On the Subject of Intelligent Species

Thoughts about intelligent, extra-terrestrial species, ethics, and nomenclature:

Humanity has long had by its side certain animals that were taken (or came voluntarily) from the wild and carefully bred or trained to be part of our lives. Some of these are food animals, such as domesticated cows, chickens, and pigs. Some are utility animals, such as hunting dogs or other 'working canines'. Some are purely pet or companion animals such as domesticated birds, rabbits, and rodents. Some serve both functions. Not only are there many dogs who are purely pets, but there are many dogs capable of being both companion and working animal; many service dogs fit into this category. Likewise, domestic cats serve an important pest control function as well as being adorable balls of violence and allergens.

So far, humanity has created these 'breeds' of formerly wild animals by the process of selective breeding, with sometimes almost unbelievable results. That a chihuahua and a doberman share the same genome is a fairly amazing feat considering the two animals could not naturally mate. They are almost 'sub-species' of the main species. Since domestic dogs far outnumber wild wolves, it's a tossup as to which is the 'main' species or if the terminology even applies.

In the last few decades, humanity has also shown progress into genetic engineering of animals-- actually altering their DNA to introduce desired traits. This has mostly been pure science up to this point, but is starting to be applied in medical research and other areas. The genetic engineering of food plants is already quite controversial, world-wide, so we can assume that the same will be true of animals in the perhaps not-so-distant future.

I think that we can fairly safely assume that, within the next few hundred years, mankind will be able not only able to alter its own genome but will also be able to alter the genome of many animals at will, giving them traits that they do not currently have, such as human-like intelligence, dexterity, or adaptability.

This raises a host of ethical questions. One could write several volumes on the subject.

However, for the sake of this essay, I'm more interested in what it says about the universe around us.

A recent report from NASA's Kepler space telescope experiment has estimated that there are at least 17 billion earth-sized planets in our galaxy. ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20942440)

Assuming that even 1 in 1 billion of those planets are capable of hosting life similar to ours, and that's a VERY conservative estimate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation), that means that there's a pretty good chance that there are at least a few other sentient species out there within the hundred-thousand light-year span of the Milky Way Galaxy. Some of them may out-date us by quite a bit since our star, Sol, appears to be relatively young compared with many others of the same type in the galaxy. (Since star ages are measured in millions and billions of years, the difference could be quite extreme.)

In contrast, it's necessary to consider the 'Fermi Paradox' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox), which briefly states, "If there is such a good chance for life to exist in our galaxy, why have we seen no evidence for it yet?" This is the purpose of the SETI project, or the 'Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence' project which analyzes radio telescope data for evidence of broadcasts made by sentient creatures.

Again, volumes could and *have* been written.

But let's assume for a second that the Fermi paradox will be resolved and that Humanity will one day encounter an extra-terrestrial intelligence with which it can communicate.

Knowing that we, Humanity, are close to being able to manipulate our constitution at will, and have *already* started on the road to creating new intelligent species by domesticating animals, there is a significant chance that the intelligence we encounter will be an intelligence which was created rather than one that 'bootstrapped' itself. (Note that this entirely ignores the possibility of artificial intelligence that is entirely inorganic-- sentient robots of some kind, if you will.)

Currently, we have no physical evidence that mankind originated anywhere else but from the evolution of primates. If God created us, He did the deed so subtly that we can't detect it with modern science. We also have good fossil evidence that primates evolved from other animals, over the millions and billions of years of Earth's history. Laboratory experiments have proved that it's quite easy for the basic building blocks of life-- proteins, RNA, and DNA to form naturally-- given the right circumstances. While we can't entirely rule out the idea that Terrestrial life originated off Earth and was somehow 'seeded' either naturally or intentionally on Earth, we don't have much evidence that it did and a lot of evidence that Humanity has indeed more or less 'boostrapped' itself to its current position.

If we do invent 'Intelligent Dogs' or their equivalent for whatever reason sometime in the future, there's a good chance that they'll start with most or everything humanity already has at that point, since they'll almost certainly be created for 'Utility' purposes. For example, imagine a K9 police dog who could not only do the tracking work that police dogs currently do, such as drug sniffing, but would also be capable of detective work, such as logically following the money behind the drugs. That's a good scenario. I can imagine much worse scenarios.

(We can hope that anything with human-like intelligence is also given human rights, but humans have proven themselves over and over again to be complete and utter bastards when it comes to exploiting others, even ourselves.)

If we can do it, and I really doubt we can't, there's no reason to doubt that any species we encounter who is also capable of extra-terrestrial travel couldn't either-- thus my conclusion that there's a good chance any alien species we meet will be a secondary creation of a primary species.

Thus I propose the following terminology:

'First Generation Species' should be used to describe sentient, space-faring species that have evolved from the primordial soup up. If we meet any of these in the galaxy, they are at least somewhat likely to be much older and advanced than humanity.

'Second Generation Species' should be used to describe sentient species that were created for utility purposes, either as a 'slave' race or given equal standing with its 'parent' race. Imagine a species that was designed to be extra-tolerant to the detriments of space-travel as a likely candidate for the latter, happier case.

'Third Generation Species' should be used to describe sentient species that were created for purely aesthetic reasons-- as intelligent pets or even as works of art. Since these would be created out of a desire to create rather than for a utility, they would probably have a much stronger chance of standing on equal footing as their 'parent' race.

Interestingly, the idea of meeting a 'Second' or 'Third Generation' species would imply the possibility of being introduced to a network of species... all created by the same parent species, or even by one another.

Whether or not this terminology will be used is something that will likely never be decided in my lifetime. However, if it does happen to be useful to future scientists, astronauts, or anyone else, please honor it by treating anything that has intelligence or feeling on par with humans AS worthy of human dignity and human rights.

- H.

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