Hawking advocates radio silence to avoid colonial alien incursions

Paul Raven @ 27-04-2010

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.


Aliens might be just like us… greedy, violent and short on resources

Paul Raven @ 26-01-2010

If you’re waiting patiently for saintly extraterrestrials to come and rescue us from our civilisational follies, you might want to reassess your hopes.

Simon ­Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary ­paleobiology at Cambridge University, suggests that aliens (should they ever arrive on Planet Earth, the likelihood of which is another question entirely) may well turn out to be more like us than we’d have thought… warts and all. [image by Markusram]

[…] while aliens could come in peace they are quite as likely to be searching for somewhere to live, and to help themselves to water, minerals and fuel, Conway Morris will tell a conference at the Royal Society in London tomorrow.

His lecture is part of a two-day conference at which experts will discuss how we might detect life on distant planets and what that could mean for society. “Extra-terrestrials … won’t be splodges of glue … they could be disturbingly like us, and that might not be a good thing – we don’t have a great record.

And here’s some soundbite action from Albert Harrison of the University of California, appearing at the same conference:

I do think there’s a risk in active searches for extra-terrestrials. The attitude seems to be they’re friendly, they’re a long way away, and they can’t get here. But if you wake up one morning and an armada of extra-terrestrial spaceships are circling Earth, that prediction won’t necessarily hold,” Harrison said.

If life has evolved elsewhere in our cosmic neighbourhood, we should find out by detecting their waste gases in the atmosphere of their planet or by discovering remnants of extra-terrestrial microbes in meteorites or alien soil samples, he said.

Harrison dismisses fears of public panic if alien life is discovered, of the kind which reportedly followed Orson Welles’ infamous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938.

“The public reaction was overstated. Most people who thought the broadcast was real took sensible actions to protect themselves,” Harrison said. “Surveys suggest most people think they will be fine, but they worry about others freaking out.”

Yeah, that makes sense. Or it will do, right up until the point when the aliens deploy their HUGE FRICKIN’ LASERS.

Given that the SETI people are somewhat emboldened by the flood of newly-discovered exoplanets [via Mark Chadbourn], perhaps we should keep a contingency plan on the back burner? “Git ’em afore they git ye”, as the saying goes…


UFO sightings coincide with UFO movies

Paul Raven @ 21-08-2009

flying saucersVia Futurismic‘s long-term good buddy Mac Tonnies come the results of an analysis of the UK MoD’s “x-files” documents, recently released to public scrutiny; apparently UFO sightings were more common around the times at which popular films or television shows featuring alien races or spacecraft were screened. [image by eek the cat]

The obvious conclusion here is “well, skiffy movies cause alien sightings; case closed”. But as Mac points out, that’s not logically sound:

There’s doubtlessly a correlation between science fiction and UFO reports. But while pop culture’s influence on potential UFO observers is a fascinating subject with important sociological ramifications, to flaunt Clarke’s findings as a refutation of the phenomenon in general is to willfully ignore the evidence in its entirety.

UFO researchers aren’t interested in “noise” cases — the inevitable false alarms that plague efforts to study the phenomenon (whatever its origin). Indeed, scientists who have addressed the UFO problem have always been painfully aware of the disproportionately high volume of false returns.

Now, you may more skeptical than Mac regarding the causes of UFO sightings, but his point still stands – divorce the logic from the specific subject matter, and the same applies to any sort of genuine scientific enquiry. I’m pretty sure this is what they call confirmation bias at work, and it makes me wonder how often it affects us…

… although it obviously happens often enough for it to be politically useful. 😉


Fermi Paradox solved?

Edward Willett @ 02-02-2009

fermi images Enrico Fermi asked a question that has troubled those searching for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations ever since: if the universe is teeming with advanced civilizations (as some solutions to the famous Drake equation would indicate), were are they? (From the physics arXiv blog via Improbable Research.)

Reginald Smith of the self-established Bouchet-Franklin Institute in Rochester, New York state, says in this paper, submitted to the International Journal of Astrobiology, that something is missing from the calculations: how far a signal from an advanced civilization can travel before it becomes too faint to hear. Factoring that in, he finds that:

Assuming the average communicating civilization has a lifetime of 1,000 years, ten times longer than Earth has been broadcasting, and has a signal horizon of 1,000 light-years, you need a minimum of over 300 communicating civilization in the galactic neighborhood to reach a minimum density.

Which means that even if there are a couple of hundred advanced civilizations in our galaxy, it’s quite likely none of them will ever notice the others…and our efforts at searching for extraterrestrial intelligence may be doomed.

(Image: Reginald Smith.)

[tags]astrobiology,SETI,aliens,space[/tags]


Listening to the Grays

Mac Tonnies @ 17-07-2008

Mac Tonnies - Loving the AlienMac Tonnies has been thinking about aliens – the Grays. What if they represent a sort of tangible psychosomatic feedback from our own distant future? Continue reading “Listening to the Grays”


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