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Space Technology

Why We'll Never Meet Aliens 629

iggychaos writes "The idea that aliens will come visit us is fundamentally flawed. Paul Tyma ponders the technology that would be required for such an event and examines how evolution of that technology would preclude any reason to actually make the trip. He writes, 'Twenty years ago if I asked you how many feet were in a mile (and you didn't know) you could go to a library and look it up. Ten years ago, you could go to a computer and google it. Today, you can literally ask your phone. It's not a stretch at all with the advent of wearable computing that coming soon - I can ask you that question and you'll instantly answer. ... How would you change if you had instant brain-level access to all information. How would you change if you were twice as smart as you are now. How about ten times as smart? (Don't answer, truth is, you're not smart enough to know). Now, let's leap ahead and think about what that looks like in 100 years. Or 1000. Or whenever it is you'll think we'd have the technology to travel to another solar system. We'd be a scant remnant of what a human looks like today. ... The question of why aliens might 'want to come here' is probably fundamentally flawed because we are forming that question from our current (tiny) viewpoint. The word 'want' might not apply at all to someone 1000 times smarter than us."
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Why We'll Never Meet Aliens

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  • Flying Cars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:02PM (#43560025)

    This train of thought sounds like how people in the early 20th century predicted flying cars and bases on the Moon by the year 2000. Transportation was the driving force of technology then and people extrapolated and came up with these crazy ideas. Now we are in the information age and people are extrapolating computers implanted in our brains. I don't think it will happen.

  • by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:02PM (#43560037)
    I'm really not interested in opinion pieces (especially ones that ramble on as much as this one) and would like to filter them off my front page.
  • What a load of crap. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:10PM (#43560155) Homepage
    We can't predict the future, or the desires of any alien race, therefore we can predict they won't want to visit us.

    Duh. If you can't predict then you can't say what they WON'T do.

    The reason why aliens would come and visit are numerous. Here are the top 3 that I thought of while reading his poorly thought out article.

    1. They are running out of space on their home world, and earth has some nice views, good water, nice temperature. Perfect place to raise a family without bumping into your neighbor (i.e. they don't want to steal just our gold, they want to steal everything)

    2. They want to learn about alternate biologies cultures, psychology, etc.

    3. Religion. We must spread the word of Latter Day Saints/Allah/etc. etc.

    The main problem is the fool thinks the future will be just like the recent past, rather than the distant pass. He assumes our technology will continue to grow dramatically, rather than incrementally.

    Right now, the most logical way to do star travel is to increase lifespans to 200+ years and develop a nice cryo-statis type thing.

    Which means travel is possible in just about 80 years of technology growth or so, (at least to Alpha Centauri) plus another 100/200 years of cry-sleep transit.

    The original article was written by someone that saw way too many bad sci-fi shows and think the most dramatic, silly inventions are likely, and that we/aliens will wait till everything is all settled till we go exploring.

  • I'm not convinced. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by greenguy ( 162630 ) <estebandido&gmail,com> on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:14PM (#43560203) Homepage Journal

    We're hundreds of times smarter than the ancient Greeks and Romans -- and by "smarter," I mean we have vastly greater information available to us. And yet, I'd jump at the chance to go visit them in their time and place. Why? Because I think they were still pretty sharp, given their constraints. They did some pretty impressive stuff. Additionally, human nature makes for interesting drama, regardless of the level of technology. And that would map on reasonably well to any alien civilization capable of interstellar travel and communication with us. In other words, they'd have to have some order to their society, which we could learn in time. They'd likely have some form of metaphysical belief structure, and possibly several competing structures. They have to communicate somehow. They have to have advanced understandings of math and science. These are all things we could learn from them, or at least about them, just as an ancient Roman could learn to use a tablet computer, if they really wanted to. An advanced civilization would know that we are capable of advancing, and that would make us interesting to them.

  • Space Tourists (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Freddybear ( 1805256 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:21PM (#43560295)

    Maybe they'll just stop over here for a roadside picnic. ;)

  • Re:Flying Cars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:25PM (#43560359)

    What people don't realize is a fundamental change in technology. In the past decade, technology hasn't advanced much for people. However, technology made to contain/alert/report/log/monitor/spy/lock out people has been the main push by most companies, be it DRM, data mining, data sold to advertisers, click tracking, sifting through E-mail and other communications for keywords, locked down devices and so on.

    We may not have moon bases, we may not have brain implants, but if one can extrapolate from today's technology, what will be the thing that we will have is shackles and prisons unimaginable today. Perhaps Dune style pain-amplifiers which are turned on should someone pass an opinion threshold, or mandatory "re-education", Clockwork Orange style should someone dislike the latest celebrity by a certain margin.

    The '70s were about tech. The '90s were about networked communication. This decade seems to be about control, surveillance, and containment of the population.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:27PM (#43560379) Homepage

    When I first started driving, I bought maps... first the cheap ones, then the really good street atlas books with indices. From there, I was able to plot my way to my destination pretty quickly though it required I step myself through each turn, street name and all that. But in the end, I learned where I was at any given time, felt I knew generally where anything was relative to my own position and about how far and how long it would take me to get there. None of this was as fast or efficient as a car GPS with traffic signal reception, of course. So after I moved away from my home area to another state, I finally broke down to get a GPS with traffic and all that. The new location was far more challenging to drive in and missing turns were far more costly in terms of time and frustration -- it was a much older area and so the roads are much more complicated, unpredictable and unforgiving.

    But now that I have been using GPS all this time, I find that my ability to learn my way around and know where I am has diminished significantly. I have grown extremely reliant on GPS navigation. I have lost the skills and knowledge I once had. (My knowledge not actually lost... I'm still familiar with my original area and know my way around quite well still)

    I think most people will find the same problem where other technological improvements are concerned. Even the practice of typing instead of writing has had affect on our ability to write by hand for many of us and remembering simple things like phone numbers? I used to have dozens in my head. Now I have just a few and the rest are comfortably in my phone where I have ready access to them. Tech has definitely made us all soft even if it's more efficient. It makes us horribly dependent.

    So what if we went to the next levels? Brain interfaces? Computer data completely replacing our own memories? With intelligent decision making telling us "the best choice" in any given situation? The things we can allow machines to do for us is probably beyond my imagination, but even what I can imagine is pretty frightening when you think about it. What will we become when we become symbionts with the machines?

    Giving up what little I have already lost is reason enough for me to reconsider how much I should rely on technology. But to imagine what humanity might become is certainly reason to consider blocking certain things to prevent our own failure.

    Consider what might happen if we all matrix ourselves until the first outage we experience cuts us off from all knowledge. We instantly become as useless as a 5-year-old.

    Perhaps this is a bit off-topic, but the summary was enough to release a collection of thoughts which have been gathering over the past few years.

  • by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:43PM (#43560575)
    Though when I think about it, we take it for a given (not without some modeling behind it, but still) that there is a good even distribution of raw materials in the galaxy, but I guess it is possible that is not the case. It is already known that our star system developed in another part of the galaxy and drifted to our current 'between arms' position... I guess I could kinda see something like the area our star formed had unusually large amounts of iron and the area we are in now is unusually low on it.... then we get aliens coming and getting all eye buggy that our core is made of iron and it is so cheap we waste it on things like thumbtacks.
  • Re:Neighbors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:46PM (#43560631) Journal

    TFA kept focusing on economic reasons though... and joke aside, the author forgot a few not-so-obvious-but-just-as compelling reasons:

    1) population pressure
    2) cultural/historical/other inquiry (aka the "because it's out there and we'd like to see it for ourselves" rationale)
    3) war (you know, rebels and stuff... Everyone from King David to Mao Zedong spent time on the lam - where better to hide from an oppressive government than, you know, outer-freakin'-space?)
    4) Maybe they want to know what Natalie Portman tastes like while naked and covered in grits? (okay not that, but maybe some similar stupid reason - think of it as a glorified hunting expedition, a'la Predator)
    5) politics (hell, we build bridges to nowhere on governmental funds...)
    6) {insert lesser barely-rational and irrational reasons here}

  • Re:Why is this here? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by harperska ( 1376103 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:08PM (#43560933)

    The summary begs several questions, actually.

    One, how can they presume our mental state would be significantly altered by unknown future technology. History would presume to suggest the opposite of what they suggest, actually. Our ingrained drive for exploring the unknown that we had in the days of sailing ships certainly wasn't quashed with the advent of steamships, or then again by airplanes, rocket ships, etc. and the drive for knowledge that we had in the days of stone tablets wasn't quashed by the invention of paper, the printing press, or the internet. If anything, these advances have only increased our drive to know what's out there.

    Two, why would it necessarily take a time span long enough for our universal culture of inquisitiveness to fundamentally shift in order to develop FTL? There is no reason to say it absolutely won't happen before that arbitrary time. We already have theories such as Alcubierrie's suggesting that it isn't necessarily an impossibility, and even if it took 100 years for that theory to be put to practice it's presumptuous to say that drive in our psyche would definitely cease in that short a blip of our history.

    Three, even if technological advancements did reduce our exploratory drive, what is to say that similar advancement would affect an alien mind in the same way? As the answer could be such advancements would affect us the same as us, the opposite of us, or something different entirely in equal probabilities, the question itself is therefore meaningless and all we can do is hope that they have the same drive for inquisitiveness as we do in the first place. Or not. Depending on the kind of Sci Fi you watch/read.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@jwsmy[ ].com ['the' in gap]> on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:46PM (#43561455) Homepage Journal

    You're stating this as if you are omnipotent.

        A few hundred thousand years ago, a sling was the most powerful launch device known. It could launch a rock dozens of feet.

        About 60,000 years ago, a bow and arrow could launch a projectile hundreds of feet.

        A couple hundred years ago, a cannon could launch a projectile thousands of feet.

        Just over 100 years ago, man learned to fly.

        About 70 years ago, the largest release of power ever known to man until that point in the first nuclear explosion.

        About 50 years ago, the first man left the confines of Earth.

        About 40 years ago, the first man step foot on another astronomical object.

        You have never left Earth. You are standing on the Earth with knowledge of the workings of a slingshot, trying to predict what we will learn about our universe in the future.

  • Re:3 reasons (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Friday April 26, 2013 @08:32PM (#43563307) Homepage Journal

    I don't know if this was meant as snark or not, but that's one of the very real possibilities.

    I once heard that you couldn't have life like us until you were around a third-generation star like ours, because the environment would be to metal-poor. Wait long enough for our sun, then wait long enough for planets, the wait a while for life, and here we are.

    According to that assertion, we're reasonably early on the scene, given what we know about stellar evolution. But even "reasonably early" may be a highly variable thing, leaving lots of room for slop. Maybe a few of them would even be uploads of Ray Kurzweil.

    Give us a thousand years and we could easily have robot probes scouring the galaxy, building a few more at each suitable spot. They could cover the galaxy in a few million years.

    A few million years sounds like a lot to us, but against a galactic timescale it's a drop in the bucket. The same applies to someone a few million years ahead of us. Compared to stellar evolution, planetary formation, and evolution it's a drop in the bucket.

  • Re:Neighbors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday April 26, 2013 @09:23PM (#43563637) Homepage Journal

    You guys are all of the incredibly naive assumption that intelligent aliens will have anything in common with us at all, an example is Terry Bison's excellent short story They're made out of meat. [] (full text at the link)

    A thousand years more advanced? How about ten million years more advanced? [] That's mine but another example of how we have no clue whatever (BTW, I'm posting the last chapter tomorrow). Ten million years is a small fraction of the thirteen billion plus the universe has existed.

    The bottom line, though is that we have no idea. There's no proof, or even any indication, that Earth isn't the first planet in the galaxy and maybe even the universe (unlikely as that seems to me) to host life. Mars was once hospitable to life, as our robots have found, but there is no indication it ever started there.

    Great topic for discussion, though. Personally, I think they exist or did exist or will exist, but I really doubt we'll meet them.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN