First, why would an extraterrestrial evaluating our planet conclude that we are not intelligent? An extraterrestrial is unlikely to choose criteria in a way that conveniently separate humans from other animals. He'll most likely scoff at Einstein's discoveries because they lacked strategic foresight. Indeed, Einstein himself spent his later years as a peace activist trying to counter what scientific progress had led to. The mark of intelligence in the extraterrestrial's eyes is a society that pursues science purely and strategically, and not based on a promiscuous mixture of personal, political, and economic motives. Just as an individual human being is nothing but a highly fascistic organization of trillions of individual single cells, so an intelligent society is nothing but a highly fascistic organization of many individual organisms. The tell-tale sign of a society that hasn't achieved intelligence is a smug belief in the moral superiority of disorganization and chaos, euphemistically termed freedom and democracy.
While this is all I will say on the definition of intelligence, note that the search for terrestrial intelligence doesn't depend much on the definition of intelligence at all. As we will see, the search for people who believe in eating nothing but Macademia nuts on Wednesdays or the search for people who falsely believe themselves to be superior and intelligent would require similar thoughts and search strategies.
Suppose that there are only two intelligent people on this planet and you are one of them. How would you go about locating the other person?
With these websites, you are asked to invest a lot of time filling out forms before you can get a feel for the site. Given the countless websites that are competing for market share, it feels like a hopeless task to try to figure out which ones to use. Assuming we do decide on a particular site, how do we find each other without having to click through literally thousands of profiles? For one thing, given that there are fewer female profiles, that's easier to search for. A few hours of browsing should convince you that it's easy to create a headline that stands out. When doing a search, we need to agree on the same characterstics. She must be non-religious, a non-smoker, and without political views. But what city should we choose? Should we choose New York, since that's the financial capital of the world? Or Wichita, Kansas, because it's in the center of the US and thus more likely to show up in a distance search based on the US? Maybe it would make more sense to create a profile of a 99 year old or whatever the maximum allowable age is, so that a search on the oldest people will be all that's required. Or we could pick Antarctica as the country, since I doubt there'll be many profiles to browse through.
All in all, it seems too much work for too small of a chance of success. There are simply too many websites to choose from and too many search strategies to cover. It requires regular logins to prevent an account from expiring. Also, websites constantly change their design and layouts, so it requires a significant time investment to keep one's profiles optimized so they are likely to be found by an intelligent searcher. Then there's the problem of foreign and developing countries, which will one day make up the majority of internet users, and will most likely have their own mix of websites that cater to them.
Since love sites have had a history of not remaining free, I chose to focus on penpal sites. Here's what I came up with.
I've sent a few messages to the most intelligently written profiles I could find on the web. Here's a sample to give you an idea.
The perfect candidate is Nazi ideology, which is arguably the most intelligent ideology that ever came to power. Conveniently, people who come closest to being intelligent tend to firmly believe that only the least intelligent would be interested in Nazi ideology. It should therefore be easy to stand out as an intelligent neo-Nazi. The problem is that the term occurs frequently in everyday speech, so the number of sites returned on searches is vast. This is because the word is used a lot in joking and exaggerating.
A simpler and more logical special interest group would be transhumanists. After all, we'd like to transcend humanity to achieve intelligence. In order to stand out among them, the only option is to forcefully disagree with them. It would be best to pose as an anti-transhumanist. Not technology, but a change in social programming is necessary to achieve intelligence. I created my own anti-transhumanist site to cover this strategy.
Nearly everyone has experienced school, and there's no movement underway to try to get rid of this ridiculous institution. A rigorous diabtribe against school would be another good way to stand out. The chief problem here is that too many people can easily relate to hating school. They'll enthusiastically agree at first, and then suddenly change their minds and become conformists. I know because this was one of the first approaches I tried.
What about creating an idealistic cult of perfection that poses as a philosophy to pique the interest of curious minds? Everyone has given up on creating the perfect society. We intend to actually do it. This is such a neat idea that I was able to find a collaborator to help me. Here's what we came up with.
Next, I could focus on the way in which I was raised. Maybe my particular type of upbringing is necessary to achieve intelligence. I was taught to be parsimonious
Next, we could focus on the logical allies of intelligent beings. Clearly, the intelligent thing to do now would be to put a stop to technological progress. How about an alliance with Eco-Anarchists and other Anti-Technology Fans?
Lack of intelligence on this planet can be interpreted as a pig-headed refusal to let the consequences of evolutionary theory sink in. No matter how many books are published on the topic, it is invariably treated as an isolated topic to be understood from an observer's perspective. While overly fact-based in some ways, The Way of the Competitor treats it as an ideology to be lived. We could call it competivism, devoting all of existence only to achieve maximum competitiveness. It is theoretically equivalent to all other approaches to competitive ideology (I only express a single unified ideology all the time, and never deviate from it).
Lack of intelligence on this planet can be interpreted as an inablity to communicate. You don't have to analyze conversations very deeply to realize that practically no mutual understanding takes place. Communication today is just a war of words that we throw at each other. All we need to do is redesign our habits so that we don't continuously dominate each other with the way we speak and write. It seems that people with some kind of social anxiety would be more likely to analyze human communication from a third person's perspective and thus develop such a theory. A website devoted to communication and social phobia is on my "to do" list. This topic is also closely related to the self-deceptive nature of human psychology, as only through such deception is it possible to think of chat and conversations as something other than ruthless warfare.
In addition, English has endless subtle ways to express the same thing in slightly different ways or using synonymous words, so it quickly become an inordinate amount of work to try to cover all possible word combinations. A script can produce large numbers of pages with many possible wordings, but many are likely to try this themselves. Search engines are likely to try to counter attempts to spam their index, so even a successful attempt is likely to be temporary. For what it's worth, here's my compilation of relevant keywords.
I have deleted this section because my webhosting provider kept blocking the content. It was dry and boring content, so I decided to simply skip this section instead of investing the time to figure out which particular words or phrases triggered the problem.
This leaves two main avenues to conduct our search. Either use social networking / dating / relationship sites or use internet search engines. Alternatively, the internet could be a conspiracy and we might be better off conducting our search in the "real" world, if there is such a thing. This latter possibility is disturbing, so let's get this one out of the way first.
Gender: Choose both male and female, since this hardly helps us to narrow down the
Age: Choose the full range of 18 to 68. It's odd that MySpace doesn't allow searches above age 68.
Marital Status: Choose all. By choosing all, I don't miss anyone. It's a foolproof strategy. No further justification is required. Note that the more comprehensive search is not to click on any of the choices and leave it blank. If you mark the individual checkboxes, then those who skipped the question won't show up in the search results.
Relationship Type: Choose all (skip).
Country: Choose Afghanistan or Zimbabwe. Both return over 3000 matches. Next I try to find countries with particularly few residents. Antarctica returns 1470 matches and Svalbard and Jen Mayen Islands returns 190 matches. This is too cumbersome.
Having exhausted the basic search criteria, we must make use of advanced search criteria to reduce the number of results.
Search for the shortest or tallest person in Afghanistan.There are very few matches, but the results are tricky to interpret. When I tried to create a tall person's profile myself, I noticed a couple of quirks. There seems to be an "off by one" programming error in one of the profile update scripts, so we need to search for 7'10"-7'11" to be safe, and not just 7'11". The reason for choosing height rather than income or religion is that it's more effective in narrowing down the results. The best way to narrow down the search is to pick a very tall female. It's time consuming to figure out exactly how it works because it takes a few days for changes to take effect. I noticed that every time you update the basic information, the height increases by one inch. If a person keeps updating her profile, she could grow very tall over time, but fortunately it's possible to grow too tall to show up in the search results, so it requires careful deliberate tweaking to be the tallest person on purpose. Note that it's not possible to search for multiple countries. A choice must be made. The most obvious choices are the first one on the list, followed by the US (the largest economy in the world and the birthplace of the MySpace as well as the internet itself), and the last in the list (but since we get more matches in Zimbabwe than in Afghanistan, there is no obvious benefit in covering this country). Other choices such as the most remote location make sense, too, but are cumbersome to figure out. As a sanity check, we check the MySpace sites in other languages and verify that we get the same search results. We do.
In the case of the US, there are too many people who are 7'11" tall, so we need other criteria to reduce the number of matches. An intelligent person should be an atheist. However, it's possible they interpret the language and its usage differently and pick agnostic or other instead. None of the three choices results in substantially fewer matches, making the choice ambiguous. It is tempting to use search criteria that are nearly, but not quite the maximum. For example, there are too many people making over $250k, so it would be better to choose $150k-$250k to get 10-15 times fewer results. But we really want to keep the number of decisions as small as possible because it's not reasonable to expect another intelligent being to follow the exact same thought process.
The next step is to repeat the process with some other sites. By doing some google searches on best largest free dating and social networking sites, we see that Orkut and PlentyOfFish should be covered as well. Facebook doesn’t seem to allow the meeting of complete strangers and must be eliminated. Hi5 should be covered if the bigger sites are not demographic-convergence-friendly. Orkut turns out to be significantly more cumbersome to figure out than MySpace. It requires a login to perform a search and even then, you may need to consult the help pages to figure it out. After playing with it for a few weeks, I concluded that the search feature isn't working right. For Orkut, it makes sense to look for an atheist female who is very authoritarian in her political views, but I can't create such a profile myself. I'll check back in a year. PlentyOfFish, on the other hand, is very simple to use. For this site, it makes more sense to look for a very old person in Afghanistan. With Hi5, I had the same problem as with Orkut. I can't get the search function to work right.
It's not hard to try out all the different simple searches (such as females looking for a females in the United States who are very old) that give very few results. Having exhausted all these, we also want to search for young males and females with rare keywords in their profile. After doing all these different searches, we have great confidence that there is no one else in the world who is attempting something similar.
Method 1: Listing Individual Keywords: The easiest technique is to simply list individual keywords. For example, it is easy to scan through every single website if one searches for "unorthodoxy nonconformity inquisitive" (without quotes) using Google. Note that by using this technique, one winds up competing against other thesaurus-type listings. It may be wishful thinking that the number of sites that list many such words will remain small in the future. However, while it remains small, one can simply duplicate a good existing dictionary and have it indexed by Google. Or one can combine several word lists and remove duplicate entries using Ultra-Edit or Microsoft Excel. This is the quickest and easiest strategy, provided you can get google to index the page. However, google doesn't index very large files completely. Anything over 200k is risky. I've attempted to compile a list that focuses only on letter A by combining about 12 lists I downloaded off the web and the file grew to over 1MB. This is too large, so I created another list that only lists words beginning with "aa". This list is small enough, but contains a lot of junk. The problem with this search strategy is that in order to narrow down the results, we need to search for rare words, but we cannot expect someone else not to miss those rare words because there are too many words out there and no clear consensus on what is a valid word and what isn't.
Is there a benefit to trying to remove the irrelevant words? Maybe 90% of the words in these lists could be considered irrelevant, but it would involve a lot of work to compile a specialized list. Maybe the easiest way is to look up words in online Thesauri (freethesaurus.net is a good one) and then cut and paste the results. The resulting list could be small enough to be used in profiles posted on dating or social networking sites. I've created such a list in Idea #3 above.
Method 2: Listing Simple Phrases or Sentences: An easy way to create a lot of phrases is by using a generic template. On a computer with Windows XP, create three files called best.txt, philosopher.txt, and run.bat with the contents as shown below:
for /f "delims=," %%i in (best.txt) do @for /f "delims=," %%j in (philosopher.txt) do @echo I'm the world's %%i %%j
Start a Command Prompt / DOS window (usually located under Start - Programs - Accessories) and cd to the directory where the files are located. (If you don't know much about computers, type help on the prompt.) Then type run and hit Enter. You should see the following output on the screen:
I'm the world's best philosopher
I'm the world's best scientist
I'm the world's best ideologist
I'm the world's greatest philosopher
I'm the world's greatest scientist
I'm the world's greatest ideologist
I'm the world's smartest philosopher
I'm the world's smartest scientist
I'm the world's smartest ideologist
Type "run > my_webpage.html" to print the output directly into a file. If you're not a computer geek, you probably won't think of doing this, but it's still reasonable to expect a regular computer user to google search phrases like the above to find my website. Note that the chances of being found this way shouldn't be that slim because the intelligent searcher only needs to think of part of the phrase such as "the world's best ideologist". This technique seems viable because no one else is using it.
Given that no one has turned up so far in our search and because I have no reason to believe that the newest generation of children growing up is going to be radically different from the previous generation, it is possible to calculate a reasonable upper bound for the number of intelligent beings on this planet. First, note that unlike in SETI, in STI, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence. In SETI, you can make the argument that although the Milky Way is teeming with technologically capable life, they last only a short period before they destroy themselves. So even though it would take no more than a few million years (a cosmic blink of an eye) to fully populate the star systems of the Milky Way, it doesn't necessarily mean that we're the first or only technologically capable species. In STI, we're looking not for technologically capable beings, but rather intelligent beings, or beings who pursue strategic science as the single goal in life. We can be sure that intelligent beings on this planet will try to seek out other intelligent beings with a high priority.
Our search targets only the English-speaking population. This includes most of western Europe, the US, Canada, Singapore, Australia, parts of India, parts of Kenya, parts of the Philippines, and the educated elite of many other countries. The non-English speaking population is much more substantial and includes most of Central and South America, most of Africa, most of Eastern Europe, and most of Asia. We're looking at roughly a billion English speakers versus five billion non-English speakers. Is it reasonable to posit that for every intelligent English-speaker there are five intelligent non-English speakers?
The best clue I have lies with my former partner, who is the only other person I know who behaved intelligently, although only for a few years in young adulthood. We arrived at some vague notions of what type of upbringing is required to achieve intelligence. Both of us were raised in small, stable families whose parents did not suggest any political or religious ideas to their children. Neither of us had any older siblings and we were given few responsibilities. There was an absence of traumatic childhood events. We were both too lazy to read or listen to teachers at school and thought it is much easier to independently derive ideas in our minds rather than learn them through outside sources. We both developed a deep disdain for pop culture and average people. The only important difference between us was that he was raised to be generous and spendthrift and I was raised to be ultra-parsimonious. I believe this is the reason he didn't last long. The need to earn and spend money eventually integrated him into society. For me, parsimony greatly contributed to my abstinence from information-intensive technologies (e.g. computers, TV, music, telephones, video). It also encouraged me to avoid going out and thus having to socialize, since that costs money as well. Consumption of information caused my partner to become scatterbrained and blasé about resisting social indoctrination. Near the end of our collaboration, my partner told me that when he was younger he used to have the ability to focus all his attention and effort on a single goal, but he was no longer sure whether he could retrain himself to do this. You can avoid this fate by abstaining from information.
From this we can see that the problem with the non-English speaking population is that the children grow up in a much more socially rich environment. They have closer family ties, have more siblings, more responsibilities, and are much more dependent on social relationships for their survival. Religion and superstition are more influential in developing countries as well. The probability of childhood trauma is greatly increased as well. For example, when my grandparents died, it was just some person thousands of miles away whom I had only seen a few times in my life. In addition, children in poor families develop a strong sense of importance for work and steady income. A parsimonious way of life is only effective if there is plenty of money that the family chooses not to spend. Also, poor families are no less likely to fritter away money on trivial purchases, so consumerism is instilled into children in poor families as effectively as in the wealthier families of the industrialized nations.
All else being equal, I would expect the slow rise in global living standards to increase the probability of producing intelligent humans in the future. However, an important requirement for achieving intelligence is to live within one's mind. With the spread of the internet, cell phones, and cable / satellite TV, communication technology has achieved an unprecedented invasiveness that makes it harder and harder for children to escape these highly addictive, ADD-inducing forms of entertainment. When humans practice self-discipline and self-restraint it is almost always wasted on benign forms of entertainment such as indulging in food, sex, drugs, or indolence. To maximize one's restraint in consuming information, it is probably wisest to indulge in benign forms of entertainment to the maximum extent possible. Just about every human with potential for intelligence seems to adopt the approach of fighting against his emotions. Millions have tried and failed. Are you a superhuman who can overcome his emotions? A safer bet is to do it like me and indulge. After ten years, my conviction and motivational reserves are stronger than ever. I don't think any children will be able to recognize this, though. I grew up believing in dieting, sexual restraint, the danger of drugs, and virtue of work and learning. Even today, I continue to discover new ways in which each of these beliefs and prejudices affect my thoughts and actions.
I can only hope that sometime, somewhere, there will be a backlash to all this ridiculous indulgence in information and knowledge. China made news a year ago by creating the first halfway house for internet addicts. Maybe some kid in China will devise a radical ideology that decries the noisy and aimless spread of information in our world. But I know I couldn't have resisted myself. It was against my will and choice that I was socially and ideologically isolated and allowed to develop my way of thinking through its vulnerable stages while it would have quickly succumbed if subjected to criticism or the temptation of consuming knowledge.
Is it possible that someone will develop intelligence without a strong parsimony ethic or despite consuming large amounts of information? Of course not, but it's precisely because a concept like parsimony applies everywhere in life. I've never met an English teacher who didn't think that expressing the same thought 5 times in a paragraph constitutes bad writing. It's more parsimonious to say something only once and as simply as possible. Even in the absence of world wars, there'll be new ways to propagate the value of parsimony. As for valuing ignorance, the consensus opinion in the US today is that television is trash. Some families choose not to have a TV at home, although it's the cheapest and most convenient babysitter for your children. In the average case, such thinking leads to indulgence in more harmful pastimes such as reading or love for music, but with millions of families in the world there are bound to be a few standouts.
The reasonable upper bound for the number of intelligent beings in the world today is two, but I think there's most likely only one. I estimate a 25% probability that the number of intelligent beings by the year 2025 will reach two.