For InterPlanetary’s opening panel discussion, David Krakauer will lead a discussion between Ted Chiang, James Gleick, and David Wolpert on Complex Time, and representations of time: How time is encoded, described, represented, modeled and observed.After providing a brief introduction to some of the representational dichotomies of time – (1) fundamental vs. emergent time and (2) dynamic narrative vs. static geometric time – the group will move on from classical conceptions such as relativism and quantum time, to reflect upon such topics as time travel, the arrow of time, and lastly to potential future conceptions of time.

Holographic drawings… A camera with a lens made from ice… A photograph developed by extremophile bacteria… Artist and inventor Tristan Duke will share some of his unique projects, the thinking behind them, and the radical new perspectives they offer. Exploring themes of deep time, technology, and representation, Duke proposes speculative vision as a lens for understanding ourselves and the world.

The desire to know whether or not we’re alone in the universe is by no means a new obsession. For instance, the Voyager Mission – with its two data probes, various spectrometers, and a golden love letter to alien life – launched 46 years ago. Multiple machines are roving the surface of Mars in pursuit of signs of life, or signs of past life, last year three Venus-bound missions were announced, pursuing the same. But what comprises a “sign of life” in the first place? What do the objects we seek actually signify?

Inherent in our search for these interesting and informative objects is the assumption that we can discern the difference between randomly formed objects and objects constructed by living systems. Can we use Earth life as a template for detecting alien life, or is such a scope too narrow? How can we ensure we don’t approach life detection with too inclusive a lens, and thereby risk never being able to draw the distinction?

The types of objects we seek determine the types of scientific tools we engineer. What characteristics can we attribute to life, alone? And if such an object is discovered, what then? What can we know about the lifeform that produced it? What do we stand to learn about ourselves? And what new sorts of objects will we create as a result of that discovery?

In our search for life beyond Earth we are confronted with a broad set of questions that challenge our basic understanding of biology: How different could life be in terms of what it is made of? How different might its functions be? What sort of environments does it inhabit and in what abundance? What ecology does it form? How complex is it? All of these questions force us to seek the most reliable signatures to search for in the universe. The solution to these challenges is that we need a set of universal rules for life that we can rely on anywhere in the universe and in any context. A ton of recent progress has been in uncovering some of these universal rules. This talk will focus on the rules of life that span the simplest life, bacteria and viruses, to the largest ecologies of forests and even cities, and then on how to apply these in our quest to discover life beyond Earth.

Machine learning algorithms have been surprisingly successful at performing tasks that we assumed required high levels of intelligence, such as predicting protein folding (AlphaFold), as well as creative expressions like poetry with language prediction models (GPT-3). Do those successes imply that machines can solve all difficult human tasks if given the resources? We can beat the game of go with only a set of rules, but we would never have succeeded in sending humans to the moon without a theory of gravity. When do we require a theory of intelligence?

We might exploit an algorithm to compose a pretty painting, but would we trust an algorithm to govern us, for instance? How will we know if something is working, and how can we explain how that something is working? One could not build a Tesla without a deep understanding of electromagnetism. Engineers do not simply stumble upon novelty. When a revolutionary technology requires some fundamentally new operational principle, a theory is present: The transistor, Quantum computing, Legal practice. What of intelligence?

For this discussion, our five panelists will consider the use cases demanding such a theory, what that theory might comprise, and where else in nature, beyond human and machine intelligence, we might look to evaluate how theories of intelligence emerge.


From rising inequality and the impacts of geopolitical conflict, to the immense challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, we are in a period where new thinking about human systems has become essential. Now, in the early part of the 21st century, we are at a time of political and social change that invites a novel and more inclusive era of collaboration to reimagine ways of thinking about, and addressing, these social and economic challenges. Since its earliest days, SFI has taken a maverick approach to the study of economics, eschewing conventional assumptions such as equilibrium, scarcity, and utility optimization, for broader notions of interaction, integration, and emergence.

Using our space future as a model, this panel discussion invites participants to speculate on what human social relations might look like when stripped of our earthly assumptions about the purpose and function of one of our oldest and most basic human traditions: socioeconomic exchange. Specifically, this conversation will explore a myriad of economic topics through the lens engendered by space exploration within a framework of political economy. What does it mean to have trade agreements that govern interplanetary space? How feasible are concepts of trade-governing institutions or “just-in-time manufacturing” in interplanetary space time?

For this event, four panelists representing different but complimentary areas of expertise will discuss what we can learn from our past successes and vulnerabilities, current proposed solutions to economic and political shortcomings, and contemporary space policy, to recalibrate the scope of the human condition for a more equitable future on Earth, and beyond.

Discussions about cities in space revolve around visions of massive megastructures and artificial habitats that master hostile environments to shelter human life. But can these highly machinic settlements truly accommodate earthlings’ emotional, messy, and unpredictable lives? Can a city in space combine a highly productive engineered environment with the human need for communal life, creativity, intimacy, and spontaneity? If we want to start imagining this possibility, Tokyo might be the best place to start. Tokyo is one of the most vibrant and livable cities, a megacity that somehow remains intimate and adaptive, balancing massive growth and local communal life. How is this possible? We can answer this question by delving into Tokyo’s most distinctive urban spaces, from iconic neon nightlife to tranquil neighborhood backstreets.

Tokyo, at its best, offers a new vision for a human-scale urban ecosystem, where ordinary residents can shape their own environment in ways large and small, and communities take on a life of their own beyond government master planning and corporate profit-seeking. In particular, five key features of Tokyo’s cityscape – yokochō alleyways, multi-tenant zakkyo buildings, undertrack infills, flowing ankyo streets, and dense low-rise neighborhoods -– enable this “emergent” urbanism, allowing the city to organize itself from the bottom up.

Unlike much of the existing discussions on Tokyo that emphasize its oriental uniqueness and mysterious chaos, this lecture analyzes the surprising yet comprehensible design principles that explain Tokyo’s most vibrant urban patterns and offers a practical guide on how to bring Tokyo-style intimacy, adaptability, and spontaneity to other cities on this planet and beyond.

Mars has long captured our imaginations as a potential home for past, present, and future life. Current tools now allow for these questions to be addressed scientifically. Notably, there are two NASA-led rovers, dubbed Curiosity and Perseverance, currently exploring the surface of Mars. While Perseverance is a relative newcomer to the planet, Curiosity has been exploring the martian surface for the past 10 Earth years. Each rover is equipped with an instrument payload designed to answer fundamental questions about martian geology, climate, habitability, and the possibility for past life.

While Mars and Earth have had very different histories and evolutionary paths, our deep and evolving knowledge of Earth provides us with critical context in which to interpret data returned from Mars. In this talk, Nina will discuss ongoing work from both rover missions, including plans for returning geologic samples from Mars to Earth for the very first time.





With the Artemis mission on the horizon and Elon Musk’s insistence on crewed Martian missions by 2030, considering how humans might live in space is at the forefront of our global collective mind. But what is required of those intrepid volunteers to flourish in highly radiated, lower gravity, austere environments beyond our atmosphere? How do the requirements for individual space explorers compare to the needs of a team mission?

In order to think through the potentially challenges to acumen, athletic capacity, and psychological dynamics for future human space travel, let’s first consider what it takes for an Earthling to excel in extreme human undertakings here. From morphological prowess to intellectual problem solving, from rigid training to adaptability mid-performance, how might observed examples of successful human endeavors inform a strategy for achieving momentous success once we move the performances to even more challenging environments.

For this panel, we convene 4 experts to ruminate on the limits to human performance as we’ve observed them here, so as to speculate on the limits to human performance off-planet.







Thirty-two years ago, the United States and Europe joined together to undertake a mission to the outer solar system. It was named Cassini and called for a 7-year trek across the solar system and entry into orbit around the planet Saturn in the summer of 2004, followed by a 13-year long, in-depth, comprehensive look at everything in the Saturn system.

Cassini died on September 15, 2017 when it plunged on command into the Saturn atmosphere, never to be heard from again. It was, at its end, the largest, most scientifically productive interplanetary mission that had ever flown.

In this public lecture, Carolyn Porco, an award-winning planetary scientist, leader of Cassini’s imaging team, and veteran imaging team member on the 1980s Voyager mission to the outer solar system will review the milestones in interplanetary travel that led to Cassini, guide us through the mission’s most profound scientific discoveries, visit the legacy that Cassini and six decades of planetary exploration have left behind, and evaluate present-day developments that are significantly altering the conduct and future of space travel.