In a presentation delivered to a meeting held by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute last spring, a scientist from NASA put forward the notion that the idea that extraterrestrials may already be visiting Earth isn’t such a crazy one, and that SETI might invest some resources into studying high-quality UFO reports for signs of non-human intelligences — signs that might indicate that the subject of their search might be closer to home than they think.
Citing recent advances in the understanding of how common life might be throughout the universe and the potential for the rapid evolution of technological cultures, Silvano Colombano, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center, told attendees at the SETI meeting that a number of beliefs long-held by the scientific community need to be re-evaluated, including the unproven assumptions that:
1. Interstellar travel is impossible or highly unlikely.
2. Radio waves continue to be the major form of communication for thousands or millions of years.
3. Intelligent civilizations would be based on carbon life.
4. We have not been, and are not being… visited.
In the white paper accompanying his presentation, currently available on NASA’s website, Colombano discusses the potential for an extraterrestrial civilization to have grown past its biological roots into a machine-based one, and cites the relatively rapid evolution of our own culture and technology to put the number of civilizations potentially inhabiting the cosmos into perspective.
Regarding his notion that the scientific community should take a serious look at UFO sightings as a source of new and potentially valuable data, Colombano uses what SETI does — striving to "find the signal in the noise" — as a metaphor for looking for high-quality reports of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena amongst the multitude of low-quality sightings and hoaxes.
"In the very large amount of ‘noise’ in UFO reporting there may be ‘signals’ however small, that indicate some phenomena that cannot be explained or denied," according to Colombano’s paper.
Popular news media has distorted the intent of Colombano’s presentation with headlines such as "NASA scientist says Earth may have been visited by aliens", but in an interview with LiveScience, he clarified that although he does personally believe that extraterrestrials may have visited Earth, his presentation was intended to be a call to action for scientists to take a look at the UFO phenomenon as a potential source of new data.
"It is not accurately represented," he said, in regards to the presentation. "My perspective was simply that reports of unidentified aerial phenomena should be the object of serious study, even if the chance of identification of some alien technology is very small."
Colombano closes his paper with four recommendations in regards to how SETI researchers might take a "more ‘aggressive’ approach to future SETI exploration" in their search for non-human intelligences:
1. Engage physicists in what might be called "speculative physics", still grounded in our most solid theories but with some willingness to stretch possibilities as to the nature of space-time and energy.
2. Engage technologists in futuristic exploration of how technology might evolve, especially w/r Artificial Intelligence, "Evolvable Robotic Systems" and symbiosis of biology with machines.
3. Engage sociologists in speculation about what kinds of societies we might expect from the above developments, and whether and how they might choose to communicate.
4. Consider the UFO phenomenon worthy of study in the context of a system with very low signal to noise ratio, but nevertheless with the possibility of challenging some of our assumptions and pointing to new possibilities for communication and discovery.