Thursday, August 4, 2016

GMO Aliens

One difficulty in understanding alien civilizations that have passed beyond asymptotic technology is that they face a worse difficulty. They simply have no guidelines in designing their own species. Perhaps you would think there are some, and we can't see them because of some fog that has descended over the question, and the fog will clear once we understand better asymptotic technology.

Unfortunately, it is more basic than that. This is simply one more deduction from the fact that the universe doesn't provide us with an instruction manual, or even any clues as to what to do. Any alien civilization that is racing through the genetic grand transition will soon realize they can do much more than just fix genetic diseases, more than improve various attributes such as health and intelligence, more than even bestow excellence in everything on each and every new alien. They can rewrite the book.

If you are buying an appliance, you can think about what you want it to do. You can think about how you plan to use it. You can think about how it might improve your life or save you time or save you money or make some activity easier or better. You can see how the appearance fits in with things around it, if it is a major appliance. You can see how easy it is to transport if it is a minor appliance. There are many other things you can inquire about before you choose which appliance to get. That is because you have some goals, or can deduce some from what your activities are.

With a new generation of aliens, what is the 'you' that has goals for them? In the beginning, it is very easy to do this, as all members of the older generation would agree that genetic diseases should be eliminated, because they project their desires onto the young generation, who is sure to agree that these diseases should go. There might be less universality about other changes, but some might reach nearly a hundred percent consensus. “We should make the immune systems in the new generation as robust as we can.”

Probably there would be a majority opting to provide the new generation with improved intelligence, attractiveness, athletic capability, strength, longevity, better vision and hearing and other senses, and some more. These are also simply projections of what the older generation would have liked to have had themselves, but they were originated before genetic manipulation became possible. The older generation would simply assume the younger generation would want the same things.

There would have to be some determination as to exactly what these fine attributes meant, such as deciding what intelligence really is and if it is somewhat vague, how to define it well enough for the genetic engineers to make up some DNA (or whatever aliens use) to accomplish it. Each of these attributes needs to be defined, as genetic engineering cannot work to ambiguous designs. But in the optimistic world, these are already understood well, or get done at about the same time that genetics becomes an ordinary engineering specialty.

And as in all engineering, there are trade-offs, as perhaps athletic capability requires some brain regions to be devoted to it, which detracts from the amount of processing available for intelligence tasks. Trade-offs abound in any complex engineering task, and it shouldn't be any different with engineering a new generation of aliens. But, in the same optimistic world, somebody or some group manages to figure these out, and some choices are made. Choices are made by aliens in some capacity, likely whatever passes for governance on their planet, and they are made with the assistance of all the artificial intelligence that can be put together. The robotics revolution will be largely over by this time, so there should be no shortage of encyclopedic knowledge or the ability to access and process it, nor of any calculation capability. The figuring out of how to implement decisions is not the problem, it's the making of the decisions.

At this point, the new generation of aliens is recognizable as the same species as the old generation, as they match the best of the old generation, except all of the new generation does. This is where the road gets muddy and the going gets hard.

Take nutrition, or ingesting foodstuffs in general. What to do about this? Some aliens in the old generation might think the new generation should have the nose of a wine connoisseur or the alien equivalent of someone who appreciates greatly beverages, and the mouth of a gourmet, again, the alien equivalent of someone who appreciates greatly the taste and feel of foods. The opposing group of aliens might think that the GMO design should make the new generation greatly happy with simple equivalents, so they would enjoy eating readily available foods and beverages. Another group of aliens might think the GMO engineers should eliminate most taste and the rest of the food-related senses, as there is no need to waste the new generation's time on these irrelevancies, but use these areas in the brain for other purposes. So there might be three or even more groups of old generation aliens, with their own preferences, all in opposition about choosing what qualities to give to the new generation. This is simply one example. Beyond the basics that every alien wishes for, there is nothing but options and no means to decide between them. It would be possible for the GMO engineers to do any of these, but they get no direction as there is no consensus.

One solution the aliens might adopt is to divide the new generation into blocks, and make each different block mimic the choices of a different group of old generation aliens. So, in the food example, some new generation aliens would be gourmets, some would adore simple foods, some would care not a whit about foods. This solves nothing, but just kicks the can down the road. When this new generation asks about what to design into the succeeding generation, they might start by asking why they were given the qualities they had. There is no answer based on any principles, only, that the old generation got their preferences reproduced in the new generation. And would the new generation want to continue them? Assuming they have top-level intelligence, this would hardly be a sufficient reason to make the next generation the same. What would they do? There does not seem to be any answer.

Everything is possible and nothing is required. Try to imagine yourself in such a predicament and gauge the impact of it. It is a strange feeling to not be able to make any sensible decision, where there are no reasons but any random choice will work. This example may help us to understand how alien society is put together. Their choice for star travel is just one of a large number of choices that they must make with no rational basis for it. What would they do?

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