Oxford researchers think we’re probably alone in the universe — here’s why

It’s a brainteaser asked by everyone from SETI enthusiasts to the couple of fans who liked the Suicide Squad movie: Are we all alone in the universe? While science has yet to give us an answer on the second part of that conundrum, a new paper from philosophers at the U.K.’s University of Oxford chimes in on the possibility of other alien civilizations — and, sadly, they don’t think it’s looking too good for E.T. and friends.

Their research paper explores the so-called Fermi Paradox, aka the answer to the question “where is everyone else?” Discussions surrounding this topic often involve the Drake equation, a probabilistic estimation of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy, based on seven variables. The possible results are an argument that has raged for decades, leading to some investigators concluding that there’s a 53 to 99.6 percent chance that we’re alone in the galaxy, and just a 39 to 85 percent chance we’re alone in the universe.

“Our paper looks at the assumption about ‘reasonable probability,’” Dr. Anders Sandberg, one of the three authors, told Digital Trends. “Normally we speak of one-in-a-million chances and higher, but of course a probability can be arbitrarily small. People tend to be biased when they plug numbers into the Drake equation to make a rough estimate of how many alien civilizations are out there.

“We point out that in addition to estimating numbers, one really needs to estimate how certain they are: If you just multiply them together without taking into account that some of them could have very different values, the result becomes misleading. We demonstrated that if one either take past guesstimates and use their range as a crude estimate of how uncertain we are, or try to sketch what science currently know and estimate how uncertain that is, the paradox goes away.”

Ultimately, they suggest that, even if you’re a really optimistic researcher who thinks there are likely to be lots of alien civilizations, an honest uncertainty estimate “will force you to admit that there is a pretty big chance that we are alone.”

However, Sandberg doesn’t think this means we should stop searching. “Quite the opposite,” he said. “We should acknowledge that there is a nontrivial chance that it will all be for nothing, but given how important it is to figure out if we are alone — among other things it tells us a bit about our own chances of survival — we should not stop. In fact, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is bringing us important knowledge and ideas about life, intelligence, and technology.”

Check out the researchers’ paper to see if their argument convinces you.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

The most expensive Galaxy S10 could be the priciest Galaxy phone we've seen

Not long now; with 2019 underway, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is almost here. Before it arrives, here's absolutely everything you need to know about all three of Samsung's next flagships.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Movies & TV

Epic sci-fi novels you should read before they become blockbuster films

You can get ahead of the next crop of science-fiction movies coming out of Hollywood by picking up the books that inspired them. We compiled a list of books you can add to your reading list now to get a glimpse of the future.
Emerging Tech

Lasers and bovine breathalyzer help determine how much methane cows produce

Cow farts and belches don't sound like catastrophic threats, but they contribute to the massive amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Recently, scientists set out to establish the numbers.
Emerging Tech

Researchers discover a way to make 3D printing 100 times faster using light

Researchers at the University of Michigan have invented a new method of 3D printing which is up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D-printing processes. Here's how it works and why it could prove a game-changer for 3D printing.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.