Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) Help In Finding Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI)?

The existence of intelligent life forms beyond Earth has been speculated on for centuries. However, with the recent advancements in the field of science and technology, this speculation is becoming much more intense. We have already sent Voyagers out into the cosmos to find if anyone is out there and detect any traces of extraterrestrial habitation.

In our quest for extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), we have typically looked for empathetic signs of intelligence, physiology, and communication like our own. Many researchers, like Jill Tarter, who specialize in searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), opine that a conventional approach like transmitting electromagnetic signals might be good for detecting technosignatures, but not necessarily intelligence.

For that reason, scientists are now attempting to use artificial intelligence (AI) to find alien intelligence in ways we as humans cannot achieve. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a specially designed type of software that mimics the way humans learn and solve complex problems. Machines running AI programs learn activities like speech recognition, planning, problem-solving, perception, and planning all by themselves, and can work efficiently without getting lost in the labyrinth of data. You can learn everything you want to know about AI here.

Understanding ‘Intelligence’

To earnestly go out and find extraterrestrial intelligence, we must eliminate the dogma of human beings as a supremely intelligent species.

There are many examples in the wild demonstrating that animals can be incredibly smart in their own ways. For instance, spiders are known to process information through their webs, crows understand analogies, cetaceans like dolphins have their own dialects, and primates like chimpanzees skillfully use tools to complete tasks. In other words, ‘non-human’ forms of intelligence and culture are all around us.


A chimpanzee showing off his intelligence (Photo Credit : Cornelia Schrauf/Wikimedia Commons)

Extraterrestrial intelligence might look like a dinosaur, an ant, a shark or a robot—or something radically different from any forms or ideas found on Earth.

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute is toiling day and night to uncover alien intelligence elsewhere in the universe. However, the conventional SETI approach suffers from two limitations: First, they surmise that extraterrestrial creatures are smart and ready to communicate with us or other species; Second is the assumption that we are intelligent enough to recognize the messages if they (aliens) send them to us in some raw or encoded form.


(Photo Credit : Denys/Wikimedia Commons)

However, thanks to recent discoveries in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning, we can now re-examine existing data to uncover any minute traces of extraterrestrial intelligence. SETI researchers are convinced that artificial intelligence could turn out to be the game changer in the search, as AI algorithms are ideal for spotting differences and forming patterns out of the massive sea of data.

That is why researchers at the SETI Institute are partnering with the tech giants like Intel, IBM, and others to discuss ways in which AI can be used to solve pertinent space and science problems, including the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence.

AI Anomaly Engine

One of the ways in which the discovery of alien existence could be achieved is by designing an AI anomaly engine. The idea at the heart of this strategy is to scan for anomalous patterns that may not necessarily be communication signals sent by aliens, but rather subtle manifestations of technological advancement that have been achieved in other parts of the universe. The main motive of the AI anomaly engine is to discern a data set that is aberrant to the standard baseline. This strategy helps to curtail futile efforts, such as making vague assumptions about what an extraterrestrial intelligent species would look like, which is inherently filled with our own biases.

The best part of the AI anomaly engine is that it is often seen as a win-win proposition. Even if an unusual discovery is not related to an extraterrestrial civilization, it demands an explanation that might propel our researchers to understand the universe in an even more profound way.


That being said, designing an efficient AI anomaly detection engine that ingeniously works with the multivariant data remains a dark art for even the best minds working in the SETI field. Despite the potential it holds, designing an AI anomaly engine continues to be highly challenging. Another approach is to train a deep neural network to be an autocorrelator, capable of finding unusual examples of data.

For the uninitiated, a deep learning neural network is a paradigm of AI that derives inspiration from the structure of the human brain; it consists of a set of complex units (equivalent to neurons in our brain). Each unit combines a set of input values to generate an output value, which in turn is passed on to other neurons in the deeper layer of the network. In other words, a deep neural network involves the use of neural networks—computer programs that are structurally inspired by the dense network of neurons in the human brain.


(Photo Credit: Pixabay)

To successfully implement an autocorrelator, the input data needs to be compressed so that it can flow through a pinch-point in the neural net—like sand flowing through an hourglass.

By design, AI algorithms are fast learners, so the more they sift through data of a similar nature, the better the AI program becomes at compressing and categorizing that information. Furthermore, if it encounters data that is unusual by set standards, it would notify the researchers about the discovery of this incongruous data.

The limitation of autocorrelators, at the moment, is that they work best with limited data size and still lack the flexibility needed to correctly spot the outliers that could provide some hint of extraterrestrial intelligence.

However, research in the niche field of AI is going full steam ahead. It is expected that researchers will come out with many more ways to further enhance the capabilities of AI. AI algorithms could potentially spot anomalies within the huge data repository collected after years of research in space science disciplines.

It is possible that proof of alien intelligence could be lurking within the petabytes of space data we’ve already gathered, and the sophisticated AI of the future will reveal all the secrets hiding there!


  1. ScienceDirect
  2. Cornell University
  3. Cambridge University
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About the Author:

Hussain Kanchwala is an Electronic Engineer from University of Mumbai. He is a tech aficionado who loves to explicate on wide range of subjects from applied and interdisciplinary sciences like Engineering, Technology, FinTech, Pharmacy, Psychology and Economics.

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