SETI: A New Vision, Strategy and Scope

Robert Owen (
Sun, 03 Oct 1999 04:24:46 -0400

Allen Tough currently serves as a member of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Committee, and a member of its Subcommittee on Issues of Policy concerning Communications with Extraterrestrial Intelligence. For a complete biography and bibliography, please visit:


In this post, I wish to emphasize Tough's innovative, even radical, ideas concerning the future of SETI, the expansion of its scope and a broad revision of our concepts of the nature and location of the object of the Search. This paper is currently published as "Fresh SETI strategies" in The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. What follows is an extensive abridgment of the original paper which can be read online at:

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                                  by Allen Tough

Any extraterrestrial intelligence that we detect is likely to be far ahead of us in knowledge and technology, perhaps 100,000 years or more. Sending a very smart probe to monitor us could well be as easy as producing a bottle of champagne is for us. If ETI exists in our galaxy, then, there is a reasonably good chance that its probe has already reached Earth.

This means that we should vigorously pursue and support these three promising strategies for detecting near-Earth ETI:

(1) implement several of the eight ways of searching for

             physical evidence of an alien object in the solar system
             or even on our planet;

(2) invite contact through invitations on the World Wide Web;

(3) Become sufficiently prepared for contact, thus encouraging
ETI to respond.

We should also pursue the most promising strategies for detecting evidence from many light-years away:

(4) Try to detect astroengineering projects, high energy use,

             byproducts, or other distant evidence of a technological

(5) radio and optical searches.

In addition to the five particularly promising strategies, several other possibilities have been suggested by various scientists. For example, perhaps a highly advanced technology can use neutrinos, quantum entanglement, gamma rays, tachyons, gravitational waves, or some other particle or technique to communicate across vast distances. Perhaps some intelligence even embedded messages in the human genome or genetic code millions of years ago. Or in microbes designed to survive in an extreme environment, such as the deep hot zone of Earth. Or in the DNA of organic material that reaches our atmosphere from space. Perhaps routine monitoring by security and intelligence agencies will detect a probe or some other relevant phenomenon. Perhaps signs of alien meddling in our society could be detected if we looked far enough beyond the mundane forms of intervention that we might readily expect. If we let our imaginations roam even further, we could look for people whose minds are controlled by ETI or who are actually artificial life forms manufactured by ETI.

The SETI field is united by its common aim of detecting irrefutable scientific evidence of genuine extraterrestrial intelligence. The wisest policy for achieving this noble goal is to encourage and support all five of the most promising strategies, while simultaneously continuing to assess the potential value of other strategies as well.

Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA