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Cylon

People sometimes joke about the horror of being trapped in a room with an older person, listening to them ramble on about various topics. If that person was Martin Rees, British Astronomer Royal, I wouldn't complain at all. The 75-year-old recently sat down with Edge, and over the course of an hour rambled on about all manner of fascinating topics, including advanced aliens, the nature of reality, the dangers of advances in science, climate change, AI, and interplanetary travel.

In the discussion ("Curtains For Us All? A Conversation With Martin Rees", both video and transcript available), Rees contemplated the long process of biological evolution, as compared to the rapid advances made once humans became a technological civilisation, and extrapolated to what that might mean for any advanced alien species that might be out there:

If we think of what's happened on Earth, there's been 4 billion years of evolution. And for a few millennia, there's been some kind of civilization—organized human groups—leading eventually to technology and the world we live in today. If we extrapolate, then of course the extrapolation we get depends on whether we listen to someone like Ray Kurzweil or someone more conservative.

Even though the rate of progress is uncertain, the direction of travel is pretty well agreed. It's almost certainly going to be towards a posthuman world, where our intelligences would be surpassed by something genetically engineered from us or, more likely, it will be some sort of artificial electronic device that has robotic abilities and intelligence.

Some people say that will happen within a century, others say it will happen within a few hundred years. Even if it takes a few hundred years, that is a tiny instant compared to the past history of the Earth. More importantly, it's a tiny instant compared to a long-range future. There are billions of years ahead for our solar system, and maybe even more for the universe.

If you imagine a time chart for what's happened on the Earth, there's been 4 billion years where there's been no manifestation of any technology. Then, a few millennia of gradually expanding technology generated by human beings. After that, maybe there will be billions of years more when the dominant technology, the dominant non-natural things, will be entirely inorganic. That means the following: If we were to detect some other planet on which life had taken a course similar to what happened here on Earth, it's unlikely that its development there would be sufficiently synchronized with development here that we would catch it in those few millennia in which we've got technology that is controlled by organic beings like us. If it's lagging behind what's happened on Earth, then we'll see no evidence for anything artificial.

On the other hand, if it's ahead, then what we will detect—if we detect any evidence that that civilization existed—will be something mechanical, machines. Those machines maybe will not be on the planet because they may not want gravity, they may not want water, et cetera. They may be in space. If the Yuri Milner program detects anything, then it's likely to be some artifact created by some long-dead civilization. It's unlikely that there would be any coded message intended for us, but it might be something we could clearly see was not something that emerged naturally. That in itself would be very exciting.

Well worth a watch/read!

Link: "Curtains For Us All? A Conversation With Martin Rees"

 

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(Posted by Greg on Monday, July 24th)

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