Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Is Intelligence Out There?


Is human-like intelligence too much to expect?

By Stephen Luntz

Intelligence may not be the ultimate outcome of evolution on Earth, so why should we expect human-like intelligence elsewhere in the cosmos?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Dr Charlie Lineweaver has presented a new take on the question of whether we are alone in the universe. He argues that the chance we will ever encounter an alien species with “human-like” intelligence is vanishingly small. To expect anything else is a form of arrogance, he believes.

In 1960 the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) started with high hopes. Radio telescopes searched increasingly large areas of the sky over more and more wavelengths, seeking communication from other planets. The idea is so popular that, when government support was withdrawn, private donors stepped in – hardly a common event in science. Hundreds of thousands of people have set their home computers to seti@home to assist with data processing.

Yet the longer we go on without a whisper, the more the question starts to arise: why the silence?

Some theories have been rejected. At one time it was thought that planets might be rare, so that only in the most exceptional circumstances would life be given an opportunity to form. We now know that at least 10% of sun-like stars host planets, and it is possible that almost all do.

We also know that life formed on Earth almost as soon as it was possible for it to do so, suggesting that it is unlikely for life to be a rare phenomenon in the universe.

Other theories have suggested that, while life is common,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.