Fermi's Paradox and the Psychology of Galactic Empires | Matthew O´Dowd | TEDxTUWien
I grew up in a very working-class outer suburb of Melbourne Australia no one in my family had ever been to University it's actually statistically very improbable that I'm standing here right now in Vienna about to talk about well really the future of humanity with some extremely new scientific results about the
empiresso mine's no sob story although working-class my parents understood the importance of perspective of example they wanted us to know what was possible myself and my five siblings they exposed us to things they for example Sunday afternoons were spent listening to BBC science shows on the radio lots of dignified old British voices talking about the magnificence of the universe there really instilled in myself and my siblings this sense of curiosity that we helped each other to maintain and has carried us through our lives and for me in particular it showed me something that I didn't really know at that point and that was that it was possible to have a career talking about and doing science knowing what is possible helps make things possible that's also true of populations so communities nations and back in the day tribes inspire each other influence each other by sharing art and science and wisdom and a feedback process propagates them all forward with humanity this took a long time we spent 200,000 years as hunter-gatherers on the savanna of Africa before a degree of mutual airing the feedback propagated us to this...
elbow of the exponential where we find ourselves today we are now on the verge of taking command of our own genome of creating artificial intelligences of understanding the very origin of our universe and by the gods we have Rocketship's as a civilization who is more than ever acting in a unified way as a species who do we look to next where is our example where is they that came before us reaching down their hand to show us the way to whatever that next transition is and this is a question which we've been asking ever since we thought it might be that there were others well that there were others out there it seems like a great time for a famous quote ah see Clark said that two possibilities exist either we are alone in the universe or we are not both are equally terrifying and when you said this in the 60s we had never seen a planet around another star system our surveys of the galaxy were in their infancy as were SETI programs searches for extraterrestrial intelligence we didn't know whether there are aliens but we hadn't really looked for all we knew the galaxy could have been terrifyingly full of technological civilizations but now now we have surveyed large chunks of our galaxy the Sloan Digital Sky Survey has taken spectroscopic observations of more than two and a half million stars those stars almost all have planetary systems as discovered by the Kepler space telescope watching the municipal dimming of light as distant alien worlds pass in front of...
their parents star we've now determined that almost every star in the Milky Way has a planetary system and there are tens of billions of terrestrial so earth-like planets with the potential to have life loving liquid water and then there's the Trappist one system the Trappist telescope found a star only 10 light-years away which is our most immediate cosmic neighborhood that has seventh terrestrial worlds many of which are potentially habitable the number of potential places for life in our galaxy has skyrocketed over the past few years many of them may have life and in fact when we turn our science inward when we look at the earth and what he can tell us about life we know now that many of them probably do so we peer further and further back into Earth's history this is a fossil of layers of slimy algae dated at 3.7 billion years ago okay this is a stromatolite found in Greenland there are similarly old stromatolites at 3.5 billion years found in my hometown well my home country Australia and even more intriguingly this is an Aussie zircon crystal those little patches a little pieces of carbon with a strikingly biogenic isotopic ratio it looks like that carbon came from life and this thing dated it up to 4.1 billion years old the latest only this year hematite formations that look for all the world like the types of little hematite tubes built by bacteria in deep sea hydrothermal vents this thing 4.2 billion years old with in a cosmic eyeblink of Earth's...
coalescence from space dust four-and-a-half billion years ago it seems that life happens quickly and with great probability when the conditions are right it certainly did on earth and there's no reason to believe that it wouldn't do the same elsewhere from what we know the universe the galaxy should be full of at the very least slime-covered planets why shouldn't some of them also followed our developmental path and produced technological species before us well we only don't see them we've been looking with our best radio telescopes for half a century now but the galaxy is silent the Sloan spectra of stars slavishly obey the known laws of stellar physics
galacticradio chatter is non-existent and everything just looks eerily natural there are a couple of exceptions there's this one start a B star in the Kepler sample that appears to be dimming in strange ways people talk about it being an alien mega-structure it almost certainly is not an alien mega-structure although almost as I was flying here the announcement came that it had started dimming again after a two-year break and so we will know very soon whether we need to redact this entire talk it's probably not an alien mega-structure regardless it's very clear that if anything like us exists out there they are stunningly and surprisingly rare so this tension between the apparent abundance of potential places for life to begin and the fleet absence of any evidence that anything like us has...
ever come before is of course termed the
paradoxafter the great physicist Enrico
Fermiwho famously asked you in 1950 where is everybody the
paradoxis only more
paradoxical today knowing what we now know so the food
paradoxis about time scales our Sun is about 5 billion years old but the Milky Way galaxy is more than twice that age there are countless stars just like our Suns just like our Sun countless solar systems just like our solar system out there many of them with billions of years lead on us but a cosmic a blink of a lead in development is countless generations for a civilization that managed to come ahead of us what could they do with those generations I don't know fill their part of the galaxy with light collecting Dyson spheres send exponentially multiply in colonization waves or maybe interstellar travel is actually almost impossible still self-replicating automated probes proposed by von Neumann in the 50s could fill our galaxy in that cosmic eyeblink any fuel to stay at home type vast beacons if sending electromagnetic radiation for us to detect powered by cosmic power sources we see none of this obviously but it would only take a small number of them for them to be very very apparent in the absence of evidence of a mental race of anyone coming before us can we at least take that absence as some sort of guidance the answer to that question well to answer it is to solve the
paradoxthis to the
paradoxis often framed in terms of a great...
filter some stage in development that is so difficult or so improbable to get past that almost no one ever does and the interesting question becomes is that stage behind us or is it ahead of us are we lucky and are we unique in the galaxy yet having somehow got through a very difficult developmental adolescence to reach our current space or civilizations like us super common it's happened many times in the past a civilization build some cities has a fledgling space program throws a few nice conferences and then BAM with stunning efficiency in fact a perfect deficiency they all wipe themselves out down to the one well that's a compelling question I think even arthur c clarke would agree that that is the more terrifying potential option and the good thing about our current position is that we actually do have some information now finally we have a single data point that's going to allow us to make an educated guess about where that great filter is and what that means for our next step so if that filter is a catastrophe that's bad but it's not necessarily a catastrophe it may be that in the future advanced civilizations become let's say inscrutable right now Humanity is all about unfettered expansion epic acts of
galacticgraffiti sounds fun but surely with godlike technological advancement also comes a similar measure of cultural sociological psychological evolution perhaps once you have the technology to reach the Stars you are immediately inclined to...
enter a galaxy-wide state of harmony in which with perfect efficiency you enforce a prime directive stay hidden until we worthy of seeing you or perhaps to a civilization they all turn inwards into impossibly complex virtual worlds and lose complete interest in the stars in the galaxy or perhaps our ants like intellects can't even hope to fathom the motives of an advanced civilization perhaps I'll add like capacity to sense can't sense their godlike technologies how does an ant like intellect attempt to understand the motives of an advanced civilization how do we guess at a
psychologyand that's the new piece of information that we have developed over the past 10 years we have not ever found a
GalacticEmpire we haven't seen any aliens but we have located one proto
galacticcivilization that seems to be within a handful of generations of being able to make the sort of mark on at least one system that could be detectable from a large distance it might not but the probability is increasing that it should be able to I'm talking about us of course ok to clarify the Kepler program ok the kepler Observatory was a collaboration between thousands of scientists under the auspices of a enormous national space program I'm talking about NASA of course in a sense we could say that Kepler was the will of the people it was subject to the budgetary approval of elected officials in the past giants science programs like the Sloan survey were...
conducted by hundreds or thousands of scientists dozens of research institutions big science was always very collaborative very collective very egalitarian the biggest science like the Apollo program which put the first person on another world took Nations JFK said we choose to go to the moon will we choose to go to Mars to mine the asteroids will we choose to engage in large-scale Astro engineering projects will we choose to send probes to other worlds no we won't choose these things are almost certainly going to be initiated by individuals right now there are a handful of companies private companies that are currently operating spacecraft to low-earth orbit and many more with both craft and other space programs and developments yuri milner provided the seed funding for the breakthrough starshot program which has every chance of placing a probe admittedly a tiny one in the nearest star system within half a century we don't choose to do these things you choose and by you I mean anyone with the talent and the passion and all the billions to bring enough people along for the ride there are currently a handful of people with levels of autocratic control over entire space programs that numbers only going to increase within generations it'll be hundreds at a million at a minimum and the bar is now getting solo technological advances in the future reusable rocketry advances in propulsion systems our capacity to engineer in space 3d printing on the Moon or Mars of entire...
structures the unlimited and almost unthinkable resources of the asteroid belt will propel projects that we can't even conceive of today these things seem very likely to happen we are at the shadow at thieve we are at the elbow of the exponential things like dyson sphere's and von neumann probes are not the far future of humanity they're the near to medium future of humanity they might not happen and we don't know where we'll proceed beyond that elbow maybe nothing will come of it but we now know what the chances are and there's certainly not zero there are many paths past that elbow which leave an indelible mark on our solar system if not our part of the galaxy and that mark answers
Fermi's question where is everybody hey guys we're right here so our technology is fast outpacing our ability to choose collectively whether or not to use it whether or not for example to go to the Stars there's really no reason to believe that other civilizations who reach our state will do so uniformly with less individualistic motives that we present in this current state we are a perfectly good model for the
psychologyof an advanced civilization assuming we're a perfectly good model for the
psychologyof ourselves in a hundred years or 200 years so you give a civilization like ours or you know any one of the many that came before us just a handful of generations doing what we can do with our current pace and honestly some crazy stuff is going to be...
tried so why is the galaxy so quiet well if we do take ourself as a model then it means that no one else survives to our state and it's a little bit hard to escape that conclusion given the numbers that's a little bit gloomy but I think also our exponential progress gives us some hope if we're going to wipe ourselves out okay we're going to have to do it quick the clock is ticking we only have a small number of generations to obliterate our civilization back to the Stone Age perhaps before we're capable of making that mark and even if we do so we know that we might not so by that model someone before us one in a hundred even one in a thousand would need to get through our current teething state to make that mark okay and yet we don't see it for that reason I think the answer is a little more cheery I think the more probable solution to the
paradoxgiven the latest information about how we will proceed forward or at least try to is that the filter although it exists it's behind us there is something special about humanity don't get cocky it could have been way back in the evolutionary tree maybe that chance fusion of proto eukaryote proto mode mitochondria to forge the modern complex cell is one in trillion or perhaps it is humanity perhaps there was every wiring back on the plains of Africa Homo sapiens suddenly learned how to think in different ways Yuval Harare would say that we learned to believe fictions we learned to believe in...
things like a destiny