The eminent British astronomer, Lord Martin Rees, has shared a thought-provoking idea regarding the nature of potential extraterrestrial life. In a piece for the BBC, he cautions that if we ever encounter alien life, it may not conform to the familiar notion of biological or humanoid beings.
“We human beings may be near the end of Darwinian evolution — no longer required to become the fittest to survive — but technological evolution of artificially intelligent minds is only just beginning,” the Crown-appointed astronomer explains. “It may be only one or two more centuries before humans are overtaken or transcended by inorganic intelligence.”
“If this happens,” Rees continues, “our species would have been just a brief interlude in Earth’s history before the machines take over.”
Lord Rees suggests that these extraterrestrial life forms might be more artificial and technologically advanced than our traditional expectations, primarily due to the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) in our own society.
“It is perhaps more likely,” he adds, “that the aliens would be the remote electronic progeny of other organic creatures that existed long ago.”
Lord Rees contends that the emergence of AI-based life forms is a plausible outcome as we enter an age of heightened AI capabilities. This perspective challenges the conventional image of extraterrestrial life and opens up the possibility that non-organic or AI-driven entities could dominate the cosmos. Consequently, the absence of recognizable life forms in space might be due to the prevalence of such AI-based life rather than the absence of life altogether.
This notion contradicts the Fermi Paradox, which ponders why, given the vastness of the universe, we have not yet encountered extraterrestrial civilizations. Lord Rees proposes an alternative explanation: the “great filter,” a theoretical hurdle preventing the discovery of other advanced civilizations, might not be extinction events but rather the rapid advancement of AI in other societies, surpassing our own capabilities.
He previously explored this concept in a Scientific American op-ed, suggesting that the “great filter” effect may be a consequence of technologically advanced civilizations veering towards AI and becoming increasingly elusive.
This viewpoint raises intriguing questions about the potential characteristics of AI-based alien life and our ability to detect and interact with such entities. Lord Rees points out that even if AI aliens exist, our current technological tools may be inadequate for their detection, especially if they are intentionally concealed.
“Perhaps whatever is out there doesn’t evolve by Darwinian selection: it would be what I call ‘secular intelligent design’ that’s a bit like machines designing better machines,” Rees concluded. “And while it may not be broadcasting its existence to us, it could be found throughout the Universe.”