Is Alien ‘Life’ Weirder Than We Imagine: Who Is Out There?

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If we want to discover alien life out there in the universe, we first need to figure out where to look—and what we’re even looking for. Will it be biological like us? Could it be artificial, or take some other form we haven’t yet considered? And how do we find something so fundamentally different from ourselves? In this program, scientists devise plans for searching for beings beyond Earth while they grapple with the very definition of life.

PARTICIPANTS: Lisa Kaltenegger, Caleb Scharf, Susan Schneider, Sara Walker

MODERATOR: Nicole Stott


This program is part of the BIG IDEAS SERIES, made possible with support from the JOHN TEMPLETON FOUNDATION.

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– Film about the imaginative search for alien life 00:05
– Introduction to the program by astronaut Nicole Stott 04:45
– Introduction of participants 05:50
– What is the definition of life? 07:09
– How will we find signs of life elsewhere in the universe? 16:21
– What are the parameters for looking for life on other planets? 19:36
– What should the probes on Mars be looking for to find life? 24:58
– The Fermi Paradox, where is everybody? 30:56
– Have aliens avoided humans because we’re too boring? 34:41
– Can we use information theory to look for life in the universe? 39:13
– Why is looking for alien life important to humankind? 44:13
– Will life in the future be AI, should we be looking for other AI in space? 46:02
– The “Great Filter” 48:52
– Is artificial intelligence alive? 50:28
– Is evolution the strongest force in the universe, how will it shape the future? 52:13
– What lessons could humankind learn from the successes and failures of other alien species in the universe? 56:58
– Why should we care about finding life elsewhere in the universe? 57:58


– Produced by John Plummer
– Associate Produced by Laura Dattaro
– Opening film written / produced by John Plummer, animation by Derek Breur
– Music provided by APM
– Additional images and footage provided by: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Videoblocks

This program was recorded live at the 2018 World Science Festival and has been edited and condensed for YouTube.