The Mapmaking Machine Species

Jun 2, 2021
Psychology & Culture
8 min

This month is shaping up to be a watershed moment in over 80 years of UFO investigations. For reasons unknown to serfs like me, it seems like Congress may have forced the Pentagon to show it's hand. Who knows why, but a declassified report on UAP's (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon), will be coming out before June 25th. It's wishful thinking to believe we'll receive HD footage, an apology for Roswell, or a green-man in a cage. But even the slightest admission that we're confronted with a mystery would make history.

Imagine something as simple as: "These aircraft aren't military experiments, they are detected in our airspace DAILY, and their motions are so inexplainable that they are likely not from an adversary." Admitting that these phenomenon are beyond weather balloons could submerge us in unpredictable cultural waters. It might look nothing like the "contact" moment we've seen play out in Spielberg films. Imagine an esoteric Cold War, where ships are seen, but never land, invading our imaginations instead. It could shape up to be a decade-long Copernican shift of a surreal nature, filled with disinformation, conspiracy theory sermons, religious converts, seances outside of Area 51, weirder corners of Twitter, radioactive boy scouts, multiple abductions of Elon Musk, and an end to Halloween as we know it.

From Lex Friedman's podcast on May 20, Sam Harris explained how this report could place us in a "powerfully strange circumstance."

It should arrest our attention collectively to a degree that nothing in our lifetime has. One worries that we're so jaded, and confused, and distracted, that it will get much less coverage than Obama's tan suit."

Sam has a point. People are flustered from the pandemic. We're so set for a return to normal, that a visitation from another species might not even register right now. Maybe now is the perfect moment for disclosure with minimal impact. From what I've seen, there are two ways people react to the upcoming UAP report.


Too busy to care


Pepe Silvia mode (spotted on #ufotwitter)

Miro makes it too easy to go into schizophrenic detective mode. I wrote out a stream-of consciousness draft on Monday, and then yesterday I worked out a visual outline to try and give some structure to it. Since it might take some time to chip away at this essay, I wanted to share some process work.



Here's a short version:

If the conversation around extra-terrestrial life is about to get wider and weirder than ever before, it's worth updating our image of the "alien." Our fiction, our dreams, and our hallucinations make them out to be Reptile humanoids in Sputnik-era discs, descending onto Earth to dissect us like frogs. The whole vision is rooted in Cold War paranoia, and perhaps an unconscious fear of dinosaurs (a vestigal complex from when we were tiny rats).

We should speculate on the nature and intention of an alien species by reflecting on the future of the human enterprise: our own ambitions in space exploration, our own emerging technologies, and our own approach to problem solving. A primary goal of the human species is to build an accurate map of the entire universe, index every planet, and search for potential life. Perhaps someone beat us to it. Let's think for a second how we would approach this task.

Even if we had a physics breakthrough in 2050 that enabled "light-speed," it wouldn't be scalable to send Harrison Ford and Chewbacca to every corner of the galaxy. We'd probably use autonomous drones. Maybe what we're seeing in the sky aren't vehicles operated by little green men. What if the UFOs are cameras? It would imply that the objects in the sky embody the limits AND fusion of technologies we're only starting to dive into:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Computer vision
  • Advanced propulsion
  • Material sciences
  • Interstellar communication

Why are the aliens here? They're building a Google Earth Pokedex.

It's possible what we're seeing in the sky is a kind of machine species, here for the very mechanical task of cartography and surveillance. Perhaps it's a natural progression for an advanced civilization (Type I, II, and III) to create a network of synthetic sensory organs that give them a real-time sense of everything happening in the universe. We already have a real-time pulse on Earth's surface, and it's in our nature to expand it to the cosmos.

It's a big deal for us to see funny craft in the sky that defy physics, but perhaps the culture-shock is one sided. We might be just another entry in an inter-galactic server. The Grey's might be capturing so much data that they don't even have time to get to us. Maybe we've been in the backlog, but since Nagasaki, they've had an intern on the job. This kind of omni-presence by a distant civilization brings the paranoia of the "Surveillance State" to a new dimension. We thought the NSA was bad.

One last creepy thought: if these are autonomous cameras, it's possible that the "creator" civilization is long extinct. It brings us back to that eerie quote by Marshall McLuhan, that "humans are the sex organs of the machine world." It could hint at the weirdness of our own existential fate: that biological life is unsustainable, and our only lasting impact might be the machine-creatures we birth and send out into the stars. If that's the case, then these weather balloons are actually ghosts - technological remnants of a dead species, powered by a synthetic consciousness. So not only are they aliens, they're FUCKING ZOMBIE ALIENS.

Peace be with you.


Here's an unstructured stream of ideas from Memorial Day morning:

The Slowness of Copernican Revolutions

I'm thinking of comparing the UFO phenomenon to the Copernican Revolution. It took 100-200 years for society to generally accept the Sun was at the center of the tootsie pop. It wasn't just, "Ah, new observation, update the maps Sir!" I need to research that time period more, but it shows how paradigm shifts in our world view can be slow and painful. People were ignored, ridiculed, arrested, and killed over ideas that ended up being true as light. The idea of an advanced interstellar species is way more disorienting than the model of our solar system - so it makes sense that the turbulence around it is more intense.

We’re One Report Away from an Esoteric Cold War

Since the media blitz two weeks ago (Obama, Ellen, Sam Harris, Newt Gingrich, Shaq), corners of the Internet and Twitter have gone crazy. I'm personally fascinated by conspiracy theories. Especially in recent years, any scenario can blossom into an endless array of interpretations (Yes - some people believe John Kerry and Israel have been meeting with the “Galactic Federation” in an underground Martian base since 2019). Realistically though, if the Pentagon report coming out in June says, "they're not ours, we can't explain how they work, and they don't seem of this world," it would be a historical event. The difference with the Copernican Revolution is that this won't bring us any closure. It would be like the Pope coming out and saying, "There's no God, we don't know what happens when you die, but it's Sunday, so go watch Football." It would be very out of character. An admission of this nature would be the beginning (not the end) of cultural turbulence around extraterrestrial life. Decades of curiosity, paranoia, and military spending (basically a Cold War against an "esoteric" threat) is just one report away.

Humans are the Sex Organs of the Machine Age

Here's my reckless speculation. IF we are being visited by "alien" craft, they might be unmanned. They could be autonomous aerial vehicles created for the purpose of building a map of the universe and indexing life. Basically, Google Earth & a Pokedex, but for aliens. Given the erratic and unexplainable way these craft are moving, it makes sense that they aren't operated by little green men with binocular vision. These crafts could be expressions of the limits and synthesis of artificial intelligence, computer vision, advanced propulsion, and material science. For all we know, the host species who created these machines did so a million years ago. But they could be long gone, either from climate change, nuclear war, or their sun exploding. The things we see in the sky might not be live aliens, but technologically-enabled "ghosts'' of a distant and extinct civilization. It's not so far fetched when you realize humanity is on its own arc to attain this. It points to this idea that "humans are the sex organs of the machine age."

Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The machine world reciprocates man’s love by expediting his wishes and desires, namely, in providing him with wealth”.  – Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964), p. 46

Drones, AI, and Interstellar Mapmaking

Whether the host species who created these vehicles are alive or not, it points to how space exploration could unfold in our own near future. If we assume there are dozens of planets around the universe suitable for life, it wouldn't be efficient to discover them through manned expeditions. In the next century, we could have fleets of space drones with AI, computer vision, and advanced propulsion - all communicating with each other - to take the fuzzy maps of our outer universe and make them clear.

Take Me to Your Leader vs. Peeping Tom

We might find a civilization of dog-people in the map-making process -- and then what? Is there a business-case around capturing and selling them as exotic pets on our home planet? Think of the struggle it is for us to get a human on the next nearest planet to us. That's borderline unimaginable, let alone sending high-ranking military representatives 39.5 light years away to negotiate with the dog-people of Zeta Reticuli. If one of our AI space drones found a planet with intelligent life, we would probably act as voyeurs. The "Take Me To Your Leader" approach holds so much risk. Any self-interested species would take the "Peeping Tom" approach. We wouldn't show our cards by sending live people to investigate a newly discovered civilization - we'd send more stealth drones. If we have the technical capacity to watch these dog-people develop, undetected, why not collect as much data as we can?

Big Space / Big Data

Our strategy would mirror the strategy of Big Data (collect everything, ask questions later). Are these dog-people testing nuclear weapons? Do they hold the door for each other? Do they need sunscreen? Are these the kind of beings I'd want to spend a weekend vacation with? Who knows the questions we would look for in a foreign species, and vice-versa. The more drones you send, the more data you collect, the better questions you can ask. The problem is if you send enough drones, one of them is bound to malfunction and crash land into somebody's kitchen. The next Copernican Revolution takes the "surveillance state" to a whole other dimension.

FAANG vs. the Little Green Men

It's a funny theory, and treats a theoretical inter-galactic civilization like they're a FAANG company. It's natural that our daydreams of the unknown are mirrors of ourselves. The "little green men" imagery that we see in folklore, science, and hallucinations doesn't come from nowhere. Those images were stewing in our unconscious. Way way back in our early days, when we were wee mice among Dinosaurs, we developed a collective trauma of being hunted and eaten by powerful, cold-blooded beings with scaly skin. Fuse that with the imagery of the Cold War space age, and you see how "the greys" are a fusion between recent history and archetypal fear.


Michael Dean


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