If we were to encounter an alien intelligence, how would we recognize it? After all, life that was completely different would leave us with nothing with which to compare it.
For as long as scientists have looked for alien life, they have conceived them in our own image. The quest arguably began with a 1959 Nature paper by the physicists Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison, who argued that ‘near some star rather like the Sun there are civilisations with scientific interests and with technical possibilities much greater than those now available to us’. The two scientists further posited that such aliens would have ‘established a channel of communication that would one day become known to us’. Such alien signals would most likely take the form of shortwave radio, which is ubiquitous through the Universe, and would contain an obviously artificial message such as ‘a sequence of small prime numbers of pulses, or simple arithmetical sums’.
Nothing in this suggestion was unreasonable, but it’s self-evidently the result of two smart scientists asking: ‘What would we do?’
How would alien life appear? What would it do? How would we communicate, if at all, with it? Those sound like questions the IdeaFestival would tackle.
I'm just saying.
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