This is the third or fourth video I’ve seen of Arvin Ash, and have been impressed with how level headed his thinking is. (In other words, his biases seem to match up well with mine.) This one on how alien life might evolve strikes me as right on the money.
(The first few minutes end up being an advertisement for Magellan TV. It’s over around the 2:41 mark.)
Ash quotes Seth Shostak’s hypothesis that the intelligence we’re most likely to encounter would be machine life. I think that’s right, although those machines might be be far more organic looking than our current ones.
As the video notes, evolution made life out of the most common elements lying around in the universe. It strikes me that an advanced civilization would be able to utilize those most common elements for their machines. And one which has mastered nanotechnology would probably produce machines that act a lot like life. In other words, if we do encounter an alien intelligence, it might look a lot more like engineered life than what we think of as machines.
That said, per Fermi, I’m not holding my breath for such an encounter. The Earth has been sitting here with an interesting biosphere for billions of years, with visible complex life for the last 600 million. If there are alien civilizations sending probes out into the galaxy, we should have been discovered long ago, and the aliens (either as machines or engineered life) should have been here long before we evolved.
Maybe they are here, but hiding, either for a Star Trek style Prime Directive purpose, or for managing the zoo. Or they could be here and out in the open, but we’re not able to recognize them. An interesting exercise is to try to ponder what things we’ve always taken as natural that could conceivably be technological artifacts, as difficult for us to recognize as the significance of a fence is to a monkey.
It could be that they were once here but are now extinct, because civilizations all destroy themselves, apparently including their machine progeny. Or it might turn out that interstellar exploration, even by machines, is so appallingly difficult or costly that no one bothers.
Or they might simply be too far away to have reached us yet. That’s where my money is. They may be so far away that we’ll never manage to encounter them before expansion of the universe separates us forever, or our machine progeny may someday encounter their machine progeny somewhere out in the universe, far from either of our places of origin. (I’d say I hope I’m wrong about this, but I’m not sure that’s true. It seems an act of faith to assume things would necessarily turn out well in such an encounter for the less developed civilization.)
In the meantime, I think Ash is right. The type of alien life we’re most likely to encounter is microscopic and unicellular. In that scenario, we’d probably be on the most developed side. Probably. (Remember the havoc a microscopic agent is currently causing in our world, not to mention the famous ending of War of the Worlds.) Either way, I wonder how that will turn out for the less developed side.