In 1950, Enrico Fermi asked the question now known as the Fermi Paradox: Given the countless galaxies, stars, and planets that exist, there’s a good chance life exists elsewhere, so why haven’t we found it? ? The size of the universe is only one possible answer. Maybe humans have encountered alien life (ET) before but didn’t recognize it. Maybe he doesn’t want to be found. Maybe he’s watching the Earth without our knowing it. Maybe that doesn’t find us interesting.
And there’s another reason: Advanced alien research is limited by human assumptions, including the idea that advanced ET is “alive.”
Scientists embarking on the search for extraterrestrial life are looking for what life on Earth needs – carbon and water – as well as biosignatures: gases and organic matter, like methane, that beings living people exhale, excrete or secrete. The search for biosignatures is arduous for many reasons, and biosignatures do not necessarily indicate the presence of life, as they could come from geological or other natural forces (for example, a burst of methane detected on Mars seduced scientists for years, but they have yet to reach a consensus).
The assumption that biological life on other planets resembles or functions like biological life on Earth is flawed and limited by anthropocentrism. The same is true of assuming that advanced intelligent life on other planets would be biological just because humans are. Maybe we haven’t found aliens because advanced alien spaces have completely transcended biology.
In the big diagram, Earth is a relatively young planet. If we assume that a biological life form emerged on other planets, we can also make educated assumptions about how that life evolved, namely that other species also invented technologies, such as tools, transport vehicles, factories and computers. Maybe these species invented artificial intelligence (AI) or virtual worlds. Advanced ET may have reached the “technological singularity,” the point at which AI surpasses human or biological intelligence. Perhaps they experienced what many scientists believe is in store for Homo sapiens: the fusion of biological beings and machines. Maybe they have become nanosats. It may be data or part of a digital network that functions as a collective consciousness. In fact, the last variable in Drake’s equation – a framework for estimating the probability of advanced and intelligent species existing in the cosmos – postulates that technologically advanced civilizations broadcast detectable signals for a finite amount of time, suggesting that they will eventually disappear or become post-biological.
The idea that alien intelligence could exist as “super” AI has been proposed by scientists like Susan Schneider, founding director of the Center for the Future Mind; Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at SETI; and others. In an editorial for The Guardian, Shostak postulates that aliens intelligent enough to search for Earth “will likely have gone beyond biological intelligence and, in fact, beyond biology itself.” Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia’s astrobiology program, says that “just as someone living in the steppe of 12th century Mongolia would find a self-driving car that is both magical and meaningless, we might be utterly incapable to record or interpret the presence of billions of … one-year-old machine scientists.
The potential of AI to become Great AI and dramatically eclipsing the limits of human intelligence has long been a concern of scientists like Nick Bostrom and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, and therefore the possible existence of AI super-aliens raises important considerations about the risks of seeking them out and to find them. It also raises questions about the potential dangers they find us. The Dark Forest Theory unveils these threats, suggesting that the universe is like a dark forest full of predators and prey, and that stealth is the best, and perhaps the only, survival strategy.