Where Are the Aliens? Where Are the Dragons?

Where are the aliens? Where are the dragons?

One night I was lying down staring at the stars and it dawned upon me that I was not alone. I had only a few of the many alien eyes. Just like them I was figuring out if my god existed. I felt part of this cosmic family more than anything before. Something bigger than our soccer team, our continental heritage, or our world wide scientific efforts. All these eyes… The universe becoming aware of itself.

Where are the aliens?

But where are they? A question asked many times before (see the Fermi paradox). I would like to explore two options here. The first is actually pretty obvious, and the one I like most. So, the thesis is that the earth is not rare, and that there exists other civilizations in our own galaxy. The Milky Way is around 100,000 light years in diameter. Physically populating our galaxy would take, if we consider moving 1000 times slower than the speed of light, only 100 million years. Considering that there are many planets billions of years older than earth, that must have happened already many times over. So, why don’t we see aliens or million year old alien artifacts on earth? There might be a very simple answer: there is a cosmic communication platform. There is a way to communicate between intelligent species in which cosmic matters such as expansion to other galaxies are discussed. Species negotiate between each other, how much resources are required, and where they are allowed to go. They are careful with inter-world interactions because of viruses and other undesirable side-effects. Inevitably, a civilization discovers this communication structure before they are intellectually capable of physical expansion to other galaxies.

So, it’s up to us to find out how they are communicating! If there would be a faster than the speed of light communication method, how would it be implemented?! Has there been a physical coverage of quantum coupled atoms all over the galaxy and we have to phone in by finding these atoms? How would they have labelled these atoms, so we can find them easily?

There is another explanation, which is less exciting, but stems from my experience with evolutionary algorithms.

Where are the dragons?

Alien dragons? © 2012 Fantasy World, Inc

Evolutionary algorithms seem to have glass ceilings, just as in the job market. Even if you check highly dynamic variants such as artificial gene regulatory networks (Bongard), or neuroevolution of augmented topologies (Stanley), and I even went further (as in evo-devo, to eco-devo, to epigenetics) in incorporating body changes to perceptual phenomena (pdf) as required in the evolution of circadian rhythms. Although interesting light dependent metamorphosis was developed in a simulator, it became quite obvious to me, that it is very hard to scale these things. It is very well known in machine learning that local optima can be very troubling to an algorithm, and evolutionary algorithms, although versatile, are no exception.

Why this long prelude? We have to search over all possible evolutionary trajectories not so much for paths that would lead to our type of intelligence, but for paths that lead to local optima from which it is hard to escape. With our human dexterity, we become quite proficient tool users (as did crows) and very important, we got fire under our control. But, what if evolution “got there first”!? Our stomachs have been evolved to withstand its acidic content. Perhaps, it wouldn’t have been such a stretch to have evolved a small biological oven as an organ, burning all kind of material that is normally hard to chew (for us mere mortals). Cooling systems are required of course, but that has been evolved multiple times over anyway. A newborn would need to get fire from his mother, but that seems a pretty easy procedure compared to feeding milk through specially developed organs for many weeks or months.

It might be that this is actual the normal way of evolution to proceed. And then? We have fire breathing creatures on this alien planet. Would it mean that tool use would get stalled? Or would dragons build space ships as well in the end? Who knows? Perhaps all aliens are dragons…

Google Glass - Translating Cat Meows

Interesting applications of Google glass? I encountered very few still. I think some creative minds have to sit together and go for it! Translations of foreign languages, and reading out loud for blind people, or the illiterate. Sure, two minutes of a creative session under the shower, and you will come up with such ideas. But what’s next? Do we really need to translate all people around us? There are so many annoying conversations! Perhaps the glass can assemble them to a nice creative story, or a poem! And of course, there is no reason to only use human input. A sound from an animal can directly translated in a warm male or female voice. The barks of your dog become “Hey! I see someone I don’t recognize!”, or “Dude, I am so hungry!”.

But what about inanimate matter! Why wouldn’t your plant be able to talk to you!? It will kindly remind you that it’s quite thirsty. The glass will swiftly translate its message through bone conduction to you. Of course as soon as everything will be able to talk to you, you will want to block things out. Or else, you will get advertisements from every product on your table until you’ve to be carried away to the madhouse.

A totally different type of game will arise. Be not be surprised that, in the future, there will be a discussion about violent games in which you can virtually kill people with a virtual ax or a virtual chainsaw. A seemingly innocent person with a glass looking at you, might be virtually heaving her ax. You might never know!

Do you have a crazy idea!? Share it with the world!

Our Future

Black Mirror, the first television series, really describing the future. The near future, a black future.

The future we have to prevent. It is easy to think of the future as science fiction. Monsters from other planets, people with unusual mutations, world wide disasters. But, the future is us. What do we want? What do we need?


Your online credibility is independent from your offline credibility

We are important, we are people. I have an identity. You can be trusted. The stakes of online transactions will go up. Buying houses online, do investments online, dating online. My prediction is that there will be a company in the future, “Identity Inc.“, which delivers services around identity. Being able to guarantee that you are who you say you are online will be incredibly important. Commitment towards providing people with means to see who you are, will give you power. A company that can provide online privacy while at the same time provide online credibility will prosper. Currently credibility is an opaque concept and conflated with financial credibility. We all know what happens if bankers are allowed to define credibility. In the end, a transparent system will win. A system in which you can be anonymous when you want, and prove who you are when you want.


Wie het kleine niet eert, is het grote niet weerd

You and me buy potatoes, bread, coffee, newspapers and alike every day. And we pay a lot for these things! Counting in entire dollar cents, euro cents, or the exotic currencies of the future. However, online service we want for free. There real costs might be a fraction of a potato, but we want them for free. Why is that? Do we really not want to pay 10 cents per month for our Google searches? Actually, I don’t think so. It is the hassle of micro-payments that keep us from paying for these things. We now pay a few bucks for a game from an app store. Why? Because it is made easy. Just as micro-loans open up opportunities in developing countries, there are immense opportunities for people that crack the problem of micro-payments and micro-subscriptions. If money has to flow, if liquidity is important, this is the way to go. The future lies in the miniaturization of our money.


Nobody “wears” their nails

Naked. We are alone. Till now. This will change. As humans, we have been good in decorating ourselves with eye extensions, skin extensions, hair extensions. We came up with special words to describe them; glasses, cloths, hats. Our technology however hasn’t been organic enough to seamlessly integrate with us. When we sleep, when we shower, when we sport, we get rid of them. Google Glass is one example of technology that wants to be more integrated with us. But it is a clumsy attempt. The struggle for the always-there-device is only starting right now. What will win? It can be electronic lenses, piercings, underwear, jewelry, finger nails, wigs, artificial teeth, but in the end, it will be more organic than any of these. It will be beautiful, it will be us. The modern human is born.


This website contains a few links of moderate importance to what I do. For my work see the company we started at Almende, namely Distributed Organisms (which we informally call DoBots). DoBots is a very exciting company which sells internet services for large groups of robots. In Replicator we did research with respect to self-reconfigurable robots, but its applicability is still far away. However, in FireSwarm we can actually use a group of aerial robots to find a dune fire as quick as possible. At times I might post some things about robot cognition, because the thing that I like (professionally) more than robots is artificial intelligence.

I like travelling and initiatives that make the world a better place! :-)


Couchsurfing is a worldwide initiative that gives foreigners and countrymen the opportunity to sleep on your couch, so you can show them all the cool places in your city. And the other way around of course!


Bookcrossing is basically a tracking mechanism. You can put books that you don’t wanna read or want others to read in a plastic bag with a tag. The world as one big free library.

Ignobel Prize

The ignobel prices are for funny experiments having often to do with dirty stuff, sex, drugs, weirdness, and just on first sight very irrelevant stuff. Check them out!