Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist who brings so much insight to physics, cosmology, and the study of the universe in general, seems to have been spent a bit too much time watching “Independence Day” or ABC’s new TV show “V” before filming a recent segment on his new Discover Channel series.
In one of his most widely quoted statements in years Hawking noted (very correctly and obviously) that the math of the universe suggests there is almost certainly other life out there and probably other intelligent life, but then bizarrely adds this:
“Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach,” Hawking said. “If so, it makes sense for them to exploit each new planet for material to build more spaceships so they could move on. Who knows what the limits would be?”
He goes on to speculate that contacting aliens may well be a big mistake as the collision of our culture and theirs could be similar to when Columbus came to the Americas, with an outcome unfavorable to the indiginous populations.
I think I’ll give Hawking the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s been dipping into a legal marijuana prescription for some ailment (or more likely just hyping the alien connection for the show) but this kind of dumb statement from smart people reminds me of the singularity folks who fret far too much that superintelligences will be malevolent.
There is very little reason to assume this and a lot of reasons to assume the opposite for the reasons I go into below.
Also important is the fact that aliens with the technological capability to visit our lonely little planet at the edge of the galaxy are very likely to have technology so powerful that we’d pose essentially zero threat to them, so friendship is a much better survival strategy than fighting and hoping for the preposterously stupid scenario of the film “Indendence Day” where a computer glitch, exploited via an Apple laptop Computer (!) , destroys a massive fleet of massive alien ships.
For example go back to the battle of Trafalgar where the British defeated France in a battle that would cement England’s global hedgemony well into the next century. Then consider how a *single* WWII aircraft carrier (representing only a +140 year military technological improvements vs the 1000s of years likely from the Aliens) could have crushed and destroyed both fleets in minutes without sustaining damage or casualties. Whoever possessed that single ship could likely have dominated the globe for a century.
But.. I digress because I don’t think Aliens are likely to be mean, let alone threaten our existence. In fact my greatest fear about Aliens is that we’ll be so profoundly uninteresting to them – still in our very early stages of intellectual development – that they will …. just …. leave.
Why nice Aliens? First, if we view human intellectual development from an evolutionary, individual, or societal standpoint we see that progress generally means *better treatment* of others, not worse. Note for example how the common practices of child labor and slavery are out of vogue, not increasing in popularity. Although slavery is still practiced by dispicable folks it is an aberration, illegal, and generally fought by the powers that be rather than embraced as it was centuries ago.
In terms of evolutionary development I think most of us would rather find ourselves confronted by even the most vicious and uncaring Wall Street CEO than a hungry tiger shark or lion. Evolution has “softened” our approach to hunting and gathering in ways that are less violent. Even if the Aliens Hawking fears come with the intention of exploiting our resources, this is likely to happen much more as a peaceful economic transaction than a violent act of piracy. For example they might trade something of huge value to us like cold fusion propulsion technology for something they can’t synthesize themselves. However it also seems unlikely that they’d have any need of the resources we hold dear because they will probably be able to synthesize all their needs from basic raw materials available in uninhabited planets and stars in a galaxy nearer them. Given even a hundred years of nanotechnology progress leads to innovations that are hard for us to imagine, and these Alien dudes are likely to be thousands of years beyond out technology, again making my case that they are likely to simply ignore us as uninteresting simple life rather than threaten us. We don’t pay much attention to the worms, ants, spiders, and beetles in our yard even though they do have some very interesting capabilities.
….. more later …..
[ Singularity before Aliens / Edge of the galaxy problem / age = wisdom / more logic = less violence]