I support the space program, and I hope to see people walking on the Moon again, and then Mars. We need to see people in space to reboot our dreaming engine. At the same time I am persuaded that, ultimately, space will be colonized by our post-biological mind children, who will leave their flesh and blood bodies behind and become cyber angels living as pure software in robotic or virtual bodies. Many astronomers and space enthusiasts share this view.
Of course, Sir Arthur Clarke was one of the first to see it. In 2001 - A Space Odyssey, he wrote: “And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, and then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and of plastic.” Other science fiction writers have described a universe populated by upload civilizations, and many scientists agree.
Paul Davies, a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative at Arizona State University, says in his book The Eerie Silence that any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines. Not only are machines better able to endure extended exposure to the conditions of space, but they have the potential to develop intelligence far beyond the capacity of the human brain.
“I think it very likely — in fact inevitable — that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe,” Davies writes. “If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature.”
“NASA’s Kepler telescope is busy tracking down habitable planets around other stars. It’s likely that, within a year, it will discover other worlds that are very much like our Earth. Such planets would be obvious candidates for incubating life, and possibly intelligent life. But the incubator is not necessarily where intelligence will stay. It will, I think, leave the cradle rather quickly,” says Shostak. “In other words, biological intelligence might be only a stepping stone to something far cleverer, something that is both longer-lived and more widespread than its protoplasmic precursors.”
Shostak argues that the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would be short. Writing in Acta Astronautica, he says that the odds favour detecting such alien AI rather than biological life. He makes the point that while evolution can take a large amount of time to develop beings capable of communicating beyond their own planet, technology would already be advancing fast enough to eclipse the species that wrought it.
“If you look at the timescales for the development of technology, at some point you invent radio and then you go on the air and then we have a chance of finding you,” he told BBC News.
“But within a few hundred years of inventing radio – at least if we’re any example – you invent thinking machines; we’re probably going to do that in this century. So you’ve invented your successors and only for a few hundred years are you… a ‘biological’ intelligence.”
From a probability point of view, if such thinking machines ever evolved, we would be more likely to spot signals from them than from the “biological” life that invented them.
If extraterrestrial intelligence exists, Stephen Dick concludes in an article in the International Journal of Astrobiology, it has probably evolved beyond biology to an advanced form of artificial intelligence that is the product of million or billions of years of technological and cultural evolution similar to the civilizations Arthur C Clarke envisioned that created the Tycho Monoliths in 2001 - A Space Odyssey.
In a post-biological universe machines are the dominant form of intelligence.
If these scientists are right, and I think they are, the most advanced civilizations in the universe have transcended biology and moved on to a post-biological phase of their evolution. If we want to become an advanced civilization and colonize the stars, this is what we must do.
Hugo de Garis, author of The Artilect War, agrees that our cosmic destiny is to transcend biology and build/become “Artilects”, but thinks that flesh-and-blood humans (the “Terrans”) will resist and wage bloody wars against those who want to move on (the “Cosmists”).
To avoid this, I think we should persuade as many people as possible to embrace our post-biological future with open arms as the next, necessary phase of our evolution. There is nothing to fear, and a universe to gain. Terrans fear that Artilects will destroy us, but they cannot destroy us because they will be us.
The child that I used to be was not destroyed by the adult that I have become: he is still here, inside my current self.
Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.
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