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Prepare for Alien Contact

I've not gone barking mad or joined some weird religious cult (aren't they all?). But I do predict that we will make contact with intelligences from other planets soon. Here's my reasoning:

There are approximately 100,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy (easy way to remember this order of magnitude is it's one hundred, thousand, million). Usefully there are also approximately the same number of galaxies in the universe. And assuming every star has about the same number of planets orbiting it as our Sun, and that the Milky Way is an average size of galaxy, that means there are around 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the universe. A lot.

Scientists have long debated the probability of life, as we would recognise it - reproducing, eating, etc - existing outside Earth. Most agree mathematically that it's a certainty. What they did was take all the components they believed were required for life to have evolved on Earth and then extrapolate what they know about the existence of these components on other worlds. This therefore excludes all possibilities of other life systems requiring, for example, very high temperatures, toxicity (for us), lack of solid land or water, no carbon or oxygen etc. The number they arrived at was still enormous. They then reduced it extensively to allow for evolutionary processes to have become established (it's generally believed that the simple carbohydrate molecule of formaldehyde needed to have existed before DNA could form) and for the planet (presumably, rather than its star) to have reached a sufficiently stable and benign (whatever that might mean) state for long-term evolution of systems like biological cells to appear. 

And still they calculated with virtual certainty that vast amounts of life exists elsewhere in the universe.

That's all well and good. So given there are definitely aliens wandering around other planets somewhere else, why do I think we'll have evidence of this soon?... Because we are living in an age of technology unlike anything your parents or any previous generation of our species could possibly fathom or even recognise. 

Today we can detect incredibly feint radio waves coming from the outer edges of the universe 46,000,000,000 light years away (and a light year is about 10,000,000,000,000 km - so multiply one number by the other to give how many kilometres we can now detect signals being emitted). 100 years ago our natural audible range was a couple of hundreds yards and our visual range was a mile or so. We didn't even know radio waves existed. So us detecting them, and them detecting us were virtually impossible until very very recently.

So homo sapiens has been around about 800,000 years. And we've no reliable evidence yet that any of our ancestors have ever encountered aliens. But maybe that's because aliens didn't know we were here combined with the fact that we couldn't detect very distant aliens until only a year or so ago. Our technology is therefore now, and uniquely in our history, capable of delivering and receiving communications from whatever aliens might exist who have also developed similar or better communications technologies (including inter-galactic travel).

We're the only species on our planet to have evolved technical expertise. So even if you reduce the odds of homo sapiens' communications skills being developed by a single species on another world, there is still a near certainty that:
  • Extra-terrestrial life exists
  • At least half of all extra-terrestrial species are smarter than us (given that it's binary they're either smarter or less smart than us, however that might be measured).
  • They can now detect us because we've only recently been transmitting coherent signals that might reach them
  • We have within the past year or so developed the sensitivities (and continue to improve on them) to be capable of detecting them
So now is the time for contact to be established.... But unfortunately there's a rather large problem with my argument. If intelligent aliens exist thousands of light years away, and they probably do, then it will take thousands of years for radio signals to reach them, and thousands more for those signals to be responded to and received by us. So a bit like Vodafone. However, there are still a few possibilities that might mean we're about to be contacted:
  1. They've already discovered us and are waiting for the most appropriate time to communicate with us. As our technology advances day by day, that time must be approaching fast.
  2. We might still discover them - albeit thousands, perhaps millions of years in their past. Why not hook up your PC to the SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) processing network? I'll let you know if mine discovers anything!
  3. There are possibilities that certain future communication technologies will not experience any time delay between transmission and reception irrespective of distance. It's all part of quantum entanglement. We're not there yet, but within our lifetime it may become a reality. And if aliens have also developed it...
Assuming therefore that we're about to meet little green men (and/or women perhaps), what should we be doing to prepare for it. If we stick to a mathematical prediction that they will be more advanced than us, then the probability is that they will be VASTLY more advanced than us. In other words, there's no preparation necessary. They'll know far more about you, and how to communicate with you, than you'll (obviously) know about them. 

And they won't eat you. I'm sure they would be sufficiently advanced to have brought enough sandwiches for the trip. 

They also won't wipe us out so they'll have dominion over our planet. Why bother? If they're smart enough to find us, they've also found billions of other lifeforms. Why go to any effort to change this planet and its ecology? Maybe they'll be benevolent. It's better than 50/50 they will be. What on earth (😀) would be in it for them to be malevolent. We are no threat to them, and we're already screwing our planet. Why bother destroying it or us when we're already doing the job for them. But if they're benevolent, maybe they will help us become better at caring for it. But chances are they won't care, and at best they might want to study us a bit (although they're probably so advanced, there's nothing new we can show them that they don't already know). I think there will be an intergalactic meh moment. 

So forget all those War of the Worlds predictions. They're probably already here and can't be bothered to start a conversation even though they could. Just as we can't be bothered to start one with mice. What would mice teach us if we did figure out their language? And when mice have eventually evolved to be able to speak English... what might they say that would interest us? Mice will be very boring conversationalists, just as we are to more advanced lifeforms.

Maybe Douglas Adams was right all along.


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