Are we alone in the Universe?
It’s one of the big questions that has been nagging away at mankind since our ancestors first looked up to the sky.
With the recent announcement of Breakthrough Listen, a $100-million project funded by Russian Billionaire Yuri Milner, we are entering an exciting new era in the search for ET, but there’s just one problem:
We are probably looking in completely the wrong place.
At least that’s the opinion of Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, who has been invited to chair the project.
In an article for New Scientist, Rees explains that
The search for planets orbiting other stars usually focuses on finding and scrutinising those that resemble Earth. And while it would be fascinating to find evidence for a biosphere on such a world, we should be open-minded about advanced entities existing in very different environments.
Why? Many people now believe that machine intelligence will eventually surpass human capabilities. Even if this is centuries away on Earth, it is clear that technology advances in an instant compared with the Darwinian selection that led to us.
We should accept that the era of organic intelligence is relatively short, and will be followed by a much longer era dominated by inorganic intelligences. Humans and our intellectual achievements will be a mere precursor to the deeper cogitations of a machine-dominated culture.
Moreover, advanced AI would not be confined to Earth-like biospheres. Indeed, they are far from optimal. Interplanetary and interstellar space is where robotic fabricators will have the grandest scope for construction, and where non-biological “brains” may have insights as incomprehensible to us as string theory is to a mouse.
Abstract thinking by biological brains has underpinned all culture and science on Earth. But this activity, spanning tens of millennia at most, will be a brief prelude to the more powerful intellects of the inorganic, post-human era. Evolution on other worlds orbiting stars older than the sun could have had a head start. If so, then ET is likely to have long ago transitioned beyond the organic stage. So it won’t be human-like minds that we are most likely to encounter, but machine intelligences.
Rees concludes that
if extraterrestrial intelligence exists, it will most probably be non-human-like, and we ought to be looking for it in a non-Earthlike environment.
So, any advanced extra terrestrials are very unlikely to resemble ‘little green men’, and are probably not residing on a planet anything like the Earth.
In fact, the actual form an advanced intelligence would take is probably completely incomprehensible to our tiny, organic, human brains.
This could go some way to explaining the Fermi Paradox (in a nutshell – all the odds say there should be intelligent life out there, so why haven’t we found it), as we have most likely been looking in the wrong places, for completely the wrong things.
You can read the original article here.