Alien Intelligence and Plant Intelligence

 As NPR reports, planets are being discovered that might support life.  These new and exciting celestial spheres are more-or-less suitable for the emergence of life: the temperature, gravity, and elemental make-up of such planets can create selection pressures that range the gamut from mild to pretty-much-inhospitable.  One such discovery is especially noteworthy: Kepler 22-B (named after the telescope) is in the ‘goldilocks’ zone.  In this zone, the size of the planet and its proximity to its star create the right sort of conditions to support flowing water.

The BBC (picked up by Slate) go on to make the link between the discovery of such planets and astral systems, and SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.  With the discovery of more and more of these potentially-hospitable earth-twins, SETI gains a more plausible target to turn its arrays.  With the discovery of more and more of such planets, it is more likely (though I am hesitant to use this term here) that we may discover intelligent life.  Another variable in the Drake Equation starts its climb up in the cardinal numbers.

But wait! What is intelligent life?  The ability to broadcast galactic radio-waves?  Drake, at least, keeps that a separate variable, a tier that only a select group of intelligent critters will ever reach.  But that really seems to operationalize our search for intelligent life.  What if, being impatient, we send a probe (‘Make it so Number One’, etc.) to Kepler 22-B and discover strange, barely congealed bioluminescent areas – would we be right in attributing it with intelligence?  Might our current conceptions of it be too broad? – too exclusive?

Continue reading “Alien Intelligence and Plant Intelligence”

Astronomers find ET habitability, but only for the biological.

Gliese 581The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, has made a business of looking for signs of intelligence in the universe.  Recent data from a team of astronomers at UC Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institute for Science have given SETI a promising place to focus their attention: Gliese-581 g, a planet 20 light-years away, in the ‘habitable zone’ around the red dwarf star Gliese-581.  Many factors determine whether a planet is habitable or not, ranging from the obvious variables, such as distance to the star and the star’s luminosity, to the less obvious variables, such as whether or not the planet has a large enough moon to keep its rotation stable or a giant neighbor (such as Jupiter) to sweep away dangerous incoming asteroids.

This discovery, made with the help of the new Kepler spacecraft, suggests that Gliese-581g may have the right conditions for liquid water, considered by many exobiologists (or astrobiologists: those who theorize about extra-terrestrial life) to be essential for life.

However, some have argued that since it’s not life but intelligence that we’re really after, the habitable zone may be the wrong place to look. Continue reading “Astronomers find ET habitability, but only for the biological.”

Welcome to the world of tomorrow! Artificial brain just 10 years away…

BBP_NeuroColumn2In 1950, Alan Turing famously predicted that within 50 years we would have a computer capable of passing his ‘Imitation Game’ Turing Test, and thereby satisfying his criteria for intelligence. Unfortunately, Turing’s estimate was a little wide of the mark, but efforts to satisfy his test continue. Nevertheless, the crusaders of artificial intelligence, or ‘AI’, appear confident of closing in on their mark. In fact, yesterday at the TED Global conference in Oxford, Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, suggested that a functioning, artificial human brain running as a simulation will be constructed within the next 10 years. Markram’s project has already simulated aspects of a rat’s brain, but Markram is aiming bigger: “we cannot keep on doing animal experiments forever”, he said. Continue reading “Welcome to the world of tomorrow! Artificial brain just 10 years away…”