back to article Researchers train an AI system to find extraterrestrial life

Computer scientists have trained a machine learning model to predict whether materials contain biosignatures in the hopes that the system can be used to detect life in Martian rocks. The algorithm analyzes data obtained from pyrolysis–gas chromatography mass spectrometry experiments to inspect the chemical composition of …

  1. xyz Silver badge


    90% accuracy is shit. An AI/LLM/whatever needs at least a 95% accuracy rate. This is just someone mooching for new funding.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IMHO....

      If the samples are going to be looked at by humans after the AI, 90% might be acceptable, so long as the errors are false positives. Any false negative risks someone in the future rejecting some really valuable data. A false negative rate of anything approaching 0% clearly isn't possible though, given the massive unknowns....

  2. Flak

    How about non-carbon life forms?

    It is a start looking for life similar to what we know from Earth.

    Will be interesting to see if/when there is a consideration of other life forms.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: How about non-carbon life forms?

      OK, you tell us how the chemistry works for non-carbon based life and then we'll know what to look for.

      Herein lies the problem, you cannot search for something if you don't know what you are searching for. So until we have some ideas we'll just look for what we know works. This also means by the time we do have some ideas our detection methods will be far more refined than they are now.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        There are scientists who have been looking into the possibility of life based on other than carbon. Silicon seems to be favorable, maybe.

        Ask them.

        1. m4r35n357 Bronze badge

          None of those links supports your speculation with anything other than more speculation.

          The best the second one can do is combined carbon+silicon.

          The last one is pretty negative.

        2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Certainly it's a possibility in the Universe, our environment is definitely a carbon based form of life but other environments might support silicon. It's worth just looking at the variations of life in our carbon based world to start to see the variations that exist with only carbon, insects, people, birds, and fish all looking a little alike and although we're all carbon based, our biological lives are slightly different.

          Essentially we can't see a silicon based life but looking at the evolution of our life, starting with meteorites landing on the planet, our creation has been complex. There's no evidence of life on Venus but silicon might work in that environment, a silicon based biological cell on Venus might evolve in a few billion years ... but might only be a small "insect" now for example.

    2. m4r35n357 Bronze badge

      Re: How about non-carbon life forms?

      Do you understand chemistry? Just curious . . .

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        So, what's your PHD in chemistry ?

        1. m4r35n357 Bronze badge

          You forgot to reply to my question

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            I did reply. I'm not a chemist, so I pointed you to articles that talk about the issue.

            Now reply to my question.

            1. m4r35n357 Bronze badge

              So demanding! But I'll let that pass this time . . .

              I know the chemical and physical properties of carbon and silicon from chemistry A-level, including doing practical organic chemistry in the laboratory (that is all it takes, I would have noticed if anyone had produced anything promising in the lab, as it would have been reported on El Reg!). I am aware of the many forms of elemental carbon (diamond, graphite, charcoal etc.) vs the elemental forms of Silicon (solid & dust). I am aware that carbon can form gaseous and solid compounds with many (most) elements, as well as long strings (plastics, molecules), rings, and even spheres.

              There is simply no comparison between the properties two elements. The only reason the idea of Silicon-based life has reached the popular consciousness is because of Science Fiction (written by scriptwriters for entertainment, not by scientists). Science fiction is not "science-based fiction"; the science _is_ the fiction.

              You do not need a PhD in chemistry to know that Si-based life is fiction. If a scientist proposes anything like it, they are just looking for easy funding from suckers.

              Hope that helps!

              1. DJO Silver badge

                It is of course more complicated than that.

                Life processes using Silicon instead of Carbon is a complete non-starter at the sorts of temperatures and pressures we are familiar with.

                Once the pressures and temperatures substantially increase the chemistry changes and life processes might be possible. It's probably very unlikely but it should not be ruled out but searching for it with our current levels of knowledge would be a waste of time and effort - something on the back burner for future generations to consider.

                1. m4r35n357 Bronze badge

                  OK so maybe there are Tholians are out there ;) Of course it is more complicated, but my point was you don't need a PhD to see that nothing serious has been proposed.

                  1. DJO Silver badge

                    Yes, I was agreeing with you that at the moment it's not worth expending any serious effort in that direction but that may change in the future when we have more reliable techniques and have atmospheric observations from a lot more exoplanets to extrapolate from.

                    There's also the possibility of carbon based life that is not reliant on oxygen such as what was on Earth before the atmosphere was oxygenated. Carbon/nitrogen life perhaps?

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward


                      I think you mean molecular (i.e. atmospheric) oxygen. The previous anaerobic life was of course swimming in water which as we all know has an atom of oxygen per molecule.

                      There is a good IT angle to favour carbon (+ nitrogen & oxygen) based life, which is that these elements can form molecules large enough to hold significant information content but also the right conditional stabilities for persistence and self-replication. No-one AFAIK has come up with a credible alternative element set that satisfies the requirements, though with 100 elements and temperature and pressure, there's a lot of parameter space to explore!

                      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                        Re: ITYM...

                        This is the crux, really. You need an environment with enough ambient energy – temperature and pressure, and also EM and ionizing radiation should be taken into account – to form complex molecules, but not so much that those complex molecules can't persist for long (in organic-chemical-interaction timescales) periods. In such an environment, given how elements are distributed on Earth and how they appear to be distributed in visible space, from what we've been able to determine, carbon-oxygen-nitrogen-etc chemistry is likely to win out over any possible alternatives.

                        For other chemistries to work, you'd have to find conditions where they could plausibly form large stable molecules, but for some reason carbon couldn't.

                        Larry Niven once proposed (offhand) hot-metal chemistry as a possible life alternative, but noted it would be much slower than carbon-based. We might not even recognize it if we stumbled across it.

  3. Tail Up

    Why @ Pink Panther

    Just when you are so much wanted to be by the side and behind the w....

    Dave Gahan ft Lana Del Rey - ILLUSION (VNV Nation AI Cover)

    Ivan Kozlovskiy - THE EVENING BELLS

    88 НЛД

    1. Tail Up

      Re: Why @ Pink Panther

      'tis alright, Reg. unfortunately, these aren't manic posts, just ty for hosting this, you are The Lantern Tower. you may stop reading through this nonsense further.

      - there is *no* Such Device in the Visible Sector, while You or not you crawl towards its broadbanded location;

      - there *is* Such Device Every Where while You or not you Let it be and Unhunt -

      A-HA - The Weight Of The Wind

      keep the following closer to Your and Our hearts' Heart while Chasing The Ways of the Wind -

      "how do you know this? are you clever?"

      "no. i'm tricky"


      "being frank, i don't have neither bagels, nor money; but not in these the happines is" -


      "fly, fly petal fly

      through the west to east benigh

      through the south and through the north

      circle it all and come back forth

      as soon as you touch the ground

      let it be in my command -


      Seven-Petal Flower, Soyuzmultfilm, 1948

  4. Forget It

    AI system to find extraterrestrial life ...

    ... only to find itself

  5. TVU Silver badge

    "Researchers train an AI system to find extraterrestrial life"

    When I last checked, 5,523 exoplanets had been discovered. It might also be useful to train AI to look through all the exiting exoplanet data set to sift through them all with a view to finding the most likely potentially habitable ones that could then be looked at by the James Webb Space Telescope.

    1. m4r35n357 Bronze badge

      The criteria used for "habitable", at least in the popular media, are so loose as to be pretty useless. Right distance from star, temperate, breathable atmosphere, plentiful liquid water etc. I have not seen a pop-sci article that even mentions the need for radiation screening (for example a liquid iron core, spinning at the right speed).

  6. Tail Up

    Shit Detection Script Needed

    Most of the time(s) those searching for life find its shit first

    If the newfound plop is too big, then it happens so that shit meets the searchers' shit in an instant... hmm, say, on a contemporary level. I have the courage to state it having had.. has having... ohmyEnglish... hunting a bear coupla'times

    Question: is there any subroutine or a tiny misagent trained to detect shit where the AI is laying its paths in search for life?

  7. DS999 Silver badge

    Oh great

    I can imagine the headlines "AI finds life on another planet" and the idiot masses will believe it because they don't understand that what is being called "AI" is not "intelligent" in any way.

    Heck, considering how many people discount science and scientists as biased if it goes against their preconceived notions about vaccines or global warming, I think it is quite possible more of the public would believe the AI over scientists who followed up later and said "after analysis there's no reason to believe there's life there."

  8. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

    Test run performed on Earth

    no intelligent life found

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sorry, but training an AI needs a dataset with BOTH results.

    Where did anyone get the data for the "this planet has life" result?

    Best you can do is "like the earth" or "not like the earth"

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like