Jonathan Leake at The Times:
THE aliens are out there and 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.
The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.
Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.
Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.
Unlike Carl Sagan, who actually sent a message to any (space) aliens out there, Stephen Hawkin would rather we don’t
Hmmm… this is undeniably true, but dare I say that Hawking is being a bit simplistic? Oh, hell, who am I kidding, I’m a blogger. Of course I’ll say that Hawking is being simplistic.
Critics might accuse me of being soft in the Theoretical War Against Aliens, embracing the mushy-headed liberalism of Contact over the hard-headed realpolitik of, say, Independence Day. And the risk-averse approach suggested by Hawking is certainly a viable policy option. But let’s dig a bit deeper and consider four thought-provoking questions from an interplanetary security perspective.
1) In space, does anybody understand the security dilemma? In international relations, there is at least full information about who the other actors are and where they are located. Clearly, we lack this kind of information about the known universe.
What Hawking is suggesting, however, is that efforts to collect such information would in and of themselves be dangerous, because they would announce our presence to others. He might be right. But shoiuldn’t that risk be weighed against the cost of possessing a less robust early warning system? Isn’t it in Earth’s interests to enhance its intelligence-gathering activities?
2) Carried to its logical extreme, isn’t Hawking making an argument for rapidly exhausting our natural resources? If Hawking is correct, then the sooner we run out of whatever might be valuable to aliens, the less interest we are to them. Of course, this does beg the question of which resources aliens would consider to be valuable. If aliens crave either sea water or bulls**t, then the human race as we know it is seriously screwed.
3) Why would aliens go after the inhabited planets? Ceteris paribus, I’m assuming that aliens would prefer to strip-mine an uninhabited planet abundant with natural resources than an inhabited one. Three hundred planets have already been discovered in the Milky Way, and there are “likely many billions.” Even rapacious aliens might try some of them first before looking at Earth, since we are mostly harmless.
There is a counterargument, of course. Over at Hit & Run, Tim Cavanaugh tries to assuage fears of aliens by observing, “Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?” This cuts both ways, however. If those jellyfish fail to notice us but notice our abundant amounts of salinated water, they could decide to come without a care in the world for the bipedal inhabitants of Earth.
4) How do we know that some human aren’t already trying to contact aliens? Stephen Walt and others assume that the presence of aliens would cause humans to form a natural balancing coalition. I’m not so sure. My research into other apocalyptic scenarios suggests that some humans — that’s right, I’m looking at you, Switzerland! — would bandwagon with the aliens. Indeed, for all we know, some humans are already trying to welcome their future alien overlords. Which begs the question — wouldn’t Hawking’s isolationist policy allow the quislings to monopolize the galactic message emanating from Earth?
I look forward to a healthy exchange of diverse viewpoints in the comments — remember, the future of mankind may depend on it.
Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:
We’ll have to wait for the show, but Hawking’s extended comments suggest he’s paying more attention to Independence Day than to Stanislaw Lem. Without any apparent help, this planet has already produced such inscrutable creatures as the platypus, the coelacanth, and chupacabra. The third solution to Fermi’s paradox suggests platform neutrality is not as widespread elsewhere in the Alpha Quadrant as it is here on Earth. Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?
Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:
In what I have to imagine will be one of the better headlines you are going to read today, scientist Stephen Hawking offers some sage advice on how to deal with an alien encounter — the real kind, not the Arizona kind. Truth be told, fter all the dim, earthbound news of late, close encounters of the third kind offers a nice change of newsy pace.