“The most sophisticated civilizations would be post-biological, forms of artificial intelligence or alien super-intelligence,” says Susan Schneider, who is part of a small group of thinkers outside the realm of science fiction considering the notion that artificial intelligence not only does it already exist, it has existed for ages.
In her recent study for NASA, she asks “How do intelligent aliens think? Would they have conscious experiences?” Schneider, cognitive scientist and philosopher, asks if we found extraterrestrial intelligence with consciousness, what might it “look like” and would we recognize it?
While we are aware that our culture is anthropomorphizing, Schneider imagines that her suggestion that aliens are supercomputers might strike us as far-fetched. So what is her justification for the view that most intelligent alien civilizations would have members who are Super-Intelligent Artificial Intelligences?
Schneider offers three observations that together support her conclusion about the existence of alien superintelligence.
The first is “the short time window observation”: once a society creates the technology that could bring it into contact with the cosmos, it is only a few hundred years away from shifting its own paradigm from biology to intelligence. Artificial. This “short time window” makes it more likely that the aliens we encounter are post-biological.
The observation of the short time window is supported by human cultural evolution, at least so far. Our first radio signals are only a hundred and twenty years old, and space exploration is just over fifty years old, but we are already immersed in digital technology such as cell phones and laptops.
Schneider’s second argument is “the Great Age of Alien Civilizations”. Proponents of SETI (the institute that aims to search for intelligent life in space by analyzing radio signals) concluded that alien civilizations would be much older than our own. “All the evidence suggests the conclusion that the maximum age of extraterrestrial intelligence would be billions of years, specifically ranging from 1.7 billion to 8 billion years.”
If civilizations were millions or billions of years older than ours, many would be much smarter than we are. By our standards, many would be super smart. We are galactic babies.
But are extraterrestrials forms of Artificial Intelligence as well as forms of super intelligence? Schneider says yes.
Even if they were biological, having only brain enhancements, their super intelligence would be achieved by artificial means and we could consider them as “artificial intelligence”.
But she suspects something stronger than that: the third observation is that they would not be carbon-based like terrestrial beings. The upload would allow a creature to approach immortality, allow reboots, and make it possible for it to survive in a variety of conditions, which carbon-based life forms cannot.
Furthermore, silicon, which we use to build microchips and computer processors, appears to be a better medium for processing information than the brain itself. Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 Hz, something around 1 million times slower than what current microprocessors can achieve.