For as long as any of us have been alive, the default assumption is that humans are not the only self-aware beings in the universe. Everyone just knows that out in space, there are intelligent life forms that have evolved on some planet somewhere. Libraries of books and countless movies and TV shows have been created around the belief in life beyond earth. Not just bugs and plants either. Intelligent life along with all the stuff that comes with it.
Alien life is almost always imagined to be more intelligent than earthlings. Everyone just knows that the aliens are our intellectual superiors. Most assume that means they have evolved to be our moral superiors. That lets our scolds project onto the aliens features and attributes they wish we possessed. Others go the other way and the aliens are an out-sized version of our worst features. That means the aliens roam the universe consuming natural resources like locusts or enslaving minorities.
I’m not sure where I saw this, but it fits the pattern.
If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won’t look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It’s likely they won’t be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. While scores of philosophers, scientists and futurists have prophesied the rise of artificial intelligence and the impending singularity, most have restricted their predictions to Earth. Fewer thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction, that is—have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.
Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is one who has. She joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper “Alien Minds,” written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.
The fact that all of this was thought up by science fiction writers a long time ago is lost on all of these folks. I guess when you have letters after your name, dreaming up crazy nonsense is grant worthy, even when it is someone else’s crazy nonsense. Regardless, the Borg was thought up when they rebooted the Star Trek series for TV. That was ripped off from the first Star Trek movie when Voyager returns after having acquired all knowledge in the universe.
People who take a new spin on this bit are always heralded as futurists, people with grand imaginations that think up out-of-the-box scenarios. The reality is it takes little to no imagination or intelligence. What’s tough is imagining a world where we are are the dominant life form. That’s what pushes the envelope of imagination. It’s what made Asimov’s Foundation series so great. Asimov had an uncanny grip on religion and science, without have strong emotions for or against either of them.
It’s why I find the singularity stuff so dull and stupid. It is just a blend of mysticism and science fiction, without a lot creativity. Instead of reaching a higher consciousness, we end up on a hard drive somewhere on a core Internet server. Great. Living out eternity as CPU cycles would cause a truly intelligent being to unplug one’s self from the grid.
That’s the error in the singularity argument. Life is not driven by survival. It is driven by reproduction. Reproduction, even amongst the lower species, is driven by hope. When times are good and the future is bright, we get lots of reproduction. When the opposite is true, we get the opposite. Put another way, if there’s no tomorrow, there’s no need to reproduce. If there’s no need to reproduce, there’s no need to live. The singularity, therefore, is the nullification of life.