Everyone from tinfoil hat believers to astrobiologists is pretty invested in finding life outside Earth, even if it’s just to feel less alone in the universe. In a recent interview with Futurism at the Worlds Fair Nano NY, SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak bet everyone in the audience a “cup of coffee” that we’d find intelligent extraterrestrial life in next 20 years. Now, he tells Inverse that maybe we should be thinking differently about what that alien “life” might be.

According to Shostak, the most important innovation of this century will be the development of artificial intelligence. Clearly, humans are already using AI for great and terrible things. But there’s a possibility that other advanced civilizations have already created AI so sophisticated it’s shipped itself off into space, where it is presumably chillin far away from humans.

“The majority of the intelligence in the universe is probably synthetic intelligence,” Shostak tells Inverse. “So now if you ask where should we point antennas to find that, it becomes a very hard problem. It’s pretty easy to say ‘[Intelligent life] is gonna be biological, living on some world sort of like Earth. But it could be machines just hanging out in space.”

While it’s tempting to attribute every oddity in the universe to ET life, as literally all of history proves, the answer is never aliens. That weirdly dimming star called Tabby’s Star? Probably dust, definitely not aliens. That weird radio signal from a red dwarf star 11 light-years from Earth? Regrettably, not aliens. At this point, speculating on any kind of life outside Earth is just that — speculating.

But.

According to Shostak, there is a possibility of life outside Earth, and that if it does exist, it doesn’t fit the definition of what we understand as biological life. While it’s just an idea, the very least, it’s something to consider during your next 3 AM existential crisis.

“Your smarts are contained in a three-pound brain between your ears,” Shostak says. “What if you had a 3 million pound artificial brain, how smart could that be?”


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