"Alien Electromagnetic Signals Will Be Discovered by 2040" --SETI's Chief Astronomer
Follow the Daily Galaxy
Add Daily Galaxy to igoogle page AddThis Feed Button Join The Daily Galaxy Group on Facebook Follow The Daily Galaxy Group on twitter

« "The New Methuselah" --Oldest Star in Universe Discovered 6,000 Light Years from Solar System | Main | "In the 'Blink of an Eye": Largest Mass Extinction in Earth's History --MIT Researchers »

February 10, 2014

"Alien Electromagnetic Signals Will Be Discovered by 2040" --SETI's Chief Astronomer


Rosette-Bok-64-Frame-Halpa-crop-v4preHDcropNew2 (1)

"Astronomers will have scanned enough star systems by 2040 that we'll have discovered alien-produced electromagnetic signals," said Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, Calif. during a talk at the 2014 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) symposium at Stanford University.

SETI has until now sought radio signals from worlds like Earth. In the current search for advanced extraterrestrial life SETI experts say the odds favor detecting alien AI rather than biological life because the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence would be brief. “If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one human, then within 5 years, its successor is more intelligent than all humanity combined,” says Seth Shostak, SETI chief astronomer. “Once any society invents the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are at most only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm of sentience to artificial intelligence,” he says.

ET machines would be infinitely more intelligent and durable than the biological intelligence that created them. Intelligent machines would be immortal, and would not need to exist in the carbon-friendly “Goldilocks Zones” current SETI searches focus on. An AI could self-direct its own evolution, each "upgrade" would be created with the sum total of its predecessor’s knowledge preloaded.

ET artifacts coordinated by computers, suggests British physicist, Stephen Wolfram, would look far more like a natural artifact. It is easy to distinguish a technological artifact such as a car from a natural object such as a tree. The tree is far more complicated. But, says Wolfram,"this is simply because our technological artifacts are primitive. As they become more complex - with computer processors enabling them to make a moment-by-moment decisions - they will begin to look just as complex as trees and people and stars." We have slim chance, he suggests, of distinguishing an ET artifact from a natural celestial object.

SETI's chief astronomer, Seth Shostak, says that "artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy — the only things he says would be of interest to the machine-based life — would be in plentiful supply. That means the SETI hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centers of galaxies."

Writing in Acta Astronautica, Shostak says that the odds favour detecting such alien AI rather than "biological" life. Seti researchers have long argued that nature may have solved the problem of life using different designs or chemicals, suggesting extraterrestrials would not only not look like us, but that they will not be carbon based life forms, but be bound to follow "at least some rules of biochemistry, live for a finite period of time, procreate, and above all be subject to the processes of evolution."

"If you look at the timescales for the development of technology, at some point you invent radio and then you go on the air and then we have a chance of finding you," he told BBC News."But within a few hundred years of inventing radio - at least if we're any example - you invent thinking machines; we're probably going to do that in this century. So you've invented your successors and only for a few hundred years are you... a 'biological' intelligence."

From a probability point of view, if AI-powered machines evolved, we would be more likely to spot signals from them than from the "biological" life that invented them.

"But having now looked for signals for 50 years, Seti is going through a process of realizing the way our technology is advancing is probably a good indicator of how other civilisations - if they're out there - would've progressed. Certainly what we're looking at out there is an evolutionary moving target."

Dr Shostak says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy - the only things he says would be of interest to the machines - would be in plentiful supply. That means the Seti hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centers of galaxies.

"I think we could spend at least a few percent of our time... looking in the directions that are maybe not the most attractive in terms of biological intelligence but maybe where sentient machines are hanging out." Shostak thinks SETI ought to consider expanding its search to the energy- and matter-rich neighborhoods of hot stars, black holes and neutron stars.

Data centers like this generate a lot of heat, and keeping them cool is a major challenge for modern computing. Intelligent computers would likely seek out a low-temperature habitat. Bok globules (image at top of page) are another search target for sentient machines. These dense regions of dust and gas are notorious for producing multiple-star systems. At around negative 441 degrees Fahrenheit, they are about 160 degrees F colder than most of interstellar space.

This climate could be a major draw because thermodynamics implies that machinery will be more efficient in cool regions that can function as a large “heat sink”. A Bok globule’s super-cooled environment might represent the Goldilocks Zone for the AI powered machines, says Shostak. But because black holes and Bok globules are not hospitable to life as we know it, they are not on SETI's prime target list.

“Machines have different needs,” he says. “They have no obvious limits to the length of their existence, and consequently could easily dominate the intelligence of the cosmos. In particular, since they can evolve on timescales far, far shorter than biological evolution, it could very well be that the first machines on the scene thoroughly dominate the intelligence in the galaxy. It’s a “winner take all” scenario.”

According to the British physicist Stephen Wolfram, intelligent life is inevitable. But there is a hitch. Although intelligent life is inevitable, we will never find it -at least not by looking out in the Milky Way. As evidence Wolfram points out In order to compress more and more information into our communication signals - be they mobile phone conversations or computer- we remove all redundancy or pattern. If anything in a signal repeats, then clearly it can be excised. But this process of removing any pattern from a signal make it look more and more random - in fact, pretty much like the random radio "noise" that rains down on Earth coming from stars and interstellar gas clouds.

According to Wolfram, if someone beamed our own 21st-century communication signals at us from space we would be hard pressed determining whether they were artificial or natural. So what chance do we have of distinguishing an ET communication from the general background radio static of the cosmos?

ET artifacts coordinated by computers would look far more like a natural artifact. It is easy to distinguish a technological artifact such as a car from a natural object such as a tree. The tree is far more complicated. But, says Wolfram,"this is simply because our technological artifacts are primitive. As they become more complex - with computer processors enabling them to make a moment-by-moment decisions - they will begin to look just as complex as trees and people and stars." We have slim chance, he suggests, of distinguishing an ET artifact from a natural celestial object.

If Wolfram is right and ETs are out there but we will not be able to recognize them - either in their communications or their artifacts - then of course they could be here in the Solar System and we would not have noticed.

Wolfram thinks ETs will not want to travel to Earth - or anywhere else for that matter. In Wolfram's view, everything in the Universe is the product of a computer program. In fact, he imagines an abstract cyber-universe of all conceivable computer programs, all the way from the simplest up to the most complex. This "computational universe" contains everything from the Apple Macintosh operating system to a programme for creating a faster-than-light starship

Wolfram believes he has found nature's big secret - how it generates the complexity of the world, everything from a rhododendron to a tree to a barred spiral galaxy by applying simple rules over and over again as a simple computer programs.

Wolfram came to this remarkable conclusion in the early 1980s when he discovered that the simplest kind of computer program - known as a cellular automaton - can generate infinite complexity if its output is repeatedly fed back in as its input. Wolfram has found evidence that the kind of computer program that produces endless complexity can be implemented "not just systems of biological molecules but in all sorts of physical systems - chaotic gas clouds, systems of subatomic particles and so on. He concludes that all over the Universe life - though definitely not life as we know it - will spring up spontaneously. It is a fundamental feature of matter."

The existence of this computational universe is the crucial thing. But the reality is it would be it easier and more efficient for an ET civilization to stay at home and use a computer to search the computational universe for useful programs rather than try to get the same information by hunting for ETs to talk to among the 200 billion or so stars in the Milky Way. "It's a simple numbers game," says Wolfram.

Everything is generated by computer program,"and that includes you and me," says Wolfram. "Someone halfway across the Galaxy could have found the computer program for you and conversing with you at this very moment."

The Daily Galaxy via astrobio.net, BBC.com, M. Chown, The Universe Next Door and A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram 

Image credit top of page: Bok globules  http://www.dl-digital.com/images/Astronomy/Nebulae/Rosette-Bok-64-Frame-Halpa-crop-v4preHDcropNew2.jpg


Or maybe aliens will be dumber than we think: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/13/universe-life-peter-principle-mars-column/4464201/

Then, is there fossils or life elsewhere? But, isn’t the emergence and maintenance of life a process of radical contingency? That is, is a unique and unrepeatable past totally necessary? Or does life emerge through space like mushrooms when some conditions are present? So, how many conditions are necessary: three, four, trillions, infinite? Only one, water or any sort of God? Is God the word that means infinite conditions, absolute necessity? Anyway, how did the life that emerge in a given conditions resist when switching to a different moment? How does life resist time itself, the effects of entropy? But, is it possible for human beings to recognise a simpler life than their own brain only? On the other hand, beyond likeness, is it possible to recognise a complex life than their brain, is this the extra-terrestrial life that some people are searching unsuccessfully? However, is there an origin of life or would it be as finding a cut in the material history of the universe, an infinite void that human language patches now? Along these lines, there is a peculiar book, a short preview in http://goo.gl/rfVqw6 Just another suggestion, far away from dogmas or axioms.

"Just another suggestion, far away from dogmas or axioms."

I'll have to correct that for you - Just another suggest, rife with it's own dogma and axioms. Although you do try to disguise that by phrasing them as questions.

Interesting that all those postulating god explanations have a link to a site where they want you to buy stuff.

I don't think that any private venture should speak for all of humanity by sending Earth's coordinates into space for the purpose of announcing our presence. It's already been proven that our man-made magnetic radiation degrades into useless noise after traveling a few light years from Earth. So, an active message in the giga-watt range would not have reached another star without a coordinated purpose. The economics of deep space travel would suggest the search for something other than friendship may be behind any galactic travelers arrival. The REAL Prime Directive of our universe is: "Everything has to Eat". That goes for everything we know of other than rocks. Everything consumes something else.To ignore that reality is ok for an individual but it takes on a different meaning when an individual displays the hubris to speak for all of us on Earth.
When exactly did we vote for this? Who gave these AH's permission to put the entire planet in danger?

Why is it that so many physicists are obsessed with the notion that humanity be replaced with uber computers?

Because like many geeks (especially in computer sciences) they are not very cognizant of how complex biology is and have this fervent dream that one day they will 'upload' their consciousness to a computer. Computer geeks very frequently equate the brain with digital circuitry, not at all realizing that one, the brain does not have binary circuits and two, the brain's functioning is influenced heavily by hormones, trace metals, etc.

Mr. Seth Sho"caca" is full of crap to say the least !!
Why in 2039o or 2019?
SETI and his now Emeritus A. H. Louis Friedman stole from me $100.00 dollars when back in late 80's or early 90's this F.. Louis. F. advertised in Astronomy Magazine that anyone that contributed with $100.00 dollars to help SETI will receive a gold pin,
Well, I never received it and when I complained I just simply got ignored !!
SETI is a rip off organization to say the least !!

Aliens with the energy production to signal (and travel), to distant stars, but yet can't turn kWh into kCal through chemistry?

Ripping off elemental resources however maybe a concern, I mean "everybody must mine" or such.

I wonder how long before space programs recycle waste into an artificial satellite called the "poo-n". It's going to happen. :D

Technology and biology are going to merge. If a civilization can build machines more intelligent and durable than themselves, then it won't be long before they can build things indistinguishable from biological systems. At that point you can build your body and mind as you see fit. Why would you have an AI explore for you when you can make yourself even better than it.

I also have to point out how slow and unreliable electromagnetic signals are when used over vast distances. if a civilization takes entangled particles with them everywhere they visit, they could have instant communication across the stars no matter what the distance.

I think we should focus our search on archeology and unknown objects outside as well as inside our solar system. Who knows what kind of junk is drifting around the asteroid belts and the ort cloud. imagine what we'd learn if we found a computer or some other storage device.

I don`t believe we`re going to "hear" them too soon...I remember how powerful were the first TV and Radio stations compared to now...They moved from hundreds of Kilowatts to watts in a few decades. The sensitivity of the receivers grew each year and also now we prefer web-grids of smaller emitters instead one huge power emitter, and everything is much more focalised onto an area that we want to emit to. This way much less escapes to space so that another civilisation could "hear". Same way with them, they will have a few decades of sloppy emissions, and it`s a infinitesimal chance that we are in the same faze of developement as a society like them so that we "hear" them. Most thing that we done is emitting in a very narrow direction for 1or 2 minutes a signal, and if they do something close we have zero chance to receive them.

Electromagnetic signals may not be the best way to look for extra solar civilizations. Earth itself is quickly becoming more silent in the electromagnetic signals as more and more of the communication is digital and handled by satellites.

they will say anything to keep their jobs. The era when humans believed the aliens will communicate by radio is gone, SETI should move their research towards cosmology instead of alien hunting.

In my opinion, if the AIs are so far advanced then they'd know how to stay quiet, don't you think? Also, wouldn't they have figured out long ago that less advanced beings would try to eavesdrop on outmoded communication technologies? And wouldn't they have figured out where all the sentient beings are in their own galaxy? And if they are there and know about us, then why have we not been contacted in an unambiguous way? How can we know how an AI thinks? How can we know what they find important? How many of these types of questions can be answered?

The SEARCH for ET is part of our heritage of curiosity and exploration and our deep need to know if we are alone in this Universe. Will we know by 2040 that we are not alone? I hope it'll be sooner 'cos I'll be an old dude, by then!!!

@Oligonicella "like many geeks..." etc

I think you underestimate many computer science geeks. The idea that a person may be (perfectly or imperfectly) "uploaded" into a computer has nothing to do with some moronic notion that the human brain shares much in common with binary computers.

Think of it more like weather simulation. You create a model, measure the existing state as best you can, plug it in, and... if you did everything perfectly, the simulation's output matches reality exactly. Nobody believes that hurricanes or the jet stream are anything like a binary computer. That would be just plain stupid. Like, really stupid. Like I find it hard to believe that anyone would even mention it. Like... seriously. Seriously?

Anyway, I highly doubt we'd ever come up with a perfect model capable of reproducing the "human experience" perfectly. But we very well may come up with one that's "good enough" to justify the ascension of our species. Personally, I think it's inevitable, whether it happens in 50 years or 5000. That's assuming, of course, that we do not die off first. We'll see. Rather, someone will.

Oh, and don't think we aren't already on our way to building direct interfaces with the brain. Note that a direct interface would not actually facilitate "copying consciousness" as mentioned above, but is a great demonstration of how much progress we've made in understanding the brain and the way it stores, encodes, and transmits information.


I didn't read many comments. I'm sure some are rude and obnoxious. I have thought of this for a long time now. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one. Most of those thoughts are that we should create cyborgs and robots that are better than us. I think it's our responsibility. And those thoughts are for the sake of space travel, colonization, and massive spread. I live in Idaho. There aren't any real big cities here. Just a lot of urban spread. All our little towns are connected into one big one. An urban sprawl on a galactic scale would be insane and awesome. I also think that E.T. has already created such artificial life too. Yes, SETI should be looking for these life forms.
Side note: What if machine life formed naturally somewhere. Maybe living on energy or electricity instead of water and food and air?

SETI..Telescopes Bigger ones ..radio signals , Optical search in all waves and configurations , The search continues and every once in awhile something pops up like "wow" I as my grandparents wish , That one day an answer ..And wonderment of the sightings already encounterd and observd , Tough to call all those people Quaks ..they saw something ,,But where what and ..Stephen Hawkins has warnd of seeking the un known ..as being carefull what we seek..Shamefully Human advancement is stuk on Light Speed whitch will one day have to be over come to have a chance of exploration beyond its known today capabalitys ..Space is indeed the final fronteer and we have no idea how far out there it is ..Sagan's Billions and Billions of places to explore ..The young ones of today may see the future far deferently

Post a comment

« "The New Methuselah" --Oldest Star in Universe Discovered 6,000 Light Years from Solar System | Main | "In the 'Blink of an Eye": Largest Mass Extinction in Earth's History --MIT Researchers »















Our Partners

technology partners




About Us/Privacy Policy

For more information on The Daily Galaxy and to contact us please visit this page.