If an extraterrestrial civilization designed intelligent machines to roam the universe those machines would likely have an important characteristic: the ability to adapt. Learning is part of intelligence. The ability to adapt would be combined with the learning process for active endeavors to overcome challenges and respond to new problems as they occur.
Machine extraterrestrial intelligence is a topic worth pursuing. Considering that humans send probes into space to explore, it seems possible that extraterrestrial civilizations might do the same. Paul Davies and Seth Shostak have talked about this idea for years now.
There would be possible benefits and many issues in such an extraterrestrial First Contact.
What would the adaptability of intelligent machines mean for us? It could take away many of the barriers in terms of communication and cultural understanding if extraterrestrial machines were to visit our solar system. Why? If they wished to make contact, they would learn and adapt to do so. An intelligent machine wanting to make contact would likely spend some time learning about us- our languages, our cultures and our technology. This would make sense for any intelligent extraterrestrial visitor. It’s probably what we would do if we discovered an extraterrestrial civilization in our travels. There would not be much to gain by charging in without knowing languages or understanding the cultures of the beings on the planet you wished to contact. Alien machines would want to learn human languages, they would be interested in how we might react and, perhaps most importantly, they would have a game plan, a process for undertaking an introduction.
Could alien machines be better able to adapt than biological visitors? They probably wouldn’t be hung up with the prejudice of biology and culture, perhaps making them less judgmental and more open to other ways of being. However, their programming and base intelligence would probably be very different from ours. Sorting that out could be difficult for us. Also, our conception of machine intelligence might be very different from the type of advanced technology we might encounter. Our machines serve us. Alien machines could be self aware and have their own agenda, different over time even from their creators.
There is certainly plenty of fun science fiction on this topic. And all of this imaginative speculation would have positive and negative impacts if a real situation was to develop some day. There could be fear of machines on our part, thanks to the Terminator movies, the TV show Battlestar Galactica and other popular fiction that features computers taking over the world. This alone would force adaptive alien machines to consider human public relations and carefully study how we interact and how we would best respond.
It all comes back to motives. Intelligent machines, just like biological extraterrestrials, would have a reason for coming to our solar system. Perhaps they are designed to explore, much like our probes? Perhaps they are designed to make contact? We could hope that would be the case, because then the need to understand human culture could be built into the machine programming. Any help we could get in First Contact would be a good thing. If the machines were not designed to adapt or even care about human interaction it could be a mysterious alien encounter that we would never fully understand. And that could be the most frustrating scenario of all.
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