New Theory Proposes Looking for Aliens Using a Gaming Tactic

The plan would be for both Earth scientists and other planet civilizations to look for each other.
Fabienne Lang

A new method for finding intelligent alien life in our universe proposes using a cooperative gaming strategy known as "game theory." 

The research was carried out by astrophysicist, Dr. Eamonn Kerins at the University of Manchester in the U.K., and was published in The Astronomical Journal.

How "game theory" could help us look for alien life

Finding out whether aliens exist in our galaxy has been a challenge astronomers working in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have been trying to get to the bottom of for years. 

Dr. Kerins' approach involves both parties looking for each other, which means both Earth's astronomers and extraterrestrial ones would look for each other — a tactic often used in game theory when two players work together to win a game without communicating. 

Dr. Kerins calls his theory "Mutual Detectability," which proposes that the search for extraterrestrial life should begin by looking for planets that have a higher chance of knowing that Earth is inhabited.

The point of looking for these types of planets is because potential civilizations on them would most likely also have a better idea that Earth is inhabited, too. This way, both planets' inhabitants have a stronger incentive to engage in SETI towards each other.

The types of planets that Dr. Kerins suggests have the highest chance of being the home to extraterrestrial life are transiting ones, which are on orbits passing directly across the face of their host star. 

Another big question that astronomers have struggled to answer in the quest for extraterrestrial life is whether we should be sending out a signal to these planets, or if we should be waiting to receive one from them. The new study suggests an answer: that the planet with the clearest view of the other sends out the signal. The other planet will know this and wait for the signal. 

As Dr. Kerins explained "Soon we should have the first catalog of planets that may be inhabited by civilizations who already know something about our World. They may know just enough to be tempted to send a message. These are the worlds we really need to focus in on. If they know about the game theory they'll expect us to be listening."

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