Mic Wright indulges in some speculative thinking to consider the consequences of private space companies on the way we will communicate in the very near future. Warning: It’s scary…
In 1964, Ronan O’Rahilly came up with a plan to get around the iron grip the record companies held over popular music broadcasting in the United Kingdom. He was going to become a pirate and his vessel was called Radio Caroline. For three years, it flouted the law of the UK and forced the establishment to found a radio station that would play the songs they had previously scorned. That station was born on 30 September 1967. It’s still with us – BBC Radio One.
That’s all history. The kind of cosy history that can be repackaged by Richard Curtis as a romcom – the not-so-great The Boat That Rocked. But the pirate spirit and the desire to slash the rule into pieces comes around over and over.
It was reborn again in the 80s in the thriving pirate ecosystem in London and other major cities in the UK. When you regulate media – which is inevitable – pirates always hove into view. And that’s the speculative story I want to tell you today. The story of the space pirates:
Let’s set up some conditions – billionaires are investing heavily in private space travel, the next step from private space ships is an expansion in the existing network of private satellites and, from there, a move towards private space stations and, eventually, private orbital platforms and, if terraforming comes to pass, private planets.
We won’t jump straight to the private planets today. We’ll just go as far as the private space ships heading towards the private orbital platforms. Where does the law of Earth end and the lawlessness of the void begin?
Existing international law on space covers things like collisions and who can own the moon (answer: nobody) but it doesn’t discuss what happens if a private individual creates an orbital platform. Right now, theoretically, a space station would be beyond the control of terrestrial authorities.
And that’s where the space pirates come in. How do terrestrial media regulators deal with broadcasts from beyond our atmosphere? What do you do when the next Infowars exists on a private orbital platform bankrolled by a billionaire like Peter Thiel? Can you stop that activity?
Well, maybe through sanctions on Earth but what happens when the billionaire in question decides to ditch Earth entirely? And protects their money though all kinds of blind trusts and holdings in cryptocurrencies that you’re already struggling to regulate.
Regulating what we see and hear will become ever more difficult. The descendants of Radio Caroline will be Radio Free Mars and shows broadcast from private orbital platforms that make Infowars look like the most balanced and reasonable journalism ever imagined.
The propaganda wars now will seem like brush fires compared to the raging inferno that’s coming.