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Shostak's Search Shift?

From: J. Maynard Gelinas <j.maynard.gelinas.nul>
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2010 18:43:57 -0400
Archived: Sat, 02 Oct 2010 07:45:17 -0400
Subject: Shostak's Search Shift?

Source: PhysOrg.Com


October 1, 2010

If we ever do receive a message from outer space, we'll want to
know what kind of aliens sent it. SETI researcher Seth Shostak
says we shouldn't expect them to be anything like us - in fact,
they might not be biological at all, but instead,
extraterrestrial machines.

ET Machines Sought By Astronomer
By Shaun McCormack, Astrobio.net

People have always held a biased view of the world around them.
It's an aspect of being human.

It took until the 17th century for us to reject Aristotle's
vision of a universe where our Sun and the stars revolved around
the Earth. Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak points out that up until a
century ago, the scientific community believed a vast
engineering society was responsible for building an irrigation
system on the surface of Mars. Discovering the Martians could,
in principle, be done by simply turning an Earth-based telescope
in the direction of the Red Planet. Now it seems that our best
chance for finding Martian life is to dig deep into the surface
in search of subterranean microbes.

Our idea of extraterrestrial life has changed drastically in 100
years, but our search strategies have not kept up. In his
upcoming paper "What ET will look like and why should we care?"
for the November-December issue of Acta Astronautica, Shostak
argues that SETI might be more successful if it shifts the
search away from biology and focuses squarely on artificial
intelligence. Shostak sees a clear distinction between life and
intelligence: he says we should be searching for
extraterrestrial machines.

"Continuing to hunt for our analogs - technically competent
biological sentients - may be an enterprise with less than
promising prospect, as it focuses on a highly transient prey,"
Shostak says.

Our own technological advances since World War II make a great
case for his position. Medical advancements since the 1950s show
human beings becoming more bionic as digital and mechanical
breakthroughs have found their way into our bodies. The
development of true Artificial intelligence (AI) is, by some
estimates, just a few decades away. When considering Moore's
Law=97which shows a pattern of accelerating returns in
technological improvement=97Shostak is forced to believe
humanity's main role in the universe might be the creation of
its successor.

"The continued exponential growth in computer power implies that
even consumer-grade computers will have the processing power of
a human brain by the year 2040," he says.

If and when we do create true AI, it would surpass us quickly.
An AI would have the power to self-direct its own evolution.

"If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one
human, then within 5 years, its successor is more intelligent
than all humanity combined," he says.

The window between a society's technological birth and its shift
to artificial intelligence is amazingly small.

"Once any society invents the technology that could put them in
touch with the cosmos, they are at most only a few hundred years
away from changing their own paradigm of sentience to artificial
intelligence," he says. Because artificial sentience would
almost inevitably outlast and outperform its fleshy, needy
predecessors, Shostak concludes that any aliens we detect will
be machines.

ET machines would be infinitely more intelligent and durable
than the biological intelligence that invented them. Intelligent
machines would in a sense be immortal, or at least indefinitely
repairable, and would not need to exist in the biologically
hospitable "Goldilocks Zone" most SETI searches focus on. An AI
could self-direct its own evolution. Every new instance of an AI
would be created with the sum total of its predecessor's
knowledge preloaded.

The machines would require two primary resources: energy to
operate with and materials to maintain or advance their
structure. Because of these requirements, Shostak thinks SETI
ought to consider expanding its search to the energy- and
matter-rich neighborhoods of hot stars, black holes and neutron

Bok globules are another search target for sentient machines.
These dense regions of dust and gas are notorious for producing
multiple-star systems. At around negative 441 degrees
Fahrenheit, they are about 160 degrees F colder than most of
interstellar space.

This climate could be a major draw because thermodynamics
implies that machinery will be more efficient in cool regions
that can function as a large "heat sink". A Bok globule's super-
cooled environment might represent the Goldilocks Zone for the
machines, says Shostak. But because black holes and Bok globules
are not hospitable to life as we know it, they are not on SETI's

"Machines have different needs," he says. "They have no obvious
limits to the length of their existence, and consequently could
easily dominate the intelligence of the cosmos. In particular,
since they can evolve on timescales far, far shorter than
biological evolution, it could very well be that the first
machines on the scene thoroughly dominate the intelligence in
the galaxy. It's a "winner take all" scenario."

"While it's not easy trying to figure the best SETI strategy to
uncover these super sentients, it seems worthwhile to spend at
least some of our SETI efforts trying to establish their
presence," he adds.

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