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AI or ET?: Experts split over whether stargazers should be looking for aliens or new tech

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Humans curious about whether we are alone in the universe may be searching for the wrong thing, according to some experts who believe the search for alien life should focus on alien artificial intelligence.

“We ourselves are very close to realizing artificial general intelligence (AGI), and there’s an expectation that once you reach that point, it can then accelerate away at a very fast rate and quickly outstrip ourselves in intelligence,” Eamonn Kerins, an astrophysicist and Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said in a Space.com report this week.

According to the report, there’s a growing thought among scientists that if humans ever were to make contact with an alien life, it may come in the form of a computer. The thought revolves around an event known as the “singularity,” which Space.com explains is a mathematics term that “signifies a point where our knowledge of math and physics breaks down, and we can no longer accurately characterize what we’re trying to describe.”


The National Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, N.M. (Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images)

When it comes to computer science, the singularity would describe the moment when AI technology develops so fast that it experiences runaway growth and forms a superintelligence that humans would lack the ability to understand or explain. While scientists debate whether the singularity will actually occur, the hypothetical event does give a glimpse into what potential forms of alien life humans could discover.

“There are two possibilities. The first is that there are civilizations that, like ours, are augmented by AI. The second possibility is that there is a civilization that has developed a completely sentient AI that is capable of acting on its own,” Christopher Alexander, the chief analytics officer of Pioneer Development Group, told Fox News Digital.


The Space.com report notes that with the universe being roughly 13.8 billions years old, far longer than both the life of our solar system and longer still than the existence of humans, an AI life form would have had plenty of time to form and pass through a singularity.

Samuel Mangold-Lenett, a staff editor at The Federalist, told Fox News Digital such a discovery would have large implications on earth but cautioned that humans have still not even been able to verify any form of alien life despite big advancements in technology.

Active galaxy NGC 1275

This handout image of the giant, active galaxy NGC 1275, obtained Aug. 21, 2008, was taken using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA/ESA)

“Our understanding of AGI remains limited to the theoretical for the time being. Verifiably encountering alien life, let alone an alien superintelligence like an AGI, could upend everything we believe to be true about our existence,” Mangold-Lenett said.

SETI focuses its search for signs of life on radio signals similar to the kind humans transmit, a simple technology that alien life forms would also be likely able to spot. But Phil Siegel, the founder of the Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation (CAPTRS), told Fox News Digital its possible such advanced forms of life could easily dodge these attempts to detect it.


“You could argue that any civilization advanced enough to be found on purpose has AI-type technology; but it may be different than ours and purposely hard to detect,” Siegel said. “And what is to say artificial life would collocate with its creators? In any case, I suspect it isn’t any harder or easier to detect artificial life or not. So, if I were taking the time to search I might look for clues that allow us to detect any kind of life.”

SETI researchers have in some cases moved on from just looking for radio signals and have started to consider the search for other “technosignatures,” according to Space.com. It’s an attempt to find the use of technology and engineering that humans may not fully understand but would be able to detect because it is used on such an enormous scale. 

Hubble Space Telescope seen from space

The Hubble Space Telescope hovers at the boundary of Earth and space in this picture, taken after Hubble’s second servicing mission in 1997.  (NASA)

“Some of this [discussion about superintelligence] almost doesn’t matter from the point of view of doing the search if you build a good enough anomaly detector,” Steve Croft, who works on the Breakthrough Listen project for the Berkeley SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, told Space.com. “We can figure out what they’re up to afterwards — we may never comprehend what they’re up to.”

Any discovery of AI alien life would almost certainly mean there was some form of biological life that predated it.

“If an alien AI was discovered, that would imply, in my opinion, the existence of biological alien life at some point in time before the creation of the AI,” Aiden Buzzetti, the president of the Bull Moose Project, told Fox News Digital. “It may be likely that any precursor alien civilization or entity has collapsed by the time we discover remnants of their existence, but the exact mechanics of artificial intelligence created by currently unknown entities are impossible to predict.”

But Buzzetti also questioned whether such technology could survive long past the biological civilization that created it.


“Would an alien AI be reliant on similar technology and connectivity our own systems have to use? If so, would it not be decayed by that point?” Buzzetti asked. “There would be questions on how to actually safely access such technology in the first place. The search for alien life is also a search for alien AI. They cannot be separated.”

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