27 thoughts on “How Do You Say “Realpolitik…”?

  1. MfK

    I find Hawking’s remarks racist and xenophobic…and 112 years behind everyone else who’s ever thought about the subject…

  2. Titus

    Again, I think Hawking misses the point: it doesn’t matter who or if anyone stands on the shore and shouts — the aliens will see the land long before they figure out if anyone’s living here. Light has been reflecting off a cozy, luxurious, oxygen-rich Earth for billions of years. Broadcasts of “I Love Lucy” are not even a light-century away. (Pedants, please don’t point-out how fast the solar system is moving — I will give you an industrial-strength older-brother wedgie.)

    Further, the best form of life capable of colonizing the galaxy is going to be artificial — such as nanobots mining heavy-element rich asteroids and planets for self-replication. What, if any, other motives they might have beyond mere survival is a bit beyond the singularity for me to say. Maybe they’ll destroy us. Maybe they’ll assimilate us. Maybe they’ll ignore us. After all, who cares about planets that can support Life 1.0?

  3. Brock

    It seems like sort of a moot point, unless FTL is possible at reasonable energy expenditures. Even if you captured 100% of the sun’s output (or as close to that as Thermodynamics allows) there’s always going to be better things to do with that energy here at home (meaning the Sol system) then sending some small away team to Alpha Centauri.

  4. Titus

    there’s always going to be better things to do with that energy here at home (meaning the Sol system) then sending some small away team to Alpha Centauri.

    Eh? I’m not sure how you arrived at such a value that stands in contrast to the history of not just humanity, but life in general. Life spreads. Humans may perish with the sun, but unaging interstellar robots should not. With tens of millions of years to get that going, it stands to reason that it will be done (“unless we destroy ourselves” /sagan).

  5. Karl Hallowell

    Also, this smacks of security through obscurity. If technologically advanced aliens are scouring the galaxy for radio broadcasts and then assaulting those regions, then it is already too late for humanity to try to hide.

  6. ken anthony

    I’m with Karl, we need to be the baddest F.ers in the galactic arm. Just in case, we should be practicing. The validity of all five points can be assessed in that link.

  7. Godzilla

    Security through obscurity is IMO better than nothing. However the best thing is to compete with yourself in a way that improves technological and other development quickly. This is why markets are important. In the long run stagnation is death.

  8. Annoying Old Guy

    I’m with Titus. A group of people might well be willing to trade their small slice of Sol’s output to travel to Alpha Centauri so they can get all the output of that star.

  9. McGehee

    If technologically advanced aliens are scouring the galaxy for radio broadcasts

    I’ll reiterate the point I raised the previous Hawking thread by asking, what radio broadcasts will they have detected from Earth?

    The massive radio noise we’ve been generating here since 1920 or so has been intended for receivers within our own atmosphere or not far above it; communications sent above the ionosphere are aimed directly at their destinations, and the return signals are aimed back at us.

    A signal that does make it much farther than that encounters what I believe is called the heliopause, where the force of the solar wind is matched and then overcome by the force of the more powerful radiation from the center of the galaxy and all the other known natural radio sources, and I think it’s a fair bet that between inverse-square and the heliopause whatever intelligible information there in our transmissions is probably lost.

    I question whether a civilization on a planet circling Alpha Centauri would ever know we were here until we managed to lob an interstellar probe into their neighborhood, and vice versa.

  10. gbaikie

    “…which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

    It was certainly disruptive for Native Americans, but unless one longs to hunt buffalo or something, I would say in general the Native American did ok.
    Of course there isn’t any reason to suspect that aliens would give us the same kind of treatment we gave the Natives. They might for instance do something worse like put us all on some kind of welfare program.

    The best of intentions [particularly if they are only slightly smarter than humans] could have the most severe consequences.

    It would certainly unite humans, but that isn’t such a good thing as some may imagine.

  11. Fletcher Christian

    McGehee, sorry but you are simply wrong.

    First of all, there is quite a lot of radio-spectrum noise coming from Earth right now; all TV broadcasts are in wavelengths that escape the atmosphere. And the hypothetical aliens don’t have to be able to decode the signals either. The main signal is the presence of these broadcasts, not their content.

    Over the last fifty years or so, in certain parts of the spectrum (originally VHF and now UHF) the power output of Sol from an astronomical point of view has more than doubled. And it’s in narrow wavebands; there is something very odd happening here.

  12. Karl Hallowell

    McGehee, the interstellar plasma doesn’t cull most of these signals else we wouldn’t be able to detect such signals ourselves from outside the Solar System and radio astronomy would be greatly diminished. As to the inverse square thing, you can compensate for that with a bigger antenna. Ultimately, the real obstacle is the speed of light. Unless someone has local infrastructure for dealing with us (military or otherwise), they’ll receive our signal long after we’ve broadcast it.

    Anyone paranoid enough to put reactive military capability in each star system that is likely to be a threat, would be likely to have responded by now.

  13. MfK

    Pioneer 10 had an 8 watt transmitter, and was about 8 billion miles away when its transmission became too faint for the DSN to pick it up. Our entire civilization emits probably around 1 GW (but certainly no more than 10 GW) RF over a broad spectrum. Doing the inverse-square math, that puts the maximum range for a receiver as large as the DSN at 16 to 50 light years.

    I doubt if there is anyone within 50 light years listening.

  14. ken anthony

    The aliens themselves don’t have to be within 50ly., they just have to have an self-replicating automated receiver every 50ly or less. Starting from a single point they would radiate out and eventually cover the whole galaxy.

  15. Mike Lorrey

    If there are such predatory aliens, then odds are that we would be able to receive radio broadcasts from races they victimize before us warning us about them.

    We should also be able to detect, at least within a few years if not presently, the bowshock of their ships travelling at relativistic speeds through interstellar gas/dust clouds. Near light speed hydrogen ions striking their magnetic ramscoops/deflector field would emit a rather distinctive and significant radio signal in and of itself.

    However, I personally believe it rather unlikely that any society aggressive enough to predate on other races in such a fashion would survive long enough to expand beyond their own solar system, unless they were actually more primitive and managed to capture interstellar propulsion tech from another species visiting them (the Kzin problem). Expansive aggressive races would be more likely to nuke themselves first. Look how close we came a few times to it.

    The real danger that Hawking talks about that is real isn’t being aggressively overrun and displaced intentionally. Instead, the real problem is some well meaning idiot in a more advanced race giving us a very powerful technology that we aren’t ready to deal with yet.

    For instance, lets say a Festival-type visitation happened (see Charlie Stross’ “Singularity Sky”), of post-technological-singularity visitors come to the solar system to “repair” it by linking it into the interstellar communications network, and giving everybody anything they want in exchange for information of any kind about us. In Singularity Sky, they drop millions of cellphones from orbit so anybody can talk to them, and immediately trigger a technological and economic singularity across the planet. All it takes is for that to happen here, and some members of al Qaeda to ask for a nanotechnological replicator machine (a cornucopaeia), in exchange for a fatwa against the united states, with which they can produce suitcase nukes, weaponized anthrax, smallpox, anti-biotic resistant bubonic plague, etc. and its game over.

  16. Jonathan Card

    Mr. Lorrey, I can’t help but draw the comparison to the superiority of European trans-oceanic sailing technology and their (our) tendency to exploit the people in the New World. I have never understood why there is this assumption that technologically advanced nations would not steal from civilizations they would think of as primitive. Broadcasting with focused transmissions to the most likely alien locations, as the scientists I linked to propose, still seems like the Screaming Caterpillar from The Simpsons to me.

    http://www.thesimpsons.com/episode_guide/1321.htm

    You’re worried about receiving too much technology, which for some reason the US wouldn’t use to protect ourselves against Al Queda against mere nukes?

  17. Titus

    Again, I wouldn’t worry about bumping into hostile aliens. It’s Fermi’s paradox: looking into the galaxy reveals not the backyard of a thriving interstellar civilization, but a vast, pristine wilderness. Therefore, we’re all alone.

  18. Paul D.

    McGehee:

    Plasmas do not allow the propagation of electromagnetic waves below the plasma frequency, which is about 30 KHz for the interplanetary medium at 1 AU, and less for the interstellar medium. The frequency goes as (free electron density)^1/2.

    Radio signals that can penetrate the ionosphere are well above the interstellar plasma frequency, and can propagate.

  19. Mike Puckett

    “Again, I wouldn’t worry about bumping into hostile aliens. It’s Fermi’s paradox: looking into the galaxy reveals not the backyard of a thriving interstellar civilization, but a vast, pristine wilderness. Therefore, we’re all alone.”

    Suure we are. Because they should be using primitive, noisy RF based technology along with stone knives and bearskins.

    Since we do not detect RF noise, it must be a primitive wilderness.

    What if RF tech is a short phase an emerging civilization goes thru in two to three centuries?

    What if advanced civilizations use some kind of quantum communication system? There could be the noise of a thousand civilizations permeating your body right now and you would never know it.

  20. Titus

    Since we do not detect RF noise, it must be a primitive wilderness.

    Not just RF noise — anything. I will grant that, only a couple generations into it and having only looked at a few hundred planets, any conclusion wrt the existence of ETs is prelimiary. I will stand by my position, however, that the issue of who broadcasts what from Earth is basically irrelevant. They’re either too far away or too sophistocated for us to escape their notice.

  21. Mike Lorrey

    Titus Says:
    April 28th, 2010 at 8:26 am

    “Again, I wouldn’t worry about bumping into hostile aliens. It’s Fermi’s paradox: looking into the galaxy reveals not the backyard of a thriving interstellar civilization, but a vast, pristine wilderness. Therefore, we’re all alone.”

    The pessimist says that the only reason we’re all alone is that the predators got all the other stupid radio emitter races already…

    The further into a technological singularity a civilization goes, the more dangerous its “precocious youths” become. Today they poke animals with sticks at the zoo, tomorrow they’re pranking Victorian-stage civilizations with hallucinations about supernatural beings and UFO abductions.

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