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Don't Talk To Aliens, Warns Stephen Hawking 1015

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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  • by jolyonr ( 560227 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:15AM (#31973512) Homepage

    Hiding will never work :)

    • by dotancohen ( 1015143 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:18AM (#31973530) Homepage

      Hiding will never work :)

      But it might buy us the time to develop technology to defend ourselves. Having them nuke us from orbit (it's the only way to be sure) would not be so good for humanity.

      • We can simply pass a United Nations resolution and sign a treaty [] to keep nukes or for that matter all weapons from space. Doesn't that work? Won't all spacefaring civilizations [] have such a similar attitude?

        • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:43AM (#31974392) Homepage

          Don't worry, there'll be this man in a blue box calling them up to tell them we're protected under the Shadow Proclamation.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by houghi ( 78078 )

          It is great that you just assume they have weapons of mass destruction. That worked in the past very well.

          • 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 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.

              • 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 CptPicard ( 680154 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @01:23PM (#31975920)

                  The last paragraph is interesting considering that Sagan pointed out that the first high-powered tv broadcasts that might be intercepted by the aliens show Hitler at the Nürnberg party rally :-)

                • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Sunday April 25, 2010 @02:04PM (#31976268)

                  "The whole concept is one of paranoia."

                  Even if you suffer from paranoia, that doesn't mean there's nobody out there to get you.

                • by linguizic ( 806996 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @05:06PM (#31978004)
                  Carl Sagan also said that marijuana would be legalized before 1980. As much as I admire then man, he suffered from an over-optimism that is characteristic of habitual marijuana users of his era.
                • Annihilation (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by thaig ( 415462 )

                  Given the past history of contacts between "more" and "less" advanced peoples it is ridiculously optimistic to believe that they will be nicer than us.

                  We, for example, are inconceivably more complicated and "advanced" than ants but we still step on them.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  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.


              • 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, rea
          • by digitalgiblet ( 530309 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:26AM (#31974740) Homepage Journal

            If they can get here from other stars I think it's a safe bet they have weapons of MASSIVE destruction. They would have to be far enough more advanced than us that we probably can't even imagine their capabilities (or understand them if we see them). Of course all they really need to do is tug a few astroids along and drop rocks on us, right?

            A more insidious possibility is that they have weapons of mass control. Enslavement or genocide? There is also the "tasty treat" possiblility. Most likely is the "we don't really understand what they are doing" option.

            The only way for them to be even close to our level of technology would be if they travel at speeds we could potentially travel at, right? In other words waaaay below lightspeed (discounting naturally occurring wormholes that happen to be conveniently placed - or the whole "ancients" idea of an earlier higher level civilization that left behind a transit system). In that case they would have ships we could see coming, possibly for years. Either they would have life-spans far, far longer than ours, they would be traveling in generation ships, or even possibly be cyborgs. If we don't see them coming, I'd say we can assume a level of technology we have zero chance of defending against. If we see them coming we might have a fighting chance.

    • by boaworm ( 180781 ) <> 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 :-)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hackus ( 159037 )

        Mmmmm.....I am not so sure about that.

        Remember, we have been using a model of reality for the last say 200 years that well, because it can build planes, rockets and air conditioners and nuclear weapons: The Standard Model that says it is impossible to go to the stars.

        The Standard Model SAYS its very hard to traverse the distances.

        I don't believe that for a minute because this very same model failed to predict 98% of reality in the Universe we live in.

        So I think if we were to scrap the Standard Model and sta

    • by thrillseeker ( 518224 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:03AM (#31973984)
      We'd have to find some aliens before we didn't talk to them.
    • 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.


    • by theolein ( 316044 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:52AM (#31974468) Journal

      Stephen Hawking's assumption is that we should be thinking carefully about advertising our presence in the universe because any Alien visitors might be like Columbus discovering the America's in 1492. I think he most certainly has a point, but what about another viewpoint, where Aliens take a look at us and what we have done in our history of contact with new civilisations, realise what the implications for them would be if we were to meet them, and decide that a pre-emptive attack to exterminate all of humanity is probably their safest course of action?

      There is a particularly depressing science fiction book called The Killing Star [], which describes exactly such a premise. The story is depressing because only a tiny group of people actually survive the devastation to flee in utter silence from the solar system. The method used to exterminate humanity is absurdly simple. No huge ray-guns, no huge bombs, or poison or any such thing, just objects accelerated to 99% the speed of light, so-called relativistic kill-vehicles. Almost impossible to stop because even if you do detect them coming, they're so close behind their own light signal that there wouldn't be much time to do anything about it.

      This is the assumption that would worry me the most, I think. any alien civilisation intelligent enough to understand what we are would be intelligent enough to understand how dangerous we could be to them.

    • by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:55AM (#31974492)

      Hiding will never work :)

      OMG, who said that?

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

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> 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 [] 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 [] 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 eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:30AM (#31973630) Journal

        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?

        They don't need a "concept of ethics." 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? Unless they are invincible they will almost certainly begin by taking resources from each other. If both you and I need a resource and one of us becomes short on it, we engage in conflict unless there is a sense of "ethics" or some basic moral guidelines. They can call it whatever they want but it's just a basic beginning to conflict ... in the wrong places of our world, you can get yourself killed for an iPhone or wallet. Those are resources.

        They may simply be looking for more resources to exploit.

        So tell me, when you're "simply looking for more resources to exploit" where do you start? Looking at those around you who have the resources you need or building a spaceship capable of intergalactic travel and also locating out of the universe a planet that might have the same resources you need? If you find it hard answering that question, read up on resource consumption and distribution in ancient Rome.

        And what makes Earth so automatically special about our resources? I mean, for carbon based life, maybe. But you have to assume if they've been going for that long then they are probably capable of turning worthless planets into gold. A lot of sci-fi novels posit that stars and black holes are going to be the harvested resource for "the down streamers" or any advanced alien race looking for resources to exploit.

        • 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.

      • 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 gclef ( 96311 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:47AM (#31973814)

          I dunno. Others have speculated recently (and I happen to agree with them) that the likely space-faring races won't be biological, but mechanical/electrical. An AI that can manufacture it's own replacement parts & direct robots to repair itself could become effectively immortal...which makes the time for the trip between stars less of an issue.

          So, there might only be one...and it might need resources. (In this case, though, it'd likely be more interested in the asteroid belt than us.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Joce640k ( 829181 )

            I find it hard to believe that a race which can build energy-sources powerful enough to travel between galaxies would need any material resources. Surely by that stage they can synthesize any element in any quantity (all except Latinum...)

            Needing more places to live in? That's another story.

            Maybe some rich space-dude would like the Earth as a private holiday villa and he's not too keen on all the annoying/bitey little animals which live here and are busy chopping down the pretty trees and polluting the roll

        • 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".

    • 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
      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

  • It sounds like this physicist thinks the film Independence Day may come true. What could we possibly have in our young solar system that would make it worth the bother for a nomadic civilization of harvesting aliens to visit?

    • by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:24AM (#31973582)

      In the unlikely event that it turns out that sentient life is far more probable on planets with the conditions that also support human life (rather than there being a wide variety of conditions, mostly incompatible with human life), then the aliens have found a habitable world, pre-terraformed.

      On the other hand, if our needs are orthogonal to their needs, maybe we're a masterfully convenient technologically backward slave race, intelligent enough to do their dangerous harvesting tasks without consuming any resources that they themselves need.

      Or maybe the aliens are just pricks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by houghi ( 78078 )

        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)

  • We've got Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith. We'll be fine.
  • Buzz (Score:5, Interesting)

    by That_Dan_Guy ( 589967 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:20AM (#31973546)

    I think he's saying this to generate debate and thought about aliens. It's too late to hide. The radio waves are already on their way. But if he's saying this on a TV show he's trying to generate buzz for it and get people thinking about it. It also leads to the conclusion we need to build SDF-1, thereby getting humans into space.

    Hawking isn't called a genius for no reason. There is another subtle arguement there that we need to get of this planet to start looking for those resources too.

    Etc etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dtolman ( 688781 )
      Don't worry - our radio waves are not on their way - they may go out forever, but the weaken too... sorry to say that you'd have to be by Jupiter with a radio telescope to watch our TV. By the time aliens notice the carrier signals, they'll be in our Oort Cloud. They'll notice the oxygen and methane in our atmosphere first...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by psnyder ( 1326089 )

      It's too late to hide. The radio waves are already on their way.

      Those radio waves that are beamed into "deep space" degrade and become indistinguishable from the rest of the background electromagnetic radiation just outside our solar system.

      Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, is 4.2 light years away. Our radio waves don't even come close.

      So yeah, SETI... that organization that spends a lot of time listening for and sending radio signals, can only hope to catch something from a ship EXTREMELY close to us. And if the aliens have the capability to get that close t

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ph0rk ( 118461 )

      It also leads to the conclusion we need to build SDF-1, thereby getting humans into space.

      We need Zor's battleship to crash land on an island in the Pacific first.

  • Wow...... (Score:3, Funny)

    by xandercash ( 1791710 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:21AM (#31973552)
    That would make a really good science fiction movie....oh, wait.
  • I've been saying what Hawking is saying all along. 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".

    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. The time it would take would depend on how close to the speed of light they can reach. And the physics of THAT means they would have to have the technology to convert matter into energy somehow. Or, it would take them many thousands of years to get here. Either way, it's NOT going to be a friendly housecall, no matter how you shake it.

    The public has in its collective imagination all these SF stories that assumes some way has been found to avert the realities of the physics that we now understand. But I am not confident at all that a way can be found to make interstellar space travel "cheap and affordable", per se. Wormholes, if they even exist, require energies way beyond our imagination, way beyond any civilization would be able to harness, energies at galactic scales or worse, and even at that there is no clear understanding if they would actually be useful for travel.

    We indeed understand a lot today about physics and cosmology, and nothing I've seen to this time would even hint at the merest possibility of anything that could possibly make interstellar travel "cheap and affordable" my mere civilizations throughout the cosmos

    So, I deem it extremely unlikely that Humanity's fantasies about space travel will ever likely be true.

    And thus, on that basis, I would firmly agree with Hawking.

    • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:46AM (#31973804)

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by flajann ( 658201 )

        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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by flajann ( 658201 )
      But, by the same token, I don't think we have much to worry about, anyway. I would think that while life may be plentiful throughout the cosmos, intelligent life that has mastered technology to the point of being space-faring would actually be exceedingly rare. Even in our own planet's 4.5-billion year history, it's barely been a hundred years since the Wright Bros. first flight at Kitty Hawk back in 1903. Yuri Gagarin made it into space in the year I was born in -- 1961. Not even quite 50 years that we've
  • 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.
  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by PlasmaEye ( 1128377 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:27AM (#31973600)
    I, for one, welcome our new aliens-in-massive-ships overlord.
  • by stox ( 131684 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:32AM (#31973660) Homepage

    Humans, the other red meat. []

  • 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 gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:39AM (#31973720)

    There are pleanty of other resources out there, why come all they way here to get them?

    It would be like filling your car full of fuel, driving to the airport (past several orchards, forests, landfills, and supermarkets), filling up a 767, flying to Tahiti in it, then raiding a village for its produce.

    It just wouldn't be worth it. Not saying they wouldn't be interested, just that the expense and effort to take our stuff would not even be close to break even.

    The only reason I could see for them to actually come here are for biologicals. Perhaps petroleum which is also biological actually. Basically us, the plants, all of the bugs, the germs. And that is only useful to them if the biomass is is similar and compatible to theirs.

    Quite frankly they could probably produce their own Earth sized biomass with less energy than it would take for them to to transport such infrastructure here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by d474 ( 695126 )

      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 sizzzzlerz ( 714878 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:40AM (#31973744)

    I've got my towel.

  • by droopus ( 33472 ) * on Sunday April 25, 2010 @09:54AM (#31973892)

    Jeez, come on the technology for defeating them came out in 1997! Didn't any of you see Independence Day? We already know from this fine documentary that all we need is a Wall Street G3 and we can easily penetrate their puny firewalls. Sure they have intergalactic travel capabilities, and ships that can hover over entire cities (without char-broiling them with hover-exhaust, mind you...) but WE have 14.4 modems, Mac OS and the Fresh Prince of BelAir.

    What's to worry about?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      There's a small problem with your plan. Of the two PowerBook Wall Street G3 avaiable on eBay [], the first one is complete; however , it does not work, and the seller has no idea what the problems are. It could have multiple issues. And the second one is also complete; however it does not work and the seller also has no idea what the problems are. It could have multiple issues. Obviously the keyboard is bad.

      We're doomed!


      * extra !'s added for emphasis.

  • Earth Resources? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> 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 littlewink ( 996298 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:18AM (#31974146)

    That was the conclusion of a Playboy interview concerning aliens years ago (I don't remember who they were interviewing). The analogy was, if I remember correctly, to the Piraha people of South America, who did just that to the Spanish invaders. As a consequence the Piraha were left alone for another hundred years, while all other triebes who allowed the Spanish in were devastated.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @10:31AM (#31974284)

    I come to the same conclusion as Hawking - that we should try to be a quiet civilization - but not for the same reasons.

    The fact that we haven't detected advanced life in all of our SETI searching, and the fact that our solar system has not been visited by an alien probe (see Fermi Paradox) is some evidence that our galaxy has a "sterilizer civilization" - which is a pretty straightforward concept.

    If two civilizations begin interstellar colonization in our galaxy, their spheres of expansion are bound to intersect in the future. As they will largely be competing for the same resources (sources of energy differential), some sort of conflict is inevitable. But a conflict at this scale would be so horrible that any reasonable civilization would want to avoid it at all costs. This reasoning makes me think that any suitably advanced, reasonable civilization will be a sterilizer civilization: For the moral purpose of preventing great suffering, they will sterilize any technological civilization before they begin their interstellar colonization. Being rational, they will do this in the most efficient way possible: They will send a robotic probe which will duplicate itself in our solar system, and this autonomous army will wipe out all technological life and monitor our system to make sure that none re-emerges. Since sending even a small payload at great interstellar distances requires great energy, the rational sterilizer civilization will choose a speed for the probe that will bring it to its target safely before their interstellar colonization phase begins, but not much earlier. It is quite possible that such a probe is on its way to us right now, but won't arrive for another thousand years.

    On the very unlikely scenario that we are somehow the first technological civilization in our galaxy, I think that we have an ethical obligation to become a sterilizer civilization ourselves. Everyone now wishes that somebody killed Hitler when he was a baby. It would have prevented great suffering. Like Hawking, I think it's inevitable that if contact is allowed to occur between two colonizing civilizations, the result will be catastrophic on a scale that will make the casualty count of a nuclear war seem like a rounding error. So of course there are ethical downsides of sterilizing a budding, intelligent civilization, just like there are downsides to killing the still-innocent baby Hitler. But I think the refusal to do this would be far more monstrous. The costs could be mitigated by meticulously recording all information about the culture and biology of the extinguished life, or perhaps even saving some specimens who will be safely contained in some sort of a galactic zoo.

    So how should we react if there is a sterilizing probe on its way to get us? We have to begin our interstellar colonization before the probe gets here. I don't think it makes much sense to try to raise up a defense, because we can't even guess at the mechanism of such a probe. One thing it might do is to create a tiny black hole and drop it into the sun. (Or perhaps the probe just is a small black hole set to collide with the sun in a thousand years or so.) At this point, we are still a very vulnerable civilization, and will remain so until we have covered a substantial part of the galaxy. Also, we should be working hard on the technology for an effective sterilizer probe, just in case SETI does eventually reveal an alien civilization. I know it's "no fun" to kill aliens before we ever meet them, but I think the ethical costs of not doing so are unacceptable.

    • He wants his story back.

      • Re:Greg Bear called (Score:5, Informative)

        by listentoreason ( 1726940 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @11:32AM (#31974790)
        Reference to The Forge of God [], for those unfamiliar with it. Postulates a universe with three types of civilizations; Sterilizers, in the phraseology used above, naive civilizations that reveal themselves to the sterilizers and are annihilated, and then a very loose consortium of non-Sterilizers who band together for mutual defense. This third category hides from its own members, effectively using anonymous communication to coordinate defense and response to the sterilizers. The later group is actually revealed in his follow-on novel, Anvil of Stars. []
    • 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.

    • 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 sizzzzlerz ( 714878 ) on Sunday April 25, 2010 @12:22PM (#31975284)

    I've been monitoring my Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic iPad application, bought from the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation and it hasn't indicated the presence of any spacecraft in Earth orbit for some weeks now. And if and when it does, I won't panic. I'll switch to the Guide app, with its large friendly letters and it will tell me everything that I need to do.

  • 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.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.