June 20, 2005
Geek Stuff and a Paranoid Rant about Aliens coming to kill us all.
I usually have a computer running 24/7 that performs a whole load of automated tasks for me. It runs spiders, manages downloads, keeps offline copies of certain websites and collects program updates. I've also run SETI@Home for years on it. Normally I don't pay much attention to this computer, but when I decided to check up on it today, I noticed there have been some major changes to the SETI@Home service and I haven't been helping the SETI Project for the last couple of weeks. Ooops.
I like that BIONIC can shift programs from SETI programs to other NASA distributed computing projects without having to require the user to make adjustments. I've tagged onto other NASA distributed projects before and I like that I can now set-up my account to automatically make the switch when needed.
Ok, this is gonna turn into a space rant from here on out, so to spare some readers that would be totally lost by it, you'll have to continue to the extended entry.
Ok, time to "Space Rant" a bit.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is a tiny, tiny portion of the NASA budget, I've never checked the actual figures, but I'd imagine that if you account for all the computing cycles donated by individuals and private donations, that SETI probably gets more cash from the private sector than it does from the government. I can't really complain about that too much. SETI is the proverbial needle in the haystack and given the choice I'd rather see new dollars go into exploration and research programs.
I am pretty realistic about the SETI project and don't "expect" anything to develop from it in my lifetime. That doesn't mean it won't happen tomorrow though. It' a scary thought to think that tomorrow we might catch an ET's "I Love Lucy", or black and white test signal.
When I talk to people about SETI, they usually imagine that the "first contact" will be like some science fiction movie where we are actually in two way communication with some benevolent superior life form. It's unlikely that's what we'll see. More than likely, the first things will be more of a "first discovery" nature. Some of our first powerful radio and television transmissions would be quite confusing to an outside observer. Variety shows, news broadcasts and music would all paint a strange and distorted picture of our world. We'd likewise discover something similar upon "first discovery".
From what I understand, our best chance to discover an exterrestrial intelligence is to be looking and listening in just the right spot at just the right time. The spot, of course, is where the developing ET society is was located in the universe at the the time that it was technologically advanced enough to have discovered the radio but not so technologically advance that it's using mostly digital broadcasts and has a ring of communication satellites around it. So roughly, compared to Earth time, we're looking at a 75 to 100 year window.
If we observe the alien planets location too early, they aren't pumping out anything to detect, and if we come along too late, we lose the opportunity for discovery as recognizable signals become lost in a haze of overlapping broadcasts turning into a sea of white noise. There's also the problem of an alien intelligence migrating to a communications protocol that we simply haven't fathomed yet.
So lets ponder a bit. Suppose we're looking at the right place at the right time? What might we find? We could get really lucky and find ourselves staring at an alien version of Alex Trebec playing Jeopardy with a panel of tentacled blue squishy things. This would be ideal!!! We'd be able to learn the language both written and spoken and learn about their history, culture and trivia, that's all probably a little much to ask though.
We'll probably get a snapshot pretty similar to what we've cranked out. We'll see news that we cannot understand, entertainment that baffles us and images presenting the extremes of whatever society we get to observe. We'll probably get to eavesdrop on a war or two and alot of toally incomprehensible audio and data. Then we'll hit a wall.
This first discovery will be very frustrating because we'll have no context to put the data in. Once discovery is made, we're only moving forward from that point, and only one day at a time. That's kinda hard to wrap your brain around, but I'll try to clarify. Once we discover the source, we're only able to watch and listen from that point forward. Every day we'll get more and more data which will certainly keep everyone interested, but then we have to tackle the problem of "where are they now" and more importantly "what are they doing".
The most probable scenario is that we'll catch some ET's that are hundreds, if not thousands, of light years away from us. We'll also be catching them at a period of time when they are remarkably like us technologically. We'll be catching them as they migrate into their information age. They will probably be mastering some sort of powered flight, fighting about energy and resources, and in the infant stages of leaping off their rock. Remember though, that they'd be hundreds, if not thousands of years ahead of us though.
So now I get to my reasons for using the SETI@Home service. I look at it as our only "Early Warning System" for a War of the Worlds type scenario. I most certainly do not believe that our first interaction with any sort of ET's will be a pleasant one AT ALL. In fact, I'd suspect that if a bunch of ET's were to roll up on us tomorrow, that'd either kill us right off the bat because of the threat we represent or that we'd wind up shooting at them in some way, and then they'd kill us.
I'm not joining the tin foil brigade here, I'm just saying that if an alien society were advanced enough to pay us a visit, they'd probably be pretty damn scared of us. Not because we'd be an actually threat, but more the "virus-like" quality we'd represent. If someone handed us warp-drives and rayguns today, we'd be pretty dangerous.
So I'm promoting the SETI@Home project so that we may get a jump on these bastards; before they find us and kill us all. If we can catch up to them by eavesdropping on their past, we may be able to drive our efforts to get off the rock along quicker, enhancing our ability to survive when the human-virus does get discovered. Eventually we may be able to sneak up on them and kick their ass first.
I'm sure you're shaking your head right now. Make no mistake though, once we get off this rock it'll be no picnic. Interactions with other biological systems will not be pretty. War will be the outcome of more of these meetings than peace. We'll get beat down by more technological systems and we'll be beating down those below us on the ladder.
Now I know that this flies in the face of tradional science ficion lore about who altruistic we'll be in the future and how as societies advance they get less and less warlike. I totally disagree though. When we do get out there in big spaceships that have some independence (which is inevitable), it'll be the wild west all over. I can imagine that some alien societies might be peaceful and it could wind up as a "Ok, I'm over here, and you're over there. Let's keep it that way" scenario. In those situations we might even be able to trade a bit and do some technology transfers. I'm not thinking we'll be too interested in getting too close to them, nor they us. After all there will be viruses and disease to worry about, quite serious concerns actually. We really couldn't trust them, nor they us when it comes to sharing resources or anything for that matter. We'd be looking out for humans first and they'd be looking out for whatever they are first.
Then we'll probably run into quite a few hotheads, the shoot first, ask later types. I'm pretty sure that out there in the universe there will be quite a few Hitler types that acutally succeed in their warped world view creating societies that are 100% confident that they are the #1 life form on the block and are ruthless about keeping in that way. There will probably be interactions with alien societies that have been burned by trans species peace deals before. These alien cultures may have decided long ago that bipeds are evil and they may just vaporize us on sight.
I don't think it's a question of "if" there are ET's out there, I believe it's a question of "when" we'll meet them, and at in what stage of our and their technological development do we meet. Finding someone now, through a program like SETI will scare the living bejezzus outta me, because that means we're way behind in the game, could we catch up to a society that's thousands of years ahead of us? Have they seen us yet? Are they coming to kick our ass?
So there you have it, what I'm sure is an almost incomprehensible rant about blue squishy aliens that are going to kill us all one day. You can take it for what it's worth, but this is my blog and I just felt like "going off for a bit".
Oh yeah, for the protection of mankind, go to the new SETI@Home page, create an account, download the software and let your puter turn an eye to the sky and make us all a little safer . . . maybe.
PS In all seriousness tho' please check out the SETI sites and think about helping out with their distributed computing project. It helps the program along, doesn't really cost you or them anything and we're a small step forward to the future.
Posted by JasonColeman at June 20, 2005 12:22 AM