Expert Voices

Alien life is closer than you think

Our expert voices conversation on "How to look for alien life."

Alien life will be conceived, discovered, investigated, and iterated upon right here on Earth using biotechnology and our best attempt at collective intelligence: the computer and the internet.

To me, life is a system defined by generating, storing, and transmitting critical information albeit imperfectly at times. (Here on Earth that is done with DNA.) Simply put, life is complex and non-linear. With that convention, alien life bears no responsibility to be anything like life on Earth — or even follow our terrestrial rules, but it should break rules in a predictable fashion. We should look for systems that can use energy to fuel work, react and adapt to their environments and transmit information about themselves. These together all hint at life, and all can be generated from within a computer using Earth's biology as both tracing paper and as a spotlight.

Alien life simply awaits modern biotechnology to adapt it to existence beyond a computer. There is little gained in creating life from scratch. Rather, our computers should borrow, adapt, and iterate. Modern biotechnology can attempt parts, genetically recoding existing cells to run molecular programs never imagined, the result of which is a novel system constrained to iterate upon a new set of rules. In other words, new life right here on Earth.

The other voices in the conversation:

Mike Allen 4 hours ago
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A White House olive branch: no plan to fire Mueller

Photo: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

After a weekend at war with the Mueller investigation, the White House is extending an olive branch. Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the probe, plans to issue this statement:

“In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

Why it matters: The White House strategy had been to cooperate with Mueller. So this is an effort to turn down the temperature after a weekend of increasingly personal provocations aimed at the special counsel.

Jonathan Swan 6 hours ago
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Trump's trade plan that would blow up the WTO

President Trump announces tariffs on steel and aluminum earlier this month, flanked by Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Robert Lighthizer, and Peter Navarro. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

For months, President Donald Trump has been badgering his economic advisors to give him broad, unilateral authority to raise tariffs — a move that would all but break the World Trade Organization.

His favorite word: “reciprocal.” He’s always complaining to staff about the fact that the U.S. has much lower tariffs on some foreign goods than other countries have on the same American-made goods. The key example is cars: The European Union has a 10 percent tariff on all cars, including those manufactured in America, and China hits all foreign-made cars with 25 percent tariffs. But the U.S. only charges 2.5 percent for foreign cars we import.