AI could be the reason we haven't met aliens yet. As part of a study, a scientist from Manchester explains how artificial intelligence threatens not only humanity, but also extraterrestrial life.

Artificial intelligence is now almost ubiquitous and is developing rapidly. Experts constantly warn not to underestimate AI. Some even rate the dangers posed by the technology as high as those of a corona pandemic or a nuclear war. A new study has now looked at whether artificial intelligence could mean the end for humanity as a species.

The Great Filter: Can't we find aliens because of AI?

The study appeared in the science magazine Science Direct. The title: “Is Artificial Intelligence the Great Filter That Makes Advanced Technical Civilizations Rare in the Universe?” The paper is by Michael Garrett from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester.

The study is primarily about the concept of the so-called Great Filter. This involves a hypothetical event or situation that prevents intelligent life from spreading to other planets or the universe. The Great Filter could also be responsible for the demise of this species.

“Think of climate changes, nuclear wars, asteroid impacts, supernova explosions, epidemics or any number of other events from the rogues gallery of catastrophic events,” another article tries to interpret the connections. Artificial intelligence could be such a great filter.

Even before his death, Stephen Hawking expressed fears that artificial intelligence could completely replace humans: “If humans develop computer viruses, someone will develop AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that surpasses humans,” he told in 2017 Wired.

AI as a great filter also threatens aliens

Michael Garrett sees it similarly. “When the technological singularity is reached, artificial superintelligence systems will quickly surpass biological intelligence and evolve at a pace that completely exceeds traditional control mechanisms,” explains the scientist.

If artificial intelligence becomes artificial superintelligence, this could be the Great Filter, says Garrett. Because then she would no longer need the biological life she invented.

“Without practical regulation, there is every reason to believe that AI could pose a major threat to the future trajectory of not only our technological civilization, but all technological civilizations,” Garrett said. The uncontrolled development of technology could lead to a civilization only having a lifespan of less than 200 years.

According to Garrett, this assumption could also explain the fact that we have not yet found extraterrestrial life. Because assuming there are beings in the universe that are just as smart as us, they could also be threatened by AI to the same extent – and potentially have already been wiped out.

This is how civilization can protect itself from AI

When asked how superintelligence could wipe out our species, Garrett lists a few possibilities: developing a deadly virus, hindering agricultural food production and distribution, causing war, or melting down a nuclear power plant.

At the same time, Garrett also highlights the benefits of artificial intelligence. He cites, for example, improved medical imaging and diagnostics through to safer transport systems. In his view, governments should promote the benefits and limit the harm. The problem is that governments are unprepared. And if we are in this situation, the same could apply to any other biological species.

In his paper, Garrett highlights the “…critical need to quickly establish a regulatory framework for AI development on Earth and the promotion of a multi-planetary society to mitigate such existential threats.”

The solution: humanity should expand to other planets

Garrett's analysis so far is based on the assumption that the supposed superintelligence and humans inhabit the same space. However, if we reach multi-planet status, the outlook would also change.

For example, a biological species that inhabits multiple planets could use independent experiences on different planets, Garrett said. This would allow it to diversify its survival strategies and potentially avoid the failure of a planet-bound civilization.

So if we spread the risk across multiple planets and multiple stars, we could potentially protect ourselves against the worst possible consequences of artificial superintelligence – at least in some locations.

Anyone who believes the forecasts for planet Earth could at least partially agree with Garrett's ideas. However, the scientist also fears that humanity will not make as much progress in emigrating to other planets as artificial intelligence is developing. Maybe AI could help us with this?

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