If our solar system is host to an ET intelligence, argue transhumanist pundits, it's unlikely we'll meet flesh-and-blood aliens. Metallic interstellar spaceships with biological passengers made sense to pre-computer audiences, but the reality-bending potential of the Silicon Age has cautioned theorists from expecting anything so blatant as the arrival of a "mothership." It's more likely that our first meeting with ETI will involve a novel form of artificial intelligence -- perhaps even the encoded persona of the ETs themselves. (It's worth noting the possibility that the fabled signal awaited by SETI researchers may turn out to be a practical blueprint instead of a mere greeting. In Carl Sagan's "Contact," the blueprint provides humanity with a transportation device, but perhaps it's just as reasonable to expect instructions for building an "alien-making machine": certainly an elegant solution to crossing the void in a messy, energy-intensive spacecraft.)
If we're dealing with an interstellar AI, its capabilities could be quite "indistinguishable from magic" -- and its motives substantially weirder than expected by mainstream scientists intent on marketing ETI as a readily comprehensible "product."
A sufficiently ancient ET presence could easily predate humanity and could even have played a role in guiding our evolution (a la Arthur C. Clarke's enigmatic black Monolith in "2001"). If so, there's no reason it should simply vanish upon our achieving what Sagan aptly called "technological adolescence." Indeed, an abiding alien intelligence might consider our continued existence imperative, offering the prospect that we've been subjected to some elusive form of psychosocial engineering lest we exterminate ourselves through warfare or environmental abuse.
Granted that a "neo-Bracewellian" presence could appear much how it wanted to, bound only by the laws of physics, might the UFO phenomenon shed light on our seeming cosmic isolation?
This piece originally appeared at aboutSETI.com.