When Aliens Come…They Will Come As Machines!

Why would aliens bother coming here in the flesh? Whatever their ‘flesh’ may be – that is! Afterall we sent Rover to Mars! Therefore, a SETI senior astronomer believes that humanity ought to alter its search parameters to incorporate — if not totally concentrate on — clever alien machines. And in the POSTBIOLOGICAL UNIVERSE: Aliens Are Machined Based, Not Meat Based so says NASA’s Chief Historian Steven J. Dick. He believes that the dominant form of life in the cosmos is probably post-biological. Advanced alien civilizations, either through their own trans-biological evolution or through the rise of their artificially intelligent progeny, are more likely to be machine-based than meat-based. We ourselves may be heading in this direction, as witnessed by current and pending advances in genetics, cybernetics, molecular nanotechnology, cognitive science, and information technology. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute, one of the globe’s leading alien hunting group, believes that the rise of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) is inevitable on any life-harbouring planet, including Earth.

Steven J. Dick is the second chairholder of the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Kluge Center. A well-known astronomer and historian of science, he previously served as the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the National Air and Space Museum and as the NASA Chief Historian and Director of the NASA History Office.

As Dick noted in his paper, “The Postbiological Universe”: Because of the limits of biology and flesh-and-blood brains…cultural evolution will eventually result in methods for improving intelligence beyond those biological limits. If the strong Artificial Intelligence concept is correct, that is, if it is possible to construct AI with more intelligence than biologicals, postbiological intelligence may take the form of AI. It has been argued that humans themselves may become postbiological in this sense within a few generations.

Dr. Steven Dick THE POSTBIOLOGICAL UNIVERSE National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/Headquarters (United States) steven.j.dick@nasa.gov Abstract

Throughout history scientists and the general public have debated whether intelligent life exists beyond Earth. Some, including most SETI scientists, have concluded that such life is likely, and that cosmic evolution has resulted in a biological universe (Dick, 1996; Dick, 1998), defined as characterized by abundant life beyond the mere physical universe of planets, stars and galaxies. However, another possibility exists: that cultural evolution over the long time scales of the universe has resulted in something beyond biology, namely, artificial intelligence (AI). Such a postbiological universe cannot mean a universe devoid of biological intelligence, since humans are an obvious counterexample.

Nor does it mean a universe devoid of lower forms of life, what I have termed the ’weak biological universe’ (Dick, 2000a), as advocated by Ward and Brownlee (2000). Rather, the postbiological universe is one in which the majority of intelligent life has evolved beyond flesh and blood intellig

ence, in proportion to its longevity. This argument has been broached by MacGowan and Ordway (1966), Davies (1995), and Shostak 1 (1998), and advanced in more detail by Dick (2003). But the possible role of artificial intelligence in the universe was completely overshadowed by the publication of Shklovskii and Sagan (1966). Although the last chapter of their book Intelligent Life in the Universe included a chapter on Artificial Intelligence and Galactic Civilizations the

However, another possibility exists: that cultural evolution over the long time scales of the universe has resulted in something beyond biology, namely, artificial intelligence (AI). Such a postbiological universe cannot mean a universe devoid of biological intelligence, since humans are an obvious counterexample.

Nor does it mean a universe devoid of lower forms of life, what I have termed the ’weak biological universe’ (Dick, 2000a), as advocated by Ward and Brownlee (2000). Rather, the postbiological universe is one in which the majority of intelligent life has evolved beyond flesh and blood intelligence, in proportion to its longevity. This argument has been broached by MacGowan and Ordway (1966), Davies (1995), and Shostak 1 (1998), and advanced in more detail by Dick (2003).

But the possible role of artificial intelligence in the universe was completely overshadowed by the publication of Shklovskii and Sagan (1966). Although the last chapter of their book Intelligent Life in the Universe included a chapter on Artificial Intelligence and Galactic Civilizations the AI thesis was very general and lost in the midst of the exciting – and at the time more verifiable and realistic – implications of the other chapters, which assumed biological beings.

Over the last 40 years SETI has focused almost exclusively on the biological paradigm, especially the radio SETI technique, as opposed the postbiological paradigm. THE GENERAL ARGUMENT My argument in this paper is simple, but firmly founded in the naturalistic evolutionary worldview. The overarching argument may be stated as follows: Advanced intelligence – defined as at least at the level of homo sapiens – implies culture; indeed some consider culture part of the very definition of advanced intelligence. Moreover, wherever culture exists there will be cultural evolution.

Therefore, if extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) exists, it must have undergone cultural evolution, most likely in direct proportion to its longevity. Because nothing is more important in cultural evolution than intelligence itself, any society will tend to increase its knowledge and intelligence. Because of the limits of biology and flesh-and-blood brains, notwithstanding advances in biotechnology, cultural evolution will eventually result in methods for improving intelligence beyond those biological limits. If the strong Artificial Intelligence concept is correct, that is, if it is possible to construct AI with more intelligence than biologicals, postbiological intelligence may take the form of AI.

It has been argued that humans themselves may become postbiological in this sense within a few generations (Moravec, 1988; Moravec, 1999). This may be optimistic (or pessimistic depending on your outlook). But if ETI exists, and, as seems likely, it exceeds the age of terrestrial technological civilization, we may already live in a postbiological universe. This overarching argument harbors many assumptions: 1) that evolution by natural selection results in intelligence beyond the Earth; 2) That ETI is older than human intelligence 3) that intelligence results in culture; 4) that culture evolves; and 5) that increasing intelligence is a central goal of cultural evolution. Each of these assumptions can be addressed by subsidiary arguments. EXISTENCE AND AGE OF INTELLIGENCE BEYOND THE EARTH The existence of ETI has been debated for millennia (Dick, 1982; Dick, 1996; Crowe, 1986; Guthke, 1990) and the debate need not be recounted here. Suffice it to say that the Drake Equation, which estimates the number of technological civilizations in the Galaxy, has in the past yielded answers ranging from 1 (ourselves) to a billion or more. Never in the history of science has an equation given answers differing by 9 orders of magnitude, an indication of the uncertainties involved. But with the discovery of nearly 200 extrasolar planets over the last decade, one of the Drake Equation parameters, the fraction of stars forming planets, has been increasingly informed by empirical data. While these new discoveries are believed to be mainly gas giant planets, new instruments such as NASA’s Kepler spacecraft will soon yield numbers on Earth-size planets. That will still be only the beginning in determining whether they have life, much less intelligence. But for this part of the argument we make no more assumptions than standard SETI science arguments. The age and longevity of ETI is important for the overarching postbiological universe argument, since ETI somewhat older than humans is a necessity for more advanced cultural evolution. SETI scientists have had much to say about this too, and there is general consensus that ETI would indeed be much older than us (e.g. Tarter, 2000).

Cosmic evolution is our guide to the maximum age of extraterrestrial civilizations. Recent results from the WMAP spacecraft place the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years, with one percent uncertainty, and confirm that the first stars formed at about 200 million years after the Big Bang. The first Sun-like stars probably formed within about a billion years, or 12.5 billion years ago. By that time enough heavy element generation and interstellar seeding had taken place for the first rocky planets to form (Delsemme, 1998, p. 71; Larson and Bromm, 2001). Then, if Earth’s history is any guide, it may have taken another 5 billion years for intelligence to evolve.

Some 6 billion years after the Big Bang, therefore, some 7.5 billion years 2 ago, the first intelligence could have emerged. By the same reasoning, intelligence could have evolved in our Galaxy 4-5 billion years ago, since the oldest stars in our galaxy formed about 10-11 billion years ago (Rees, 1997). These conclusions are in line with those of a number of other astronomers using various methods. Norris (2000) argued that the median age of ETI is 1.7 billion years. Livio (1999) concluded that the first civilizations would emerge when the universe was about 10 billion years old, or 3.7 billion years ago. Kardashev (1997) concluded that cosmological models yield an age for civilizations of 6-8 billion years. Thus, several lines of evidence agree that extraterrestrial intelligence could have emerged several billion years ago. Even uncertainties of billions of years would not affect the argument for taking cultural evolution seriously

But civilizations do not necessarily reach this age. The maximum age of ETI is mitigated by L, the lifetime of a technological civilization (typically de- fined as radio-communicative). Sagan, Drake and others generally assigned L values in the neighborhood of a million years, and even some pessimists admitted 10,000 years was not unlikely (Dick, 1996, p. 441). L is thus hardly an objective parameter, though studies by social scientists might contribute to the debate. That a man-made disaster would totally wipe out civilization seems unduly pessimistic, though natural phenomena such as mass extinctions, supernovae and gamma ray bursters are more problematic (Norris, 2000; Scalo and Wheeler, 2002; Chapman and Morrison, 1989, 1994). But the important point is that, even at our low current value of L on Earth, biological evolution by natural selection is already being overtaken by cultural evolution, which is proceeding at a vastly faster pace than biological evolution. Technological civilizations do not remain static. Therefore cultural evolution must be taken into account in the Drake Equation no less than astronomical and biological evolution. Unlike biological evolution, L need only be thousands of years for cultural evolution to have drastic effects on civilization.

Read the full paper here: Dr. Steven Dick THE POSTBIOLOGICAL UNIVERSE

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