Will recent advances in AI result in a paradigm shift in Astrobiology and SETI?

Time line for the evolution of life on Earth. Data from Lyon et al, 2014 and

Joe Gale, Amri Wandel, Hugh Hill
The steady advances in computer performance and in programming raise the concern that the ability of computers would overtake that of the human brain, an occurrence termed “the Singularity”. While comparing the size of the human brain and the advance in computer capacity, the Singularity has been estimated to occur within a few decades although the capacity of conventional computers may reach its limits in the near future. However, in the last few years, there have been rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI). There are already programs that carry out pattern recognition and self-learning which, at least in limited fields such as chess and other games, are superior to the best human players. Furthermore, the quantum computing revolution, which is expected to vastly increase computer capacities, is already on our doorstep. It now seems inevitable that the Singularity will arrive within the foreseeable future. Biological life, on Earth and on extraterrestrial planets and their satellites, may continue as before, but humanity could be ‘replaced’ by computers. Older and more advanced intelligent life forms, possibly evolved elsewhere in the universe, may have passed their Singularity a long time ago. Post Singularity life would probably be based not on biochemical reactions but on electronics. Their communication may use effects such as quantum entanglement and be undetectable to us. This may explain the Fermi paradox or at least the “Big Silence” problem in SETI.
Read more at https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1910/1910.03944.pdf

NASA and the Search for Technosignatures

Technosignature axes of merit, illustrating some of the considerations that go into developing a good search strategy for technosignatures.

NASA Technosignatures Workshop Participants
This report is the product of the NASA Technosignatures Workshop held at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, in September 2018. This workshop was convened by NASA for the organization to learn more about the current field and state of the art of searches for technosignatures, and what role NASA might play in these searches in the future. The report, written by the workshop participants, summarizes the material presented at the workshop and incorporates additional inputs from the participants. Section 1 explains the scope and purpose of the document, provides general background about the search for technosignatures, and gives context for the rest of the report. Section 2 discusses which experiments have occurred, along with current limits on technosignatures. Section 3 addresses the current state of the technosignature field as well as the state-of-the-art for technosignature detection. Section 4 addresses near-term searches for technosignatures, and Section 5 discusses emerging and future opportunities in technosignature detection.

Read more at https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1812/1812.08681.pdf

Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails

Manasvi Lingam, Abraham Loeb
We examine the possibility that Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) originate from the activity of extragalactic civilizations.
Our analysis shows that beams used for powering large light sails could yield parameters that are consistent with FRBs.
The characteristic diameter of the beam emitter is estimated through a combination of energetic and engineering constraints, and both approaches intriguingly yield a similar result which is on the scale of a large rocky planet.
Moreover, the optimal frequency for powering the light sail is shown to be similar to the detected FRB frequencies. These `coincidences’ lend some credence to the possibility that FRBs might be artificial in origin.
Other relevant quantities, such as the characteristic mass of the light sail, and the angular velocity of the beam, are also derived.
By using the FRB occurrence rate, we infer upper bounds on the rate of FRBs from extragalactic civilizations in a typical galaxy.
The possibility of detecting fainter signals is briefly discussed, and the wait time for an exceptionally bright FRB event in the Milky Way is estimated.
Read more at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1701.01109.pdf


Type III Societies (Apparently) Do Not Exist

Brian C. Lacki
Whether technological societies remain small and planet-bound like our own, or ultimately span across galaxies is an open question in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Societies that engineer on a galactic scale are classified as Type III on Kardashev’s scale. I argue that Type III societies can take the form of blackboxes, entire galaxies veiled in an opaque screen. A blackbox has a temperature that is just above that of the cosmic microwave background. The screen can be made from artificial dust pervading the galaxy.
I show that there is enough material in galaxies to build blackboxes if the dust is fashioned into dipole antennas. The thermal emission of a blackbox makes it a bright microwave source. I examine the Planck Catalog of Compact Sources to constrain the abundance of blackboxes. None of the 100 GHz sources has the spectrum expected of a blackbox. The null result rules out shrouded galaxy clusters out to z ~ 1 and shrouded Milky Ways out to (comoving) 700 Mpc. The reach of the results includes 3 million galaxies containing an estimated 300 quadrillion terrestrial planets, as well as tens of thousands of galaxy clusters.
Combined with the null results from other searches for Type III societies, I conclude that they are so rare that they basically do not exist within the observable Universe. A hypothesis of “Cosmic Pessimism” is discussed, in which we are alone, our long-term chances for survival are slim, and if we do survive, our future history will be checkered. Our loneliness is suggested by the lack of Type III societies.
I discuss the remaining forms of Type III societies not yet well constrained by observation. I argue that the ease of building blackboxes on planetary and Solar System scales may lead, within a few centuries, to environmental catastrophes vastly more devastating than anything we are doing now, boding ill for us.
Read more at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1604.07844v1.pdf

The Ĝ Infrared Search for Extraterrestrial Civilizations with Large Energy Supplies

I.  Background and Justification

J. T. Wright, B. Mullan, S. Sigurðsson, M. S. Povich

We motivate the Ĝ infrared search for extraterrestrial civilizations with large energy supplies.
We discuss some philosophical difficulties of SETI, and how communication SETI circumvents them.
We review “Dysonian SETI”, the search for artifacts of alien civilizations, and find that it is highly complementary to traditional communication SETI; the two together might succeed where either one, alone, has not.
We discuss the argument of Hart (1975) that spacefaring life in the Milky Way should be either galaxy-spanning or non-existent, and examine a portion of his argument that we dub the “monocultural fallacy”.
We discuss some rebuttals to Hart that invoke sustainability and predict long Galaxy colonization timescales.
We find that the maximum Galaxy colonization timescale is actually much shorter than previous work has found (109 yr), and that many “sustainability” counter-arguments to Hart’s thesis suffer from the monocultural fallacy.
We extend Hart’s argument to alien energy supplies, and argue that detectably large energy supplies can plausibly be expected to exist because life has potential for exponential growth until checked by resource or other limitations, and intelligence implies the ability to overcome such limitations.
As such, if Hart’s thesis is correct then searches for large alien civilizations in other galaxies may be fruitful; if it is incorrect, then searches for civilizations within the Milky Way are more likely to succeed than Hart argued. We review some past Dysonian SETI efforts, and discuss the promise of new mid-infrared surveys, such as that of WISE…
… Read more at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1408.1133v1.pdf

Scientists could find alien life within 40 years

… says royal astronomer

The Queen’s astronomer Martin Rees Photo: Jay Williams

Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society, said evidence of whether beings exist not only beyond earth but beyond our solar system, could be found in that time, a newspaper reported.
Lord Rees said he believed that astro-physicists could be able to view images of distant planets outside the solar system as soon as 2025. This could potentially lead to the discovery of some form of life on them.
When asked what changes could be expected in science in the next 40 years, he said understanding more about the “origin of life, the place where it exists, and whether aliens exist, is going to be crucial”, the Daily Mail reported.
The astronomer was speaking at the launch of Professor Stephen Hawking’s new series Grand Design, due to begin next Thursday on the Discovery Channel.
Lord Rees, who has been Astronomer Royal – a senior position within the Royal Household offering advice to the Queen on astronomical matters – since 1995, said: “Within 10 or 20 years we will be able to image other planets like the earth, orbiting other stars.
“That will be a really exciting subject to see if there is evidence for [extra-terrestrial] life or not.”
However it was suggested earlier this year that rather more earthbound concerns may hold such research back.
It emerged in June that astronomers scanning the universe for signs of extra-terrestrial activity were facing a financial crisis that threatened to stall the 52-year search for intelligent life beyond Earth.
The respected SETI Institute in California will be forced to curtail radio telescope operations, which search space for signals from other worlds, unless it can plug a multi-million dollar funding gap.
Read more: telegraph.co.uk