According to British physicist Stephen Wolfram, intelligent life is inevitable. But there is a catch. Although intelligent life is inevitable, we’ll never find it — at least not by looking into the Milky Way.
As Wolfram points out. In order to compress more and more information into our communication signals – whether telephone or computer conversations – we remove any redundancy or patterns.
If an element of a signal is repeated, it is obvious that it can be deleted.
But this process of removing any pattern from a signal makes it look increasingly random – in fact, quite similar to the random radio “noise” that rains down on Earth from stars and gas clouds. interstellar.
According to Wolfram, if someone sent us our own 21st century communication signals from space, it would be difficult for us to determine whether they were man-made or natural. So what are our chances of distinguishing an extraterrestrial communication from the general radio noise of the cosmos?
Alien artifacts coordinated by computers would look much more like natural objects. It is easy to distinguish a technological artifact such as a car from a natural object such as a tree. The tree is much more complicated.
But, according to Wolfram, “it’s simply because our technological artifacts are primitive. As they become more complex – with computer processors allowing them to make moment-to-moment decisions – they will begin to look as complex as trees, people and stars. »
We are unlikely, he suggests, to distinguish an extraterrestrial artifact from a natural celestial object.
If Wolfram is correct and the aliens are there but we are not able to recognize them – either in their communications or their artifacts – then of course they could be here in the solar system and we wouldn’t have noticed. .
Wolfram thinks aliens won’t want to go to Earth – or anywhere else for that matter. According to Wolfram, everything in the Universe is the product of a computer program. In fact, he imagines an abstract cyber-universe composed of all imaginable computer programs, from the simplest to the most complex.
This “computing universe” contains everything from the Apple Macintosh operating system to the program for creating a spaceship faster than light…
Wolfram believes he has discovered nature’s great secret: how it generates the complexity of the world, from a rhododendron to a tree to a galaxy of barred spirals, by applying simple rules over and over again in the form of simple computer programs.
Wolfram came to this remarkable conclusion in the early 1980s, when he discovered that the simplest type of computer program – known as a cellular automaton – can generate infinite complexity if its results are repeatedly fed back into it. entrance.
Wolfram found evidence that the kind of computer program that produces infinite complexity can be implemented “not only in systems of biological molecules, but also in all kinds of physical systems – chaotic gas clouds, subatomic particle systems, etc He concludes that, everywhere in the Universe, life – but certainly not life as we know it – will arise spontaneously. It is a fundamental characteristic of matter”.
The existence of this computer universe is the crucial thing. But in reality, it would be easier and more efficient for an extraterrestrial civilization to stay at home and use a computer to search for useful programs in the computer universe than to try to obtain the same information by searching for extraterrestrials. who to talk to among the approximately 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. “It’s just a numbers game,” says Wolfram.
Everything is generated by a computer program, “and that includes you and me,” adds Wolfram. “Someone on the other side of the galaxy might have found the computer program for you and are conversing with you right now. »