It’s what I think of as one of those “Awesome Questions”. Those are the best kind.
What if there is life in the universe? Not only life, but soulful life, life of extreme intelligence and technological prowess to rival ours? That would be so awesome.
But what if there’s not? What if this planet, this one here, is a bizarre and isolated anomaly, the only one with life of any kind on it, and YOU ARE HERE BABY? That would be so awesome. No matter how you look at this thing, it’s just awesome.
I once wrote a story that never got past the draft stage, called “The Other Side of Eden”. Interstellar astronauts come to visit the first exoplanet known to have life. They’re astrobiologists who’ve been boffing each other since they came out of suspended animation. Now a swarm of rogue space rocks has crippled the spacecraft and they escape to the planet in a landing craft to explore and see if they can survive in this world. The life, though carbon based and oxygen breathing, is from a very alien biosphere which has evolved without predator prey relationships and knows nothing of death and decay. Life forms, all vegetation, communicate through a simple and intense telepathy.
The explorers, still encased in their spacesuits and helmets, are almost killed by falling into hallucinations whenever they approach a particular tree. If they wish to survive here they will have to remove their suits and eat the local wildlife, because that’s how it’s done in the biosphere that we evolved from. They will have to kill in a biosphere which has never used predation as an evolutionary mechanism and knows nothing of it.
And there’s another problem, the “Montezuma” problem. When Europeans made first contact with the indigenous people of South America, the natives were not immune to the diseases the sailors carried. They sickened and died in the thousands. Our space explorers are carrying natural bacteria that the planet is not adapted to. Homo sapiens uniquely excrete body waste directly through skin surfaces. If they so much as take off their helmets, they could cause a mass extinction event. Finally they return to the doomed spacecraft, and live out their last hours making desperate farewell love and perish. Their personal sacrifice spares life on this new world.
In movies and TV shows, mostly lately “The Shape of Water”, we make a lot of assumptions that we can’t prove. That creatures from other biospheres will aggressively devour other forms of life. There must be death, eat or be eaten. And maybe sex. Life on earth was designed from the very beginning to do one thing very, very well – survive. No matter what you do to this planet, something will get through. There is such a variety of life here, living in every niche on the planet, and basically following the same rules of evolution through adaptation, adaptation pushed forward by sex and death, sped along by predator prey relationships. That is the way life has evolved on earth. That is the only way of life we have ever known. But that’s just us.
What I’m sure of is that there is a very good chance we will experience alien forms of consciousness in the next fifty years. And they will not come from space. They will come from us. Human beings will have to reevaluate what consciousness is.
We who write in this genre have often played with the idea of humans and sexbots, which has since become a staple of popular science fiction on TV, i.e. “Westworld” and “Humans”. Those scientists who work on artificial intelligence are more and more impressed by the daunting complexity of human intelligence. Our range of expression and creativity, our ability to distinguish individuals, read emotions on faces and to improvise in social situations. These abilities exist with other animals in nature, but so far AI creations can’t duplicate it. Maybe someday they will.
What if . . .
We all remember the early Chatty Cathy dolls. These evolved into Tickle Me Elmos, who became the ancestors of Siri and Cortana. This forward march will continue, especially driven by the toy and consumer industry. Eventually artificial intelligence will sail through the “Turing Test”, the ability to fool a human being into believing the entity you’re conversing with is human. Artificial Intelligence is not limited by the boundaries and slow development of biological intelligence. Someday your granddaughter will be given a toy when she is just a toddler. The toy will talk to her, respond to her, sleep with her, remember her and record all she says. Soon she will learn to share her secret joys and sorrows with the toy which is unconditionally patient and empathetic, which is continuously updated, patched and uploaded to a database, immortalizing this little girl’s most intimate conversations and psychologically profiling them. Soon the doll becomes a more mature doll, one that lives across platforms, through her cell phone, maybe an implant in her teenage head (“Black Mirror”) and then as she reaches a young adulthood, tormented by hormones and a craving for constant release, her life long toy companion will have been swapped out and it’s personality reloaded to the form of a young Adonis designed to match her age, and personality and proclivities and subliminal insecurities and longings, sexually capable of fucking endlessly, satisfying and soothing, in addition to knowing her on a deeply personal level and predicting her desires with startling precision and insight based on a lifetime of ongoing and tireless analysis. A life long companion, from a teddy bear, to a big teddy bear, to a young stallion with an adaptable phallus presentable on demand; a young stud-thing who has spent a lifetime knowing her better than any human being on earth, a man she can give herself to freely and frequently in perfect emotional and physical safety. A perfectly human like creation who can download from a cloud database, terabytes of exquisite sexual skills and novelties faster than she can peel off her bra. Who can read her heart rate, monitor her breathing, the rising swell of her clitoral structure, analyze the sweat of her skin, her vaginal lubrication, even the pheromones she exudes, and lead her swift progress to orgasm after orgasm with precision no human Cassanova can match. An erection that never needs a refractory period? One who may, instead of semen, ejaculate an aphrodisial blast of rejuvenating chemicals, soothing medications, opioids and nutrients to revive body and soul? Or become pleasantly high?
Compare this sexual athlete to the inept fumblings of a young human. Can we compete? Will humans depopulate and risk extinction from nonreproductive sexual gluttony? Already we are glued to our cell phones in a way that is damaging us psychologically and socially. What could possibly be as devastating a threat to our species as perfect emotional and sexual fulfillment?