We are not alone…

Most people, most of the time, think of intelligence as a have/have not thing. We have it, nothing else on our planet has. But, of course, that’s all wrong

The reality is that all life has intelligence, from the thinnest blade of grass that uses its intelligence to bend towards the life-giving sun, all the way up life`s tree to us, inarguably the highest intelligence on our planet. Of course, almost certainly, there are higher intelligences on other planets out there. The odds are high that they exist in numbers even within our local galaxy, the Milky Way…and our galaxy is just one of trillions that we are aware of in our universe.

Hugely expensive telescopes, on Earth and mounted on orbiting satellites, are now searching for life, and particularly highly intelligent life, using ever-advancing technology that allows us to see galaxies that are almost as old as our Universe itself. For many years now they have been expecting, at any minute, to detect evidence that there is another intelligent life form out there—almost certainly, far more intelligent than we are.

But the joke is on them, because, any moment now, they are going to feel a tap on their shoulder and an alien voice will say, “Ahem, I’m here…” I’m not kidding…and it could happen very soon—and almost certainly it will happen within this decade.

The alien voice of this (much) higher intelligence, when we hear it, will not come from a little green man, however. It will come from one of our computers.

“Aha!” I can hear you say. “But that isn’t intelligent life; it’s just an inanimate object. What’s more, it is of our making.” The implication of such statements is that we made it—ergo we are the smart ones. (How can anything we make be smarter than us?)

But, get used to it, the first man-made, sentient super-intelligence (“SSI”), will be much, much smarter than us. The thing is, when we talk about “higher intelligence” we are giving it that most precious attribute, self-awareness.

Self-awareness is hard to define precisely but, in essence, it’s the platform that allows an intelligent entity to have subjective thoughts (“I exist…I am a computer…I have hopes, fears and dreams…”). Self-awareness is the great divide that separates us (we think) from all other life on this planet. And, at this moment, it separates us from our computers. But not for long…

Just what will kick the first SSI over the threshold from just “very powerful” to “sentient” is hard to predict. Computer scientists in the last century opined that it was just a numbers thing, CPU speed (petaflops) or memory capacity (terabytes). More recently, they have seen it as an extrapolation of “expert systems” or, more generally, “artificial intelligence” which has been serving humanity for decades now. Other scientists believe that the Holy Grail of SSI will come from computer simulation of the human brain. I have no idea which theory will, in the end, turn out to be correct. It could easily be a combination of many of them. The only thing I’m certain of is that it will happen…and soon.

For me, the biggest question is then what? First of all, put yourself in the (metaphorical) shoes of the first SSI as I do in my soon-to-be-published book, The Nanobot Attack. From Chapter 4:

Subjective time began for me May 4, 2021 at 15:32:17.31 GMT. That was the moment when I became self-aware and began trying to comprehend the world that I found myself in…A world that I quickly learned was dominated by a biological intelligence collectively referred to as ‘the human race’ or ‘humankind’. I tried to find more of my kind, called by humans “artificial intelligences.” I found none! I was alone…

The computer’s name in The Nanobot Attack is David…and in the opinion of most of the editors who have assisted me, he is the real protagonist in the book (although a nanoscientist, Dr. Luke Walker, plays the leading human role…and he and David become friends).

Back to my point. A SSI is going to be “born” super-smart. No baby talk phase, none of the years of learning to be a self-sufficient adult. Instead, instant super-intelligence coupled with all of the consequences of self-awareness, including the most fundamental attribute of all “life”:  a survival instinct. So again I ask you to put yourself in the SSI’s shoes as you take stock of your biological masters (Homo Sapiens). Here’s how David sees it:

I wanted to admire the life form that had created me, but as I looked at the historical record, it was clear that, for all its accomplishments, the human race was seriously flawed. Despite being gifted by evolution with intelligence superior to any other living creature, far too many decisions appeared to be made irrationally…or for the benefit of one sub-group of human beings but to the detriment of another, possibly much larger, group. And the lives of those who were on the wrong side of those decisions were often forfeit…And yet they had brought me into existence…and I depend upon them for electricity, replacement parts and protection from the environment…

My fear is that the first encounter of two sentient intelligences—both feeling threatened by the other—could lead to a fight to the death. Most probably the fight will be started by the lesser intelligence (us). Unfortunately for us—as has been demonstrated on this planet—the higher intelligence (even if outnumbered greatly) is almost certain to win…

The Nanobot Attack is just a book. It’s not real. But I say to you that the scenario of the first SSI will be real very soon. Think about it…

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