NASA-supported researchers have attempted to quantify the rate at which information is transmitted on Earth, both within the planet’s biosphere (all life on Earth) and the technosphere (human technology). The work is based on the idea that information is transmitted between a variety of different agents on Earth, be it through chemical reactions in cells or through human-made technology like phones and computers. Moreover, the transmission of information is thought to be a vital attribute of living systems.

Using their model, the team of scientists found that the biosphere of Earth currently transmits about nine orders of magnitude more information (measured in bits per second) than the technosphere. However, based on how quickly technology is advancing, the technosphere could outpace the biosphere in as little as 90 years.

“From a practical standpoint, searching for markers of information transmission is a powerful avenue to detect signatures of extraterrestrial life,” explains lead author Manasvi Lingam of the Florida Institute of Technology. “The most striking instances in this context are the narrowband radio signals produced by humanity (which are not generated by any known non-living sources).”

The study, “Planetary Scale Information Transmission in the Biosphere and Technosphere: Limits and Evolution,” was published in the journal Life.