Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

Dr. Hawking’s First World Problem: What If Aliens Call!?

Stephen_Hawking_in_Stockholm,_2015.jpg

Here from Stephen Hawking is a First World problem if ever there was one: If aliens call, do we pick up? From The Independent:

If we actually end up discovering aliens then they’ll probably just wipe us all out, Stephen Hawking has said.

When we made contact with any aliens it would probably be like when the Native Americans first met Christopher Columbus. And, in that case, things “didn’t turn out so well” for the people being visited, Professor Hawking has said.

Stephen Hawking made the warning in a film posted online, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places. It showed him taking a spacecraft across the cosmos, visiting different locations across the universe.

One of those places is Gliese 832c, a planet 16 light years away that some have speculated could contain life. But it might not be a good thing if it does, he told viewers.

“As I grow older I am more convinced than ever that we are not alone,” he says in the video. “After a lifetime of wondering, I am helping to lead a new global effort to find out.

“The Breakthrough Listen project will scan the nearest million stars for signs of life, but I know just the place to start looking. One day we might receive a signal from a planet like Gliese 832c, but we should be wary of answering back.”

It’s far from the first time that Professor Hawking has warned about the risk of chatting to aliens.

Sometimes I wonder if Dr. Hawking is being manipulated to say these things or does he really lie awake at night worrying about the “risk of chatting to aliens”? He seems to spend a lot of time “warning” about a diverse list of threats. Someone should warn him that his brand is being perilously overextended:

And so on. But back to the “chatting to aliens” dilemma, he says of Gliese 832c, “[T]he planet could have Earth-like temperatures with an abundant liquid water, and where there is water, there is very often life.” There is? Very often?

Meaning no disrespect to the oracular physicist, how does he know this? And if receiving a return call from aliens is a sensible thing to fear in such apocalyptic terms, along with Brexit, global warming, greed, wealth, aggression, the God Particle, robots, and an AI arms race, why search for a signal, “scan[ning] the nearest million stars for signs of life,” to begin with?

Photo: Stephen Hawking at Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre, 2015, by Alexandar Vujadinovic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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