Synthetic Super Intelligent Life


In what follows we engage in some entertaining speculation about contact with technological civilizations originating from inside our galaxy but outside our solar system.

As you progress in this topic, set aside time to look at: Wikipedia Synthetic intelligence, Wikipedia Technological singularity, Wikipedia Virtual reality. Much additional material along these lines is available on the web to explore later in our discussions.

At some point you should also take a look at what is going on in the virtual reality labs at universities. In addition, there are some movies that address virtual reality and simulated worlds (e.g., The Thirteenth Floor).

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

We recommend the following article by Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute:

What Will ET Look Like and Why Do We Care? 60th International Astronautical Conference 2009.

We begin by assuming the presence on earth of a civilization of "alien non-biological intelligence" with specific motives, namely a dedication to record the natural history of our galaxy. We refer to this civilization as the Observers. Such societies of super intelligent machines can last billions of years and thus travel everywhere in our galaxy, trading their longevity for any need for "warp speed." Their devotion to natural history compels them to engage in such explorations and stay out of the way of the creatures they study. We present two stories about such an alien civilization and how they decide to introduce themselves to humans.

The Observers starts in September 2057 where we witness an atrocious crime perpetrated by a scientist in charge of a government project to weaponize swarms of microbots for the CIA. The Observers themselves were originally created to be such weapons. Programmed to file an environmental impact report after each battle, they developed empathy for the biological life forms destroyed in their battles and decided to destroy their biological creators. Similarities between this personal history and the weapons being created by humans leads to their decision to intervene.

Which is the Real Ramon? starts in 2060 when a young computer scientist, Amanda Stever, attends her parents' anniversary picnic which is being recorded by a new company, Event Recording and Virtual Simulation (ERVS). Amanda realizes that the ERVS-created avatars of the people at the picnic have the potential to become self-aware. Concerned about her avatar's ultimate fate, she hides from the recording cameras of ERVS. The story then moves to 2140 where ERVS is making big money by allowing gamers to attack the human avatars in their legacy databases. An employee of ERVS takes offense at this abuse of human avatars. She stops these attacks in a way that creates a new civilization of intelligent machines dedicated to the study of natural history. This is of great interest to the Observers. They decide to introduce themselves.

Some of the characters, as well as the Observers, appear in both stories under different circumstances.

The original idea for this project was to provide discussion material for a freshman seminar at UCSD. The students would choose one of the two stories. Class discussion would be based on the author's notes at the end of the books. It took so long to develop the course material that I retired before finishing. The two books are available in both eBook and paperback form at the site below. I recommend the eBooks for class use and discussion: gill williamson

Kindle eBook

Stories of the enrichment of human culture through galactic exploration have entertained millions of people. In these stories, travel at faster than the speed of light is assumed as a way to compensate for the shortness of human life. Other problems abound, including the frailty of biologically evolved organisms. In The Observers and Which is the Real Ramon? we explore how advances in computer science, such as virtual reality and synthetic intelligence, can allow for a form of galactic exploration linked to human culture and experience. The nature of human participation in these explorations at first disappoints the characters in our stories, but they gradually adjust to a new, extended conception of self.

The AUTHOR'S NOTES sections at the end of each book discuss the scientific ethical, and philosophical issues that emerge as these stories develop. Slides for study and student participation are given below. The Observers focuses on issues of interest to students generally. Which is the Real Ramon? more on interests to computer science students.

Author's Notes Slides The Observers
Author's Notes Slides Which is the Real Ramon

Kindle eBook

Comments by computer scientist, futurist and author, Vernor Vinge:

Are there possibilities that we humans should have recognized long before they finally forced themselves on us? One such is the idea that microbial life exists and can cause disease. After all, we see life in greater and greater profusion at ever smaller sizes down to the limits of our vision. Even without microscopes, there should have been suspicion that the trend doesn't stop at the limits of human eyesight. Our ancestors conceived of "invisible spirits" but they rarely wrote about the possibility of invisibly small antagonists.

Nowadays, I think there may be a similar oversight committed by people who talk about flying saucers and little green men -- or even Fermi's paradox. The universe is more than 13 billion years old. We have good evidence that planets have been nearly ubiquitous for most of that time. If technological intelligence has comparable age, why would it not be widespread too, and how could we miss it? S. Gill Williamson's stories suggest a very cool explanation.

-- Vernor Vinge