From the time humankind first realized the immensity of our universe, scientists have been wondering why we have not yet found any evidence of intelligent life somewhere out there.
As our telescopes and related technology have improved, the mystery has deepened, because the odds against our being alone keep growing. The current estimate of total star population in our universe is about seventy thousand billion billions (seven followed by twenty-two zeroes!), and the current estimate of earthlike planets per star is about 20 percent. The probability of there not being intelligent life out there seems to be near zero. But where are they?
To date, the bulk of the efforts to detect the existence of alien intelligence have been focused on radio transmissions. Our planet has been broadcasting radio and television signals for the last hundred years. Think of the signals as expanding circles, like ripples on a pond when a rock is thrown into it. The ripples are expanding at the speed of light. This means that they have reached suns and planets within a hundred light years of the solar system…but that is only a tiny portion of our galaxy and an infinitesimally small microdot in the universe. So far no aliens have indicated that they have heard our noise pollution.
But our universe has existed for 13.7 billion years, and it is probable that the potential for intelligent life has existed for at least 8 billion years. So, if there are sound ripples (i.e., radio waves) coming from ancient intelligent life, why have none been detected yet?
A growing number of scientists believe that a big part of the reason is that most intelligent species will have only a brief life-span cosmically speaking…just a few thousand years. Their theory is that an intelligent species will always be cursed by its evolutionary past. As its intelligence grows, so does the sophistication of its technology…but its kill-or-be-killed warrior past will inevitably lead the fledgling intelligence to use its new inventions (dynamite, nuclear capability, biological engineering, etc.) as weapons. Less dramatic but just as deadly, early stage technology (e.g., engines powered by burning fossil fuels) coupled with a population explosion brings dangers that threaten the biosphere…
And so we have the big intelligence test: Will the development of the species’ social intelligence, its real intelligence, come before it extinguishes itself? The silence out there is telling us that it very rarely, if ever, does. A term has been coined for this end-of-an-intelligent-species scenario. It is technocrunch.
To a believer in a higher power, a worthiness test actually makes sense. If there is a God, wouldn’t you think He would come up with some way to make sure that a flawed but technologically powerful species self-destructs before it achieves space travel? Think about our past colonizing efforts and the havoc the colonists created for the locals…The big intelligence test might be God’s way to make sure that only the truly intelligent species are allowed to survive and, eventually, travel to the stars.
So far, in our brief history, we have not shown great promise that we will pass the test…and the pace of technological advances seems ever-increasing. The first nanobots, sub-microscopic robots programmed to complete complex tasks, will be here very soon. They could cure cancer, put a stop to global warming, vanquish our dependence on fossil fuels and innumerable other wonderful things. They could even bring immortality…But they could also be made into the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. With nanobots we are being tested as never before…
From the Introduction to The Nanobot Attack (to publish early 2014)