Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Quest for Intelligent Life

Perhaps the first place we should look for intelligent life is here on Earth. The ingredients for life beyond Earth are scattered across the universe so life in and of itself is probably common, but intelligent life is most likely very rare; including here on earth.

A number of recent discoveries strongly suggest that alien life exists, either in our own solar system or beyond. So the question is no longer “Is there life beyond Earth?” it’s “Will we ever find it?”

Life may be common in the universe but intelligent life may be sporadic at best.  So if you’re a “diehard evolutionist”, being patient for a million or more years might just change that supposition.

As a reminder, here’s an indication of time spent regarding the theory of evolution — First: Modern since has concluded that the earth is 4.54 billion (4,540,000,000) years or so old. During that time the first Cells with a nucleus is believed to have appeared 2,100 million years ago; apes & monkeys appeared 40 million years ago; the first beings considered “human” appeared 2.5 million years ago; Neanderthals appeared 500,000 years ago; and Modern Humans began wandering about in Africa in the neighborhood of  200,000 years ago.   

A $100 Million, 10-year search for intelligent life in the universe was announced July 20th 2015 by several scientist  . . . Including, from left to right in depiction below, Billionaire Internet investor Yuri Milner, physicist Stephen Hawking, cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees, SETI research pioneer Frank Drake, co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios Ann Druyan (widow of the astronomer Carl Sagan), and UC Berkeley astronomy professor Geoff Marcy.   They gave the program a name: “Breakthrough Listen”

The first of the two initiatives announced by Breakthrough Listen will start the most powerful search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. The project will survey one (1) million stars in the Milky Way — only those closest to Earth, and 100 of the closest galaxies to Earth.

The second initiative of the project will fund an international competition to design digital messages that could be transmitted from Earth to extraterrestrial civilizations. The messages should be “representative of humanity and planet Earth” which might one day be sent from humanity to all those alien civilizations. The pool of prizes rewarding the best messages will total $1 Million, and the competition is open to everyone that thinks they’re intelligent enough to try.  Oh, if you’re wondering, details on the competition will not be released until a later date.

Interestingly, Hawking, perhaps the most well-known scientific mind of the group, warned that making contact with aliens might be a very bad idea, “We don't know much about aliens, but we know about humans,” he said. “If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced. A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

In an obvious attempt to calm fears of an imminent alien invasion, the program has pledged “not to transmit any message until there has been a global debate at high levels of science and politics on the risks and rewards of contacting advanced civilizations”.   

Conversely, cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees one of the world's most eminent astronomers; also a member of the Breakthrough Listen founding group does not share Hawking's somewhat alarming concerns, and suggested “they may know we're here already.”  Let’s hope he’s right!