Science

Aliens are all dead, and we are waiting for it too, scientists suggest

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While some remain convinced that we are not necessarily alone in this vast universe, others offer a radical explanation for the fact that we have never encountered aliens. If they haven’t reached Earth, it’s because intelligent civilizations tend to self-destruct, a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggests. And this, perhaps, is what awaits humanity.

In fact, this theory is not new. In 1998, Robin Dale Hanson, a researcher at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, presented a series of barriers to overcome that he believes are detrimental to the emergence of a sustainable extraterrestrial civilization over time. which he calls “The Great Filter”. Hanson identified nine evolutionary stages leading to the colonization of the galaxy by civilization, from a planetary system that promotes the emergence of life, to the use of tools and technologies by organisms with a developed brain, gradually leading to the expansion of colonization. The Great Filter can occur at any of these stages.

Thus, any other civilization that could have existed in the history of the universe would probably have been “filtered out” by self-destruction. Jonathan Jiang and Kristen Fahey, researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and their collaborators note that the dramatic event that wiped out aliens from space logically should have happened before these civilizations reached our planet. And if the theory is applicable to earthlings, then today we would be on the verge of disaster. In a new study, they offer solutions available to us to avoid the Great Filter.

Nuclear war, pandemics, asteroids… is the end of humanity near?

While theories and logical calculations show that evidence of life in our galaxy should exist in abundance, the search for extraterrestrial life has so far remained inconclusive. “We argue that an existential catastrophe may await us as our society moves exponentially towards space exploration, acting as the Great Filter: a phenomenon that erases civilizations before they can meet, which may explain the cosmic silence,” the researchers write in their paper. article. .

A representation of an approximate timeline of the potential lifespan of intelligent life in the galaxy. Our sun and its successor line, shown in yellow, are a representation of how long humanity has been able to survive until today. © J. H. Jiang et al.

According to Hanson, one or more factors prevent intelligent and thriving life forms from surviving long enough on their home planet to significantly spread to others. “The fact that our universe appears to be basically dead suggests that advanced, explosive sustainable life is very, very difficult to emerge,” he wrote in 1998, the term “explosive” here referring to a civilization’s ability to colonize other planets. using inexpensive spaceflight. We are at this stage of our evolution…

Thus, Jiang and his co-authors present several possible scenarios that could lead to our disappearance. Nuclear war, pathogens and pandemics, artificial intelligence, meteorite impacts and climate change have all been considered as potential triggers for the destruction of humanity. The authors note that each of these events has different consequences, but “does not have a critical adjustment to account for increased risk.”

Just one of them can create a snowball effect that quickly leads to the Great Filter. The only way for mankind to survive is to understand that
characteristics that this “barrier” will hold back in order to identify these attributes in itself and neutralize them in advance, the researchers say. All foreseen risks, whether anthropogenic or natural, can be prevented by changing individual, institutional and internal behavior.

In their study, the researchers looked at human history marked by wars, disease, and environmental degradation. In particular, they lament that almost every great discovery or invention, pushing the limits of our technological ignorance, is too quickly and easily used for destructive purposes.

Immaturity and decentralization lead to destruction

“An optimistic view would show that we continue to exist, despite the fact that in 1945 we developed the ability to self-destruct,” they note. However, the last 77 years have been marked by “misfires” such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and constant outbreaks of armed conflict around the world. In addition, human activities have greatly disturbed the Earth’s environment, which is otherwise very favorable for life.

While biological threats remain in the spotlight today, researchers believe that the recent COVID-19 pandemic will allow us to be better prepared for possible future pandemics. They also note that projects such as the NEO (Near-Earth Object) program and the recent DART (Dual Asteroid Redirect Test) mission give us a good chance of avoiding a major asteroid impact. With regard to ongoing climate change, “advanced technologies
fast in areas such as modular nuclear power plants and carbon capture and sequestration are among the best hopes for avoiding the trap. [du Grand filtre] “, they write.

But the root of the problem remains in human nature. For Jiang and his staff, the basis of many of our possible filters is rooted in immaturity. War, poor distribution of resources lead to the disunity of mankind. “History has shown that competition within our species and, above all, cooperation have led us to the greatest heights of invention. And yet, we are spreading ideas that seem to be the antithesis of long-term sustainable growth. Racism, genocide, inequality, sabotage… the list goes on,” the study says.

Researchers, however, believe that we have the means to create a strong and permanent society. Greater understanding and cooperation among groups, societies, and civilizations, as well as major technological advances, should increase our chances of getting past the Great Filter.

But Hanson himself somewhat disagrees with this conclusion: he believes that increased centralized control and management is not a solution, but quite the opposite. “In fact, I see over-centralization of control as a likely contributor to our future Great Filter,” he told The Daily Beast. He believes that the more decentralized humanity becomes, the more likely it is that some of us – for example, thanks to a private space trip to the Moon or Mars – will survive an event that will destroy life on Earth.

Other experts believe that the whole theory of the Great Filter does not hold water: ” [Elle] depends on the expected outcome of the observation, namely that no one is there. But this conclusion is too premature. We just started looking,” Seth Szostak, a California-based astronomer at the SETI Institute, told The Daily Beast. Aliens or not, “We are the only ones who can help themselves; we should not expect mentors or saviors to come down from heaven on our behalf,” the researchers conclude.

JH Jiang et al., arXiv.

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