April 26, 2010
Stephen Hawking Cautions Against Alien Contact

Physicist Stephen Hawking says aliens who detect us might have hostile intentions.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. 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,” he said. “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.”

Here's a video of Hawking making these comments.

Richard Carrigan thinks we should look for artifacts of alien civilizations that are large enough to be detected at a distance.

A recent interesting paper from a scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory suggested an alternative to conventional SETI called “interstellar archeology.”

In essence, this involves passively scanning the cosmos for the equivalent of earth’s Egyptian pyramids, or the Great Wall of China – obvious signs of intelligent life that can be seen from space.

“Uncovering such an artifact does not require the intentional transmission of a signal on the part of the original civilization,” writes Fermi scientist Richard Carrigan.

Perhaps we could detect, for example, a Dyson sphere under construction. It would only partially block the light from a star.

If there are aliens out there then where are their space probes? One idea I've had about that is that long lived aliens might be really risk averse. They probably think like Hawking: Best to hide from possibly dangerous other species. In fact, the longest lived species probably are either invaders or hiders.

Even if most alien species are not hostile it would only take one species more advanced than us to detect us and send something to wipe us out.

Update: One might imagine that most intelligent species will be like us and dream of peaceful First Contact and mutually beneficial friendly relations between species. That might even be true. But it only takes one species that derives enormous pleasure from hunting that sees all other species as total outsiders for the rest of the intelligent species to be faced with a big problem.

Either extreme xenophobia or a great love of hunting combined with total disregard for others would be enough to drive a species to want to wipe out other intelligent species. Can we rule out the emergence of a species that would have a combination of characteristics that would lead to launching of planet killer probes? I would hesitate to rule out that possibility.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 26 11:58 PM  Space Alien Intelligence

Dragon Horse said at April 27, 2010 4:04 AM:

If they have the technology to get here from another star system, the difference between their technology and ours is like the difference between a Neolithic and ours (or greater). They might just treat us as we treat Chimps and Lions. The idea that aliens would hide and kidnap us and do experiments on certain select people, even track them, is not at all far fetched. It is more rational than landing in Washington D.C. on the National Mall, if they know we are primitive, tribal, and xenophobic.

Anyway, if they can only move at something like 20% the speed of light, other than clones, the most likely alien life we are going to meet will be highly advanced technological life. The aliens might just stay in their star system and send out advanced probes/robots, etc to do their exploration. That is very risk averse.

David A. Young said at April 27, 2010 9:58 AM:

Well, if we're a typical example -- and if historical trends continue -- then it is very likely that aliens WOULD be peaceable. Despite current tragic exceptions, the general level of violence worldwide has been going down for millennia, and the rate of decline continues to increase. While there's no guarantee this will continue, I don't see why we must make the assumption that it won't. The website below address this idea. There are others.


As for the plundering nomads thing -- really? You have the ability to build fleets of scavanger ships, but the whole molecular engineering/artificial intelligence/advanced technology thing never allowed you to efficiently mine asteroids, gas giants, etc. for resources? And even when you eventually mine out your whole solar system (providing you never develop any self-control) there's gotta be a lot of uninhabited solar systems out there one can exploit that wouldn't involve dealing with a lot of grubby natives. The idea that microbe-infested planets at the bottom of deep gravity wells would be prime targets for advanced civilizations seems very parochial to me.

I think Stephen needs to stick to his math problems.

Aron said at April 27, 2010 10:14 AM:

Imagine the United States military now fighting against the armies of WWII. That's only 60 years of difference.

My basic opinion is that nothing we do can change significantly the odds of getting wiped out, so let's do what we know has value to us, which is to explore and expand and be curious.

Indy said at April 27, 2010 10:27 AM:

Remember, our fastest probe (the one with the highest speed in "interstellar" space at about 17km/sec - Mach 50) is still Voyager-1, which was launched almost 33 years ago. New Horizons will be significantly slower when it gets the edge of the solar system.

Voyager's speed is about 3.6 AU/year. The *nearest* star to us is Proxima Centauri, at about 4.25 light years or 270,000 AU.

So, do the math, 270,000 / 3.6 = 75,000 years to the closest system possible.

So, in the last third century, the most rapid period of profound human progress ever, we have not managed to develop and launch a craft that even goes a little faster. No one back then would have foreseen this eventuality. Even current speculative-technologies, like nuclear / ion-pulse-drives, are not expected to go much more than twice as fast as that even when they are (or if they ever are) ready for deployment.

But we would need to figure out a way to go not twice, but almost 1,000 times faster to even get to the nearest star, not in few years or a generation, but in a century, and since deep space-probes will need to use radiogenic energy source, the impact of half-life decay would probably make the probe non-functional before it even got there.

And all this is just for the nearest star. The problem gets worse as you go farther out. And we only have 12 stellar objects within our 10 light-year neighborhood, and most are dim red or white dwarfs, probably unsuitable for life. There are only about 40 non-dwarf stars (out of 130 total objects) within 20-light-years, but, again, we would need to be going almost 10,000 times faster than Voyager to get to that frontier in a generation.

People really, *really* want to believe some kind of interstellar travel is possible, our hopes and dreams and greatest science fiction make us profoundly wish for the possibility, and our psychologies will adamantly resist disappointment and cling, almost religiously, to the wildest faith in the paths of future progress.

But all evidence points us in the opposite direction. Interstellar travel and exploration is most likely impossible given the physical limitations that nature imposes on us. Advancing knowledge of nature is, contrary to what many expect, not necessarily the foundation of future technological capabilities, but may only serve to confirm the hardness of the frontier of what is possible.

The possibility of alien life, even somewhere nearby in our galaxy, is probably a moot question - unless they can communicate with us technologically (for which, again, there is no evidence despite decades of ardent searching), we'll never be able to have an encounter.

PacRim Jim said at April 27, 2010 11:46 AM:

We humans evolved (relatively) large brains and cooperation to better our survival odds in a dangerous universe. Thus our instinctive distrust of strangers, who have to earn our trust. Why behave differently vis-a-vis especially strange strangers?

Kenneth Stevens said at April 27, 2010 11:52 AM:

Irony: When someone uses an inexpensive piece of technology that all sensible people would not that long ago have regarded as the wildest science fictional impossibility to tell us how interstellar travel will forever remain a science fictional impossibility.

Lono said at April 27, 2010 1:34 PM:




Indeed - the ironing IS delicious!

I think this latest repeat of a non-story of Hawkins opinions just go to show - as I've always said - "Hawking is an idiot!"

He is by FAR the most educated ignoramus I've ever had the misfortune of knowing about.

I think a more compelling story would be the publicly commissioned formal interrogation of all the remaining astronauts and cosmonauts who claim that we are currently encountering intelligently controlled craft in our solar system.

Fat Man said at April 27, 2010 2:56 PM:

Giant ants from space
Snuff the human race.
Then they eat your face,
Never leave a trace.
La la, la la la, la la, la la la, la la, la la la.

They shoot fire all around.
Tokyo burns down.
Everybody drowns.
The moon falls on the ground.
La la, la la la, la la, la la la, la la, la la la.

They can't be stopped at all.
The buildings start to fall.
Soldiers shoot all day
And then they run away.
La la, la la la, la la, la la la, la la, la la la.

The world is holocaust.
Everything is lost.
Mankind is destroyed.
Sprinkled in the void.
La la, la la la, la la, la la la, la la, la la la.

Giant ants from space
Waste the human race.
Then they eat your face,
Never leave a trace.
La la, la la la, la la, la la la, la la, la la la.

Artist: Blondie
Album: Blondie
Title: The Attack Of The Giant Ants


jay said at April 27, 2010 5:04 PM:

This speculation seems rediculous on so many levels.

First, we haven't seen a calamity from Aliens in the thousands of years of human history.
Second, we have never had a credible sighting of Aliens.

Third, since a million years is an eyeblink in universe-time, Aliens who travel
to other planets likely will be millions, maybe 10s of millions of years more advanced
than us. As such, they will likely have solved most problems that they ever have needed
to solve. Millions of years from now, we could probably make our own planets and life forms.

Just silly.

Fat Man said at May 3, 2010 8:14 PM:

The Emperor Ming: "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."


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