Futurology blog: what’s the next trend that’ll disrupt our world, financially, socially or just pointlessly?

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Aliens: let's hope they never come.

Statistically speaking, it's very unlikely that there isn't another intelligent life form out there somewhere. The same principle of self-organisation of basic elements into complex organic compounds and their subsequent evolution would hold on any planet in the universe – and there are oodles of those. (If you're a creationist, you wouldn't agree, but then I'd dispute that you're an intelligent life form yourself.)

So, presuming that there are intelligent ETs, it's logical that some are less, and some more, advanced that we are. (With evolutionary spans of billions of years it's obvious that some would have evolved faster than others.) Now consider how quickly our science has advanced in the last 200 years – and imagine what a civilization just a few hundred years more advanced than ours would be able to do – and it follows that there may well be ETs capable of flitting around space and time, in ways that we can barely imagine.

So what would be the effect of an alien visit to earth? (I don't accept that they've been here yet – why would they have chosen such stupid people to abduct?)

Well … we only have to look at man's own history of exploration to figure out the problems. The Europeans' voyages of discovery were all about exploitation: investors gambled large sums of money that the explorers would bring back stuff of enormous value. And so they did: usually by looting it from another civilization.

OK, so what’s likely to happen when the aliens show up? With hindsight, it would have worked out a lot better for the Native Americans if they'd simply lured the Pilgrim Fathers into a trap and slaughtered them. And then done it again and again as each new shipload of settlers arrived. Same with the Aztecs in Central America when the conquistadors showed up.

As the Australian aborigines and the South African bushmen also discovered, it’s not the race that’s best adapted to their environment that flourishes. The more competitive and better armed race will always end up taking their land and resources from them.

The conclusion is obvious. If you invite a technologically superior race into your land, you end up second-best, if you survive at all. So you need to act mercilessly and fast.

There’s a problem with this, of course. The aliens would know the score and would be prepared for hostilities, even in the unlikely event that they really are friendly. So it would be fatal to greet them with nukes – theirs would be bigger than ours.

As you can see, this takes a little thought. Obviously, instant aggression is out. So really, we have no choice but to welcome them and hope that they’re curious enough to want to know more about us before they wipe us out. And before they do we have to lure all of them into a fatal trap. But that’s just what they’d be expecting. Hmm.

Perhaps a mutual hostage set-up would work. We offer them a few of our most important citizens in exchange for a few of theirs. And hope that we’re not hoodwinked with a few super-sophisticated robots. And that they do actually have some respect for life.

And then we do an accelerated technology exchange to get to the point where we have some weaponry that they’d take seriously, then negotiate trade agreements that are more attractive to them than an invasion. Of course, if the mother ship is waiting off-planet with millions of colonists in suspended animation, we still have a problem. Because we know that even if they start off settling in Antarctica, soon they’d want Tasmania, then South America, then the world.

There’s another problem. The aliens aren’t likely to land in the most suitable place for interplanetary negotiations. It’s more likely they’d land in some place like the Middle East or the Sudan, where they’d probably get an instantly hostile, but small-scale, reaction that would instantly taint relations, in the time-honoured fashion, and lead to more and more problems down the line. Or, on the other hand, imagine the aliens pitching up in Trafalgar Square waving a global colonisation agreement that they’d negotiated with some warlord in Eritrea. It’s no more than Westerners used to do all over the world.

OK … so could there be a situation in which we could trust visiting aliens? Perhaps, as long as they communicated with earth for a lengthy period before actually showing up. Here’s my logic: On earth, nations get along fine when they’re technologically equal and have similar values. So if some aliens got in touch, showed us some videos of their civilization (and it didn’t look too alien) and then beamed down comprehensive textbooks of their technology, we’d be able to get up to speed with them and then negotiate with them as (more or less) equals.

Thing is, if they were sophisticated, yet still just wanted all our resources without going to all the bother of nuking earth and leaving it in a nasty radioactive mess, they’d be able to show us wonderfully convincing video of just how super they were, beam down an abridged selection of technological gimmickry, win us over … and then still lead us into some nasty trap.

Hmm again.

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