Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Focus Should Be On Finding Advanced Alien Machines

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been ongoing for more than half a century, and its senior astronomer believes that humanity should alter its search parameters to include — if not actually focus on — intelligent alien machines.

Space.com reported this week that Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, believes that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may be — or may have been — looking in the wrong areas for intelligence and could have missed it due to the fact that much of the intelligence in the universe might not be living. Pointing out that astronomers and astrophysicists (not to mention astrobiologists) have been searching the data for signs of alien life analogous to living organisms on planet Earth, he suggested that such an assumption could be promoting an exercise in futility. In short, most, if not all, detectable extraterrestrial intelligence might actually be mechanical, so looking for alien civilizations via biosignatures would be the most non-productive method of searching for said aliens.

The logic, as Shostak sees it, is simple and can be seen, oddly enough, in the progress made by humanity through its recent technological advances. Noting that the human species invented the radio around 1900 and the computer in 1945, then has seen the development of devices with greater computing power than the human brain after just over another half-century, it is not difficult to see that artificial intelligence and the melding of computing technology, machines, and human beings are the next evolutionary step.

As Space.com pointed out, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted the moment when a confluence of technologies will reach a world-altering “singularity,” a point where the human mind will no longer be able to keep up with nor comprehend the said technologies. That event was calculated to occur in 2045.

Shostak told his audience at the Dent:Space conference in San Francisco back in September that humanity’s successors will be machines. “But maybe it takes to 2100, or 2150, or 2250. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “The point is, any society that invents radio, so we can hear them, within a few centuries, they’ve invented their successors. And I think that’s important, because the successors are machines.”

But somewhere along the way, artificial intelligence and humanity will merge. A short time thereafter, relatively speaking, humanity will opt for more efficiency and will likely lose all connection to flesh and blood.

An intelligent machine interacts with a computer

And since humanity is headed in that direction, Shostak believes that intelligent aliens would have likely done the same.

Once alien intelligences moved into the realm of artificial intelligence and machine, the next step for the intelligent machines would be to build even more efficient machines. And so on and so forth.

Given this logic, the senior astronomer said, and the fact that machines are not encumbered with worrisome problems like nourishment or water, looking for such biosignatures on exoplanets would be nonproductive. The intelligent machines also would not be constrained by home world concerns or the time it would take to get to light-years-distant worlds. The only concern for such entities would be energy sources and the resources required to replicate.

“We continue to look in the directions of star systems that we think have habitable worlds, that have planets where biology could cook up and eventually turn into something clever like you guys,” he told his audience in September. “But I don’t think it’s going to be that way.”

But Seth Shostak insists that he does not advocate the position of simply looking for intelligent alien machines exclusively. He does think that the search parameters should be expanded to include areas in space that could possibly be home to digital beings. Those places would likely be regions awash with available energy, like the centers of galaxies.

Concept of energy in an abstract alien cosmos

“This is my message to you: We’re looking for analogues of ourselves, but I don’t know that that’s the majority of the intelligence in the universe,” the SETI astronomer concluded. “I’m willing to bet it’s not.”

Shostak’s reasoning is also another way of looking at the Fermi Paradox, which presents the contradiction that, with all evidence pointing toward a universe teeming with life and the possibility of intelligent alien life, there is still no empirical evidence to support the probability. Evolved intelligent extraterrestrial machines and searching for living intelligent beings where they’ve either progressed beyond their own biology or have yet to reach the state of advancement needed to produce detectable biosignatures suggest an answer. As reported by the Inquisitr, recent study suggested that humanity has evolved far too early to detect other intelligent beings in the universe (species that will develop far, far in the future), and another suggests that there have already been at least 10 billion alien civilizations but they have all passed into oblivion.

If Shostak is correct, though, there could be another answer — that there could be numerous intelligent alien beings in the universe that have moved beyond the biological. And SETI should adjust its searches to include signatures that are not necessarily produced by the living.

[Featured Image by Jaswe/Shutterstock]