For starters, what would the level of a post biological culture be? What we’ll be looking at here is an advanced alien culture that is probably
beyond even a Type 3 civilization, which, according to Dr Michio Kaku, has reached a technological level high enough to travel through and between
multiverses as a matter of course! (We are still Type 0!)
The Post Biological Universe
The possibility exists that cultural evolution over the long time scales of the universe has resulted in something beyond biology, namely,
artificial intelligence (AI). Such a post biological universe cannot mean a universe devoid of biological intelligence, since humans are an obvious
counterexample. Nor does it mean a universe devoid of lower forms of life. Rather, the post biological universe is one in which the majority of
intelligent life has evolved beyond flesh and blood intelligence, in proportion to its longevity.
Is it possible that advanced intelligent life exists where biology has morphed into post biological machines? The motivating factor is the inherent
desire to improve mental capacity. Is it possible that highly developed alien beings have already reached a point in their evolution where, having
reached the peak capacity of their biological brains, have taken the next logical step and opted for robotic brains equipped with artificial
According to Steven Dick, NASA Chief Historian
(as told to Ker Than in Popular Science):
This brain swap may not be as far off for humans as one might think. In only a few decades, the computer revolution here on Earth has produced
supercomputers capable of performing more than a quadrillion calculations per second. (According to research by Hans Moravec, an artificial
intelligence expert at Carnegie Mellon University, that trumps the human brain's estimated top speed of 100 trillion calculations per second.)
Some scientists speculate that in a few decades, an event called the technological singularity will occur, and machines armed with computer
brains will become sentient and surpass human intelligence.
Civilizations equipped with technology light-years ahead of our own could have already experienced the singularity thousands or even millions of
What is the likelihood that such advanced robotic races exist? Given the limitations of biology as we know it, the force of cultural evolution, and
the imperative to improve intelligence, it could very much be in the realms of possibility. And, if post biological beings do exist, would they be
interested in us at all? Most likely the gulf between their minds and ours might be so great that communication would be impossible!
So is SETI barking up the wrong tree?
Image courtesy: whyfiles.
”We conclude that the conventional radio SETI assuming beamed broadcasts from targets - selected exclusively on the basis of the old
fashioned biological paradigm - within the vicinity of our Solar System is ill-founded and has minuscule chances of success."
Cirkovic and Bradbury.
James Gardner, author of The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos
answers an interesting question by
: (His first book, Biocosm
, suggests that intelligence doesn't emerge in a series of Darwinian accidents, but is
hard-wired into the cycle of cosmic creation).
: You often cite Ray Kurzweil's ideas of our trans-human or post-biological future. As a writer, what do you think the role of
writing -- or more generally, of culture -- will be in a post-biological society? Does the singularity necessarily imply an end to creativity and the
arts as we know them, or simply a huge shift?
: I believe that culture and art will continue to flourish in a post-biological future. That future will build on what has gone before.
Indeed, it will represent a fusion of the human and the trans-human. (As you saw in the last part of my book, I disagree with the pessimistic views of
Arthur C. Clarke in Childhood’s End.) Because it will vastly expand the realm of intellectual possibilities and the sheer size of available cultural
space, the onset of the Singularity should facilitate an immense burst of creativity and give birth to new artistic genres that we can only dimly
Self Replicating Von Neumann Probes
How about the Von Neumann probes? These are self replicating sentient robots/machines possessing an extremely high level of artificial intelligence,
way more advanced than human intelligence. These are pre programmed to eventually reproduce by the millions soon after their arrival on a planetary
body with the help of local resources and these copies would then be launched by them to the next set of neighboring stars. This process would be
repeated, over and over again, so that increasing numbers of identical probes would be involved in penetrating ever more remote regions of the Galaxy.
Advanced technologies required to build such a spacecraft would include highly sophisticated artificial intelligence, molecular self assembling
nanotechnology, and an advanced propulsion scheme like anti-matter rockets, beamed energy, interstellar ram-jets or the more esoteric FTL
Illustration of a Von Neumann Probe.
Courtesy: David Darling, in The Encyclopedia of Science.
Beyond the future!
Having dispatched copies of itself, a probe would begin to explore the star system in which it found itself. It would conduct scientific research
and transmit the results back to the point of origin. It could also be used as a means of interstellar colonization by constructing an artificial
life-sustaining environment and then implanting this with synthesized fertile egg-cells bearing genomes transcribed from the probe's computer memory.
Eiseley has suggested that the embryonic individuals of such a colony could be tended by robots, also built by the probe, until they were old enough
to function independently. They would then be free to develop their own civilization around the host star.
So if we ever come in contact with an ET race, we could well be interacting with a post biological entity – a sentient machine of mind boggling
complexity! Or something even beyond that? Looking far, far into the future, could post biological entities have no form, but exist only as pure forms
Image credit: Roger Johnston.
[edit on 13-8-2008 by mikesingh]