Aliens are much less likely to destroy us than an asteroid, says new paper

If intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations evolve similarly to ours, we should have little fear that we might respond to receiving a signal from humans invading Earth.

That’s the argument put forward in a new article by YouTuber Alberto Caballero. The paper is not peer-reviewed, nor is it particularly rigorous, but it does present an interesting thought experiment: can we assume we know something about civilizations on other worlds based on what we know about ourselves?

“These findings could serve as a starting point for an international debate about sending the first serious interstellar radio messages to nearby potentially habitable planets,” writes Caballero.

Caballero works with many assumptions, including the famous Drake Equation, which attempts to estimate the likely number of technologically advanced civilizations in the galaxy, to calculate that the chances of any of these civilizations being “malicious” are close to zero. Well, specifically:

“Such a civilization has an estimated probability of 0.0014% of invading another.”

HM alright. But what exactly is this based on?

Caballero assumes that the hostility of a civilization on another world can be estimated by extrapolating the rate at which fewer regimes on Earth have invaded other nations since 1915, as we are also growing technologically more advanced at the same time.

In other words, if this correlation holds true and stable up to the point where humans have achieved interstellar travel, then surely we’ll be very peaceful and all in the spirit of Starfleet at that point, right? So, maybe some alien capable of interstellar travel is just as smooth?

While there are holes in that logic big enough to make a Death Star fly (our complete dataset on how planetary civilizations develop and behave still remains exactly one no matter how much probabilistic reasoning you use), it remains fascinating to me.

It’s unclear why we can extrapolate anything about our civilization’s evolution to other worlds. We’re sure we can keep our understanding of physics constant across the galaxy, but even our grasp of these fundamental concepts is a little loose, if we’re honest. Famously, the math that governs quantum physics at the super-small scale doesn’t align with our understanding of cosmology and the universe at the largest scales.

Once again, what really lies at the heart of Caballero’s reasoning appears to be the researchers’ desire to seek out extraterrestrial messaging intelligence, or METI. METI is an offshoot of SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) that involves targeting exoplanets or other regions of the galaxy that appear to be good candidates for hosting life and directing signals to them à la “Contact”.

“We could send up to 18,000 interstellar messages to different exoplanets and the probability of invasion by a malicious civilization would be the same as a collision of Earth with a global catastrophe asteroid”, he concludes.

Again, this calculation is based on a series of assumptions and the assumption that everything in the Milky Way in terms of social evolution works the same as on Earth. Also, it leaves out a key point: we’ve been signaling the entire galaxy for over a century.

Humanity’s radio transmissions have been propagating into the cosmos since the early 1900’s at the speed of light. Now it’s true that we’ve only made a few efforts to direct these signals to potentially habitable worlds, and there are some smart people out there who worry about the wisdom of METI, given our complete and utter lack of data on other civilizations.

But I have an assumption of my own: any civilization advanced enough to discover interstellar travel is probably also advanced enough to scan the galaxy thoroughly enough to capture the white noise of planet Earth for a century.

In other words, if I had to bet on it, I’d bet that any civilization capable of reaching us already knows we’re here.

So I think I agree with Caballero: it seems that whatever advanced civilizations there are out there (if there are any… Occam’s Razor suggests they aren’t around) are probably not malicious because they haven’t invaded us yet.

Or maybe they just don’t think we’re worth it.

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