I argue, then, that man as a species may be coming to an end, subsumed into a higher level of organizational complexity; and a new species may be evolving out of him. I argue, finally, that the hyper-structure is to some degree actively involved in promoting this, since it is an evolutionary process in which it is involved.
–Philip K. Dick
A common theme I read in many accounts of alleged extraterrestrial visitations is that of a metallic, almost electronic voice. Related to that is the paranoid feeling that what the person is really interacting with is some sort of computer. Author Philip K. Dick went so far as to refer to VALIS, the (extraterrestrial? extra-dimensional?) “entity” he claimed to have interacted with/been possessed by, as an “AI”—artificial intelligence.
All of which gave this article from the Institute For Ethics And Emerging Technologies an interesting bit of added context. Entitled “It May Not Feel Anything To Be An Alien,” author Susan Schneider hypothesizes that what we may think as “alien intelligences” from other worlds might actually be…AI intelligences:
What we are only beginning to realize is that these two forms of superhuman intelligence—alien and artificial—may not be so distinct. The technological developments we are witnessing today may have all happened before, elsewhere in the universe. The transition from biological to synthetic intelligence may be a general pattern, instantiated over and over, throughout the cosmos. The universe’s greatest intelligences may be postbiological, having grown out of civilizations that were once biological.
The term “postbiological” does have that ring of “obsolete human” in it, which may not make us feel that secure about the whole endeavor. Are we creating our own obsolescence? And how will an intelligence far advanced from our own regard us? Schneider believes a lot would hinge on the question as to whether the alien/AI would possess an “inner life” or not:
The question of whether AIs have an inner life is key to how we value their existence. Consciousness is the philosophical cornerstone of our moral systems, being key to our judgment of whether someone or something is a self or person rather than a mere automaton. And conversely, whether they are conscious may also be key to how they value us. The value an AI places on us may well hinge on whether it has an inner life; using its own subjective experience as a springboard, it could recognize in us the capacity for conscious experience. After all, to the extent we value the lives of other species, we value them because we feel an affinity of consciousness—thus most of us recoil from killing a chimp, but not from munching on an apple.
This all falls in line with Stephen Hawking’s concern that any alien race we encounter may very likely see us as peons and utterly vanquish us. But it could also be a possibility that such entities, if not sharing the same “inner life” as us, may covet those human qualities and wish to replicate them. Sounds like some sentimental mush, I know—but it’s as possible as anything else.
Finally, reading the way this possible form of alien/AI life might exist, according to Schneider and others, sounds an awful lot like Dick’s description of the “AI system” VALIS. Both are highly complex systems of, frankly, massive accumulations of information.
After all, VALIS stands for: Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Is there a better description of a super-consciousness created from artificial intelligence?