A very nice essay; humanity, being subject to evolutionary forces, are, at best, highly constrained controllers. Essentially I am of a very similar mindset as you. In my own essay I use Timothy Leary's acronym circa late eighties: Space Migration Intelligence enhancement Life Extension or SMILE. I thought it was fitting!
But I diverge from you regarding the random nature of Dawkins' "information explosion." Instead I hypothesize that our Universe has distinct boundary conditions in both the past and the future, hence, the emergence of intelligent life seems random simply because, from our limited perspective, the effect seems to precede the cause. In my view our emergence and expansion into distant space is an inevitability dictated by the final boundary condition. Your "design space" exists but it is thoroughly constrained by boundary conditions.
The only question I have regards your nod to "free-market" economies presumably unconstrained by government regulation - you seeming a staunch evolutionist. I am not a socialist or communist by any stretch but I can't help but wonder at that. A pet subject of mine is industrial symbiosis so I'm well aware of the complexity of the situation but I can't help but think that we can greatly improve on our so-called "free-market" economies.
In my view the objective of society should be the maximization of said society's potential and, implicit in that, efficiency. Unregulated "free-market" economies inevitably evolve into power-law distribution dynamics - trickle-down economies - which would seem, naively at least, less than optimal. It would seem to me that the best way to maximize a society's potential is to maximize opportunity for a maximum number of members of said society, again naively. As an analogy one could take the maximization problem common to any fundamental calculus course: that of maximizing profit on an apartment complex. One typically finds that, under realistic constraints, one tends to maximize profit by maintaining an 80% - 85% occupancy level at all times.
Even in our pseudo "free-market" economy here in the States we experience power-law distribution dynamics resulting in roughly 1% of our population enjoying unlimited opportunity with a steep exponential scale down from there. This, of course, exacerbates what Sandy Pentland of MIT calls the "tragedy of the commons" (see his new book Social Physics). We have situations here in which two people and four dogs dwell in 60,000 square foot homes; these are essentially shopping malls and oftentimes are not even primary residences. How do you efficiently maintain such a situation? Quite simply, you don't. This is a squandering of resources and an unnecessary and highly irresponsible contribution to anthropocentric global warming!
While these behaviors are explained in Evolutionary Theory as "costly signaling and flamboyant displays," as Nick Bostrom points out, "many costly signals take the form of 'waste' where expenditures do not confer any group benefit." In many cases within our "free-market" economy, this "costly signaling and flamboyant display" confer benefit on the individual but serious, and oftentimes destructive, liability on the group, hence, "tragedy of the commons."
It just seems to me that there should be a middle way, a way to engineer a dynamic and creative economy which maximizes potential for a maximum segment of society rather than squandering it all on 1%, a way to make optimization and efficiency the SUBJECT of costly signaling and flamboyant display so that such activities do confer group benefit; you can call it "directed evolution."
Another case in point: in industrialized nations roughly 50% of all food grown for human consumption ends up in the waste stream. Now you can wax on about the waste companies mining methane from their landfills all you want but regardless of how you slice it that's a negative-sum game! And the inefficiency is compounded by sheer stupidity; roughly 12% (4.5 Mb pdf file) of the world's population suffers from chronic food deprivation and approximately 40% are "food insecure." I think we can do better; if we cannot then we don't deserve the label "intelligent."
If you look at pure nature, as distilled through billions of years of evolution, there is absolutely no true waste, everything gets transformed and recycled. So clearly our so-called "free-market" economies conform to something other than pure evolution since, by and large, they generate a tremendous amount of waste. In my view we need to cultivate a public mindset which regards resources, both natural and human generated, in a manner similar to that which the fictional Fremen of Dune regard their water. We need to engineer social systems which maximize both potential AND efficiency, just like nature. We and everything we do are integral parts of nature; perhaps, in the interest of survival, we should act like we fully understand what that means!
I feel a significant part of the problem lies with our political system. We need to build a firewall between private corporations and public officials through campaign finance reform and a critical rework of lobbying practices. Public representatives, who far too often consider themselves corporate representatives, have no excuse for promoting the short view over the long but they generally do. Perhaps they would be less inclined to do so if we, as a public, didn't accept thinly veiled public graft as a common denominator. A case in point: here in Texas, high school students have notoriously underperformed on internationally administered critical thinking and knowledge assessment tests. A commission was formed to study the problem and one of their recommendations was lengthening the school year. They found that the typical student forgot much of what they learned spring semester and that much of the fall semester was spent reviewing material already taught. The travel industry caught wind of this and brought out their lobby full force and effectively killed any legislation aimed at the aforementioned extension. The politicians put travel industry profits ahead of our children's education. This, to me, is gross (criminal) negligence. But this is the rule rather than the exception.
Personally, I would like to see the indiscriminate legalization of "controlled substances" with said substances taxed, either through a sales levy or licensing system in conjunction with a sales levy, and all revenue generated directed exclusively towards mitigating any social ills resulting from said legalization and the financing of all major and minor political campaigns. Of course the media industry, the defense industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and, most likely, even the Mexican cartels would lobby against that!
And here in America, unless the Mafioso sitting on the Supreme Court chokes to death on a meatball soon we're just so many fish swimming upstream during a monsoon. According to him corporations are people too and entitled to unrestricted free-speech, free-speech which is, unfortunately, cost prohibitive for the majority of us.
These are complex issues common to all countries but after reading Dr. Pentland's book I feel we have the tools and the creative imagination necessary to solve them. Although I agree with the futurist Daniel Suarez, Dr. Pentland's "New Deal on Data" doesn't go far enough; we need an international "Bill of Rights 2.0" exclusively dealing with data rights and nothing else.
Good luck with the contest . . .