Day 089 - Aliens and auto-extinction

Submitted by Sam on 18 August, 2011 - 01:12

Recognition of our new-found ability to annihilate our planet through our own technology has lead to counter-technology protests, mass demonstrations and international movements to limit our ability to destroy ourselves, manifest principally through voluntary nuclear disarmament. The threat of accidental mass extinction posed by nuclear, biological and chemical technologies has motivated terrorist attacks targeting groups perceived to perpetuate development of these areas. Terrorists like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, have called for revolution against industrialized civilization and modern technology, advocating a return to a non-civilized state, partly in an attempt to defuse the potential timebomb of technological global threats. Most recently, a terrorist group in Mexico attacked two robotics researchers with specialities in nanotechnology with mail bombs. The group, whose name can be translated as the 'Individuals Tending to Savagery', has published a manifesto expressing fears that nanotechnology will result in nano-bacteriological war or an explosion of nano-pollution that will destroy life as we know it.

If the threat of mass-extinction can come from so many technologies in so many diverse ways, whether by accident or by design, then it follows that the more developed a civilization becomes the greater its risk of wiping itself grows. This trend has been suggested as a possible solution to the Fermi Paradox, which describes the contradiction between the current predictions for vast numbers of potentially suitable environments for life in the Universe and the lack of any evidence we have for their existence. Given the age of the Universe (more than thirteen billion years by current measurements), and given the millions of stars in our galaxy – not to mention the millions of galaxies in the universe – it seems statistically highly probable that there are vast numbers of life-bearing planets beyond our own. Of these planets, it also seems highly probable that a fraction will develop into intelligent civilizations, and that of these a further fraction will prosper and develop technologies that will leave some kind of detectable signature, be it through alterations to star systems through space colonization or merely through the development of technologies with effects which are observable from a distance, like radio emissions. But to date, no such artifacts of alien life have been identified, and hence the Fermi Paradox.

For some, part of the reason we have been unable to find any signs of extraterrestrial life is that their 'window' of communication, of signalling their technologically developed state to the universe at large, would inevitably be closed prematurely due to some kind of unavoidable technological holocaust, like the nuclear annihilation humanity has teetered on in the past, or like the nanotech apocalypse that some fear today.

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