Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Surrounded by Intelligence

The end of the industrial grand transformation for an alien civilization is the development of automation, including robotics and artificial intelligence. Once artificial intelligence is finally invented, which is a hardware and a software combination, it can be tweaked into many forms, and used in many places. In an alien civilization, this might mean that voice communication becomes the common method of interfacing with anything, or perhaps gesture or other visual signaling. Data access becomes simple and universal, which will change the attitude of the aliens toward data hiding. A more open society is essentially forced by the technology, as most information will simply reside, in organized form, on databases which can be accessed from anywhere.

Thus, aliens at this point in their civilization’s development will become very used to communicating with everything. Things might have names, or become familiar with individual aliens, so that society becomes quite different. Instead of having only other aliens to talk to and interact with, there are AI gizmos virtually everywhere. Just as first water, then gas, then electricity, then communications became universally available, so will intelligence. Aliens will grow up not thinking of themselves as anything special, as there is an automaton that can do anything any of them can do, better, or at least as good.

This trend continues with the genetics grand transformation. When it becomes feasible in an alien civilization to invent new creatures, and imbue them with intelligence, such as the intellos discussed frequently in this blog, the ubiquity of intelligence will become even more pronounced. Intelligent pets, with the owner or user deciding how much intelligence, communication, independence, and whatever other mental traits are possible, each pet should have. Pets can be anything when genetics is available to take a concept and turn it into a genetic code. Genetics will be completely understood at the end or even the middle of the genetics grand transformation, and designing a specialized organism for any purpose would be doing, probably using the automation and AI that already exists by that time.

How would this change how aliens view themselves? Even if the aliens do not decide to do away with their own species in favor of something better, or simply allow it to shift genetically as improvements are found, they would see themselves as just one of a million possible organisms, one that, perhaps mostly by chance, happened to evolve, and get technology started. “What is valuable about us?” might be asked once this stage is reached. “We’re not the best at anything. We’re pretty good at living on our home planet, but then so are another thousand intelligent organisms we have created. Anything we can do, art, music, design, invention, exploration, science, and so on can all be done better by organisms we can create or which our AI systems can create. AI can do many of these things, too, and there are some which AI works better at and some that genetics works better at. But we aren’t at the apex of anything.”

Would this mean they would simply decide not to reproduce any more of their own species, and instead make a diverse collection of other organisms? Perhaps a mixture of robots, intellos, and hybrid organisms, if there is a way to do this efficiently, will be their choices. Industrial gestation gives them the ability to produce more of their own kind, or some improved version, but industrial gestation combined with complete genetics knowledge allows them to produce more of whatever they want to, and it could very well be that the cost of a genetic code is small enough so that each organism can be designed independently. This is analogous to what we are seeing with 3D printing, except with a genetic code instead of a layered object design, and an industrial gestation machine instead of the 3D printer.

So where does this lead for extraterrestrial voyaging and colonization? Remember that there is no intrinsic instinct that drives aliens to explore outer space. There is just legacy training from the early days of the industrial revolution. If successive generations teach the next one that the stars are their destiny, then the alien civilization will go to the stars. But successive generations breaks down when training is done by robotics or intellos, and there is nothing genetic remaining from the original evolved species that has not been improved.

If the original alien species loses the sense of itself as a special, valuable thing, needing to be preserved, but instead just gets lost in the myriad of intelligent objects and organisms inhabiting the home planet, why would it want to go to interstellar space? Existence in an alien civilization may become meaningless. Why bother to go to the incredible expense of figuring out how to go to another planet and set up a colony there, and then doing it, if there is no point that can be made for why the collection of organisms on the home planet should be preserved and transplanted?

We are familiar with nihilism here on Earth, but there was always the note that human beings are special: we are the only things with intelligence. There are so many things that only human beings can do. With the commodification of artificial intelligence able to do anything at all and the development of artificial genomes for growing anything at all, that argument simply disappears in a puff of smoke. What is left to motivate whoever is left of the alien species to travel to other planetary systems? It would appear nothing.

This may however be the wrong point of view concerning advanced alien civilizations. We may have a misnomer: alien civilizations. For humans, we only have seen human civilizations. Perhaps the proper point of view is that after the genetic grand transformation, the civilization that exists on the alien’s home planet will be a diverse grab-bag of organisms of multiple kinds. How might such a conglomeration work? Who would decide what was created or grown? How many of what kind of things should be produced? It is remarkably hard to understand how such a collection of organisms would self-organize, and that needs to be done before we can ask if it would travel to other planetary systems. Some new name needs to be created. For the purpose of this blog, we will call it a synthetic civilization, meaning that everything there, including all organisms, were created by predecessor organisms.

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