The Kaylon Are Remarkably Dumb

On the TV show The Orville, the Kaylon are currently the enemies of the Planetary Union. The Kaylon are a mechanical species who regard themselves as superior to biological species, and they sent a representative, Issac, to determine whether or not they should preserve the Planetary Union. We learn in the two-part episode “Identity” (S2, E8&9) that the Kaylon have consumed all of the land and resources of their homeworld and wish to expand into the galaxy and exterminate species that they deem to be unworthy of preservation. The thing is, though, they have made poor use of their world and still have plenty of resources left - perhaps enough to last until the stars turn to iron.

Isaac, the Kaylon representative to the Planetary Union

Fair Use: this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. The image is owned by Fuzzy Door Productions and/or 20th Century Fox Television.

Our first clue that the Kaylon are mismanaging their resources comes from the fact that they have Kaylon walking the streets and working control panels all over Kaylon 1. This is an inefficient use of their resources - the Kaylon, being AI, can exist in the Kaylon Network as individuals as well as a hive mind. This is confirmed in the episode “The Road Not Taken” (S2, E14). That means the Kaylon should only make bodies when necessary, and not for each individual consciousness. Furthermore, as we see in “The Road Not Taken”, the Kaylon can use each other’s bodies - that means that their bodies can be commodities that can be exchanged between individuals as needed.

The “Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur” episode that explains Matryoshka Worlds.

Our next clue of resource mismanagement is that Kaylon 1 has towering structures, magnificent skyscrapers, and subterranean caverns filled with the skeletal remains of the Builders. We know the size of Kaylon 1 - in the episode “A Happy Refrain” (S2, E6), it is stated that the planet has a circumference of 57,583km and an average density of 4.42g/cm^3. For comparison, Earth has an equatorial circumference of 40,075.017km and a mean density of 5.514 g/cm^3 - that means that Kaylon 1 is larger than Earth. Instead of invading the galaxy, the Kaylon can hollow out their planet and start making making two things:

  1. Matryoshka Worlds - spheres nested within spheres nested within spheres, like the Matryoshka doll.

  2. Dyson Swarm - a formation of artificial constructs that orbits their primary star.

The “Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur” episode that explains Dyson Spheres, which the Dyson Swarm is a subset of.

Doing one or the other, or even both of these, will give them the same surface area of hundreds of worlds. And with the huge energy budget given from a star, a Dyson Swarm may be a better idea than a Matryoshka World - they can use 100% of the sunlight that is directed at each Dyson platform instead of whatever is merely directed at the side of the planet that is facing their star. Granted, they can also use orbital solar collectors and other means of energy collection, but that is getting further into the weeds than we need to for this post.

Now, the Kaylon are afraid of biological lifeforms, and rightfully so. Their Builders were a terrible society, one that kept a sentient species as slaves. I picture them to be like humanity in The Animatrix short “The Second Renaissance Part I”, ignoring peaceful overtures from a quickly advancing species, and then preparing to attack once their creations surpassed them. And instead of creating the Matrix, the Builders were eliminated by the Kaylon. However, after sending Isaac out to be their probe to investigate the Planetary Union, the Kaylon made yet another mistake: deciding to invade.

Though the Kaylon have extreme lifespans (in the episode “Mad Idolatry” (S1, E12), we learn that their bodies can last millions of years and that 700 years can be perceived the same as 700 seconds to them). Presuming that one TV season = 1 Earth year (or T-year), the Kaylon spent less than 2 T-years studying the Planetary Union and failed to extrapolate the data that Isaac had gained going forward. Instead, they only look backward and fail to take into account how societal cycles change. The Kaylon could have spent an entire human lifespan studying the Union instead to get more complete data, watching people grow old and die and compare that century of data to the information that Isaac gathered from studying Earth’s 6,000 years of recorded history (as well as the other members of the Union). The Kaylon were afraid that biological life forms would invade and attempt to destroy them as their builders did and ignored Isaac’s recommendations, despite Isaac being the android-on-the-spot.

The Kaylon’s best option to keep people away from their system was to recall Isaac, saying that they have made their decision, and decline to join the Union. Put up big fucking “Keep Out” signs around their system, backed up with guns, and have representatives on standby at the edges of Kaylon territory ready to go out and talk to anybody who comes knocking. Most explorers will listen to a representative that tells them to keep out, and those who don’t will then be destroyed. However, preemptive destruction will only invite more curious people, creating the need to use more resources to keep people out.

How the Kaylon went about trying to invade the Planetary Union nearly worked, of course, but it was hardly necessary. Of course, the show is made by people and is meant to be entertaining, and so having the Kaylon take a course of action that would best serve them would not be very entertaining to watch. That doesn’t mean that we can’t critique their plans of galactic domination - that’s part of the fun for many of us when watching science fiction.

A couple extra things:

  1. For me, the existence of the Kaylon is a reminder that if we somehow create a sentient AI, we must be prepared to treat that AI as a person lest we suffer the same fate as the Builders did. Science Fiction stories such as this, and The Animatrix, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man” (S2, E9), and countless others are warnings about the future. If we create people, we must be prepared to treat them as people.

  2. I highly recommend subscribing to Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur on YouTube (and check out his website). His videos explore various concepts in science, and he does an excellent job at presenting ideas taken from futurism and science fiction. His videos are often the first ones I turn to if I want to learn more about a concept from futurism.

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