2018 has been, in general, quite a year for news about possible alien life, exoplanets orbiting their stars in the habitable tone, as well as controversial claims about a mysterious cosmic object that some scientists suggest may be an advanced alien probe.
2018 also marked the year when an exciting new paper was published by NASA researcher Silvano Colombano, who works at the Ames Research Center in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.
The paper takes a refreshing new look at the Fermi Paradox, and its attempt to answer one of the biggest questions in human history; Are we alone in the universe?
What are the odds that of all the stars that are out there being orbited by planets that meet the necessary conditions to sustain life as we know it, Earth is the only one that is home to living organisms?
In the paper, Colombano challenges a number of ‘mainstream’ assumptions used by SETI as a guide to hunt for (intelligent) Alien life.
Colombano introduced a refreshing, more aggressive approach in the hunt for aliens while explaining, from a technological point of view, and how to pinpoint their existence.
As noted by the NASA experts, significant technological advancement on Earth can be traced back to around 10,000 years ago. New, scientific methodologies were introduced as early as 500 years ago, which means that from a historical point of view, we humans have a real problem in predicting technological evolution in the next few thousand, let alone a few million years.
In other words, are humans even capable of recognizing potential alien technology that’s millions of years old?
And are we even prepared to search for alien adequately?
Here below are Colombano’s fundamental ideas for SETI’s new alien hunting guide:
1. Interstellar travel is impossible or highly unlikely. Clearly, distance and energy are insurmountable problems for the technologies we have available and our present understanding of physics. Still, we are able to fathom possibilities of achieving much greater understanding and control of matter-energy and space-time. Even if the speed of light continues to be an unbreakable barrier, over spans of thousands of years civilizations could probably make interstellar journeys, depending on what assumptions we make about the forms of life that they will comprise (see below).
2. Radio waves continue to be the major form of communication for thousands or millions of years. I suspect, he writes, that even if the radio medium continues to be used, the packing of information inside it would be so much greater that we would not be able to recognize any “structure” and would not be able to distinguish it from noise, unless a civilization would, in fact, decide to use it as a beacon. Even with that intention, that form of communication might quickly have become obsolete, and they might choose other types of beacons for civilizations that are closer in development to theirs. Whether and how civilizations would choose to communicate could also be a fertile field of techno-sociological study.
3. Intelligent civilizations would be based on carbon life Given the fairly common presence of elements that might be involved in the origin of life throughout the universe, it is a reasonable assumption that life “as we know it” was at least a common starting point, but our form of life and intelligence, may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon “machinery”. After a mere 50 years of computer evolution, we are already talking about “super-intelligence” and we are quickly becoming symbiotic with computer power.
I don’t want to address here the issue of the survival of our species, he writes, or its future “role” within a continuing evolution of millions of years. He simply wants to point out the fact that the intelligence we might find and that might choose to find us (if it hasn’t already) might not be at all be produced by carbon-based organisms like us. How might that change the above assumptions about interstellar travel? Our typical life-spans would no longer be a limitation (although even these could be dealt with multi-generational missions or suspended animation), and the size of the “explorer” might be that of an extremely tiny super-intelligent entity. And how might this change our assumptions about openness or desire to communicate with other civilizations?
4. We have not been, and are not being… visited. It seems to me, Columbano observes, that SETI has ignored (at least officially) the potential relevance of UFO phenomena for three reasons:
4.1 The assumption of an extremely low likelihood of interstellar travel,
4.2 The very high likelihood of hoaxes, mistaken perceptions or even psychotic events in UFO phenomena, and
4.3 The general avoidance of the subject by the scientific community. I think he continued, the approach the scientific community could take, instead, is very similar to what SETI has done so far: find the signal in the noise. In the very large amount of “noise” in UFO reporting, there may be “signals” however small, that indicate some phenomena that cannot be explained or denied. If we adopt a new set of assumptions about what forms of higher intelligence and technology we might find, some of those phenomena might fit specific hypotheses, and we could start some serious inquiry.
Based on the above four main points, Colombano proposes that a more aggressive approach needs to be taken in the future of SETI space exploration, specifically in these four directions:
1. Engage physicists in what might be called “speculative physics”, still grounded in our most solid theories but with some willingness to stretch possibilities as to the nature of space-time and energy.
2. Engage technologists in a futuristic exploration of how technology might evolve, especially w/r Artificial Intelligence, “Evolvable Robotic Systems” and symbiosis of biology with machines.
3. Engage sociologists in speculation about what kinds of societies we might expect from the above developments, and whether and how they might choose to communicate.
4. Consider the UFO phenomenon worthy of study in the context of a system with very low signal to noise ratio, but nevertheless with the possibility of challenging some of our assumptions and pointing to new possibilities for communication and discovery.