Drake Equation, Revisited

Drake Equation, Revisited

Simulation Argument aside…. you know, is it about time that we seriously consider revisiting the Drake Equation and adjust some of the numbers with new knowledge?

For instance,

  • The persistence of life is proving very strong given all of the places that it has been found of late. Once life has started, it is destined to be more permanent than was assumed with Drake postulated the equation in the 60’s. The kick is to get it started.
  • Riffing off that thought, the persistence of life across harsh, non-life friendly environments is also high – and thus the probability of populating of the universe with just basic replicating DNA organisms  seems higher than when Drake made his arguably still anthropocentric equation. For instance, take the rise of Panspermia in common discussion,  and the increased awareness of interstellar objects.
  • Similarly, the range of planets is proving to be much larger than was only guessed at in Drakes’ time for the number of inhabitable planets. We are finding many forms of planets in the inhabitable region. We are also finding many alternative life-friendly planets and moons in non-inhabitable regions (e.g. Titan) in which heat and liquid are made through other forces and chemicals.
  • Similarly, we are also finding chemical pathways that are viable for self replicating building blocks / proteins. E.g silicon based life, or all the non-water solvents that can potentially support life.
  • Further down the equation, the ability to detect signatures of other life on remote planets is proving to be easier than expected. We are just a few years before we can diffract atmospheric light from remote planets to determine direct or one-level-of-indirection evidence of life – something Drake would never have imagined in a mere fifty years.
  • On the counter opposing force, now that the romance of Star Wars and Star Trek has faded, the feasibility of interstellar travel is proving to be far more difficult than expected.

So ignoring Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter… it therefore is a very real possibility that within the next 10 to 20 years we can moderately reasonably expect to communicate for the first time with alien life. All time before now (or very soon to be now) was hindered by it being a one way conversation initiated by them. Now, we are reaching the point where we can hone our search, and search more directly for those signals correlated to life. And then, instead of training SETI work across the sky randomly, we can focus in on key potential sitess, and listen with pinpoint accuracy.

It’s like being on a satellite orbiting around the globe, passing over LA. We could listen with audio over the city and attempt to eavesdrop on a single conversation over the din of all the people across the city. Or we could switch to cellular, and hone just in on a single transmitter and really really pay attention to that frequency and location.

And thus.. If life does exist out there, now is the very first time we would be able to find it. And with an increased Drake Equation, we truly are potentially right at the break of making first contact – or so my thoughts led me to believe this day.

One Reply to “Drake Equation, Revisited”

  1. If you really step back, the Drake Equation is what is core to being human. It is the gut that too often is labeled as faith. Higher intelligence is largely about fast multiplication of probabilities, just like Drake.

    The fact that getting this mass multiplication of probabilities translated into formalism … and understanding the Bayesian math can be so difficult … doesn’t take away from the fact that we all do it lightning fast with even the most basic of mundane actions:

    What is the probability of that guy on the bike on the sidewalk will pull out in front of me when I drive through the cross walk?

    If I use a particular retort in an argument with my spouse, what is the probability that she will stop being on me for eating ice cream before bed?

    If I take 10% of my net worth and invest it in this crazy startup what is the chance I will be materially affecting my retirement?

    The brain is entirely Bayesian in nature and so often we get in the way of our gut. The gut is just the name that we give that massive multiplier of probabilities at the unconscious level. And that’s what the Drake Equation is, just applied to a specifically particularly data-lacking problem.

    So is my thought – but that’s worth just about as much as the paper it’s written on 🙂

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