Is Our Civilization Detectable?

by Paul Gilster on May 31, 2012

I haven’t even finished the first line of this post and I’m already in a digressive mood. The mental sidetrack comes from yesterday’s talk about the Square Kilometer Array, whose primary installations are now to be built in both South Africa and Australia. By observing an object through many instruments simultaneously, astronomers can use the technique called interferometry to combine incoming data and emulate a much larger instrument. The SKA’s sensitivity promises to be high enough to allow the detection of possible leakage radiation from another civilization, which prompted me to recall a quote I had buried in my archives:

“I know perfectly well that at this moment the whole universe is listening to us — and that every word we say echoes to the remotest star.”

The words are those of Jean Giraudoux, a French writer and diplomat whose plays, written between the two world wars, gained him an international audience (Christopher Fry was among the admirers who adapted Giraudoux’s work into English). Here the play is The Madwoman of Chaillot, a dizzying fantasy about corrupt business people who are trying to dig up Paris to retrieve its supposed oil reserves, and Countess Aurelia, the eccentric who with the help of an oddball ensemble of misfits puts these ‘wreckers of the world’s joy’ on trial. Giraudoux wrote the play in 1943 during the German occupation and died before he could see it performed.

Among the many plays, novels and essays the prolific Giraudoux wrote, this one eventually caught the eye of Carl Sagan, who used it to introduce a chapter about radio SETI in Intelligent Life in the Universe, the 1966 title he produced in collaboration with the Russian astronomer I.S. Shklovskii. I always enjoy paging through this book to see how our ideas of astrobiology and SETI have changed over the years. The SKA story invariably reminded me of Sagan’s concern over our own leakage radiation to the stars — he imagined the radio voice of Enrico Caruso traveling outward forever at the speed of light:

By now, the signal has propagated some 40 light years into space. If there is an advanced technical civilization within 20 light years of the Sun, they may have received that signal 20 years ago, correctly interpreted it as the result of another technical civilization, and immediately beamed their response to us. We should receive that signal any day now. But if the nearest technical civilization is many hundreds of light years away, we will have to wait a little longer.

And I have to add this entertaining riff, evidence that Sagan occasionally needed to lighten up:

…the characteristic signs of life on Earth which may be detectable over interstellar distances include the baleful contents of many American television programs and the mindless outpourings of rock-and-roll stations. It is a sobering thought indeed that the Beverly Hillbillies may be our only interstellar emissaries.

I’m not sure who it was who added Chuck Berry to the Voyager Golden Record, but whoever it was, good for him/her.

Whispers in the Night

People sometimes assume that stray signals would be easily snared at interstellar distances, but we’re learning that it would take a mammoth installation to make such a catch. The film Contact, made from Sagan’s novel of the same name, uses the wonderful device of a broadcast returned to us, a transmission from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Receiving such a signal parroted back to us would surely flag the detection of an extraterrestrial civilization and cause researchers to begin the necessary work to look for embedded information inside it.

The people behind the Square Kilometer Array talk about the ability of this instrument, once its vast telescopic resources are in place and connected to powerful computing facilities, to pick up something as weak as the extraterrestrial equivalent of an airport radar around another star. It’s a fantastic prospect, implying our ability to add a new layer to our existing SETI investigations. Is it possible that instead of scanning the skies for beacons, we might simply begin to pick up the extraneous signals of a civilization going about its daily life? The goal is energizing, but hearing claims about extraterrestrial detections always makes me uneasy.

Image: Signals from our civilization are gradually working their way into the galaxy. But would a conventional radio telescope be able to detect them at our present level of technology? Would the SKA?

Back in late 2010, James Benford discussed leakage radiation at a meeting of the Royal Society in Britain, asking whether the kind of installations we currently have on Earth could detect signals this weak if sent from a nearby star. It turns out a typical radio telescope like the Parkes instrument in Australia, if located near Alpha Centauri, would not be able to detect our TV transmissions at all. Benford pointed out that signal information is transmitted in bands on each side of the central frequency and that broadcast antennae aim their transmitted power mostly toward the surface. Signals that get into space are not coherent and are unlikely to be noted.

Sizing up the SKA

We’ll learn much more about the Square Kilometer Array as its various components come online in the late years of this decade and beyond, but the paper presenting Benford’s analysis, written with John Billingham (SETI Institute), indicates that talk about picking up airport radars and other leakage radiation may be overly optimistic. From the Benford/Billingham paper:

The assertion of Loeb and Zaldarriaga (2006) that SKA can see leakage radiation at 100 pc (316 ly) is based on the assumption that the sources are continuous, so long integration times make the leakage detectable. However, this is not true of Earth leakage. Integrating over days to months doesn’t work when the TV station you’re observing is transmitting in your direction for a time typically ~hour, before it disappears around the limb of the Earth, as stated by Sullivan. Forgan and Nichol (2010) show that, even if Loeb and Zaldarriaga were right, the probability of detection is very low.

The SKA may be too small for the task of picking up leakage radiation after all. Back in 2010, Seth Shostak (SETI Institute) wrote an essay about the matter in the Huffington Post:

Evidence of our existence has already washed over about 15,000 star systems, as the FM, television, and radar signals that were first transmitted during the late 1930s wick into space.

That isn’t news to many, of course, but maybe this is: These signals are not hard to find. If there are any aliens within a few hundred light-years, these clues to our existence could be found with an antenna the size of Chicago. For any society able to threaten us across such distances, that’s a pretty easy construction project.

Shostak was writing in the context of Stephen Hawking’s concerns about the dangers of extraterrestrial contact, and he’s doubtless right that a society advanced enough to cross the interstellar gulf to threaten the Earth would find building a Chicago-sized antenna feasible. But in our own terms (and what I’m getting at in this post is what we can detect), such an antenna would blow the budget for the entire century, being far larger than what the Square Kilometer Array can provide. Benford and Billingham went to work on the cost issues involved, assuming that Shostak was right that it would take an antenna this large:

Certainly, with ever-larger antenna area, at ever greater cost, advanced ETI can detect us. From the above analysis, we calculate that at 50-ly range, the antenna area must be ~1 km2. To assess Shostak’s claim, note that Chicago’s area is 24,800 km2 = 2.48 1010 m2. At the present value of SKA antennas, 2.4 k$/m2, the cost is 60 T$, comparable to Earth’s GNP of 70 T$. So if comparable to us, ETI would have to devote their entire science budget for a time perhaps of order a century to build Shostak’s antenna, a sobering prospect.

Sobering indeed. Obviously, a sufficiently advanced civilization would be capable of technologies and budgets that defy our analysis, but Benford and Billingham help us answer the question of whether or not our present technology — or that of the near future — would be capable of detecting our own transmissions from a nearby star. The answer is almost certainly no. Leakage radiation is going to be tough to detect even with country-spanning installations like the SKA. And we might answer Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot by saying that perhaps every word we say really is echoing to the remotest star, but the civilizations capable of hearing those words are going to be so far beyond our powers as to defy the imagination.

The Benford and Billingham paper is “Costs and Difficulties of Large-Scale ‘Messaging’, and the Need for International Debate on Potential Risks” (abstract) / full text.

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{ 69 comments }

Greg June 4, 2012 at 22:50

Wojciech, Not sure exactly how a hyper-telescope would work, without doing the calculations, light still travels at the same velocity as radio, I have to believe that it would be even harder to detect lights from a pre-industrial civilization ie. 200 years ago or more. If they were less than 100 light years away and had the resolution capability to resolve the land masses at that distance, if that’s even possible from that distance, it maybe possible. My question is would they even be interested in us if they knew we were here? From an alien perspective our blue ball maybe to hot, to cold, to much or to little of a reducing atmosphere, not enough argon or fluoride and so on?? Right now we don’t know if life can arise in different types of environments besides that of what we know, it’s very possible that life based on carbon and a nitrogen oxygen atmosphere is very rare as compared to other forms.

bigdan201 June 6, 2012 at 23:36

[blockquote]Unfortunately, when you think about it, both of these things can only make you optimistic about life hanging on once it exists, not about it starting from scratch.[/blockquote]

The fact that life got started here early in the earth’s history is a definite point in favor of biogenesis. Other than that, it is a major blank area in our knowledge.

[blockquote]What’s more, the more optimistic you get about life hanging on, the less credible explanations of the Fermi paradox become that postulate some sort of lazy kind of life that never goes anywhere in the galaxy or collapses suddenly on its own and dies out just like that.[/blockquote]

I wouldn’t put it that way. There are so many other factors which are glossed over by a simple give-or-take scenario. Life may be common, with intelligent life still being rare. Not all intelligent life will necessarily go to the stars. And even if it does, it may not have been detected by us. SETI has not been observing all the sky, all of the time – and then there are anomalies like the Wow! Signal, which hasn’t been figured out. Worldships would not leave an obvious signature, and communications in unusual frequencies could be missed. And there’s no telling what currently exists in other galaxies, or what exists on the other side of our own galactic core.

Also, intelligent life may be at far greater risk of self-destruction than non-sentients.

The Fermi Paradox makes it clear that there are no vast interstellar civilizations nearby, but that doesn’t rule out ETI.

Eniac June 8, 2012 at 0:18

bigdan201:

The Fermi Paradox makes it clear that there are no vast interstellar civilizations nearby, but that doesn’t rule out ETI.

With the subluminal restriction of current physics, there cannot be any “vast interstellar civilizations”. What there can be is a vast number of stellar civilizations. Unless each and every one of them gives up going to the stars forever, their number will grow by colonization until every single system in the galaxy has been occupied. Only a fraction of a billion years is necessary for this, even if it happens at a very leisurely pace. The fact that our own solar system is not swarming with ETI is enough evidence that there aren’t any, at least none that, like us, are always eager to cross the next frontier. No SETI programs or starships are needed to ascertain this.

The fact that life got started here early in the earth’s history is a definite point in favor of biogenesis. Other than that, it is a major blank area in our knowledge.

First off, I do not believe in “microfossils”. For all we really know, the Earth could have been lifeless for 1-2 billion years, which would take us about 30 percent into the total available time. Given that life exists now, and that it needed some time to evolve us, it is actually more likely for life to have started in the first half of Earth history. When else? A million years ago? 2 billion years after today? Not with us here…

Thus the timing of abiogenesis is about as would be expected simply from the observed fact that life exists today, and there is no evidence whatsoever in this timing about how likely the event would be to happen on other planets.

magne June 8, 2012 at 13:08

@Greg: before electricity cities did not generate much light, might be easier to go after large shifts like borders between fields, canals, something like the rice terraces. However you would need better than 100 meter resolution to get proofs I think.
Hunter gatherers are much harder, as in hard to spot with an spy satellite in orbit.

As for radio signals, we are going in the direction of higher frequencies and lower power, energy use is not the problem, you need small cells and high fervency for high bandwidth.
Guess it would be harder to spot emissions from earth in 2100 than 1980.

Nick June 9, 2012 at 16:56

I’m not sure why they date the start of powerful radio to the 1930s. Very soon after the invention of radio, by the 1910s at the latest, very powerful transmitters were being built that could send even the crude signals of the time across most of the planet. For example American Telegraph company in Palo Alto built transmitters that could beam beam between Hawaii and both the mainland U.S. and East Asia, making Hawaii a telegraphic communications hub. Crude though they were, these transmissions had a very simple digital code (Morse code) and would have the unmistakable signature of the artificial. (Long before Silicon Valley, there were high-tech radio companies among those orchards). By 1921, RCA was using 200 kW transmitters.

Also, I don’t buy the rotating-beyond-the-limb argument. Just integrate over the signal when the transmitter is in view and throw out the data when it’s not (and it would be easy to tell when it’s in view).

Finally, earth gives off unmistakable chlorophyll spectra that with very advanced technology can probably be seen at hundreds of thousands of light-years, more with gravitational lensing. Also, somebody looking at the earth from high inclinations, using disks to occlude the sun, earth, moon, and other planets, would see a faint ring around our planet that gives off a bizarre spectra with millions of times the natural concentrations of gold — the gold foil on our geosynchronous satellites. Almost any surface with similar engineering objectives (optimizing certain optical and thermal properties) would give off unmistakably artificial spectra.

Ron S June 9, 2012 at 17:46

Nick, two things about those early high-power transmissions. First, most of those were very broadband (spark) since the technology to generate continuous wave transmissions at high power was not yet available. Therefore the spectral density (W/Hz) was low. Second, the wavelengths were very long, so that little of the energy made it through the upper atmosphere.

magne June 9, 2012 at 18:24

Early radio was short wave, it’s reflected by the stratosphere, I guess you get some leaks probably more than the first TV broadcast but has no idea on how much it will be.

Rotation will be an issue if you have few large transmitters, an serious problem if the signal is an narrow beam of high power. An narrow beam signal out in deep space would not last long as the sender and target will move. Imagine the WOW signal was some deep space distress or warning signal, chances of getting an new one in our direction would be low.

Earth also have oxygen in the atmosphere, but chlorophyll all over would indicate an more advanced ecosystem. Do not think it would be easy to see earth satellites but space structures from an advanced civilization would be far easier to see.

bigdan201 June 11, 2012 at 13:11

pardon me for making a mistake on the quotes, other forums use [ ] instead of .

With the subluminal restriction of current physics, there cannot be any “vast interstellar civilizations”. What there can be is a vast number of stellar civilizations. Unless each and every one of them gives up going to the stars forever, their number will grow by colonization until every single system in the galaxy has been occupied. Only a fraction of a billion years is necessary for this, even if it happens at a very leisurely pace. The fact that our own solar system is not swarming with ETI is enough evidence that there aren’t any, at least none that, like us, are always eager to cross the next frontier. No SETI programs or starships are needed to ascertain this.

there’s always the possibility of foldspace and wormholes, although the challenge of using these tools would be great for any species.

and you’re still leaving aside the potential of self-destruction, or finding some sort of stasis in colonization. Also, there’s no telling what’s happening in other galaxies or the other side of our own.

First off, I do not believe in “microfossils”. For all we really know, the Earth could have been lifeless for 1-2 billion years, which would take us about 30 percent into the total available time. Given that life exists now, and that it needed some time to evolve us, it is actually more likely for life to have started in the first half of Earth history. When else? A million years ago? 2 billion years after today? Not with us here…

Thus the timing of abiogenesis is about as would be expected simply from the observed fact that life exists today, and there is no evidence whatsoever in this timing about how likely the event would be to happen on other planets.

Maybe. But consider that the first phase of the earth (hadean) was extremely inhospitable, and that life was definitely here early in the next phase (archean). It seems that as soon as life could get a foothold, it was there. Life could’ve started 2 billion years into the earths history and had time enough to evolve, but it looks more like 1 billion years at most. It’s not proof, but I find that compelling. Many questions will go unanswered until we have more data.

Eniac June 11, 2012 at 22:52

there’s always the possibility of foldspace and wormholes, although the challenge of using these tools would be great for any species.

If we allow this fantastic proposition, there is indeed a chance for some sort of interstellar civilization, provided the wormholes can be spaced at least one per star system. However, lack of distance arguably makes it more difficult to maintain billions of years of quarantine around a system, rather than less. Besides, how would they know to quarantine our system, particularly, in its first billion years? Why would they want to?

and you’re still leaving aside the potential of self-destruction, or finding some sort of stasis in colonization.

Yes, that is right. This is the doomsday hypothesis. Or, more positively, the “rapture” hypothesis. Both make a lot more sense than the zoo hypothesis. Myself, I much prefer the “We are alone” hypothesis. On the evidence, and also on the implications….

Also, there’s no telling what’s happening in other galaxies or the other side of our own.

You may be right about the other galaxies, although I would not put it past at least one of the billions of civilizations that will exist in our galaxy after the Great Expansion to send a swarm of self-replicating probes to nearby galaxies, just for the kicks of it. As for the other side of our own galaxy, your assertion is dubious for two reasons: 1) There is no barrier between the two sides, due to the disk shape, and 2) On the timescale we are talking about the stars within the disk are thoroughly mixed. Stars that used to be neighbors could easily be at opposite ends a few hundred million years later.

Eniac June 11, 2012 at 23:00

and you’re still leaving aside the potential of self-destruction, or finding some sort of stasis in colonization.

To be sure, it would take a fantastically inevitable kind of doom (or rapture) to stop each and every ETI, without exception. If colonization is allowed to happen before doomsday/rapture, the bar is even much higher, as each and every colony of each and every ETI must be stopped, without exception.

Rob Henry June 12, 2012 at 1:31

It is important to note that early abiogenesis only provides evidence that f(l) might be high IFF, the requisite *chemical evolution* does not depend on high energy factors that are only present early in a planets history. Examples of this are, if it is driven by the energy released by a large meteorite impact, or radiogenic decay, or requires high concentrations of atmospheric methane and ammonia.

Rob Henry June 12, 2012 at 19:48

Eniac, I also prefer a positive doom to a negative one as a likely device. My reasoning is also driven by the problem as to how there could be so few exceptions to our arrest before further colonisation.

Perhaps rapture = Vinge’s singularity here, and the technology to bring it is coupled to the prospects for further interest in interstellar travel. After such an event, I speculate that we could no longer contemplate the questions asked here. Then it becomes no coincidence the we find ourselves contemplating why we are at such an early stage in technological civilisation.

Eniac June 13, 2012 at 0:50

Rob, this is getting a little too philosophical for my taste (again!), but here goes: I would think that anything worthy being called something other than doom (singularity will do) should increase rather than decrease our abilities of contemplation, so your implied supposition of blissful ignorance after the inevitable rapturous event in our future strikes me as odd.

bigdan201 June 13, 2012 at 14:44

If we allow this fantastic proposition, there is indeed a chance for some sort of interstellar civilization, provided the wormholes can be spaced at least one per star system. However, lack of distance arguably makes it more difficult to maintain billions of years of quarantine around a system, rather than less. Besides, how would they know to quarantine our system, particularly, in its first billion years? Why would they want to?

I don’t assume that we’re placed in a quarantine to keep us cut off from alien contact/observation. That seems strange to me, although I can’t speak to alien motivations.

I’m saying that it’s possible that there has been/is ETI that simply hasn’t crossed paths with us.

Foldspace/wormholes are fantastic, although within the realm of possibility (as far as is known). It’s plausible that even an advanced ETI hasn’t mastered these methods and has to rely on lengthy subluminal voyages. This would greatly increase the likelihood of an advanced ETI civilization not running into us. It is true that if an ETI civilization grew geometrically over millions of years, it would swarm the galaxy. But this assumes that they’re in this galaxy, and that there are no disruptions to growth…

Yes, that is right. This is the doomsday hypothesis. Or, more positively, the “rapture” hypothesis. Both make a lot more sense than the zoo hypothesis. Myself, I much prefer the “We are alone” hypothesis. On the evidence, and also on the implications….

Although I didn’t live through the Cold War, I’m aware that there was a real risk of our modern civilization self-destructing during that time, and leaving only remnants in its wake. Aliens who can harness great energies and use them to aggressive ends are always at the risk of self-destruction. Even if this doesn’t result in complete extinction, it can severely disrupt their level of culture and star-faring ability.
On the positive side, a rapture might lead them to turn their gaze inwards instead of outwards towards the stars. Artificial reality, the life of the mind taken to extremes, etc. are all viable possibilities. They’re far less unpleasant than self-destruction, but this would also halt expansion.

You may be right about the other galaxies, although I would not put it past at least one of the billions of civilizations that will exist in our galaxy after the Great Expansion to send a swarm of self-replicating probes to nearby galaxies, just for the kicks of it. As for the other side of our own galaxy, your assertion is dubious for two reasons: 1) There is no barrier between the two sides, due to the disk shape, and 2) On the timescale we are talking about the stars within the disk are thoroughly mixed. Stars that used to be neighbors could easily be at opposite ends a few hundred million years later.

Billions of civilizations in our galaxy? I assume you meant universe or galactic supercluster.

Even if probes have been sent, we could’ve easily missed them. Also, aliens might also be aware of the threat of “grey goo”, and avoided creating self-replicating devices that would multiply out of control.

It is true that there is no dividing barrier through the Milky Way Galaxy. However, my point is that there is an entire portion of our galaxy that we can’t observe, because it is obscured by the galactic core. We can only hypothesize about what is there. There could be visible ETI behind the observation shadow, and signals created by them that couldn’t reach us.

To be sure, it would take a fantastically inevitable kind of doom (or rapture) to stop each and every ETI, without exception. If colonization is allowed to happen before doomsday/rapture, the bar is even much higher, as each and every colony of each and every ETI must be stopped, without exception.

That is true. But this is only really compelling if there is a high density of ETI civilizations. There may be only a handful of starfaring ETI civilizations in a galaxy at any given time. Even if life is commonplace, sentient intelligence doesn’t need to be anywhere near as common as lesser forms of life.

Overall, there are too many blanks to be filled in. You favor the “we are alone” scenario, and I can see how that appeals to a skeptic worldview. After all, we haven’t seen any alien life, so why suppose it’s there? But I take the following evidence:
1. complexity and ubiquity of life on earth
2. that life is made of common elements
3. that there are many planets, some like earth
4. the sheer vastness of the universe

and I state that ETI is a definite possibility. I find it strange that intelligent life should only happen on this one planet – it seems downright arbitrary. I’d be surprised if we’re unique in the universe. Your ideas are well taken, though.

Rob Henry June 13, 2012 at 18:29

Bigdan201, all main sequence real estate in the galaxy should look good to an advanced ETI, and the Milky Way contains 400 billion stars, in addition to at least as many large rouge planets and roughly 100 billion brown dwarfs. Given the speed at which colonisation can spread civilisation, a trillion of them in our galaxy sounds quite possible so billions is reasonable here.

How can the high complexity of life on Earth be taken as a sign that abiogenesis is easy? Especially problematic to its cause is the high level of minimum complexity of modern freeliving organisms in niches where simplicity should give a large advantage.

For that matter how can anyone seriously offset the *vastness of the universe* which is in the order of a few dozen orders of magnitude, against any process in which a complex structure may be needed to form by fluke, the may entail a few million orders of magnitude. It may well be that f(l) turns out to be close to 1, but I can’t see this how this vastness arguments helps that cause in the slightest.

bigdan201 June 14, 2012 at 0:34

Bigdan201, all main sequence real estate in the galaxy should look good to an advanced ETI, and the Milky Way contains 400 billion stars, in addition to at least as many large rouge planets and roughly 100 billion brown dwarfs. Given the speed at which colonisation can spread civilisation, a trillion of them in our galaxy sounds quite possible so billions is reasonable here.

I was referring to the number of ETI civilizations, rather than subgroups or individuals. also, interstellar travel would be challenging for anyone, although it can definitely be done.

How can the high complexity of life on Earth be taken as a sign that abiogenesis is easy? Especially problematic to its cause is the high level of minimum complexity of modern freeliving organisms in niches where simplicity should give a large advantage.

to clarify, life is not only advanced, but it’s highly varied. there is life that fits into almost every conceivable niche, including those that are seemingly hostile to life (see: extremophiles, hydrothermal vent communities). abiogenesis may well have began with a seemingly unfavorable habitat. and there have been many simple forms of life.
I don’t know how easy or difficult abiogenesis is exactly. But if it happened readily on the earth, I don’t see why it shouldn’t happen elsewhere, unless there are intervening factors that can’t be known.

For that matter how can anyone seriously offset the *vastness of the universe* which is in the order of a few dozen orders of magnitude, against any process in which a complex structure may be needed to form by fluke, the may entail a few million orders of magnitude. It may well be that f(l) turns out to be close to 1, but I can’t see this how this vastness arguments helps that cause in the slightest.

I bring that up because with a vast universe, you have a vast number of potential habitats – which has been confirmed by the recent exoplanet discoveries. With so many galaxies, stars, and planets, it becomes increasingly likely that abiogenesis has occurred elsewhere. There may be some sort of unforeseen eye-of-the-needle condition which would make us alone in the universe, but this seems like a stretch to me. Assuming that the earth isn’t awesomely unique, why should biology only develop here?

ljk June 28, 2012 at 13:39

When the Aliens Call, Who Will Answer?

From Cosmic Log by Alan Boyle

A new poll suggests that 77 percent of Americans think there’s evidence that aliens have already visited Earth. The same poll suggests most Americans think President Barack Obama would do a better job than presumptive GOP challenger Mitt Romney if we had to fight off an alien invasion. And if we have to rely on a superhero to save us, they’d rather go with the Hulk than Batman.

That somewhat silly survey was conducted to tout a “Chasing UFOs” TV series on the National Geographic Channel, but the results raise a serious question: If an alien civilization does get in touch with us, who’s in charge of figuring out what to do?

“Nobody’s in charge,” says Seth Shostak, who is senior astronomer at the California-based SETI Institute as well as the chairman of the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Study Group. Shostak and I talked about SETI — the search for extraterrestrial intelligence — as well as its serious and silly implications tonight on “Virtually Speaking Science.” The hourlong talk show is archived as a podcast on the Web and on iTunes.

As the poll done for National Geographic suggests, a good number of people suspect the aliens have already arrived, presumably on UFOs or through interdimensional travel. Most scientists scoff at that idea. “Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?” British physicist Stephen Hawking asked earlier this month.

But Shostak thinks it’s only a matter of time before extraterrestrial civilizations actually do make themselves known, by sending signals across the light-years. Almost a decade ago, he predicted that we’d detect those signals by the year 2025, and today he told me he’s sticking by that prediction. [And Frank Drake said we would find ETI by The Year 2000.]

Full article and truncated interview here:

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/27/12444154-when-the-aliens-call-wholl-answe

ljk July 24, 2012 at 13:20

What’s The Connection Between Deafness and SETI?

Why would a deaf writer explore the search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

Published on July 23, 2012 by Michael Chorost, Ph.D. in World Wide Mind

Most of my readers know me as someone who writes about deafness, cochlear implants, neuroscience, and neurotechnology. So you might wonder, what am I up to in writing about astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)? Let me explain.

In fact, my interest in SETI has been lifelong. As a kid I read science fiction (I still do now, of course), followed the space program obsessively (I remember reading New York Times articles on Skylab in 1973, when I was 9 years old) and was fascinated by movies like Close Encounters and E.T.

When I went totally deaf in 2001, got my first cochlear implant, and wrote my first book about it (Rebuilt), that pushed me into reading deeply in new subject areas: neuroscience and neurotechnology. The momentum of all that reading carried over into my second book (World Wide Mind.) But I’ve been interested in SETI all along. In planning to write a third book on SETI, I’m continuing an interest I had long before cochlear implants came into my life.

Full article here:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/world-wide-mind/201207/whats-the-connection-between-deafness-and-seti

To quote:

“I think that deafness and planetary isolation have something in common. A deaf person knows how easy it is to become profoundly cut off. (If civilization collapsed and the electricity went out for good, my rechargeable cochlear implant batteries would last me about a week.) I think of our planet swimming in the starry blackness, studded with radio telescopes peering anxiously into the void—and hearing nothing. To me, that feels a lot like being deaf.”

ljk July 29, 2012 at 16:03

http://singularityhub.com/2012/07/23/seth-shostak-from-seti-we-will-find-aliens-in-space/

Seth Shostak From SETI: We WILL Find Aliens In Space

by Brian Hoffstein July 23rd, 2012

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, has been patiently waiting by his computer for over two decades now, anticipating the day when some sign of Extraterrestrial Intelligence pops up on his radar screen. It’s been a fairly quiet job so far, but Shostak visited Singularity University on Monday with an optimistic perspective about SETI’s prospects for the near future.

With at least 10^22 stars in a universe that has been around for 14+ billion years, the odds are surely in favor for life sprouting up somewhere else besides this pale blue dot we call home. The problem at the moment is that SETI’s range is laughably small when comparing it to the scope of the cosmos; we barely get out of our own solar system let alone tap into other galaxies. But judging by the trends in technology and the advancements of SETI’s satellites, which are increasing at Moore’s Law rates, Shostak believes we will find some sort of ET in the next few decades.

The SETI program’s farm of satellites… it’s range is increasing exponentially.

As such, Shostak spoke not about if we find aliens, but when. What will they look like? Hollywood has it all wrong, he says. The Aliens will not be bags of meat like us primitive life forms. The idea of bigger brained monsters with small noses, big eyes, and no hair is more like a rendering of what humans could look like in the future as opposed to what true aliens would look like. Rather, he suspects some type of artificial intelligent machine would be more likely what we’d find; A sort of life form that our limited scope of imagination probably can’t even conceive of. And what about the reports that aliens have secretly already visited us on earth? Shostak laughs at that notion, replying: “Do Americans really believe the same government that runs the postal service is covering up alien life?”

In the closing Q&A session Shostak touched a little more on Fermi’s Paradox – the apparent contradiction between the likelihood that extraterrestrial civilizations exist and the lack of evidence for them. One potential solution is the Transcension Hypothesis; an idea fostered by John Smart (who graciously donated his library to us at Singularity University) suggesting that as intelligent civilizations continue to evolve, they experience a level of STEM (Space, Time, Energy, and Matter) compression that ultimately collapses into a black hole-like structure.

Shostak wittingly remarked, “well, we won’t find those guys!” But all jokes aside, the reason we haven’t met any aliens yet could just be because they don’t care about us – maybe we’re not an advanced-enough civilization to interest them for a visit.

Whatever the case may be, Shostak is on guard and ready for any signal should/when it comes in. In the meantime, we’ve got some work to do if we’d like to prove to our cosmic-brothers that were any smarter than the dinosaurs. Aside from a few stints on the moon, mankind has barely left the rock we arose from.

However, with the recent successful launch from Space X, the rover known as Curiosity scheduled to touch ground on Mars in the coming weeks, and the Google Lunar X Prize competition dated for 2015, we could be in the midst of a space renaissance. With just a little more support for Seth and his friends at NASA, who knows where we could be, or what we could know about the universe 5, 10 years from now…

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