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ON OTHERWORDLY EVOLUTION

Do Darwin’s evolutionary theories describe life elsewhere in the universe? Are we already surpassing Darwin’s model here at home?  

These heady thoughts are prompted by gleanings from The London Review of Books and from Science, the weekly publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In particular, Science, February 26, 2021, contains a book review of Arik Kershenbaum’s The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, a book that blends neatly with the LRB article that prompted “Gaia’s Evolutionary Leaps” here at SimanaitisSays earlier this year. 

Darwin Elsewhere in the Universe. In “Evolution on Other Worlds,” Science, February 26, 2021, reviewer Adrian Woolfson writes, “In his entertaining and thought provoking The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Cambridge University zoologist and mathematical biologist Arik Kershenbaum… turns to astrobiology, a field concerned with the origins and persistence of life in the Universe…. Kershenbaum assumes that evolution on other planets would likely play out in a manner recognizable to us earthlings because of the universality of the laws of physics, chemistry, and even biology and because there are a restricted number of behavioral imperatives to which all organisms are beholden.”

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Arik Kershenbaum, Penguin Press, 2021.

Woolfson writes of Kershenbaum’s approach: “By focusing on behavior and prioritizing function over form, a generic set of ‘biological rules’ can be inferred. He argues that these can be universally applied to potential alien beings, because the laws should be relatively insensitive to biochemical and morphological specifics.”

Different Evolutionary Strokes for Different Folks. Woolfson says that alien life-forms face idiosyncratic evolutionary pressures that nevertheless channel their communication strategies in predictable directions. He quotes Kershenbaum: “On a dark, subterranean world, perhaps like the underground oceans of Enceladus, vision may be totally absent, and eyeless creatures could evolve a perfectly competent and rich communication using sound alone. Conversely, in the tenuous Martian atmosphere, acoustic communication just isn’t a good option.”

Nevertheless, F = ma describes the relationship of force, mass, and acceleration, whether on Earth or on the planets of Alpha Centori. Other mathematical, chemical, and biological imperatives still apply as well.

Enter AI. Artificial Intelligence began as a simulation of human intelligence performed on machines programmed to think along the lines of human neuro networks. However, the latest AI networks feature “machine learning,” programing themselves. They operate in ways beyond human comprehension, even of their designers.

Go players. Image from usgo.org/news of a carving at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

As described here at SimanaitisSays, machine-learning AI has taken itself “beyond anything that had been previously imagined.” On the other hand, “deep-learning machines are still capable of mistaking turtles for rifles.”

Darwin and AI. What is Darwin to make of Artificial Intelligence? In his book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, James Lovelock describes that AI is already evolving new hyperintelligent beings.

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, by James Lovelock, MIT Press, 2019.

In “Our Cyborg Progeny,” London Review of Books, January 7, 2021, Meehan Crist writes, “Gaia is on the verge of a third evolutionary leap,” which will usher in what Lovelock calls the “Novacene.”

As described in “Gaia’s Evolutionary Leaps,” Crist amplifies on Lovelock’s view: “As he envisages it, once today’s rudimentary AI becomes self-replicating and self-designing, silicon-based cyborgs made entirely of engineered materials – no flesh, so not your typical sci-fi cyborg – will rapidly appear. They will evolve according to Darwinian principles and soon become ‘thousands then millions of times more intelligent than us.’ ”

Image cropped from nips.com. 

 What of Us in this Future Darwinian Spin? Crist observes, “They’ll keep us around the same way we keep houseplants…. Perhaps for nostalgic reasons? Or because they have a sense of humour?” 

As I noted back in January in SimanaitisSays:  heady thoughts, these. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

One comment on “ON OTHERWORDLY EVOLUTION

  1. Pingback: ON OTHERWORDLY EVOLUTION – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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