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Space Science

Look For AI, Not Aliens 452

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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  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:39AM (#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. [], but I doubt he's read We still haven't found extraforgostnic life. []

    "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

  • Newsflash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dawilcox ( 1409483 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:40AM (#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 [].

    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.

  • by Thuktun ( 221615 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:42AM (#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 [] hold, that would be exactly the wrong direction to look.

  • This is a stretch (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:42AM (#33341116)

    Right, let's narrow Drake's equation down some more with these new limitations. The final answer is... 1. And it's us.

  • X-Files' take on it (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:44AM (#33341140)

    One of the better X-Files episodes was built on this premise [], that aliens would send robots rather than themselves. Based on that episode, we should be looking for cockroaches with metallic exoskeletons.

  • by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:49AM (#33341240)

    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 gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:51AM (#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?

  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:52AM (#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:Look for hookers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:08AM (#33341568) Homepage Journal

    We already are. Red light is in the visible spectrum.

  • by bhagwad ( 1426855 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:19AM (#33341762) Homepage
    Look, we're machines too. Warm and wet machines. Do you have a theorem that says hard and cold machines can't be sentient?
  • by HuguesT ( 84078 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:29AM (#33341902)

    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.

  • by nusuth ( 520833 ) <`oooo_0000us' `at' `'> on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:49AM (#33342340) Homepage
    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 Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:03PM (#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.
  • by gregor-e ( 136142 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @01:14PM (#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.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982