‘AI astronauts are future of interstellar travel, not humans’ says space expert

A leading scientist has said we should send artificial intelligences to explore the cosmos – despite the dangers it poses here on Earth.

Professor Avi Loeb this week sensationally claimed that he had found material from beyond our Solar System in the waters off Papua New Guinea. He has now embarked on a series of interviews ahead of a major announcement about his alien-hunting project.

In a wide-ranging discussion with podcaster Michael Shermer, Avi warned about the impact that AI will have on our society, but insisted that it was the only way to explore distant planets.

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Professor Loeb warned that the use of Chat GPT here on Earth could have massive unforeseen consequences.

“We should focus on the humanity of of the future,” he said. "We must worry about how to mitigate the risks from those new technologies that are emerging like Chat GPT."

He foresees a “catastrophe,” caused by AI. And it'll be much greater than the wave of mental health problems that he says have been caused among young people by social media.

“We are just playing with fire here because GPT and its future incarnations could really do much more damage than social media did,” he says.

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But despite that, we should be sending AI into space.

The chances of a nearby extraterrestrial civilisation being anywhere close to our stage of development is almost zero, he says, and most of the civilisations that emerged before ours are “probably already dead”.

So the only answer is to “become an Interstellar species” ourselves, he says, and venture out among the stars to find alien civilisations that are just emerging, or evidence of extraterrestrial societies that are long dead.

And with the incredible distances involved ruling out human starship crews, AI is the answer, Avi says.

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If the US diverted its huge military budget into space exploration Avi believes we could send a probe towards every star in the Milky Way galaxy within this century.

“I'm getting to the technological challenge which is how do you make systems that can be autonomous?” he said. “The probes that we send to Mars, for example, we have the Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter are being managed by engineers in the Jet Propulsion lab in Pasadena.

“This cannot be done when you send something to another star, because even the the signals of light take four years to reach the nearest star system. If you talk about the typical star in the Milky Way it will take thousands of years – you can't have the probe waiting for guidance for thousands of years. It makes more sense to send a probe that is autonomous.

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“As yet,” he added. “We have never launched AI systems to space, but we might in the coming decade. That's the way I see it it needs to be the case for Interstellar travel, because you want your system to think when it encounters challenges that were not foreseen by by the senders.

“You want AI astronauts so we need to develop that technology of launching AI systems to space because I don't think biology can serve that purpose.

And there is another problem.

“There is bombardment by cosmic rays,” he added. “They destroy a significant number of cells in a human body after a few years of exposure in space. That's why I don't wish Elon Musk to die on Mars!”

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Avi adds that someone may already have died on Mars though.

Lava tubes, that are now known to exist on Mars as well as the Earth, are a good shelter against those deadly cosmic rays.

“We started in caves here on Earth in prehistoric times … Mars lost its atmosphere about two billion years ago at the middle of its life and I want to check those lava tubes and see if there are any prehistoric wall paintings there.

“Maybe someone lived there, three billion years ago.

“That requires just intelligent life to be accelerated by a factor of two relative to Earth, so at at the middle of its life if Mars had intelligent life we should find wall paintings”.

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