Aliens are big in America. Whether they’ve arrived via rocket, flying saucer, or plain old teleportation, they’ve been invading, infiltrating, or inspiring us for decades, and they’ve fascinated moviegoers and television watchers for more than fifty years. About half of us believe that aliens really exist, and millions are convinced they’ve visited Earth.
For twenty-five years, SETI has been looking for the proof, and as the program’s senior astronomer, Seth Shostak explains in this engrossing book, it’s entirely possible that before long conclusive evidence will be found.
His informative, entertaining report offers an insider’s view of what we might realistically expect to discover light-years away among the stars. Neither humanoids nor monsters, says Shostak; in fact, biological intelligence is probably just a precursor to machine beings, enormously advanced artificial sentients whose capabilities and accomplishments may have developed over billions of years and far exceed our own.
As he explores what, if anything, they would tell us and what their existence would portend for humankind and the cosmos, he introduces a colorful cast of characters and provides a vivid, state-of-the-art account of the past, present, and future of our search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, chronicles the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life in a venture that covers history, politics and funding, interviews with believers and non-believers (in both the religious and scientific sense), equipment and science, as well as typical sci-fi scenarios, all salted liberally with humor: "In most stories, space is just the Wild West without the dust... where the bad guys are just like us, except for their obvious need of remedial plastic surgery." Shostak also discusses the beginnings of life on earth, how this knowledge impacts what astronomers search for in other galaxies, and the growing consortium of scientific voices who believe "it would be offensively self-centered to imagine that what has happened on Earth has only happened on Earth." Written in clear, logical prose, with many analogies to everyday life that simplify the discussion (reverse-engineering technology "from a society several centuries in advance of us is like giving your laptop to Ben Franklin"). From crop circles to abductions, he discusses and debunks common alien encounter myths ("wheat fields are poor memory storage devices"), while remaining hopeful that continued exploration will yield discoveries. Covering topics from signal processing to feature films, should entertain a broad audience.