SETI boffin promises ET detection by 2032

Tom James @ 15-11-2008

Senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak‘s prediction that ET intelligences will be discovered within “two dozen years” seems to have the proviso “if we get the funding:

The prediction is based on a few qualifiers. The first is the assumption made by researchers within SITI that the power, range and speed of the Allen Telescope Array [ATA] with 42 radio camera dishes currently on line and a projected total of 350 dishes will evolve into new technologies capable of distances and speed unfathomable presently. Secondly, an obvious component is necessary funding for evolving technologies.

Hopefully the necessary improvements will be made:

ATA´s current capability is about 1,000 stars that can be viewed simultaneously. The next decade will allow researchers to view up to a million stars at once.

[from Physorg][image from Alun Salt on flickr]


Boffin reckons there could be 37, 964 advanced civilizations in the galaxy

Tom James @ 20-10-2008

Here we have a new treatment of the Drake Equation in this paper: A Numerical Testbed for Hypotheses of Extraterrestrial Life and Intelligence. From the preamble:

This paper outlines a means for applying Monte Carlo Realisation techniques to investigate the parameter space of intelligent civilisations more rigorously, and to help assign errors to the resulting distributions of life and intelligence.

The Monte Carlo method, from what I can gather from Wikipedia, involves:

…a large and widely-used class of approaches. However, these approaches tend to follow a particular pattern:

  1. Define a domain of possible inputs.
  2. Generate inputs randomly from the domain, and perform a deterministic computation on them.
  3. Aggregate the results of the individual computations into the final result.

There’s a lot of complex maths in the paper, and author Duncan H. Forgan says that when it comes to biological parameters the figures are basically guesswork, given that there is only one known biosphere.

Forgan applies his methods to different theories concerning the likelihood of life, including Panspermia, the Rare Life Hypothesis (life is rare, but life is likely to become intelligent), and the Tortoise and Hare Hypothesis (we assume civilizations that develop rapidly are more likely to destroy themselves) with the following scores:

  • Rare life: 361 advanced civilizations
  • Tortoise and Hare: 31,573 advanced civilizations
  • Panspermia: 37, 964 advanced civilizations

Read the paper – if it demonstrates anything it is how much more there is to find out about our galaxy.

[via Slashdot][image from on flickr][image from Kevin on flickr]


Universal translator a possibility?

Edward Willett @ 21-04-2008

Rosetta Stone replica Star Trek‘s various starship crews seldom have any trouble talking to aliens, thanks to a nifty device known as a “universal translator.” Although the universal translator was invented, like the transporter, simply because it was the only practical way to tell a story originally sold as “Wagon Train to the stars,” it might actually be possible to build one. (Via KurzweilAI.net.)

So says Terrence Deacon of the University of California, Berkeley, US, who argues that no matter how alien a species might be, its language–even if it communicates via, say, scent–must still describe real objects in the real world, which means there must be an underlying universal code that, given enough knowledge about language and sufficient computing power, could be deciphered.

Deacon presented his idea on April 17 at the 2008 Astrobiology Science Conference in Santa Clara, California.

New Scientist notes:

Testing the theory might be tough because we would have to make contact with aliens advanced enough to engage in abstract thinking and the use of linguistic symbols. But Denise Herzing of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, US, points out that we might be able to test it by studying dolphins.

“Our work suggests that dolphins may be able to communicate using symbols,” Herzing told New Scientist. “The word’s not definitively in yet, but it’s totally possible that we might show universality by understanding dolphin language.”

New Scientist compares the proposed device to Douglas Adams‘s “babelfish,” a fish that translates languages. One hopes that if we do learn to understand dolphin language, the only thing they say to us, before decamping from the planet, isn’t “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]Star Trek,language,extraterrestrial intelligence,aliens[/tags]