Oxford Scientists Make a More Accurate Prediction of What Aliens Look Like

Astrobiologists took a novel view and used evolutionary processes as their guide.

Credit: The International Journal of Astrobiology.

Artists, science fiction writers, and others have offered varying speculations about what life might be like on other planets. In the earliest days this focus was on Martians and “men on the moon.” The grays are the iteration we’re most familiar with, you know the stereotypical gray-skinned alien with the elongated head and black, soulless eyes. Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and so many others have offered their own, unique visions.

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Surprising Science

AI Is Evolving in a Way That Could Be Hard to Stop

AI is capable of self-reproduction—should humans be worried?

Those among us who fear world domination at the metallic hands of super-intelligent AI have gotten a few steps ahead of themselves. We might actually be outsmarted first by fairly dumb AI, says Eric Weinstein. Humans rarely create products with a reproductive system—you never have to worry about waking up one morning to see that your car has spawned a new car on the driveway (and if it did: cha-ching!), but artificial intelligence has the capability to respond to selective pressures, to self-replicate and spawn daughter programs that we may not easily be able to terminate. Furthermore, there are examples in nature of organisms without brains parasitizing more complex and intelligent organisms, like the mirror orchid. Rather than spend its energy producing costly nectar as a lure, it merely fools the bee into mating with its lower petal through pattern imitation: this orchid hijacks the bee's brain to meet its own agenda. Weinstein believes all the elements necessary for AI programs to parasitize humans and have us serve its needs already exists, and although it may be a "crazy-sounding future problem which no humans have ever encountered," Weinstein thinks it would be wise to devote energy to these possibilities that are not as often in the limelight.

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The climate your ancestors came from shaped your nose

Knowing the details of genetic variance may help improve personalized medicine. 

 

Narrow vs. wide nostrils on display as Britain's Prince Charles performs a traditional Maori 'hongi', a greeting where two people press noses, with Lieutenant Donald Ripia, of the Royal New Zealand Navy. (Photo by William West/Getty Images)

I have a schnoz just below Cyrano scale. My friend calls it a Roman senator's beak, while my wife claims it's more like a ski slope. I usually interject something like lions have strong noses or that the Romans once controlled most of the known world, which is met with eye rolls or smirks. When people try to guess my ethnicity, they usually say either Jewish or Italian.

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Surprising Science

The Real Story of What Got Us to the Top of the Food Chain

Natural "narrative selection" was key to turning insignificant apes (who had tools for 2 million years) into the species that now dominates the bio-sphere. 

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Surprising Science

Memes 101: How Cultural Evolution Works

We are what we are because of genes; we are who we are because of memes. Philosopher Daniel Dennett muses on an idea put forward by Richard Dawkins in 1976.

Ever wondered where the word ‘meme’ comes from? Philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett explains the term, coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, and its effects on our lives and history. How did we, as a species, become what we are – or more relevantly who we are? Natural selection and genetic evolution have made our physical bodies, but we are so much more than a collection of cells. We are also a conscious community, with language, music, cooking, art, poetry, dance, rituals, and humor. Dennett explains how these behaviors are the product of our cultural evolution. Memes are cultural replicators that spread like viruses, and only the most advantageous – or "the fittest" – of them survive. Daniel Dennett's most recent book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

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