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Intelligent life is more likely to be like the Borg than Vulcans, according to Stephen Hawking. Hawking says humans should try to avoid contact with intelligent aliens.  (Source: National Geographic)
Don't count on friendly aliens, like ET, says Hawking; they're likely looking to conquer, colonize, and exploit

Stephen Hawking, 68, has long suffered from a motor neurone disease that has extremely limited his powers of communication and movement, but that has never stopped him from  making important contributions to scientific theory.  Hawking just finished up a three-year project, a TV series called Stephen Hawking's Universe, which will air on Sunday May 9 at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

In the show he will offer up some controversial assessments on extraterrestrial life and what it might be like.  

Hawking is a firm believer that alien life does exist.  The universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of millions of stars, many which have been shown to have planets in orbit.  Numbers virtually guarantee that life has evolved elsewhere, Hawking believes.  He states, "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.  The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like."

So what might these extraterrestrial species be like?  Hawking believes that most are likely "simple" species, similar to those that have evolved on Earth; ranging from microbes to land animals.

However, Hawking believes there is likely intelligent life out there.  And he's frightened by that possibility.

The aliens in Hawking's vision would be much like the malefic beasties in the blockbuster science-fiction flick 
Independence Day.  He describes, "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach."

He says that humans should try to avoid alien contact as we colonize space.  He states that such contact would be "a little too risky".  What would result?  He states, "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans."

In addition to his theories about vicious aliens, Hawking suggests that based on examples of life surviving on Earth in extreme environments, life could be found in unbelievable places, such as in the center of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking's colleagues concur on this point.  Lord Martin Rees, a British royal astrophysicist, told his students in lecture earlier this year that humans might not be able to recognize or understand forms of life they stumble across in space.  He states, "I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive.  Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains."

How close could primitive life be?  Professor Brian Cox, University of Manchester's "rockstar physicist" suggests we look in our own solar backyard.  He says that Mars, Europa (a moon of Jupiter), and Titan (a moon of Saturn) are likely places to find it.

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RE: Colonization
By lightfoot on 4/26/2010 4:19:01 PM , Rating: 1
Some observations:
1. Alien intelligence may not be able to recognize us as life forms. Or they may not care that we are life forms.
2. Just because intersteller travel is possible does not mean that life in space is desirable.
3. Terraforming may be less cost prohibitive than in-space habitation.

The bottom line is that if aliens visit our solar system it will be for a reason. No matter how you look at interstellar travel, it will not be cheap.

If we sent a multigenerational or sleeper ship over the vast distances to reach even the nearest star it would likely be for colonization. If life existed in that system we may not know it until we get there. Then the question becomes, do you proceed with the mission or turn back? Keep in mind that the resources to return may not be available. If the life encountered in the other system was unrecognizable, what would prevent terraforming and other colonization activities from commencing?

What would happen to us if aliens tried terraforming Earth? If a giant machine were dropped into our atmosphere that started generating vast amounts of chlorine gas or sulfur dioxide?

Don't believe for one moment that the aliens would have a "Prime Directive" and would value the life on our planet over the life on their ship. If forced to make the choice they would choose themselves, just as we would.

RE: Colonization
By bh192012 on 4/26/2010 8:18:07 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly, it will not be cheap. Certainly not worth it for conquering purposes, it would make much more sense to terraform a nearby system. Unless you think advanced aliens live nearby and we haven't detected them, and they haven't detected us yet.... which I consider impossible. We can already detect rocky planets in other star systems. Trust me, if a civilization exists that could fly here and conquer us, they already know we're here. (Hey look, our ginormous telescope detected free oxygen and CFC's on that goldilocks rocky planet.) That leaves equally advanced or primitive neighbors at best. Anything advanced either knows we're here already or they're so far away that it doesn't matter.

RE: Colonization
By lightfoot on 4/26/2010 11:13:44 PM , Rating: 3
Certainly not worth it for conquering purposes, it would make much more sense to terraform a nearby system.

It is so cost prohibitive that it would not be worth it for any purpose. My only point is that if aliens somehow did arrive here it would be just as costly to leave. They wouldn't leave under any circumstance. They would establish a permanent colony or die trying - again just as we would.

You seriously overestimate our ability to detect life, we can detect atoms and molecules through the use of spectral analysis, not direct observation. Some molecules like water, free oxygen and methane may be good indicators that life is possible, but life would be VERY difficult to confirm. Even if life was detected it would only make the destination planet that much more desirable (both from a scientific and colonization stand point.)

And lastly just because life is confirmed, does not mean that compassion will be shown to that life form. Just look at how humans use every other species on this planet. So what if we are intelligent? So are dogs. If we were lucky we might be kept as pets. If we weren't lucky we would become work animals (like horses, donkeys or elephants.) And every one of those examples are mammals like us, toward which we show an incredible amount of compassion due to their similarities to us. Imagine if we were thought of as insects - or worse - what compassion would be shown then?

More likely than anything else, the aliens wouldn't give us much thought. We would be an obstacle to be overcome, not even worthy of being considered a rival.

My main point is that we show the most compassion to beings that we have the most in common with. It is highly unlikely that we would be in any way similar with a species that evolved on a totally different planet. Compassion is not a given. More likely are fear and misunderstanding, neither of which are conducive to building a lasting peace.

It is entirely possible that a significantly more advanced civilization could even wipe us out purely by accident.

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