Thanks to the movies, we probably all know what ET stands for. Then there’s ETI which is ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. I’m going to introduce here a new acronym, ETAI, or ExtraTerrestrial Artificial Intelligence.
Any and all assumptions about extraterrestrial intelligences have to be based on terrestrial intelligence, since we don’t have any sample, to date, of ETI. I’m going to ignore ‘ancient astronauts’ and the UFO issue (for the moment) in the context of this essay since not everyone reading this will be comfortable with that being evidence for actual ETI.
Human intelligence (HI) has been around for several millions of years. Modern human intelligence, as per Homo sapiens, has been around for only some 200,000 years. While there’s little doubt human IQ has increased over those millions of years, it certainly hasn’t improved much more over the past 200,000 years. Translated, increases in brain power, neuron connections, IQ, grunt grey matter processing power, problem solving abilities, call it what you will, while maybe sure, is also damn slow! Biological evolution doesn’t tend to operate in the fast lane.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has only been around several generations, if that, but increases in artificial ‘brain’ power, neuron (silicon chip) connections, robotic IQ, grunt silicon chip processing power, problem solving abilities by machines, call it what you will, is equally a sure thing, but damn fast, in fact exponentially fast. Biological evolution is not applicable here.
The unavoidable upshot is that sooner or later, the two lines, slowly increasing levels of human intelligence and very rapidly increasing levels of artificial machine intelligence, are going to intersect. You can bet the family farm on that. It’s a sure thing. In fact the current intersection or crossover date is projected to be on or about the year 2020. However you attempt to define artificial intelligence, the grunt processing power of silicon chips, well it’s doubling roughly every 18 months or so. Translated, your PC, or laptop, in 2013 is way more powerful and ‘intelligent’ than the computers and computing ‘intelligence’ that served the Apollo astronauts in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Interesting questions start to come to the fore immediately after those two lines, HI (human intelligence) and AI (artificial intelligence) intersect and thereafter. That Chinese curse about ‘interesting times’ may well make itself felt. HI is not likely to be comfortable when AI starts making off with the Nobel Prizes.
One question that comes to mind is whether or not AI will start to direct its own AI evolution, or will AI remain in HI hands?
That most obvious question is who will be in control once AI surpasses HI and keeps surging ahead by ever greater leaps and bounds? Let’s be optimistic and say that humans will retain control over their machines, a scenario that runs counter to many a sci-fi scenario, even some non-fiction futuristic projections.
Okay, so AI will do the bidding of HI. One, of many, AI applications, already well and truly demonstrated, is that AI can boldly go where no HI can go, at least in the foreseeable, even relatively long-term future. We launch AI probes and rovers to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, not HI. Why? Several reasons come to mind that reflects among other factors NASA’s mantra of “cheaper, faster, better”. Space maybe the final frontier, but it’s also a very dangerous frontier as Apollo 13 adequately demonstrated. There were mishaps and anxious moments as well with both the Mercury and Gemini space programs. Space is also a very deadly frontier as we saw with several Space Shuttle disasters. Russia has suffered human loses too in its space program.
Space is a realm with extremes of temperature, radiation, and gravity; space flight has relatively slow velocities required for the distances needed to be covered, and long durations of voyages all conspire against sending HI deep into space relative to AI. AI just doesn’t need expensive and massive life support (temperature, water, food, waste disposal, etc.) systems, in space or anywhere else for that matter, and if AI crash-lands and bites the dust, well that’s way more acceptable than the demise of a human(s) who tried to boldly go.
Economics frequently rule the roost, and it costs just a fraction to send AI out there in boldly going territory relative to HI. That applies equally well to interstellar voyages of exploration as it does to interplanetary exploration, which is what our generation is concerned with. But, there will be human generations to come, the stars will beckon, but since the difficulty of sending HI to the stars relative to AI is massive, well the initial (at first) envoys to the stars will be terrestrial AI.
Humans in near or deep space may still be popular fare in the cinemas and sci-fi novels, but the romance has gone away when it comes to reality and the general public who has to foot the bill. Contrast all those utopian visions from the 50′s, 60′s even 70′s of humans living in space by the year 2001 – massive space stations (O’Neill Colonies); colonies on the Moon even men on Mars. Contrast the ‘futuristic’ space settings of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the movie) with what became 2001′s reality. No contest. You’ll see that the idea of humans in space somewhere along the line went down the gurgler. Were it not for the geopolitical and military rivalry between the USSR and the USA (the Cold War), there probably to this very day would not of have been lunar exploration other than by remote controlled unmanned probes and rovers. Near Earth orbit would have been as far as humans had boldly gone. I mean just as soon as America had proven it had won the space race to the Moon, the plug was pulled and the final three Apollo Moon missions abandoned. It was a case of buying the Rolls Royce then keeping it in the garage because you couldn’t afford the gasoline for it, or rather the taxpayers didn’t want to pay for the additional gasoline. After the first couple of Moon landings, the public complained when their daytime TV soap operas got interrupted to cover the later Apollo Moon missions.
The initial hype about the Space Shuttle proved to be just that – hype – and now even the Space Shuttle is gone. So, it’s little wonder we’ve turned to cheaper, better, faster space probes with (at this stage) rudimentary AI. If aliens experienced a parallel scenario, perhaps they turned to AI as well, especially when interplanetary voyages morphed into interstellar ones and the difficulty factors increased exponentially.
So in keeping with parallels between humans and ET, we have to assume that ETI will also be developing ETAI and that ultimately ETAI will eclipse and surpass ETI and ultimately ETI will instruct ETAI to be their envoys to the stars since ETI will face the same interstellar obstacles that HI does.
One other point, HI has only been around for about 200,000 years, several million if you wish to acknowledge human intelligence before Homo sapiens were evolved in Mother Nature’s philosophy. Now contrast that to the age of our galaxy which is at least ten billion, up to perhaps thirteen billion years old. What odds that HI is anything other than the new intelligence on the galactic block? Translated, ETI is way more likely to find us, than we are of finding them, or, more likely as not, for reasons noted above, ETAI will find us first.
The final part of the equation is that there’s more than enough time for any one of ETI’s ETAI to be anywhere and everywhere. ETAI can be mass produced. ETAI might even reproduce themselves using natural resources found in space. There could be dozens of ETAI probes around each and every star in the galaxy, and billions more between the stars just cruising and boldly going. The time it would take ETAI to explore every nook and cranny of the galaxy, even at a crawl (say 1% light speed), is just a tiny fraction of the age of our galaxy. Lastly, why Earth? Earth is interesting real estate since Earth has a biosphere, bound to attract the attention of an ETAI probe, and of course Earth doesn’t have a Star Trek cloaking device so we can’t hide from any potential ETAI surveillance.
So, if aliens come knocking, might they actually be an ETAI instead of a flesh-and-blood ETI?
Now I’ll continue to ignore the ‘ancient astronaut’ issue since none of us were around back when ‘ancient astronauts’ were alleged to have been around, but we’re all a part of the UFO generation; those bona-fide unidentified UFOs that have been associated with ETI for well over six decades now. Perhaps, given the above logic, they should be identified with ETAI instead, since it’s just about inevitable that if you accept even one ETI, and then you accept their nearly inevitable ETAI, and given that HI are the new boys on the galactic block, then… Well you can easily fill in the ‘then’ for yourselves, but it boils down to the fact that humans are way more likely to be the discovered than the discoverer.
So, might the UFO ‘greys’ actually be robotic or an android ‘life’ form, an ETAI? Well, why not? I’ve yet to read any account that proved the ‘greys’ were functioning flesh-and-blood ETI. No one has seen them bleed or have bruises or scars; No arm or leg casts suggest no broken bones, not even a limp; nor have there been reports of sniffles and sneezes; they certainly look asexual and even act robotic as if on autopilot. An artificially intelligent ‘life’ form could take on just about any outward appearance its designers wanted it to have. As hinted at above, natural biological evolution and natural selection are totally irrelevant when it comes to AI, including their appearance.
Now there’s one obvious objection to our generation being the UFO generation. It’s that it would be a super ultra extraordinary coincidence that our generation would be the generation to be on the receiving end of a First Contact visit from ETI or ETAI. But there’s nothing that actually requires that. ETAI might have been hovering around our solar system for untold millions of years. Perhaps there was an initial ‘First Contact’ between ETAI and the dinosaurs, which for obvious reasons went unrecorded in terrestrial geo-history. Rather thwarted in getting a reasonably intelligent response from T-Rex, out ETAI just cooled their silicon chip heels and waited, and waited. Then humans turned up (somewhat interesting) and eventually those humans came up with really advanced technologies (very, very interesting).
So, in conclusion, all up it’s probably going to be way more productive to do SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) in the near Earth environment if for no other reason than they (ETAI) are just as likely to be around here as ETI will be lounging around their home stars, and searching near here is searching in a lot less space, and as we all know from the inverse square law, the closer your object, the stronger the signal you’re likely to get. Less is more; stronger is better.