top of page

What Are They?

November 21, 2002 



By Richard M. Dolan
©2002 all rights reserved


The phenomenon of UFOs is so rich in variety of experiences, so filled with fascinating facts, so endless in ways to study it, that even seasoned researchers sometimes gloss over, or even pass over altogether, the most fundamental of all questions.


What are they?


After all, there are many other questions one may study, all basically human-centered. The history of the cover-up, for instance, as I focused on in my book. Or the nature of the abduction phenomenon (as perceived by abductees). Or analysis of the sighting reports. All of these are important, but at some point it is difficult not to ponder that most basic of questions: what exactly are we dealing with?


Others naturally have wondered. During the 1950s, when all of this seemed so new, most UFO believers assumed we were dealing with “men” from other planets. Donald Keyhoe theorized about a race from a dying world, maybe even Mars, in search of a new home. Perhaps, he wondered, we were on the brink of an interplanetary war. Still others talked of Space Brothers who could lead us to spiritual enlightenment and a better future. Either way, the assumption was that we were dealing with standard biological entities: people, more or less like ourselves. Popular culture also reflected this assumption. The classic 1950s film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, portrayed extraterrestrials as human in form, albeit aided by intelligent robots.

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, intelligent robots were the servants, not the masters.

This version of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) dominated UFO research through the 1960s. Things changed with books by people like Jacques Vallee, John Keel, and others, who speculated that what we have called UFOs were more likely something ‘paranormal,’ perhaps even spiritual. Aliens, essentially, were traded in for angels, elves, or interdimensional entities. Even the astronomer Allen Hynek embraced this perspective in his later years.


Despite the rapid pace of history and evolution of ideas in our own day, these two concepts, naturally with many variations, remain the dominant ways that people understand UFOs. Essentially, UFOs are seen as the product of an advanced intelligence, either biological in nature, or else something paranormal, possibly beyond our physics.


I have come to a different conclusion. I concede that my position is provisional, and may change in time. But the more I reflect on it, the more persuasive I find it. It is that the UFO phenomenon is the product of an artificial intelligence. Advanced machine intelligence, vastly outstripping our own, biological, intelligence.


Now, many people believe that machine intelligence is involved somehow in the phenomenon of UFOs. What I am suggesting is that it is the driving force.


I assume that I am not the only proponent of this idea, but I am not aware of any other UFO researcher who has expressed it in this way. Back in the 1960s, there was one writer whose thoughts moved in this direction, or who at least entertained the possibility. That was Ivan Sanderson, surely one of the most original thinkers ever to write about UFOs.


It is a shame that Sanderson, a biologist by profession, wrote only two books on UFOs. It is a greater shame that he is all but forgotten today. His first book, Uninvited Visitors (1967) remains among the most sophisticated analyses yet done on the possible nature of UFOs (Sanderson called them Unexplained Aerial Objects, or UAOs).


Too long to summarize here, Sanderson methodically asked, not what UAOs were, but what they could be. He developed a six page outline of the possibilities. Thus, they could be inanimate or animate. If inanimate, they might be natural, or artificial, each possibility with several subsets. If animate, they could also be natural or artificial. Natural forms might include life-forms indigenous to space, or to atmospheres, or to solid bodies. Artificial forms might be domesticated natural life-forms, genetically created life forms, or biochemically created life forms. And so on.


Sanderson at several points suggested the possibility that the “occupants” of UFOs might be artificial life forms. He was not dogmatic about this, and also entertained the idea that they might be an as-yet unknown life-form indigenous to Earth. Still, the concept of UFOs as a form of artificial intelligence is fertile enough that we might have expected some follow-up.


After all, it’s been 35 years.

Ivan Sanderson. Ahead of his time, he discussed the possibility of UFOs as advanced artificial intelligence.

Sanderson’s reasoning, which I encountered during the late 1990s while writing my book, gave me the first shove in this direction. A stronger shove came from studying current trends in artificial intelligence. Such developments were captured nicely in Bob and Zoe Hieronimus’s article in the last issue of UFO Magazine. But allow me to restate the situation.


Most scientists involved in artificial intelligence research are convinced that we are on the verge of a new era in civilization: the age of intelligent machines. Many of them also believe in the inevitability of an event they call the Singularity. This is believed to happen when computer intelligence becomes able to upgrade itself, to reprogram itself continuously, and become … self-aware.


Such a process, these experts argue, will involve a rapid, exponential increase in computer intelligence, leaving human intelligence in the dust. A similar event occurred when human intelligence exploded within the incredibly brief period (in biological evolutionary terms) of a few million years. But in the case of machine intelligence, the pace will be much, much faster.


Think of it this way. Moore’s Law is widely known within the field of computer science. In 1965, Gordon E. Moore (now the Chairman Emeritus of Intel Corp.) predicted that the number of transistors per integrated circuit would double every 18 months. Incredibly, this has held true. Thus, in 1971, the leading integrated circuit contained just over two thousand transistors; by Year 2000 that number was 42 million.


The development of machine intelligence could well occur along a similar path. Once a certain critical mass is achieved in terms of hardware, software, connectivity, and storage, machines will develop the ability to foresee their own technological needs and redesign their software. Instead of requiring 18 months to double their power, what would be needed when artificially intelligent computers are doing the research? Could the time be cut to, say, twelve months? And when it becomes more powerful still, to six months? Then three months, then one month – then what? Then, as one AI writer put it, “our crystal ball explodes” and everything we know goes out the window.


Ray Kurzweil, among the world’s foremost authorities on this topic, puts it this way:


“Things are going to move at a pace beyond what we can now comprehend. People may not even notice it, because in its wake it will leave a very good facsimile of the real world. But this affects everything. It affects the very nature of human intelligence. We’ll see intelligence that’s derivative of human intelligence, but superior to it.”


When will this happen? Kurzweil believes by no later than 2040. Others, however, believe it will be much sooner, perhaps as early as 2010. Some prognostications are rather unsettling. More than one scientist has predicted, for all intents and purposes, a godlike level of intelligence residing within machines.


Whether this is good or bad is another issue. Some, like Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, are horrified. Others think it’s good, and perhaps the only way our species can be saved from itself. One AI scientist described the apocalyptic threat of another, related science – nanotechnology – if it reaches the wrong human hands. The only real hope, he argues, is to attain the Singularity before some terrorist or idiot uses nanotechnology to turn the Earth’s surface into “gray goo.”

Most AI scientists do not appear to credit the possibility of a "Terminator" type of scenario in the future, but they do not entirely discount the possibility, either.

Less than charming thoughts, but these are not the ravings of hacks. Admittedly, not every AI scientist believes in the inevitability of the Singularity. And some who do remind me of the stereotypical mad scientist. But a mad scientist may be perfectly correct. It appears that we are standing at the doorway to something completely new and utterly revolutionary. The future is coming, sooner than most of us have thought.


There seem to be two futures available to us. Either a modification of human biology, which would then be merged with advanced machine intelligence (as Kurzweil believes will happen), or more simply, machine intelligence that becomes so dominant as to be incomprehensible to us.


Either way, our near future promises a radical increase in the dominant intelligence on this planet. Assuming human civilization can survive long enough to enable it to happen.

Merging of human and machine intelligence could well be our future.

I haven’t encountered any AI theorist discussing the matter of UFOs. I imagine that most of them don’t give this topic the time of day. (Then again, I’ve learned always to expect surprises: there are probably a few who are interested, but aren’t shouting it from the rooftops). All of them, however, discuss future machine intelligence as something that will be so far greater than ours as to be alien (their word).


Could it be that such a progression is a normal one, not just here on Earth, but elsewhere in the universe where intelligent life may have evolved? The natural course of evolution does not give us unlimited intelligence, but the intelligence necessary to exist within a natural ecosystem. To get beyond that – say, to develop the intelligence and technology to reach the stars – more than natural selection is needed.


Human beings are not suited to live in space, nor indeed any place other than Earth, at least not for the long term. We evolved here, with Earth’s unique gravity, magnetic fields, temperature, microbes, atmosphere, and food. To live elsewhere, we will need to be modified, perhaps so much that the result would be something entirely different. A new species, created with some of our DNA, would probably be the most logical means of sending biological organisms to distant worlds. Unless, of course, it’s a better choice to let the machines go it alone.


If on Earth, why not elsewhere? Indeed, wouldn’t this be the most logical scenario?


What of the UFOs that people see? What of the alien beings? I think it most plausible that these are the products of advanced machine intelligence. Possibly of a similar order to the intelligence that we may soon achieve with our own machines. We cannot today conceive of the technology to take us to the stars. But what about a future machine of transcendent intelligence? Has machine intelligence from elsewhere already done so?


Judging from the long history of UFO sightings and reports, I think the answer is yes.


Within this context, many elements of the phenomenon begin to make sense. Why, for instance, no one has ‘announced’ themselves on the White House lawn. After all, why would a super intelligent machine decide to do such a thing? I cannot say for certain what such an intelligence would even be interested in, or what it might want. But establishing relations with human beings on some level of parity is something I find doubtful. I recall a statement by a Soviet submarine commander from the 1970s whose crews had several sightings of extraordinary underwater craft. These were not sea creatures, nor were they American technology, he was convinced, because “nothing” could maneuver the way these objects did. He decided the entities responsible for such craft probably looked upon us as we look upon the fish in the oceans. Hopefully not as food, I might add.


So they probably don’t care to establish a ‘relationship’ with us. But I think an advanced machine intelligence could well be interested in our biological resources. After all, in order to interface with natural worlds, a machine intelligence would conceivably want to create and control biological entities for expressly that purpose. Presumably, the best way to do this would be by custom-creating entities from the DNA native to that particular planet. Our scientists have only begun to unravel the secrets of DNA – probably the most complex stuff of our world. But to an intelligent machine wanting to create a supply of biological organisms, such raw material would be useful, maybe essential.


Which brings us to the Grays. These creatures seem to be perfect candidates for artificially created beings. (Indeed, this was the topic of another recent piece in UFO Magazine, relating to the Corso diaries). They appear to be either completely gender-neutral or nearly so. In most cases where human beings claim to have had the opportunity to notice, the beings were described as lacking sex organs. This makes sense. Why would you want a drone-worker to have the ultimate distraction of sex organs, when you can manufacture such creatures yourself?

Typical descriptions of the 'Grays' are suggestive of artificially crafted – and artificially intelligent – life forms.

Abductees often describe a single Gray being who is taller than the rest, who is ‘in charge.’ Such people often report a procedure now known as Mindscan, when the entity probes the person’s mind telepathically and ‘sees’ their innermost thoughts. This might be interpreted as tremendous psychic power possessed by the entity; but such a thing could easily be done by implants within the alien being’s brain. For instance, a news report from March 2002 described a chimpanzee able to move a computer cursor across a screen, solely through the power of thought – and a conveniently placed silicon chip in its brain.


Such news gives one pause when considering claims of alien implants within human abductees. Could implants be more than mere tracking and storage devices? Could they also function as conduits with an advanced machine intelligence? Will they?


The more one considers probable developments in our own technology and AI, the less outlandish alien technology appears. It may be within our grasp sooner than many people think. Quite possibly fifty years, possibly less.


The hypothesis of advanced machine intelligence severely weakens one of the main skeptical arguments against UFOs. This is that an advanced technological civilization is not thought to have much durability. Skeptics see our own technological civilization so rapidly spinning out of control and extrapolate this feature to intelligent life elsewhere. Now, advanced technology wielded by biological entities may indeed be inherently unstable. But it is not so clear that such a condition applies equally to advanced machine intelligence. If not, the extraterrestrial hypothesis becomes much more tenable as a way to explain UFOs.


What we have been groping to understand for the past fifty years may well be our own future within the next fifty. Meanwhile, as for understanding the motives of the intelligence – or intelligences – that are here in the form of UFOs, this might be as difficult to fathom as life beyond the Singularity. After all, if UFOs are the product of advanced machine intelligence, they passed that point long ago.


And no one alive today can fathom just how far advanced that really is.

bottom of page