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April 9, 2012

The Transcension Hypothesis

What happens after the Singularity? Why in our universe of billions of stars and planetary systems have we not found indications of technologically advanced, post-singular civilizations?  The Transcension Hypothesis by Singularity University advisor, John Smart offers an account of what comes after the technological singularity, also accounting for Fermi's Paradox.

Basically after our technological adolescent and expansionist explorations, we turn from outer space to inner space... our journey undergoes S.T.E.M. compression, the compression of Space, Time, Energy and Matter- until non biological minds live inside virtual worlds at the nano and femto scale, further compressing complexity until we create black hole-like conditions and disappear from the visible universe altogether.
Based partly on these trends, the arrival of generally human-surpassing machine intelligence, an event called the technological singularity, is expected by some as an imminent development (Vinge 1993, Sandberg 2010). Science fiction authors such as Stapledon (1937) and Asimov (1956), and philosopher scientists such as Teilhard (1955) and Tipler (1997) have contemplated the idea of accelerating complexification as a universal developmental process, and universal intelligence's eventual arrival at an "omega point," representing the maximum complexity allowed by our universe's particular physics. What is needed now is to update and further constrain such ideas within a model of universal evolutionary development, a model that contrasts a small subset of statistically predictable developmental processes with the apparently much larger set of unpredictable evolutionary experiments occurring within the universe, and perhaps, an understanding of our universe as a finite system engaged in a developmental cycle within a multiversal environment (Smolin 1994).*
The emerging science of evolutionary developmental (“evo devo”) biology can aid us in thinking about our universe as both an evolutionary system, where most processes are unpredictable and creative, and a developmental system, where a special few processes are predictable and constrained to produce far-future-specific emergent order, just as we see in the common developmental processes in two stars of an identical population type, or in two genetically identical twins in biology.

The transcension hypothesis proposes that a universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced civilizations into what may be called "inner space," a computationally optimal domain of increasingly dense, productive, miniaturized, and efficient scales of space, time, energy, and matter, and eventually, to a black-hole-like destination.

A few potential evolutionary, developmental, and information theoretic reasons, mechanisms, and models for constrained transcension of advanced intelligence are briefly considered. In particular, Smart introduces arguments that black holes may be a developmental destiny and standard attractor for all higher intelligence, as they appear to some to be ideal computing, learning, forward time travel, energy harvesting, civilization merger, natural selection, and universe replication devices.

In the transcension hypothesis, simpler civilizations that succeed in resisting transcension by staying in outer (normal) space would be developmental failures, which are statistically very rare late in the life cycle of any biological developing system. If transcension is a developmental process, we may expect brief broadcasts or subtle forms of galactic engineering to occur in small portions of a few galaxies, the handiwork of young and immature civilizations, but constrained transcension should be by far the norm for all mature civilizations.

The transcension hypothesis has significant and testable implications for our current and future messages to extraterestrial intelligences (METI) and search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) agendas.

If all universal intelligence eventually transcends to black-hole-like environments, after which some form of merger and selection occurs, and if two-way messaging (a send-receive cycle) is severely limited by the great distances between neighboring and rapidly transcending civilizations, then communication with feedback may be very rare, an event restricted to nearest-neighbor stars for a very brief period prior to transcension. The only kind of communication that might be common enough to be easily detectable by us would be the sending of one-way METI or probes throughout the galaxy. But simple one-way messaging or probes may be not worth the cost to send, and advanced messaging or probes may provably reduce the evolutionary diversity in all civilizations receiving them, as they would condemn the receiver to transcending in a manner similar to that of the sender.

If each civilization in our universe is quite limited in what they can learn given their finite computational resources, and if many civilizations evolve in parallel and in isolation in our universe for this reason, then a powerful ethical injunction against one-way messaging or probes might emerge in the morality and sustainability systems of all sufficiently advanced civilizations, an argument known as the zoo hypothesis in Fermi paradox literature. In any such environment, the evolutionary value of sending any interstellar message or probe may simply not be worth the cost, if transcension and post-transcension merger are elements of an inevitable, accelerative, and testable developmental process, one that eventually will be discovered and quantitatively described by future physics.

Fortunately, transcension processes may be measurable today even without good physical theory, and radio and optical SETI may each provide empirical tests. If transcension is a universal developmental constraint, then without exception all early and low-power electromagnetic leakage signals (radar, radio, television), and later, optical evidence of the exoplanets and their atmospheres should reliably cease as each civilization enters its own technological singularities (emergence of postbiological intelligence and life forms) and recognizes they are on an optimal and accelerating path to a black-hole-like environment.

Furthermore, optical SETI may soon allow us to map an expanding area of the galactic habitable zone we may call the galactic transcension zone, an inner ring that contains older transcended civilizations, and a missing planets problem as we discover that planets with life signatures occur at a much lower frequencies in this inner ring than in the remainder of the habitable zone.

Filmmaker Jason Silva has created an ecstatic rant video on Smart's concept:

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