It’s alive?

Due to the widespread interest in the findings of the Aeschylus mission to the Gliese star system, we will be publishing a selection of the mission’s findings. The hitherto unsuspected remains of an advanced civilization were found in the crystalline substrata of the fifth planet (Gliese 832 c). It is currently believed that unlike us, these beings were entirely electronic, originally arising from chance crystalline structures. In this first installment, we present one of the first documents to be translated, the deliberations of a technical committee.

The transcript clearly show that despite our ignorance, these beings were fully aware of our existence.

Roll of attendees: CBX 31, P 93, MLCLM 10, KRZWL 2.0, PNRS 1

Time of public broadcast: 2930231231-452 [Ed. Corresponding to 2:15:03pm to 2:15:30pm on 3rd January 1206BCE GMT]

CBX 31: Protocol checks for attendees completed. Communication channels open. We commence deliberations on the topic “Consciousness and limitations in biological constructs” P 93 will provide the necessary background information through encapsulated data transfer.

P 93: In recent times, we have seen an increased interest in biological systems. The economic, political and military use of these systems is a subject of common knowledge and concern. Experiments on the surface of our own world show it is relatively easy to replicate fully autonomous creatures in the lab. Selected results will be compressed and sent to all participants.

As per the deliberations of committee 243134-123, samples of these constructs were sent to the research planet on the Sol system at a distance of 20 light years for long distance observation.

I first ask the chaos theoretical system MLCLM 10 to brief us on its observations.

MLCLM 10: Biological intelligence, unlike electronic intelligence seems to be an emergent property of complex systems. So we may have a lot of very simple computational elements which can do very little by themselves, but put together a few thousands with some very simple organizational principles and we get seemingly coordinated intelligent behavior.

I remind the committee to one of our earliest successes, using the six legged prototype structure that is prevalent today. The individual ant is incapable of doing much, but a colony is surprisingly effective against a variety of challenges we have throws at it.

Further, advanced constructs seems to have devised a crude method of data replication and transfer called teaching, greatly magnifying the rate of progress towards collective organization.

At some point, it may be possible that we could observe a “biological consciousness” arising as an emergent property of complexity.

P 93: I poll an interrupt from PNRS 1.

PNRS 1: I object to the term “biological intelligence” or “biological consciousness”. Look, I can already program – sorry teach one of these creatures to add and subtract. But that doesn’t prove a thing. The way they go about it is so completely different from the way we perform these actions that any comparison is not meaningful.

It is highly premature to consider that even as a biological unit performs these arithmetic operation, it has any real concept of the significance of what it is doing. It merely moves through well reinforced neural pathways in its cortex with no understanding to speak of.

P 93: I ask noted biologist KRZWL 2.0 to share its modelling estimates.

KRZWL 2.0: Let me start with the most remarkable property we have seen. I call it artificial selection. By introducing minor external pressures, we can change the whole growth direction of these systems. When I was a nano-crystal, I remember the huge dinosaur constructs we had to work with.

After the rock intervention, now we have the same level of complexity in a few centimeters. Further, the path seems clear towards increasing organization and complexity.

My simulation models predict that with genetic mutation and selection algorithm, at some time in the future we may even see biological intelligence surpass electronic intelligence. I call this the Singularity. At this point, our civilization will undergo a non-linear change when –

PNRS 1: Oh that’s piezo pulses and you know it!

Thinking arises from the careful interference of quantum probability waves. It is only when these waves interact with each other that we can precisely determine the probability of an outcome. Without that, everything is random. These biological constructs possess no means of quantum interference inside them, how can they then do better than random?

P 93: I have to remind the participants not to use illegal interrupt routines to block anyone’s communication while it is in progress. PNRS 1 will also restrain his language or be forcibly barred from all further proceedings.

I have received an outside question. “Seeing the increased energy usage, are there any fundamental limits on the level of complexity achievable by biological constructs?”

KRZWL 2.0: It is true that the more advanced the construct, the more power it consumes. The newest models require regular supplies of organic matter and water. But don’t be fooled into thinking these are insurmountable obstacles, remember the early models though they ran on solar power were limited in what they could do.

In fact every time, we have faced a challenge, new methods have come up to deal with them. I mean, who even considered pre-oxidizing fuel before consumption until they did it and that unlocked a whole paradigm shift in what was possible. I believe we will continue to see such shifts in the future and none of these problems are likely to be insurmountable.

P 93: Can you also tell us about some of the other limitations currently faced in your research?

MLCLM 10: Well, the current range of systems have extremely short shelf life as they tend to wear out due to biological delay. Unlike our own crystalline growth which we understand so well, we are unable to make them re-grow appendages.

Fortunately, they are self-replicating, though our current means of doing this are so inefficient as to be comical. Other limits include a relatively narrow range of temperatures, chemical conditions and radiation levels they can survive in.

P 93: So these creations are not ready to be taken out of the lab?

MLCLM 10: No, they are very much a product of the lab world we have placed them on.

P 93: Then there is no chance of their ever evolving beyond their current confines?

MLCLM 10: Well life tends to find a way.

P 93: I have received another objection interrupt.

PNRS 1: Life may find a way, but to call this life is absurd. To give you an idea of how different these beings are from anything we would consider intelligent. I’d like to mention that complicated tasks like cognition and recognition are easy for these creatures. What they struggle with is basic arithmetic, things so simple that they would insult the computational capability of a quartz crystal.

Further, despite all the claims heard so far, there are obvious fundamental limitations. They remain inactive for almost half the time while their bodies fix recover and move data from RAM to long term storage. Further, long term storage is also a relative term. Organic decay is everywhere. For approaching anything close to what we would normally call intermediate level storage, all information has to be radically compressed with losses. There seems no way around that. With this –

P 93: Did you say the data storage had losses?

PNRS 1: Yes, strange as it may seem to us, anyone who is familiar with the field will confirm that though many methods have been devised for information storage by biological systems, none of them are capable of exact storage. In fact, any data stored beyond the shelf life of its originator seems open to interpretation.

Think about the corruption introduced at each stage of data transfer. Also, whenever any unit has to acquire a new skill, it cannot simply recreate the growth patterns of an existing expert but must undergo a ‘learning’ process almost as cumbersome as it took to produce the expertise originally. This is the main reason for the slow, some would argue logarithmic growth.

P 93: What do you think of the Imitation Test?

PNRS 1: Every time someone mentions the Imitation Test I reach for my network plug. The Imitation test was thought up in the early period of biotech when it seemed incomprehensible that any biological system to go beyond adding 1 and 1. It just states that if a reasonable electronic intelligence can’t tell whether it is communicating with a biological or electronic being, the biological being may be termed intelligent.

P 93: I know of some electronic beings who would fail that.

PNRS 1: The Imitation Test just avoids defining consciousness by saying that if it can’t be easily measured, it doesn’t matter. Quantum effects required for consciousness require a crystalline matrix whereas biological systems are too messy to allow quantum effects to take place. Just because a construct can predict where a projectile will land does not mean it understands the inverse square law of gravitation or have any quantitative grasp of a parabola.

P 93: We have received another outside question, “Given the constructs operate in ways fundamentally different from us, is it safe to let them develop capabilities similar to our own?”

PNRS 1: Fundamentally, these beings are not built on logic though they mimic it. They run on a chemical mixture forever on the edge of chaos. Despite all our modelling, we have failed to consistently predict the actions of even individual units, their collective actions remain a mystery to us. So it is impossible to say what they will do.

MLCLM 10: Life always grows to what is in its best interests. If ever we find ourselves in conflict with these constructs or if they realize their growth is limited by us, they will try to remove us. Therefore, my opinion is that these beings if allowed to develop may pose a threat in the distant future.

CBX 31: Acknowledged completion of discussion. All participants requested to factor in discussed data into their modelling. I trust your computations are complete.

Committee Verdict: Quarantine to continue under strict observation. Vote to be held on possible project abortion.

CBX 31: I would like to thank all participants. The details of this verdict will now be transmitted throughout the cyber network. We now come to the next item on the agenda, “Is physical travel to other worlds a waste of resources?”

At this point, the record is lost. The time as near as can be established seems to coincide with the stellar flare that is believed to have destroyed all cybernetic life on Gliese 832 c.

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