Biological creatures, including humans, represent the only intelligence on planet Earth thus far. We may some day be joined by robust, human level of consciousness, artificial intelligence (AI) of our own making. We could also some day be introduced to AI that originated from outside of our solar system. The question is how the two forms of intelligence, artificial and biological, will interact and perhaps conflict. I’m not discussing the often-examined idea of AI trying to wipe out humans, but rather how biological humans will interact with robust AI.
Why is this important to the consideration of Alien First Contact? If we do communicate with alien intelligence some day it could very well be machine-based intelligence, whether artificially originated intelligence (AOI) or biologically originated intelligence (BOI). Machine based intelligence could be better able to handle the challenges of interstellar travel. Understanding the issues connected with machine-based intelligence and the interaction with biological intelligence could better help us understand aliens. It may also help us better consider our own future.
TV shows and movies often portray human intelligence being somehow “uploaded” into a machine host. It is a decades old notion. As technology catches up with science fiction, one must ask: what is the nature of human intelligence? Is it simply a consciousness that can be quantified, captured, and moved to another host? Or is it intrinsically wrapped up with our body? If one considers the brain, a very biological host, we see that all sorts of biological functions impact thinking. Chemistry is a great example. We control our moods with medications designed to alter our chemistry. Chemistry is an important part of how we think.
That’s a very biological reality. Important parts of our biology also derive from genetic factors, which are of course tied to other biological beings. And what of our appearance in deciding our personalities? Men and women have differences that are based on biology. Someone who is quite short or quite tall probably has personality traits that come from that reality. Biology impacts psychology and psychology impacts consciousness. What happens to us when those biological constraints are gone?
And then there are the intrinsic drivers of biological humans- survival and reproduction. How does one separate a consciousness from these most basic of human instincts? Both have a huge role in the design of society. Reproduction leads to strengthen bonds between individuals, which often leads to families. Families are the basic unit of society. What happens if none of that is a part of existence? It seems likely that machine-based, biologically originated beings would seek to keep some of those biological behaviors at first. There could be a transition period between enhanced biologically based intelligence and full machine-based intelligence. Some of those biological behaviors could be recreated in a machine-based environment: family, sex, competition, wealth, and athletics. One scenario is to recreate human biological existence in a machine environment, allowing beings to use virtual bodies to continue biological practices. This was dramatized in the TV series Black Mirror in the award-winning San Junipero episode. But would such choices last over the years? And how would machine created intelligence (AI) interact with biologically created machine based intelligence. Would the bio beings control the AI? How long would that last? Perhaps the lines between the two would blur at some point?
I think the design of a machine-based intelligence world would depend on what remains of individuality. If humans decide to keep individuality as part of the fabric of machine-based living, do they provide individuality to AI? Or is AI kept perpetually in servitude? You can see the inherent conflict in such a society.
If that isn’t complicated enough, there is the consideration of hard reality (I use this term as opposed to virtual reality). What physical actions need to take place on Earth (or another planet) to keep machine-based intelligence platforms working? Underground computer banks would still need real-world upkeep and maintenance. Would that work be done by AI? Would it be conducted by bio-humans?
You can imagine that there would be a backlash to machine-based living. There would likely be humans who would choose not to live in a virtual world. There may even be humans who are forced to live in hard reality, due to economic constraints. It seems likely that the virtual world would be reserved for the rich at first. How long would that continue and what conflicts would arise?One could imagine a war between biological humans and machine-based intelligence, especially if resources were of short supply. It could take an immense amount of energy to support a virtual reality with billions of different beings.
So, if this is a possible future for humans, what has happened with aliens in their development? If we do communicate with aliens some day they could hundreds of years ahead of us in development. They could have moved to a fully machine-based world that does not include human concepts of individuality. They might even dislike such ways of being. Perhaps aliens don’t even want to waste their time with us until we are fully machine-based and freed from the shackles of biology? They could even have a mandate to help us achieve that machine-based state, leaving people who wish to remain biological in a tough position.
These ideas should be considered. Technology continues to race forward. If we allow a multitude of unconnected technological developments lead us blindly into the future, we may be quite unhappy with the results. And we could find ourselves not existing at all. It can be argued that the end of the need for human bodies is also the end of humanity, with a new intelligence arising. What will become of us?
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash