Saturday, February 20, 2016

Recognizability and Clones

When the first starship to visit Earth lands somewhere and the aliens get out, what would we see? Would they all look alike, as in some science fiction movies? Alternatively, if we ever get our act together and build a starship, go out to some planet we know has an alien civilization on it, and start walking around the downtown of one of their cities, are we going to feel surrounded by clones? Every one of them looking alike?

Cloning will certainly be possible, assuming the aliens we meet have passed through the genetic grand transition, which is just a name for the short interval of time in which genetics gets figured out and all kinds of possibilities are added to the civilization's menu. They could certainly clone things, and aliens as well, and it would be done with more finesse than we do it. We are struggling with mastering the intricacies of cell and embryo growth, as well as gestation. They will have left that all behind. So cloning all the next generation of aliens would be a very inexpensive way to keep the population renewed. Just split an embryo a few times, until there was a quorum of cells that could grow, put them all into some sort of gestation apparatus, and out comes the clones. This is a concept that has occurred in science fiction, but does it make sense from what we can figure out about aliens?

Suppose you were in charge of making decisions on the composition of the next generation of aliens? Would you say: “We need some diversity here” and decide that some would be healthy and live long lives, and others would be chronically unhealthy and live short and unpleasant lives. Even if you had no sympathy for those you were creating, the civilization would fire you, because you were increasing the burden of health care costs by a huge amount. So both from the grounds of sympathy and the grounds of cost and efficiency, you would decree that the whole generation you were planning would be just as healthy as they could be. You would not try to sneak in some genetic diseases, or some predisposition to whatever illnesses aliens could still get. You would instead see that they were set up with a great set of genes and were as immune to everything known to the medical field in the civilization.

That was easy. Now you think about making some diversity by having some dumb aliens and some smart aliens. Your sympathy starts kicking in again, and you wonder why you would wish dumbness on any part of the next generation. You also know that smart people make less demands on the civilization's services, and are immune, to misuse the word, to fraud by those smarter than they are. So, everybody gets to be smart, and that's another box checked off. Now you move to physical qualities, such as athleticism. Some of the next generation are going to be ill-coordinated and clumsy, with bad eye-hand coordination and no stamina or endurance? No, they are not. Everybody gets to be athletic. How about ugly? How many ugly people in the next generation? Zero. You can move through all the functional attributes and decide that these will be set to the best available.

Is there a loophole? You could deprive everybody of something, so you have one faction of dumb people and one faction of ugly people and one faction of clumsy people and one faction of unhealthy people and so on? Why bother? Why would the civilization want to pick up the cost of these deprivations and what good could it possibly serve? Could you come up with a reason for unhealthy people? No. And the same for the other attributes.

Does it cost more money to have a good gene in some place on some chromosome instead of a bad gene, so that you could save a bit on the cloning costs? No, the quality of the gene does not relate to the cost of installing it. It might be even cheaper to have all of the next generation have the same set. So, you are well down the road to calling for clones.

Then it dawns on you that if everybody is identical, it is going to be pretty hard for one alien to have a friend. Everybody looks alike? Here on Earth identical twins sometimes have the problem of not being recognized. On the alien world you are on, it would be a million times worse. So, perhaps you can make some differences that are not functional, do not cause any costs to the civilization, and still allow recognizability.

Perhaps some of the next generation would have deep voice and some would have high voices. And why stop there, as a voice box in an alien would likely not make a single frequency, but a combination of them. So, voices could fairly simply be made quite different, and recognizable. If there are many genes for the vocal system on an alien, there would be a large number of combinations. Related to this is the differences in speech patterns, such as more or less aspiration with certain sounds, assuming they have aspiration. Slower or faster pronunciation of certain sounds would be a difference. Tone shifts would also be. The number of possibilities for unique voices skyrockets. So there is no problem with making aliens recognizable from voice.

The same holds for appearance aspects. Even staying away from anything not attractive, there are many varieties and options in features, pose, stance, motion details and so on. Gait can be different without being caused by unhealthiness or unathleticism. Eye motion, eye size, eye color, and habits of looking can be different. The list of attributes that can be diverse without passing the lines that were set on intelligence, healthiness, and so on is very large and even with a population in the billions, individuals could be both unique and recognizable by others.

So when aliens come to visit us, we can expect to recognize different ones. This does not even extend to wearing different clothing habitually or any other external, added items, such as coloring, fur or hair decorations, clothing decorations, and so on. There is no recognizability problem.

The loss of individual identity is not a factor in the aliens refusing to allow the genetic grand transition to happen. There may be other reasons, but this is not one of them. As noted elsewhere, the conquest of genetics will make the conquest of robotics seem more or less inconsequential in comparison. Some of the aspects of this transition are mentioned here, here, here, here and elsewhere in this blog.

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