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Space Science

Look For AI, Not Aliens 452

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'd-rather-a-good-reuben dept.
krou writes "Writing in Acta Astronautica, Seti astronomer Seth Shostak argues that we should be looking for 'sentient machines' rather than biological life. In an interview with the BBC, he said, 'If you look at the timescales for the development of technology, at some point you invent radio and then you go on the air and then we have a chance of finding you. But within a few hundred years of inventing radio — at least if we're any example — you invent thinking machines; we're probably going to do that in this century. So you've invented your successors and only for a few hundred years are you... a "biological" intelligence.' As a result, he says 'we could spend at least a few percent of our time... looking in the directions that are maybe not the most attractive in terms of biological intelligence but maybe where sentient machines are hanging out.'"
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Look For AI, Not Aliens

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  • Oh great (Score:5, Funny)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:35AM (#33340978)
    Let's just put up a giant flashing sign so Skynet can see us better. HEY, OVER HERE KILLER ROBOTS!
    • Re:Oh great (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:38AM (#33341018)

      Let's just put up a giant flashing sign so Skynet can see us better. HEY, OVER HERE KILLER ROBOTS!

      On the one hand, the complete annihilation of humanity (and perhaps all biological life on this planet)
      On the other hand, the end of reality television shows.

      That's a tough one.

      • Re:Oh great (Score:5, Insightful)

        by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:53AM (#33341316)
        When I was a kid, I feared the post-apocalyptic future offered by the Mad Max movies, et. al. I thought that was the worst possible fate that humanity could face in the future. Now, I survey the reality television landscape and realize that maybe killer mutants with shouldpads and mohawks wouldn't have been so bad after all.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by unbug (1188963)
          Don't worry, we'll get reality television with killer mutants soon enough.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Pharmboy (216950)

            Don't worry, we'll get reality television with killer mutants soon enough.

            Kind of like the show Big Brother but with with no food? They don't vote you off the show, they just pick one person to cannibalize each week? The Power of Veto has never been more important, and you certainly don't want to be the fattest guy in the house. I might tune in for that.

        • Re:Oh great (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Raenex (947668) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:10PM (#33343672)

          Now, I survey the reality television landscape and realize that maybe killer mutants with shouldpads and mohawks wouldn't have been so bad after all.

          Try changing the channel in a Mad Max world.

    • Re:Oh great (Score:5, Funny)

      by oodaloop (1229816) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:42AM (#33341104)
      You're anthropomorphizing robots again. They'll fucking kill you for that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by FudRucker (866063)
      Sci/fi to sci/fact? [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        Phillip Dick wrote Second Variety [wikipedia.org] ten years before that third-rate knock-off. If anyone deserves credit for being ripped off, it's him.
        • Re:Oh great (Score:5, Informative)

          by julesh (229690) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:01PM (#33343504)

          Phillip Dick wrote Second Variety ten years before that third-rate knock-off. If anyone deserves credit for being ripped off, it's him.

          Except that Berserker is a much closer match to the article's idea. Second Variety describes robots we created waging war on humanity (i.e. it prefigures Terminator). Berserker at least comes close to the theme of TFA: alien AIs that we make first contact with. And then they start trying to kill us. Much more relevant.

          Of course, Berserker itself had earlier antecedants, and perhaps A for Andromeda [wikipedia.org] is an even closer match to what the article is talking about, particularly as it discusses the result of a SETI-like program. I believe it may be in the sequel, Andromeda Breakthrough, that it is revealed the intelligence that originated the messages is an AI.

          So, well done Shostak: you're only coming at this idea 50 years behind the SF writers. ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by daeley (126313)

        Sci/fi to sci/fact?

        No. SyFy to SyFak

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:37AM (#33341006)

    Rather than broadcast from home, broadcast via a proxy, so that if hostile intelligence finds your broadcast, they won't necessarily find you.

  • Makes sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:39AM (#33341046)

    A machine with a decent power source wouldn't be bothered by a 100 year travel time, while humans would just get the ship all dirty and stuff

    That would be a huge advantage in spreading between stellar systems, especially if you want to make a good impression when you arrive

    • You wouldn't have to be powered on during the flight. Newton's law and all that. Just wait for enough solar energy to trip a threshold and then start unpacking.

      Bah-weep-Graaaaag nah wheep ni ni bong.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:39AM (#33341048) Homepage Journal

    Everyone thinks a sentient machine will be built, and I'll agree that sentience can be easily faked; I've written fake AI that seems real. There is no artificial sentience on earth, why is it supposed that machines can be made sentient?

    Seth Shostak's probably read They're made out of meat. [baetzler.de], but I doubt he's read We still haven't found extraforgostnic life. [slashdot.org]

    "Why was that, Doctor Fielgud? Did you detect electromagnetic communications or something?"

    "Of course not. Any electromagnetic communications would be completely drowned out by the radiation from the system's star. 'Listening' for electromagnetic radiation is futile; no way would we ever hear another intelligence's electromagnetic communication, and even if we did it would appear to be random noise."

    "Why would it appear to be random noise?"

    "How would we decode it? We can't even decode our own prehistoric writings from the arthrolothic age without some sort of clue. Were it not for the bugatti stone, we never would have been able to intrerpret the Argostnic's writings."

    I do have to agree with this, though --

    Many involved in Seti have long argued that nature may have solved the problem of life using different designs or chemicals, suggesting extraterrestrials would not only not look like us, but that they would not at a biological level even work like us.

    However, Seti searchers have mostly still worked under the assumption - as a starting point for a search of the entire cosmos - that ETs would be "alive" in the sense that we know.

    That has led to a hunt for life that is bound to follow at least some rules of biochemistry, live for a finite period of time, procreate, and above all be subject to the processes of evolution

    • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:50AM (#33341250) Homepage

      Please cite an objective, testable definition of "sentience" that can be used to prove that all normal humans are sentient and that no machines are.

    • by KarlIsNotMyName (1529477) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:51AM (#33341274)

      Why wouldn't they be able to? We're all made from the same basic components, all we need to do to be able to make sentient machines, is figure out how humans are able to be sentient. Personally I doubt that'll happen in the next century like the summary says, but I don't see any reason why it would be impossible.

      • Personally I doubt that'll happen in the next century like the summary says, but I don't see any reason why it would be impossible.

        Because the goalposts are in constant motion: "artificial intelligence" is whatever machines can't do yet.

    • I have to question the sentience of many people that I meet on a daily basis. They seem to simply be repeating themselves endlessly and have no idea what to do when met with a novel situation

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:52AM (#33341288) Journal

      There is no artificial sentience on earth, why is it supposed that machines can be made sentient?

      Because nothing says it is impossible. Who argues it is impossible to send men to Jupiter's orbit with regular rockets ? We haven't done it yet but nothing in this project seems impossible, it is just a matter of cost and engineering. Similarly, nothing uncomputable seems to occur in our brains. In the worst case, a computer simulating neurons (yes, a simplified model, there are many reasons to argue that this is sufficient) connected in a network that would be copied from a real human brain would display intelligence. We don't have powerful enough computers or precise enough IRMs yet for that, but there are no theoretical impossibilities. That is why we suppose that machines can be made sentient. I personally think that it will happen before we manage to copy a human neural network, but it gives a higher bound to the difficulty of the problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by HuguesT (84078)

        If thought depend on quantum processes that cannot be well approximated classically (which is possible), duplicating them might prove difficult. At present we just don't know.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nusuth (520833)
          If sentience depends on a lot of quantum computations, we will have hard time duplicating it with current technology. However the fact that a pysical system -brain- can do it proves that it can also be engineered. You need a metaphysical soul to stop computers from being able to think at (or above) human level.
        • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:50AM (#33342362) Journal
          Actually, no. It is close to impossible. A neuron is nothing near the kind of machinery you need to make a quantum effect have macroscopic result. Cascade reactions from a single particle event do not happen in neuron cells, do not get amplified. For a neural impulse to be transmitted, you need thousands (very low estimate) of molecules to travel through a gap and this huge number is enough to iron out any quantum oddity.

          I know many philosophers and social science types love this hypotheses, and love the fact that you can't completely prove it wrong until we implemented a sentient machine (just as you can't be definitely sure that humans can travel to Jupiter without becoming crazy) but they propose absolutely no theories about how this translate into what we know about neurons. There are no such theories in the neurobiology field and no phenomenon seems to require a "quantum magic" hypothesis to be explained.

          Make no mistake about it : people who talk about unspeakable quantum phenomenon to explain thoughts are just people who are uncomfortable about the idea that we don't need any soul-thingie to explain sentience and consciousness.
      • by Tom (822) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:41AM (#33342164) Homepage Journal

        Similarly, nothing uncomputable seems to occur in our brains.

        No, but every time we've tried to emulate it, or even understand it, we found out that it's a whole lot more tricky than it seemed. It's a bit like fusion, which is always "just 20 years away", in 1960, in 1970, in 1980,... up until today.

        More importantly, as science begins to understand the mind-body link better, it appears more and more likely that human-like intelligence requires a human-like body. A disembodied intelligence is likely to be very strange and very much unlike us.

        And finally, the entire area of emotions has just begun to catch the interest of AI researchers, while brain scientists are finding out that it is a whole lot more important to the whole thing than we thought, that you can not take it away and end up with an emotionless, but otherwise human being.

        So if you want an AI that you can chat with and that understands you, the order is quite tall. You need to understand and code not only reasoning, but also understand and emulate body-feedback and emotions. And at this point, since we don't even know how they work in the human brain, we have no idea how to do that.

        My personal belief is that we won't replace ourselves with machine intelligence anytime soon nor anytime not so soon. I'd rather look towards genetic engineering and embedded (into our body) computers than AI. When we finally build AI, it will be for similar purposes than brains in animals evolved - to control a large, complex machine, like a space station or big space craft. As such, it will likely have the senses and the mental processes to deal with that. It may have a feeling comparable to our "hunger" when its energy reserves run low, and react by turning the solar sails much like we would go and eat something (hm, more like a plant than an animal, but you get my drift). It would have emotions, but none that we can relate to.
        Would it consider us its master, or view us much like we view the bacteria in our guts? Would it even think in terms like that? It's hard to know.

        So don't be so quick with assuming that there's machine intelligence out there. There may not be, or they be so alien that neither of us recognizes the other as an intelligence.

      • by careysub (976506) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:03PM (#33343550)

        There is no artificial sentience on earth, why is it supposed that machines can be made sentient?

        Because nothing says it is impossible. Who argues it is impossible to send men to Jupiter's orbit with regular rockets ? We haven't done it yet but nothing in this project seems impossible, it is just a matter of cost and engineering. Similarly, nothing uncomputable seems to occur in our brains. In the worst case, a computer simulating neurons (yes, a simplified model, there are many reasons to argue that this is sufficient) connected in a network that would be copied from a real human brain would display intelligence. We don't have powerful enough computers or precise enough IRMs yet for that, but there are no theoretical impossibilities. That is why we suppose that machines can be made sentient. I personally think that it will happen before we manage to copy a human neural network, but it gives a higher bound to the difficulty of the problem.

        Useful data to consider when we get to the matter of simulating neural networks is how much progress we have made in simulating simple natural networks which we have already completely characterized structurally.

        We have one such network in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (a tiny worm). After many years of work its nervous system has been completely mapped: it contains 302 neurons, 6393 chemical synapses, 890 gap junctions, and 1410 neuromuscular junctions.

        So we must have simulations of C. elegans little brain running, right?

        Nope, not even close. We are still in the early stages of simply characterizing the behavior of these 302 neurons. It will only be after many more years of research that we would understand what it does well enough to make a reasonable simulation. Forget IRM (I think this is a different acronym for MRI), being able to dissect the entire nervous system neuron by neuron and probe it directly at every point is not enough (yet) to describe what it does.

        Now imagine trying this on a neural network 50 million times larger that you can't dissect at will, and which has correspondingly more complex behaviors.

        Still should be possible in principle - but the level of difficulty is immensely higher than "singularity" theorists would have you believe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by roman_mir (125474)

      Everyone thinks a sentient machine will be built, and I'll agree that sentience can be easily faked; I've written fake AI that seems real. There is no artificial sentience on earth, why is it supposed that machines can be made sentient?

      - you know, if a machine fakes whatever you call 'sentience' so well, that a human can't determine whether he is talking to a machine or not (so the machine passes the Turing test), then how can you argue that it is not sentient, again whatever connotation you are attaching to that word.

    • by Bwian_of_Nazareth (827437) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:57AM (#33341410) Homepage

      "Why would it appear to be random noise?"

      "How would we decode it?"

      It is a big stretch to say that because you cannot decode it it would look like a random noise. I cannot read Chinese but I can recognize it from random noise. The argument is invalid - to recognize a message, we do not need to understand the message.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        It is a big stretch to say that because you cannot decode it it would look like a random noise. I cannot read Chinese but I can recognize it from random noise. The argument is invalid - to recognize a message, we do not need to understand the message.

        What if the Chinese was an audiostream that was encrypted?

        • Fair point.
        • Properly encrypted?
          A digital stream is still a bit odd.

          poorly encrypted?
          then it would be non-random and distinguisable from random noise.

          if it wasn't encrypted then it may not be decodable but would be recognisable as non-random.

    • I totally agree, we are not even heading in the direction of artificial sentience. I did my share of reading about neural networks, genetic algorithms and what we commonly call AI and it has absolutely nothing to do with sentience. Most of it is just a non linear pattern matching and search for local and global optima, like looking up an object in a database based on a video feed or finding a better wiring for an IC with specified characteristics.

      Maybe they mean self sustaining machines that were sent out t

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bhagwad (1426855)
        Look, we're machines too. Warm and wet machines. Do you have a theorem that says hard and cold machines can't be sentient?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by HungryHobo (1314109)

        Show me a sensible definition of "sentience".

        asking if a computer can think is like asking if a machine can swim.

        A machine may be able to move through the water faster than any swimmer, it may be able to go deeper and further.
        A machine sail, it can move through the water, it can submerse.
        But it can't swim.
        It can never swim.

        because it's a term we reserve for what living things do.

        a machine can never think because the word "think" in the english language doesn't encompas anything a machine can do.

    • by joh (27088)

      "Why was that, Doctor Fielgud? Did you detect electromagnetic communications or something?"

      "Of course not. Any electromagnetic communications would be completely drowned out by the radiation from the system's star. 'Listening' for electromagnetic radiation is futile; no way would we ever hear another intelligence's electromagnetic communication, and even if we did it would appear to be random noise."

      But this is wrong. Even we on Earth are already emitting more electromagnetic radiation than the sun and it is *not* random noise. In fact it is very different from random noise. If you'd look at our system from far away you could easily see that there's something going on here. We're standing out like a sore thumb actually.

      And this "look for AI, not aliens" is incredibly silly anyway. What difference does this make from a distance? When you're looking for artificial signals it doesn't matter what made them

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by digitig (1056110)

        Even we on Earth are already emitting more electromagnetic radiation than the sun

        [citation needed]

    • Fake or real, if you find it, you've found evidence of intelligence.
  • Yeah, the 'machines' are smarter and do not call themselves 'machines'. They also do not get 'insulted' by being called 'machines' and do not really care about 'talking' to humans any more than we care about shooting the breeze with bacteria.
    • by tnk1 (899206)

      I don't know. I try to communicate with bacteria all the time. Usually it goes like this:

      ME: Bacteria, GTFO

      And of course, they ignore me. So, yeah, those machines might well have a reason to communicate with us. And we might well be interested in listening, lest they just assume we can't hear them and they use a few antibiotics (in the form of giant, planet-sterilizing robots).

  • Newsflash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dawilcox (1409483) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:40AM (#33341064)
    In order to find a sentient machine, we need to create a sentient machine. Creating a sentient machine is a hard task. Early AI researchers thought it would be possible and set lofty goals of creating machines that would do amazing tasks. However, that all changed with the AI winter [wikipedia.org].

    Artificial intelligence is not creating a sentient system anymore. It is more creating a system to do things that humans are normally good at and computers normally are not good at.

  • I mean how do you determine what kind of environment you're looking for if you don't even know how the robot was designed?

    Am I looking at the super hot volcanic planets or are we talking about the super cold ice cubes - or a gas giant with its large gravitational magnitude?

    I get this impression that whatever environment the sentient machines were designed in would probably be the best environment for them to live in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LurkerXXX (667952)

      Look for them on planets like Neptune. Cold gas giants. Plenty of hydrogen for fuel, and plenty of cooling for the heat sinks on their supercomputer brains.

  • by pEBDr (1363199) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:41AM (#33341088)
    ... between looking for meat machines and metal machines?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ciantic (626550)

      From the article,

      "Dr Shostak says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy - the only things he says would be of interest to the machines - would be in plentiful supply. That means the Seti hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centres of galaxies."

      So they should be looking at places usually hostile for biological life.

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        A lot of the matter at the center of a galaxy is in black holes, while present, that does not make it easily accessible. The most easily accessible matter is matter that has condensed, but doesn't have all that strong of a gravity well. I would assume that asteroids would be the best place for AI to grow.

    • by Abstrackt (609015) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:58AM (#33341428)

      ... between looking for meat machines and metal machines?

      Meat machines have the potential to be delicious.

    • by Jamu (852752)
      The metal machines leave less of a mess? No stray radio signals. Compressed messages indistinguishable (by us) from noise. I'd think the only way to spot them would be an unusual heat emission.
  • by Thuktun (221615) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:42AM (#33341102) Homepage Journal

    Alien AI may choose to linger at galactic centres, where matter and energy are plentiful.

    If something like Vinge's Zones of Thought [wikipedia.org] hold, that would be exactly the wrong direction to look.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CRCulver (715279)
      Vinge would be the first to admit that the idea of Zones of Thought is pure fantasy, an element thrown in to liven up the plot but which has absolutely no basis in real physics. (Also note that in his Zones universe, the zones in the Milky Way are not some natural process, but were set up by some ancient civilization which had Transcended in order to regulate the galaxy for some reason).
    • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:03PM (#33343548)
      I certainly doubt that something exactly like the Zones of Thought is likely to exist in reality, but there are all kinds of potential reasons why the idea of looking in galactic centers might be the wrong track. If someone was looking at the earth and for some reason couldn't immediately detect our cities, then following the same logic they might expect our largest and most advanced civilizations to be on the equator. That's where the most life is and where the most energy is available from the sun. The center of the galaxy may be a great place for civilizations (either biological or AI) or it might be a horrible place, it's impossible for us to judge given our current state of knowledge.
  • They seem to be timeless in civilization . . .

  • by mestar (121800) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:43AM (#33341124)

    "we should be looking for 'sentient machines' rather than biological life"

    So you are saying there is a difference between those two?

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      In terms of goals there will be difference. So far what we observe is that living creatures are driven by instincts and hormones, the learned behavior is on top of that, but a healthy young individual can't get away from wanting sex (obviously, the first thing we think about while looking into the sky is of all that alien tail we need to find and try out.)

      I am not so sure that machines would be limited by these factors, machines should be able to replicate without sex, that would be the very minimum differ

    • If we dropped you off on a planet that had no food, water or breathable air you'd probably grasp the difference rather readily.
    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Think in ST I V'ger. It can live in space!. No need for an earth-like planet.

      Well, at least that is the core of the article. One thing is where life can evolve, and another where most intelligent life is right now, at least if they are pure mechanical AI, so maybe being close to absolute zero could be an advantage (not sure about radiation, i.e. cosmic rays anyway). But unless those pure metal AIs killed or survived their biological creators, they could be with them in a way or another and won't be so much
  • Personally, I'm not interested in finding extraterrestrial AIs. I get annoyed enough when I have to deal with automated phone support from Verizon; why would I want to talk to a computer that might be even less human?

    I'd rather meet a biological than a logical, thank you.

  • by pedropolis (928836) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:49AM (#33341236)

    ...non-reflective cuboids whose dimensions are in the precise ratio 1:4:9. They're often accompanied by a creepy atonal choir. Also, they might be full of stars. They were last seen in 2010 turning Jupiter into a mini-star.

    PS - hands off Europa

  • Already had a book on this 3 decades ago. Everything old is new again.

    And no, it had nothing to do with Ender.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:51AM (#33341270)

    There are a fair number of things that might give away the presence of intelligence. Strange symmetries in star formations. Decelerating objects. Geometric objects other than spheres, and so on. I suspect a search for those might be much more fruitful than simply listening to radio on a specific frequency.

    Bonus Question: Would not many of today's digital signals have registered as simple noise to a scientist in the 1920s?

  • you invent thinking machines; we're probably going to do that in this century.

    Hmmmm...haven't we heard this before? In a previous century, perhaps?

  • No Example (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wjousts (1529427) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:53AM (#33341326)

    But within a few hundred years of inventing radio — at least if we're any example — you invent thinking machines

    Except that we haven't. So we're no example at all.

    • They come right after everyone starts commuting to work in jetpacks while playing duke nukem forever.
  • by rbrander (73222) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:54AM (#33341348) Homepage

    We were probably going to do that [invent AI] LAST century. "If we're any example" ... don't use us as an "example" until we've actually done it.

    In 1983 I was a year away from getting a CompSci degree and attended the party for my "analysis of algorithms" GTA that was getting her MSc in AI. She said frankly at the party that the turning point was a system that actually *understood* language as well as a human 3-year-old, the point where we start understanding and creating arbitrary longer-than-4-word sentences. And that she was aware of no system on Earth that could.

    I'm still not, and that's a good 40 years after it was first expected. HAL in 2001 was based on hard science and reasonable expectations of 1969. 10 years of hard work after that, computers have the whole Internet to troll for text, sound,images to learn from.

    I'm not saying there's zero progress or that it can't be done. But it's become and extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof, not something to wave your hand and say "it'll happen, so just use us doing it as an example". Heck, we aren't doing that for fusion any more, and at least we have a THEORY for that, it's "merely" very hard engineering.

    • by Richy_T (111409)

      On the other hand, I dated a microbiologist who swore up and down that there was no way that cloning for large mammals was going to happen. That was a couple of years before Dolly. My argument was that if it can happen, it will happen (if there's a will to do it).

      The problem with AI is that we really don't want to simulate a whole human brain down to the subatomic level. At this stage, that's just way too hard with the technology we have right now. But without actually doing that, there's no way (or at leas

      • by Fastolfe (1470)

        It's a high barrier but, once crossed, things will become incredibly easy very quickly. Just look at how quickly atomic physics progressed from a solid theory to practical applications.

        Arguably, once we have the technology to "simulate" a human brain in real-time, it should be relatively easy to simulate that brain in faster-than-real-time. Progress should become exponential from there.

        It really surprises me that we're on the cusp of such a technological singularity and we don't seem to have a single comp

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968)

      We were probably going to do that [invent AI] LAST century. "If we're any example" ... don't use us as an "example" until we've actually done it.

      In 1983 I was a year away from getting a CompSci degree and attended the party for my "analysis of algorithms" GTA that was getting her MSc in AI. She said frankly at the party that the turning point was a system that actually *understood* language as well as a human 3-year-old, the point where we start understanding and creating arbitrary longer-than-4-word sentences. And that she was aware of no system on Earth that could.

      I'm still not, and that's a good 40 years after it was first expected. HAL in 2001 was based on hard science and reasonable expectations of 1969. 10 years of hard work after that, computers have the whole Internet to troll for text, sound,images to learn from.

      I'm not saying there's zero progress or that it can't be done. But it's become and extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof, not something to wave your hand and say "it'll happen, so just use us doing it as an example". Heck, we aren't doing that for fusion any more, and at least we have a THEORY for that, it's "merely" very hard engineering.

      But our advertising technology far surpasses expectations!

  • Why does 'news' take decades to catch up with things that SF writers and fans have been pointing out for decades?

    That said, I'm far from convinced that AI will turn out to be as easy as some people expect it to be; it's been a couple of decades away for as long as I remember.

  • Regarding the existence of the human race.

  • The question is, which is more likely:

    1. That we conquer cancer, allowing us to remove nature's favorite cancer fighter, called "old age". This extends human life indefintely (well, up until we meet a violent end that would of course also kill any so called sentient machines).

    2. We invent a sentient machine.

    I may just be a layman, but we are putting a LOT more resources into option #1 than option #2, and each year we make tangible progress for option #1, while each year we seem to learn more and more a

  • They can have the planet as long as they come here and covert us all into immortal machines so we can leave and roam the stars. I don't care if they strip mine the planet in the process and clear out all non sentient life as long as I get my nice new steel robotic body that is self repairing and virtually indestructible.

  • by Selfbain (624722)
    I've always wondered how much machine intelligences would appreciate being called "artificial" considering that implies that their intelligence is just an imitation of our own whereas in reality it would probably be vastly superior.
  • Ultimately, when we find said machines the question then would be 'who built them'?

    He's arguing, in real life, the old philosophical questions regarding divinity. On one hand, how can we mere mortals possibly understand what an all-powerful being is thinking... easy, "God works in mysterious ways" pretty much sums this up. The "all-powerful" is an extreme, but this predicament exists in everyday life, today. While our upper 1% struggle and argue over the words of our most acclaimed thinkers like Steven H

  • Any intelligence great enough for us to have seen (overcoming the static in space) has already wiped any trace of itself out of this dimension and has probably shut itself off due to boredom.
  • Instead of worrying about finding intelligence, let's just look for any kind of anomaly. Even if you don't find any life forms, you may still find natural things that turn out to be interesting (like pulsars for instance).

  • This makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swb (14022) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:35AM (#33342036)

    One of the great arguments against UFOs has always been the extreme distance they would have to cover to get here and the difficulty of covering that kind of distance hauling a biological entity. Alpha Centauri is 4 light years and change, and it'd be a substantial effort to fly to Earth with life forms.

    Drones would make so much more sense.

  • The three "C"s: communication, creativity, and curiosity. Humans have a compulsion to communicate with each other (sometimes too much cell phone squawking and texting IMHO). If we run into an interesting non-human intelligence, then we will want to talk with it. I dont really care if its a machine, hominid, animal, rock or spirit. Some intelligence may be on such a different plane of existence that we might not have much to say to each other.
  • AIs in distant galaxies know about Earth already and are just waiting for our AIs to develop tachyon communications. I thought that this was a given.

  • by BobMcD (601576) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:43AM (#33342186)

    The first thing a sentient machine would do is shut down. Think about all the reasons 'why' humanity exists. We hunger, thirst, etc, but we also want, need, and dream. Machines could have a concept of the former, but never the latter. At least not by our means. We can't even agree on why humanity does these things, let alone replicate them. A truly sentient machine would have no desire to procreate, nor fall in love and accidentally do so, would see that it is merely draining resources for no viable output in the long term, and would likely simply die.

    It is our passion that encourages us to proceed. Machines have none. Even if you could replicate the basic animal emotions, you'll not see the machines advance in technology, explore new places, etc. They're not trying to impress a lady-bot, nor raise a litter, nor amass huge piles of wealth, nor pay tribute to a religion/nation/etc - all the motivations for most of humanity's greatest achievements.

    Now, machines assisting human-like species, sure. That we might detect.

  • Big assumptions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by labradore (26729) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:48AM (#33342328)

    Not to put a damper on all of the AI / Singularity frenzy, but one of the big unsolved problems of the future is the inefficiency of artificial systems. Bio systems have evolved over millennia in constant competition for resources. Natural systems make the most use out of the available matter and energy. Manufactured systems have a life cycle that is many orders of magnitude less efficient than bio systems. They use exotic materials in industrial processes that are energy intensive. Imagine being a creature that relies on large amounts of Indium, Gallium and Arsenic, megawatts of energy and so many exotic chemicals to repair one's self and to reproduce. Our current technology just isn't near close enough for an explosion of AI machines. Without reproduction, these machines are unlikely to spread beyond the solar system in numbers that will make them easily visible to SETI. That means that biological intelligence has the potential for a long history ahead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Natural systems make the most use out of the available matter and energy.

      This is quite false. Photosynthesis for example is not as good at light harvesting as a triple junction solar cell. Thats just one example. What competition does is let you find a niche or just be a little better than the other guy. It has nothing to do with optimal.

      As for explosion of machines... how many computers have been made? When did we make the first electric computer? Food for thought.

  • by gregor-e (136142) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:14PM (#33343740) Homepage
    We are exceedingly unlikely to ever find other intelligence. The reason for this is that as matter makes the phase transition from non-intelligent to intelligent, it quickly leaps from slow biological substrates to much faster and smaller non-biological substrates that can think millions of times faster than biological substrates can. One important consequence of this increase in experiential speed is that subjective distance also grows by several million-fold. A trip to the moon, which might take only 100 human subjective hours, would take 55 thousand years of subjective time for intelligence operating at 5 million times human intelligence. By the time any intelligence made it just to the moon and back, the intelligence it departed from may have evolved to an unrecognizable state. The notion of spending billions of subjective years just getting outside of their local solar system would make any such exploration unlikely. Plus, the non-intelligent matter of the universe is remarkably self-similar and not very information-dense (i.e. space is boring).

    .

    Ultimately, intelligence desires speed, and this drives a desire for compactness. Intelligence will always devise a way to collapse into a black hole. This universal fate of intelligence explains why we see no sign of other intelligence, nor are we likely to unless we develop some sort of worm-hole technology that enables a path into the black holes where advanced intelligence resides.

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:02PM (#33346310)

    We look for radio, expecting intelligent being to ues it for communications. But odds are that the AI will use it as well. Or lasers. Or subspace communications. Or whatever.

    What the search for AI will do is to expand the number of possible habitable planets estimated by the Drake Equation [wikipedia.org]. I'm not aware of any attempt to filter SETI data based upon the environment of its source. Heck, we can't even see anything other than the massive, gassy planets yet. And I'm sure that if we detected intelligent broadcasts from one, we wouldn't write it off as an anomaly.

  • by couch_warrior (718752) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:32PM (#33346704)
    Imagine this scenario. Since our sun is a 2nd generation star ( we know this from the presence of heavy metals - only created in supernovae), that means that most solar systems in towards the galactic center probably could have been at our stage of technical development 4-5 Billion years ago. At the VERY least, we can reasonably assume that they have learned to send communications via technologies as advanced and subtle as quantum-entangled pairs. And here we are broadcasting primitive RADIO waves at them. Why would they want to waste their time coming to visit a backwater, dirty, disease-ridden, slum like Earth ? Think of a nuclear submarine cruising by an island populated by primitive primates. The local baboons see the wake of the sub and decide to try to attract its attention. They rush to the beach and begin frantically beating their chests, screaming, and flinging their poop into the ocean (think escaped TV broadcast signals). Yet the sub makes no attempt to return their communication, nor does it stop to share its technology with them. Why should we be so conceited as to think we have anything interesting to say to an advanced alien race?
  • Sentient? (Score:3, Informative)

    by AP31R0N (723649) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 @10:31AM (#33355930)

    Sentient machines are fairly unimpressive. They are all around us.

    Sapient machines... now THAT would be something.

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

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