“We are Galactic Babies” –‘Something Similar to the AI Revolution May Have Happened at Other Points in the Universe’


“There’s currently an AI revolution, and we see artificial intelligence getting smarter and smarter by the day,” Susan Schneider, an associate professor of cognitive science and philosophy at the University of Connecticut who has written about the intersection of SETI and AI, says. “That suggests to me something similar may be going on at other points in the universe. Once a society creates the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm from biology to AI.”

Earth is actually a relatively young planet so some astrobiologists think if there are civilizations out there, they may be vastly more advanced than us.

“Sure, we got radio. Then we got computers. Then Moore’s Law turned digital computers into increasingly efficient machines, year-by-year. Machines improved very quickly—much, much more quickly than Darwin. By 1900 you had radio; by 1945 you had computers,” Seth Shostak, senior scientist at the SETI Institute, says. “It seems to me that’s a hard arc to avoid.”

In her writings on AI and SETI, Schneider says, “I pushed for agnosticism about machine consciousness. We just don’t have any clue if consciousness could be non-biological.”

But non-biological components could be added to conscious beings. “I’m actually concerned that technological civilizations may not last long, but if they do, there’s a lot of reasons to believe they’ll be post-biological,” Schneider says. “They’ll enhance their brains towards synthetic intelligence.”

But, Shostak points out, planets are volatile, prone to eruptions and earthquakes and the effects of an aging star. “Machines aren’t necessarily going to stay on a planet,” he says. “Planets are dangerous for machines.”


While the definitions of the Singularity are as varied as people’s fantasies of the future, with a very obvious reason, most agree that artificial intelligence will be the turning point. Once an AI is even the tiniest bit smarter than us, it’ll be able to learn faster and we’ll simply never be able to keep up. This will render us utterly obsolete in evolutionary terms, or at least in evolutionary terms.

Schneider is one of the few thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction— that have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

Her study, Alien Minds, Schneider asks: “how might aliens think? And, would they be conscious? I do not believe that most advanced alien civilizations will be biological, Schneider says. The most sophisticated civilizations will be postbiological, forms of artificial intelligence or Alien superintelligence.”

“I try to keep a very open mind about what we’re looking for. When SETI succeeds it won’t be like science fiction where we find something like us,” Jason Wright, an associate professor at Penn State, says.

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) programs have been searching for biological life. Our culture has long depicted aliens as humanoid creatures with small, pointy chins, massive eyes, and large heads, apparently to house brains that are larger than ours. Paradigmatically, they are “little green men.” While we are aware that our culture is anthropomorphizing, Schneider imagines that her suggestion that aliens are supercomputers may strike us as far-fetched. So what is her rationale for the view that most intelligent alien civilizations will have members that are superintelligent AI?

Schneider presents offer two observations that support her conclusion for the existence of alien superintelligence.

The first is “the short window observation”: Once a society creates the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm from biology to AI. This “short window” makes it more likely that the aliens we encounter would be postbiological.

The short window observation is supported by human cultural evolution, at least thus far. Our first radio signals date back only about a hundred and twenty years, and space exploration is only about fifty years old, but we are already immersed in digital technology, such as cell-phones and laptop computers.

Schneider’s second argument is “the greater age of alien civilizations.” Proponents of SETI have often concluded that alien civilizations would be much older than our own “…all lines of evidence converge on the conclusion that the maximum age of extraterrestrial intelligence would be billions of years, specifically [it] ranges from 1.7 billion to 8 billion years.

If civilizations are millions or billions of years older than us, many would be vastly more intelligent than we are. By our standards, many would be superintelligent. We are galactic babies.

“But would they be forms of AI, as well as forms of superintelligence?” asks Schneider. Even if they were biological, merely having biological brain enhancements, their superintelligence would be reached by artificial means, and we could regard them as being “artificial intelligence.” But I suspect something stronger than this: I expect that they will not be carbon-based. Uploading allows a creature near immortality, enables reboots, and allows it to survive under a variety of conditions that carbon-based life forms cannot. In addition, silicon appears to be a better medium for information processing than the brain itself.

Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 Hz, which is orders of magnitude slower than current microprocessors. While the brain can compensate for some of this with massive parallelism, features such as “hubs,” and so on, crucial mental capacities, such as attention, rely upon serial processing, which is incredibly slow, and has a maximum capacity of about seven manageable chunks.

Further, the number of neurons in a human brain is limited by cranial volume and metabolism, but computers can occupy entire buildings or cities, and can even be remotely connected across the globe. Of course, the human brain is far more intelligent than any modern computer. But intelligent machines can in principle be constructed by reverse engineering the brain, and improving upon its algorithms.

The Daily Galaxy via Schneider Alien Minds PDF and SETI Institute

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