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Alien Invasion

Robin Hanson comments on David Brin’s response to a New Scientist editorial.

As Brin notes, many would-be broadcasters come from an academic area where for decades the standard assumption has been that aliens are peaceful zero-population-growth no-nuke greens, since we all know that any other sort quickly destroy themselves.  This seems to me an instructive example of how badly a supposed “deep theory” inside-view of the future can fail, relative to closest-related-track-record outside-view.  As Brin says, the track record of contact between cultures, species, and biomes is not especially encouraging, and it is far too easy for far-view minds to overestimate the reliability of theoretical arguments to the contrary.

In fact, it’s a lot worse than that.  As far as I can tell, nobody talking about interstellar contact has a model even vaguely close to a reasonable analysis of the situation.  Short form: these discussions are the equivalent of the natives of a Polynesian island deciding who shall be allowed to wave as the galleons heave into view.  Our own technology, today, is getting close to detecting Earth-like planets around other stars, for heaven’s sake.  The galleons see the island, not the waving.  Scientific elites declaring moratoria on SETI transmissions are about as important to the future of the human race as whether we call Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet.  The discussions are entirely about political dominance among scientists, and nothing to do with reality.

Reality is that any alien race out there with whom we have any kind of physical contact at all is virtually certain to have (a) full-fledged nanotech, and (b) hyperhuman AI.  Given these capabilities, if they want to find Earth-like planets anywhere in the area of space they would have the physical capability of travelling to, they will find them. Period. Doesn’t matter whether we are standing on the shore waving or not.

Of course, that assumes they are interested in Earth-like planets in the first place.  Most commentators on the subject seem to be stuck in E. E. Smith’s universe, worrying about whether the aliens who notice us will be the (kindly, academic) Norlaminians or the (evil, rapacious) Fenachrone. The aliens, wearing bodies like ours (or at least some form of animal life) will have spaceships and spacesuits and takeoff and land on planets and basically act like people on ocean-going boats.

Star travel is expensive; it costs on the order of a ship’s own mass in equivalent energy to get it up to relativistic speeds. Any culture capable of that will be at least a Kardashev Type I civilization, and most likely a Type II.  And the reason they’ll be doing star travel is to work their way up towards Type III.  Any sentient creatures that actually get here will be nanotech-based robots, not water-based organisms.  They won’t have spacecraft, they’ll be spacecraft.  They will be unlikely interested in the carbon-poor mudballs of the inner solar system, but reap abundant carbon from the outer planets and carbonaceous asteroids to build Dyson-sphere-like structures around the orbit of Mercury.

We simply aren’t going to see less sophisticated visitors due to the starship paradox: send a starship out now with all Earth’s current technological resources behind it, and then wait and send one in 50 years with full nanotech.  The second one gets there first.

We aren’t going to see any less ambitious visitors due to simple evolution: in a universe where the ultimate meaning of “carbon footprint” is the total mass of the superintelligent diamondoid robots you’ve built, spaceships burning cellulosic ethanol simply aren’t going to be anywhere near the fittest.  Indeed, cultures that aren’t inherently aggressive and ambitious aren’t going to put the effort into sending out starships at all.  The question is, what are they going to think of us, the thin layer of green slime coating an insignificant rock?

If I were an aggressive superintelligent nanotech robot, I would tend to place the boundary between “people” and “raw material” at the boundary of aggressive superintelligent nanotech robots and everything else.  I might — just might — make a sentimental exception for intelligent organic species such as my ancestors.  “Such as” in this case means intelligent organic species which are on a clear track to building aggressive superintelligent nanotech robots.

Or, of course, has already done so.  If you really want them to show up as friendly neighbors, start working on that Dyson Sphere yourself.

If, on the other hand, you’re a culture that has elevated cowardice (“Precautionary Principle”) to be its highest virtue … you’re just dirt.

43 Responses to “Alien Invasion”

  1. thrill Says:

    s/dirt/feedstock/

  2. William Blight Says:

    “These discussions are the equivalent of the natives of a Polynesian island deciding who shall be allowed to wave as the galleons heave into view.” is an interesting insight, in-as-much as the individual commenting is equally engaged in conceptual-spider-web weaving. The idea that the future will develop in discrete energy stages is also comedic. Be assured that individuals of power will control the future that best serves them. In this regard, the author of this article – and scientists in general – ignore history and political science; and conclude if something is logical and scientifically outlined, it will happen. Adolph Hitler used his V1′s, Truman his H-bomb, Wall Street their hyper-velocity trading programs; similarly the power elite will use AI to its own tribal ends. One should reasonably count on civilizations rising and crashing. So I wouldn’t bet against biological organisms traveling to other worlds unless you believe the fantasy that you will download into inorganic creations. If you do, someone, call it history, will be there to unplug you. You are mixing a strange brew of scientific fantasy divorced from our history. The singularity will in no way be a break from history; it will be another tool controlled by future Napoleons.

  3. William Says:

    There is the case of a civilization that stops short of developing strong nanotechnology and strong AI out of fear that it will be consumed/superceded and made extinct (consider Bill Joy’s “The Future Does’t Need Us.” Such a civilization may be operating under the assumption that the strong dominate the week and therefore they will always ensure that they are never dominated by either other biological organisms or post-biological intelligences of their own creation. This type of civilization would, therefore, have an interest and a motivation to travel abroad and seek domination over alien biospheres, and they would do so while embodied in a more or less biological form. They would have a particular interest in biotechnology as this affords continuous improvement in themselves with minimal risk of triggering a technological singularity. So, yes, ‘the Romulans’ may be out there.

  4. William Blight Says:

    Here’s an argument why we don’t see any type II or III civilizations – or even type I. There is no indication that advanced technology is compatible with full employment, the distribution of wealth or world peace. In fact our history indicates growing disparity and higher unemployment. Nor does advancing technology bring about global peace (perhaps because of the growing disparity and the weakening of the resource base). Science is the paid prostitute for the powers that be and they are organic, tribal mentalities with a nearly unlimited need to consume (bonuses among Wall Street)or make war. They can purchase brains (scientists)and technology that allows them to make money without actual labor or to destroy others without personal risk. Like the Motes, we are equally doomed by our organic proclivities. Oh, and this pie-in-the-sky dreaming about super-AI and singularities; it’s that same old religious thinking – except focused on secular deities. (Sure you’re going to be an uploaded immortal – hah, hah!) History indicates that Santa Claus isn’t going to be arriving – and if he does, don’t pick up the toys; they just might explode.

  5. James Gentile Says:

    Good blog post, I agree, aliens have to have nanorobotics and AI, we are a few years from these technologies and we can’t even send a man to our closest neighboring planet in our own solar system, but once we have these technologies we will be able to go to andromeda if we wanted to. It makes the UFO stuff kind of funny/stupid, if aliens want samples of our biology they do not need to ‘steal’ humans, they can have nanorobots harvest a few cells from our body, or they can take a human and fix their minds so that the human remembers nothing..These stories about clumnsy aliens trying to abduct humans and doing error prone mind wipes are just silly.

    William, if you want to be taken serious then you should write a book as detailed and thorough as Eric Drexler’s books on nanorobots and AI, detailing how these things will make no difference and how they can only be used by future napoleons… :rolleyes:

    So far I’ve never seen a book that advocated your viewpoint that was as scientifically sound as say, Nanosystems by Drexler, but hey keep hope alive, your clever worded pessimistic ludditism might actually be the way things are. /laugh.

  6. William Blight Says:

    James, let me note a few items: First I never stated that AI and nanobots will “only” be used by future Napoleons. The actual history of our planet would certainly indicate that individuals with these power proclivities could very well use or dominate their use. Consequently, whether Drexler is more scientifically valid in his argument for nanotechnology is completely irrelevant. Political powers and historical contingencies will determine how these devices are used. The pain of an atomic bomb dropped on your head or a nanobot injected into your bloodstream for nefarious reasons; could even tend to decrease the wide-eyed wonder a scientist feels when contemplating their creation – that and the fellows with rakes and torches chasing him or her. Perhaps a book that might equal Drexler’s in making my point – is any history book. (Ben Franklin observed that with the technology of his time no man should need to work more than 5 hours a day. Our modern major problem has never been technology.)

  7. Tim Tyler Says:

    re: “inherently aggressive” and “simple evolution” – for evolution between civilisations to produce much in the way of adaptations, there must be many civilisations – and selection between them should have gone on for a while. We may meet aliens before those conditions have been satisfied.

  8. Tim Tyler Says:

    Re: “nanotech-based robots, not water-based organisms”

    Water is the ultimate solvent – and is incredibly useful for nanotechnology – since it allows self-assembly of atomic-scale components via crystallisation. So, I figure future nanotech-based creatures are likely to be largely water-based too.

  9. William Blight Says:

    It just occurred to me that there is another suspect person who deals in pessimistic Luddite thinking, Stephan Hawking. He is so enthusiastic about our upcoming AI and nanobot future, he thinks we better start colonizing the nearby planets fast. And then again there is the great myth of the singularity that wide-eyed scientists (yes, even some at this site) indulge in. Yes, you can’t make any predictions after the singularity because Super-AI will break through the historical sound barrier. The future and what science can really accomplish for humanity will be broken over the back of such naive thinking. And by the way, I’m not a Luddite – such categories are useful for individuals that want to bypass actual thinking. If you intend to comment on an individuals posts, you should be able to accurately state his or her position. Those who can not learn from history I’m going to refer to as “Historonics”. I am also going to refer to those who are inclined to see the future without any historical or political context as “Historonics”.

  10. Valkyrie Ice Says:

    2 things.

    at Josh. Any civilization such as that which you describe has likely had more than sufficient time to have discovered us. We are still alive. Ergo, such a civilization has either not discovered us, which considering the age of the universe is a near impossibility, or they are not aggressive towards us. Therefore, your assumption that any civilization that travels the stars MUST be aggressive, and genocidal towards less advanced beings seems somewhat flawed. It is rooted in single example of advanced life we have, which is far to limited a sample to make such broad claims over. And in truth, it’s a pretty moot point, since we do not even really know if space travel is as difficult for a highly advanced intelligence. Our understanding of physics with our current intellect could prove to be about as deep as a mudpuddle, and only appearing deep because we are intellectual ants.

    at William Blight. Tyrants are an unlikely future, because tyranny requires control of information first, last, and always. Our history has illustrated this beyond a doubt. Once the control of information was lost, the dictators lost power. This is inevitable. Our history has been one of continually taking the control of information away from the few, and spreading it to the masses. Writing allowed the taking of lore from the shaman and making it accessible to a larger circle. The printing press shattered the hold of the church on the bible and all other forms of learning, and enabled the scientific revolutions that followed. And now the internet has taken control of information away from anyone. We are already seeing the collapse of a dictatorship that have lasted for decades in Iran, and the American system is undergoing a massive shakeup as it is being forcibly made transparent. I understand your view, but it is based in an erroneous assumption about the basis of power. Information is the sole basis of all power. Loss of control of information, as the internet is proving, removes the very foundation on which power is built.

  11. William Blight Says:

    Dear Valkyrie Ice, if the future is so rosy – why is Stephan Hawking so strongly in favor of space colonization to save humanity? Usually, I see such gushing optimism from individuals who haven’t been in war – or who haven’t studied the blood-stained 20th Century. Also, individuals who may be relatively insulated from our present economic decline – and recent near complete crash. (Oh, and it still may happen.) Societies have collapsed for many reasons (political, environmental, etc.), and we are probably only here because of a climatic fluke. Perhaps in certain ivory towers, information trumps every other historic process. Yet, I still see Putin in Russia – and the Communist Party in China. I also note that many of our freedoms were challenged during the recent Bush administration. Fear and propaganda are still very effective control mechanisms. Yet, despite many historic observations to the contrary, you see civilization as being dominated by ONE super-duper force, “Information is the sole basis of all power,” you pontificate. I can only conclude that this simplistic generalization supports my judgment of Historonic thinking. And I once again state that such naive thinking may doom our future. By the way, there are many informed parties that do not see the internet leading to a new golden age – its not just information but wealth and political power which can guide and control information which will shape our future. Just ask Rupert Murdock or watch Glenn Beck on Fox news. Their helping many people with their information needs.

  12. Tom Billings Says:

    William, while I share your fear that lack of historical knowledge will make for missteps, I would abjure you to think of more than what we often call “power.” This is political power and is most often expressed in a social hierarchy, as a control mechanism. Note, however, that hierarchy is *not* the only way humans organize themselves. Indeed, when they try to make that the *only* relationship between people, they starve society of productivity.

    That is why, in spite of “power” in the hands of the political class and those they accumulate as hangers-on, networks are always co-existent with hierarchies. It is the communicating networks of human beings that actually have the ability to produce more than people can produce as the simple sum of single individuals. Without networks “the powerful” starve with the rest of us.

    Yes, those at the tops of social hierarchies strive to keep the wealth of productive networks under their control. Still, the very nature of networks to communicate slides information, and wealth, out and around a hierarchy’s restrictions. It just takes time. With “the internet”, it takes less time.

    So, at worst, the future will not contain a hierarchy which crushes all the advances Josh speaks of for very long. Halting technical advance will starve any hierarchy that succeeds in this goal. It just takes time.

    To the extent the hierarchs *are* able to make wealth flow their way, and away from more productive uses, they will slow us a bit, true. But that is a partial and temporary slow-down. Indeed, as the industrial revolution continues to embrace larger percentages of our species, it becomes harder to slow the advances of industrial society, because the hierarchies have a hard time agreeing on who will direct a world-wide market/technical repression. Just look at what happened in Copenhagen as an example.

    No, I don’t think “Post-Industrial Society” is anything more than a 1960s-era fantasy, concocted to keep people from noticing that as “the socialist camp” kept proclaiming they would outproduce societies with greater market freedoms, they were rapidly falling behind in productivity. As industrial society spreads, we *do* have waves of reaction against it, such as “the socialist camp”, but so far they have failed to halt its advance. Indeed, what others call “The Singularity”, I see as a culmination of the advances industrial networks and their enabling technologies have accomplished since such networks started to grow exponentially after about 1750. It is not, however, a culmination that need end advance. Far from it, it will shatter many human groups, but the pieces will remain, and grow into something new.

    The old hunter-gatherer cultures were massively changed by the combination of the Younger Dryas Event and the agriculture that event made so neccessary to so many people just to stay alive. Just as certain industrial attributes can be seen centuries before the beginnings of its exponential growth, it is now becoming known that agriculture-like activities preceded the Younger Dryas Event by millenia. In each case, however, the hierarchies humans naturally made could not suppress the networks necessary to social the changes without starving themselves.

    If there is anything in our future like a “Singularity”, it may happen smoothly, as far as acceptance by hierarchies, or it may require an event like the Younger Dryas, to help people see the light. It all just takes time. The fact that hierarchs exist does *not* mean that the results of productive networks will be crushed, …it means it will take longer than I, for one, would like, that’s all.

  13. Valkyrie Ice Says:

    @ William. Feel free to believe as you will, but your pessimism doesn’t change the reality that information is the sole means to power. Money is little more than an agreed upon medium of exchange, easily lost through manipulation of information, political power is gained an lost through control of information as well, as any politician could tell you. Napoleon and Hitler both rose to power through manipulation of information.

    You can view the world thorough as dark a lens as you wish, but it still does not change the fact that there are fewer wars than ever on this planet, and far fewer dictators than at any point in history, and those are far more restricted in their power than any who have come before. Yes, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history, but the decades since then have seen fewer and fewer deaths due to war and tyranny every year. Simply put, the numbers don’t support your pessimism.

  14. William Blight Says:

    To Valkyrie Ice and Tom Billings, I hate to be repetitious, but if the future is so rosy, why does Stephen Hawkins believe we need a vigorous colonization plan? Of course, this is an appeal to authority to someone who may have a limited knowledge of history – but then we are not looking at credentials at this point. In regards to Valkyrie’s comment, “Yes, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history, but the decades since then have seen fewer and fewer deaths due to war and tyranny every year.” Need I point out that we are ONE DECADE removed from the 20th century – and that blood has vigorously flowed in – lets see – Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, and a number of African countries whose names escape me. And if I agree with Valkyrie that information is the sole source of power (which I don’t) and that both Hitler and Napoleon arose through the manipulation of information, but that this leads directly to fewer dictators – Well, here’s what I think: dictators and power elites can evolve into new forms (robber barons, corporations, insiders clubs, and Wall Street). And that these entities with money and political power can evolve new forms of control that can be highly dangerous and destructive to the world’s overall health and order.
    I would also like to point out that I am a pessimist on one major point, Tom feels that the march of progress may be delayed by a few possible negative historical trends, but won’t even be stopped by another ice age. As the Greeks pointed out, old men are pessimists and younger ones optimists. (The young have not yet fully observed or experienced how badly things can go wrong.) I would be more optimistic if those who develop technology took a far greater interest in world affairs and economic fairness; it will be too late when the barbarians are at the gates.

  15. William Blight Says:

    Oh, I do have one other major pessimistic fear: Humans may not yet be evolved enough to successfully manage an interdependent, global economy. It may seem counter intuitive when others are imagining Super AI and nanobots, but its humanity’s track record that worries me. (And you can study those facts at your leisure.) Yes, besides there being a hell of a lot of bloodletting and financial shenanigans, there’s also a lot of overly simplistic thinking: AI or the Internet will change everything – it’s an unbreakable linear progression, etc. Under the hood unfortunately, you will still find a slightly modified ape brain prone to delusion, religious as well as technological idolatry.

  16. Jeremy Reaban Says:

    The thing is, discussions like this are always based on what we (or whoever writing the article) thinks technology will be like in the future. And yet, unless you are Arthur C. Clarke, you are probably wrong.

    It’s easy to say “Oh course they’ll have nanotechnology”. But that’s just projection, no different than Doc Smith and company. Maybe a bit more informed, but still just projection.

    Beyond that, there’s a difference between having technology and using it. Cultural differences play a big role there, look at the divide between the US/EU on things like Nuclear energy (we’re scared of it in the US), Biotech (scares the Europeans), etc. Now imagine what an entirely alien race would be like. We have no idea what they think like

  17. hitnrun Says:

    Hopefully, with Star Trek in decline*, we can get past the mythology of mostly peaceful aliens and the magical High Fantasy of space travel that seems to dominate most futurism.

    Here’s a wild guess: most other solar systems are just like ours. In fact, if Fermi’s Paradox were to prove out, most other solar systems are just like ours except more boring. Most of what we’re likely to find in space exploration will be the same dirt and gas that we have in the local light year. That’s not to say we shouldn’t explore space, or that we’re somehow wrong for being intrigued by it, but we shouldn’t expect that kids (or diamondoid organisms) 300 years hence are going to give a hoot about whether the latest planet is “Earth-like.”

    *The new movie, while a blast, doesn’t provide the same sort of mesmerizing, encyclopedic vision of the universe that has caused so many to envision a future full of space elves, tachyon pulses, and general high adventure.

  18. Koblog Says:

    The question is, what are they going to think of us, the thin layer of green slime coating an insignificant rock?

    The metaphysical ramifications of this statement is indeed significant.

    Answer: “They” have told us: this “insignificant rock” is very significant. The Creator — a Being so beyond us (as you describe) that we pale by comparison into that “green slime” — put on that green slime body (the dust of the earth–”dirt,” if you will) and dwelt among us for awhile. And we beheld His glory.

    Further, He was not simply an intergalactic visitor. He came in peace and with love.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosover would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    Sorry, I don’t see an “insignificant rock” populated by “green slime.”

    I see life, the most amazing thing in the universe. You seriously underestimate how wonderful, unique and valuable this world is.

    Evolution — the belief we are mere accidents of chance — has blinded you and belittled us all.

  19. Pink Pig Says:

    I think there are quite a lot of similar issues with predicting the future. For example, SETI can only succeed if no further progress in communications technology is possible, which seems unlikely. Radio waves will likely be obsolete on earth within a couple of hundred years at the outside, just as tallow for candles is now.

  20. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater Says:

    http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Star-Charles-Pellegrino/dp/0688139892

    DAMMIT QUINCY JONES!! YOU’VE KILLED US ALL!

  21. reliapundit Says:

    you wrote:

    The question is, what are they going to think of us, the thin layer of green slime coating an insignificant rock?

    THEY WILL BE JEALOUS – AS ANGELS WERE.

    THESE UNFEELING DIAMONDOID NANOBOTS WILL BE JEALOUS OF OUR SENSATIONS, OUR SENSUAITY, OUR EMOTIONS AND OUR FAITH.

  22. J. T. Kirk Says:

    They’re made out of Meat
    by Terry Bisson

    “They’re made out of meat.”

    “Meat?”

    “Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

    “Meat?”

    “There’s no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

    “That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars.”

    “They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

    “So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

    “They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

    “That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

    “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they’re made out of meat.”

    “Maybe they’re like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”

    “Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take too long. Do you have any idea the life span of meat?”

    “Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside.”

    “Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.”

    “No brain?”

    “Oh, there is a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat!”

    “So… what does the thinking?”

    “You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

    “Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

    “Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”

    “Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”

    “Finally, Yes. They are indeed made out meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.”

    “So what does the meat have in mind?”

    “First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the universe, contact other sentients, swap ideas and information. The usual.”

    “We’re supposed to talk to meat?”

    “That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there? Anyone home?’ That sort of thing.”

    “They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?”

    “Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.”

    “I thought you just told me they used radio.”

    “They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.”

    “Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?”

    “Officially or unofficially?”

    “Both.”

    “Officially, we are required to contact, welcome, and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in the quadrant, without prejudice, fear, or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing.”

    “I was hoping you would say that.”

    “It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”

    “I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say?” `Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?”

    “Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.”

    “So we just pretend there’s no one home in the universe.”

    “That’s it.”

    “Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you have probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?”

    “They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.”

    “A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat’s dream.”

    “And we can mark this sector unoccupied.”

    “Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”

    “Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again.”

    “They always come around.”

    “And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the universe would be if one were all alone.”

    Editor’s note: This story is © Copyright by Terry Bisson and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author. If you like the story, please visit Terry Bisson’s Website and check out his books.

  23. Andy Says:

    What if humanity IS the most advanced life in the universe? What if we’re the ones who’re supposed to lead the way, and everyone else is gobs of mud by comparison?

    I mean, one of the civilizations has the be the FIRST one, right? And no doubt they’d also be telling each other, “Statistically speaking, it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re the first.” To which someone else would reply, “Statistically speaking, it’s incredibly unlikely that there’s any other life out there.” To which someone else would point out, “Statistically speaking, there are probably diamond-droids coming here right now to punch you both in the face.”

  24. K Says:

    Human history is rife with examples of “It was assumed that .. ” and “what they didn’t understand…”. Making pronouncements about what advanced aliens will be or won’t be based on the opinions of the futuristas de jour is just as dumb as assuming Ming the Merciless is waiting behind Neptune. IOWs, how’s that nuclear fusion working out for you these days?

    So a little humility might be in order when broadcasting our whereabouts to the universe. I note that the precautionary principle is in high vogue right now with respect to AGW. In that case the cost of taking out insurance is remaking the economy and quite possibly the culture. Whereas not sending out “Come and get it!” on the airwaves only costs the egos of a few human hating space cadets. That seems like a good deal to me.

  25. Alien Invasion | Testimony & Evidence Says:

    [...] Of course, that assumes they are interested in Earth-like planets in the first place… [...]

  26. Matthew Jay Says:

    Blight the Patriot Act that caused so much concern by some folks on the left because it challenged our freedoms during the Bush Administration was extended by the Obama Administration. The Democratic controlled House and Senate just voted to extend it again. Why doesn’t it challenge our freedoms any more? If it was bad during one Administration why it not bad in the next? Perhaps it was just bad political rhetoric.

  27. WestVirginiaRebel Says:

    This is a subject which, unfortunately, too many science fiction shows (and writers) tend to overlook, ut does offer a realistic answer to the Drake Equation. Also, we seem to project our own hopes and fears on alien species that might not think the way we do at all-who knows what might compel them to explore and why they might ignore us? Not to mention a little arrogant on our part. As for civilizations, any technology that can be exploited can also be misused. We have had nuclear energy-our best bet at getting to Alpha Centauri with our current or near future technology-for sixty years now and nearly came close to destroying ourselves with it at least once. So, any society that has managed to get past that stage might well be invested in self-protection from species that haven’t.

    As far as warp drives are concerned, neither they nor wormholes are beyond the realm of quantum physics; just our current level of technology due partly to the amount of energy required (“Serious” futurists and engineer types don’t seem to allow for technological advancements when making their predictions based on current abilities-something else I’ve noticed, which is partly why genuine science fiction is so appealing).

  28. Frank Derfler Says:

    Thanks much for this essay. Since you have extended my thinking, I’m impressed and think you’re bright and right. I am familiar with the Drake Equation, but more of a fan of the Fermi Paradox. I am never convinced that the number of tool-using space-faring civilizations is large. I don’t subscribe to the school of “they blow themselves up.” I believe they never develop! Life in the universe? Absolutely… in abundance. Tool-using technologists? Not so much. In fact, not many at all.

    But, if they do evolve, then I must agree with William Blight: “I wouldn’t bet against biological organisms traveling to other worlds” .. though I would add “under some circumstances.” As I tell my children and grand children… If Aliens come, hide! They either want to eat you, take your resources, or convert you to their religion. At least two of these things are best done, “in person.”

    Yes, those circumstances would be tied to personal or social power and yes, that is pure cultural projection.

  29. Toads Says:

    SETI and the Singularity.

  30. TheRadicalModerate Says:

    I’m a bit bemused at the idea that an alien civilization will have the same technological strengths and weaknesses as ours. Different mental processes, different computational tools, and different environments are likely to produce aliens that are incomprehensibly advanced in some things and appear to be abject idiots in others. (I actually know a few software engineers like this, but that’s another story…)

    The only thing you can count on is that whatever listeners and/or visitors we acquire, they will have been subject to hundreds of millions of years of natural selection. Since evolution is all about finding better ways to hog the other guy’s resources, I’m not sanguine about first contact being an unqualified Good Thing.

    There is, of course, the solution to the Fermi Paradox that asserts that the really successful civilizations learned to shut up, before somebody came along and shut them up. I’d tend to be pretty cautious about the Intergalactic Puppy Dog Strategy. I certainly agree with Brin that the decision to shoot our mouths off is a public policy issue at the very least.

  31. Brett_McS Says:

    From the proponents of pan-spermia: the nano-bots (microbes) have already arrived and they is us.

  32. John Blake Says:

    Ultra high-tech exemplars of million-year old civilizations achieve virtual immortality as hyper-linked symbionts of an Emergent Order. Called Anunnaki, “High Shining Ones,” they have been subliminal features of human myth and legend from at least the Black Sea Flood of c. BC 5200, when New Atlantis fell away.

    These entities range worlds-on-worlds not by crude mechanical acceleration but by quantum-physical navigation of hyper-geometric, probabilistic reference-frames: To reach anywhere in n-dimensional space/time, just make it 100% probable that you are there already.

    This requires, first, converting not matter but space-time to energy as a factorial function; and second, instantaneous navigational computing whereby any and all possible “paths” are plotted simultaneously as if the Universe were but a “singular event,” a point-particle paradoxically subject to correlation, super-position, in accordance with principles of Planck, Noether, and John Bell. A grain of supra-dimensional White Gold could explode the solar system like a stick of dynamite in a rotten apple.

    As to communication, as well address prayers to god-kings atop the great ziggurat of Chonga-zaubil (“Babel”) in Old Babylon, Tintar. As recent outbreaks of Crop Circles show, Watchers foster a mysterious agenda. They are very old and very powerful, and they have their ways… once we have joined them, we will understand.

  33. CG Says:

    Anyone who has any experience with smoke detectors understands why robots will never take over the earth.

  34. Peter Says:

    Fef:Brett_McS
    I’m with you, my dad always said I was nothing like him.
    As for Pan spermia the guilt will always be with me, mea culpa,mea culpa. I have now moved to wetwipes.

  35. James Says:

    I like the concept of nanotechnology AI robots as a mode of space exploration. My problem with the article is it assumes an alien culture would have similar values and judgments as to what the consider “expensive”.
    It is not logical to assume motivations and standards of an alien species to be relative in that manner.
    If this article were presented as merely an option of possibility instead of the “most likely” I would have no real problem with this article.
    Broad assumptions are not science and they are ultimately destructive in the process of heading towards scientific truths.

  36. robomatic Says:

    Visualize a world at peace. Visualize a world that has overcome violence and weapons of mass distruction, that has come to universal peace and harmony.

    Now visualize us taking over that world, because they’d never be able to defend themselves from us in time!

  37. my conscience Says:

    I might suggest doing a little research into the Mayan “Tun” calendar. The development of consciouness as a whole on/of our planet, in our galaxy, and apparently in our universe next may yield interesting results. “You are only conscious of what you pay attention to…” may make the temperment of alien life-forms directly related to how we (the conscious collective) percieve them. I’d like to elaborate, but using an on-screen keyboard is killing me…… percievably :)

  38. patrick stephens at psjs.net » Alien contact Says:

    [...] came across this the other day (HT Instapundit)  which cheerily discusses the problems inherent in plausibly [...]

  39. Ryk E. Spoor Says:

    I’ve seen those arguments before, and they encounter a number of roadblocks — at least if, as you appear to, they are stated as “this IS the way things MUST be”.

    First, of course, is the Fermi Paradox; if it was like that, why haven’t they already come through here and converted our solar system? If any other intelligent beings had evolved in our galaxy, and your description of their progression was inevitable, a few million years headstart on us (hardly an eyeblink on the cosmic scale) and they should not already have been here, but already be deconstructing our solar system for use as raw materials. And their Dyson spheres should be practically filling the sky.

    Second, speaking purely as a meaty intellect who’s read Frankenstein and watched Terminator, there’s some reason to believe that the meaty types might be highly reluctant to MAKE hyperintelligent AIs. I have little interest in seeing some non-human set of machines one day deconstruct planets and build Dyson Spheres. Human beings doing those things as the directors of the machines, yes. But not creating machines that would consider me to be nonintelligent. Thanks, no, been there, read that story.

    Third, unless there’s some immensely important reason to travel to other solar systems, star travel using your assumptions is, well, unlikely. Why WOULD you send out nanoconversion probes to begin with? What do you get out of it?

  40. Troythulu’s Fluxus Quo « The Call of Troythulu Says:

    [...] Alien Invasion — Here’s a piece on what alien contact might likely be like — not biological ETIs, but sentient nanotech robots, who would probably not ride around in a starship — they’d BE the starship. This has a nice usage of the Kardashevian concept of Type I , II , and III civilizations, the most likely candidates for extraterrestrial contact for those of us living on this pale blue dot… [...]

  41. A realistic look at a close encounter of the third kind « David Kirkpatrick Says:

    [...] @ 4:09 pm This post from J. Storrs Hall at Nanodot, the blog of the Foresight Institute, offers a dystopian, and realistic, view of how mankind’s first encounter with extraterrestrial intell… will likely play [...]

  42. Travis Says:

    Ya i guess the debate on whether pluto is a planet or not is dwarfed by the threats of aliens, i think we should monitor humans waving at the galleons

  43. edhardyly Says:

    they should not already have been here, but already be deconstructing our solar system for use as raw materials. And their Dyson spheres should be practically filling the sky.

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