The Drake Equation Is Broken; Here’s How…

The Drake Equation Is Broken; Here’s How To Fix It

“Knowing how many worlds there are out there in the Milky Way with life on them, and finding even one, would have tremendous implications for our existence, and for understanding our place in the Universe. Taking even the next step, and learning that there were complex, differentiated, large organisms on a world, like we have with the fungal, animal, and plant kingdoms on Earth, would revolutionize what’s possible. And finally, the chance we’d have to have communication, visitation, and a knowledge exchange with a scientifically or technologically advanced alien species would forever alter the course of humanity. It’s all possible, but there’s so much more we need to know if we ever want to find out. We must take these steps; the rewards are too great if there’s even a chance of learning these answers.”

Put forth in 1961, the Drake equation was a brilliant step towards estimating the number of intelligent, technologically-advanced civilizations out there. But it was full of flaws: huge unknowns, assumed incorrect priors like the Steady-State model of the Universe, and thought only of its application to radio contact between worlds. Here in 2018, we’ve surveyed huge sections of the Milky Way, understand stars and extra-solar planets as never before, and have only a few major unknowns about life in the Universe left. All told, there are likely some 100 billion planets that could develop life on them, and only three big uncertain steps remain: the development of life from non-life, the evolution of life into complex, differentiated organisms, and the development into a technologically and scientifically advanced civilization.

Based on what we know and what we hope to find, we can do better than Drake ever did. Here’s where we are, and what’s left to learn.