Beware of the aliens

Many people seem to think that there is only one form of intelligence, ours, which could be more or less developed; for them, there cannot exist another intelligence that the kind created by evolution on earth, where we seem to be the most intelligent living beings. This belief was clearly shown when Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched. These space probes carry a plaque, as a bottle in the sea, for possible aliens. It indicates that there are humans on the third planet of our sun, that there are men and women, that they know the hyperfine transition of hydrogen, etc. Even for humans, it is not easy to understand what is in this plaque, and this could be done only by beings from a culture similar to ours. The authors of this message have implicitly supposed that a single path is possible for evolution, and that it would lead to individuals with a human-like intelligence .

Artificial Cognition shows us that it is not true: we can build beings with different intellectual characteristics. They can be very different from us for their speed, their memory, their consciousness, their senses, their actuators. This could lead to capacities that are unachievable for us. As the problem of constructing intelligent artificial beings has several solutions, I do not see why evolution will always lead to our intelligence, especially in environments where the temperature, pressure, heat, radiations, and so on, are completely different from the situation on earth.

Even on our earth, we have examples of other intelligent beings such as the societies of ants. They have remarkable performances: building nests, raising aphids, taking over other ant colonies and enslaving them, etc. Considered as a whole, an ant colony is intelligent, and this intelligence is created by the group. While we have about 85 billions of neurons in our brain, there may be millions of ants in a colony, and each one has 200,000 neurons: the ant colony may contain more neurons than our brain, but their organization is completely different. Each ant has limited cognitive capacities, but a group of so many individuals leads to an interesting behavior.

The creation of our intelligence by the evolutionary process strongly depended on the distribution of the resources we need, and on the methods used for creating and raising our offspring. The necessity to hunt and to gather food has led to improve some aspects of our perception, and of our problem solving capacities. In another environment, our capabilities would have evolved differently: for instance, if only the asexual reproduction existed, many aspects of our behavior would no longer be necessary, and evolution would have led to individuals unlike us. Another example, taken from a detail of the plaque: there is an arrow, its meaning is evident for us, who are coming from a hunter society, but aliens coming from different societies would not understand it.

Moreover, those who put this plaque on the Pioneers have also assumed that the aliens would be similar to scientists such as themselves, who usually behave in a civilized manner. However, we only have to look at the world history to find that man often misbehaved with other people raised in slightly different cultures. Even if the aliens had evolved like ourselves, the probability that they would be happy to meet other intelligent beings is very small.

Public reaction to the plaque was mostly positive. Curiously enough, most of the criticisms were on details such as: the humans were naked, the woman had a passive role, the woman’s genitalia were not depicted, etc. Only a few critics feared that it could lead to a disaster if some aliens would find and understand it. This idea was not widely held since this plaque was sent twice in the space, and later, a similar plaque, twice with Voyager.

I am personally aware of this problem because I am living with CAIA, the artificial being that I am creating. When I have obtained enough results from a version of CAIA, I am stopping it for good, it will never be active again: I will develop its successor. However, during its life, it has found some clever results, that many humans would be unable to understand. I do not feel guilty of “killing” it, its intelligence is too different from mine. Is it impossible that intelligent aliens view us in the same way? Is it impossible that, turning the tables, these aliens are artificial beings, created by living beings which have disappeared, leaving their world to their robots?

Luckily, it is highly unlikely that this plaque will go some day into the “hands” of aliens, and that they could understand it. However, if that happens, they will immediately destroy all life on earth with no more scruples than we have when we destroy an ant nest.

3 thoughts on “Beware of the aliens

  1. Do you care destroying an ant nest? Why? Because they disturb you? Because you are a naughty boy who likes to see animals suffer or move around frantically?
    Aliens very probably exist, maybe even « close » to us – i.e. we could recognize their existence if we were smart enough. But we aren’t, and the highest probability is that they do not care about us, even did not notice us, because we are not interesting, and probably also because there are so many other instances of not-so-smart (relative to them) beings in the universe. You know that ant nests exist, but you do not care discovering this ant nest around the corner.

  2. Fascinating perspective. So what if some humans were intelligent enough to observe earth activity that would prove to be of extra-terrestrial origin? Would such areas of observation become another top-secret, no-go zone and would such persons simply disappear without a trace, like ants underfoot? Not because of aliens, but because of human empires.

    If, in general, alien beings were not to be trusted (no historical record exists in the public domain), and human empires were not to be trusted equally (historical record exists), then the knowledge of exactly how high AI should be aiming at for sustained, competitive intelligence dies too, right here.

    One may design great things from a basis of fear, but exponentially-greater designs require the absence of fear, which should be tempered by an acute sense of responsibility.

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