In which I disagree with Stephen Hawking

By Phil Plait | April 26, 2010 7:30 am

Apparently Stephen Hawking read my book, but not very carefully, because he thinks aliens will come here ala "Independence Day"* and eat up all our resources and move on.

I disagree with him. I think in fact it’s more likely that an aggressive alien race would create self-replicating robot probes that will disperse through the galaxy and destroy all life that way.

But more likely still doesn’t equate to likely. I’ve been thinking about this on and off for a few days, in fact, and I suspect a likely answer to Fermi’s Paradox — "Where are they?" — is simply that intelligent life that is capable of interstellar flight doesn’t last long enough to colonize other stars. That would neatly explain why, if stars with planets are common (which we know is almost certainly true), and the conditions for life to arise are relatively common (again, that seems very likely), the galaxy isn’t overrun with life. It should be by now; it’s had billions of years to have space-faring races evolve and colonize the whole shebang.

So in reality, Hawking’s idea and the one I go over in my book are probably wrong. But I’m an optimist, and I can hope that the reason the galaxy isn’t softly humming with life (that’s Carl Sagan’s poetic phrase) is that we’re the first, or at least the first in a while. That would mean we still get our chance. It’s a big responsibility, really.

And to be clear, that’s not snark, even if this post started out a bit snarky. I’m serious. We may be utterly, entirely alone in a galaxy filled with planets that outnumber people on our own planet 50 to 1. That idea gives me the creeps more than the idea of hostile aliens bent on sterilizing each of those planets. But at least it gives us a good chance to spread and see the place a bit. I’d like to think that in a hundred generations, this arm of the Milky Way will boast a thousand human planets. It’s a nice thought.

[Note added after I wrote this: I see Sean at Cosmic Variance has weighed in on this as well. But I heard it first from that man about town Josh Cagan.]



*A movie I liked and about which I am unapologetic.

Comments (162)

  1. BA, think of the other possibility.
    Civilizations are “visible” only for a short period of time before they get all paranoid and do as Hawking suggest: avoid contact, stay as low as possible.

    I am quite sure we will never send a serious “hello” signal into space, and that in less than 10 years all the radio transmissions on Earth will be either very low power or digitally coded (so impossible to detect unless you come really close to the solar system).

    On the other hand I do think that life is extremely common in the universe (just need to have liquid water and Carbon around)… but intelligent life is kind of rare, and with little appetite for space travel.

    In the end the distances are huge, we cannot go over the speed limit and… it takes a lot of resources to just attempt interstellar travel.
    Before these resources can be gathered, we must colonize and terraform the inner solar system… and avoid all our war between the human inhabited Mars, Earth and Venus.
    If we can resist the temptation of paranoia and xenophobia, and avoid conflict, then we are ready to great other civilizations… (or go around searching for them)

  2. I’ve never understood the “Independence Day scenario.” If aliens just want to mine resources, why not just strip mine Mars, Europa or the asteroid belt. They’ll find all the resources they need there without having to expend any energy fighting off the native population.

  3. Theron

    I wonder about another possibility, that technology so transforms culture that the notions of “travel” and “colonization” are either wildly transformed or no longer relevant. It is difficult to grasp where technology will be in a hundred years, or five hundred, or a thousand. What happens say, with another 200 years of study in AI and neuroscience? What we can reasonably assume will happen over the next 20 to 30 years is wild enough. Our future selves are almost as hard to figure out as those aliens.

  4. Sharku

    Check out The Crystal Spheres, a scifi short story by David Brin. It’s available on the net, although I’m not sure of its copyright status, so no link. Very implausible, yet somehow compelling (and a little depressing) premise of the story…

  5. Plutonium being from Pluto

    You versus Stephen Hawking?

    Sorry BA but much as I respect your intelligence I think Hawking might be a *bit* smarter than you. ;-)

    Fermi-paradox wise I think life is likely very common but intelligence (or especially highly *technological* galaxy exploring and colonising intelligence) is likely exceedingly rare. In the history of life on Earth Humans are the first species to ever build planes, skyscrapers and send missions to the Moon. Or at least we were .. :-(

    @ 4. Sharku Says:

    Check out The Crystal Spheres, a scifi short story by David Brin.

    I’ve read it. It is also in his anthology ‘The River of Time’ (orbit books date unknown – can’t find date of publication anywhere on the book) and won the 1985 Hugo award for the short story category. Extremely unlikely scenario to say the least but a good read. The same anthology contains my all-time favourite short story Thor meets Captain America which, despite the silly title, is just an awesomely brilliant & very moving alternate history.

  6. DrFlimmer

    Or it could be that we are alone in the whole universe. Maybe unlikely, but not impossible…………….

  7. Jesús Pineda

    “I think in fact it’s more likely that an aggressive alien race would create self-replicating robot probes that will disperse through the galaxy and destroy all life that way.”

    Krikkit! By the FSM, you really flaunt those nerd credentials like nobody’s business BA.

    Douglas Adams would be proud.

  8. Joe

    ID4 was a great movie. Never apologize for that.

    And I actually think you make an excellent case in your book. Either we’d have seen them around by now, or we’re the first in a long time. The latter is an interesting idea, and was the premise in the fantastic “Mass Effect” video game. Whatever the case, I don’t lose any sleep at night over a possible alien invasion. And if it does come, we all know that we have Will Smith to save the day.

  9. RawheaD

    I think it’s a futile exercise to logically deduce what the likely outcome of an encounter of the third kind will be, since the hypothetic aliens’ actions will be based on logic that is utterly, and completely incomprehensible to us.

  10. ChazInMT

    I agree with you Phil. Something I always like to point out is that background radiation in space will kill any long term space exploration, (Or at least any living explorers). In order to overcome this hurdle, one would have to essentially teleport around the galaxy. Getting in a ship of some type and going anywhere significant into deep space at any speed less than many many times the speed of light would be a ridiculous venture.

    Any alien race that could achieve this feat, would likely have no use for Earth other than a really cool place to look at.

  11. pete

    You never know they may be willing to lend us money.
    How many $/€/£ to the galactic groat anyway?

  12. Zucchi

    “ID4 was a great movie.”

    I think you may be confused about the meaning of “great”. And maybe “movie”. And possibly “was” and the indefinite article “a”. (I kid!)

    We can’t make more than wild guesses about what our civilization might be like in only a thousand years (if we don’t destroy ourselves). After a million years? Ten million? Any starfaring aliens are likely to be practically godlike.

  13. Thanks for writing this Phil. I was hoping you would, having read your book. Such silliness from Hawking. He’s wrong, even if he is still brilliant.

  14. Taiki

    ID4 was a movie that hit the target it was shooting for. Stupid action movie that can hold interest for longer than the average movie goer’s attention span is.

    That being said though, I agree and disagree with Hawking. If they’re coming here to ravage our planet and steal it’s water and resources, they’re not going to be talking anyway, might as well say, “Hello” in the off chance they’re friendly.

  15. I’m a little unclear on what part of Hawking’s statements you disagree with. ???

  16. I think the aliens have been and gone. They got themselves a bunch of cow anuses and a few fondue pots.

  17. Charles Boyer

    This is something that Jack McDevitt deals with as a peripheral plot piece in his book “Cauldron” — the idea that we “lay low” because of the “threat” of a malevolent alien race. In the book, political FUD about “bringing something dangerous home” is rampant. Of course, in McDevitt’s book, humans have trans-dimensional faster-than-light travel, whereas here in our real world, we are incapable of interstellar travel save for probes that will arrive there in some far-flung future.

    And now, an esteemed scientist and theoretician like Stephen Hawking is lending credence to the idea.

    Amusing, really, because it is a hypothetical at the fringes of imagination and probably heavily influenced by science fiction. And as @RawheaD states, it’s really difficult to extrapolate logic concerning intelligent alien life forms, because we have no idea whatsoever what their culture or values might be. Inevitably, we settle on an anthropomorphous vision that they are “like us.” That’s almost certainly a delusion.

    As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what ChazInMT does above when he posits that interstellar travel is impossible thanks to background radiation. He is assuming that like us, an alien race would be prone to radiation hazards and that even if they are that they would not have found a solution to this problem. Those are dangerous assumptions, dangerous in that even here on Earth there are extremophile bacteria that live well in the soups of nuclear waste. If it possible and indeed fact here it is logical to account for the possibility of an alien race not having the same biological restrictions as we humans do. Further, we humans evolved to thrive in our background radiation, so other races well could do the same.

    It is also dangerous and illogical to assume that an alien race capable of interstellar travel would not have technologically accounted for radiation shielding. Our own blue-sky thinking towards manned interplanetary missions have developed way to potentially mitigate that hazard, so I think it reasonable to think that a race capable of crafting working starships would have done the same.

    Bottom line is that this is all yammering about nothing real, and even if it were, it’s likely that it is beyond our capability to imagine what dangers — if any — we might face.

    Were it not for the name Stephen Hawking being attached to this flight of fancy, it would never have been given a second thought.

  18. Bob Hawkins

    The reason we haven’t met any aliens is that it wasn’t programmed into the simulation.

  19. steley

    I always kind of figured the reason aliens haven’t colonized the galaxy or made contact with us is because they can’t get the funding or public willpower to do so. “Why should we worry about big, non-green men in space when there are problems right here on planet Grizblorg?” they say.

    Or maybe that’s just too crazy.

  20. The thing is we can not tell what the chances of life are until we explore a lot of planets outside our solar system. Also who knows, maybe we are in the middle of life desert in galaxy and in other areas there are federations of planets exploring space.

  21. I could more easily imagine the robotic scenario, but it could be something even more far-fetched that we can’t even begin to speculate. But the truth is we don’t KNOW, though it is incredibly fun to discuss.

    And, you know, for all the talk that Hawking is so brilliant, YES I get that he is, and that you have to be pretty smart to be a theoretical physicist in the first place, and he is very good at and well-versed in his subject. But that does not mean he has any more insight into fields outside his expertise. He or any other theoretical physicist or any other kind of “smart person” that comes out to opine on things about which we just have no (or little) data yet. Beyond that, he can even be wrong in his own field; it happens to the smartest!

    /endrant

  22. FC

    At #2 George Carlin put it succinctly: “Killing People, We Kill People… cause they’re pests… and IT’S FUN!!!!”

  23. Headlines tomorrow: “Astronomers Take Sides in ET Schism”

  24. NewEnglandBob

    As i posted at Cosmic Variance:

    Maybe real intelligent life wouldn’t bother to even try to colonize other places because they find a much better way to live happy, productive lives without needing lebensraum.

  25. riki

    I seriously doubt that we will ever come remotely close to manned flights that extend beyond our solar system.

  26. gopher65

    It’s pretty obvious than any alien civilization would be absolutely retarded to mine resources this deep inside a gravity well. Why bother when there is plenty of material floating around in the asteroid belt?

    And if they’re just looking for mass to convert into something else via a replicator of some type, and asteroids aren’t enough for them, then why not use Jupiter instead? It has a heck of a lot more mass to convert than Earth does:P.

    All in all it’s just not a credible conjecture to make to suggest that we’d get into a resource war with aliens.

  27. David

    The reason there aren’t any “colonizers” is the great galactic recession. Everyone is canceling their space programs. Little known fact: the GJ-436-ians got hit harder than most.

  28. Fermi’s paradox isn’t a paradox if interstellar travel isn’t feasibly possible. A sad thought for sci fi fans (such as myself), but until the evidence (where are they?) suggests otherwise…

  29. kaiblinder

    There shouldn’t really be any reason for extraterrestrials to invade Earth…
    Found this quite amusing. “Tips for Invading Aliens (don’t).”
    http://bit.ly/ckIHE1

  30. Suicidal Zebra

    Beware of Mr Hawking… humour doesn’t always translate well electronically.

  31. Gamercow

    Personally, I think that there’s intelligent life out there, but either a)don’t broadcast their presence, b)broadcast on a wavelength we’re not “listening” to, c)broadcast on a wavelength we listen to, but for some reason, we can’t make order out of it or recognize it as a pattern.

    Humans are self-centered, always have been. We think that intelligent life will be “as we know it”. I don’t think we’re the first to become intelligent, but I also doubt that we’ll ever meet any of our counterparts from other planets. Hawking’s theory of resource-grabbers doesn’t make sense, when you look at it from an outsider’s point of view. What does the Earth have that other planets, even in our solar system, don’t? Nothing, except us earthlings, and the alloys, plastics, and other man-made things that we’ve littered our planet with.

    Another thought on why there are no other civilizations out there is that they may have gotten advanced enough to become “post-physical”, and exist entirely in a digital form, or ethereal, or some other form that is beyond our understanding.

    There may be a point in our future where we discover a technology that suddenly unveils many other races on many other worlds, but we just don’t know. We can only imagine, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  32. That Times article is by Jonathan Leake, who is notoriously unreliable: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/global_warming/leakegate/

  33. justcorbly

    When Westerners talk about colonization, we tend to think of something in the style of European colonization in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. That colonization had specific causes and specific conditions that may or may not apply out there in the galaxy. The payoff from interstellar imperialism may be so slight, or so nonexistent, that no one bothers to engage in it. I’d think that would certainly be the case if FTL travel is, in fact, not possible. It’s difficult to be an imperialist if it takes multiple lifetimes to get to your new posting.

    That does not rule out the kind of colonization that amounts to seeding other planets with life. While it may be true that the galaxy is old enough to have allowed time for massive colonization, who’s to say that it has not already happened, albeit in a manner we aren’t looking for? Intelligent life may have begun eons ago in a few corners of the galaxy. Those civilizations may have been unable to engage in human-style imperialism, but they may have decided to, in effect, seed other planets with the precursors of life.

    I know this is a common science fiction theme, but it seems very plausible. If a species has the technology to engineer life forms that could survive on a given target planet, and if that species felt it had an obligation to ensure the survival of life in the universe, why wouldn’t it attempt to seed life on planets within its reach?

    Life forms, or the precursors of life, could be bioengineered to fit the conditions of a specific world. Sustaining this material on lengthy, automated, trips to the target worlds should not be that difficult for a civilization capable of assessing conditions on the target in sufficient detail.

    Importantly, conditions on some, perhaps many, of those targets would not be conducive to the development of intelligent life. Evolution proceeds, and intelligence develops, because a tension exists between the local environment and life. Jellyfish, for example, have not evolved into brainy globs of goo because there is no evolutionary tension propelling that development. They’ve found a nice little niche. Seeding planets and hoping for intelligent life to show up a few billion years down the road may be a bit of a crapshoot.

    In any case, for all we know, intelligent life may have spread itself throught the galaxy a few billion yers ago, only to be wiped out by some galactic-scale catastrophe.

  34. Martha

    I am suprised that when speculating about aliens sending out machines to do ther work around the galaxy that no one has mentioned the 1995 book “The Killing Star.” Very good read.

  35. Ed S.

    There are probably alien scientists and dreamers throughout the galaxy arguing for funding to build that first starship, and facing skeptical government bureaucrats…

    Seriously, there is no reason to believe that alien societies (or ours, for that matter) will expand throughout the galaxy simply because they become technologically advanced. Interstellar travel will involve huge amounts of energy/resources, and there will always be other, more near-term uses for those resources in societies. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it’s a plausible reason for not seeing the aliens yet. No one has made the decision to expend a significant fraction of their society’s resources to take that step.

  36. Disagree with Stephen Hawking? But he’s so smart! Is disagreeing with him even legal?

    ID4 wasn’t a great movie…it was cheesy enough to be fun without making you hope you choked on your popcorn. Try giving it the MST3K treatment sometime…it’s priceless!

    I was kind of thinking along the lines of beefarino. It’s possible there isn’t the warp drive or hyperspace engine sitting out there waiting for us to invent it. Maybe interstellar travel really is as hard as we think it is and it would take thousands of years to get around the stars. That would put a damper on it.

    And you better watch it when you mess with the Hawkman :)

  37. Brian Schlosser

    This idea that “if they were there, we’d know” strikes me as a bit silly. How long have we been seriously looking? About 40 years? How much of the sky and spectrum have we checked? Its like dialing a random phone number, hanging up after a milisecond and then saying “nope, no one uses phones”

  38. Bruce

    Alien capable of interstellar flight:

    Has the whole universe to explore, theres nothing special about earth if life is abundant in the universe.

    Has developed technology beyond our own and likely sees no purpose in busying itself with our inventions.

    Likely Recognises that interferring with a population can be just as detrimental as beneficial.

    Likely recognises that a good way to make an enemy is to make friends with the wrong person (problem here, who would be the spokesperson for earth)

    Can travel to and mine dead planets, so why bother with living

    Has no desire to bring humans up to their level since this produces more competition for themselves.

    In conclusion, contact with humans would be nothing more then a passing fancy, a tiny bit of interest in the vast emptyness, and an ultimately pointless endeavour for an alien race capable of interstellar flight.

    PS. the universe may be teeming with life, our galaxy may not be. Interstellar flight is not intergalactic flight.

  39. To Bad Astronomer, I think that we cannot know how the aliens will look like, or what are their intentions. Just imagine ourselves as the aliens traveling through other galaxies to explore new worlds. What would our intentions be? I mean really, we haven’t have the time to really think it through, we haven’t been in outer the milkyway so we can’t really tell what the aliens might do because we think like humans who just been to the “moon” and we just think what the aliens possibly do , but not what humans possibly might do if we are able some day to do interstellar travel . In a logical point of view, the human rationale is only queerer than we can predict so just imagine how queerer an alien species might think logically.

    We can assume that aliens might send robots to take our resources or just simply think that they were so intelligent that destroyed themselves and that’s why we don’t see any E.Ts visiting earth.

    I think that whatever race who develops interstellar flight it doesn’t mean is most likely to be doomed. It can mean progress if we take a look in the optimistic way. There can be many possible reasons for an alien to take our resources the same way there can be many possible reasons the aliens didn’t make it to earth. There can’t be a single reason of why we cannot think in some possible reasons to be doomed or at least some possible reason to be unique.

    At the end of the day it makes no difference, everything continues forward. Life is just life where you put it and questions are just question seeking for a logical answer. In my opinion I think is better to be prepare for any possible threat and at the same time workout a way to be prepare for a peaceful alien visitation. There are plans for everything the same way there are ideas for the unknown but we need to realize that not all that we know about logical way of thinking is completely accurate when it comes to E.T visiting earth.

  40. I think this report probably has more to do with the media than with Hawking’s opinions. I didn’t interpret the few quotes that got through the media as talking about an independence day situation. I read it as meaning that they would come (if they ever did) to study with all the best will in the world but would end up upsetting the ecology or causing some other sort of accident. I dont know if my interpretation is any closer to his meaning than the “massive ships” hysteria of the Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1268712/Stephen-Hawking-Aliens-living-massive-ships-invade-Earth.html) but it’s closer to reality.

  41. Robert

    In subjects like this, I tend to be extremely pessimistic. Life has been around on earth for a few billion years, intelligent life only for about 100,000 years. This gives an estimate that at any point in time, 1 in 10,000 life-bearing planets has intelligent life. (Here I’m assuming intelligence is a random mutation, not an inevitable outcome of evolution…) Of course, this is an upper bound, since we have a serious case of observer bias here (to quote xkcd…) I suspect the real odds might be a lot lower.

    Now the conditions for life (water, organic molecules, etc…) might be quite common, however we have absolutely no data on the odds that first life will form under these conditions. If one assumes that the first replicating molecule (for example, RNA or a protein) formed by freely available bases/amino acids bonding in just the right order, this probability could be extremely low, possibly it only happened a couple of times in the visible universe.

  42. Larry

    First, of course you do not have to agree with his views. That said, what I took away was more along the line of his saying that IF aliens were to visit us in person, they may well come to take our resources. But he did also say that he hopes if they do come, they are friendly because one point that is hard to argue – if they come in person they are likely to be as technologically beyond us as we are beyond our ancestors, any of them.

    Of course, shows like this one must take with some skepticism as well. I for one am curious just how much of his ideas and thoughts wound up on the cutting room floor, as it were, after editing by the networks. After all, they want something that will sell commercial time and draw viewers … entertainment.

    Even Stephen Hawking would have to bend some in order to get his ideas out to the public.

  43. Vaccination Dalek

    Water and metal are both available in great abundance in comets and asteroids, with out the annoying gravity to get in the way. I’d be more worried about suddenly noticing all the asteroids were being mined away and then we would have no space resources to exploit.

    Poor Stephan Hawking… after reading the Black Hole War by Leo Susskind, I really can’t see him as anything but a tragic figure. The press loves him, but while he was initially very important, the sheer difficulty of communicating with him has really left him behind in modern physics. It also likely makes it hard for him to become as good a science popularizer as Carl Sagan, since it will take him a long time to read and write articles. I wish his brilliance was more easily available to the rest of the world, and he wouldn’t have time to write indulgent stuff like this just to keep getting in the news.

  44. BJN

    Human bodies are well-adapted to life on this planet. They’re a real problem when looking at generational travel to other star systems. Our machines may someday do interstellar travel, but I think it’s extremely unlikely that our species will do it in the flesh. Science fiction fairy tales are entertaining, but most visions of a spacefaring human species appeal to unlikely or even miraculous technologies.

  45. Greg in Austin

    Stephen Hawking? Psshhbbt. If he’s so smart, how come I can out run him? ;)

    Seriously though, I am highly skeptical of Hawking’s claim that aliens exist, like what is shown on the Discovery Channel. Like anyone else who claims they believe aliens exist, I ask, “Where’s the evidence?” In this case, there is none.

    Is it possible? Yes. Do we have any evidence? No.

    Honestly, I think Mr. Hawking is doing something he should have done a long time ago: Selling his name to the entertainment business to make more money, while at the same time bringing more science to the masses. One is good for him, and the other is good for science.

    Does Stephen Hawking even watch Sci Fi? Aliens coming to invade and/or destroy the Earth is nothing new. In fact, its the basis for almost every great Sci Fi movie, book and TV show out there, and has been for 100 years.

    8)

  46. I’d love to read a sci-fi story in which we are the ancient and mysterious alien race who appear to ignore the multitude of races that make up galactic civilization and whose actions and communications, on their rare appearances, can only be described as cryptic.

    We’re the ones to leave the Vorlons and Shadows behind.

  47. Eric

    Any solution to the Fermi Paradox or the motivations and capabilities of aliens would have to apply for ALL aliens.

    If even one faction of one alien society where to start colonizing the galaxy (I include in this self-replicating robots able to live for 10’s of thousands of years and endure near absolute zero temperatures and hard radiation), then we have a huge problem in not observing anything remotely looking artificial. If one faction managed to start interstellar colonization, it would also diversify. We’d get a whole range of colonizing aliens, probably with widely varying motivations and subsistence strategies. Some may be happy to quietly contemplate eternity, others to silently eat comets in Oort clouds, others may be more happy to strip mine planets, regardless of indigenous life. Given how old the galaxy is, we should see a thriving ecosystem out there, full of critters nasty and nice.

    So I agree with both Phil and Hawking.
    (1) It’s looking like intelligent life is really, really, really rare. All it takes is one civilization to start rapidly (over 10s or 100s of millions of years) to turn an entire galaxy into a tropical rainforest (robotic) ecology. This first option is the most frightening, since it suggests a “great filter” somewhere in the development of life, complexity, intelligence, and technological sophistication. If we’ve already passed that filter, we’re really, really lucky. If not, we’re probably screwed (http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1848, http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/20569/page1/).

    (2) If they do exist. Hawking is right to be cautious. Some may be nice, some nasty, and their range of motivations / impacts will probably be vast.

    Anyway, all this is speculation (though with some basis in rationality). Best thing to do is keep looking, colonize space, and hope for the best.

  48. RL

    We may be the first (someone has to be – did Sagan say that? Don’t know who we heard it from). I have read and watched numerous discussions about what intelligent alien life might be like. If life on other worlds evolves like it does here, then there are serious arguments that that intelligent life would be predator based. Add to that, any serious differences in philosophy (assuming that they have philosophy) and we could be in trouble should a spacefaring race show up. They might look at us like we look at apes or lesser intelligent species and then just take what they need (resources, slaves, who knows). While I don’t know that I’d start building a planetary defense network yet, it does deserve serious thought about what we say when we try to broadcast things to other worlds.

    And I definitely would start talking up “Corbomite”, just in case.

  49. XMark

    My personal bias is towards the idea of a galactic “prime directive” that all spacefaring races inevitable end up following. Basically, do not make contact with any race until they have reached a mature level of space travel.

    The technology level required to have permanent settlements on other worlds also means the technology level where a race can obliterate themselves through nuclear or biological warfare. So if a race makes it to the point of colonizing another world they have proved that they aren’t self-destructive or destructive in general, and at that point could be welcomed into the galactic community.

    Of course, that’s kind of a long shot. Far more likely, “space is really really really really big” is the reason why we haven’t made contact and probably won’t.

  50. Twilightened

    The guy might be right. Look what we are doing to all the animals. A superior race would do the same to us.

  51. Twilightened

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-uZZ7RdL5E

    Neil deGrasse Tyson probably also agrees with Stephen Hawking.

  52. I think V is a documentary from the future.

  53. MoonShark

    Huh. I thought the answer to Fermi’s Paradox was a combination of “Quit being so impatient, humans, you haven’t been looking for very long” and “Hurry up and build the tools you need to travel and colonize planets yourself, humans”.

    So I think we shouldn’t underestimate this problem. I mean, if we’ve been broadcasting radio for roughly 100 years, and our galaxy is 100,000 ly across, then the diameter we’ve signaled (and very weakly at that) is only 0.1% of the Milky Way’s diameter — or (treating it as flat) only 0.0025% of the area.

  54. drow

    the surest sign that you’re getting old
    is that you’re afraid of what the future will bring

  55. Mike

    I can’t see aliens coming after us for resources. On the other hand, it’s conceivable that aliens or their automated agents could be acting on a political/philosophical/religious directive to eliminate/contain/convert other sentient life.

  56. In my opinion I think the universe is teeming with life, but mostly the lower forms of it make up the bulk. I agree that intelligent races must exist somewhere, or have existed in the past. The astronomical numbers (no pun intended) involved make it kind of cocky of us to think we’re the only ones here. But it’s possible that we are ! Alone or not alone, both sides of the argument produce even more fascinating questions. And yes Phil I would agree with you, I’d rather have hostile aliens running around the universe than to know we are utterly, utterly alone…that definitely gives me the heebee geebees ;-)

    Steven Hawking, who I admire greatly says, “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” But I think that’s kind of negative, we would never have a clue what their intentions were.

    Let’s not make the mistake of using our own behavior, as the template for others.

    Are there others out there? is the biggest and most fascinating question to ever face human kind.

  57. Nemo

    Fermi’s Paradox? Insufficient data for a meaningful reply.

    Who’s to say that the galaxy isn’t overrun with civilizations? Are we so sure we’d recognize it if it was? How do we know, even, that we haven’t seen evidence of them already, and parsimoniously attributed it to natural phenomena by mistake? Our ignorance is as vast as the cosmos. We’re just getting started here.

    One thing I do believe is that “technologically advanced” is not going to equate to “consumes all available resources as quickly as possible”, even if that’s been our own history so far. Right now, we can’t even find economic justification to settle the Moon, much less anywhere further. Meanwhile, we’re finally realizing that our planet is finite. Maybe, instead of extinguishing ourselves, we’ll learn how to live within our means, without continuous economic growth. Of course, a culture like that isn’t going to go out and fill the galaxy, though it will still explore. And maybe that’s what happens for everyone — they either adapt to a less rapacious lifestyle, or they perish.

  58. CB

    Most of the universe is dark matter, so maybe life is humming along great in that part of the universe that we cannot see.

  59. amphiox

    If I recall correctly, this was the premise of Greg Bear’s novel “Forge of God”. The galaxy is silent because the advanced races keep quiet. Earth didn’t keep quiet. Earth got noticed. Earth got squished.

    On the other hand, from a resource perspective, the only thing about earth that is unique and not massively more readily obtainable elsewhere, is the life on earth itself – the specific genetic information making it up, along with the unique cultural products of the resident intelligent species. This would be the only reason aliens would want to deliberately come, and if this is what they want, they pretty well can’t blow us up (though other nasty happenings can readily be envisioned).

    An existential threat from alien activity will more probably be accidental than anything deliberate, wherein they smash us simply as an afterthought of doing something else, because they don’t notice us, or don’t care. They may be as advanced compared to us as we are to ants, and we don’t really take much care when we plough over anthills, do we?

    Perhaps they might Dyson sphere the sun around the orbit of Venus, for example. Or maybe they engage in some form of stellar engineering of Sirius A that triggers a supernova or gamma-ray burst like event. Or their mining of the Oort cloud results in some orbits being destabilized and flung inward.

  60. CB

    Adding to what Vaccination Dalek said, it seems to make more sense to mine resources from the Kuiper belt and not have to deal so much with the Sun’s gravity well. On the other hand, if the reason they are out exploring is to find some earth-like planet to call home, we’re screwed.

  61. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. danezia Says:

    BA, think of the other possibility. Civilizations are “visible” only for a short period of time before they get all paranoid and do as Hawking suggest: avoid contact, stay as low as possible. I am quite sure we will never send a serious “hello” signal into space,

    If I recall right we already have. Albeit aimed at a globular cluster M13 in Hercules.

    Plus the Voyagers plaques. ;-) :-)

    Plus on the less serious side the Beatles Across the Universe & worst of all that stupid Doritos chips ad aimed at 47 Urasae Majoris. :-(

    (Why people could possibly think for a second that that last one has many merit whatsoever is beyond me. At best any intelligence there will be confused and likely annoyed, at worst they’ll be chip-resembling aliens who will take it as a declaration of war! ;-) )

    @ 34. Martha Says:

    I am suprised that when speculating about aliens sending out machines to do ther work around the galaxy that no one has mentioned the 1995 book “The Killing Star.” Very good read.

    Seconded by me. I don’t think its necessarily 100% true or most probabale scenario but that novel certainly makes a strong and reasonable case. See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Star for more (WARNING SPOILERS)

    @ 59. amphiox Says:

    If I recall correctly, this was the premise of Greg Bear’s novel “Forge of God”. The galaxy is silent because the advanced races keep quiet. Earth didn’t keep quiet. Earth got noticed. Earth got squished.

    Pretty much although there were good aliens there who tried to impose a Galactic Law of sorts too – and rescued the survivors and sent them out for revenge /justice.

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forge_of_God (DITTO!)

    Its sequel “Anvil of Stars is even better IMHON although it starts slowly -some good astronomy, great aliens and nicely and intellugentlyand movingly written. In fact, Anvil of Stars would have to be one of my all-time favourite novels. :-)

    @ 54. drow Says:

    the surest sign that you’re getting old is that you’re afraid of what the future will bring

    Given that the symptoms of aging often include losing your mind or at best having it deteriorate along with your ability to control your bodily functions plus loss of fertility, libido, taste, smell, etc .. is that really so irrational and surprising? ;-)

    Old age, just getting older, generally sucks.

    That said, I take your point & nor does it neccesarily have to be all bad in all cases.

    Stephen Hawking *is* getting old – but in his case that’s
    a) surprising
    b) probably a good thing – given its unexpectedness and
    c) beats the alternative! ;-)

  62. WetChet

    We can only hope that when President Skroob’s armada arrives to steal all our air that the astronauts aboard the ISS can figure out how to disable Mega Maid before it’s too late…

    -Chet

  63. As I understand it, our solar system formed from the remains of an earlier star. Who is to say that the earlier solar system from which our current one evolved didn’t harbor an intelligent race? In which case we only missed them by about five billion years…..

  64. Jamey

    I’ve been watching the growth of WoW, and SecondLife (you should see the International Spaceport on SecondLife – rockets from every country, accurately designed and detailed, *TO SCALE*. Even some of the ones only proposed, like Ares I and V.) I think Fermi’s Paradox gets explained by people getting so involved in virtual worlds, they end up ignoring the real one.

  65. eukaryote

    Of course this is all rank speculation, but I don’t think that makes it worthless. Until we have more data, what else can we do?
    It seems, ultimately, that life is about information, the replicating and processing of information. I think a sufficiently advanced civilization will probably evolve in the direction of extremely efficient information processing, and probably forget about most everything else. If you have a powerful enough computation system, then you really don’t need anything else. Everything that could possibly exist anywhere in the galaxy could be modeled and simulated ad infinitum… there would be little need to explore for either resources or knowledge, since it’s all just various patterns of information out there anyway.
    Having said that, I would be concerned about the type of scenario that Eric @47 mentioned above. Not all intelligences would necessarily evolve to the same place, some may simply exist for replicating a very specific type of pattern, converting everything in their path into more of the same. What would stop such an intelligence once it evolved except one that was more advanced?
    Then though it seems that given enough technological sophistication, all intelligences might tend to evolve towards the same state, an almost infinite ability to construct and process information, including consciousness itself. Once you have the unrestrained ability to shape even conscious experience itself, then it’s hard to know what direction you would be motivated to move.

  66. Messier Tidy Upper

    @60. CB Says:

    Adding to what Vaccination Dalek said, it seems to make more sense to mine resources from the Kuiper belt and not have to deal so much with the Sun’s gravity well. On the other hand, if the reason they are out exploring is to find some earth-like planet to call home, we’re screwed.

    Well maybe – but NOT necessarily – advanced aliens may, unlike us (?), have the sense to share and help, co-operating rather than just seeking to destroy or control us. Is peaceful partnership with aliens so unthinkable?

    Do we not occassionally work to help other species here survive too? (Eg,. rescuing whales , saving chimps and gorillas & Orang Utans, national parks, etc ..)

    @45. Greg in Austin Says:

    Stephen Hawking? Psshhbbt. If he’s so smart, how come I can out run him?

    I dunno – I hear that wheelchair can move pretty quickly! Climbing stairs OTOH may give you some advantage! ;-)

    Seriously though, I am highly skeptical of Hawking’s claim that aliens exist, like what is shown on the Discovery Channel. Like anyone else who claims they believe aliens exist, I ask, “Where’s the evidence?” In this case, there is none.

    Yet. There’s statistics and the “wow” signal but, yeah, the evidence is very thin to put mildly.

    Is it possible? Yes. Do we have any evidence? No.

    Agreed. I would say it is likely that life – & specifically intelligent life *does* indeed exist based purely on statistics (Drake equation) but that is most probably very far off and whether it is interested in communicating with us is another question again.

    @ 47. Eric Says:

    Any solution to the Fermi Paradox or the motivations and capabilities of aliens would have to apply for ALL aliens. If even one faction of one alien society where to start colonizing the galaxy (I include in this self-replicating robots able to live for 10’s of thousands of years and endure near absolute zero temperatures and hard radiation), then we have a huge problem in not observing anything remotely looking artificial. If one faction managed to start interstellar colonization, it would also diversify. We’d get a whole range of colonizing aliens, probably with widely varying motivations and subsistence strategies. Some may be happy to quietly contemplate eternity, others to silently eat comets in Oort clouds, others may be more happy to strip mine planets, regardless of indigenous life. Given how old the galaxy is, we should see a thriving ecosystem out there, full of critters nasty and nice. So I agree with both Phil and Hawking.

    (1) It’s looking like intelligent life is really, really, really rare. All it takes is one civilization to start rapidly (over 10s or 100s of millions of years) to turn an entire galaxy into a tropical rainforest (robotic) ecology. This first option is the most frightening, since it suggests a “great filter” somewhere in the development of life, complexity, intelligence, and technological sophistication. If we’ve already passed that filter, we’re really, really lucky. If not, we’re probably screwed . {Del. link}

    (2) If they do exist. Hawking is right to be cautious. Some may be nice, some nasty, and their range of motivations / impacts will probably be vast.

    Anyway, all this is speculation (though with some basis in rationality). Best thing to do is keep looking, colonize space, and hope for the best.

    That seems to be the most logical, sensible and likely answer so far to me also. :-)

    @ 9. RawheaD Says:

    I think it’s a futile exercise to logically deduce what the likely outcome of an encounter of the third kind will be, since the hypothetic aliens’ actions will be based on logic that is utterly, and completely incomprehensible to us.

    Really? I’m not so sure. Logic (science and maths too) seems pretty much essential for intelligent and technological creatures to have.

    Their *culture* may indeed be very alien and hard for us to grok but their *logic* not so much methinks. Or do you really think 1+1= 3 on Alpha Centauri? ;-)

    I’d also guess that parallel evolution (eg. sharks vs dolphins vs icythosaurs [sp?] = similar body shape & lifestyle) will come into play quite a bit so maybe not aliens will look all *that* different – although they certainly won’t just be people with funny foreheads and rubber suits! ;-)

    In any case, I don’t think anyone is going to stop trying to imagine aliens and that’s a great thing! :-)

  67. Matt

    The problem with the short-life explanation of the Fermi Paradox is that all alien civilizations would need to have a short life. They would all need to be alike. That throws the possibility of variability out the door.

    The “Berserker” theory is more likely than that – which itself is unlikely because we exist. Any self-replicating robot hunter/killers would probably not wait for evidence of technology to attack.

    There is circumstantial evidence of attack — e.g., the dinosaur killer asteroid — but that was singularly ineffective in preventing the development of intelligence. More likely it was designed to kill off a dead-end ecology that impeded the development of intelligence.

  68. Schmatts

    http://baetzler.de/humor/meat_beings.html

    Has anyone else read Terry Bisson’s story “They’re Made out of Meat?”

  69. Utakata

    I prefer when Phil and PZ go at each other, it’s much more colorful. :)

  70. JohnW

    I disagree with him. I think in fact it’s more likely that an aggressive alien race would create self-replicating robot probes that will disperse through the galaxy and destroy all life that way.

    What if we are the robots, man? Biological robots?

    I don’t agree with the “look what happened when Columbus discovered America” argument. If we found a new continent now, peopled with primitive aborigines, the world would be falling all over itself to declare it a special nature refuge, off limits to everyone but non-intrusive observers.

  71. Pi-needles

    @27. David Says:

    The reason there aren’t any “colonizers” is the great galactic recession. Everyone is canceling their space programs. Little known fact: the GJ-436-ians got hit harder than most.

    How do *you* know that? ;-)

    @52. ClockworkRobot Says:

    I think V is a documentary from the future.

    But then we’ll change the future by knowing we can’t trust the V’s because their all lizards from Sirius.* So it won’t be a documentary after all! ;-)

    *BTW. Are they still running that Sirian lizards line in the remake coz’ y’know, double star with one already post Red Giant thus *really* unlikely & bad science! I’d guess that the biological chances of creatures adapted to the light of an A-type star adapting and being comfortable to that of a G-type one are remote(ish.) Wouldn’t they need higher does of UV /X-ray /whatever? Wouldn’t they be more likely to target aliens living on Fomalhaut or Vega than Sol?

    As for the resources – water, oxygen, etc .. being more conveninetly elsewhere as mentioned here already – d’uh! Why does Hollywood / TV industry keep thinking that allegedly “intelligent” aliens are going to act so STOOPID! ;-)

    (See also ‘Signs aliens who get killed by *water* coming to Earth – and to *wet* regions on Earth esp.)

    As for ID4 – a good movie to just turn your brain off & just go along for the ride but not so good if you stop to think at all. Area 51 CT comes true, old reformed drunk flies fighter jet with expert skill after few hours training &, oh yeah, compatible computers so we can upload a virus and nuke ‘em? Puh-leeze! :roll:

  72. Leander

    “It should be by now; it’s had billions of years to have space-faring races evolve and colonize the whole shebang.”

    And those billions of years are why it possibly happened, and is happening, this very moment. If you use a teeny bit of imagination, where could our technology be in billions of years ? Possibly evolved to something we wouldn’t recognize as technology, and us along with it to something we wouldn’t recognize as life forms. I doubt an ant crawling over your foot is aware of you as a life form – and in the same vein, would you try making first contact with this ant (by which I’m not trying to say our planet is an alien…) ?

    This came to mind…

  73. SteveG

    I’m not so sure about this one, BA. Life here on earth started nice enough: plants soaking up sunshine and growing and prospering. Very nice. But life evolved, and when it did it created sex, competition, predators, and prey. That’s when things really heated up. And it is disconcerting but true that, generally speaking, the life forms that succeeded and thrived and evolved to become more complex, were the ones that killed other life forms for sex, food, territory, and in the case of humans, for the things they thought about (i.e. religion, politics, etc.).

    Indeed if we do go on to colonize other planets, I can’t help but wonder if we won’t bring a bottle of anti-bacterial soap and some bug spray. And if we move our home to a new planet and we find a life form that eats the food we grow, or bites, or stings, uses too much of the resources we want for ourselves, or generally gets in the way, I suspect we will overtime, kill that life form to make room for humans’ life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (consider the Bali Tiger, the Passenger Pigeon, the Yangtze River Dolphin, et. al.)

    So I would tend to agree with Mr. Hawking, who seems awfully smart, that since the most successful life forms we have ever seen are those that kill off their competition, it is not unreasonable to assume that life forms successful enough to have mastered interstellar travel might also be quite used to killing off life forms that competed with them for resources. I don’t think the Columbus analogy is far off.

  74. ND

    “What if we are the robots, man? Biological robots?”

    Are you saying we’re Cylons?! The glowing spine gene must have been lost over the millenia.

  75. DB

    In additional to why an aliens looking for resources would want to fall down earths gravity well, why would they even want to fall down our solar systems gravity well which is even bigger. At the very least there is the Kuiper Belt and who knows what else is drifting along between star systems that would take much less energy to harvest.

  76. mike burkhart

    Hears what I say about the posablty of a Alien invasion hear is the Idea presented in most scifi storys: There world is dying so they want to take over ours .Well there several problems with this 1. Launching a millitary invasion take resources if there planet is dying where do they get materal for it? 2> they want to wipe out the human race Well by the time they got done blasting every last human off the planet, the Earth would resemble the Aliens home planet .If they used biologacl wepons (germs) the germs could kill all humans but could mutate and infect the Aliens . If the Aliens are so advanced tecnogly I think they would use there tecnolgy to solve there problem eg teraform an uninhabted planet . Now I can see a resion for an Alien invasion its this: The Aliens are ruled by some one like Hitler who wants to rule the universe . They invade because they think they are the “master race” and the humans of Earth are inferior and must be enslaved as all other life forms in the universe are to be , so they will serve the “master race” of the universe.As for robots well its likely they could malfuction or turn on there creators .

  77. Pi-needles

    @70. JohnW:

    If we found a new continent now, peopled with primitive aborigines, the world would be falling all over itself to declare it a special nature refuge, off limits to everyone but non-intrusive observers.

    If we found a new continent I’d *really* wonder where’s its been & how come its suddenly popped up now! ;-)

    I guess it would depend how much oil it had .. FWIW, haven’t we discovered even quite recently (like years ago) “new” tribes unknown to us living in the Amazon rainforest?

  78. Utakata

    I am also observing that Messier Tidy Upper and Pi-needles are attempting to do outdo (which I didn’t think it was possible) Plutonium being from Pluto with those annoying happy face emotes. :(

    (Yes, I know…I just used one. But once is a comment is fine – not 5 million of them.)

  79. Inorganic natural resources are available in great abundance elsewhere in the solar system, and without a bunch of pesky primitives getting in the way.

    Organic material is only found on Earth, so could be a draw, given the vast diversity of life and the possibility of synthesis of all kinds of organic compounds that even advanced aliens might not have thought of. But any visitor would be far better off taking samples of DNA away with them — it contains all the information they need in a highly portable and easy-to-manage form. They would have to brush up on their cloning techniques, but after that they can dip into their DNA library to their heart’s content.

    But information is probably the asset they would most highly prize. Hundreds of years of history, literature, and culture, all of it unique to Earth. Assuming aliens share at least some curiosity and, perhaps, a desire to be entertained, then our archives will open a whole new world of experiences that an otherwise entirely predictable Universe (to an advanced civilization) gives them.

    If so, why disrupt that accumulation of information? Far better to barter and peaceably exchange information with each other then leave us be to create more of it, so they can stop by in another 1,000 years or so.

    So, it may well be that for reasons we cannot understand, a visiting alien fleet is implacably hostile to us, but it won’t be because they want our resources. They could have bizarre religious reasons, or they could be utterly incapable of recognizing that we have any value to them, but it’s highly doubtful given all the other possible scenarios out there.

  80. andy

    I see no particularly convincing evidence that evolution is likely to produce species with runaway technological growth. Certainly it seems that while the evolution of some level of intelligence is a fairly common process, it does not seem to go much further. One could perhaps make the argument that intelligent life emerged on this planet way back in the Cambrian in the form of cephalopods, and then spent the next half a billion years doing not very much. Furthermore there are probably significant obstacles to evolution of high intelligence, including the energy demands of the brain, which may prevent evolution of technological civilisations.

  81. Peter Mead

    We assume we haven’t been visited by aliens already. What an assumption!

  82. Chip

    Another concept that doesn’t often occur to people and is even more difficult to for some to accept than either the “rare Earth” or “we are alone” scenarios is that the galaxy is full of alien life, include alien life with advanced technology, and not one of them has ever come to Earth or contacted us. It seems counter-intuitive but there is nothing in Nature that stipulates that all other lifeforms, especially alien life must essentially act just like us.

  83. Leander

    @Peter Mead

    Great point…there are enough “terrestrial things” we don’t have any certain records of…to assume we’d know of some alien species having landed, maybe in China around 300AD, having decided to come back in a few thousand years…takes some faith I guess.

  84. Oli

    You want us to colonise this arm of the Milky Way? Are you insane? What about the aliens that already lived or were going to live (as in, would evolve into sentient or even non-sentient beings there)? I think we should NOT colonise planets on which life could form, until we’re sure that it’s not gonna happen. Give them a chance as well. Sure, study everything from orbit, but don’t let them know about us. Kind of like in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. We can’t visit Europa, but we are allowed to study it from orbit and during flybys.

  85. I know the joke is old but I can’t believe no one did say it yet, YOU WROTE A BOOK.

  86. James

    I’m not sure why people are so convinced that if there were technologically advanced civilizations in the Milkyway that we would be awash in their signals. Even our most energetic transmissions are miniscule compared to the energy of the sunlight reflected off the Earth. One Discovery program stated that all our transmissions turn into unreadable noise about a lightyear out. Considering that the nearest star is 4ly away it isn’t surprising that we would be completely unaware of another civilization even that “close.”

  87. John Paradox

    36. hale-bopp Says:

    ID4 wasn’t a great movie…it was cheesy enough to be fun without making you hope you choked on your popcorn. Try giving it the MST3K treatment sometime…it’s priceless!

    It’s been done ‘officially’ by RiffTrax (Mike Nelson, Kevin (Servo) Murphy, and Bill (Crow) Corbett). Link at: http://www.rifftrax.com/rifftrax/independence-day

    59. amphiox Says:

    If I recall correctly, this was the premise of Greg Bear’s novel “Forge of God”. The galaxy is silent because the advanced races keep quiet. Earth didn’t keep quiet. Earth got noticed. Earth got squished.

    I’ve heard of a series of novels based on Earth explorers discovering that there is a hostile alien race, and so we pull back.. don’t have more details, but have heard information on Security Now! on the TWiT network (Steve Gibson and Leo ‘TechTV’ Laporte). The trilogy is, IIRC: Gibraltar Earth, Gibraltar Sun and Gibraltar Galaxy?

    J/P=?

  88. Theron

    @79 – lol, not that I know of. I think I’m not a goldfish, but it gets confusing sometimes. But I am a bog Gary Larson fan.

  89. Leander

    Totally off-topic, but I just noticed…

    “He is a skeptic, and fights misuses of science as well as praising the wonder of real science. ”

    Kind of an unfortunate phrasing ;)

  90. We humans are probably the only and most advanced civilization in any galaxy, jusr use the film Avatar as an example, we, the humans were the “aliens” in the film, we were technologically superior than the Na’vi who lived off the land and were in a way primitive versions of the early humans in our planet. So if there is other life somewhere else then we are probably more advanced than they are.

  91. G Williams

    What about metalicity? Sure, there are plenty of planetary systems, and even plenty of water-bearing planets within their star’s habitable zone, but how many of those planets have the necessary resources to foment interstellar travel?
    I’m pretty sure only planets around population 1 stars have a decent complement of resources, and many of these stars are relatively young, and clustered around the galactic core, where the high stellar density may make complex life untenable.

    This would tend to make possible solutions to the Drake Equation much smaller than would be indicated by the abundancy of habitable planetary systems, since we’d also have to account for the relatively small fraction of those habitable systems that could support a technological civilization.

    Also, population 1 stars are rather young, with our sun being a fairly average example.
    If we also consider that the circumstances of our evolution, including various extinction events, are fairly average, then we can say with some small amount of certainty that interstellar civilizations would not tend to be much older than ours, perhaps a few tens or hundreds of millions of years at most, and such examples would be much rarer than relatively younger civilizations.
    We could very well be the ‘first’, or, other civilizations could very likely have only developed recently enough, that they haven’t had time to expand in any way we can see yet.

    Of course, it’s not like we’re looking very hard anyway, we can’t even spot earth-mass planets with any reliability yet, and we’ve only surveyed a fraction of the sky for potentially habitable planets.
    Except for radio astronomy, we haven’t made any effort to look for markers that could indicate civilization, and radio signals aren’t a very reliable indicator, we’ve only been transmitting for a few decades, and in the next few decades all transmissions will be either low power or digitally encoded, making detection extremely difficult. We aren’t exactly sending out many Wow! signals, so why should we expect that alien civilizations are?

    If they’re out there, I doubt we possibly could have seen them by now unless they were specifically trying to get our attention.

  92. GCoyote

    As mentioned above, the omni-directional broadcast of strong, unencrypted radio signals may be a passing moment in our technology. Directional, low-power, fiber-optic, and frequency-hopping modes of communication all cut down our detectable interstellar signal by significant factors. So it is possible that looking for the alien equivalent of “I Love Lucy” broadcast at 500,000 watts will turn out to be a fruitless search technique.

    If we actually want to find aliens we may very well just have to get off our planet-bound butts and go look for them.

  93. jcm

    Unable to survive technological adolescence, eh?

  94. Darth Wader

    I think the Drake equation is way over simplified. There could be a million life forms as intelligent as humans but unable to make a fire. Who knows dolphins may be more intelligent than humans.

    Intelligence, thumbs, the capacity for symbolic thought, a cooperative nature, a competitive nature. It takes more than brains to build an interstellar vehicle.

  95. Buzz Parsec

    Utakata, I’m pretty sure Pi Needles, Messier Tidier-upper and Plutonium from Pluto are all really Steve from Australia. I think he’s said as much in some posts and isn’t trying to fool anyone, just enjoys making up punny nicknames.

    And if he’d get off his Plimer kick and tighten up his editing a bit, and be a little less redundant, he (except when AGW thread hijacking) he is usually interesting and amusing.

    Uh-oh, I just mentioned AGW on a non-AGW thread. :-( This should be some corollary to Godwin’s Law.

  96. Buzz Parsec

    John W said “What if we are the robots, man?”

    The first thing I thought of when BA mentioned self-replicating robots devouring the Universe was Panspermia. If I were an evil Galactic Overlord trying to design evil robots to destroy the Universe, I would base my fleet on self-reproducing nanobots, about the size of bacteria, with a DNA-based central processing unit, dual encoded for good but not perfect error correction. The imperfect error correction would allow for mutations so that my robot army could evolve to adapt to any conditions they encountered. Also, biological machines are known to survive for thousands of years (bristle-cone pines, sequoias), through reproduction, literally for billions of years. Very few mechanical or electronic systems last even decades. Seen a Vega recently?)

    Let me be the first to welcome our new Galactic Overlords (i.e. us.)

  97. Buzz Parsec

    Oh, BTW, there are only two objections to this theory. 1) There is no evidence for it, and 2) there is no evidence for it. I realize, technically, this is only one objection, but I thought it was important enough to mention twice. :-)

  98. andy

    G Williams: There’s an interesting point regarding metallicity: the relative abundances of different elements could potentially make a significant difference to the compositions of the planets. There have already been some studies done that suggest some extrasolar planetary systems ought to have formed terrestrial planets with very different compositions than the Earth, ranging from different silicate materials to carbon-dominated planets. Some of this could significantly alter habitability of the planets, or perhaps rule it out. For example, some observed chemical compositions would result in very water-poor planets, if the abundances in the star reflect those in the protoplanetary disc.

    See, e.g. arXiv 1001.3901 and 1004.0971.

  99. Jamey

    @Dreamer: “Organic material is only found on Earth, so could be a draw, given the vast diversity of life and the possibility of synthesis of all kinds of organic compounds that even advanced aliens might not have thought of.” Um, Dreamer – please check backwards a bit in this blog, even – not to mention other websites. Organic material is all *OVER* this Solar System – and has been detected in numerous nebulae & such. One day, we’ll mine Jupiter & Saturn for methane, ethane, and other petrochemical precursors, and Titan may well already *HAVE* a thriving bio-cycle based around life using methane and ethane. Organic pretty much just means “carbon-containing”, though the vast majority of what we think of as “organic” has to contain hydrogen as well – few think of carbon dioxide itself, or boron carbide, as “organic” compounds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_compound

  100. RawheaD

    @66. Messier Tidy Upper

    “Logic (science and maths too) seems pretty much essential for intelligent and technological creatures to have.
    Their *culture* may indeed be very alien and hard for us to grok but their *logic* not so much methinks. Or do you really think 1+1= 3 on Alpha Centauri? ”

    Well in the sense that I’ve used the term, you can’t necessarily compare *logic* with math and science, the latter two of which are, for the most part, deal with universal facts.

    Logic, on the other hand, depends on what we perceive as the norm, much of which is culturally constrained. For example, when New World civilizations like the Inca and Aztec confronted the conquistadors for the first time, it is said that there were certain aspects of the westerners’ modus operandi that were completely outside the grip of the American Indians; e.g., the westerners’ attitude towards warring, involving, when necessary, a complete annihilation of the opponents (e.g., for the Aztec, wars/battles were fought, often symbolically, so that they can secure the flow of tribute and sacrificial victims, not to annihilate the opponents in order to appropriate their land and resources directly).

    Now, that was between two civilizations of the same species with, from a strictly biological standpoint, pretty much the same intellect and mental capacity. Imagine contact between two radically different species, living on two different planes of existence.

    For example, whales and humans. Whales probably can understand why humans and other higher-order taxa might want to kill them; for food and maybe other necessities, like blubber for fuel. But do you think they can comprehend that they might just have been harpooned to death because humans wanted to collect their whiskers to be used as part of an essential tool for making music? I surmise that that level of comprehension is beyond their logic.

    Now think of us as the whales and an intergalactic race as the human equivalents. There is no way I can logically deduce why or why not they’d want to help, destroy, or completely ignore us.

    For example, in many a sci-fi, it’s argued that invading aliens are there to do so in order to secure some kind of resource that they are lacking (food, water, sexual partners, rare elements, etc.).

    However, I could argue that an intergalactic race that has the technology to be what they are (intergalactic travelers) likely will have solved any and all problems pertaining to resources. After all, anything that they need (water, food, the opposite sex) can easily be constructed by simply collecting and restructuring some atoms that are literally everywhere. I’d certainly think that making food out of comet dust is much easier to accomplish than intergalactic travel.

    Ergo, any prediction on alien behavior from a “resources” standpoint becomes moot. Does that mean such highly intelligent races won’t have a reason to blast us to smithereens? No! But it would be for reasons that we just cannot comprehend at this point :-)

  101. Niko

    All S. Hawkins is saying is that for now we are like fishes in the sea. We should not get close to the hook until we know how to walk or fly.

  102. Eric

    @65 eukaryote- Yep about the computation. Interestingly, perhaps a wave of alien colonization already occurred and converted all available matter in the galaxy to “computorium”. Perhaps we’re living in some simulation run on an alien computer. We see a virtual-reality illusion that we’re alone in a pristine galaxy.

    No idea how I’d test that hypothesis to give it some grounding in science.

    —-

    On a completely different note, I was also wondering if it could be “easy” to nearly sterilize a galaxy. Maybe some artificial extra-super-bad weapon worse than a gamma ray burst. Perhaps a flood of neutrinos that would be impossible to shield against and could fry complex life (and robots). Yes, neutrinos almost never react with matter so think really BIG numbers.

    If something that bad was relatively “easy” to accomplish (for a 1 million year old alien civilization), it could explain the apparent lack of aliens. All it would take would be one suicidal group to detonate the Doomsday device, and set the clock of evolution back a billion years across the whole galaxy. Again, given sufficient diversity of motivations and big enough time scales, if something like this was physically feasible, then it will almost inevitably occur.

    It’s sorta like taking the pessimism of our worried about nuclear winter, the LHC, and adding a few exponents on the scale of suckiness.

  103. Kimpatsu

    Doctor Phil Vs. Davros? I know who my money’s on…

  104. olderwithmoreinsurance

    I’m afraid the chances of Hawking having read your book are roughly the same as that of me making the Orlando Magic next season. Nice wishful thinking for both of us. If a species is capable of interstellar travel they are much LESS likely to wipe themselves out as they soon will become several species with interstellar travel (speciation time scales are generally short compared to galacitic colonization time scales) with SEVERAL centers of population. David Brin wrote a nice technical paper on the Fermi Paradox a number of years ago that is still probably the best that has been done on the subject.

  105. JD

    I just hope some extinct alien race out there left behind some ring worlds that we can use to play the greatest game of Halo paintball ever!

  106. olderwithmoreinsurance

    Here’s the reference for the Brin paper on the Fermi paradox:
    Brin, Glen David (1983). “The ‘Great Silence': The Controversy Concerning Extraterrestial Intelligent Life” (PDF). Quarterly Journal of Royal Astronomical Society 24: 283–309.. http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1983QJRAS..24..283B&data_type=PDF_HIGH&whole_paper=YES&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf.
    Thte QJ of the RAS is obscure enough that I suspect only a small fraction of professional astronomers or SF writers have read this.

  107. Utakata

    Oh, okay @ 96 Buzz Parsec…

    …though if that is true, the need to sockpuppet is a sympton of a larger problem. You only need one name to stand by what you claim. Not hide behind another when the water starts getting too hot…or use as a means to troll.

    But that thanks for sharing that. I’ll be more weary of that in the future. :)

  108. nikck

    if you believe space and time never ends……….then that also means you believe that everything and anything is happening right now, because if space never ends, time never ends, and i would think there is a limit to how many things that can happen in space. get it. so tell me what you think because iv been thinkin about what i just said for a long time

  109. nikck

    oh yea, about the aliens, there is probably good and bad ones, good vs. evil haha. since our planet is on the edge of the milky way , that would tell me we are in the boondocks, and not to many ‘humans’ go to the boondocks because all of the good stuff is in the “city”, near center of our galaxy, so if they are out there, which i believe, then not to many have come this way, and the ones that have i believe are either liveing here on this planet or a close one, or maybe our moon, i always thought it was a little funny that out moon faces us on the same side constantly, and all we have is our government to tell us what is on the other. Maybe im dumb and all moons of planets always face the same side, let me know whats up

  110. Justin

    Mabey the reason we havnt heard from anyone yet is that there is some evil out there destroying civilization after civilization as soon as they discover there signals. So Stephen Hawking could be right. And mabey the reason we havnt heard from the evil aliens is simply because they dont know were here.

  111. Messier Tidy Upper

    For any fellow South Aussies here (where its about 1.30 pm now) the ‘Tiser has an article on Hawking’s comments on page 25, 2010 April 27th.

    Quite a good article too. It has Hawking’s photo inset against the Hubble Deep Field. Of course, it doesn’t have the BA’s take or really anyone elses but it’s not too bad for the local rag. Haven’t seen today’s Australian newspaper but I wouldn’t be surprised if it also had an item on this news. Especially as it seems to be a slow news day otherwise. ;-)

  112. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 114. Justin Says:

    Maybe the reason we haven’t heard from anyone yet is that there is some evil out there destroying civilization after civilization as soon as they discover there signals. So Stephen Hawking could be right. And maybe the reason we havnt heard from the evil aliens is simply because they don’t know we’re here.

    That’s the scenario mentioned in The Killing Star novel which was mentioned (& linked to) in my comment #61 & by earlier commenters here (eg. 34. Martha) too.

    It is also a scenario postulated by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter’s excellent Time Odyssey series :

    In the Time Odyssey series, not-so-benevolent godlike aliens start an endless mission to regulate the development of sentient life in the Universe, in order to prevent all other species from harnessing too much of its energy, which would only accelerate the inevitable entropic death of the Universe, thus rendering sentient life impossible at the end of the universe. Consequently, these “Firstborn” are destroying other intelligent species. To preserve a record of these eradicated species, the Firstborn create a new alternate universe containing the species’ homeworld in different time periods.
    – See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Time_Odyssey

    Its well worth a read btw. although it needs another volume to wrap up which sadly may well not be forthcoming due to Clarke’s death. :-(

    Plus there’s also – as already mentioned by # 59. amphiox – Greg Bear’s Forge of God (link in # 61 again) among others.

    So that sort scenario is sadly plausible and could be one explanation for the Fermi paradox although it also quite plausibly may *not* be. We just don’t know enough yet. Hawking could right, the BA could also be right or both could be partially right and partly wrong. I don’t think this is necessarily an either /or case and there may well be more than just one explanation for the Fermi paradox mystery.

  113. Pi-needles

    @111. Dave The Happy Singer Says:

    Wait… Phil wrote a book?

    No, actually he’s written two! ;-)

  114. Grimbold

    Hey Phil,
    you seem to have filed this under Tags: Stephen Hawling

    regards,
    Grimbo;d

  115. Messier TidyUpper

    @ 96. Buzz Parsec Says:

    Utakata, I’m pretty sure Pi Needles, Messier Tidier-upper and Plutonium from Pluto are all really Steve from Australia. I think he’s said as much in some posts and isn’t trying to fool anyone, just enjoys making up punny nicknames.

    Yes. Its a long story and a bit more complicated than that but basically I don’t mean any harm or deception of anyone and can’t make up my mind which one to be here. Sorry if this offends or confuses people.

    Might I also add I think it matters a lot more what is said & what points made rather than who says them?

    And if he’d get off his Plimer kick and tighten up his editing a bit, and be a little less redundant, he (except when AGW thread hijacking) he is usually interesting and amusing.

    Thanks, I think. :-)

    110. Utakata Says:

    Oh, okay @ 96 Buzz Parsec…

    …though if that is true, the need to sockpuppet is a sympton of a larger problem. You only need one name to stand by what you claim. Not hide behind another when the water starts getting too hot…or use as a means to troll.

    I don’t think that what I do is sockpuppetry. Or trolling either.

    Just expressing my views like everybody else – sometimes quite strongly, I’ll admit .

    I try to be polite and yes, I am a bit messed up and, yes, I’m human and fallible and sometimes get carried away with some “hot button” issues esp. when posting tired which is often and drunk which is a lot more occassional but happens sometimes too.

    I’ll try to be more restrained and concise in the future.

    If the BA asks me to stop posting under different names and choose only one I will but it’ll be tough for me to pick and post as just one.

    But that thanks for sharing that. I’ll be more weary of that in the future.

    I think the word you’re looking for is ‘wary’ not ‘weary’ although I guess both could apply. Not that I can talk when it comes to typos but! ;-)

    PS. Oh, & yes I like emoticons. I’m not the only one and their part of my style and help clarify things or add to things on occassion. I know some folks don’t like them but I’m not quite sure why. :-(

  116. Rainbow Snake

    Surely you guys have heard this “hide from the Aliens” argument before?

    Look, discovering we’re not alone would be the biggest revelation since fire.
    Where’s the optimism? The courage??

    While you guys are quaking with fear, hiding under your beds from what you don’t know, I’m going to keep searching and yelling at the universe to come and find us. Don’t want us to? Bad luck.

    Ok, so it’ll be a shame if the Aliens turn up with a bulldozer to flatten the place, but **** what’s your plan? We just keep hiding under our beds until we all die out?

    Whatever happened to “…to boldly go…” ?

    (‘k so Phil and Stephen might be very clever, but I’m sure it’s so speculative, that any one of us knows just as little!!!)

  117. I just feel like that I was eavesdropping on a patient in a psychiatric office and yes I like emoticons too ;-) I was thinking about the universe expanding and if that would have a consequence, if other universes did exist?

  118. Corey

    The chances of complex life existing outside earth is pretty good.

    I don’t think the chances of highly organized, technological, populous life is very good.

    I have two reasons for thinking this: Fossil Fuels and Death From the Skies (thx Phil).

    It’s reasonable to posit that exoplanets with life might also have a mechanism for naturally creating large, continuous, extractable deposits of high-energy chemicals. On the other hand, it’s possible that this energy source is not available on other worlds, or that it isn’t conveniently found in large, homogenous, easily accessible deposits, like it is here. All of our technological progress has been possible because of fossil fuels. Without them, scientific and engineering progress would’ve been much slower, perhaps by an order of magnitude.

    Secondly, our earth is fairly well protected from catastrophic cosmic events (we live in a “quiet neighborhood, as Phil aptly states in his book). But we are by no means immune. I think everyone can agree that cosmic events of various kinds occur to any planet periodically, and that such events would eliminate all technological and scientific progress for the unfortunate species so effected. In a rougher neighborhood, planets would be struck by catastrophic events more frequently, making it impossible for complex intelligent life to evolve. However, there are other “quiet neighborhoods” out there, where such events are rare.

    Now to the main point – these two forces are both a ticking clock, winding down. Once a proto-sentient species evolves on a planet (which is probably a rare event in and of itself, since it has only happened once on earth) they have a limited amount of time left in order to become an interstellar spacefaring species. They must become spacefaring before using up all of the ancient chemical energy stored in their planet (we certainly wouldn’t have a space program without fossil fuels), and before an impactor, gamma ray burst, CME, or supernova wipes them out. The intersection of these two time limits mean that any given species must quickly grow into a spacefaring species, before they run out of fossil fuels and before they are wiped out by a cosmic event. Once the fossil fuels are gone, progress is much slower, and it becomes much more likely for a cosmic cataclysm to take you out before you get off-planet. And a society could stagnate, burning up fossil fuels for hundreds of years with no investment in science and technology because of culture, leaving them bereft of good, portable energy.

    I think that if the human species ever does transit interstellar space (I don’t believe it is possible except through generation ships) we will find among the abundant life in the galaxy, tens of thousands of planets littered with the aborted wreckage of species that developed into the equivalent of ours, but made it no further and died out before becoming spacefaring or reverted to a non-spacefaring species. You might find an occasional metal tool, millions of years old, a decrepit satellite, a wrecked castle wall, a broken statue, or an occasional intelligent species survived a catastrophe but that remains in a low-tech age because there is no chemical energy available – and helpless to prevent the next cosmic event.

    Think about it – there is absolutely no reason why an impactor couldn’t have stopped all human progress in 1920. Or in 1940, or in 1969, or tomorrow. I think the answer to Fermi;s question “where is everybody?” is simple: They’re all dead. We’re the lucky ones. We happened to evolve between extinction events and became a high-tech spacefaring species before running out of fossil fuels.

    The challenge, they keyhole we must pass through, is to leave the earth and form self-sufficient colonies elsewhere in the limited window of time before we deplete the chemical energy of the earth. We’ve had approximately 65 million years to do it, and all we need is perhaps a hundred more years of safety, and a hundred more years of oil.

  119. @100 Jamey — yep, I used the word organic incorrectly. Of course, I meant organic matter as in the term we use here on Earth to signify life and its byproducts.

    You are correct that carbon-based material, as in amino acids and other organic compounds (in the chemical sense) are available in abundance elsewhere.

  120. Solution of the Fermi’s Paradox that we are the first intelligent life in a while proposed by Phil Plait is not so convincing, as well as his idea of self-creating robots portrait in one episode of Stargate franchise. But if you look into SF premises, I like the one about warp drive barrier in Star Trek, where invention of the interstellar propulsion defines a species mature enough to count itself as a space resident, not just an planetary incident. Maybe, there is such a barrier in real life as well.

  121. ed

    if aliens came here and wanted to take our resources or enslave us.we would probably gladly trade/work for what they might consider antiquated technology and trinkets. if they did attack us it would escalate to a global nuclear war quickly.many surviving people would resort to asymmetric tactics against the aliens ground and mining operations. so maybe they like their water irradiated and their insurgents really pissed off.

  122. Utakata

    I don’t have anything against anybody posting their views strongly @ 119 Messier TidyUpper/Pi Needles/Plutonium from Pluto…and whatever else you call yourself. I just question the way you’re doing it. However, I’ll let the BA admistrative deal with it if it ever crosses a line. And instead, focus on what is being said.

    As for the word “weary”…I do believe I am correct in spelling that. Yes, I make many typos…but that is not one of them. And yes, I did check.

  123. Messier TidyUpper

    @ ^ Utakata : I just question the way you’re doing it.

    Why and what about it in particular? Just the use of multiple names here? The emoticons or more?

    Do others here think I’m doing the wrong thing? If so, sorry. I try to make useful, interesting and humerous contributions.

    —-
    “The Ramans do everything in threes.”
    – Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Rendezvous with Rama’, Final page (252), Pan
    Books Ltd, 1973.

  124. Eidolon

    Hawking’s views on this are about as relevant as Pauling’s views on vitamin C.

    PfP/MTU/PN:
    Part of what you are doing is creating a false impression that there is support for your positions when it’s just one person putting forth the same crapola. Worse, you use emoticons like some tween girl dotting “i” with a heart.

    As for the Fermi paradox, there is the little matter of reality. It appears that the speed of light really is the speed limit and there are no warp drives or other FTL travel options out there. Makes most sci-fi possible, but, like Hogwarts, is part of fiction. Yes, I know there have been a multitude of technological innovations that were completely unanticipated. Thing is, they don’t violate any of the basic rules of physics.

    Next, there is the issue of just how mind boggling big the universe is. If there is no FTL travel, then the durability of cultures and resources needed to travel for really, really long periods of time enter into it. All of this is apart from the issues raised by the Drake equation. It all makes great stories but that’s about all it is. Now – if the Vogons show up tomorrow…

  125. Gary Ansorge

    92. G Williams

    First mention of metalicity. Good on Ya!

    121. Corey

    Making it thru the “keyhole”. Excellent!

    I expect we need a large moon to stabilize our planetary tilt, provide active tectonic mixing with a high metallic rotating core for a shielding magnetic field.

    Intelligence may not be the point of evolution, but we appear to have several sentient species (dolphins, whales, elephants and apes)on this planet, only one of which developed tech and that only in the last 10,000 years. That’s a very narrow window of development.

    As Phil observed in his book “Death,,,”, there are more ways to accidentally kill off an advanced species than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

    We’re in a numbers game. We just happen to be in the right place at the right time(unless there’s a gamma ray burst heading our way right now).

    To get beyond the Roman Empire, we needed to develop the scientific method. That’s happened(at least) twice in our development,,,only once did we run with it.
    I expect, had our reactionary conservatism been able to foresee the consequences of this simple philosophy,they’d have squashed it in the cradle. We’re just lucky they didn’t have such perspicacity.

    As has been observed before, to create wealth we need only three things; Energy, matter and knowledge. A lack of any one of those will inhibit further development.

    There ARE alien life forms out there. They’re just stuck in the Roman Empire mode.

    We’re the first, Elder Race. As we mature, we’ll set the stage for Others development.

    Hope we’re as compassionate as we’d wish others to be.

    GAry 7

  126. Jim Ernst

    If you have the ability to detect goldilocks planets, and travel to them, which planets would you choose to consume? Ones that show signs of a technological civilisation, or ones that do not? Personally, I would exploit the resources of non-technical planets. The chance of a spirited defense is significantly less. Just because Earth couldn’t defend itself against interstellar attacks doesn’t mean that no civilisation could. Why would they take the risk?

    The only reason I see to travel to an inhabited planet is to make contact. Any other reason poses too great a risk for too small a reward.

  127. Rainbow Snake

    Oh … I sent in a take on this issue that I’m passionate about, but I guess it didn’t make it past moderation, when all sorts of junk has made it through. Was it because my comment was optimistic?

  128. Grand Lunar

    Wouldn’t another possibility be that an alien civilization would probably also try to wipe us out by lobbing a few asteroids or comets in our direction? MUCH more destructive than any CGI death ray can cause (the destructive zone of the weapon in ID4 looked like it didn’t do much more than what WE can do with a fair sized thermonuclear weapon)

    Also, has anyone considered that other intelligent life forms might not be much more advanced than humans? And that it takes so long for intelligent life to develope, that none have yet managed interstellar travel?
    Think about; if there was a civilization at our same level a few hundred light years away, would we really know about them?

  129. ET NL

    It’s quite possible that advanced civilizations avoid contact and that we will do so too. That seems rather obvious to me to be honest since contact is difficult and imposes risks. Further, advanced civilizations do not need natural resources because of technology. We ourselves are not that far away from replicator like nanotech, smart materials, endless power supplies etcetera. Give it a few hundred years. Or just fifty if you think Ray Kurzweil is right about the technological singularity.

    It’s pure speculation, but it’s possible that ‘they’ are already here and we cannot see them. If this were the case this would be on purpose and it would be completely useless to, eehrm, speculate about it. Whatever, to me there is no ‘Fermi’s Paradox’ until we are absolutely certain that complex life forms must evolve at such a rate that we should be able to detect something or detect the absence of something.

  130. TJ

    Quite a few comments that are skeptical of aliens wanting our resources… while I agree that there are many easier ways to get minerals, etc., have you considered that the resources they may want could be the human race itself? As slaves, food, etc? Just sayin…

  131. The universe is a big place and if intelligent life is common, there are probably lots of different kinds of aliens, good an bad and everything in between – the same was before when Americas were discovered – there were good and bad people in Europe, but somehow treasure hunters and immoral people went there first with their guns and destruction agenda.

    I can’t even imagine what would happen if ordinary people and corporations were able to easily go to Mars, but if any Mars life existed there it would be destroyed in small fraction of time by people digging for their new fortune..

  132. Gary Ansorge

    134. TJ

    “the human race itself? As slaves, food, etc? Just sayin…”

    Slaves? How would that be any better than robots?

    Food? Highly doubtful another evolutionary line of development would be able to ingest our singular proteins.

    ANything we could provide “THEM” would be easier to just build. Even sex bots would be easier and a lot less trouble.

    GAry 7

  133. Captn Tommy

    In the 140 million years of dinosaurs perhaps we miss the fact that 65 million years separate us from the last of the beasties. Maybe as said in Battlestar Galactica, “All this has happened Before…” May be the reason we find no smart dinos is they all left before the bang. Any thing they left behind… like the Phoenicians and the Minoans has melted into Myth. If we go out there maybe we will meet THEM.

    Two books; Anvil of God, and Hammer Of God, tell the story of BA’s scenerio, death by robot.

  134. starchild

    There are millions of people already so addicted to WOW and facebook that the real world is like this annoying thing that they have to deal with. Advanced alien intelligences will have a practically infinite number of virtual worlds — as real as ours — to colonize and build with. All the fun with out the worry of this lame ass physics we have to deal with. Let’s not forget that once you go digital your thinking speed goes up exponentially because you don’t have biological neurons doing the computing.

    Digital Aliens will undergo time dilation due to their extremely fast processing of information and tack that to the time dilation caused by relativistic travel and space colonization starts to look like a really expensive and really bad idea. The fact that space keeps expanding will also make it increasingly hard to get in contact with some of the older civilizations. Just like in life, we will come to understand that we are all for all intents and purposes, alone.

  135. Anom

    BSG,TERMINATOR,Matrix are all about our machines turning against us. What if that is what happens to all intelligent life? The machines would then go on possibly looking for other machines and join some sort of vast super intelligence collective of machines. Sort of like the Borg from Star Trek.The reason we might not heard from the machines is that it might take a machine to know a machine or the alien machines arnt interested in organic life.

  136. BMcP

    I suppose the galaxy is “softly humming” with life, perhaps just not with intelligent life. It could be that while even multicelluar life may be fairly common, what proportion of those worlds have ever evolved life that is self-aware, and then to be able to create a technological civilization?

  137. Chris Winter

    There’s lots of science fiction built around the idea of alien invasion. It makes for good reading and better theater (ID4, War of the Worlds, etc.) What’s missing is a motivation for the invasion that would plausibly transfer to the real world.

    As others have pointed out, aliens capable of star travel would almost certainly be able to create whatever they need from asteroids and comets. Thus, Earth’s resources would be trivial compared to the Oort Cloud, the Kuiper Belt. Also, Earth is much deeper in the Sun’s gravity well. If aliens were harvesting resources in our system, they’d start at the edge.

    About the most plausible motivation is the desire to preempt competition. Even that is dubious. Given that most every race will fight to survive, the long-term success of such a plan is also dubious. So I’m not impressed by Dr. Hawking’s warning.

    But it does make for some entertaining tales. My favorite is Chad Oliver’s Transfusion: “Wait for us. We’ll be back.”

  138. Phil,

    “I’m serious. We may be utterly, entirely alone…”

    Enough of our ignorant narcissism. Hasn’t our own history taught us that homo sapiens is neither the center nor the be-all-end-all of all things terrestrial & celestial?

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” [Genesis 1:26]

    NOT!

    The earth is the center of the universe.

    NOT!

    So homo sapiens “sapiens” is the only “highly”-intelligent lifeform in a universe of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars (give or take a sextillion or three)?

    NOT VERY LIKELY!

    Our “arm of the Milky Way” is just a tiny clump of sand on an endless beach, and we only just got here with our infant technology.

    ~IANVS

  139. If we found a new continent now, peopled with primitive aborigines, the world would be falling all over itself to declare it a special nature refuge, off limits to everyone but non-intrusive observers.

    Do you live under a rock or just a fact-free fantasy land?

    All of the great apes and chimps and bonobos are going extinct because of stuff that we are doing to them right now.

    Do you have any idea what “we” are doing to the land of indigenous peoples the world over right now? We’re destroying their land and kicking them off it or murdering them so we can destroy it even more completely, and also own it, of course.

  140. Perhaps its not species extinction or resources that are the limit, but simple technological development. It could be that the basic nature of the Universe we live in will prevent tech from going much farther, so the galaxy is full of technological civilisations but they’re all stuck at 2050 or what have you. No nanotech that can make anything, no unlimited energy, no transfering your mind into a supercomputer. Windows 17 is as far as it goes.

  141. Jess Tauber

    I met Hawking once- he and his large entourage almost ran me over at Berkeley years ago where he was going to give a lecture as I came out from around the corner of a building.

    I think that it is clear the resemblance between him and, need I say it, Davros has gotten under his skin. EXTERMINAAAAAAAATE!

    But seriously, the ability of humans to do most of what we do depends upon language, and animal communication falls short in that area. All the evidence points to the anatomy, action cycles, and neural control of mastication/deglutition having been exapted into existing communication. While many languages are largely ‘symbolic’ in that their lexical items have no obvious connection to meaning, a large number are more iconic, and some have huge numbers of words called ideophones or expressives which utilize a diagrammatically iconic code to map form to meaning, using the mastication system as its basis. This can be mapped metaphorically to other effectors (hands, feet, the body, etc. to signal) and also represent them using the same iconicities.

    It all comes down to having a sophisticated materials processing system and using it to get your point accross. Most animals haven’t been able to do this. But I’ll bet any aliens would have to go through a similar evolution.

  142. Messier Tidy Upper

    There was a quite funny and fairly positive mention of Hawking’s comments on David Letterman’s show last night. :-)

    @146. Jess Tauber Says:

    I think that it is clear the resemblance between him [Hawking] and, need I say it, Davros has gotten under his skin. EXTERMINAAAAAAAATE!

    LOL :-D

    @ 137. Captn Tommy Says:

    … Two books; Anvil of God, and Hammer Of God, tell the story of BA’s scenerio, death by robot.

    Who was the author for those? More info please.

    In the 140 million years of dinosaurs perhaps we miss the fact that 65 million years separate us from the last of the beasties. Maybe as said in Battlestar Galactica, “All this has happened Before…” May be the reason we find no smart dinos is they all left before the bang. Any thing they left behind… like the Phoenicians and the Minoans has melted into Myth. If we go out there maybe we will meet THEM.

    Aha, the Silurian’s & Sea Devils scenario a la Dr Who. (Mainly Pertwee but also one or Tom Baker ep if I recall right.) Except in Space not left behind in hibernation here.

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silurians

    @ 141. Chris Winter Says:

    There’s lots of science fiction built around the idea of alien invasion. It makes for good reading and better theater (ID4, War of the Worlds, etc.) What’s missing is a motivation for the invasion that would plausibly transfer to the real world.

    Agreed. Unless they are specifically trying to prevent us being a threat (or as in Time Odyssey use up too much energy) I can’t see the motivation for invasion. Of course we could be wrong! ;-)

    @ 143. The Devil : Quoting scripture again? ;-)

    @ 136. Gary Ansorge Says:

    … Anything we could provide “THEM” would be easier to just build. Even sex bots would be easier and a lot less trouble.

    Now how do *you* know that? ;-)

  143. Messier Tidy Upper

    @128. Eidolon Says:

    Hawking’s views on this are about as relevant as Pauling’s views on vitamin C.

    Really? I think everyone has the right to an opinion – or two! Plus the right to express it too.

    Hawking is a smart bloke renowned for his intellect – so, yes, I think his views carry some weight on a lot of things incl. this issue.

    PfP/MTU/PN: Part of what you are doing is creating a false impression that there is support for your positions when it’s just one person putting forth the same crapola.

    As you might expect I disagree with that characterisation. I don’t think I do this.

    Nor do I consider my opinions just “crapola” – that was rude.
    Would you like somebody telling *you* that your ideas and emotions and thoughts are that?
    I think you are violating the BA’s “don’t be a jerk and be polite to others” policy there. Not that I’m an angel, I’ll admit.

    Worse, you use emoticons like some tween girl dotting “i” with a heart.

    As you may expect I also disagree about that.

    I think emoticons are good at clarifying and displaying the “tone” of a comment. It’s probably a style thing but I don’t mind people having other styles and I don’t see why you seem to have such a problem with it.

    I think emoticons add a bit of colour & interest too.

    Yes, I’m a bit messed up in some ways, I don’t think sanity is too common anywhere in the world. We’re all crazy some of us just a bit crazier than others.

    Don’t most people have different, sometimes contradictory aspects and sub-selves inside? Can’t most people argue inside their own heads and have divided thoughts?
    Am I the only one to have a myriad inside me? I think not.

    Am I really the only one here to use more than one name here? I find that hard to believe although I guess it could be so.

    As I noted before too - isn’t what matters *what* is said & not *who* says it?

    I’ll abide by the BA’s judgement here anyhow, its his blog, but if its okay by him … Is it BA? Do you have an issue with my posting style and do you think I’m doing something wrong here?

  144. May be the problem is that all the advanced civilizations out there have the same political problems we have – leaders with no vision, who are much more inclined to invest money blowing up other countries and trying to control their resources, rather than investing in something like space travel…

  145. Ed S.

    In case any are interested, Paul Davies has written an excellent book on this very subject, titled “The Eerie Silence”. It’s new, and should be available in any good book store or through Amazon etc. I recommend it highly.

  146. Chris Winter

    James (#87) wrote: “One Discovery program stated that all our transmissions turn into unreadable noise about a light year out. “

    I’d like to know which program that was. If valid, the result is surprising. We’ve got some powerful radar transmitters — not only military, but scientific: the dish at Arecibo has been used to probe Venus with radar.

    I don’t know how accurate this calculator is, but it may provide some perspective.

    http://www.satsig.net/seticalc.htm
    SETI Range Calculator

  147. J.A

    To me alien intelligent life is common it’s just that we haven’t discovered them yet but i agree with zoo hypothesis in response to the fermi paradox, regarding the apparent absence of evidence in support of the existence of advanced extraterrestrial life. According to this hypothesis, aliens would generally avoid making their presence known to humanity, or avoid exerting an influence on human development, somewhat akin to zookeepers observing animals in a zoo, or experimental scientists observing a study that closer examination would ruin.Adherents of the hypothesis consider that Earth and humans are being secretly surveyed using equipment located on Earth or elsewhere in the Solar System which relays information back to the observers. It is also suggested that overt contact will eventually be made with humanity once humans reach a certain level of development. But I believe that almost intelligent life are not that hostile.

  148. Andy

    I think WE would be the inhospitable ones if humans and aliens ever met. As much as I admire Dr. Hawking, I don’t agree with him.

  149. As we have learned by watching the movie Avatar, space aliens always want to take the resources someone else needs and wants. They always want YOUR floating mountain, even if there’s a totally usable one right next to it free for the taking.

    Just saying.

  150. Stevie

    I found this article that takes on Stephen from a completely different angle – http://www.scientificblogging.com/temporal_mechanic/blog/hawking_borg_necromongers_rome_nazis_fringe_freejack_independence_day_and_fallacy_drake_equation .

    It really gave me something to think about. A very fresh perspective from this guy, Marshall Barnes.

  151. Phil, when I heard Stephen Hawking say that, I thought he was being sarcastic, in that us in the “Western” world destroyed a number of civilisations in the expansion from imperial Europe. Then why wouldn’t Aliens be that way in their Imperial Expansion across the Universe? Robots or not, it would still possibly be the end for Homo Sapian

  152. According to stephen hawking time is not constant it varies according to gravity and rotation of the planet etc…theroys but it is not a force or a physical quantiy to measure it .itis support to measure the physics mr hawiking said that there is no time in blackhole how could u imagine the motion or the forces moving or attracting the objects in blackhole .take aforce of nutrons in blackhole how much force it exerted on abody in an instant canoot be expressed without time ur explation about this is if we take a time clock into black hole it will not work it was the forces exerted by entering into black hole atmosphere thats it ….. but not the real change of the time
    the time has its existance according to its conditons
    But we cant say that in black hole time is zero

    Praneeth from India

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