Our search for extraterrestrial life has always been informed by our own experience as life forms, looking for worlds with similar characteristics as Earth. But one SETI astronomer believes that that is limiting our search for intelligent life.
SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak says we should expand our search to include sentient alien machines. He argues that by the time we could detect and interact with extraterrestrials, they would have developed advanced technology like AI.
To see his point, we have to look at our own technological advancement. Technology is growing exponentially, and many say that developing super-intelligent AI is not a question of if, but when.
So why should aliens be any different? “If we can develop artificial intelligence within a couple of hundred years of inventing radio, any aliens we are likely to hear from have very likely gone past that point,” says Shostak to the BBC.
How does this impact the search? If aliens really did shed their biological bodies for digital forms, then we should be looking at regions that digital life forms would find attractive. This would include energy-rich regions like the center of the galaxy, or regions where minerals are abound.
This is not the first time Shostak has put forward this idea. In 2010, he wrote a paper in Acta Astronautica that details these very thoughts.
When we search for alien life, we look at Earth-like worlds, exoplanets, like Proxima b, or worlds that inhabit "Goldilocks zones." Shostak's arguments mean that alien life could be far more versatile, being digital life forms.
Which is why efforts like SETI are important. They look not just at possible life-bearing worlds, but at any and all signals that alien life might have sent into space.
If Shostak's arguments are true, then developing and embracing AI may be the path to us becoming a spacefaring world. Digitization may be the key to solving the problems of a galaxy-wide race, like how to harness massive amounts of energy required for a Type 2 or Type 3 civilization.