Earlier this year, Stephen Hawking in collaboration with Mark Zuckerberg and Yuri Milner created the Breakthrough Initiative. The three want to build small probes, no bigger than the average smartphone, that will travel the galaxy in search for intelligent life. However, the astrophysicist is pleading caution, as an alien encounter could entail more than just making outer-planetary friends.
The Breakthrough Initiative wants to send tiny probes into space that will act as our ears across the galaxies. The idea is to listen for any sign of extraterrestrial activity, but not make contact with the possible alien species as we might not know if they are harboring good intentions.
The British astrophysicist is concerned that a possible alien encounter could recreate the first meeting between the Aztecs and the conquistadors, humanity playing the role of the Aztecs. His fears are not so far-fetched given the fact that humanity’s greatest empires have been built on genocide and barbarism.
According to Stephen Hawking, all nearby Earth-like planets are at least 2 billion years older than our home, meaning that if they are populated, their civilizations have had some considerable advantage. For a technologically superior race, we are mere apes, playing with sticks and rocks, and making a lot of noise in the process.
Humanity may be bent on listening for alien signs, but it is also making a lot of noise. We have been broadcasting everything about us for decades, other, more advanced lifeforms being perfectly capable of discovering our presence, if they wanted to.
Stephen Hawking fears that, if we are to discover other life forms in the nearby galaxies, they will see the Earth as a fresh target, a hunter finding a curious deer in a big, otherwise rather empty piece of woods. As Hollywood, and history, have taught us, not all invasions start with a full-on attack, meaning that at first, the aliens may seem friendly.
It may be that humanity’s own sins are making the British astrophysicist more weary than normal. There is a possibility that the lifeforms from the neighboring galaxies are so advanced that they ignore our planet, waiting for humanity to evolve further before making first contact.
No matter the reason why alien civilizations have not contacted us until now, there is a possibility that we might attract unwanted attention with our attempt at searching for signs of their presence. If that happens, Hawking is pleading caution.
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