First, the contradiction: Fermi's paradox says that intelligent species are common, and that some fraction of intelligent species will engage in interstellar colonization. By some simple reasoning, this implies that the galaxy filled up with intelligent life a billion years ago. But the skies look empty.
Using Fermi's paradox, we could "prove" that the universe is filled with hostile, silent aliens that exterminate any species that discovers radio (as in Saberhagen's "Berserker" novels), or that interstellar colonization is impossible, or that intelligence is a self-defeating adaptation and we're doomed to wipe ourselves out. This makes for fun science fiction, but you can't use it to prove anything.
The conclusion is a fun bit of Puritan moralizing (entertainment bad, real life good). And because we want to agree with the conclusion, we're tempted to overlook the sloppy reasoning.
(And I'd love to say something about Miller's use of evolutionary psychology to present plausible hypotheses without supporting evidence, but that's a whole other can of worms.)
Not in the slightest. This is a political opinion piece. There is a negative political statement about nuclear weapons. Then about video games. Then about consumerism, etc etc
You can use anything you perceive as self destructive to show how the aliens wiped themselves out and we will too! That much is obvious without any attempt at serious reasoning.
Fast food is destroying our country. Obesity! Aliens got too fat, wiped themselves out, that's why there aren't any around. Replace fast food with any other activity which offends commonly accepted political decency.
Obesity doesn't only offend "commonly accepted political decency" it also has measurable, negative impact on a person's life span.
And I would venture to say that nuclear weapons and such have too.
Every activity has a "measurable, negative impact on a person's life span" so long as the person doing the measuring is opposed to the activity. What was it that Benjamin Disraeli said? There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
I find it curious that in the age of nuclear weapons, video games, consumerism, hamburgers, drugs, alcohol, etc. our average life spans are actually increasing.
Obesity has a negative impact on life span because of BIAS??? I thought it was because of scientifically proven processes, well understood by modern medicine. Maybe it's just me.
"""I find it curious that in the age of nuclear weapons, video games, consumerism, hamburgers, drugs, alcohol, etc. our average life spans are actually increasing."""
That's because there's another kind of lie, Disraeli missed, the "correlation/causation" kind of lie. If the average life spans actually increase it's not because of the above, but because of better sanitation, vaccines, and a few other important factors.
The lifespan of people doing drugs/alcohol/hamburgers etc is actually decreased, compared to an imaginary control group.
And I'll go on a limb and say that the lifespan of people in 1945 Hiroshima was also greatly reduced compared to any control group of the time that didn't had a nuclear bomb dropped on them.
Measure what people spend their time thinking about. Track this over time.
The author of this feels that people feel less and less about external realities and more and more about virtual ones. I don't think you need to be an old fogey or a puritan to draw some conclusions in this area. Yes, the argument is anecdotal. Stereotyping those who might agree with it doesn't make it any more or less valid or interesting.
Another line of attack is to say this has been going on forever: people observing the way society is changing and saying that it's becoming terribly self-absorbed. That's true, but like the boy who cried wolf, eventually the wolf actually shows up, and it's not a good thing for anybody involved.
In our own history, you could argue that only a small set of outliers (the Einsteins, Darwins, etc.) really contributed to our major strides. If we're beaming signals to outer space today, you can track it back to only a few committed geniuses who made that feat possible.
So, if alien civilizations do exist, I'd say they likewise need only a handful of committed folks; and they will come about through natural variation regardless of what the societal attitudes are.
We have no idea how humans will react to the ability to sate every desire and wish artifically. It's not just hyper-porn and the xbox 720, this would apply to the desire for exploration, solving hard problems, building well functioning societies, raising successful offspring, etc.
There also has to be something hilariously ironic about all of us on hacker news insisting that people in the future will reject fulfilling technological wastes of time in favour of productive activities that benefit themselves and humanity. At this very moment a large percentage of the brightest minds in the world are working on getting people to click on internet ads and building products that monetize well but are honestly a net loss to humankind.
Most people who play videogames still go to work and make things. Most people who consume porn still seek out physical mates. Most people who have done opium still seek out life and pleasures beyond the artificial orgasmic haze of the high. Most people who smoke pot still go about life like the rest of us. And more to the point: most people who interact with computers do not do so the way that HN readers do.
Have we learned nothing from the rise of "social" software? Most people are not like us. They value technology based on how useful it is in helping them perform tasks in the real world. Most of them don't sit on Facebook all day and artificially interact. They coordinate parties and playdates, buy concert tickets and share the results of their real world interactions. Hell, a big chunk of the latest batch of popular social apps are predicated on using technology to record and socially-score real-world activities (the various photo sharing services, travel services, shop review services, location check-in services, etc).
Any argument predicated on using the behavior of addicts as predictive of the behavior of the wider public is fundamentally flawed. And particularly so, when it comes to assumptions that the wider public will ever use computers in ways that seem inevitable and obvious to geeks.
This is a salient point. To piggyback on your mention of marijuana, the article's core argument is not that dissimilar from the near-apocalyptic predictions made in anti-drug campaigns.
I think a fundamental assumption on which this article is based is that we just haven't found that perfect, reality-effacing high yet. It's essentially a prohibitionist message looking to the horizon rather than the present.
"Oh, so all-that-other-stuff hasn't annihilated society... but the next-big-thing totally will!"
It's not just the benefits of instant, unlimited sensory gratification (which are IMMENSE - real-world physical attraction and location no longer becomes an issue for finding partners, you can enjoy any activity at any time which in the past could cost you enormously in terms of money and/or risk: in a virtual world there's no spread of diseases if you're not in physical contact with people, no risk of death driving @ 140mph, etc. which also means a reduction in health costs, etc.).
It's simply far more efficient in many ways: why physically travel to work when you can have virtual meetings, offices, etc.? You could attend university anywhere in the world regardless of your location. Doctors could operate remotely where it's physically cheaper to live. Sitting at home all day (or in a Matrix farm) also means using less energy so you eat the bare minimum, don't need to own a car, don't need a big house with a garden, etc. On a larger scale, how useful will e.g. war become as the demand for physical resources falls? The efficiencies are mind-blowing; it is globalization of both personal and economic activities and human resource allocation without the physical constraints.
Ironically enough, in the same vein as your comment, I would expect people on HN are more likely to be fans of such an extreme form of telecommuting, telelearning, etc.
Not that I'm not suggesting all of this is good or healthy. Who knows what the psychological or physical effects of such a lifestyle will be.
Speculating further: At that point, why bother exploring the universe? Or more interesting: to what extent would wealth exist? It seems people would only need enough wealth to maintain their physical bodies and access to the planetary supercomputer. Accumulating more wealth could prove very difficult since classical economics falls apart in a virtual world where supply can become potentially unlimited over time. Would it be possible to accumulate sufficient "real" wealth to construct devices capable of finding and communicating with aliens, and/or visiting them? Would industries capable of building such devices even exist after everybody moves into the matrix after a few thousand years? All in all, once civilization reaches a particular level of technological development, it seems like there's a very small window where anybody will see benefit to OR have the resources to communicate with aliens.
What I find curious is that many of the <i>very</i> wealthiest are rejecting this trend in very absolute terms. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Robert Bigelow are spending their fortunes on real hardware rather than virtual reality, with the explicitly stated goal of making humanity a multiplanetary species. Other billionaires (Paul Allen, Richard Branson) are making complementary efforts, although without quite the same degree of aspirational rhetoric.
If they collectively succeed in establishing small colonies on Mars, then the initial rigours of colonial life will not allow for the kind of idle narcissism that is currently feasible for the wealthy on Earth. Whatever the fate of Earth, that will at least postpone the onset of a cultural coma for our species.
I tend to think that if this happens, then complete culture death at the hands of artificial pleasure is no longer possible. Once we're out of the deep gravity well of Earth, the marginal cost of establishing additional colonies elsewhere is very much lower; if even a very very small minority of the population keeps the spirit of evolution alive, then that will be sufficient to spread through the universe.
So, I don't really see this as a good solution for the Fermi paradox, since it seems highly improbable that EVERY civilisation would succumb to video games before becoming multi-planetary.
Greg Egan's novel Diaspora has significant number of people choosing to live in fully uploaded virtual environments - the problem being that you do have to start paying attention to the outside universe when it tries to kill you by destroying the hardware running your environment:
Iain M Bank's Feersum Enjin covers some of the same ground:
(A truly ghastly concept).
Strictly speaking, it's a very small percentage of the world's brightest minds. To imply otherwise reflects a stunning amount of hubris.
If we do some very rough back of the envelope calculations :
There are roughly 1.3 million software developers in the U.S, out of a population of ~306m (0.4%).
Extrapolating that against the global population of ~7 billion, we can round up to ~30 million developers worldwide.
If we define "brightest minds" as those holding IQ scores in the 99th percentile (135+), there are 70 million people with genius level intellect.
While I don't have numbers measuring the IQ distribution across developers, I think we can safely assume that no more than 10% (3m) have an IQ in the top 1%.
Therefore, no more than 4.2% of the world's brightest minds are in fact developing software of any kind. The number can be further pared down to reflect the number of "geniuses" working on generating ad-clicks.
For a realistic calculation you would definitely have to take access to education and enough wealth to pursue some field of study into account. That certainly falls under the definition of "brightest minds" by any fair definition since IQ on it's own isn't very meaningful. I would argue that you would also want to take motivation into account as well as the opportunity/temperment to work in an organized fashion with a good team if you wanted good numbers but I never mentioned that.
Still, I don't really take issue with your ballpark numbers. Let's just assume that's close for the sake of argument.
I could have been more clear and less flippant I suppose but I certainly didn't mean "a majority", I think 5% is a large percentage.
So pedantry aside, the idea is to consider the enormous waste of talent going on at places like google, facebook, yahoo and the majority of internet or mobile app startups. Very little of that effort will have any actual long term impact (other than the relatively small team at google working on search).
While not a particularly impressive raison d'étre, connecting buyers to sellers is a legitimate market function.
This lies on contrast to several revenue generation tools employed by the financial sector. For instance, high frequency trading is practically indefensible and arguably destructive.
This sadly does not change the fact that a legitimate contribution is not necessarily meaningful. I'm curious to see what the legacy of our current tech boom will be.
SpaceX, Boeing, GM, and Victoria Secret need revenue sources to create their 'non-virtual-reality' products, and marketing/advertising creates a revenue source. If they had a net loss from advertising they simply wouldn't do it.
Maybe you are right and this is just a horrible inefficiency that will be corrected as soon as we figure out how to make ad optimization and ultra addictive time wasting games more efficiently.
It doesn't seem likely to me at all though, the only arguments I've seen for it are just ideological commitments to our current economic/political system.
The statement that modern global captialism is the best system for productive human endevour we have come up with and the statement that modern global capitalism and the systems it will spawn are enough to continue the upward trajectory of civilization are not the same thing.
> If they had a net loss from advertising they simply wouldn't do it.
I have little faith in the non-scientific philosophies that this kind of statement is based on given modern neuroscience and human irrationality. There are too many counter examples. We are not self interested rational actors, it's way more complicated than that.
But I get this feeling, more and more, that big, world changing companies, don't need ads revenue. The number of visits on the internet is less relevant for them.
You picked some companies randomly, but out of them SpaceX and Boeing are not selling stuff over the internet.
There is this hunch, that what we do, doesn't matter. It's mostly self congratulatory friend/social app. Yes, you might make some money out of it from VC but it doesn't change the world.
I think we need a lot more time to figure out how to organize and motivate and fund large projects as well as evolve culturally before any interesting large scale space exploration will be done. SpaceX type experiments might be the first step, even if it's just a data point about what doesn't work.
Sounds like a plan: make a lot of money and then spend it to turn us into a real spacefaring civilization.
That's, apparently, what Elon Musk is trying to do.
Anyone wants to join in?
Selling and advertising tickets online is at least as good as the offline alternative at the same cost (presumably cheaper). Otherwise, why bother?
Thus, better/cheaper online advertising -> more tickets sold -> higher demand for air planes.
Advertising can thus be a positive-sum interaction.
Unfortunately, it's usually easier to target the other product, rather than promote one's own (see political advertising).
The antipathy to computing is incomprehensible - I would say that the ability to have fast and high-bandwidth communications, computerized organization (calendaring, e-mail storage, etc.) and the like is more likely to contribute to human growth to the stars than (in the author's example) zippers.
Most putative solutions to the Fermi paradox have this problem. It isn't enough to create a way to eliminate 99.999% of millions of civilizations, because the result is still that the galaxy would have been colonized before we achieved sentience. Self-loathing arguments are a particularly popular one, but even striking a fashionable "humans suck" pose (and make no mistake that this is a fashionable signal to send) proves nothing else about the other beings that could exist.
Secondly, it must mean that all species that so retreat must so thoroughly retreat that they completely forget about the outside universe and have no desires to increase their computational power for any reason, ever. This is a much higher level of tech than we have now, and none of the quintillions-is-probably-a-conservative-estimate must ever decide that hey, that juicy looking star system over there could be converted to another hunk of VR simulation and if I send over the hardware to do it, I can completely own the resulting VR installation.
(Personally I favor the other end of the argument; life evolves easily, assuming Earth-like conditions, and the Rare Earth hypothesis doesn't require very much hoop-jumping, new physics, or bizarre probability arguments, it just requires serious consideration of the possibility that organic life-as-we-more-or-less know it may really be the only solution, and may really not be able to arise in very many places. If you dig into the prevailing wisdom against that idea, you'll find it's more philosophically sourced than scientifically sourced, there really are a lot of good reasons to think there aren't that many available chemical regimes life could work in, and in general it's probably the most scientifically-sound Fermi paradox answer. It's just not philosophically fashionable.)
That's certainly the end of the Great Filter I'd prefer to be the significant one. Let's hope for no microorganisms on Mars, Titan, or Europa!
Let's imagine there are far more planets like ours that have life - let's throw intelligence out, because that is defined by some relative standard - which has not yet reached that capability. Why would we be interesting in the scope of these far more advanced extraterrestrial societies?
Perhaps they don't reach out because it would be as fruitless as us trying to communicate with ants. Perhaps they don't care to study us because we seem about as interesting as primordial soup (ie. a nuclear holocaust might be a trait of that). Perhaps intelligences like ours are well understood, well classified in the genus of the universe, and we are about as ordinary as a barnacle on the hull of a tug boat.
Perhaps without FTL drive, it takes what explorers there might be a long time between (expensive!) visits, so sightings are rare. Without FTL, and without some kind of cold-sleep, a journey to the nearest stars pretty much takes a lifetime. A few would go, but not many.
It's too late (bedtime) for me to slap "Drake's equation" type numbers on this, but hopefully you get the idea. Maybe we've not seen anybody because they only visit any given planet every million years or so, and "they" equals 2 or 3 species local enough to even bother with that paltry schedule.
I'm not saying there is anybody out there, just that lacking pure freaking magic technology, it's a hell of a trip to make if they were. OTOH, if there is an outpost 100 light-years away, expect a visit in another 100 to 1000 years???
Any species that didn't have intellectual curiosity about things that aren't obvious useful would probably never make it off its home planet. A lot of the math and science that underlies stuff we use every day didn't seem useful when it was developed - see, for example, the theory of computation, worked out when there were no computers, and without which there probably still wouldn't be any computers.
It may be electromagnetic leakage or Dyson spheres or any of a number of other signs of artifice.
If the "we're like ants/barnacles to them" theory is true, then they wouldn't bother intentionally hiding from us, because we're no threat to them. If they do it unintentionally, that would still be interesting: for example, it would probably mean that civilizations do not in fact aggressively colonize the galaxy.
That is why it doesn't matter if 99.999% of the world is pre-occupied with one mindvirus or other. It's the 1-in-100k person who really takes humanity to the next level of greatness/depravity.
There will always be ambitious people for whom this world will be too small: they will colonize the next planet.
In science, it might just be 1% of the top 1% who make the big breakthroughs - how many times did one guy make more than one really huge breakthrough? I can think of one big fuzzy-haired counterexample.
So if by some accident we missed a genius, she would probably be replaced by a bunch of merely clever people.
We depend on weird people.
Also, the crowd sourcing aspect of the whole protein folding thing merely involved doing the grunt work, of which there was so much the scientists that set up the parameters for it couldn't possibly do it all themselves. The true achievement was thinking up the parameters for the thousands of monkeys to twiddle, not the twiddling itself.
So let me correct it - it's not the exception that proves the rule, it's yet another example of crowd sourcing contributing little of true significance.
And they're doing very well. It's very rare to pick up a device that does just one thing -- the days of the wristwatch and one-function cell-phone are gone. Now everything you touch is competing to take up all your braindwidth. Information is not passive any more; it's sticky. As a consumer you are not a entity who receives services from a webapp. You are a target for absorption by way of total immersion. Potential vendors can either get on board with your addiction or lose out to others who will. This is why we buy Facebook, Google, and game ads. Your brainwidth is already being sucked up. As vendors we have to go where our potential markets already are.
If you want to talk about extrapolating history, our books are full of useful examples. Time and time again people could not make the changes necessary for society to evolve so they packed up their bags and moved. You can't move any more, and lots of immersive content providers want to take your frustration and turn it into your being plugged in all day.
Who wants to go live on the moon? We can do a lot more exciting things in our own custom-designed universe. A couple hundred more years of this and we won't be going anywhere besides LEO or doing much of anything except patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves how many important things we have right here.
This removes human agency, and it's only true if we, as individuals, want it to be true. (I'm 28, wear a watch, and use a paper notebook (http://jseliger.com/2011/05/11/eight-years-of-writing-and-th...) in addition to having an iPhone; but the iPhone only takes up as much mental bandwidth as I let it).
My brain is not a passive entity that is "being sucked up." People either let themselves be sucked up, or they don't.
EDIT: Also, if you want an interesting exploration of some of the trends you're describing, see Neal Stephenson's "Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out,": http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/17/opinion/17stephenson.html?... .
Yeah. So on top of owning an iPhone, you are also a hipster with a (trendy but useless, considering the iPhone also tells the time) watch and a notebook (it's even a Moleskine).
Way to prove the parent poster's point.
Anyway, Moleskine is nice but Miquel Rius notebooks have nicer grid paper options. :)
My point was not that the watch itself was stealing his mental bandwidth, but rather hipster culture.
2) The original poster who I'm responding to said, "the days of the wristwatch and one-function cell-phone are gone [. . .]," so I'm not sure how one can be simultaneously "trendy" and part of a declining trend (that is, watch-wearing).
3) If you'd read the link, you'd know that I don't use Moleskine notebooks any more because their quality variability appears to have increased over time.
Hipster culture is all about celebrating declining trends as trendy. It's precisely because watch-wearing is a "declining trend" that makes the hipster wear one to stand out. A hardcore hipster would probably sport a pocket watch, but check this out:
""" If you'd read the link, you'd know that I don't use Moleskine notebooks any more because their quality variability appears to have increased over time."""
Spoken like a true hipster. As if a non-hipster cares to measure the "quality variability of his notebooks".
Now, you might be totally ignorant of the hipster culture, I'll give you that.
But the prevalence of things like Moleskine notebooks are precisely because of that demographic. Check:
As for why we haven't met aliens, I think there are two more fundamental causes.
(1) In 2011 we know that many stars have planets. This should be no big surprise based on considerations of angular momentum. The trouble is that Jupiter-sized planets tend to get sucked into the accretion disks of their stars, and in the process they tend to destroy Earth-sized planets that exist in the habitable zone. Planetary systems are common, but habitable terrestrial planets are rare.
(2) Interstellar travel and communication is highly difficult. It's possible that some civilization will manage an interstellar travel event among billions of civilizations and billions of years. However, the percolation threshold for a self-sustaining and growing interstellar civilization will never be reached. (Civilizations won't establish an outpost around a secondary star and create additional colonies)
A few years ago I did an analysis of interstellar war. The obvious mode of attack is to launch a deadly bombardment against a planet before any possible counterattack. One clear conclusion was that if you launched a missile that traveled at 10% of the speed of light, it wouldn't matter much if that missile were tipped with a hydrogen bomb or not -- you just can't get enough energy from either nuclear fusion or fission to propel a starship at a reasonable speed. (If you go slow, a 1000-year generation starship would need tons of antimatter simply to keep warm.) Note that interstellar hydrogen would impact such a starship at high velocities harder than radiation from a nuclear reactor.
The corollary is that neither fusion energy nor fission energy is sufficient for interstellar propulsion
Therefore, there is no real moral difference between richly populating such virtual worlds (once we can construct them--we can't quite, yet) and populating actual other planets. Nick Bostrom would say that even using the word "actual" is probably wrong, since we're likely living in a simulation already.
There's a simpler (maybe too obvious) answer to the Fermi Paradox: the window of time in which it seems worthwhile to communicate with aliens or to settle the galaxy is exceedingly brief.
But if that concern could be definitively answered--and I think it could--then quite possibly the VR is a good move. Maybe any preference for our outside, non-simulative reality will in time be seen as narrow-minded chauvinism.
Thanks for the book tip. For curious others: The Machine Stops, a story by E. M. Forster: http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html
The universe is mind numbingly big - try to imagine how big and then quadruple that size and you are still wrong.
Just the observable universe is nearly 50 BILLION lightyears in each direction (there could be more and it's expanding).
(remember the deficit/debt demonstrations of "million" vs "billion")
We are trying to observe the equal of the other side of the world with optical and radio telescopes but essentially the best observations we can make out are just at the range of the doorframe to our home.
What if there is other human-like life but it's a million lightyears away - it's all but useless to us to even find out, they are long gone by the time their light and radiowaves ever get to us (and visa-versa). Now realize the nearest other galaxies are SEVERAL million lightyears away.
Try this on for size http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BjHvwSvpOw
We can see for 93^h^h47 billion light years in all directions. That's a pretty big ball-o-space. Plenty to observe.
And if we find ETI, even at distances that preclude ever interacting with them, it will still be the most amazing thing to ever happen in all of human history.
Our observations are millions of years old.
EDIT: Actually, I missed your point, which was that far away things have less history in which intelligence could evolve. This is true, but the amount of history we can observe is still staggeringly large. Far too big to eliminate the paradox.
Someone remotely viewing earth with just a 10k year delay would not be able to measure signs of human life.
They would see exactly what we see elsewhere - nice possibly life-supporting planets, but no signs of any functionality.
Now realize we aren't just missing 10k years but 1000k years (at best).
We are not just looking at the wrong places, we are looking at the wrong times.
oooo, and I just thought of somethng. Or, they got so advanced that they realized they probably shouldn't alert the rest of the damn galaxy to their presence. Given how the human mind seems to be so accepting of things it doesn't understand.
Maybe even an intergalactic SOPA is in place!
The universe is a big place. There are probably trillions of habitable planets. We're just not that special. Maybe one day, if we somehow become "worth it", they'll stop by.
But it lacks the appreciation of how interesting the depressing observation is.
Weltschmerzfreude seems like it's just a contradiction (also I know almost no german at all so it's likely just gibberish) but it doesn't sound bad.
Something along similar lines:
Evolution simply could never have anticipated...
Evolution, by definition, doesn't anticipate anything. It's disappointing to see a university professor writing on evolution who seemingly doesn't even understand the evolutionary process.
I would give the benefit of the doubt for the sentence the GP quoted, but then the author actually tries to justify the fact that evolution couldn't have computed it even if it wanted to:
"Evolution simply could never have anticipated the novel environments, such as modern society, that our social primate would come to inhabit. That would be a computationally intractable problem, even for the new IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer that runs 280 trillion operations per second. Even long-term weather prediction is easy when compared to fitness prediction"
Now that's just begging for people to completely misunderstand how evolution works.
That, plus the tendency of people from other specialties cough astrophysicists especially cough to wax lyrical and ascribe amazing powers to 'evolution' and the casual observer would be entirely forgiven for thinking that anyone talking about "intelligent design" must be talking about evolution and that those are simply two terms for the same thing.
Before you start flaming me, my issue is not with Science! but it is with how Science! is reported on, which involves both watering down the message (turning everything into a Kipling-esque "Just so story"), and gussying up the message to make it seem more important (gotta get that funding somehow).
The real reason we have not heard from aliens is that the distances are physically impossible to bridge.
Oddly enough, I think its an optimistic outcome if we play video games and never meet aliens in that if they function like us, it will be either us exploiting them or them exploiting us unless we amazingly are right on par with each other. Sorry to be so pessimistic, its just that we have consistently failed pretty hard as a race in how we treat other creatures and the environment.
b) We can't begin to conceive of the sort of technological advances achieved by other lifeforms. The fermi paradox rests on probabilities accumulated over billions of years, but ignores how briefly human intelligence has existed - the written word is only a few thousand years old. If your species advances to the point of being able comprehend and control all of reality, is there much point in having endlessly bigger LCDs powered by your awesome discworld, built by your giant starfleet? Is our faith in the inevitability of endless growth and expansion not itself a sort of primitive cargo cult?
If the entire process of going from advanced social being with primitive tools and language to a post-physical singularity takes on average 50,000 years, the drake equation need changing
It is almost like saying: "You can do anything and become what you want to become." What do you choose?
You can also twist it around: if we were the first ones, what would we see?
One can also imagine the window between the dawn of technology and becoming undetectable is short enough the odds of finding a peer are very small.
On the other hand, if just one person with control of an adequate supply of nuclear weapons (or other super-weapons, possibly including ones that haven't been imagined yet) decides to wipe out humanity, he stands a good chance of succeeding. This seems much more plausible than mass suicide via entertainment.
I agree that violent distruction is more likely now, but I think that that is probably an easier problem to solve than this one.
-Life is around but it's nowhere near our way of thinking and functioning. Maybe it's a gas cloud which takes a billion years to "think" a single thought. Who's to say that an alien lifeform's "neocortex" and utility function is going to be anything but incomprehensible to us? (Counter-argument: certain patterns repeat independently in nature, for instance I read somewhere that the design pattern for the eye has been created independently by evolution like 40 times).
-Life is around and we've already made contact with it (ie UFOs).
-Life is out there but it's consciously avoiding us (Prime Directive-style).
A common average result for the Drake equation is 10,000 habitable planets capable of sending signals in our universe. But if you look at the equation and estimates they are a bit optimistic.
If you take fℓ from the equation, I don't think simply being of the right composition in the habitable zone is enough. The Earth formed life because of the moon, because we had been shiften off our axis which formed seasons, because we were made of enough iron to form a magnetic field, and we just happen to form a moon which protected the Earth from space debris and gave us tides (in short, the moon and magnetic field are essential to life on Earth, as well as the composition of the planet).
That is a lot of 'ifs' to add to the equation, which brings the chances of a planet even in the habitable zone having the same life-bearing characteristics as earth much, much lower. Even with thousands of planets in the habitable zone the chances of finding one that has a magnetic field, the right temperature, a moon, etc. are very very slim and when multiplied back into the Drake equation brings the result back to lower than 1 - meaning we are a complete fluke.
There is also the time portion of the equation. The Earth is 4.6B years old, and we have been capable of sending signals for only 100 years of that time. Even if our civilization survives for another 10,000 years it is still 10,000 years divided into 4.6B years - so even with the complete fluke of an Earth-like planet being created in a habitable zone takes place, we are still 1 in 460,000 chance of being around at the same time. If Drake gives us 10,000 possible habitable planets with life, the 1 in 460,000 factor of time brings it back to a lot less than 1 again.
I believe that Keppler will continue finding planets in the habitable zone, but they will look more like Mars and Venus than anything like Earth.
I find it interesting that the Drake equation, created to show that there must be other intelligent life, can today be used to show that we are very unique when it is adapted with what we know today.
#1 given normal known methods of space travel, it would take generations to reach the nearest planet possibly containing life.
#2 given time, there is a VERY small possibility that when we arrive at that planet it has intelligent life. Intelligent life may have died out, or it may be currently evolving. Or by the time we reach it they may have up-and-left.
#3 The chances of crashing into another alien vessel in space is almost 0. Infinitely improbable. Therefore to actually meet another alien vessel, aliens must have traveled to the same planet at the same time as us. Given the vast distances this is highly unlikely.
#4 We don't have "lifesign" scanners like in star trek. Determining that a planet has advanced technology would mean going to the dark side and looking for lights. If the culture is not yet advanced enough, then we won't find enough of it to be visible from space.
#5 while talking about #4, atmospheric conditions may make it very difficult to see anything on the surface.
#6 given all above, what is the probability that a race of aliens got to earth (within the last 300 years)? Otherwise earth would look like a habitable planet, but no sign of advanced intelligent life. I'd say I have a higher chance of winning every lottery in the world on the same day.
1) Fermi Paradox
Why haven't we seen any evidence in the observable universe of megascale activities and exponential growth comparable to those that we know that our descendants will be capable of, and fairly soon?
2) The Outer Bounds of the Possible
Can we convert our entire future light cone into computronium? There seems to be no physical laws to prevent that outcome, and absent being stopped soon, the tiny fraction of our machine descendants to go all out for self-replication and expansion will set this program in motion.
3) The Great Filter
Assuming we're in base reality and everything out there is running much as our present physics understands it to run, are we past the barrier that stops intelligences from converting the observable universe into computronium? Or not?
4) The Simulation Argument
Or are we simulations, alone in our virtual machine?
All these are linked via this rather depressing line of thought:
"A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:
- The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
- The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
- The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).
Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation."
The bottom line is that there appears to be a large gap in our understanding of the evolution of intelligence in the universe. By all counts, our galaxy should have many civilizations across its span, and by all counts if they're anything like us, their most aggressive descendant factions will turn the whole galaxy into computronium in a few tens of millions of years. But we don't see even the first glimmers of any such thing.
It is simply way way too early for us to assume that there are hard to reach limits to computation. For all we know there could be problems that need to be solved that are not realistically solved using computation or the problems get exponentially more complex faster than their solutions exponentially increase our computing ability or the necessary complexity of the systems increases too quickly to manage.
(no, waving a "true AI" magic wand doesn't make these disappear, it buries them in another layer of conjecture)
We can't even solve the damned P vs NP problem yet!
> Can we convert our entire future
> light cone into computronium? There
> seems to be no physical laws to prevent
> that outcome
Let me rephrase that in a more scientific way: No one has disproved that this is impossible. It's a bit of cheat to phrase it this way when we don't even know what those physical laws would look like so have no idea of whether or not we know of any laws that would prevent that outcome.
There is only one definitely true thing about these types of predictions, they are interesting, inspiring, necessary and a few generations from now they will be looked at the same way we look at the rocket pack/floating city/flying car predictions of previous generations (which is the same way they looked at the previous futurist predictions and so on)
Remember that we're talking about timescales of millions of years here.
My point was that first you would have to define what computronium actually is before you can comment on what physical laws apply. It might also be useful to wait until we understand the physical laws that would apply at that scale, which we don't.
There are no physical laws that make rocket packs or flying cities impossible either, we just discovered that some aspects are either impractical or we just found a better solution to the same problems.
I don't want to sound like I think these kinds of thought experiments are in any way bad, I love them.
The best case scenario is that our thought experiments now are like davinci's helicopters. Ridiculous because of our ignorance of the natural world but still extraordinarily clever and farsighted. A more likely case is that they are downright stupid because of that same ignorance.
The opinion that an idea we've had or could understand is anything like what construction projects with timescales of millions of years will look like is the silliest kind of hubris. Especially when you start arguing over physical laws of imaginary vaguely defined substances.
How hilarious would that be if reality was in fact a simulation and the ones watching us get the biggest kick out of everyone trying to figure out why we're here. I guess that assumes that the creators of this simulation have a sense of humor.
You might want to re-read that short story. It involved real people and was bootstrapped by very rare real people.
Really? You know the future? Citation needed, at the very least.
Do you find it a plausible article?
But as for your list I think you left out the Occam's razor option:
5) Rare earth hypothesis
If it appeared in this galaxy, we'd probably never have evolved.
Also, a huge intelligence gap makes communication uninteresting. e.g. we know a little bit about how ants communicate via pheromones, but we're not trying to send "messages" to them; what would it possibly be useful to say?
So then we'd expect to receive signals from civilizations that are a few million light years away. Yet we don't see those signals.
We're too young a civilization to be spotted by other life forms (as you said, they'd have to be within a 100 light years or so). But when we look at space in any direction it looks dead. Just background radiation.
Sure, we can see a star 1000 light years away, a galaxy 1 billion light years away, and a quasar 10 billion light years away, but a signal from a planet over 1000 light years away? Besides, 1000 light years may not be far enough to cover many planets transmitting. Our galaxy is, what, 100,000 light years across? So, just for our galaxy, might want to think about distances of 50,000 light years or so. The nearest ordinary galaxy is the one in Andromeda, and that's about 1.5 million light years away.
Those are long distances for a radio signal from a planet.
While a popular conjecture in this recurring debate, over the decades we've built up an awful lot of evidence that there really is no better mechanism for distance communication than electromagnetic radiation. We're running out of places for such putatively better mechanisms to hide.
I dislike this line of argument in the modern time, because it conflates two discussions, "what we scientifically know about the universe", and "could conceivable be true even though we have no evidence for our conjectures". While the second may be superficially more fun, it's ultimately a waste of time for any sort of serious discussion because you can hypothesize anything you want. It's content-free, despite the haze of words you can throw up. The first is much more interesting, and while 50 years ago one could still hypothesize better communication mechanisms, I think the argument when used in a serious discussion is out of date. We can name some non-EM communication mechanisms (neutrino beams, for instance), but they all suck horribly by comparison.
Your point is mostly that the stuff we don't know is bad science; I agree.
Still, this thread is to try to answer the question, where is ET?
Historically it would have been better to assume that there was stuff unknown that was better as an explanation than the stuff we did know, going WAY back: The Earth is a ball riding on the back of a turtle? We understood balls and turtles but not gravity of spheres! The earth is a ball held up by Hercules? Similar. To keep the sun moving across the sky we have to pour blood on this special rock? The planets are from wheels rolling in wheels? The stars are light coming through holes in ths sky? The sun is a fire based on coal? The Milky Way is all of the universe? The universe is expanding so there are just three cases, (1) keep expanding but more and more slowly, (2) stop expanding and reach 'steady state', (3) quit expanding and contract into a big crunch. It was ALL wrong! And in all cases the right answer was from things we didn't know yet!
For "We're running out of places for such putatively better mechanisms to hide". Ah, it's always been such! Where was Newton going to look for a solution to the orbit of Mercury? Where was Newton going to look for why he couldn't make gold with chemical reactions? The big bang seems to have things moving faster than the speed of light; where to look? We're not getting the right flow rate of neutrinos from the sun; where to look? Essentially all life on earth is just from DNA; so where to look for the reason there is no other mechanism?
But just now we have at least two biggie places to look: Dark matter and dark energy. About both, we don't have hardly a clue. We are unsure about the Higgs field. We haven't unified gravity. We haven't detected gravitational waves. We're unsure about why galaxies have black holes at their centers. There remain questiona about the 'size' of our universe, especially given the evidence about the flatness of the geometry. We're really mixed up about EPR.
But not all is lost! Some of the new telescopes on the way into orbit are amazing, maybe count the hairs on the back of ETs head! Maybe!
So, why haven't we heard from ET? My guess, stated as just a guess, is that ET communicates by means we don't understand yet. Is this answer solid science? Nope! Might it be correct? Yup! Is there some historical, circumstantial evidence for it? Yup. Are we still in the dark? Yup.
"Dark matter and dark energy."
We aren't as ignorant about them as you might think. For them to be useful for communication would require them to also not have the properties that they appear to have.
This fashionable claiming of extreme ignorance isn't quite as silly as the fashionable affectation of self-species-loathing in this debate, but it's only slightly more sensible...
... of course, part of it is that few people have learned enough math or the relevant science to actually understand just how thoroughly, for instance, FTL really isn't going to happen, or understand enough information theory to understand why communication channels must actually have certain properties to be useful, regardless of their form.
Not really: I'm guessing. Or in more erudite terms, I'm conjecturing.
You seem to be saying that science is what is all wrapped up and solid and that anything else is "science fiction". That's a bit rigid! Also that view would keep us from ever discussing the unknown before it becomes known, and science is a long march through millions of small and dozens of huge cases of the unknown becoming known.
Indeed, if read Einstein's special relativity paper, it reads like conjecture or guessing. That is, when he wrote the paper it was not at all clear that the Lorentz transformation had any physical reality. That paper became accepted as the real physics only later.
There's no solid proof that we can't go faster than light (FTL), and I have much more than enough math and plenty of science to have seen the arguments.
Sure, for any particle with ordinary mass as we know it, as it goes faster through space and approaches light speed, its mass increases and at the speed of light would be infinitely large. Right. So, for that case, FTL would be impossible.
But we don't really know the deeper mechanism for this mass increase. Thus we are like someone in the 18th century saying that travel faster than 60 MPH would be impossible because no horse could move its legs fast enough. That is, once we understand the deeper mechanism that establishes the speed of light speed limit, maybe we could find a way around the mechanism and the limit. The mechanism seems likely connected with the Higgs field, and we don't understand that very well yet.
E.g., we know so little about dark matter we can't be very sure it can't go faster than the speed of light.
For dark energy, we are assuming conservation of energy much as we understand it, estimating the energy of dark energy, assuming that E = mc^2 also applies there, assuming that how matter and energy curve space in general relativity continues to apply, and then concluding the huge mass of dark energy. That's a lot of assumptions from extrapolations. We're assuming that what we see for ordinary matter in accelerators applies to dark energy; that's a GUESS.
So, in science we need to be able to talk about possibilities not yet established. Such "talk" is not the best science, but it's also not "science fiction".
Imagine our current spy agencies with bleeding edge technology spying on the Romans. Its only a two thousand year difference, but there's absolutely no way they could detect our signals and/or equipment (unless we made a serious mistake).
It seems entirely reasonable that another civilization may be tens of thousands of years ahead of us in technological advancement. If you consider the increasing growth rate of technological advancement, its easy to see your explanation.
It doesn't have to be Dyson spheres either. A large object moving near the speed of light through the interstellar medium would give off one of a few very specific and very strong spectral lines. Now there hasn't been a concerted effort to look for interstellar travelers, but nevertheless in all our years of searching such oddities haven't shown up.
Our nearest other star is 4 light years away. 1000 light years away may still not cover many planets good for ET to colonize. But for us now to see evidence of a colony on a planet 1000 light years away or more would be TOUGH.
Note: The planet hunters mostly don't actually see the planets but just shadows or evidence in star wobbles, etc.
But we are putting up some new telescopes with some astounding resolution, etc.
They're all down there thinking "why aren't there any alien bacteria sending us some chemical messages already? It's clearly the best way to communicate"
Do you still have a working analog TV set? A shortwave radio?
Why would "nearly every" intelligent civilization have evolved millions of years before ours?
Assume that to get a civilization need a planet and, thus, elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. Those heavier elements are created in big stars that supernova, that is, have their cores collapse under gravity and blow off their outer layers where during the explosion all the heavier elements in the periodic table are created by fusing together lighter elements. So to get a planet, have to have a star form, burn out, and supernova. So, assume that are getting candidate planets 3.7 billion years after the big bang. Then have been forming candidate planets for 10 billion years.
Now take the planets that have achieved mastry of radio (i.e., working with photons from 60 Hz up to gamma rays). Take the date when they first made this progress with radio. Take the distribution of those dates over the planets. That distribution is 'concentrated' on the last 10 billion years. Now in that distribution spread out over 10 billion years, what is the probability mass of the last million years? It's TINY. Maybe it's 0.01%. Then 99.99% of the civilizations that mastered radio did it over one million years ago and, thus, are a million years or more ahead of us. Done.
To advance as a species, we don't need everyone in the species to advance, just a select few who take everyone with them as they discover new things.
The idea of building a giant computer (or turning into one) seems a lot more interesting. If that's what we're doing, then those people making social networks and video games are on the right track. In this case, we probably wouldn't expand physically until we run out of energy for computation, and our own sun has enough of that to last us a long time.
Basically he purposes that there is either a barrier somewhere before our point of biological progress or after; as he explains in the video, the desired reality is that we have already surpassed that barrier. He reasons that space travel is a simple engineering challenge compared to evolving intelligent life on the cosmological scale, so there's less reason to believe the barrier lies after our point of progress.
Regarding the more general problem: what about economics? Even if it is technologically viable for us to go into space, it is remarkably expensive. We couldn't sustain a Moon program, for all its scientific interest. So we need a pretty big return on investment to do further space exploration.
To me, there are really only two options:
1) Speed of light can't be broken, and colonization only happens by losing any practical contact with your descendants (a ping time of 1s is bad enough, think about 100 years). This reduces its economic appeal to practically zero. No return on investment at all. Not even intellectual satisfaction: you will not even know in your lifetime if your expedition was a success. So why bother?
2) Faster-than-light travel is possible, and relativity tells us it's basically equivalent to time travel. Now, just try to imagine how well our own economy would survive the availability of time travel... This is one thing that Star Trek or Star Wars or Galactica never get right, it's a problem they never consider because it's too hard to think about it. If you can jump or warp or whatever, then to the best of our knowledge, you can travel back and forth in time. How does a civilization survive this? I have no idea. A good example of singularity.
One final thought: the Fermi paradox always start with the premise that we don't see aliens. But most serious work on UFOs claims that a fraction of UFOs can't be explained away. In short, some UFOs appear to be artificial, to exhibit intelligent behavior, and to show technological capabilities well beyond our own. I'm quite surprised to write this comment at a point where there are 86 comments, and I'm the first one writing UFO. Taboo?
We humans have had radio for about 100 years and already we're moving on. Digital satellite radio, wired and fiber internet, cable tv, faxes (just kidding), etc.
Imagine if we could travel from our star to another on a routine basis, would we be using radio for anything?
The Universe could be teaming with life, but with our current planet bound technology and meager 200-300 years of industrial/technological innovation, how would we know?
Articles like this is why psychology is called a SOFT science.
While not agreeing to the article broadly, i agree to the statement above. Infact, i believe this is a desirable thing and we should see more of this in future. Past 200 years were about discovering the physics of things. The next 200 years would be about the discovering the working of "mind" which makes physics discoveries possible. Basically about neurological sciences , thought process , perception and more. This trend has barely started and we have a long way to go.
The technology-enslavement theory is bunk because humans pretty much tend to self-correct over time. We start destroying the environment, somebody notices, we start pulling back on our rampant destruction enough to keep things operating. An epidemic of fat kids goes on, people start complaining, and schools begin the process of sort-of making their lunches healthier. If it got so bad that we almost destroy ourselves from too much internet use somebody would start complaining and we'd reign back on that too.
Probably the real reason we haven't met any is that they probably have agreements that they don't come down and show themselves to new planets until the new planet's peoples advance their space technology to an appropriate level; ours is still kind of dark-ages technology. Maybe after the military invests we can have a nice big boom in space travel.
> somebody notices, we start pulling back
> on our rampant destruction enough to keep
> things operating
We did? That's great news. It must be recent though, so far i've only heard a lot of talk and a few useless feel good activities for guilty first worlders to distract themselves with like recycling their pop cans.
As far as self correction goes, the only thing any species has proved to be good at long term is going extinct.
That covers the types of pollution and over-consumption that are a visible and immediate threat, like dumping toxic waste in rivers and highly toxic air pollution.
There has been no serious willingness to address the issues of the increase in per-captia consumption of finite resources.
I was really taking issue with the statement that humans will be the first species that does not reproduce and consume as much as it possibly can before partial or complete extinction. That somehow humans will naturally reign in their natural impulses before it becomes too dangerous. That statement is based on zero evidence. We think we are the exception, humans are good at that, individually and collectively. Here's hoping.
(Check out the cartoon of Faraday!)
But back to the subject, I'm not sure if we are even smart enough to recognize any intelligence that does not resemble our own.
So far our solution to the fermi paradox may be summarized as:
"We must stick them with quills! It's the only way!!"
Evolution does not progress toward increased complexity. We have increased complexity mainly due to the Drunkard's Walk effect of random mutation in a space with a hard lower limit to complexity.
On the other hand, recent studies apparently hint that things like electrical and gravitational constants may not be the same everywhere, so maybe they don't transmit their signals with light.
One more thing is that the argument that the age of the universe combined with its propensity to make life means there must be some intelligent life can also be applied to the probability that some intelligent life will wake up and save themselves from such a bad fate, as the author hints in the last paragraph. It doesn't mean all species get caught in that trap and never escape, it just means it's harder to become a species that saved itself from the perils of materialism, loss of social justice, and falsehood.
On a purely subjective note, I don't see how escaping into virtual reality is a "darker" fate than nuclear self-annihilation.
existence > non-existence
HOWEVER, the author, in his own narcissist fog, forgets to mention that this is a fate that will befall only the wealthiest, the whitest (admit it) and the wittiest (educated). This is not the future of the species, although leaving the planet will not get any easier in time.
So really, why haven't we heard from the aliens? The answers are simple but boring so we search for more interesting ones, interminably.
a) They are too far away
b) Life is extremely rare
As more and more people of different races procreate, "white" will eventually be nonexistent.
He's drawing conclusions with a sample size of 1.
Though somewhat, if the conclusions of the article are correct (I don't think they are), then those who will inherit the earth will be the ones least likely to venture out and make contact.
How about this ... the aliens reached the height of their civilization 3758435 years ago and since then they don't care about people like us. We are too different from them and insignificant to communicate in ways we can recognize.
- there are many advanced civilizations in our galaxy, and each tries to colonize whole galaxy, but it takes much longer than 100 million years. because of competition and other unknown reasons.
- colonization is not done as we taught, we are not experienced in planetary colonization.
Of course we've transitioned into a virtual economy (though we haven't): the virtual economy didn't exist, and neither did the ability to provide intangible services to the degree that is possible now.
And of course an MIT engineer goes into video games, how many can NASA possibly employ? How many engineers were designing boring old toasters and dishwashers during the space race? Did we lament that?
If we are to develop easy space access, not nearly enough.
Napoleon Hill talked about this in "Think and grow rich".
Of course, such effects can always be explained by rational means...