The following article has been reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication on the latest research.
Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), we've often searched for signs of intelligence, technology, and communication
But Jill Tarter, astronomer and SETI pioneer, points out that one has to look for detectable technosignatures like radio transmissions without looking for intelligence.
Now scientists are considering whether artificial intelligence (AI) could help us look for extraterrestrial intelligence in ways we have not even thought of.
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When we think about extraterrestrial intelligence, it is helpful to remember that humans are not the only intelligent life on earth. Chimpanzees have culture and use tools, spiders process information with nets, whales have dialects, crows understand analogies, and beavers are g reat engineers. Non-human intelligence, language, culture and technology are around us.
Alien intelligence might look like an octopus, an ant, a dolphin or a machine ̵
We often envision extraterrestrial life relative to our notions of difference, but these ideas are not even universal on Earth and are unlikely to be universal throughout interstellar space.
If some of us have recently recognized non-human intelligence on Earth, what could we (19659003) in early 2018, astronomers, neuroscientists, anthropologists, AI researchers, historians and others gather for a workshop entitled "Decoding Alien Intelligence" at the SETI Institute in Silicon Valley. Astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol organized the workshop for her 2016 work Alien Mindscapes, which calls for a new SETI roadmap and a long-term vision for "the search for life as we do not know it".
In Their Work Cabrol asks how SETI can think past "looking for other versions of ourselves" and "outside of our own brain" to imagine a truly different alien intelligence.
Silicon Valley is famous for its appreciation of disruptive thinking and this culture overlaps with SETI research. Since the US government stopped funding SETI in the mid-1990s, ideas, technology, and funding have become increasingly important in Silicon Valley
For example, the Allen Telescope Array of the SETI Institute was named after co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen $ 25 million for the project. And in 2015, technology investor Yuri Milner announced the 10-year SETI Breakthrough Listen initiative.
Now, the SETI Institute, NASA, Intel, IBM, and other Space Exploration Partners are working on a development program called the Frontier Development Lab.
Lucianne Walkowicz, Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress, described an AI-based method in 2017 as "signal agnostic searching" at Breakthrough Discuss.
Walkowicz explained that this means machine learning methods to look at any amount of data without given categories, and instead group that data into their "natural categories". The software then lets us know what turns out to be outliers. These outliers could then be the target of further investigations.
It turns out that SETI researchers think AI might be useful in their work because they believe that machine learning is good at detecting differences.
But its success depends on how we and the AI we create conceptualize the idea of difference.
Smarter than slime mold?
Thinking outside of our brain also means thinking beyond our scientific, social and cultural systems. But how can we do that?
AI was used to search for simulations that researchers imagine foreign radio signals might look like, but now SETI researchers hope they can find things we're not yet looking for.
Graham Mackintosh, an AI consultant at the SETI Institute, said extraterrestrials could do things we can not even imagine using technologies so different that we do not even think about looking for them. AI, he suggested, could do this advanced thinking for us.
We may not be able to get any smarter, but maybe, Mackintosh suggested, we can make machines that are smarter for us
At this year's Breakthrough Discuss conference, astrophysicist Martin Rees had a similar one Hope that AI could "lead to intelligence that surpasses humans just as we intellectually outperform slime mold."
When we encounter extraterrestrial slime What could we expect from his intelligence? One challenge of SETI is that we do not know the limits of life or intelligence, so we have to be open to all kinds of differences.
We could find intelligence in forms that Euro-American science has historically neglected: microbial communities, insects or other complex systems such as the symbiotic plant-fungus relationships in mycorrhiza networks that learn from experience.
Intelligence can occur in atmospheres or geology on a planetary scale or as astrophysical phenomena. What appears as a background process in the universe or as part of what we consider to be nature could turn out to be intelligence.
Consider that the largest living creature on earth may be Armillaria ostoyae ] fungus in East Oregon's Blue Mountains, which stretches over 10 square kilometers and is between 2,000 and 9,000 years old.
Although this mushroom is not what most people think is intelligence, it reminds us of the unexpected in seeking for life and intelligence and for what we might miss right under our feet.
To think differently about intelligence is to understand that whatever we encounter may be the first contact with intelligent life. This could be our first encounter with Artificial Generic Intelligence (AGI), also called Strong AI, closer to the sentient HAL 9000 computer 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek: The Next Generation .
While we work with machine learning to expand the SETI search, we also need social sciences to understand how our ideas shape the future of AI, and how AI will shape the future of our ideas.
To avoid a human-centered viewpoint in SETI, we need to consider how we code ideas about differences in AI and how they shape the results. This is vital to finding and recognizing intelligence that we do not yet know.
Some of the methods used in anthropology can help us identify ideas that have come to us – concepts that are so familiar that they seem invisible, many still see between nature and culture or biology and technology, for example.
Recent research into algorithms shows how our naturalized ideas shape the technology we create and how we use it. And Microsoft's notorious AI chatbot Tay reminds us that the AI we create can reflect the worst of these ideas.
We will never stop generating SEOs or search strategies for SETI or coding them in AI. But through collaboration between scientists and social scientists, we can think critically about how we understand differences.
A critical, interdisciplinary approach will help us to understand how our notions of diversity affect life, research, and opportunities for the future, both on Earth and beyond
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