Call for White Papers

Soliciting Community Input for the Advancement of the Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, and the Creation of a Multidisciplinary Virtual Institute for SETI Research

To: US and International Scientific Community
Response deadline: February 17, 2017

This is an open solicitation released by the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California, USA.

milkyway galaxy

Scientific discoveries and technological advances are opening new paths to explore the nature of intelligent life in the Universe. Vast datasets and new analytical tools that did not exist even a decade ago are now being used in astronomy and astrophysics, as well as in astrobiology and the biological, geological, environmental, cognitive, mathematical, social, and computational sciences, among others. 

If synergistically analyzed in a multidisciplinary approach, these datasets and tools have the potential to support an integrated new vision and framework for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Together, these can inform our future searches of who, what, and where advanced alien life could be, how it might communicate, and how it could be detected. Considering these new advances, it is now time to develop a roadmap and a research program based on a long-term vision for SETI activities.

The principles associated with this new vision of SETI research have been outlined in an article recently published in Astrobiology :

Cabrol, N. A. (2016) Alien Mindscapes – Perspective on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Astrobiology, 16(9). DOI: 10.1089/ast.2016. 1536.

Building upon the aforementioned publication, the SETI Institute is now soliciting community input for the development of a Virtual Institute for SETI Research. Its primary goal will be to “Understand how intelligent life interacts with its environment and communicates”.  This goal will be explored through three principal questions:

Question 1: How abundant and diverse is intelligent life in the Universe?

The Virtual Institute will use data synergistically from astrobiology, biological sciences, space and planetary exploration, and geosciences to quantitatively characterize the potential abundance and diversity of intelligent life in the Universe. The spatiotemporal distribution of potential intelligent life will be considered using models of the physicochemical evolution of the Universe.

Question 2: How does intelligent life communicate?

By drawing from a combination of cognitive sciences, neuroscience, communication and information theory, mathematical sciences, bio-neural computing, data mining, and machine learning (among others), we will proactively explore and analyze communication in intelligent terrestrial species. Building upon these analyses, we will consider the physiochemical and biochemical models of newly discovered exoplanet environments to generate and map probabilistic neural and homolog systems, and infer the resulting range of viable alien sensing systems.

Question 3: How can we detect intelligent life?

Using the results (data and databases) of research conducted under Questions 1 and 2, we will consider the design and promising exploration strategies, instruments, experimental protocols, technologies, and messaging (content and support) that may optimize the probabilities of detecting intelligent life beyond Earth.

To support the goals and address the questions outlined above, we seek white papers that will serve as a foundation for the intellectual framework of the Virtual Institute’s roadmap – and that specifically describe: (a) scientific rationales (theories, hypotheses) as foundations for investigations; (b) concepts of experimental designs (methods, protocols, and metrics); (c) universal markers, signals, instruments, systems, technologies for communication; (d) target identification; and (e) ground- and space-based instrumentation, observing scenarios, instrument requirements, and exploration strategies.

To better understand the possible existence of intelligence and technology in the universe, and to learn how to detect it, we expect that proposals may draw from diverse scientific fields. These include astrobiology, astronomy/astrophysics, cognitive sciences, epistemology, geo- and environmental sciences, biosciences, mathematical sciences, social sciences, space sciences, communication theory, bioneural computing, machine learning, big data analytics, technology, instrument and software development, and other relevant fields.

White papers should be submitted in electronic form as PDF files to Dr. Nathalie.A.Cabrol at the email address below. They should be no more than three pages in length, with a minimum 10-point font size. A figure can be included if of critical importance. It is anticipated that there will be an opportunity for interested respondents to present their contribution in person during a planned workshop in the summer of 2017. Notification of opportunities to present will be made after the white paper deadline of February 17, 2017, and those most responsive to this call will be published in the Astrobiology Journal. Questions related to this call should be addressed to Bill Diamond at the address below.

Dr. Nathalie A. Cabrol
Director, SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center
Bill H. Diamond
President and CEO, SETI Institute