, overtaking them to reach and colonise the destination before they do. This paper analyses the voyagers' wait calculation, using the example of a trip to Barnard's Star, and finds a surprising minimum to time to destination at a given rate of growth that affects the expansion of all civilisations. Using simple equations of growth, it can be shown that there is a time where the negative incentive to travel turns positive and where departures will beat departures made at all other times. Waiting for fear future technology will make a journey redundant is irrational since it can be shown that if growth rates alter then leaving earlier may be a better option. It considers that while growth is resilient and may follow surprising avenues, a future discovery producing a quantum leap in travel technology that justifies waiting is unlikely.

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