Intelligent forms of life could include, God, or gods, robots, other than carbon based life forms, and something we do not yet know how to describe. But there is yet another possibility, and that is that the Universe itself is intelligent.
Just as you are a collection of microbes, could not the Universe be a collection of bigger “microbes” solar systems, nebulae, and galaxies? Given the potentially infinite, no “too big or too small” is imaginable.
SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, is dependent upon data collected primarily through radio signals. These are collected by an intelligence which can pick up, and/or send radio waves, which may not be the only way intelligence operates, of course. So not even SETI has a sure shot of making the first contact. There are many other ways of communication, no doubt some that human beings have not yet learned about, that lay ahead for us. SETI, with its many sound science based affiliates, has many fine ongoing programs that are worth a stop by their website.
There are also many algorithms and mathematical formulations to help determine odds of life in the universe, and Spectrographic projects being developed, such as with the LISA program, are being implemented to find those Exoplanets, outside our own solar system, that may be suitable for intelligent life that is based on the human, or carbon based, model.
There are many limitations when it comes to our initial efforts, but the possibilities seem without limit.
Things to think about when we consider intelligent life include knowing that we often limit ourselves when we imagine bi-pedal hominids. There is no reason whatsoever, other than this anthropocentric bias, to indicate that other life forms, even if they are carbon based life-forms, will walk up right, breathe air, eat food, share language as we do.
In an ancient but memorable episode of the original Star Trek, a life-form called the Horta was silicon based. This was envisioned long before silicon based computers evolved to the intelligence that robots of our 21st century possess. The Horta drew nutrients from rock, and conveniently was able to communicate with Spock through telepathy. Her only message was simple: Quit killing me and stealing my babies! Her eggs were the raw material being mined and exploited by human life forms on her planet.
The message of the Horta is instructive in many ways. We should realize for example, that if our own history is any example, any “advanced” civilization will exploit and take resources of any “lesser” civilization, if they are anything like we on Earth.
We can also learn that even on our own planet, there is intelligent life we ignore. We place ourselves, human beings above other animals, and most especially above the inter-connected intelligence of such things as a forest, which is self regulating, or a body of water, such as Lake Mono, in which was recently discovered a life form that thrives on what we consider toxic poisons.
There is without a doubt intelligent life beyond ours in the Universe, a bigger and more profound question is, when will we be ready to recognize it?