Intelligence as a planetary scale process

Adam Frank, David Grinspoon, Sara Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Conventionally, intelligence is seen as a property of individuals. However, it is also known to be a property of collectives. Here, we broaden the idea of intelligence as a collective property and extend it to the planetary scale. We consider the ways in which the appearance of technological intelligence may represent a kind of planetary scale transition, and thus might be seen not as something which happens on a planet but to a planet, much as some models propose the origin of life itself was a planetary phenomenon. Our approach follows the recognition among researchers that the correct scale to understand key aspects of life and its evolution is planetary, as opposed to the more traditional focus on individual species. We explore ways in which the concept may prove useful for three distinct domains: Earth Systems and Exoplanet studies; Anthropocene and Sustainability studies; and the study of Technosignatures and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). We argue that explorations of planetary intelligence, defined as the acquisition and application of collective knowledge operating at a planetary scale and integrated into the function of coupled planetary systems, can prove a useful framework for understanding possible paths of the long-term evolution of inhabited planets including future trajectories for life on Earth and predicting features of intelligentially steered planetary evolution on other worlds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-61
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 7 2022


  • Anthropocene
  • Astrobiology
  • Technosignatures
  • intelligence
  • planetary evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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