Where Are They?
As Fermi once said, ‘where are they?’ He was of course referring to the absence of any signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence, and he certainly had a thought-provoking point. Let’s face it, there is nothing especially unique about our solar system or perhaps even planet Earth, as every day extrasolar planets and solar systems are discovered throughout our galaxy, many of which even Goldilocks herself may be happy to inhabit!
So since we know there are trillions of stars with billions of orbiting planets and we know our solar system is relatively young (4.5 billion years) in cosmic terms doesn’t common sense say some planets must harbour life, and common sense say from an evolutionary point of view some of that life could be millions if not billions of years more advanced than ourselves, and some less advanced likewise in years. So why don’t we encounter the more advanced ones? Or detect their signals? Why the great silence? Surely they would have mastered interstellar travel (if not intergalactic travel) by now. Wouldn’t we have with that head start?
Especially if the heavy bombardment of Earth lasted less than the 700 million years thus allowing replicating molecules to appear much earlier than 3.8 billion years ago. Or if complex eukaryotic cells with nucleus appeared well before 2 billion years ago. Or if the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago happened say 80 million years ago, thus clearing the way for mammals to evolve even earlier. We would be well on our way to colonising our galaxy and beyond at this stage.
Why can’t we detect their signals? Surely they are broadcasting either intentionally or unintentionally as we do. Could our detection methods and technology be that inadequate? Hardly, but maybe their broadcasting technology is too advanced for us to detect? Perhaps they use something as exotic as Neutrino signalling or other kinds of signalling that we can’t decipher or even detect. We would at least expect to detect their engineering feats, such as Dyson spheres surrounding their local star, which they might develop to harvest their stars energy once their planets resources inevitably diminished.
Is there a Filter?
Is there some obstacle that inhibits the continued rise and advancement of spacefaring sentient intelligence? This concept of an obstacle or a barrier is sometimes called the ‘Great Filter’, which some think is nearly impossible for life to get to the other side of before destroying itself. And if this filter exist, which side of it are we on? The Drake equation gives us a rough estimate of the number of beings with language, beliefs, hopes and dreams in our galaxy. But the Fermi paradox seemingly contradicts this. Something must be interfering with Drake’s calculations.
Is it behind us?
Could it be behind us and we have somehow managed the near impossible and reached the other side? A triumph brought about by many numerous improbable events occurring since the dawn of time coupled with outrageously good fortune, both cosmologically and evolutionary. Perhaps this triumph of ours may be extremely rare and we may well be alone in our universe, or in our local galaxy cluster at any rate.
Or is it ahead of us?
Or perhaps it’s ahead of us, and someday we’ll learn (well we won’t actually realise) that nothing passes through it. Maybe as civilisations become more advanced, they edge closer and closer to destroying themselves (seems like fait accompli to me any time I check the latest world news) until that fateful day of Armageddon and extinction. Hey, it’s just Darwinian evolution in action! And this for all we know is and has been the fate for each and every alien intelligence that has or will evolve across the universe. That catastrophic day may arrive before advanced civilisation can spread its wings across galaxies. Hence the silence, so no grand mystery after all! So fellow humans, prepare, the adventure may be about to end. Sure it was fun while it lasted!
So intelligent life may be prone to self-destruction, the extinction or unintended suicide of a species. Brought about by some future calamity, whether it’s by local threats from civil and social disorder, climate and pollution crisis, weapons of mass destruction, a deadly virus or cosmic threats such as a massive solar flare, a nearby supernova or asteroid impact. A sort of universal nature of life, inherent in life, all life right across the universe. Intelligent life advances so far, with small amounts of technological progress, then is partially destroyed by large amounts of setbacks, an endless cycle of one step forward, two steps back. Life, wherever it originates never gets a chance to raise its head above the galactic parapet. What a shame!
From Earth to the Heavens
Hmm, but this can’t be correct. While it took us two million years to go from Apeman to Spaceman, sixty six years to go from the Wright brothers to the Moon, we have now almost thrown off the shackles of planet Earth. The latter part of this fortunate journey has seen exponential progress. We can only be a few generations or centuries away from beginning to explore and colonise our own galaxy. One can only wonder with awe where the next two million year journey will take us. Will someone write ‘it has taken us two million years to go from spaceman to………’ Feel free to fill in the blank. So inevitably some civilization somewhere, would have been lucky enough to successfully begin their colonization process and break free of their home planet and continue to evolve and disperse throughout their galactic environment.
So what about robotic artificial intelligence (AI) from planet earth? Our colonial quest will surely be robotic in nature. AI that would be autonomous and self-sufficient, built to last, built to pursue that colonising goal. It will have the ability to replicate or build other AI along its journey. If we are currently on the cusp of achieving that then surely at least some (remember that some could equal millions) other advanced civilisation would have succeeded before their rendezvous with the great filter.
Where are the Alien Robots?
Why don’t we see alien AI then? I mean this feat would be a natural progression for any advanced civilisation wouldn’t it? Just like it is or will be for us. Thus, our galaxy should be overflowing if not with aliens, then at the very least with robotic AI. Does it mean the filter happens before AI is sufficiently developed, that AI suffers from the same self-destruct button as non AI entities like organic humans for example. Then again, there is no particular reason why if any civilization reaches roughly the level of advancement in technology we have reached today that everything implodes. Viewed from today, mankind conceivably should last at least another few generations, in which case we have plenty of time to launch robotic space farers.
We have not encountered alien robotic AI to-date. To me this strongly suggests that AI will emulate us in terms of evolving greater intelligence following Darwin’s principles until eventually leading to its own mass self-destruction.
But on the other hand, there is no valid reason that AI (or humans for that matter) once launched in every direction and given enough time to spread wouldn’t make it through the great filter. That we would at the very least see some probes, some evidence that couldn’t be destroyed in that self-destruct event as the spread would have taken it far beyond the reaches of the self-destruct button. So where the hell is alien robotic AI?
One logical and economical method to explore our galaxy would be to despatch Bracewell probes or messenger probes. These would target distant solar systems that likely could sustain life. Orbit the host star, scan for transmissions and relay these discoveries back to its home civilization. And in the process pinpointing the position of its discovery in the galaxy. I wonder is there one lurking in our own solar system, concealed in an asteroid, shadowing our own orbit? That will keep you awake tonight!
If there is nothing special about us humans on planet Earth then we should have already seen signs of other advanced lifeforms given the likely evolutionary head start many would have had. Even though scientifically it doesn’t make sense to me, it’s hard to argue against the seemingly obvious, of us being actually alone in the universe? If we are, why are we alone? Has a God a part to play in this whole adventure after all?
Or perhaps, well done SETI, and the ‘wow’ signal is our first contact. Or maybe the theory of Paleocontact has much merit and we have been visited in the past. There might be a golden rule observed amongst the advanced civilizations across the galaxy that prevents contact with inferior civilizations like our own. The so-called Zoo hypothesis. Maybe they did visit a number of times over the last hundreds of millions of years and just observed and catalogued the life forms of the time and moved on. They may have come back, covertly, so as not to disturb us or make themselves known to us. This might explain some of the UFOs seen in recent times. Of course colonising galaxies might also be of no benefit and interacting with other lifeforms considered too risky, as civilizations risk being annihilated by each other or by a super civilization.
Or as Nick Bostrom has suggested it’s all just an elaborate illusion and we are living in a simulation. Our interpretation of reality is just plain wrong. Everything we personally or collectively have ever thought, or carried out, is nothing more than a computer game created by an alien programmer from a technologically advanced civilization with little more to be doing. Are we the ones and zeros of God the programmer?
Which universe do you want to inhabit? The desolate universe with only ourselves, or a universe rich with all types of beings.