Scientists gathered in Puerto Rico Wednesday to discuss the potential forms of alien intelligence during a daylong workshop called "The Intelligence of SETI: Cognition and Communication in Extraterrestrial Intelligence." During the course of the workshop, various astronomers, biologists and researchers from numerous fields brainstormed the most effective ways to create messages that can be understood by alien civilizations.
"Philosophical questions aside, from a pragmatic perspective, if we are to send a message, we must design it in a way that it can be understood and used by the broadest range of forms that intelligent life could take," said Dominic Sivitilli and David Gire, biologists from the University of Washington. "We can make substantial progress toward this goal by understanding the diversity of forms that intelligent life has taken on this planet."
Understanding this intelligence means gaining a better understanding of various characteristics of potential alien life, including what they might look like, how they might have evolved and their methods of behavior and communication.
For example, Anna Dornhaus, a biologist from the University of Arizona, believes that it is possible that sexual selection, which pushes the evolution of traits linked to attracting potential mates, has played a larger role than standard natural selection in the development of human intelligence. If this is true, our level of cognition might be rare.
"If this is true, then we should expect cognitive ability - i.e., learning, memory, abstraction and many other elements of intelligence - to be commonplace in the galaxy as they are among organisms on Earth," she said. "But 'exaggerated' intelligence, as in humans, may be a rare accident of chance, as rare as a peacock's tail."
The alien intelligence workshop is a part of the National Space Society's International Space Development Conference (ISDC), which takes place from May 18 to May 22 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"By launching ISDC 2016 with a daylong meeting on the nature of intelligence in the universe, we set the stage for an engaging conference that includes sessions on the habitability of other worlds, the latest research from Arecibo Observatory and updates on cutting-edge space missions like Breakthrough Starshot to Alpha Centauri (Pete Worden) and New Horizons to Pluto (Alan Stern)," said Dave Dressler, the ISDC's 2016 program chairman.