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Can Artificial Intelligence Help Finding Foreign Intelligence?



Artistic representation of Proxima b, a planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri within the nearest known star system outside our solar system. Credit: ESO / M.

Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), we have often searched for signs of intelligence, technology and communication similar to those of our own.

But Jill Tarter, astronomer and SETI pioneer, points out that one has to look for detectable techno signatures like radio transmissions, without looking for intelligence.

Now scientists are considering whether artificial intelligence (AI) can help us find alien intelligence in ways we have not even thought of.

& decryption & # 39; Intelligence

When we think about extraterrestrial intelligence, it is helpful to know that humans are not the only intelligent life on earth.

Chimps have culture and use tools, spiders process information with nets, whales have dialects, crows understand analogies, and beavers are great engineers. Non-human intelligence, language, culture and technology are around us.

Alien intelligence could look like an octopus, an ant, a dolphin or a machine ̵

1; or radically different than anything on earth.

We often envision extraterrestrial life relative to our notion 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 miss when imagining extraterrestrial life?

In early 2018, astronomers, neuroscientists, anthropologists, AI researchers, historians, and others convened a "decoding alien intelligence" workshop 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 come by "in search of other versions of ourselves" and think "outside of our own brain" to envision a truly different alien intelligence.

Thinking the Other Way

Silicon Valley is famous for evaluating "disruptive" thinking and this culture overlaps with SETI research. Since the US government stopped funding SETI in the mid-1990s, ideas, technology and finance have become increasingly important in Silicon Valley.

A Capuchin (Sapajus libidinosus) uses a stone tool (T. Falótico). An octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) carries shells as a shelter (N. Hobgood). (Wikimedia / Tiago Falótico, Nick Hobgood), CC BY-NC-SA

For example, the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array was named after co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, who contributed over $ 25 million to the project. And in 2015, technology investor Yuri Milner announced breakthrough lists, a $ 10 million 10-year SETI 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 in 2017 an AI-based method as a "signal-agnostic search" on Breakthrough Discuss.

Walkowicz explained that this means machine learning methods to look at any amount of data without predefined 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 could 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 outside of our scientific, social and cultural systems. But how can we do that?

AI was used to search for simulations that researchers imagine could be foreign radio signals, but now SETI researchers hope they can find things we are 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 man just as we intellectually excel the slime mold".

Parts of the Armillaria ostoyae organism include the fungi, the black rhizomorphs and the white mycelium fungi. Credit: USDA / Forest Service / Pacific Northwest Region

First Contact

If we encountered alien slime mold, 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 ] mushroom in the eastern Oregon 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 to think in search of the unexpected 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.

Interdisciplinary Futures

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 because we do not know it yet.

Some of the methods used in anthropology can help us to identify ideas about differences that seem so familiar to us that they seem invisible like separations. 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 chat bot Tay reminds us that the AI ​​we create can reflect the worst of these ideas.

We may never stop constructing engine bias and developing 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 here on earth and beyond.


Further information:
The SETI Institute demands new tools for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence

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