Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Magical Technosignatures of Truly Intelligent Species

space |  Space.com: So, intelligence can be considered on a planetary scale?

Grinspoon: The basic ability to not wipe oneself out, to endure, to use your technological interaction with the world in such a way that has the possibility of the likelihood of lasting and not being temporary — that seems like a pretty good definition of intelligence. I talk about true intelligence, planetary intelligence. It's part and parcel of this notion of thinking of us as an element of a planet. And when we think in that way, then you can discriminate between one type of interaction with the planet that we would have that would not be sustainable, that would mark us as a temporary kind of entity, and another type in which we use our knowledge to integrate into planetary systems [in]some kind of long-term graceful way. That distinction seems to me a worthwhile definition of a kind of intelligence

Especially then going back to the SETI [search for extraterrestrial intelligence] question, because longevity is so important in the logic and the math of SETI. There may be a bifurcation or subshell [of life] that don't make this leap to this type of intelligence. The ones that do make that leap have a very long lifetime. And they're the ones that in my view are intelligent. Using your knowledge of the universe to prolong your lifetime seems like an obviously reasonable criterion [of intelligence]. If you use that criteria, then it's not obvious that we have intelligence on Earth yet, but we can certainly glimpse it.

Space.com: You also wrote that sustainable alien populations could be harder to detect. What would that mean?

Grinspoon: One possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, which asks "Where are they?" is that they're all over the place, but they're not obviously detectable in ways that we imagine they would be. Truly intelligent life may not be wasteful and profligate and highly physical. Arthur C. Clarke said that the best technology would be indistinguishable from magic. What if really highly advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature? Or is hard to distinguish.

There's the set of assumptions embedded in [the search for extraterrestrial intelligence] that the more advanced a civilization is the more energy they'll use, the more they'll expand. It's funny to think about that and realize that we're talking about this while realizing things about our own future, that there is no future in this thoughtless, cancerous expansion of material energy use. That's a dead end. So why would an advanced civilization value that? You can understand why a primitive organization would value that — there's a biological imperative that makes sense for Darwinian purposes for us to multiply as much as possible, that's how you avoid becoming extinct. But in a finite container, that's a trap. I assume that truly intelligent species would not be bound by that primitive biological imperative. Maybe intelligent life actually questions its value and realizes that quality is more important than quantity. 

I'm not claiming to know that this is true about advanced aliens because I don't think anybody can know anything about advanced aliens, but I think it's an interesting possibility. That could be why the universe isn't full of obviously advanced civilizations: there's something in their nature that makes them not obvious.