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Don't Talk To Aliens, Warns Stephen Hawking 1015

Posted by Soulskill
from the even-if-they-have-candy dept.
Megaport writes "Promoting his new series on the Discovery channel, Stephen Hawking has given an interview to the Times in which 'he has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all that it can to avoid any contact.' He says, 'I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach. ... If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans.' Personally, I've always thought that the indigenous people of the world really had no chance to avoid contact here on such a small planet, but is hiding under our collective bed an option for humanity in the wider galaxy?"
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Don't Talk To Aliens, Warns Stephen Hawking

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  • His Master's Voice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:17AM (#31973526) Journal
    Interesting that I should wake up to find this article when I finished reading Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice last night before going to bed. It's one of the earliest books I've read that deals seriously with communications from space. I won't get into the details fo the book [wikipedia.org] but instead pose equally speculative assumptions about advanced life that contradict Hawking (a man much respected in my eyes).

    As humans have "advanced" over the past two thousand years, it is apparent that killing each other is simply not productive. Well, this is apparent to me anyway. And I would argue that although the numbers have probably gone up for homicide on a world wide scale, there is far less nationalistic or religious conflict on the Earth today and the percentages of death related to that have dropped drastically since World War II. Were it not for this movement towards sanity and science, a lot of our technological advances would have been inhibited by 1) the effort it takes to exterminate your neighbor and 2) being killed by your neighbor. While military research brings advancements in other fields, the primary goal is stopping the enemy. Had scientists that invented napalm at Dow Chemical been given the same amount of resources to invent more efficient fuels and engines, I've no doubt they could have.

    Simply put: why is it that we assume an "advanced" civilization means that it is militarily advanced and not ethically advanced? Those two categories are not mutually exclusive and I would argue that any alien race not ethically advanced before becoming militarily advanced will simply continue to focus on killing each other. I will also posit that intergalactic travel is near impossible without the ability to understand anthropology. Using this logic, I would wager that the nomadic roving death squads are no more likely than the aliens in Asimov's Childhood's End [wikipedia.org] that show up and help us technologically as well as ethically (we've still got quite a ways to go in some areas more than others).

    It's hard to agree with Hawking's assumption of aliens as it's more apparent they would simply die out from lack of resources before ever finding their first victims. I suppose all I have to offer is science fiction references since that's all that's being discussed here.
  • by dotancohen (1015143) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:21AM (#31973550) Homepage

    They may be neither militarily advanced nor ethically advanced. They may simply be looking for more resources to exploit. Why assume that they either have a concept of ethics, that their ethics might apply to us, or that taking resources would be unethical in their view?

  • by boaworm (180781) <boaworm@gmail.com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:22AM (#31973564) Homepage Journal

    Given how large the universe is, we don't even have to hide. As it seems hard to travel faster than light, we should be pretty safe :-)

  • by Oceanplexian (807998) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:26AM (#31973594) Homepage
    I think we vastly overestimate how important we are.

    An alien race isn't going to travel light-years to have a cup of tea any more than we would travel to a remote corner of the earth to make peace with the native bacteria.
  • Don't panic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bearhouse (1034238) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:27AM (#31973604)

    The way things are going, in a few more centuries either we'll have wiped ourselves out, or Earth will be a massive polluted desert...

  • Based on....? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thedbp (443047) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:30AM (#31973636)

    Hmmmm .... Sounds like someone is making wild, baseless assumptions, and projecting humankind's shortcomings onto a hypothetical extraterrestrial species ...

    Trust me, if we see aliens on Earth, it'll be representatives of our former race who represent those that WEREN'T stranded on this hunk of rock called Earth... And if they kill us, it'll be a mercy killing after seeing how far we'd fallen from our once great status as gaurdians of peace and brotherhood throughout the galaxy.

    See? I can make baseless claims too.

  • by hansraj (458504) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:32AM (#31973654)

    I know that projecting human values to any alien life form is heavily criticized, and you can't say with absolute certainty that any (technically advanced) alien life would share our ethics. Nevertheless I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that they would.

    It is safe to assume that any technically advanced life form would be a social life form and would rely on groups as opposed to mere individuals for making leaps in technical progress. And that necessitates evolution of characteristics like empathy, altruism and so on. It is not a stretch to assume that they would project their thoughts on to others the same way we do.

    Of course we can't be 100% sure, but it is still a reasonable thought.

  • by cherokee158 (701472) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:34AM (#31973674)

    "Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror." --Ming the Merciless

  • by bhagwad (1426855) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:41AM (#31973756) Homepage
    It wouldn't be so good for them either. If they want to colonize the planet, destroying all life forms and making Earth radioactive would hardly be the best way to go about it.
  • by garcia (6573) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:46AM (#31973804) Homepage

    I have also been saying this all along but I disagree with you on this point:

    The enormity of the effort they would have to mount given the physics of space travel would be rather significant, and at great cost to themselves.

    Who's to say that they just don't think differently than we do? Just because we have a mental block about a particular bit of physics does not mean that they do too. I find it hard to believe that if they think like we do but have solved the physics problem of near light-speed travel that they wouldn't be able to handle their own natural resources for their population.

  • by gaspyy (514539) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:48AM (#31973826)

    Not necessarily.

    Aliens could have a hive-like society, similar to ants or bees, where the individual is nothing. Surely you remember Ender's Game and its idea that the conflict was ultimately caused by the difference in society - the aliens could not comprehend an advanced society made of individuals alone. A hive-based society may discard empathy as inefficient. As a side-note, I think this is the direction of the reimagined "V" series - I think the aliens are "bug-like" rather that "lizard-like".

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:48AM (#31973832) Homepage Journal

    Pretty unlikely. Once a mutation arose that caused some of the little green men to beat up the other little green men, the aggressive little green men would soon be the majority.

  • by pudge (3605) * Works for Slashdot <.slashdot. .at. .pudge.net.> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:53AM (#31973890) Homepage Journal

    ALL security is effectively through obscurity. Because it's impossible to prove any security method to be secure, any and all security measures are put in place with the hope that any adversary doesn't know how to defeat those measures.

    Not true. Take the game of chess, for example. Everything in chess is right out in the open. There may be some misdirection involved, but nothing is actually hidden from the adversary. Yet you still have security measures in place.

    You don't put armed guards outside a military outpost in the hope that the enemy won't know HOW to defeat them; you just hope they won't try, because it's too difficult or costly. And if they do try, you will defeat them mostly with brute force, not with anything hidden or secretive.

  • Earth Resources? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich @ a o l.com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:57AM (#31973920) Journal

    Ummm.. if they have intergalactic travel capability, they would be able to get any resource they needed from a much nearer source. After all, every resource we use here on earth is available in vastly larger quantities elsewhere in the Universe than on our tiny little rock. Every resource here came from somewhere else, remember?

    The argument that they would come here looking for resources is simply asinine.

  • by insufflate10mg (1711356) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:58AM (#31973922)

    You're applying how the average human acts to how you expect aliens to act.

    No he's applying how advanced intelligence works on Earth to how it would work anywhere else it would develop. Advanced intelligence, meaning humans compared to dogs). The foundation of his argument is that intelligence is intelligence (regardless of the organism it manifests itself in) and eventually resource-related economic principles combined with the essence of conflict will bend the curve in our favor. If you're going to counter his argument, adolescent "but alienz are different!" statements aren't going to work.

  • by jav1231 (539129) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:00AM (#31973940)
    It's equally plausible that they might only apply these moral, ethical, and altruistic ideals to their own as humans have done for generations and continue to do so. Many nations today still think nothing of viewing those who are not their own as less then themselves, be it for nationalistic or religious reasons. I think Hawking's idea isn't without merit. We simply can't assume they're here for good any more than we can assume they're here for ill. But to be safe, assume the worse. I can buy that. Besides, in all those sci-fi movies it's the guy who goes up to shake the alien's hand that dies first! :p
  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:02AM (#31973968)

    But there's the basic problem that if they have no problem with taking resources from another civilization, what problem do they have with taking resources from each other?

    You are making the fundamental assumption that any random group of aliens would view us as "people". Given, as an example, the number of species we recognize as "people" currently, that's quite a stretch.

  • Self-unawareness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dr.g (158917) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:06AM (#31974008) Homepage Journal

    Our species, up to and including our most advanced thinkers*, is too wedded to unexamined assumptions and too fond of creating self-referential aphorisms and/or ironic maxims to realistically model first contact with non-human species.

    *-apparently.

  • by flajann (658201) <flajann&linuxbloke,com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:14AM (#31974090) Homepage Journal

    I have also been saying this all along but I disagree with you on this point:

    The enormity of the effort they would have to mount given the physics of space travel would be rather significant, and at great cost to themselves.

    Who's to say that they just don't think differently than we do? Just because we have a mental block about a particular bit of physics does not mean that they do too. I find it hard to believe that if they think like we do but have solved the physics problem of near light-speed travel that they wouldn't be able to handle their own natural resources for their population.

    Mental block? Think about it for a moment.

    Never before have we had so many minds looking at this problem than in our entire history.Today we have a tremendous number of physicists, many yearning to venture into space, and none of them have come up with the solution.

    Applying basic statistics here, the longer it takes, the less likely a solution will be found. If there were a way we would've found it by now, I think. Or be on the edge of finding it.

    So the probability decreases asymptotically with time. Physics is physics. Baryonic matter is baryonic matter. There's only so much you can do with baryonic matter and electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces and gravitation. That is the set of blocks in our "lego construction set" we have to work with.

    Now maybe something more exotic will be discovered by the LHC or future particle experiments, but I strongly doubt it. I don't think it's just that we can't "think out of the physics box". I'm saying that it is extremely unlikely that anything lies outside of that "physics box" that we'd (or any other civilization) find useful for interstellar space travel.

  • by KDR_11k (778916) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:17AM (#31974124)

    Security is not meant to be absolute but in cryptography the goal is to make cracking the information take longer than the information remains relevant. For example we know how to break an RSA cipher but that doesn't mean it's feasible. Security through obscurity means that your security is based on the principle that your opponent doesn't know how it works. With a good cipher figuring out what algorithm you used is only a tiny step in the process of cracking it and finding the actual parameters for the algorithm will consume the vast majority of the time. A publicly known algorithm has more eyes looking at it and finding weaknesses/countermeasures, an "obscure" algorithm is usually created specifically for one task, sees significantly less review and may (read: most likely will) contain flaws that would allow an attacker to break it with little effort once he figures out how the algorithm works.

    It is not the algorithm that must remain secret, it's the key used with it.

    Anyway, in this case it's more like stealth than cryptography.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning.netzero@net> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:25AM (#31974226) Homepage Journal

    While I'm not necessarily disputing the argument here, I would like to know what possible resource we might have on the Earth that can't be found much, much more abundantly and in a form much easier to obtain elsewhere that can only be found on the Earth? Here are some common favorites in science fiction stories:

    • Water - Only the most abundant chemical compound in the universe, made up of two of the most common elements in the universe. Even in our own solar system, there are whole worlds made up of mostly water ice and major bodies, like comets, that literally announce their existence with a massive display of water. There may be "local" shortages of water (however you may define it), but it is incredibly common and easy to find this stuff. You certainly wouldn't need to engage in an interstellar or better an intergalactic journey just to get some extra water from little ol' Earth. There is enough water ice in the solar system (in chunks movable with human technology) to completely submerge the surface of Mars with a massive ocean, including Olympus Mons and not even touch the oceans of the Earth. Studies of other stellar planetary systems seem very likely to have the same quantity of free ice and perhaps even more than our relatively older solar system.
    • Meat - This is an argument that simply defies logic.... that somehow the aliens are going to "eat" us. Particularly given that we live in an industrial society, modern humans is one of the worst possible sources of protein that you can come from. We are top predators with a lifetime of accumulated chemicals, heavy metals, and parasites that would be and are lethal to anybody eating that kind of flesh. If an aliens society simply needed the protein for survival, I'm sure there are several rather large food processing corporations that would gladly provide domestic livestock in sufficient quantities to more than satisfy their needs anyway. How many McDonald's Hamburgers do these aliens really want and why is that not sufficient to be sold by.... McDonald's?
    • Unobtainium - More to the point, some sort of rare convergence of ultra rare elements that somehow made the formation of the Solar System unique, and some super-heavy element that also happens to be radioactively stable is found in our Solar System in quantities sufficient to send a massive mining party out to wipe out a species [imdb.com] to get that mineral. Again, what possible mineral might this be? I admit that detailed geologic surveys of the whole solar system have yet to be done in significant quantity, but I think we got a pretty good idea of what elements are "out there" and based on stellar spectra we are quite confident that those same elements... at least to Uranium... are in fairly significant quantities.
    • Labor - Sort of back to the meat argument, but this time the aliens are needing "thinking" meat to get everything accomplished. Presuming that these aliens got into space starting from a planet somewhat like the Earth (why else are they coming here?) implies a certain minimum industrial base. More to the point, slavery generally has not been economical and there are usually significant alternatives to slavery even in those human civilizations where it was tried... where ultimately automated machines in some fashion ended up improving the productivity far better than what a slave could produce. When a horse can plow a field for less grain than you can feed a team of people to till and cultivate the same acreage, you use a horse. Again... these aliens are traveling incredible distances... for this?
    • The Earth itself - I'll admit that a planetary body with a liquid water ocean and sufficient atmosphere for prolonged habitation is a rather rare thing, so there may be some desire to seek for habitable planets. Still, for a civilization to send not just a single explorer or representative, but to send a massive invading army, are planets like the Earth really all that r
  • by KDR_11k (778916) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:26AM (#31974240)

    Or hell, they could take both routes, fight each other for resources AND explore space to find uncontested resources. After all Europe wasn't exactly peaceful when Columbus set out to find new resources by sailing to the west and the struggle for supremacy with the neighbors could be quite a reason to invest in resource discovery to gain an upper hand.

  • by DarkOx (621550) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:32AM (#31974298) Journal

    if we hate them and fight them, or are just too arrogant about preferring our own ways, we'll die, just like Geronimo and Boudica did.

    Or you know we might also win. Like how the British Empire defeated Napoleonic France, The Allies defeated the Axis powers, and so on. You might have a point, in that electing not to fight means you are most likely to get to go on; but if you live by the sword or die by the sword sometimes you do live.

  • by cynyr (703126) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:35AM (#31974324)
    in the world of ants, it would seem that some of the large bridges over streams they build would be similar to rockets for us (a transportation means to get to new land). In that sense, even a colony of ants has several different shaped ants in them, guards, queen, workers, offspring/egg care takers. All of them do their job for the good of the colony, hmm sounds like Marxism at work right there. Anyways we steal resources from birds and monkeys all the time, why would this alien see us as different than bird or a horse. For that matter, they may feel that we would make a good source of physical labor, and treat us like horses or donkeys.
  • by stonewallred (1465497) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:38AM (#31974346)
    We are humans. As RAH said, we are probably the most warlike and violent race that has reached rudimentary intelligence in the universe. If there were other intelligent races, far advance of us, but with our innate bloodthirstiness and violent tendencies, we would dead. Look at the hostility the vast majority of humans have towards each other based on skin color or religion or where they live. Do you actually think humanity as a whole would welcome intelligent beings from another planet, especially if they were as different as us as we are from a fish? Pssh. If you do, you have more faith in humanity than all the religious folks have in their god(s) since the beginning of time.
  • by maxume (22995) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:38AM (#31974348)

    It might not be worth sinking this far into the gravity well of the sun.

    I don't think it matters much, even our loudest shout is going to be a galactic whisper, and at the moment, if anybody does hear us and decide to come do something, there isn't much we could do about it.

  • by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:38AM (#31974350)

    Or you know we might also win.

    Perhaps, but I highly doubt it. I think you underestimate just how advanced another civilisation would likely be, considering the galactic scale of travel they'd have to undertake to get here, and the galactic timescales over which they might have evolved. Most likely, the culture shock would be AT LEAST as jarring for us as that which native americans faced when presented with horses, rifles, whiskey, christianity, ocean-going ships, wagons, steam trains, buffalo hunters, miners, etc. Chances are it would be MUCH worse -- probably not even conceivable to our backwater, unevolved minds.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:40AM (#31974370) Homepage

    Well, that highly depends on their timeframe. Hiroshima was bombed 60 years ago, but they rebuilt the city and according to wikipedia there's more than a million living there today. I'm not sure if it's exactly over ground zero but certainly not that far as it's still in the same bay. Spending some hundred years taking out all major forms of life and terraforming it to spec hardly seems impossible or unreasonable for an alien race of sufficient technological capability.

  • What...the...fuck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:55AM (#31974494)

    Everyone now wishes that somebody killed Hitler when he was a baby.

    No, they really don't. The common question which you've heard, "if you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, would you?" is meant to generate ethical debate, and the answer is not meant to be obvious. In fact, with the same fervor that you would use in answering "yes" to that question, I would answer "no." Killing someone for crimes they have not yet committed is simply unacceptable in my world view, and life itself isn't as important to me as holding to such moral guidelines.

    In other words, I'd more than willing to accept the extinction of the human race over condoning the brutal "sterilization" of other sentient species. A species such as the one you describe isn't worth protecting.

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:01AM (#31974544)

    Interstellar spacecraft are weapons of mass destruction.

    Above a significant fraction of the speed of light, any normal matter has an energy density greater than a nuclear weapon.
    Above a larger fraction of the speed of light, any normal matter has an energy density greater than an anti-matter reaction involving the same rest mass.

  • by houghi (78078) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:05AM (#31974566)

    Or perhaps they are a humanoid species that now only has female nymphomaniacs super-models that needs men to let their planet survive AND they dig nerds. (There must be a movie about this somewhere)

  • by d474 (695126) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:05AM (#31974572)

    I completely agree - the idea that Earth has unique resources is both a false and anthropocentric view. The elements that make Earth are seen everywhere in systems all around us. Heck, they could just hang out in the Oort Cloud and mine that for a few million years until they got bored.

    And I see no scientific basis to assume that our bodies/minds would serve any useful purpose or a superior intelligence, despite what Hollywood tells us.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:07AM (#31974580) Homepage

    Why work so hard...

    If they have spaceships, then they can go out to the asteriod belt and hurl an endless supply of ammunition at us that would decimate us and pose no risk at all to the attackers.

  • BRILLIANT! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by denzacar (181829) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:18AM (#31974662) Journal

    That sounds like a great way to get "sterilized" yourself by:

    a) your own probes turned against you by the civilizations that you intended to "sterilize" OR by a computer glitch,
    b) by a civilization or civilizations that you have not yet met but who have already heard about your reputation,
    c) by a civilization that is way more developed than yours - as nobody likes living next door to a psycho,
    d) getting your civilization torn from inside by your own people or their psychoses due to the fact that not everyone is a heartless bastard willing to condone to a xenocide or two or dozen.

  • by Becausegodhasmademe (861067) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:37AM (#31974846)

    New species discovered on planet in hitherto insignificant Sol system!

    Zarglwellian explorers discovered a species of egotistical bipeds with limited intelligence on a planet orbiting the Sol star yesterday morning. First contact was made in the Earth town of Lamesa, Texas, where intrepid Apheliousian space explorer Taivarg Artxe beamed down to the surface of the planet to be met by a collection of adorable beings armed with what appeared to be unsophisticated projectile weapons.

    After initial greetings were exchanged, Taivarg explained to the bipeds using universal heiroglyphics that he was on an interstellar quest to find new and exciting crusine to offer to customers of his francise of fast food resturants. He announced to the collected bipeds that he had intended to eat them, and if they were sufficiently tasty, round up and cull his species before sending their remains to resturants around the universe, but he instead thinks that there's more profit marketing the human species as novelty pets for the children of Aphelion, and they should be thankful that their species will be used to bring happiness to billions of Aphelion's children instead of used for food.

    So children, look out for new bipedal hooman pets, coming soon to a pet shop near you!

  • by rtb61 (674572) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:45AM (#31974920) Homepage

    The whole concept is one of paranoia. Considering the age of the galaxy, advanced species could be of immense ages. Any new interstellar aggressor species would find itself confronted by a whole range of progressively more advanced species each in turn more capable of deploying more advanced and often more subtle forms of social stabilisation. The simplest method by which to judge species and what measures may be required to control threats implied by them, is the way in which they interact with less advanced species.

    Much the same way a species upon it's own planet would be judged by the way they interact with each other, with suppositions of racial differences where none exist, of artificial regional divides, specifically demonstrated where a species one region preys upon and exploits the same species in another region, with claims of racial differences to hide, degenerative social diseases, like psychopathy and narcissism.

    So any threatening species would be dealt with, likely well before they became destructive upon an interstellar basis. The greater the gap in advancement the less likely communication will occur, as there will always be more similarly advanced species to fill that interaction and monitoring gap, who in turn would be monitored by next nearest level of advancement.

    Besides planets in reality are pretty crappy resources for any interstellar species, nebula and dust clouds have stupendously huge quantities of material available, sufficient to make thousands even millions of suns, already in affect mined, granulated to a fine powder and just requiring filtering to extract the desired elements.

    Humanity has to be far more concerned with how they interact with each other and how that interaction could be interpreted from an external viewpoint and whether it could be considered as potentially threatening and what actions are required to nip the threat in the bud. Whether it be social modification and, or culling of specific socially destructive elements.

  • by canajin56 (660655) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:50AM (#31974978)

    There's not supposed to be something appealing about Earth, or our solar system. A fleet of ships travels from one star to the next. FTL and Causality are mutually exclusive concepts, so unless "reality" is meaningless, they will be traveling at sublight speeds. It would take years or decades (or more) to jump between even close stars. So, they strip a solar system bare, and live off those resources as they travel to the next system. The fact that they could get water and uranium and iron and whatever else from Alpha Centauri doesn't help if they already did. And will they leave Earth alone because it has "quaint little natives"? Why. Like us, they probably don't recognize inferior animals as equals. Even if they do think it's wrong to kill us all and strip the Earth bare, that means giving up resources. That makes it harder to travel to the next system. Even if they think it's wrong, won't they just say "Better them than us!" and take it anyway? Then their James Cameron analog can make a movie in 4D about the noble earthling savages they wiped out in their greed.

    A corporation is considered a total and utter disaster if it's only making a shitload of money, but is not growing exponentially. The only way to stave off total economic collapses happening more and more frequently, is exponential pillage. We're starting to feel a bit bad about it here, so, Spaceward Ho! Divide and conquer. Migrant Fleet heads to system, destroys it, builds new fleet. Two fleets head in different directions, destroy two more systems, and continue. There's no other way to survive in an economic system based on derivatives, where exponential growth is the only way to even maintain the status quo. Invest in a fleet, and make a shit load of money. Only, they won't be returning with spoils for centuries or more. But that's OK, current stock investments don't pay off, either. But the share in the fleet will appreciate as news flows in, so you can sell it based on speculation. Or go to derivatives and buy and sell shares in futures of the fleet. Hell, go second order and invest in the futures of the futures. And if one of humanities mining fleets runs into aliens? Well, they COULD leave them alone. But then their stocks would be worthless, those futures would be worthless, those future-futures would be worthless. Economic collapse. Billions starving to death, unable to afford the megatonnes of food rotting in silos. It's the more ethical choice to wipe those aliens the fuck out. (It's the even MORE ethical choice to not have such an incredibly stupid economic system, but suggesting that makes you a socialist).

    Sure, I'm projecting our society on theirs...odds are, to not nuke their planet into desolation, they have to be better people than us. But, it's not like they have to be evil monsters from hell to go around wiping out civilizations they deem inferior. They just have to be big dicks like us. Alone, humans are swell people. But, none of us is as bad as all of us.

  • by flajann (658201) <flajann&linuxbloke,com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:25PM (#31975318) Homepage Journal

    Damn right! Why is this point forgotten? Look at the Voyager probes, okay they're pretty primative in that they were launched right at the beginning of our space story, but they were launched not even to say "hi", let alone just to say it. Look at how much has been spent on the biggest experiement evaah, the LHC, just because of our curiosity. We're most interested in finding out if there's life on a Saturn moon, and that's the driving force for the probes we've sent there... not because we want to mine it!

    You're right. We absolutely would.

    No, we wouldn't. You're forgetting about the economic side of the effort.

    A probe that has barely made it out of our solar system is NOT the same thing as mounting a major effort at interstellar travel, that would require a significant chunk of your civilization's resources, never mind the costs involved. Most people on our planet do NOT think the way we do. Most people think in terms of ROI: "What's in it for me?" Do you think all the governments of our planet would be willing to front such a gargantuan effort with all of the sacrifices that would entail just to travel a few light-years just to say, "Hello?" Did Columbus come to the US just to shake hands and kiss the natives? Or was he looking for an ROI for the efforts and investment and resources it took to cross the oceans of his time?

    Well, I did enjoy being a dreamer a long time ago. But then I woke up.

  • by scotch (102596) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:30PM (#31975398) Homepage
    Reference please.
  • by flajann (658201) <flajann&linuxbloke,com> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:32PM (#31975418) Homepage Journal

    "It is sheer folly to think that an advance race went through all the trouble to cross many, many light-years of intergalactic space just to say "Hi"."

    Yeah cause like we'd never go to great lengths just to cross new boundaries. ;)

    Why don't we have a permanent colony on the Moon yet? When was the last time a human foot stepped around there? And why don't we have someone already on Mars?

    It's simple. Costs. It's not just great lengths for you, it's great lengths at the cost to others. That and the ROI factor. You and I might want to go to great lengths, but who's going to pay for it?

  • by Ratchet (79516) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:56PM (#31975680) Homepage

    I think we're overestimating ourselves here. Why would alien's advanced enough to reach us even bother with Earth?

    Resources? No, there are countless other sources out there, other planets, moons and asteroids, from which a nomadic alien civilization could gather resources a lot quicker and easier than from Earth. Compared to other sources, Earth isn't a resource rich planet by any means.

    Domination doesn't make any sense either. Why would they want to colonize Earth? All evidence is starting to point to Earth-type planets being somewhat common in the Universe, and you have to assume that there are plenty of other easier targets to colonize. Even then, just because our Earth supports us perfectly, doesn't mean it'll be nice and comfortable every other alien out there.

    Humans and enslavement would be about the only unique resource Earth has to offer I think, but we're fragile organisms that need rest, food, can only work in certain specific environments and conditions, and are prone to violent uprisings when pinned down long enough. Again, you have to assume that an alien race floating around in space in giant ships would also have some pretty kickass machines happily doing all types of things for them in all types of environments and conditions.

    In fact, about the only reason I can think of for an alien race to want to visit us would simply be for research and the knowledge gained. The exact same reason we visit other planets too.

  • by Stupid McStupidson (1660141) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:13PM (#31975826)
    It won't be nukes. They'll be a thousand chunks of tungsten, traveling at .92 c and weight 1,500 tons each. With apologies to Carl Sagan: 1. Any species will place its own survival before that of a different species. 2. Any species that has made it to the top on its planet of origin will be intelligent, alert, aggressive, and ruthless when necessary. 3. They will assume that the first two rules apply to us.
  • by kinabrew (1053930) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:29PM (#31975964) Journal

    But seriously, if there are alien life forms, we don't even know that we'd be on the same scales as them.

    They could be a hundred meters tall or they could be microscopic. And they could perceive time in an extremely delayed manner(with our seconds feeling like hours to them) or an extremely accelerated manner(with our hours feeling like seconds to them).

    We don't know that the things on our earth that we consider natural resources are the same things that an alien civilization would consider natural resources. Humanity's waste products might be the things the aliens most precious needs, or their waste products might be things we could eat as food. Maybe they could eat dirt.

    I think that hiding makes sense until we have the capability for travel between solar systems, specifically because there is a possibility that aliens encountered would pose a danger to us, but to naturally assume that whichever ones we encountered would want to do things that would harm us seems a little too paranoid.

    Any group that is capable of such travel is likely to get their energy from somewhere, but even in our own solar system, is earth the biggest source of energy? Jupiter alone would likely provide millions of times the amount of power that could be obtained from Earth, and wouldn't have the danger of infection from Earth's bacteria and viruses. And the sun provides unmeasurable amounts of power compared to Earth. And even the sun isn't a large star.

    Compared to many others, our solar system would be like a crumb to any civilization searching for resources.

    And one last thing I wonder about: Is humanity's fear of extraterrestrial intelligence based on humanity's own instinct of survival of the fittest? And if so, is it reasonable to guess that other forms of intelligence would have such instinct? And would they even perceive us as competition? Or would they have out-evolved that need?

    It makes sense to be cautious and to attempt to not be found, but it's also good to have some perspective. We have no idea about the motivations of any intelligence that would contact us or come here.

  • by farble1670 (803356) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:39PM (#31976054)

    the galaxy is full of natural resources. if you have mastered inter-stellar travel you can get to all of them ... mining asteroids or non-habitable planets is not a problem. same with energy. aliens don't need planet-based fossil fuels. they have nuclear fission of course and can mine the raw materials for that from gas giants which are again plentiful.

    further, if they have figured how to live for tens or hundreds of years, the time required to cross inter-stellar distances, in space habitats, they aren't interested in our "habitable" planet. earth is most likely toxic by their standards.

    so, there's not a practical reason for them to subjugate us. that leaves the possibility that they are just violent for the sake of violence. that's extremely unlikely though, as they managed as a species to survive together long enough on their planet to develop space travel.

    that all being said, there's still a small chance that whatever aliens find us would for some reason do us harm. there is also of course a good chance they would do us *good*. a species that possess the technology for inter-stellar travel could gift us even their simplest technologies and can get humanity over this bump in the road we are facing now. for example, nuclear fission reactors would give the world clean, plentiful energy.

    considering how humanity is going and it's chances of survival, alien contact would be an incredible bit of luck for us now.

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:57PM (#31976212) Journal

    Do you actually think humanity as a whole would welcome intelligent beings from another planet, especially if they were as different as us as we are from a fish?

    And fish would probably be like our first cousins compared to whatever species might arrive on an alien FTL spaceship.

  • by postermmxvicom (1130737) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:03PM (#31976264)

    it is apparent that killing each other is simply not productive. Well, this is apparent to me anyway.

    The inventors of the following all thought their inventions would end war:
    Smokeless gun powder
    Airplane
    Atomic Bomb


    But those are *military* weapons..of course they won't end war...consider also:
    The Television

    It makes the list. If we could only learn about other cultures, we wouldn't want to go to war. Mankind seems to have a penchant for turning every invention into a way to wage more efficient war. What if someone invented a cheap way to feed everybody? Well, congratulations, you've also invented a cheap way to feed armies. They can now fight war better.

    Perhaps the alien will be like us, in this way.

    Technology and philosophy seem to have a less than perfect track record for enlightening us...

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:07PM (#31976316) Journal
    If they need resources, they don't need to talk to us. They can be out there stealing our asteroids without our bothering them until we're out there also. A single asteroid has more metals than we can mine here. Actually, they'd probably find the metals under our crust to be useful. So they should put some asteroids together and start chipping (splashing) pieces off the planets until they've broken them back down into separate rocks. The thin film over the surface of our planet won't be any bother, really.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:33PM (#31976538)

    Nah nah, too much work. To conquer the planet, all you'd need is some basic science and time. Seed the planet with a virus or poison designed to wipe out either the population or reprogram the population to do what you want. Then wait.

    If they came across interstellar space the slow way, then waiting a while will not be a concern.

    Personally I think any race that advanced would use dimensional gates or wormholes and would never bother with all that tedious mucking about in subspace. So I think they would get here a lot faster than we usually assume. But they'd still be very patient.

    But in the end, this whole thing falls into the "Mars needs women" thing. We imagine that they want what we have, because we ourselves value it. We make movies about Mars wanting our women because the women matter to us, or most of us. Or some of us. Whatever. We make movies about aliens wanting our gold, or water, or minerals, or to eat us, because we value these things and assume that they will, too, and will want to take them.

    It is entirely possible that aliens would find nothing of value here. If they can conquer space, if they have the ability to use wormholes or similar, then their science is probably advanced enough to provide them anything they could possibly need, and eating people or mating with our women is probably not on the list.

    I can imagine that they might want to observe and perhaps manipulate and play with us. This is oddly enough exactly what the alien contact reportees have said was going on. Though there is some mating involved apparently.

  • by ddt (14627) <ddt@davetaylor.name> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:47PM (#31976678) Homepage

    Given the complexity and inherent risk of these things, it seems considerably more reasonable to just create artificial life that doesn't need an atmosphere, water, day cycles, and all that organic nonsense.

  • by matty619 (630957) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:55PM (#31976764)

    I'm always perplexed when people make this leap that the human species is war-like and surely no other sufficiently developed species could possibly be warlike. We are what we are because of a competitive evolutionary process. Survival of the fittest involves being warlike and fucking aggressive. Why you assume that any other advanced species evolved in any other way is beyond me.

  • by cgenman (325138) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:30PM (#31977138) Homepage

    Say that our society went out and discovered that Mars was an earth-like, habitable planet with primitive life upon it. How would we interact with them?

    Chances are, we would see them long before we could actually get there en-masse. Maybe in the 1700's, we would have sensitive enough instruments to see the earth-like surface of the planet. Fast forward 300 years to the year 2K, we can expend a tremendous amount of resources and send a single scouting party over. For 20 or 30 years, the scouting party lives on Mars, gathering data and learning to live on the local climate / floura and fauna. They discover a particular plant that secretes a specific chemical very similar to a highly-expensive cancer drug currently in production on the Earth. A few production ships arrive to harvest the plant and launch the chemical back. A small private science team piggybacks, and finds moe financially rewarding chemicals on the planet. Humanity spreads its fingers, and native life is simply pushed back to the margins. A small shack becomes a 1 mile settlement, becomes a country of it's own. The native plants and animals go from being the dominant form of life on the planet, to living in an ever-shrinking reserve.

    And the more sentient animals might wonder why we didn't just make giant tin cans in the sky and live in those. The fact is, though, that making giant tin-cans in the sky is more expensive than finding viable hunks of rock with usable resourses already present. And if those sentient animals fought back, we'd probably just stop them as easily as we'd stop a groundhog invasion of New York City. Technological superiority doesn't mean winning a fight, it means sweeping unwanted elements off of a table. The natives only win in movies.

    It really all comes down to value. The value of a cylinder, more or less, is just habitable space. The value of a planet includes large volumes of otherwise rare elements or chemicals, biological materials, etc... all conveniently sitting there for the taking, and all of which would be needed to make cylinders anyway.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @03:38PM (#31977206) Journal

    You seem like a really gay man.

    Of COURSE I mean happy... words never change meanings over time, do they?

  • Re:Buzz (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @04:23PM (#31977634) Homepage Journal

    Actually, the argument that an arbitrarily advanced society doesn't need "resources" is silly.

    All work requires energy. Any advanced alien race is constantly expending energy.

    _The_ source of energy in the universe is star fusion. Convertible energy is radiated out from stars at a rate proportional to the size and lifecycle phase of the star, and the collector efficiency & distance from that star.

    IOW, the amount of work an advanced society could do, under normal circumstances, would be limited by how much star energy they could capture and utilize, and that in turn, would be limited by the power output of nearby stars, and how close they stayed to any given star.

    So you have a fairly limiting energy problem, that is frankly an artificial constraint.

    Here's why: all _energy_ comes from star radiation, all non-star _matter_ is a form of energy storage. By exploiting resources, be they asteroids or planets or anything else.. in "matter" form.. a civlization can consume energy at a higher rate than the local star output.. and at a further distance away from a near-by producing star.

    IOW, the consumption of non-radiated-energyresources enables _faster_ travel or _further_ travel. While there may be some _very_ old space-faring society that has realized the "peak entropy" problem and now voluntarily limits itself to consuming energy at the average star-dissapation rate... younger space faring races would not necessarily conform to this self-imposition, and would consume matter -- nature's energy storage batteries -- to fuel their ambitions.

    Assuming you beleive in this dichotemy: the advanced society which artificially limits its energy consumption (and therefore growth), and the transitional society which does not, which is more likely to make an exploratory trip towards Earth? I contend that a society which has written off further expansion does not actively seek to do more exploration.

    So, if we meet somebody, oods are, they consume matter to acheive their goals. We cannot predict which forms of matter are most amenable to their technology and needs, but we can probably assume that they aren't going to park in Solar orbit and just "hang out" until they've soaked up enough rays in "Trickle charge" mode to continue about their business. Not when there is all this matter diversity nearby that they could exploit.

    I'm not saying that they'll see earth, and say, "Yes!! Finally!! Brocoli!" But they may very well say "look! oxygen [the universal propellant oxidizer for chemical propulsion] exists in all 3 forms of matter on the blue planet."

    Or maybe space faring societies, upon seeing a small rocky planet with a gooey core made of molten ferrous liquid... get the same ideas we do when we see a crust deposit of black long-chain hydrocarbon liquid..

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Sunday April 25, 2010 @05:35PM (#31978234) Homepage Journal

    we are probably the most warlike and violent race that has reached rudimentary intelligence in the universe.

    That's a completely unwarranted assumption. We don't even know if there is life anywhere else. let alone intelligent life. And if there are other intelligences, there is no way to make even an intelligent guess as to how warlike or peaceful they may be; any guesses about other intelligences are out of pure ignorance; we have no data whatever.

    You might ponder the fact that almost every technological advance has come from war and violence. Why hasn't any nonviolent earth species reached sentience? And note that most species on this planet are violent.

    We even have violent fauna; thorns, pitcher plants... To think any other sentient beings would be peaceful is laughable. The only data we have is from this planet, and it doesn't bode well.

  • by TiberiusMonkey (1603977) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @07:01PM (#31978844)

    Why you assume that any other advanced species evolved in any other way is beyond me.

    Assuming violence is the only way for evolution to work is like assuming two arms and two legs is the only way evolution can work. We'd have no idea about how their brains evolved, or what circumstances they developed under.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 25, 2010 @07:12PM (#31978934)

    Being warlike may confer a survival advantage only before the species -- or that may be too specific, let's say civilization -- has mastered its environment. Once they're so far more advanced than everything else, external threats may be irrelevant. At that point, internal threats, the damage they may do to themselves, could present the greater danger. An enlightened and highly advanced civilization might recognize this and consciously change its behavior to move past its earlier self-destructive and warlike tendencies.

    There are reasons to think this might happen. First, it might be a prerequisite to becoming, in this context, a highly advanced civilization capable of undertaking and successfully completing vast and very long time scale projects. Second, a highly advanced civilization would likely recognize its self-destructive tendencies. Third, a highly advanced civilization would likely have the tools (social, biological) to consciously implement a change in behavioral tendencies.

    It might also happen naturally. Warlike and aggressive tendencies in our own species are generally the product of ignorance and fear, especially fear of the unknown. If other civilizations are similarly motivated, once they achieve absolute mastery over their environment natural evolution might excise these impulses as they may become counterproductive to the reproductive fitness of individual beings.

    All this depends on the premise, which you may or may not accept, that a civilization may advance to a point where aggression becomes more destructive than the survival benefit it would have earlier conferred.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 26, 2010 @02:58AM (#31981272)

    Uh huh. You are very naive to think that your supposition must be so.

    A good chunk of what is considered human nature is actually nature to all life. The purpose of life is to propagate itself. The effects on other life, sometimes even in the same species, be dammed. Sometimes its best to work with others or to live side by side with them, however many times your best bet is open hostility which is even more likely if the others are a separate species.

    There is nothing in being nice to other species, other than keeping your food healthy and continuous, that would make it such an evolutionary advantage that the most powerful species in the universe must have acquired it. If anything the very means of their rise in power is more likely to have happened in a species that is used to conflict and has figured out ways to at least mostly come out on top. Conflict brings about competition which is a great driver of technological advancement. Moreover coming out on top in a conflict can just as easily have been done with violence as through peaceful means if not more so when you move to the inter-species level.

    You are making the mistake of assigning human moral codes, emotions, thoughts, etc to unknown possible alien races.

  • by thaig (415462) on Monday April 26, 2010 @03:48AM (#31981488) Homepage

    You're right and if the word has changed, then it can change back :-) The 1-in-10 is more useful. We have things like annihilate or eradicate or exterminate for the more absolute meaning.

  • by 24-bit Voxel (672674) on Monday April 26, 2010 @06:07AM (#31982126) Journal
    I think you give 'the rest of human society' too much credit.
  • by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Monday April 26, 2010 @08:08AM (#31982798)

    The simplest method by which to judge species and what measures may be required to control threats implied by them, is the way in which they interact with less advanced species.

    Sorry, that's your own morality creeping into the argument. I would personally like to think this as well, but there's plenty of evidence that species can be relentlessly homogeneous, to the point of killing outliers merely for the sake of being different. And their strength derives from this; take bees or ants as an example.

    Besides planets in reality are pretty crappy resources for any interstellar species, nebula and dust clouds have stupendously huge quantities of material available

    Depends. The thing about planets is you have the benefit of billions of years of gravitational attraction. That kinda' speeds up the process of aquisition. It's a lot harder to scrape billions of light-years of interplanetary distance with some kind of imaginary "stuff scooper" than it would be to just go to a planet where everything's all in one place.

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