Ah, artificial intelligence. Is there anything it can’t do? Aside from learning to feel human emotions and generally haunting the nightmares and waking thoughts of any rational forward-looking person, artificial intelligence has now officially joined the search for aliens. Already, this use of AI is generating results, as a new set of mysterious deep space radio bursts was just detected by a revolutionary new machine learning algorithm, better known as an “intelligent computer program soon to enslave humanity.” Is there anything at which humans are better than machines machines anymore?


Maybe feeling sorry for ourselves as we gawk in awe and horror at the endless wisdom of our future overlords. However the AI uprising will end, this news is at least a bit of hope that we might at least discover alien life before being turned into human batteries. Scientists with Breakthrough Listen have used a powerful new machine learning algorithm (AI) to analyze a data set made in 2017 using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. While researchers had previously felt like all of the important discoveries had already been gleaned from this data, UC Berkeley PhD student Gerry Zhang coaxed this AI network into discovering 72 new radio bursts which were originally not detected in the analysis of this Green Bank Telescope data.

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The first fast radio burst FRB) was discovered in 2007. Since then, dozens of other FRB sources have been located - but not always identified.

This discovery already shows that artificial intelligence could revolutionize the search for alien life. Who knows - overlooked proof may already exist in previously analyzed data. “Not all discoveries come from new observations,” says Pete Worden, executive director of the Breakthrough Listen and other Breakthrough Initiatives, “In this case, it was smart, original thinking applied to an existing dataset. It has advanced our knowledge of one of the most tantalizing mysteries in astronomy.”

The mystery Worden refers to is FRB 121102, one of the most active sources of unexplained fast radio bursts. While many astronomers believes these bursts to be caused by natural sources, others still hold out hope that they may be alien in nature. FRB 121102, a source of radio waves some 3 billion light-years away in the constellation Auriga, has been observed emitting bright pulses of radio emission since 2016. Could this be a distant civilization attempting to make first contact, or is it just some dumb dying neutron star like always? An incredibly intelligent computer will likely solve that question soon - just before it sends the Terminators to do their thing.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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