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Earth Space Science

Stephen Hawking Wants To Find Aliens Before They Find Us (cnet.com) 280

Stephen Hawking is again reminding people that perhaps shouting about our existence to aliens is not the right way to go about it, especially if those aliens are more technologically advanced. In his new half-hour program dubbed, Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist said (via CNET):"If intelligent life has evolved (on Gliese 832c), we should be able to hear it," he says while hovering over the exoplanet in the animated "U.S.S. Hawking." "One day we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well." Hawking manages to be both worried about exposing our civilization to aliens and excited about finding them. He supports not only Breakthrough: Listen, but also Breakthrough: Starshot, another initiative that aims to send tiny nanocraft to our closest neighboring star system, which was recently found to have an Earth-like planet.
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Stephen Hawking Wants To Find Aliens Before They Find Us

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  • would know that TV and radio -- except for AM -- transmitters are designed so as not to radiate energy where it's wasted (like, for example, towards the sky). Plus, of course, the transition to fiber optics reducing EM emissions even further.

    If we figured that out pretty soon after inventing radio, it stands to reason that ETs would have also.

    • Satellite communications tends to shoot up a lot more directed radiation than reaches the satellites. Even as we move past Ka and into EHF, the more directed energy will suffer less from the inverse square law. That's a lot of energy being directed into space.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        That's a lot of energy being directed into space.

        The number of energy sources is great, but at what wattage are they sending them (I bet "low"), and how many are directed beam?

        Remember that of all the energy that stars send out (the Sun emits 3.8 x 10^26 watts), only a minuscule fraction of photons reach us. How many photons from a 1,000 watt source will arrive at Gliese 823?

        • 7... But anyway, the earth is also spinning and revolving around the sun, so those directed beams are not always pointing in the same direction despite generally focusing on geosynchronous orbits. It's a mixed bag for sure. Since it is so focused, it might be able to be picked up at those particular moments of clarity when the orbits make the beams hit, but that will last a very short period of time. Not enough to make out the signal, but possibly long enough to make out the fact that it is modulated, un
    • by taniwha ( 70410 )

      Oh for heaven's sake, the Hawking knows the planet is a sphere, if you use a vertical dipole sure you don't send a whole lot straight up, and you radiate more of your energy horizontally away from the antenna .... and while the photons head out in a donut away from that antenna, which is poking up from the surface of a sphere, as they move away from their source the ground falls away and any photons that don't hit anything ... radiate away into space in that same donut shape, inverse squaring to infinity (a

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Some of the radiation passes out into space over the horizon, so Earth is certainly visible, even if it at a distance only is detectable as a noise level change.

      The limit of many TV transmitters are caused by the fact that Earth is round, and only direct wave is considered. A lot of the radiation at higher frequencies slips out into space except when you have a phenomenon called tropo ducting [dxinfocentre.com] where VHF and sometimes UHF can travel great distances along the surface of the Earth.

      Then we can always argue that

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Thursday September 22, 2016 @05:38PM (#52942083)

    There's no possibility that aliens capable of FTL would find us remotely interesting. Once you get to that technology, energy and resource problems either have been solved, or become very easily solvable. In addition, given that FTL is far more likely to be developed using AI rather than human intelligence, space faring races (if they bother to be space faring) are more likely to be 2nd order intelligences (i.e. artificial intelligences),rather than 1st order, genetically based naturally developing intelligences).

    Bottom line? To space faring AIs, we're squirrels. Our nuts are safe. Really.

    • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday September 22, 2016 @05:48PM (#52942161) Homepage Journal
      Uh, FTL travel is not possible. Ever. This is known already. Because, you know, physics. What you are describing is pure fantasy.
      • Uh, yes, well I always suspected that the scientists doing those quantum entanglement experiments were just messing with us for fun.

      • by kuzb ( 724081 )

        There are other theoretical ways to travel that don't involve travelling at or beyond the speed of light. These theories have existed for over a century and have a strong basis mathematically.

        At one point flight was not possible, ever. At another point travel to the moon was not possible, ever. Seeing a bit of a trend here? There are many things which were once considered fantasy which are now a reality.

      • Uh, FTL travel is not possible. Ever.

        Except when it is possible... Hawking believes worm-holes are likely, which would make both FTL and even backwards time-travel possible, at least in theory.

        For the record I'm a complete skeptic of backwards time-travel.

        This is known already. Because, you know, physics.

        Current physics is just one theory, based on observed evidence, and we already know there are big, gaping holes in it (dark matter, dark energy to name but two). It's more than just possible that a better

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Except when it is possible... Hawking believes worm-holes are likely, which would make both FTL and even backwards time-travel possible, at least in theory.

          I'm not sure what Hawking's current view on wormholes is, but I know that he is not a believer [wikipedia.org] in backwards time travel. Indeed, it seems to proclude macroscopic stable wormholes, period, since they seem to inherently imply a capability for backwards time travel. They also seem to inherently represent either unfathomably large amounts of energy to form

          • the fact that there exist things that are poorly understood doesn't mean that you can just make up whatever you want

            No, indeed, but it makes it foolish to clutch on to the current theory as an infallible cornerstone.

            All evidence that humans have encountered, from all fields, from the tiniest of scales to the most distant of astronomical observations,

            Humans have encountered a trivially tiny amount of evidence about the universe, and are prone to misinterpreting or rationalizing what little we do see.

            shows th

      • Maybe not, but we hardly *know* that. Physics is an iterative approximation to reality, not divine truth.

        We know our current understanding of physics is imperfect - current QM and GR theories have some fundamental incompatibilities. And we know even small imperfections can contain vast new fields of science - all of QM grew out of some minor unexplained oddities in the behavior of light.

        We have also already invented several different theoretical FTL techniques that are completely consistent with our curr

      • Yes, FTL is 'possible', maybe - we have observed other galaxies moving away from us FTL, although this is because spacetime is expanding FTL. Theoretically one could locally distort spacetime to allow them to travel multiple times the speed of light without actually accelerating - aka warp drive. This is mathematically *possible* given our current understanding of physics, but it would require an extremely large amount of mass-energy, to the point where our models and understandings might break down. So,
      • wrong, most of the universe is receding away from us at faster than light speed.

        And drop your religious belief in science, physics is a man-made set of useful models, that we already know don't apply to all situations. We don't know what the laws of nature are. We don't know that making a craft that goes FTL is impossible, in fact our understanding of GR says it IS possible.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        At least given what we know today. But loopholes have been found before in other stuff that was thought impossible to break.

      • Uh, FTL travel is not possible. Ever.

        There are several ways in which that statement is both true and, at least potentially, untrue at the same time.

        1) We have discovered no way to break what we understand to be the highest velocity at which a particle can travel: light speed.

        2) No experiment we have ever conceived and/or tested has discredited (1) above.

        3) There are several more, but I don't want to articulate them.

        Untrue (or potentially untrue):
        1) Our best understanding is that matter in the universe moved faster than light during a time

    • There's no possibility that aliens capable of FTL would find us remotely interesting.

      *No* possibility? And you know this how? Through an exhaustive analysis of all the sentient ET species in the galaxy?

      Now your arguments are reasonable and I agree that it's quite possible things will be like that. But then maybe not, we just don't know.

      I can easily imagine an alien race that is genetically driven to multiply and expand above anything else. Other races to them are just obstacles to be eliminated, kind of like how humans expand into new areas (e.g. Amazon rainforest) and destroy existing life

      • I'm making what seem like reasonable guesses based on the assumption that we're completely ordinary as tool using, sentient species go and while individual differences exist, physics and the nature of the problems to be solved will impose very similar restrictions on any sentient species seeking to engage in space travel.

    • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Thursday September 22, 2016 @06:00PM (#52942255)

      I don't think its possible to predict what a more advanced civilization might want. Are we squirrels? Are we rats to be exterminated? Are we dogs to be bred for cuteness? Is the relationship something we are not capable of comprehending?

      • I'm hoping for cats, actually. Better lifestyle and all that.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It is also impossible for us to hide from them. It requires an immense leap of faith to think that an advanced alien civilization would require us to send an intentional radio signal for them to detect, rather than being detectable from the (much stronger) signal that is the change in the Earth's atmosphere over the last 200 years. If they are even a few centuries (cosmically, a blink of an eye) ahead of us technologically, they will have imaged the Earth and seen our atmospheric nuclear tests in the last c

        • Probably true. OTOH, we have no idea of their motives. Why would the humans care if ants eat some of the spilled sugar in the cabinets?

          I just think that its better to be the guys on the ships rather than the guys on the shore.

    • by kuzb ( 724081 )

      Christopher Columbus was far more advanced than the Native Americans, but that didn't stop him from a mass slaughter.

      For all our theorising about the number of available habitable worlds, we're still not really sure exactly how many there are or what their distribution is in the universe. For all we really know planets like earth might be incredibly rare. They may want to take earth simply because it has life sustaining properties. Or maybe slaughtering primitive species predator-style is a national pass

      • Christopher Columbus was far more advanced than the Native American

        There are two ways to look at this, technically and genetically. From a Technical point of view, he was marginally better off than the Natives, genetically not so much.

        So, the only thing we need to fear are aliens with better weapons that we currently have. And our weapons, while seemingly nasty to us, are probabably like pop guns to any alien who could find us out.

        Lets hope "To Serve Man" isn't a cookbook

      • We are a threat to ourselves and in a hundred years (if we survive them intact) a threat to everyone else in the galaxy. Much of Star Trek on this is plausible. They are likely to intervene at least before we become a threat to them.

        Then there's the question of what they might want from us. Do we have any resources here that they might want? Any data? That is harder to understand but we cannot rule it out. For that reason, I agree with Hawking. Why take the risk?

      • ... and thus consider all biological lifeforms inherently dangerous.

      • Columbus' motivation was that he wanted to enslave everyone to make money for him. Advanced aliens are certain to have machines that will make better slaves than we can.

    • There's no possibility that aliens capable of FTL would find us remotely interesting. Once you get to that technology, energy and resource problems either have been solved, or become very easily solvable...

      Yes, you go find some squirrels and take their nuts, except for selected docile breeding stock.
      Then you teach the now well behaved squirrels to gather and or produce whatever it is you want or need.
      Maybe hit the town once in a while to get your tentacles wet doing some probing on the townies...
      Being technologically advanced does not imply being kind, compassionate, empathetic or in any way moral.
      The fact that they got off their hunk of rock implies they are willing to struggle and sacrifice.

      And often s

    • Humans find goldfish interesting.

      • But we are rarely moved to conquer the entire globe spanning goldfish empire. We might, if they got in our way, but we wouldn't go out of our way to do so.

    • There's no possibility that aliens capable of FTL would find us remotely interesting.

      It is impossible for me to get behind a statement like that given that we have (to my knowledge) not learned anything about any such aliens. We can't make such broad generalizations while being completely in the dark.

      Perhaps some species capable of FTL travel might find us interesting to hunt, or maybe they'd like to get their hands on Earth for resources ("natural" or labor) or as an outpost near something or someone else they are interested in. Not finding us particularly sexy doesn't necessarily mean

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        A lot of the atrocities committed on the natives were indeed for forced labour or resources. But a lot were also committed in the name of religion.

        We can certainly speculate on what sort of philosophy aliens might live by, but it would be nothing more than speculation.

    • You're making several big assumptions:
      1) that FTL would be a far more advanced technology than what we have, rather than a the product of a fundamentally alien physics model,
      2) that FTL would necessarily be accompanied by similar advances in energy and resource acquisition
      3) that FTL exists and is relevant at all - plenty of ways to cross between stars without it. Just because they won't get here for decades or millenia doesn't mean they couldn't be a huge problem for humanity when they do.
      4) that they don

    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      unless they are degenerates and just want to rape/torture/eat us for entertainment. less close encounters aliens more Firefly Reavers. They didn't even have to start out that way, take a few thousand beings, set out on a mission for peace, suspended animation systems fail critically and they go stir crazy, after a while food storage and production falters because it was only meant for the awake rotation not for everyone, and so the overtaxed systems start failing in ways that take too long to fix so the f
    • anthropomorphizing the space aliens a bit, there are folks here on this planet who go to hard-to-get-to remote & dangerous locations--to find a new worm or something. And enjoy it. Why wouldn't a space alien do the same?
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      That's probably true, but we don't know.

      FTL may wind up being possible due to some unknown property of physics but it may only be useful for movement through spacetime and not necessarily for the production of useful energy.

      I'd wager an FTL capable but also not a free energy civilization is also a civilization that is resource hungry and would likely be exploiting sources of easy to obtain resources. It could also turn out that the atomic elements aren't well-distributed in the galaxy and that one all the

    • "... FTL is far more likely to be developed using AI rather than human intelligence..."

      Or assuming there is no FTL, then AI will be needed for the small, long-endurance probes. If you think that the latency problem in operating Mars rovers is hard, what are latencies measured in years going to be like?

  • Think about it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Thursday September 22, 2016 @05:45PM (#52942139) Homepage
    We got to the top of the food chain by being the grand champions of the solar system at killing shit. We're so good at killing things that we pass laws against slaughtering animals to keep us from wiping them out. The Dodo Bird and Carrier Pigeon are examples of species we've exterminated and we nearly killed off a bunch of others.

    It makes sense to guess that the dominant species on other worlds got to the top of the food chain because they're also the most skillful killers. It's wishful thinking to suppose that a more technically advanced civilization would be more peaceful and tolerant. Just like it was wishful thinking for the Aztecs to give the Spanish gold and hope they'd go away.

    He's right. We should be careful about broadcasting our presence around the 'verse.

    • by kuzb ( 724081 )

      The Dodos didn't go extinct because we were so skilled at killing them, they went extinct because they were so very easy to kill and didn't adapt to the situation by learning to run away. This didn't make us amazing hunters, it makes them incredibly bad survivalists.

      Carrier pigeons on the other hand aren't extinct so that part of your statement makes no sense.

      • They probably meant passenger pigeon. Too tasty for their own good.
      • " they went extinct because they were so very easy to kill... "

        The passenger pigeon species had a fatal flaw: it could survive only in large colonies. Man had only to do a halfass job of wiping out large, visible bunches of them resting in trees, and once the hidden tipping point was reached, the pigeon colonies collapsed. Most endangered species can hang on in isolated small colonies until there is a chance to repopulate.

    • We should be careful about broadcasting our presence around the 'verse.

      I'm pretty sure we haven't and likely won't for a long time. I vaguely remember someone doing the math on how far out into space our radio signals could be detected from the noise of the sun and other radiation sources. As I recall no one is going to hear us if they are outside of the solar system.

      Even if that estimate is off by a few orders of magnitude that still doesn't get us a signal out very far. Then we'd have to get their attention long enough to be interesting. Just the time for the signal to t

    • It's wishful thinking to suppose that a more technically advanced civilization would be more peaceful and tolerant.

      I don't think so, for two reasons.

      The first is that our own history is one of increasing peace and tolerance. If you don't believe this, you should read Stephen Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature". I won't attempt to restate his arguments here, but there's very compelling evidence that we've become dramatically less violent and more tolerant in step with our increased technology.

      The second is that advanced technology is impossible without extremely high levels of cooperation. For one example, the

  • We all know that "Mr. Hawking" is in fact an alien, residing on our planet to observe us.

  • Let them shoot down the drone.

    Earth declares war

    Earth sends nanocraft with We come in peace post-it

    Earth-base prepares 10 megaton warhead for 'signature required priority overnight' delivery

  • by shanen ( 462549 ) on Thursday September 22, 2016 @07:01PM (#52942673) Homepage Journal

    I actually started my analysis of the Fermi Paradox from the other side. What if some civilization wanted to be noticed? Turns out to be a relatively minor problem, which strongly indicates that no one wants to be noticed. Alternatively, they tried it and got shut up quickly. Bottom line is that no one is trying right now (where now includes the 100,000 years it would take to span our galaxy--still an extremely small value of "now" on the galactic scale).

    My position has evolved over the years, but I'm basically standing on the position that the synthetic intelligences (ASIs) that replace the naturally evolved intelligences like us are amused. They are watching and probably gambling quatloos on whether we create ASI successors before exterminating ourselves. Longer version at:

    https://ello.co/shanen0/post/v... [ello.co]

    Again hoping for "funny" or "insightful" comments at Slashdot, but it's a young article, soon to become an obsolete article...

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The flaw in these arguments is always that they assume a species will act as one. Even on Earth, we have idiots broadcasting adverts for unhealthy snacks into space as publicity stunts.

      • by shanen ( 462549 )

        I think you are talking about non-directional radio and TV broadcasts, but those signals will become unintelligible within a few light years. They would only lead to our detection by a civilization that had seeded the galaxy with detectors, and such a civilization would surely find it easier and more interesting to simply monitor the life-bearing planets more directly and close up.

        My analysis assumes a large electromagnetic beacon (probably radio or laser) deliberately focused across the sky in a search pat

  • Some of them are just catching "I Love Lucy" and "Abbott and Costello". Maybe it will keep them occupied for 50 years or so... If they were more advanced than we are, they won't be for long.

  • Hopefully they'll treat us better than we treat lower life-forms. Especially if we happen to taste good to them.
  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Thursday September 22, 2016 @08:33PM (#52943249)
    The likelihood that another life form traveled the 4.5 billion year path to intelligence, as we did, is close to zero. It assumes that there is a bias toward intelligence in evolution, of which there is no evidence whatsoever. The dinosaurs ruled the Earth for hundreds of millions of years and probably still would if the Chicxulub asteroid had not hit the Earth 65 million years ago, part of a very particular series of events over 4.5 billion years. Chimpanzees, who share 99.9 percent of our DNA are not us. They build no cities, write no great books, land on no moons. Hawking has a teenagers' science-fiction understanding it seems outside of Black Holes. And as far as the "Fermi Paradox" is concerned, it is not a paradox at all. We are not living on the Earth, we ARE the Earth. We are not going to settle the Galaxy, or even the Solar System. We can live nowhere else. We are not mere visitors to the surface of the Earth. We are an intrinsic part of the Earth. It would be the same for any "intelligent species." End of question.
    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      You have a strange definition of "intrinsic". And "are", for that matter. Particularly given that as you speak there are humans orbiting over your head.

  • Logically, the encounter between us and a more advanced society would be less like "Indians and Columbus" and more like "single-celled bacteria and humans".

    Assuming the universe is ~15bn years, and the earth's existence to-date (including the evolution of our stellar system, and the giant star from whose planetary nebula we formed) took about 6bn years to evolve from essentially nothing, that means that a more advanced civilization could be anywhere from 0 to 9bn years ahead of us. Let's assume conservativ

  • ... shouting about our existence to aliens is not the right way to go about it, ...

    I heard that Trump is going to build a Space Wall. Not sure who's going to pay for it though. :-)

  • Whenever I'm out of my mind enough to look at the world as an outsider, I would advise any aliens to take off and nuke the site from orbit. Though they certainly have some way to just kill off the human species and let evolution try again. Come back in a million years (surely you've managed age) and check if earth intelligence v2.0 is better.

    We definitely want to find them first, so we can check if we can conquer, enslave and economically exploit them. If not, to buy us time to improve our military until we

  • If THEY are more technologically advanced than we are, THEY already know about us. Or at least they know that there's something peculiar about the third planet around our sun, with its nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere and such.

Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit some people. -- F.M. Hubbard