Are we alone in the universe? Will humankind eventually find evidence of life elsewhere in the cosmos, and if so, what form will it take?
A more pertinent question than what form extraterrestrial life will take when we find it may be this: what form will evidence of alien life take?
Michio Kaku recently discussed this in a Reddit Ask Me Anything, where he speculated that within the next century humans will find evidence of aliens, probably as a result of interstellar radio signals they use for communication. This, of course, is based on the presumption that alien life would preferentially use radio frequencies for communication like humans do, rather than favoring some other technology (and this, whether or not Earthlings are the intended recipients of such cosmic communication).
But what if the eventual evidence we find of alien life were instead the physical presence of a kind of technology they produced? Further, what if this technology possessed a form of intelligence unto itself?
Yes, I am alluding to a form of artificial intelligence here, and yes, the presumption for this argument involves aliens using it, much as humans presently aspire to do. My argument is essentially this: if human beings anticipate that artificial intelligence will be something we will create in the future, then it is likely that eventual forms of this A.I. will be better suited for things like space travel than biological organisms are (also, it must be said of future A.I. that this scenario rests on the presumption that nothing occurs which would impede such an innovation, mutually-assured self-destruction or otherwise). Further, their development, perhaps through self-replication and improvement, will lend itself to an autonomous form of A.I. that eventually pursues answers to the mysteries of the universe on its own accord. Humans, in other words, may not have to send A.I off as its ambassadors; such A.I. may head off to explore “the final frontier” on its own accord, with its own ideas and objectives about why it should do so.
While leading futurist thinkers today entertain this as a credible eventuality here on Earth, we must also consider this scenario in relation to alien life elsewhere in the universe. If humans aspire to create artificial intelligence, and may actually succeed in doing so eventually, then we must give equal consideration to the idea that any advanced intelligence elsewhere in the universe may do so as well. Like with humans, this extraterrestrial A.I. would probably be better equipped for interstellar travel than its biological creators; thus, if we were to find evidence of alien life, there is at least a good chance that it will not be aliens themselves, but instead a form of technology they created.
This concept is not unique to the present argument and has already persisted in a variety of forms in the genre of science fiction. For instance, in the popular Transformers films, the Autobots, a group of artificially intelligent giant robots led by a dignified, though imposing warrior called Optimus Prime, travel to Earth from places afar, after humans discover of one of their enemies–the Decepticons–frozen below arctic ice (this plotline is itself another popular trope from various earlier sci-fi narratives; John Carpenter’s remake of an earlier film, The Thing, immediately comes to mind). The Autobots have little knowledge of who their creators were when they arrive, and although they attribute their existence to a seemingly mystical technological device called the “Allspark,” their mechanized nature implies that someone, somewhere, must have invented them.
Fully acknowledging the youthful appeal of big robots with morphing abilities, I would nonetheless maintain that the Transformers give us a good (albeit simplistic) representation of a broader idea. In the case of the Autobots, we have a group of constructed, artificially intelligent beings; theirs is an existence that, without the long processes of biological evolution, could have (and presumably must have) come into existence far more recently, under the design of a creator.
The obvious implication, then, is that while we would recognize the presence of artificial intelligence in our midst as a form of “contact” in and of itself, it also conveys to us remotely that aliens–presumably biological lifeforms–exist somewhere, as evidenced by their technology. This would hold true whether or not the alien civilization in question still existed, and whether or not the A.I. in question had been designed by another form of A.I. at an earlier time (it seems likely that at some point further back up the A.I.’s family tree, in other words, the original creators were likely to have not been intelligent machines themselves).
This presents us with two very interesting notions: one, as we have just addressed, entails that the discovery of advanced machine intelligence would likely, in itself, constitute the discovery of actual life elsewhere in the universe. The other idea to weigh here is that it seems more likely, based on the thought experiment above, that humanity’s eventual contact with physical representations of intelligence from other worlds will involve forms of artificial intelligence, rather than flesh and blood, biological organisms.
Granted, we can’t rule out the possibility that flesh and blood lifeforms may create advanced forms of space travel or other kinds of innovations, which would remove the impediments humans currently see for traveling to distant planets. However, if we look to our own technological development as any kind of indicator, it seems, at very least, that the creation of artificial intelligence looms more closely in our future than advances in space travel that will make it possible for humans to comfortably travel to distant places in our universe.
This assessment may or may not turn out to be a correct interpretation in the long run. It is, however, what seems most likely based on current trends in computer science and related fields, when compared to recent innovations in space exploration. Much of this has to do with the costs associated with each respective area of study: the expense of material resources, fuel, and other considerations relative to space travel far outweigh those of computer science and studies associated with artificial intelligence. If one is more likely to come to fruition any sooner than the other, trends seem to point toward A.I. winning the race. And of course, if that appears to be the case here on Earth, then perhaps it is equally likely to occur this way elsewhere.
Naturally, this discussion brings to mind a number of things, ranging from the search for intelligence beyond Earth, to the eventual creation of artificial forms of intelligence here, and possibly elsewhere. There are also potential implications of this argument in relation to unexplained aerial phenomena (UAP), more commonly referred to as UFOs. While the nature and origin of these objects remain undetermined, visual evidence of their existence has apparently been captured by the U.S. Navy, using the Raytheon AN/ASQ- 228 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) Pod on fighter jet aircraft like the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Three videos depicting these objects were released in late 2017 and early 2018 by the To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, led by former Blink 182 guitarist Tom DeLonge. Luis Elizondo, the former head of a Pentagon UFO study group that analyzed similar videos and evidence is also a member of DeLonge’s team.
It would be premature to say that the objects seen in the videos obtained and released by To The Stars Academy presents evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. However, within the scope of the broader argument presented in this article, forthcoming evidence of unusual aerial phenomena nonetheless warrants attention and serious consideration.
Further consideration should also be given to the implications of these technologies if they were ever proven to have an earthly origin. At present, we have no clear indication of what these flying objects represent, how or by whom they were built, and what their broader capabilities may be. However, if these were proven to be vehicles of some earthly design, whose speed and capabilities facilitated safe long-distance travel beyond Earth for biological organisms (i.e. humans), then we would be forced to reconsider our previous argument about the likely appearance of A.I. before that of highly advanced spacecraft.
Humankind is steadily approaching an era where such things will no longer be left solely to science fiction. We have no way to predict what our eventual reckoning with other forms of intelligence may entail, or whether it even happens. Nonetheless, an analysis of trends in our own technological development can offer insights about what kinds of innovations may already have occurred in other parts of the universe, and thus, what to look for in terms of evidence for advanced alien intelligence, and the forms it may take.