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Offline thedoc

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What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« on: 20/01/2015 13:17:57 »
What are the odds that there is intelligent life out there,
and
could we
communicate with it?
Read a transcript of the interview by clicking here

or Listen to it now or [download as MP3]
« Last Edit: 20/01/2015 13:17:57 by _system »


 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #1 on: 30/09/2014 19:31:35 »
Quote from: thedoc
What are the odds that there is intelligent life out there, ...
Very large.

Quote from: thedoc
...and could we communicate with it?
No. It's impossible to translate a message unless you know certain things about whom you're communicating with before hand. Since you don't then it's impossible. For example; you have to know if they reason/think/deduce in the same way as we do. You have to have some commonalities in which you can establish what certain words or ideas are. For example; how would you translate the word "pretty" to a species which has no concept of aesthetics?

Note: Please note that I've changed my responses. I made the mistake of thinking that the question was about us detecting/finding life out there rather than it existing. Those are two very different questions and I mistook one for the other. My apologies.
« Last Edit: 02/10/2014 06:53:22 by PmbPhy »
 

Offline syhprum

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #2 on: 30/09/2014 19:44:05 »
I think that intelligent life must exist but the distance would be so great that no interchange of communication would be possible considering the speed of light and the size of the universe
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #3 on: 30/09/2014 21:04:46 »
Quote
What are the odds that there is intelligent life out there,

When you consider the things we don’t know about the visible Universe (and that’s just the things we know that we don’t know), and add that to the “nothing” that we know about what might be beyond that; the only answer to that question must be a resounding “don’t know”.

Quote
could we communicate with it?

Whilst I agree with most of Pete’s post, we can’t be sure that there are not intelligent beings out there who have been studying us for long enough to know our language.  I doubt it, but that’s just an opinion.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #4 on: 30/09/2014 21:18:11 »
Quote from: Bill S
Whilst I agree with most of Pete’s post, we can’t be sure that there are not intelligent beings out there who have been studying us for long enough to know our language.  I doubt it, but that’s just an opinion.
If they can observe us then that's an entirely different ball game. After all, that's how infants learn to speak. :)
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #5 on: 30/09/2014 22:15:32 »
Quote from: Pete
intelligent or otherwise,

The OP was “intelligent”.  You said you thought there was not even a remote chance of being successful.  Now you include non-intelligent which shifts the goalposts somewhat. Let’s just return to science.  There must be plenty of other forums on which we could discuss social issues if we wanted to.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #6 on: 30/09/2014 23:23:37 »
Quote from: Pete
intelligent or otherwise,

The OP was “intelligent”.  You said you thought there was not even a remote chance of being successful.  Now you include non-intelligent which shifts the goalposts somewhat. Let’s just return to science.  There must be plenty of other forums on which we could discuss social issues if we wanted to.
Bill - I never said "intelligent or otherwise". What gave you the impression that I did? Where do you think I said it? I had to change my response in post #3 because I misunderstood the question but I didn't say it there either.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #7 on: 30/09/2014 23:38:47 »
I can do no better than copy my response to a related question:

Quote
As has been said in another context, it's the kind of thing that makes a nation worth defending.

I think there are two distinct questions: extraterrestrial life and extrasolar intelligence. The search for selfreplicating mechanisms or the remains of such, is more likely to bear fruit within the solar system, but there's very little likelihood of finding anything we might communicate with. On the other hand it is quite likely that if extraterrestrial life has ever existed in the universe, something outside the solar system may have produced a broadcast signal to that effect. 
 

Offline UltimateTheory

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #8 on: 30/09/2014 23:49:35 »
I have found intelligent life that is not human..

On Earth.

Try beating chimps in this task:

 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #9 on: 01/10/2014 11:25:02 »
I have found intelligent life that is not human..

And I have found very little that is.
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #10 on: 01/10/2014 19:52:08 »
Communication with intelligent aliens could actually be easy, apart from dealing with long time delays if they don't come a lot closer. It would be easy enough for intelligent computers to show each other images and videos, naming things and actions that take place so that they can learn each other's language. In the old days when Captain Cook was exploring the world, they could stop off in places that had never been contacted before and hold competent conversations with the natives within as little as three days - they had experts with them who could learn the basics of languages fast just by working with a native and getting them to name everything around them and name actions and the like. Intelligent computers (which we will soon have and which any visiting alien would certainly have) would be able to cut this process down from three days to three seconds, and then there would be no communication barrier between us.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #11 on: 02/10/2014 06:22:54 »
Quote from: Bill S
The OP was “intelligent”.  You said you thought there was not even a remote chance of being successful.  Now you include non-intelligent which shifts the goalposts somewhat. Let’s just return to science.  There must be plenty of other forums on which we could discuss social issues if we wanted to.

Dear Bill,

I asked you where you got the idea that I said something like this but you never responded. Please let me know where you got such and idea. I'd really appreciate it. Okay? Thanks. :)

BTY - Who's the "OP" anyway?
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #12 on: 02/10/2014 06:35:02 »
Quote from: David Cooper
Communication with intelligent aliens could actually be easy, apart from dealing with long time delays if they don't come a lot closer.
Hi David! :)   I still have to say that disagree. Please note that I'm not saying that I know this as a fact and its impossible for me to be wrong. I'm merely going by instinct right now and the results of the thought I've put into this over the last 25 years.

Quote from: David Cooper
It would be easy enough for intelligent computers to show each other images and videos,..
Are you aware that it's quite literally impossible to communicate which is a person's right hand or left hand using such signals?

Also as I implied in my previous post that'd be fine for giving names to such things as objects and perhaps even actions but when it comes to concepts like "My girlfriend is pretty." it might be impossible. Especially if you're communicating with a species which has no concept of aesthetics.

BTY - There's a page under Wikipedia about this. It's at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_with_extraterrestrial_intelligence

Quote from: David Cooper
... naming things and actions that take place so that they can learn each other's language. In the old days when Captain Cook was exploring the world, they could stop off in places that had never been contacted before and hold competent conversations with the natives within as little as three days - they had experts with them who could learn the basics of languages fast just by working with a native and getting them to name everything around them and name actions and the like.
That's because they were both humans and thus both thought the same way. Both knew what water is. Captain Cook could tell a native which was his left hand by standing next to them and showing them by comparison.  There's something universal between a beautiful woman and a horribly ugly one. Although if the chief of the tribe said "I want you to marry my beautiful daughter." then I'd suggest talking a look before accepting. Lol!!

Quote from: David Cooper
Intelligent computers (which we will soon have and which any visiting alien would certainly have) would be able to cut this process down from three days to three seconds, and then there would be no communication barrier between us.
That's be impossible regardless of whether I was right or wrong since you need more than a few seconds in a conversation to talk about various concepts. E.g. if you walked into the alien's kitchen and he/she/it started to tell you about his family then it might take hours before he got around to talking about a new kind of physics that they've learned and we haven't and therefore we wouldn't know the new terms they've created to defined the new concepts they've discovered.

Suppose Captain Cook was a physicist from the 21st century and went to an island that no man has ever set foot on before. How would Captain Cook explain what Color charge conservation is? :)
« Last Edit: 02/10/2014 06:42:59 by PmbPhy »
 

Offline UltimateTheory

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #13 on: 02/10/2014 12:05:46 »
Language of physics is mathematics.
You might/should have no single word needed to describe it.
Discussion about mathematics should start from showing that we're using decimal system. Aliens might use different system.

People searching for aliens in cosmos are often saying that finding number pi signal (or primes) would reveal that it's signal from aliens. These people often have no idea how pi number looks like in binary system...
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #14 on: 02/10/2014 12:22:18 »
Language of physics is mathematics.
You might/should have no single word needed to describe it.
If you were talking about my response it my last post its not clear what your point is. While its true that math is the language of physics is math that can't be taken to mean that all words can be extracted from all physics texts and journals and leave the content unchanged.
 

Offline UltimateTheory

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #15 on: 02/10/2014 13:58:29 »
Yes, it can be, and should be, if it has to be universal for deep cosmos alien species.

The first stage of discussion should be establishing their unit system. What is their kilogram, what is their meter, what is their second.

Ratio between proton/electron mass-energy is universal 1836.15
also ratio between proton/deuterium, proton/helium-4, proton/neutron, muon/electron, pion etc.
No need a word, just numbers representing rations and symbols we understand behind them.
« Last Edit: 02/10/2014 14:05:33 by UltimateTheory »
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #16 on: 02/10/2014 20:35:55 »
Hi Pete,

Quote from: David Cooper
It would be easy enough for intelligent computers to show each other images and videos,..
Are you aware that it's quite literally impossible to communicate which is a person's right hand or left hand using such signals?

Ah yes - which way round would they display the images if they don't actually come here to see how we display them? Well, it would be a real problem if our communication link was going through something equivalent to a wormhole but into a different universe, but if the aliens are in our universe we could show them pictures of large objects like galaxy clusters which they could use to determine which way round the images should be displayed. After that's been done, it would be possible to show bits of video in which things move to left or right and to use the words "left" and "right" along with those videos to associate them with the ideas they represent.

Quote
Also as I implied in my previous post that'd be fine for giving names to such things as objects and perhaps even actions but when it comes to concepts like "My girlfriend is pretty." it might be impossible. Especially if you're communicating with a species which has no concept of aesthetics.

That's true, but you're now exploring a special area based on human emotions/feelings. We'll have the same difficulty explaining such things to artificial intelligence when it can hold rational conversations. It's possible that most evolved aliens will have similar kinds of feelings with good ones and bad ones to drive attraction and repulsion, but we may be exceptions and so that might not be the norm at all. If they don't understand what feelings are, it'll be a devil of a job explaining to them why they shouldn't just do whatever they like with us because they simply won't understand what morality means.

Quote
Quote from: David Cooper
...Captain Cook... - they had experts with them who could learn the basics of languages fast just by working with a native and getting them to name everything around them and name actions and the like.
That's because they were both humans and thus both thought the same way. Both knew what water is. Captain Cook could tell a native which was his left hand by standing next to them and showing them by comparison.  There's something universal between a beautiful woman and a horribly ugly one. Although if the chief of the tribe said "I want you to marry my beautiful daughter." then I'd suggest talking a look before accepting. Lol!!

I don't think a visiting alien would want to marry anything it found here - just getting out of its space suit would probably expose it to lethal bacteria (perhaps that's a subject for another discussion). The beautiful and ugly women might be hard to distinguish between for the alien, but if one was clearly malformed it might still be possible to get the idea across.

I think any evolved intelligence which enables a species to become a universal problem solver like we are will have to think in the same general way, and when they program high-level artificial intelligence they will be further forced to conform with the kind of universal thinking that is required by machines where feelings don't override reason. This means that our AGI and their AGI will be able to exchange images, video and sound with each other and learn to understand each other's language in next to no time, and these machines would have a fair idea of how to work around the feeling side of things with the species that created them, so they would be able to function as good intermediaries.

Quote
Quote from: David Cooper
Intelligent computers (which we will soon have and which any visiting alien would certainly have) would be able to cut this process down from three days to three seconds, and then there would be no communication barrier between us.
That's be impossible regardless of whether I was right or wrong since you need more than a few seconds in a conversation to talk about various concepts.

It would be more than possible - this process would not involve us or the alien species so we would not slow it down at all. Everything would be done by two intelligent machines exchanging images, video and sound in order to swap dictionaries of words while mapping them to meanings. Three seconds might be a bit of an exaggeration if one imagines this being done by a PC, but a conversation between two supercomputers could perhaps do the entire job in under a thousandth of a second, if it was running the right software (which we haven't quite written yet, but we're getting close).

Quote
Suppose Captain Cook was a physicist from the 21st century and went to an island that no man has ever set foot on before. How would Captain Cook explain what Color charge conservation is? :)

If he has to communicate with an uncontacted tribe which is still living a Stone Age lifestyle, it would still take three days for his experts to get to the point where they can hold useful negotiations with the natives, and then years of education to get anyone in that tribe to understand much about physics. The same would apply if we were to try to communicate with Stone Age aliens, but we'd have to go to them or send a probe to them to interact with them, and we aren't about to do that.

Any aliens we can contact in the next few thousand (or maybe million) years will need to communicate with us through such means as radio or light signals. The delays in communication will make actual conversations impractical, but it will still be possible for each side to send images, video and sound in order to explain what the words in their language mean (the words simply being numbers which they might map to grunts, signs, voltages or whatever else their species might use as a way of talking), and then long texts containing knowledge and literature could be sent (and understood on arrival, though with a fair amount of confusion wherever feelings come into things), and lots of pretty pictures could be sent too, along with maps and descriptions to tell them all the kinds of things we would want to know about us if we were in their position. They could do the same thing the other way, and at the end of the process both sides would know a great deal about what the other beings were like long ago when these ancient signals were sent out.

How long it would take to transmit the essentials of this information would depend on the bandwidth of the method used to transmit the signal. If it's low, it could take days, months or years, but if it's high it could again take mere seconds - the only limit is in how much bandwidth is thrown at the problem. Given the long time delay before the message arrives though, there would be little need to go to the trouble and expense of throwing a lot of bandwidth at it.
« Last Edit: 02/10/2014 20:39:32 by David Cooper »
 

Offline Bill S

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #17 on: 03/10/2014 00:06:05 »
Quote
intelligent or otherwise,

Sorry to be slow in responding, Pete.  I always copy/paste quotes to avoid this sort of thing.  Could it have come from your first post, before you edited it severely? 
 

Offline ScientificSorcerer

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #18 on: 03/10/2014 05:29:22 »
I think that we need a second reference point to tell how rare life is in the universe.

What I mean by this is, Lets say we found life on mars.  Because we found life so close to earth then we can say that if life occurred twice in the same solar system then we can reasonably deduce that life is probably somewhat common and almost every stable solar system has a chance to harbor life.

But if we found the closest life to earth on say zeta reticuli 40 light years away then we can reasonably use it as a second point of reference and say that life could be very sparse and life might occur ones every 10 or 20 solar systems.

Unless we find a second refrence point then we cant say for shore how common life is.

AS for communication and civilizations in the stars, That is reasonably far fetched.  Who knows if other life has a brain at all or intelligence? what if most life is crystal or gas based life forms. you see without a reference we Just cant say anything with any shred of evidence or mathematical probability.
« Last Edit: 03/10/2014 05:34:59 by ScientificSorcerer »
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #19 on: 03/10/2014 07:01:35 »
Quote
intelligent or otherwise,

Sorry to be slow in responding, Pete.  I always copy/paste quotes to avoid this sort of thing.  Could it have come from your first post, before you edited it severely?
It doesn't sound like something I'd say.
 

Offline PmbPhy

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #20 on: 03/10/2014 07:31:50 »
Quote from: David Cooper
Ah yes - which way round would they display the images if they don't actually come here to see how we display them? Well, it would be a real problem if our communication link was going through something equivalent to a wormhole but into a different universe, but if the aliens are in our universe we could show them pictures of large objects like galaxy clusters which they could use to determine which way round the images should be displayed.
Why would showing them such pictures objects help? Are you suggesting that we send them pictures of objects that we see and they also see and we both therefore have the same object to refer to?


Quote from: David Cooper
That's true, but you're now exploring a special area based on human emotions/feelings.
No. I'm trying to illustrate that you can't simply translate words and think you're able to communicate with an alien species. That requires having a great deal in common. I'm sure you know that there are words or phrases in other languages which have no translation to the English language, right?

Quote from: David Cooper
I don't think a visiting alien would want to marry anything it found here -
I never suggested any such thing. I'm trying to explain that there are things which can't be translated. In this case it's even hard for humans to explain what makes something the way it is. I used physical appearance as an example but it should never have been taken to mean that it has anything to do with the actual problem of communicating with aliens. I was illustrating the problem that there may not be things that can be described to an alien species.

Quote from: David Cooper
I think any evolved intelligence ...
I don't know what you mean by "involved" here. Please clarify. I hope you don't mean that we're assuming that an alien species that we contact must be more intelligent than we are? I see no reason for that to be true. The only thing I see being necessary is that they have more knowledge about interstellar travel than we do. Who knows? Perhaps we'll have that knowledge in 300 years. But in 300 years we'll still be humans. There is unlikely to be any advancement in human evolution in that amount of time so we won't be more intelligent as a species. Are scientists will just be more knowledgeable.

Quote from: David Cooper
...they will be further forced to conform with the kind of universal thinking that is required by machines where feelings don't override reason.
I have no idea what that means.

Quote from: David Cooper
It would be more than possible - this process would not involve us or the alien species so we would not slow it down at all. Everything would be done by two intelligent machines exchanging images, video and sound in order to swap dictionaries of words while mapping them to meanings.
That implies we have such computers and we don't. Even if we did then I don't believe that there exist knowledge that is required to, say, translate a language that we've never seen before. Today there are dead languages that will never be translated.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #21 on: 03/10/2014 09:20:12 »

Ah yes - which way round would they display the images if they don't actually come here to see how we display them?

That's actually the easy bit. If you transmit a series of n x m binary bits whe n and m are prime, there are only two ways of mapping them into a 2-D frame, and the wrong way will have considerably more spatial noise since it will chop up contiguous objects. Any being with the wit and technology to receive and display the signal will have discovered prime numbers, mapping, and frequency spectrum analysis. 

You can be really clever and transmit n x m x l bits, from which your alien could eventually make a 3D printer model once he has sorted out his maximum entropy reconstruction algorithm.     
 

Offline JohnDuffield

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #22 on: 03/10/2014 15:24:08 »
What of the chances of finding intelligent life...
IMHO that's the wrong question, and the right question is this:

What are the chances that intelligent life has already found us?
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #23 on: 03/10/2014 20:38:18 »
Why would showing them such pictures objects help? Are you suggesting that we send them pictures of objects that we see and they also see and we both therefore have the same object to refer to?

That's exactly what I'm suggesting. We could show them a diagram of the structure of the visible universe as it looks to us when we look in their direction, and they would be able to see that it's done from our perspective rather than from theirs, making it dead easy for them to tell what "left" and "right" mean to us.

Quote
Quote from: David Cooper
That's true, but you're now exploring a special area based on human emotions/feelings.
No. I'm trying to illustrate that you can't simply translate words and think you're able to communicate with an alien species. That requires having a great deal in common. I'm sure you know that there are words or phrases in other languages which have no translation to the English language, right?

There are different ways of expressing things, but they can always be expressed in more fundamental ways which eliminate the confusion. When you make your language accessible to aliens, you will automatically begin by using the clearest, most logical ways of expressing things rather than starting with confusing idiomatic expressions. There is nothing in any human language that can't be translated into another language - it may require a lot of explanation to do so, but it is far from impossible, and the amount of difficulty a word generates (in terms of how economically it can be translated) is inversely proportional to its importance.

Quote
I'm trying to explain that there are things which can't be translated. In this case it's even hard for humans to explain what makes something the way it is. I used physical appearance as an example but it should never have been taken to mean that it has anything to do with the actual problem of communicating with aliens. I was illustrating the problem that there may not be things that can be described to an alien species.

But the only difficulty there is with explaining beauty, and that's where we get into areas involving feelings. Even then, we can explain a lot about why we find some people beautiful and others ugly, so it isn't an area beyond all understanding. If the aliens have any kind of feelings at all, they can use that to guide their understanding. A distorted face makes us feel bad while a neat face makes us happy. Symmetry has an important role in this, but it is not the whole story. The golden ratio also has a role. Aliens would be able to understand that fine.

Quote
Quote from: David Cooper
I think any evolved intelligence ...
I don't know what you mean by "involved" here. Please clarify. I hope you don't mean that we're assuming that an alien species that we contact must be more intelligent than we are? I see no reason for that to be true.

"Evolved intelligence" - what I mean by this is intelligence that came about through evolution as opposed to designed machine intelligence like AGI. Simple evolved intelligence can be quite unintelligent, but it may be good enough to work in a simple creature. As it evolves greater intelligence and becomes a universal problem solver like us, it has to conform to the rules of reasoning which enable correct thinking, so it ends up thinking in the same way as any other evolved intelligence regardless of the route it took to get there. With AGI, we miss out all the evolution and go straight for a machine which applies the rules of reason, but we are practically there already with our own minds as the pathway to high intelligence forces all species to conform if they are to become universal problem solvers.

Quote
Quote from: David Cooper
...they will be further forced to conform with the kind of universal thinking that is required by machines where feelings don't override reason.
I have no idea what that means.

If you are programming proper artificial intelligence, you want it to produce correct answers for everything it thinks about, so you set it thinking using correct reasoning rather than programming it to think in a shoddy way like a human. Humans come close to thinking the right way, but they let their prejudices override reason as their feelings dominate, so they find it difficult to reason in a pure way. By creating AGI, we will drive everyone to conform to more systematic, reasoned thinking and will end up thinking the same way as any intelligent aliens who have also created AGI.

Quote
That implies we have such computers and we don't.

We don't yet, but it isn't far off - if you were to put money on us receiving a communication from aliens before we have this kind of AGI, I think you'd be waving that money goodbye. And they will certainly have it.

Quote
Even if we did then I don't believe that there exist knowledge that is required to, say, translate a language that we've never seen before. Today there are dead languages that will never be translated.

There are dead languages which are preserved in writings which we cannot understand yet and which may never be understood, but they are not actively trying to teach us those languages through those texts. If they put little drawings after every new word to give us clues as to what they might mean, we might find it really easy to understand them. When it comes to communications with aliens, we will be actively seeking to make ourselves understood to each other, so it's a totally different kettle of fish.
« Last Edit: 03/10/2014 20:41:51 by David Cooper »
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #24 on: 03/10/2014 20:45:40 »
Ah yes - which way round would they display the images if they don't actually come here to see how we display them?

That's actually the easy bit. If you transmit a series of n x m binary bits whe n and m are prime, there are only two ways of mapping them into a 2-D frame, and the wrong way will have considerably more spatial noise since it will chop up contiguous objects. Any being with the wit and technology to receive and display the signal will have discovered prime numbers, mapping, and frequency spectrum analysis.

That's not the issue in question. The issue is how you determine left from right. You can easily get the picture to look correct (even if you don't use prime numbers for height and width), but it may be reversed. It might not matter if it is reversed though, and indeed it's quite possible that different people see the world the other way round from each other - none of us can tell if we see it the way round that it actually is.
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Re: What of the chances of finding intelligent life?
« Reply #24 on: 03/10/2014 20:45:40 »

 

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