Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


Illustration of an extraterrestrial wearing a spacesuit standing on a mountaintop looking at the blue sky on an alien planet.

Astronomer Bets a Cup of Coffee That We’ll Encounter ET by 2036

Seth Shostak points to the increase in the number of exoplanets identified and the increase in computing power

Seth Shostak, iconic astronomer who directs the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), is so confident that the vast increase in computing power, based on Moore’s Law, will make the difference in detecting signals from alien civilizations that he will bet you a cup of Starbucks coffee that we make contact by 2036. Moore’s Law (1965) originally held that computers would double in power every two years. But today’s pace is actually faster than that. And on the horizon is quantum computing and carbon computing, which would speed things up while reducing energy consumption. So Shostak (pictured) is looking at considerable reinforcements for a systematic search. He stresses that the search for ET is now largely computerized: “We don’t sit in…

weird ice planet

We Won’t Find ET on Ocean Planets, Researchers Say

We will see few extraterrestrials if a great many promising exoplanets are Waterworlds

Science writer Matt Williams has been writing a series on the question of why, despite the size of our galaxy, we see no other intelligent life forms. It could be, he suggests, that “many planets out there are just too watery!” Williams points out that, although water covers 71% of Earth’s surface, it is only 0.02% of the planet’s mass. If the proportion were much higher, Earth would be an ocean planet because the water would surface. It’s an open question whether an ocean planet would feature highly technologically developed intelligent life forms. Dolphins, for example, are quite intelligent but they do not seek to use any technology. The question of whether a planet could have too much water arose,…