Okay, so that headline sounds pretty off-the-wall, and considering it's a Daily Grail headline then you know it's pretty weird! But that's exactly the question put forward by artificial intelligence researcher Hugo de Garis, who wonders whether the advanced artificial intelligences of extremely old alien civilisations might end up harnessing the vast computational power offered by sub-atomic elements, a hypothetical technology he labels 'X-Tech':
X-Tech provides a potential solution to the Fermi Paradox ("where are all the nonhuman civilizations?") ... maybe they're not out there living on other planets, but rather living inside atoms and particles! Perhaps we should be looking inside “elementary” particles because creatures constructed at these tiny scales would operate hugely faster, at far greater densities, and with vastly superior performance levels. We may need a paradigm shift away from outer space to inner space, from SETI to SIPI -- the Search for Infra Particle Intelligence!
...as one scales down, in general, performance levels increase dramatically. Hence one can readily speculate that any nano-based artilect [de Garis's monker for advanced 'artifical intellects'], sooner or later, will not be able to compete with his femto-based cousins, and will probably downgrade itself as well. This logic applies all the way down (to Plank-tech?). Hence we come inevitably to the following dramatic conclusion.
The hyper intelligences that are billions of years older than we are in our universe (which is about 3 times older than our sun), have probably “downgraded” themselves to achieve hugely greater performance levels. Whole civilizations may be living inside volumes the size of nucleons or smaller.
When I first had this idea, about a decade ago, I chuckled, but now I take it very seriously, because there seems to be so much logic behind it.
De Garis notes that once this idea is thought about seriously, the current SETI paradigm seems very 'provincial'. "Extra terrestrials (ETs), who might be primitive enough to bother sending radio signals to beings like us," de Garis says, "are NOT the most intelligent specimens in the universe. The really smart ones I suggest are very very tiny."
I have to say, reading about this concept at Centauri Dreams did bring to mind some of the shamanic stories about intelligences hiding within plant DNA, DMT etc. In particular, an experience that Dennis McKenna related where he was given a vision that was "a water molecule’s eye view of the process of photosynthesis", before hearing a voice behind his left shoulder quietly chiding him: "You monkeys only think you’re running things".
Fun speculations to riff on!