In his famous lecture on Life in the Universe, Stephen Hawking asks: “What are the chances that we will encounter some alien form of life, as we explore the galaxy?”
If the argument about the time scale for the appearance of life on Earth is correct, Hawking says “there ought to be many other stars, whose planets have life on them. Some of these stellar systems could have formed 5 billion years before the Earth. So why is the galaxy not crawling with self-designing mechanical or biological life forms?”
Why hasn’t the Earth been visited, and even colonized? Hawking asks. “I discount suggestions that UFO’s contain beings from outer space. I think any visits by aliens, would be much more obvious, and probably also, much more unpleasant.”
Hawking continues: “What is the explanation of why we have not been visited? \One possibility is that the argument, about the appearance of life on Earth, is wrong. Maybe the probability of life spontaneously appearing is so low, that Earth is the only planet in the galaxy, or in the observable universe, in which it happened. Another possibility is that there was a reasonable probability of forming self reproducing systems, like cells, but that most of these forms of life did not evolve intelligence.”
We are used to thinking of intelligent life, as an inevitable consequence of evolution, Hawking emphasized, but it is more likely that evolution is a random process, with intelligence as only one of a large number of possible outcomes.
Intelligence, Hawking believes contrary to our human-centric existece, may not have any long-term survival value. In comparison the microbial world, will live on, even if all other life on Earth is wiped out by our actions. Hawking’s main insight is that intelligence was an unlikely development for life on Earth, from the chronology of evolution: “It took a very long time, two and a half billion years, to go from single cells to multi-cell beings, which are a necessary precursor to intelligence. This is a good fraction of the total time available, before the Sun blows up. So it would be consistent with the hypothesis, that the probability for life to develop intelligence, is low. In this case, we might expect to find many other life forms in the galaxy, but we are unlikely to find intelligent life.”
Dr. Hawking isn’t popular with the UFO crowd, no doubt about that.
And he doesn’t even entertain the possibility that whatever advanced intelligence might supercede our type, it might not be even in our dimension nor physical at all.
But he is considered the premier scientist of our time, so he gets most of the attention.
It just goes to show the old maxime that, “Science advances not from new discoveries being accepted, but from the death of the previous generation who hold to the old paradigm…”
Robots and humans always seem to end up at odds, whether it’s battling over pieces of NASA’s budget or literally fighting in science fiction stories such as “The Matrix” and “Battlestar Galactica.”Now a former NASA historian and an American University professor suggest that the future of space exploration could very well depend on a merging of metal and flesh.Their new book “Robots in Space” (2008, The Johns Hopkins University Press) looks at the competing visions for robotic vs. human space exploration, and concludes that neither will get far beyond the solar system without one another.That means humans may need to draw from the Sci-Fi realm yet again and morph into something new, like a cyborg, to head for distant stars.
The idea of the cyborg (cybernetic organism) is an old one in science-fiction and in space science. I remember reading about it in the 1970s when I was in high-school. The idea wasn’t pushed hard in the interplanetary exploration theme because it was always assumed that humans will eventually explore and colonise the Solar System. The apathy that pervades the mainstream space program today didn’t exist then. But when the discussion turned to interstellar exploration, robots and possible joining with them to become something ‘more than human’ wasn’t considered crazy. In fact it made good sense because of the huge distances between stars, the travel times involved and the short human life span. It was, and still is thought today that if human beings are going to settle other extra-solar earth-like worlds, it won’t be humans as we are now, but something different. The analogy often given is when the first stiff-finned fish decided to crawl out of the water onto land to get to the next puddle without being eaten, a stage in biological and social evolution.
Now we have the beginnings of the tools we might need to change ourselves in order to return to another larger, vaster ocean to spread Terran life. Who can deny that nanotechnology, creating artificial bacteria, optical quantum computer chips, improved prosthetics, Google-plex and yes, Second Life can not only be tools on Earth, but can be utilized to help Mankind colonise the Cosmos?
Will our descendents be some form of Cylon, or some other form of ‘damned offspring’?
Let’s hope they don’t inherit our worst traits, like our taste for genocide!