Main   Terms   People   Interviews   Resources   Events

Detecting Intelligence

Unfortunately, intelligence cannot be detected directly over interstellar distances. But if intelligence cannot be detected, why does SETI exist? In the first place SETI is something of a misnomer. Rather than trying to directly detect intelligence, SETI is actually seeking to detect manifestations of a distant technology. If such technology is detected, then the existence of intelligent technologists could be inferred.

If this is the intent of SETI’s investigations, for what kind of technology can we look? If we imagine an advanced technological civilization, it would probably generate energy, power for different kinds of transportation systems and, unfortunately, perhaps energy for conflict and war. But the technological manifestation that has drawn the most attention is information transfer, communication. Given current terrestrial technology, this is the most detectable form of evidence for a celestially distant technology.

Thus, SETI has a very pragmatic definition of intelligence, that is, the ability to build a transmitter. This is the practical definition because this is what can be detected.

Contributed by: Dr. Jill Tarter and Jim Miller

Cosmic Questions

Are We Alone? Topic Index
What is SETI?

Detecting Intelligence

Life in the Universe
Electromagnetic Signals
Sky Surveys: Serendip IV, BETA and Argus
Targeted Search: Project Phoenix
A Pseudo-interferometer
Plans for the Future


Jill Tarter

Related Media:

Is There Intelligent Life Elsewhere in the Universe?
Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are We Alone?
Interview Index
Hubble Deep Field Animation
  Media Index

Other Resources:

Glossary Terms
Bonus Material Home...