The ods of there being intelligent life in the universe other than our own are indeed close to 100%. The only question that truly remains is one of communication and discovery. FTL communication will be required to reduce the time between exchanged conversation below a generation or two (or much more for our further neighbours).
I say hi, my son lives when they hear it and my grandson gets to hear their reply (and try to decipher it). They're out there, but they're not reachable without significant advancement in out technological level.
As to calculating distance of stars, The paralax method is used to calculate the distance out to roughly 1000 LY. beyond that there are several methods.
Stellar motions: All stars are in motion, but only for nearby stars are these motions perceivable. Statistically, therefore, the stars that have larger motions are nearer. By measuring the motions of a large number of stars, we can estimate their average distance from their average motion.
Moving clusters: Clusters of stars travel together, such as the Pleiades or Hyades star clusters. Analyzing the apparent motion of the cluster can give us the distance to it.
Inverse-square law: The apparent brightness of a star depends both on its intrinsic brightness (its luminosity, or how bright it really is) and its distance from us. If we know the luminosity of a star (for instance, we have a measured parallax for one star of the same type and know that others of the same type will have similar luminosities), we can measure its apparent brightness (also called its apparent magnitude) and work out the distance using the inverse-square law. There are several variations on this, many of which are used to measure distances to stars in other galaxies.
Interstellar lines: The space between stars is not empty, but contains a sparse distribution of gas. Some times this leaves absorption lines in the spectrum we observe from stars beyond the interstellar gas. The further a star is, the more absorption will be observed since the light has passed through more of the interstellar medium.
Period-luminosity relation: Some stars are regular pulsators. The physics of their pulsations is such that the period of one oscillation is related to the luminosity of the star. If we measure the period of such a star, we calculate its luminosity. From this, and its apparent magnitude, we can calculate the distance.
I pulled that off of http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970415c.html