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SETI Could Find Super-Intelligent Robots, Warns Astronomer Royal

SETI Could Find Super-Intelligent Robots, Warns Astronomer Royal

by Giulio PriscoJuly 24, 2015

British cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees believes that machines powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) will inherit the Earth – and the stars. He is also persuaded that advanced aliens could be inconceivably different from life as we know it, as different from us as we are from a bacterium.

Rees, also known as Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal since 1995, is a top scientist who often publishes clear and simple opinion pieces on the big issues and questions of our times. Writing in The Financial Times, he explains that our civilization is likely to evolve into a post-biological civilization of thinking machines way smarter than us.

“Humans and all they have thought might be a transient precursor to the deeper cogitations of another culture,” says Rees. “One dominated by machines, extending deep into the future and spreading far beyond earth.”

Interplanetary and interstellar space will be the preferred arena for the grand constructions of robotic fabricators, including the non-biological brains that might one day develop insights as far beyond our imaginings as string theory is for a monkey.

If life is widespread, worlds orbiting stars older than the sun could have had a head-start. If so, Rees explains, alien civilizations that originated in those worlds are likely long ago to have transitioned beyond the organic stage.

The “Earth 2.0” announced yesterday by NASA – Kepler 452b – orbits a star 1.5 billion years older than the sun. Therefore, according to Rees, an alien civilization out there is probably a machine civilization.

Signals Could Come From Super-Intelligent Computers

Martin Rees at the Breakthrough Initiatives announcementRees (in the picture) participated in the event at The Royal Society in London where Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced the lavishly funded Breakthrough Initiatives for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).

“We should surely acclaim the Breakthrough Initiative’s major investment,” says Rees in The Guardian. “This will secure time on the world’s best radio telescopes and develop instruments to scan the sky in a far more comprehensive and sustained fashion than ever before.”

But advanced intelligences out there could be very different from from us. “Seemingly artificial signals could come from super-intelligent (though not necessarily conscious) computers, created by a race of alien beings that had already died,” warns Rees.

Real aliens could be very different from the anthropomorphized aliens of naive science fiction. They could be much more similar, for example, to the incomprehensible aliens described by Stanisław Lem in “The Invincible” and “Solaris” – beings whose consciousness is so different from ours that no understanding is possible. In Lem’s “His Master’s Voice,” SETI scientists receive a message that, despite promising initial attempts to decipher it, eventually eludes understanding.

Even if intelligence were widespread in the cosmos, we may only ever recognize a small and atypical fraction of it. “The only type of intelligence we could detect would be the (perhaps small) subset that used a technology attuned to our own parochial concepts,” says Rees.

Some ‘brains’ may package reality in a fashion that we can’t conceive.

Images from Breakthrough Initiatives and Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Bob

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t understand a word you said….

  • Jim Brown

    You were not supposed to understand it.
    This is a perfect example of government propaganda.
    You are supposed to be AFRAID !!!!
    Only ignorant brainwashed fools,
    (like 98℅ of our population)
    think in terms of force, domination and war.
    The military/Industrial Complex needs newer,
    bigger, and more dangerous enemies to fight.
    Most likely, the next “False-Flag” event will be
    a staged “Alien Invasion” .
    (if you don’t know what that means,
    Google the gulf of Tonkin incident, or just
    realize that 9/11 was an inside job to
    justify taking over another country)


  • Optimist911

    Why wouldn’t these signals be omnipresent and ubiquitous? It seems rather strange that they’d appear only when humans are good and ready to receive them.

    • Cassandra Morrison

      Who says they aren’t both? But when a tree falls in the forest does it crush a field mouse if no one is listening?

      • Optimist911

        But we are listening — and ignoring suspect cases like the “Wow!” signal, it’s all been noise.

        • Cassandra Morrison

          Noise to OUR ears, yes, no doubt, But how clear would a radio signal be after travelling hundreds or thousands of light years through space? With all the natural phenomena that produce radio “noise” what would you expect to hear BUT noise? Radio signals fade, they are subject to cosmic rays, solar storms (star storms) Electromagnetic waves….
          If you said SETI was a huge waste of money because no radio signal from another sun-like star with earth-type planets could be expected to arrive here with an intelligible signal I’d agree with you. Because we could have been receiving them all along it’s just that the degradation of the signal has robbed it of all intelligible content.

          • Optimist911

            That’s where error-correction algorithms come in. Even we primitive humans have solved that problem more or less satisfactorily.

  • Cassandra Morrison

    Very good, your Lordship.

    I love the part about the Super Computers. Rather chilling if, of course, one happens to be afraid of computers. Being disabled and not having an easy time getting out and about I have a different approach to computers. Mine is most loyal guide, philosopher, and friend.

    But another of your points interests me. You state that
    “Some ‘brains’ may package reality in a fashion that we can’t conceive.”
    You are referring to these Artificial Intelligences but they will certainly package reality in a way that resembles their creators just as any AI developed by our computer science will be related to how our own minds package reality because that is how our computers are constructed.
    You say that we won’t be able to “conceive” the way in which these ‘brains’ function. But that’s obviously nonsense. It is true if one is referring to the way the left brain processes information that we might have problems comprehending these ‘brains’ but the right brain can gestalt a whole new way of “packaging reality” without really trying and THIS will be the key to “grokking” what these alien ‘brains’ are driving at.
    Sorry to Stanislaw Lem but he didn’t really understand how UNLIMITED Human Consciousness can potentially be.

    • Optimist911

      Unless you’re religious or spiritual, human consciousness is quite far from unlimited. Indeed, the human brain has “only” around 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections among them — certainly large figures, but not at universal scale, even if multiplied by the total number of humans who ever lived. It’s simply a matter of size: Each new order of magnitude enables novel emergent properties, such as those separating us from slugs. We’re not even all that much bigger than slugs — imagine a being whose “brain” is, say, planet- or even galaxy-sized. To such an entity, we won’t even be slugs, but more like viruses or prions.

      • Cassandra Morrison

        Size has nothing to do with it…you’d know that if you knew anything about microchips in your own computer. Look at the first microprocessor that Intel ever produced It handled 4 bits. Here is the current 64 bit processor$(KGrHqJHJCIE-pUw2Uf8BPt9t(b7,Q~~60_35.JPG
        Much smaller…but a whole lot greater computing power.
        Fred Hoyle’s book THE BLACK CLOUD is all about this “brain size” thing, And Rupert Sheldrake is always entertaining when he gets on the subject of intelligence in planets and solar systems and galaxies and so on.
        But I still say humans could GET what even a brain that size is laying down because of our ability to connect a whole stream of dots into a coherent system without having to go through the steps one by one. It’s pretty much what Quantum Physics and Quantum Psychology and Gestalt Theory are all about.

        • Optimist911

          Obviously, I am assuming optimally and uniformly efficient designs that leverage the full computational power of the universal substrate. This would exclude crude early microprocessor architectures.