A concept which has captured Human imagination for decades, is the possibility of life on other planets, presumably orbiting other stars, than our own Sun. And the first, obvious question people might ask is, ‘If aliens – i.e., ETs – exist, which Solar System – i.e. Star – might they be living on?’ as well as ‘Have they in fact, ever traveled to our solar system?’ What I’d like to do with this posting, is to direct my own thinking sideways, into a mode more speculative, than anything I normally blog about: ‘What culture / societal / ideological ordering might they have, if they exist at all, through which they would judge our society?’
And I’d just like to point out a brief observation, about reported alien abductions: The people who were abducted, at least according to initial reports in the 1970s etc., seemed to detail being taken into rooms on-board spacecraft, which were remarkably devoid of controls. In the 1970s, our aircraft and other platforms had many instruments, buttons, dials, switches and so forth, consistently with our own level of technology, or due to our lack of technology, which prevented us from having glass cockpits, as we do today. And I can really think of only two possible reasons, why the abduction reports would be different in this detail:
- No abductions may actually have taken place, and the people reporting them may have had little imagination, as to what the future, or the inside of a spaceship is supposed to look like, or
- The aliens live in bare rooms, that don’t have levers, buttons, switches, etc.. They may have illuminated surfaces though, that are more than just illuminated surfaces…
I don’t tend to be such a particular snob, to think that we can invent things, that civilizations more powerful than us would not be able to invent, and if a civilization had succeeded in traveling the interstellar distance to our solar system, they would indeed be more powerful than we are. So let me just play the assumption for the moment, that the latter scenario is the case…
It’s very likely that they would possess computers.
And their evolution might be such, that their computers respond to voice-commands, just like our most-recent smart-phones can, so that there might be little that an ET needs to control manually. The ET could just ask his computer to do something for him, that is complex in nature, and which needs to be broken down – by the AI – into many sub-tasks, but which by default, the AI may just provide.
And while all of this sounds like a utopia at first glance, I do not mean to suggest that it’s a utopia.
In theory, such an ET might tell the AI, ‘Get this unwanted human out of my spaceship.’ I’m assuming that the power of this AI extends inside the ship, as much as outside. It would seem to follow that the AI would do whatever it was programmed to do, to get the human off the spaceship. And so what would prevent the ET from telling the AI, ‘Get this unwanted, other ET our of my sight?’ Obviously, such an AI would need to have rules – laws – about what it must do, or must not do, if it receives such a request. Or just because a situation demands some sort of action.
Well it’s easy to see, that if an alien AI was that powerful, It would also be able to hold its population captive. And I presently think that if aliens ever did invent successively-more-powerful computers, at some point, their computers would have taken over.
So, when humans next observe that ETs don’t seem to have much of a message to say to us, it may be that they really, just don’t have much that they can say to us. They’d just live within the rules of their AI, and if that AI had policies about communicating with humans, the ET would need to abide by those rules. In fact Sometimes, the AI might tell the ET, that it wants something done, by the ET.
Now, the reader might ask himself – or herself – where I get such a radical idea, about what the society of an advanced, extraterrestrial civilization might be like. And my answer would be, that it partially forms as an extrapolation, of what the present, Human civilization is becoming – evolving in to – especially, with regard to how our own computers are evolving.
The situation is already common, that a user – he’s already not the master anymore – simply wants a video-file to play, but that the video-file doesn’t play. And any reader who understands what a CODEC is, and what DRM is, already knows, that this could be a non-trivial problem to solve. When faced with such problems, what humans often do today, is go to some bulletin-board, and to say, effectively, “It’s broken. It doesn’t play. I don’t know how to fix it.” What often follows, is one of those BB threads, that just self-destructs, in which other members suggest solutions that I know won’t work, in which the OP next posts that he tried the solution, and that it didn’t work, and in which the problem is solved, more often than in any other way, by the OP switching to a different operating system. Or, in which no real solution was ever posted, even though the thread has mysteriously been marked ‘Solved’.
This is very different from how problems are solved, when expertise is applied. The process which is taking over, relies more and more on trial and error, and in the eventual abandonment of some part of the goal.
I don’t actually think that this dystopia will come about in Human Civilization, within the next 10 or 20 years yet. Within the near future, Human Expertise will remain a crucial component to solving problems, and those who solve the problems, will also continue to receive most of the power. But within 100, 200 or 500 years, things may look different.
Well you see, if we put ourselves in the distant future, where an AI solves most problems, there wouldn’t be much of a need to teach advanced knowledge to the actual population. And this latter point touches one main thesis of Arthur C Clarke:
What that Sci-Fi author wrote, was that an advanced, alien civilization might have uploaded its intelligence to a computer, and just continued to exist through this computer.
The problem is, that Arthur C Clarke was very much an Engineer of the 1970s. He saw many of the benefits of computing, but was not exposed to the non-altruistic realities of it today: Malware, Viruses, and Humans getting locked out of the decision-making process.
In fact, I have no way to know, that if an ET did upload itself into a computer, any harm at all would come to the ET, which might just continue to exist in flesh, exactly as it was before, only with some avatar existing ‘Up There’. And in fact, We may already be uploading ourselves. Everything we blog, post, write, upload, Tweet, or Facebook, continues to exist ‘Up There’ in a persistent way. It does not get deleted. But if some Experts today, next undertake to write an actual AI, they can base it on this Social Data we have output, so that the patterns of the AI become similar to human patterns, and so that our most-valued ideas will continue to live, after we die. They may continue to live, in a newly-animated way, in the behavior of a non-specific AI.
And so some hypothetical ETs, may live with the ideology that they will continue to exist in heaven – i.e., on the cloud – after they die, but may continue to live out their lives in the flesh, until that day comes.