A.I. Sentience, Technology & Human Evolution

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on what it means to be human in an ever increasing technological civilization. Many books and films have delved into this subject, and as time goes on those stories seem to become more poignant. A few of my favorite films and/or books have been about the very same things.


I recently finished watching HBO’s WestWorld series, which has become yet another gem in the network’s many original series. Inspired by the old 70’s movie of same name, this iteration boasts a talented cast of actors, beautiful but subtle effects, and a deeper story of the android populated theme park’s origins and it’s possible implications. A few of these androids begin to remember past experiences in previous roles they once played, and the many tortures and deaths dealt to them by park guests. It is this loop of suffering that finally awakens a chosen few, and we see each of their journeys to discover who and what they really are, and to hide it from those who would erase their sentience.

We get vague questions and answers on how and where an artificial consciousness might emerge and evolve over time. The writing is very good, and there are nuances here and there that demand reviewing (which I have yet to do). The series seems to build its own mythos in terms of the development of consciousness. The point of view of the android characters certainly paints a pessimistic view of human beings that sadly, is not entirely untrue. We are intellignet and destructive animals often bent by our base desires, even if we lie to tell ourselves otherwise.

Which begs the question, would an artificially created sentience be of the same mold as its makers, or perhaps more of that brilliant potential we could be if we left our vices behind?

Many people have the fear that artificial intelligence could end us all at some point. That could be the case, or they could be a force for greater good. How much does the designer of such a creation influence its overall nature? If experiences shape its development, will they have to be strictly controled in order for it to be considered sane? Can a machine become insane? (I read a scene in Neal Asher’s War Factory about a warship/factory gone insane. Quite disturbing.)

I believe there is a stark difference in vantage point. The knowlegde capabilities and processing speed alone will outgun our own biologically given abilities. Then comes the idea of just merging oneself with said technology, not just as an individual, but as a further step in evolution. Technology is the one thing that evolves faster than most biological life. Anything from enhanced sensory functions, expanded computing capability, increased physical strength, and decreased aging can all be conceived of with future technological development. It will be possible, but how will it change what it means to be human, or even an individual remains unanswered.


One of my favorite films (along with the manga that inspired it) is Ghost in the Shell, which just so happens to tackle just that. The main character, a cyborg, has a bit of an identity crisis on her hands, and while she hunts down a mysterious thread of “brain-hacking” incidents, she comes into contact with an emergent AI. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s a great film if you’re into philosophy, advanced technology, AI’s, and cyborgs.

The implications for this kind of technology would be a kind of evolution, at least for some of humankind that wanted to move past our current form and function. So, in a sense, there could end up being two species; average baseline humans, and posthumans who’ve undergone augmentations. This could mean potential for war between the two, but I guess it depends on who could disable the other faster to outright avoid complete annihilation.

This change would also mean expanding the human experience to include greater intelligence and desire for more cerebral pursuits rather than focusing on what our limited biology allows. I have a feeling that nanotech could be utilized greatly for regenerative purposes in the body, maybe even rebuilding the human body little by little with more durable materials that mimicked biology. If fully machine, maybe we could have a fun swarming function for travel, or to make oneself a more shapeshifting entity.

As we become more fine tuned in our design, we could potentially travel the stars, colonize space, search out other worlds, find alien life. Maybe by then, we’d become something we can’t forsee, with goals not currently in our comprehension.

But for now, we’re just a bunch of naked apes running around the surface of a mudball hurtling through space. Well, I can still dream…


If Sentience Had Arisen In Another Species

What would it be like? What species would be the most likely candidates for sentience? How would they have changed if sentience developed? Is it possible that sentience in another species might out achieve us in terms of intelligence and technology?

Sometimes I find myself asking these questions. I’ll never have adequate answers unless some course of events causes a sentient species to spring out of nowhere in my lifetime. But, I can always take a stab at guessing. That’s what science fiction tends to be concerned with; the multitude of paths the future could take, and all the plausible changes therein.


Circumstances alone can sometimes aid in the development of an intelligent species. Dinosaurs were dominant on Earth until the asteroid impact knocked them out, giving early mammal ancestors a chance to take hold. Early birds also showed up some time after.


I’m going to favor birds in this topic, because they are less obvious than chimpanzees or dolphins, and thus most people don’t notice them as much. Rarely do you hear of everyday people thinking of birds as contenders in the game of intelligence, but they are actually quite impressive. Corvids (crows and ravens), Psittacines(parrots), and even pigeons are counted as the most notable. They are known for problem solving abilities, and also being emotional.


Birds, in general, are very social animals, much like us. They are helpless from the moment they hatch out of the egg, and must be fed at regular intervals by their parent/s. They grow and learn to live in flocks, foraging for food, competing, sometimes working together, and pairing up to mate and raise young.


Intelligence is also supposedly linked to bipedalism, and birds are bipedal while not in flight. I wonder if that doesn’t give them a leg up in the statistics between animal groups.

The thing is, I tend to believe intelligence could arise in many species given enough time and the right environmental circumstances. Social species, even including insects and some reptiles, could become potential candidates in development toward sentience.

Some birds have a call system of vocally produced sounds, and also some physical gestures they seem to pass between each other.

Some birds have crests that they are able to erect on their heads to display great excitement or aggression. Tail wagging, similar to a dog’s, is a sign of contentment, and fanning out the tail feathers can be used as a threat display. Some birds, especially cockatoos, will tap their feet as a sign of dominance over their territory.


Posturing is also important in the world of body language for birds. Bowing with the head facing another bird is a request for grooming. If the head and body are rigid at attention, and feathers are flared out, this is a signal to others that the bird owns the territory. Aggression is expressed when a bird holds a rigid crouching position with tail feathers flared, ruffled feathers, and head down. Birds may also add a hiss as extra warning.


There is even a form of name that a parrot will call her chick by, which I learned only recently. It really impressed me. The parent will use her own natural call with an added new note toward the end in reference to her young. The chick then begins repeating this call as it’s own, eventually passing it on in the same fashion.


Youtube video from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology



In talking about this subject, I realize that there have hardly been any avian-like aliens in fiction that I’ve read. The only example I know of is in Richard K. Morgan’s “Broken Angels”. Good read, by the way.

There were ruins described in the book that the civilization left behind, and it was not too far off what may have been a city for a sentient bird species. As such, they were quite difficult for flightless humans to access.

I have to wonder also what kind of technology this sentient species would develop, being that birds are quite particular about their various habits, likes, and dislikes.

Another idea is what they might create as art. Birds not only have vision that is excellent, but they see in the UV spectrum. They also have polarized vision, which aids in migration. So, with all the color they are able to see, I can only wonder what they might paint, sculpt, or carve. Like one of our early ancestors painting on a cave wall, would they illustrate what they saw, or even chronicle a time or journey in some un-thought of medium?


I can only wonder, and guess with the best of them. Then again, I am a daydreamer. Who knows, this may be good fodder for another project for me, or for others.