Stephen Hawking is doing the promo rounds at the moment (hey, the guy has a new TV show to plug, you know how it goes), and his latest riff is that SETI is a risky business. After all, the arrival of Columbus didn’t work out to well for the indigenous peoples of the Americas, AMIRITE?
Hawking believes we would be well-advised to keep the volume down on our intergalactic chatter and do all we can to prevent any “nomadic” aliens moseying our way to take a look-see. Should they find us here tucked away in the inner reaches of the solar system, chances are they’d zap us all and pillage any resources they could get their hands on. Our own history, says Hawking, proves that first encounters very rarely begin: “Do take a seat. I’ll pop the kettle on. Milk? Sugar?”
“Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach,” says the theoretical physicist […] “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s pretty much what one Simon Conway Morris was telling the Royal Society back in January. I guess we’ve always seen The Other as a mirror for the worst aspects of ourselves… perhaps this is a sign that we’re really starting to come to terms with our nasty colonial pasts. Well, some of us, anyway.
That said – and as the chap at The Grauniad points out – it’s a bit late to tell us to keep the noise down now, after a century of gradually-increasing planet-wide broadcast output. If alien life exists, and if it really is anything like us on a cultural level, we’d better just hope we don’t have anything of use to them.