Wolfman Jack Killed More People Than Hitler, Stalin, And Genghis Khan Combined

Science, Technology

Stephen Hawking thinks that it's a bad idea to contact alien civilizations:

Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact. …

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “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 colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. 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.”

While I agree that any aliens reaching the stars are likely to be similar to humans or worse, meaning chauvinistic and rapacious but more technologically advanced, the problem is that we've been contacting alien civilizations since the 1920s through commercial radio, which bleeds off into space.  The signals from Mexican border radio stations of the 1950s, designed to be heard loud and clear in Chicago and New York, are already introducing aliens to Buddy Holly and Little Richard, and will continue to do so forever.

And aliens can't dance.  "Bob" help us all.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

19 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Windypundit  •  Apr 26, 2010 @7:51 am

    I'm not worried about aliens coming to steal our resources. I worry more about relativistic kinetic-kill weapons. If it's possible to build advanced space ships that can accelerate to a substantial fraction of the speed of light, then we could use them as doomsday weapons by slamming them into alien planets. This makes us a threat to any aliens out there, so they might want to use planet-killing spaceships against us first, just in case.

    On the other hand, unless the aliens are very close, it would take a lot of time and some truly huge antennas to detect our radio and television broadcasts. Besides, we're switching to low-power digital signals which will make us harder to find (which alien-hugging fools like Frank Drake consider to be a bad thing). I worry more about military space search radars, which are extremely powerful and transmit a tight beam that's more easily detected.

  2. Patrick  •  Apr 26, 2010 @8:10 am

    The aliens won't be Daleks or Klingons. They'll be interstellar social workers and mining companies.

    I worry more about the cultural and societal problems that alien contact would bring. I accept that aliens are likely to have a high ethical calculus if they haven't destroyed themselves. So they'd likely treat us the way we treat Indians living in the Amazon, or Bushmen, putting us into orbiting ghettoes and on space-welfare, all the while thinking that they're helping us.

    The reason I included the reference to "Bob" is this:

    After the holocaust, after the aliens come and and give us all those GIANT PILLS, and all of them machines that'll run our lives and that BIG WHITE STONE that everybody's gonna know PERSONALLY in their very own living rooms. That's the stone that you think you might know and you think might HELP YOU, but BY GOBBS, that's the stone that's gonna ruin your VERY LIFE! You think you know who Big Brother is? HAHAHA! Dear friends, I wanna tell you tonight. YOU DON'T KNOW! YOU DON'T KNOW NOTHIN'!

    Aliens coming to earth would put us on reservations for our own protection, conveniently located next to their equivalent of nuclear waste dumps, and give us the high-tech beads and firewater, after shooting all of our Crazy Horses, putting all of our Sitting Bulls in a traveling wild west medicine show, and imprisoning our Leonard Peltiers, and they'll convince themselves we're lucky they're doing us a favor.

  3. Jdog  •  Apr 26, 2010 @8:14 am

    Not to worry — as Damon Knight suggested, eons ago, they'll only be here To Serve Man.

  4. Dwight Brown  •  Apr 26, 2010 @8:46 am

    For some reason, I keep thinking of Jack Williamson's "With Folded Hands…"

  5. Brian Dunbar  •  Apr 26, 2010 @11:06 am

    So they’d likely treat us the way we treat Indians living in the Amazon, or Bushmen, putting us into orbiting ghettoes and on space-welfare, all the while thinking that they’re helping us.

    The children of the Bushmen get to drive cars, fly jet airplanes and use a refrigerator to keep game from spoiling. If our children get to use FTL and fly around the galaxy … that might be a fair trade.

    Hmm. Unless FTL is impossible. The Save the Terrestrial Environment League might not bother themselves to cross a gulf of light years and send implacable automation to do the deed instead.

    Good luck talking a computer into letting us out of the ghetto to see the universe.

  6. Patrick  •  Apr 26, 2010 @11:18 am

    The children of the Bushmen get to drive cars, fly jet airplanes and use a refrigerator to keep game from spoiling. If our children get to use FTL and fly around the galaxy … that might be a fair trade.

    Hold your horses Brian. You can't audition for Chief Quisling of Hive Colony Earth until the aliens arrive.

  7. Tom Lawrence  •  Apr 26, 2010 @11:33 am

    the problem is that we’ve been contacting alien civilizations since the 1920s through commercial radio, which bleeds off into space. The signals from Mexican border radio stations of the 1950s, designed to be heard loud and clear in Chicago and New York, are already introducing aliens to Buddy Holly and Little Richard, and will continue to do so forever.

    This is an often expressed sentiment but it isn't really true, even under ideal conditions where there's nothing intervening between the transmitter and observer to attenuate, diffract or deflect this signal – signals spread out through space and get less strong as they do so, a concept sometimes called "free-space loss". The practical upshot of this is that with Earth's own current level of tech at least, even a radio antenna specifically pointing at the Earth would struggle to detect evidence of radio signals coming from Earth outside of more than a few light years – they'd just be too weak and would be subsumed into the general static.

  8. Brian Dunbar  •  Apr 26, 2010 @11:42 am

    You can’t audition for Chief Quisling of Hive Colony Earth until the aliens arrive.

    It never hurts to have your 'I, for one, welcome our new overlords' routine prepared in advance.

  9. pegr  •  Apr 26, 2010 @12:59 pm

    Ah, Science does not remove the terror of the Gods!

  10. Patrick  •  Apr 26, 2010 @1:10 pm

    The practical upshot of this is that with Earth’s own current level of tech at least, even a radio antenna specifically pointing at the Earth would struggle to detect evidence of radio signals coming from Earth outside of more than a few light years – they’d just be too weak and would be subsumed into the general static.

    Tom, what is the problem with your comment?

  11. TomH  •  Apr 26, 2010 @1:47 pm

    Wolverines!!!

  12. piperTom  •  Apr 27, 2010 @7:02 am

    Hawking begins by noting there are hundreds of billions of galaxies. Absent FTL, this is totally irrelevant. The nearest large galaxy is two millions light years off. Think about starting on such a trip… your information about what to expect is more than 2000000 years old when you start and your target will advance for 2 mega-years while you travel. Be sure to bring you swiss army knife! Also, you cannot go home: your own civilization will be changing 4 mega-years minimum during a round trip.

    Want "resources"? Want the express delivery in just 4 million years?! It's got to be easier to farm novae.

    Net: either you believe FTL is possible (I don't) or restrict your attention to our own galaxy.

  13. David Schwartz  •  Apr 29, 2010 @5:26 am

    Well, it's entirely possible that no technology can exist to pick up such a weak signal immersed in so much noise at that range. We don't only not possess the technology to do it, we can't imagine any way it's possible. If you're willing to imagine they have some way to detect the radio signals we can't even imagine, why not also imagine they have some way to see what we're doing without needing the radio signals at all?

    We can imagine no way the radio signals would help them detect us. If you want to hypothesize that's true even though we can imagine no way it's true, you can just as well hypothesize anything at all.

  14. Patrick  •  Apr 29, 2010 @6:55 am

    We couldn't imagine that radio would exist 150 years ago David. Now it's legacy technology, struggling to survive as a once dominant industry.

    Don't you think that in a hundred and fifty years (if we're lucky enough to be around), to say nothing of a thousand, our ideas in physics will have changed? I think we'll all be metaphysical beings, but if not, we'll have transformed into machine intelligences.

    Unlike many of his critics, Stephen Hawking has an imagination. He would have a Nobel if the physics establishment wasn't so hung up on superstring and so dismissive of cosmology. Unlike any of the string theorists, Hawking's theoretical work on black holes has experimental verfication behind it.

    Hawking knows they're out there, and he has a pretty good guess as to what they're like. We should ban all radio and television transmission now, and convert to a broadband information economy delivered solely through wires. It's the only way to be safe until we are ready, ourselves, to become galactic conquerors.

  15. piperTom  •  Apr 29, 2010 @7:28 am

    Responding to Patrick, first on the issue of Hawking's Nobel Prize — perhaps he would have won by now if he hadn't been dead wrong. …or as Leonard Susskind put it "not even wrong". His famous theory about information loss at black holes was just nonsense.

    And second, on the issue of our being ready to become "galactic conquerors." How do you imagine we will catchup to advanced civilizations? Are they planning to stop their own technical progress? In the 150 or thousand years, it takes us to match their current technology, what do you imagine they will be doing?

    It's plain: if we are behind and THEY are aggressive, then we're dead. But since they didn't kill us off in the past thousand years, I'm not worried about the next thousand.

  16. Chris  •  Apr 29, 2010 @7:31 am

    Radio's not a legacy technology at all. There are radios in every mobile phone, nearly every laptop, etc.

    But there's background EM transmission in the cosmos, and well-understood rules for how this stuff fades and gets interferred with over time. It simply isn't plausible to say that aliens light years away will be able to listen to our radio broadcasts, in the same way it's unlikely that they'll ever see the flashlight I shined into the sky last night.

  17. Patrick  •  Apr 29, 2010 @8:09 am

    And second, on the issue of our being ready to become “galactic conquerors.” How do you imagine we will catchup to advanced civilizations? Are they planning to stop their own technical progress? In the 150 or thousand years, it takes us to match their current technology, what do you imagine they will be doing?

    Stagnating. That's what galactic empires do, while vigorous young barbarian civilizations gain strength and overthrow them.

  18. Brian Dunbar  •  Apr 29, 2010 @11:18 am

    That’s what galactic empires do, …

    Well, sure: assuming some kind of Larry Niven-esque universe.

    Given the age of the universe and how big space is (really, really vast etc) there is going to be millions of years of development seperating 'us' from 'them'. It might be like my wife's koi and myself in terms on meaningful interaction.

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