AI and Alien Life
Wed, April 21, 2021

AI and Alien Life

For years, evidence of extraterrestrial life has surfaced, from UFOs to mysterious blinking lights in the night sky. While most scientists have already debunked these, many still hope to encounter an alien someday / Photo by: ktsdesign via Shutterstock

 

For years, evidence of extraterrestrial life has surfaced, from UFOs to mysterious blinking lights in the night sky. While most scientists have already debunked these, many still hope to encounter an alien someday.

Scientists have spent decades searching for any sign of extraterrestrial life, if they do exist. Kepler Space Telescope, NASA’s planet-hunting telescope, discovered more than 2,000 exoplanets by the time it retired in 2018. More than 50 of these planets were deemed potentially habitable. This is just part of the ‘evidence’ that raises hope for people believing in alien life. 

Unfortunately, Sara Seager, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who focuses on detecting exoplanets, stated that it’s going to take a long time to find these aliens. So far, monitoring efforts have been unsuccessful. Thus, scientists are leveraging artificial intelligence to help them,

It’s not surprising to see AI being used in various industries as it has become a strong driver for success. G2’s Learning Hub, an online site that covers business topics, reported that 61% of marketers stated that AI is the most important aspect of data strategy. About 87% of current AI adopters said they were using or considering using AI for improving email marketing and sales forecasting.

Also, 63% of consumers believe AI will help solve complex problems that plague modern societies. It is projected that the AI market will become a $190 billion industry by 2025. It will also boost profitability by 38% and generate $14 trillion of additional revenue by 2035. 

Harnessing AI in Search of Aliens

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the largest player in the hunt for advanced life beyond the solar system, was initiated in 1988 when NASA started to fund a strategy to sweep all directions of the sky to search for alien life. For years, it has continued to hunt for a sign of advanced civilizations in space using large radio telescopes pointed at nearby stars and galaxies. This is part of efforts to detect electromagnetic radiation that may indicate the existence of alien technology. 

“We are literally doing an experiment to find out what the answer is, rather than doing what we’ve done for millennia, which is to ask the priests and the philosophers what we should believe,” astronomer Jill Tarter said. 

However, there’s one problem – the current approach is not searching for alien intelligence but only detecting technosignatures, like radio transmissions. Thus, scientists have considered AI to help them. The role of AI in this particular task comes in different forms. For instance, it aims to reexamine data in search of subtle anomalies that have been overlooked. This time, SETI’s goal is to develop a versatile and intelligent anomaly engine. The machine works by looking through data that can detect unusual patterns that are different from our baseline. 

Graham Mackintosh, an AI consultant at the SETI Institute workshop, explained that extraterrestrials might be using technologies so different, we don’t even think to look for them. Thus, he proposed that AI might be able to do that advanced thinking for us, suggesting to create systems or tools that are smarter than humans. Astrophysicist Martin Rees agrees with this, stating that AI could lead to “intelligence which surpasses humans as much as we intellectually surpass slime mold.”

According to American Scientist, an illustrated bi-monthly publication about science, engineering, and technology, harnessing AI in SETI can mitigate the struggles that our scientists are facing now. AI can help in sorting through the data collected from radio frequency transmissions, separating signals from the noise. Gerry Zhang, a graduate researcher at the Berkeley SETI Research Center, stated that transmissions in radio frequency that came from Earth can be detected and immediately identified to an unknown source. “Part of the job that AI can do is help us sort through the signals and try to characterize them,” he added. 

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the largest player in the hunt for advanced life beyond the solar system, was initiated in 1988 when NASA started to fund a strategy to sweep all directions of the sky to search for alien life / Photo by: Taras Vyshnya via Shutterstock

 

Predicting Alien Life

Currently, researchers at NASA's Frontier Development Lab (FDL) are using machine learning in various functions. This includes exploring whether life could exist on other planets, how to spot pristine meteorites on our planet's surface, and how to defend Earth from asteroids. "Artificial intelligence is really invaluable right across the spectrum of space problems," James Parr, director of the FDL, said.

In 2018, researchers from the Center for Robotics and Neural Systems from the Plymouth University used artificial neural networks (ANNs) to estimate the probability of extraterrestrial life in other worlds. According to The Independent, a British online publisher of news, the team hopes that it would be used aboard robotic spacecraft on alien-hunting space missions. Christopher Bishop, a Ph.D. student at Plymouth University who led the study, stated that they are prioritizing exploration for a hypothetical, intelligent, interstellar spacecraft scanning through these ANNs.

Aside from that, NASA is also using AI and machine learning in the search for life on alien planets and detection of nearby asteroids. These technologies will be used to interpret the data gathered by future telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. According to Space.com, a space and astronomy news website owned by Future, NASA is also developing advanced machine learning techniques in collaboration with companies such as Google, IBM, and Intel. 

"These technologies are very important, especially for big data sets and especially in the exoplanet field. Because the data we're going to get from future observations are going to be sparse and noisy. It's going to be really hard to understand. So using these kinds of tools has so much potential to help us,” Giada Arney, an astrobiologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said. 

AI truly has a lot of potential in the space industry, particularly in searching for extraterrestrial life. This could greatly contribute to ongoing studies about life outside Earth.