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The Postbiological Universe
by Dr. Steven Dick
The Drake Equation for the number of radio communicative technological civilizations in the Galaxy encompasses three components of cosmic evolution: astronomical, biological and cultural. Of these three, cultural evolution totally dominates in terms of the rapidity of its effects. Yet, SETI scientists do not take cultural evolution into account, perhaps for understandable reasons, since cultural evolution is not well-understood even on Earth and is unpredictable in its outcome. Thus SETI programs typically assume the existence of flesh-and-blood intelligence considerably older than our civilization, a paradigm part of what I have termed the biological universe (Dick, 1996).
Yet, the one certainty for technical civilizations billions, millions, or even thousands of years older than ours is that they will have undergone cultural evolution. Cultural evolution takes place in many directions, but in sorting priorities I adopt what I refer to as the Intelligence Principle: the maintenance, improvement and perpetuation of knowledge and intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution, and that to the extent intelligence can be improved, it will be improved. Applying this principle to life in the universe, extraterrestrials will have sought the best way to improve their intelligence, and may have long ago advanced beyond flesh-and-blood to artificial intelligence, constituting a postbiological universe.
MacGowan and Ordway (1966), Davies (1995) and Shostak (1998) have broached this subject, but it has not been given the attention it is due from its foundation in cultural evolution. Nor has the idea of a postbiological universe been carried to its logical conclusion, including a careful analysis of the implications for SETI. SETI scientists, social scientists, and experts in AI (such as Hans Moravec, who has spoken of a postbiological Earth in the next several generations) should consider the strengths and weaknesses of this new paradigm.
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