Smart-Enough Machines Might Recognize Material Limits

Here’s a cool piece on possible futures of artificial intelligence, i.e. the singularity: Where do minds belong?

The idea is that if humans are able to make machines that surpass us in cognitive ability, then one possibility is that these machines will realize the futility of infinite growth on a finite planet—let alone space travel—and re-engineer themselves back into biological form in order to harness the energy efficiency of natural selection. Perhaps this is why we won’t be visited by aliens:

If life is common, and it regularly leads to intelligent forms, then we probably live in a universe of the future of past intelligences. The Universe is 13.8 billion years old and our galaxy is almost as ancient; stars and planets have been forming for most of the past 13 billion years. There is no compelling reason to think that the cosmos did nothing interesting in the 8 billion years or so before our solar system was born. Someday we might decide that the future of intelligence on Earth requires biology, not machine computation. Untold numbers of intelligences from billions of years ago might have already gone through that transition.

Those early intelligences could have long ago reached the point where they decided to transition back from machines to biology. If so, the Fermi Paradox returns: where are those aliens now? A simple answer is that they might be fenced in by the extreme difficulty of interstellar transit, especially for physical, biological beings. Perhaps the old minds are out there, but the cost of returning to biology was a return to isolation.

I don’t think humans will ever create A.I. in the first place, since we’re already running up against (and over) material limits now, just by making and discarding plastic. Also, humans are for the most part irrational, if rational in this case means moving towards efficiencies that both move technology forward and benefit us and our ecosystems.

Of course, one could also make the case that we’ve already developed A.I., i.e. corporations. What are corporations, after all: sentient machines that are optimized to accomplish their goals at all costs.


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