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Are Habitable Exoplanets Bad News For Humanity? 608

An anonymous reader writes "The discovery of Kepler-186f last week has dusted off an interesting theory regarding the fate of humanity and the link between that fate and the possibility of life on other planets. Known as the The Great Filter, this theory attempts to answer the Fermi Paradox (why we haven't found other complex life forms anywhere in our vast galaxy) by introducing the idea of an evolutionary bottleneck which would make the emergence of a life form capable of interstellar colonization statistically rare. As scientists gear up to search for life on Kepler-186f, some people are wondering if humanity has already gone through The Great Filter and miraculously survived or if it's still on our horizon and may lead to our extinction."
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Are Habitable Exoplanets Bad News For Humanity?

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  • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <gar37bic AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 24, 2014 @06:48PM (#46837237)

    I think I'll beg to differ, at least on the first sentence, at least on a matter of scale and influence. The second one is what I would term an 'issue in progress' - we won't really know the outcome for another five or ten years. Recognize that both sides of that question are corporate, so the sparring will continue for a long time.

    I first used the Internet in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as I worked at companies that had DoD or research connections. At that time it was essentially email and file transfer, and it's quite possible that without commercial creativity, it might still be stuck there. Sorry this is long and digressional, but I enjoyed writing it, so there. :)

    I acquired my first domain name in 1991, before the WorldWideWeb program - the program by Tim Berners-Lee, which ran on and was inspired by the NextStep system. Every program on the NeXT was capable of incorporating any form of media, including email with video and voice snippets, etc. WorldWideWeb fit right into the other similar programs on the NeXT - his real achievement was conceiving of the HTML language, which allowed (in theory) other computer systems to support similar capabilities. NeXT itself was inspired by SmallTalk, the Xerox Alto, and lessons learned in the Macintosh. Almost all of the above was done in commercial and academic research settings. Lee's own work was somewhat outside CERN's "real" purpose, and was allowed rather than driven by CERN - the closest thing to a government that I've mentioned. So nearly all of this was work being done for mostly commercial reasons (just as IBM Labs, Xerox PARC, and ATT Labs were commercial projects), but lived on top of the fairly mundane (from our point of view, today) vision funded by DARPA to ease data transfer between big mainframes at research facilities in support of rather vague defense related goals.

    IMHO, without the commercial creativity and openness to finding new ways to get an advantage by improving the Internet, SendMail would be a lot simpler because it would still only support the two or three earliest mail protocols - it's possible that not even SMTP would have been invented, to clean up the email protocol problem. Government, in the form of DARPA, took the essential step of deciding to connect things together - this is a classic infrastructure initiative. And Al Gore, bless his little heart, did sponsor the bill to allow commercial use of the Internet. Before that, from my own experience, using the net was not easy, and having an actual presence on the net was hard and expensive. Getting a connection through some other company (see the history of UseNet) took weeks, and probably money - a 56Kbit line cost IIRC over $100/month in 1981 and a T-1 (1Mbit/s) was about $1500/month unless my memory fails me, plus you had to pay whoever you were connecting to. Getting a domain name took weeks after that, and depended on one guy, Jon Postel (RIP), to update his manually maintained list.

    Nearly everything you know about the modern net, every protocol commonly used, every feature you depend on, is the result of capitalist innovation, not government projects. And I think this is a good example of how government and business - and not least academia and creative individuals (often with $ in their eyes) can each do what they do best. Some folks disagree but I think government is generally pretty good at building and maintaining highways, and providing the regulatory infrastructure that allows businesses to compete evenly without a race to the unsafe and dastardly bottom. And businesses, if not _too_ large, both benefits from that and provides the creative fluidity that makes things better. (From my view of systems theory, IMHO any market where any business has control of over about 20% of the market, and all but one have less than 12% or so, is essentially frozen and non-competitive. But that's another topic.) Neither is perfect, but over time I think we continue to converge toward a better situation - and whining about the problems is one of the most important factors in pushing that progress.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:06PM (#46837347) Homepage

    In fact we learned today that the FCC is going to allow capitalists to fuck the internet up at least in the US.

    Considering all the nice things I've heard about American ISPs, you already seem more buttfucked than the goatse guy. But I guess from now on you'll pay extra for lube.

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @07:07PM (#46837367)

    The core of the Fermi Paradox is that there does not appear to be any basic physical limitation that would prevent an intelligent civilization from colonizing the entire galaxy in much less than a 100 million years - yet there is no case that can yet be made that Earth is anything like a boundary case of the "earliest possible biosphere". It is not a solution to the Fermi Paradox to postulate reasons why one intelligent species or another might fail to do so, it has to apply to every one of them since one outlier would go on to colonize the galaxy.

    I think part of the resolution of the paradox is the implicit notion common to us humans that our form of tool-using symbolic-communicating intelligence is some sense "inevitable" and will arise given enough time. Yet observing the evolution of the large animals on Earth does not give any reason for thinking this is some sort of normal progression. The Great Apes, very similar to hominids, have not shown any trend toward evolving larger brains since the hominid-ape split 7 million years ago. No general trend toward developing human style intelligence is evident anywhere. The emerging story of hominid development is that a long series of lucky accidents seems to have been necessary to bring it about.

    Human-style intelligence may be extremely unlikely to evolve at all.

  • by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @09:36PM (#46838127)

    If you read about the "great filter" then you'd find out that the big question isn't what that filter is, but WHERE it takes place. Is it the step from single-cell to multi-cell organism? Is it the rise of special intelligence? Part of the warning with the great filter idea, is that since there seems to be no observable evidence (directly or indirectly) of any other species progressing past the point we are at, it stands to reason that the "filter" could in fact be very close at hand, either through some social thing like nuclear war, or something else like a nearby exploding supernova.

    So either we have already passed the filter in one of the many earlier stages in our history, or it is yet to come. If it's yet to come, that's something we should be concerned about.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @10:59PM (#46838421) Journal

    liquid helium is used as a coolant in MRI not a superconductor.

    It cools the target superconducting material enough so that it becomes superconducting, can carry lots more current and thus create the high magnetic field without losing its superconductivity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    If we run out of helium we will alternative methods of supercooling. Possibly stuff like: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

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