Jose from Meme Therapy has invited me to comment on his latest Brain Parade question: Do you think it likely that the first discovery of extraterrestrial life will be made by a rover?
This is something way, way outside of my normal realm of thought, but a fun question to entertain and distract myself.
My short answer is yes. For a longer answer, however, I think I picture discovery of extraterrestrial life to be accomplished by dispersing probes to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, kind of like Darth Vader employs to find the rebel base on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. There’s simply too much ground (er, I mean space) to cover in the search for life. Such life might not be capable of sending or receiving signals detectable by SETI – it might be more of the sort that Earth has had for all but the last ~150 years, sans electromagnetic communication.
Sending out thousands of “probe-droids” won’t happen anytime soon, of course, just much sooner than sending out thousands of manned expeditions would take. As the Mars Rovers have demonstrated, we’re making remarkable progress in robotics. Prerequisites for manned interstellar exploration, such as propulsion suitable for interstellar travel, radiation shielding, life-support and cryo-preservation systems, artificial gravity, etc., all remain well beyond our grasp for the foreseeable future, however.
So of course the ultimate objective is to get humans to these far-off places, and meet alternative forms of life (if they exist), but until we learn to warp space-time itself, we’ll have to be content to send probe-droids as our pioneers.