Have you ever stared into the night sky, gazing upon the seemingly infinite number of stars, and wondered if we the human race are alone in this universe? Well if that is the case, you wouldn’t be alone. With trillions of stars in the known universe, it is easy to assume that there must be millions of other equally intelligent species roaming the cosmos. The reality is that we have not encountered alien life and this conundrum has puzzled scientists for decades. So… Where are all the Aliens?
This simple question was first posed to the scientific community in the early 1950’s by an Italian physicist by the name of Enrico Fermi. According to legend, the Fermi Paradox originated during a 1950 lunchtime discussion with colleagues. They all thought it reasonable to speculate that we were not alone, and that we are likely just one of millions of species in the universe. But Fermi began to wonder, if that’s true then where is everyone?
The main points of the Fermi Paradox are as follow:
- There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are similar to the Sun, many of which are billions of years older than Earth.
- With high probability, some of these stars will have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some might develop intelligent life.
- Some of these civilizations might develop interstellar travel, a step the Earth is investigating now.
- Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.
The remainder of this article will explore possible reasons for the lack of alien life in the universe.
One possible solution is that intelligent life does not remain in a “communicative phase” for very long and simply evolves to state that transcends the need for “detectable” communication. Alternatively, perhaps there are life forms in the universe that have become significantly intelligent without evolving the need for communication at all. Humans have been using radio waves for approximately 100 years and are on the verge of new forms of communication that may be much more difficult to detect using standard astrological methods. Quantum communication, a technology that uses the strange quirks of quantum entanglement to “teleport” information from one point to another will drastically change the landscape of communication on earth. This type of communication would be impossible to perceive using radio telescopes. With that said, a conservative estimate of the time that humans remain in the observable “communicative phase”, may only be 150 years. That is a tiny blip on radar considering the universe is estimated to be over 14 billions years old.
Astronomer Frank Drake posited the famous Drake equation in 1961 in order estimate the number of “detectable” life forms in the Milky Way. The equation looks like this:
Realizing that humans remain may only remain in the “communicative phase” for 150 years, “L” becomes the limiting factor in the equation. The calculation below uses a conservative 500 years for the value “L”.
As you can sadly see, we may be the only detectable civilization in the Milky Way. This could be one possible reason that we have not found signs of intelligent life in the universe.
The rarity of DNA
Another possibility is that the random formation of DNA is nearly impossible and may have only happened this one time on planet Earth.
DNA is a complex molecule and is the foundation of all life on planet Earth. Without it, life is not possible.
Francis Crick the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and a staunch evolutionist, could not find the process in which DNA was itself created. He was astonished by the raw data that suggested that the random formation of the DNA molecule was against all odds. He wrote:
“If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare an event would that be?
“This is an easy exercise in combinatorials. Suppose the chain is about two hundred amino acids long; this is, if anything, rather less than the averagelength of proteins of all types. Since we have just twenty possibilities at each place, the number of possibilities is twenty multiplied by itself some two hundred times. This is conveniently written 20^200 and is approximately equal to 10^260, that is, a one followed by 260 zeros!”
As rare as it is, DNA does exist and somehow assembled itself randomly. If this is indeed the case, perhaps life only randomly assembled this one time in the universe. Of course, there is the possibility that DNA did not originate on planet Earth and was somehow seeded on planet earth by some other process. Crick realized this possibility and hypothesized “Panspermia“, the notion that DNA is abundant in the universe and is seeded by interstellar comets that crash land early during a planets formation.
The Infinity Machine
The last idea that we will explore in this article is the possibility that sufficiently advanced civilizations always destroy themselves before they become interstellar travelers. The human species is advancing at an exponential rate according to futurist Ray Kurzweil’s Law of accelerating returns. If Kurzweil is correct, the human species is heading towards a boiling point in which technology advances so fast, that we lose control of it.
Kurzweil calls this event the “Singularity”, because beyond this point we do not know what will happen. To keep it simple, Kuzweil believes that advances in Artificial Intelligence will eventually become self improving. That means, that at some point in the very near future, AI’s will be able to improve themselves without human intervention. When this happens, improvement cycles will happen at such a rapid pace that AI’s will quickly surpass human levels of intelligence. At this singularity we do not know what will happen, or what the AI will decide to do.
My personal thoughts on possibilities beyond the singularity are that AI’s will quickly want to organize themselves in more efficient and more dense states of matter. It will do this until it has achieved the optimal state where atoms cannot be packed any closer together. At this point, the AI will have no choice but to grow in size. When it does this, the AI will consume all resources in its immediate vicinity. It will deconstruct matter and reorganize it for the purposes of increasing its volume. Of course this means destroying Earth and the human race along with it.
At some point, the AI becomes so dense that it collapses into a black hole and becomes an Infinity Machine. The Infinity machine as I see it, is an intelligent black hole that attempts to swallow everything around with the goal of consuming all mater in the universe.
Of course this is just a fun thought experiment, but it does answer the questions as to why we have not encountered aliens. The human species is so young in terms of interstellar intelligence yet it is so close to building the AI that could destroy it. Has this been the fate of all intelligent life forms with at least equal intelligence to that of humanity?
Who knows, but it is certainly fun to think about!