It’s difficult to speak of ʻOumuamua, is the first known interstellar object detected passing through our Solar System, without mentioning Abraham ‘Avi’ Loeb, the first scientist (he’s a theoretical physicist who works on astrophysics and cosmology) to propose that the oblong object could conceivably be a spaceship with living beings on it or an autonomous exploration vehicle checking us out before returning home. ʻOumuamua is gone, but Avi Loeb is still here and keeping his name in space and UFO news with various interesting theories on the search for alien life that excite enthusiasts while frustrating other scientists. His latest one, published in Scientific American, involves what we should do if we encounter alien life forms up close and personal. Shake hands? Run? See if it’s holding a cookbook?
“Despite the naive storylines about interstellar travel in science fiction, biological creatures were not selected by Darwinian evolution to survive travel between stars. Such a trip would necessarily span many generations, since even at the speed of light, it would take tens of thousands of years to travel between stars in our galaxy’s disk and 10 times longer across its halo. If we ever encounter traces of aliens, therefore, it will likely be in the form of technology, not biology.”
Science fiction is naïve? Avi is obviously not interested in making friends and doesn’t seem to accept the idea of time-and-space-spanning wormholes. In this paper, he refines his ʻOumuamua idea down to the alien being level – the creatures he thinks we’ll encounter from other solar systems will be technological … the alien equivalent of AI robots. In his techno-Darwinian world, these ‘aliens’ would be able to survive time and aging – they would be equipped with self-repair mechanisms with self-learning that allows them to adapt as they travel in a kind of robotic survival-of-the-fittest evolution. With ʻOumuamua gone, Loeb uses the Tic-Tac UFOs as his example of something humans are encountering right here on Earth that could be an autonomous techno-being from another solar system. That leads him to the real ‘big question’ of the article.
“How could we tell whether an autonomous extraterrestrial AI system is a friend or a foe?”
goes from the near future to the ancient past for an example – the story of the Trojan Horse – to illustrate that it’s not an easy task. He suggests a three-step process – study the behavior of the probes to determine what they are seeking, examine how they respond to our actions, and engage with them in a way that would promote our interests. Let’s see … the Tic-Tac UFOs are flying and diving around Navy jets and ships, they seem to be toying with both as they evade and escape with ease, and we’ve engaged by not engaging. Does this sound like a good plan for future techno-alien encounters? Loeb says no.
“Ultimately, we might need to employ our own AI in order to properly interpret the alien AI. The experience will be as humbling as relying on our kids to make sense of new content on the internet by admitting that their computer skills exceed ours. The quality of expertise and AI might be more important than physical strength or natural intelligence in determining the outcome of a technological battlefield.”
He proposes forming an international team of top techies in the areas of computing, physics and strategy (finally – gamers get some recognition) to sell the ‘AI to AI’ response to world leaders who would rather use force first and ask questions later – the way we’ve always dealt with adversaries and invaders … successfully or not. That just what Loeb warns against – we can’t use brute force against alien AI (sorry, Will Smith). We have to rely on scientists and advanced and evolved AI to overcome threats from alien technological equipment.
Rely on science? Depend on autonomous machines? Based on what’s going on in the world today, perhaps Avi Loeb should have recommended the international team of techies include a few top salespersons too. Topic for your next theory, Avi?