"Everything about their cognition—how their brains receive and process information, what their goals and incentives are—could be vastly different from our own," Schneider told me. "Astrobiologists need to start thinking about the possibility of very different modes of cognition."To wit, the case of artificial superintelligence."There's an important distinction here from just 'artificial intelligence'," Schneider told me. "I'm not saying that we're going to be running into IBM processors in outer space. In all likelihood, this intelligence will be way more sophisticated than anything humans can understand."The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there's what Schneider calls the "short window observation"—the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they're probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. It's a twist on the belief popularized by Ray Kurzweil that humanity's own post-biological future is near at hand."As soon as a civilization invents radio, they're within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI," Shostak said. "At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model."
I'm not saying that we're going to be running into IBM processors in outer space. In all likelihood, this intelligence will be way more sophisticated than anything humans can understand.
I hope she's right. Somehow, the notion of a galaxy teeming with soulless supercomputers is way creepier than introspective, WALL-E-like beings, or dry, sardonic Qs."It's super creepy," Schneider agrees. Indeed, Schneider, who has written extensively on the subject of brain uploading, urges that humans should reflect deeply on this potential consequence of cognitive enhancement.The concept of superintelligent alien AI still sounds very speculative. And it is. But that doesn't mean it's not worth consideration. Indeed, expanding our purview of alien intelligence may help us identify life's fingerprints in the cosmos. "So far, we've pointed antennas at stars that might have planets that might have breathable atmospheres and oceans and so forth," Shostak told me. "But if we're correct that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is artificial, then does it have to live on a planet with an ocean?"
You don't spend a whole lot of time hanging out reading books with your goldfish. On the other hand, you don't really want to kill the goldfish, either."