OpinionWe've only used radio for 0.0000000087% of the age of the universe. Any alien civilisations have come and gone without getting to communicate with us, so we won't find any that are both nearby and alive today.
      – Lee J Haywood, 2008-12-11 at 11:25:28   (34 comments)

On 2008-12-11 at 11:28:44, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Of course we ought to encounter their self-replicating probes, unless they too have already visited and then vanished without a trace. It's not clear what such a probe would actually do when it got here - sit around broadcasting until we evolved to understand them? Would they find enough resources around nearby stars to continue replicating? Would the Earth have even been in existence when the probes first passed us by?
On 2008-12-12 at 12:44:53, BorgClown wrote...
It is my hunch that alien civilizations will honor the radio communication in predictable frequencies. After all, radio is the language of the universe. It's a pity the universe is sooo big and sooo out of reach because of the light speed barrier, because I could bet that somewhere, somebody already pondered this question.
On 2008-12-12 at 21:00:10, Lee J Haywood wrote...
It's just as likely that they'll use lasers as radio - especially if they have worked out where our (life-supporting) planet is by its atmospheric spectra. Or, given that they're likely to be far more advanced than us they may even use neutrinos or something more exotic - after all, they might expect us to have another 100 or 1,000 years of technological advance on what we have now before we're worth talking to.
On 2008-12-13 at 00:28:46, BorgClown wrote...
That's probably true. As a space civilization, we're kinda like children yet. Maybe in a couple of centuries scientists will laugh because we managed to invest so much resources on SETI using radio.
On 2008-12-13 at 07:51:02, George wrote...
Maybe we encounter their 'self-replicating probes' on a daily basis, we just don't understand them as such.
On 2008-12-13 at 09:40:42, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Either the probes got here before they could land on the Earth, in which case they'd have to stay active for millions of years (else miss us), or they landed on the Earth and have managed to avoid detection in spite of the relentless spread of humanity. I suppose it's possible that they want to avoid detection, and have some sort of sinister plan for us when we've evolved sufficiently, but that doesn't seem a likely goal for an advanced probe.
On 2008-12-13 at 09:44:04, George wrote...
They could be living alongside us as grass or trees or dolphins, and are just waiting for us to reach a certain level before they reveal themselves as alien probes. I can't see that being the case, though.
On 2008-12-13 at 09:48:37, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Not really - we know too much about grass, trees and dolphins for that to be the case. There are people dedicating their entire lives to studying the biology and DNA of these things, so we can be confident that they fit into the standard evolutionary picture. It's more likely that the probes are hiding under Antarctica or on the dark side of the moon. If that's the case, why are they hiding instead of just tapping into the sun and broadcasting continuously for us when we arrive? Or are they broadcasting something we don't recognise?
On 2008-12-13 at 10:39:12, George wrote...
Maybe the only aliens close enough to possibly make contact with us are significantly behind our technological level.
On 2008-12-13 at 10:51:19, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Ah, but that assumes that they popped into existence around the same time that we did which is highly unlikely given the age of the universe. Our civilisation has only been around for a tiny amount of time, and is on a destructive course (much as previous empires didn't last very long). Even if we last a million years the chances are that any coexisting aliens would overlap our existence by a small amount. It's certainly very, very unlikely that nearby aliens would only be a hundred or a thousands years behind our technology.
On 2008-12-13 at 22:53:27, BorgClown wrote...
I wrote a small story about humanity finding intelligent life, but failing to recognize it as such. The life forms were crystal minerals, and geologists failed to recognize it as life because their physiological processes were too slow, more in the area of geological processes. It's fiction, but there could be other forms of life we really don't recognize as life yet.
On 2008-12-13 at 22:56:39, Lee J Haywood wrote...
And where is this story? (-: If anything, I'd expect advanced technology to be too fast to recognise, not too slow.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:06:05, BorgClown wrote...
My story is in Spanish, I can translate it, but don't expect to see it before January.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:06:32, Lee J Haywood wrote...
What does Google Translate make of it though? (-:
On 2008-12-13 at 23:07:35, BorgClown wrote...
And I still think alien probes have to be reliable and durable more than fast.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:09:14, Lee J Haywood wrote...
I'd thought about that - reliability. The most obvious way to achieve it is the way life does - primarily by replication and maybe even evolution. But I didn't want to start second-guessing the solutions that advanced technology may bring.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:11:40, BorgClown wrote...
I was counting on Babelfish to translate it. I can send you the slightly revised autotranslation this weekend if you like.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:18:24, BorgClown wrote...
Several years ago I read a book called "Inteligencia en el Universo" (can't find the English name yet), which theorized that intelligent alien life will be artificial instead of biological. Its argument is that artificial systems evolve faster than the biological ones, so they eventually will surpass their creators, spreading quicker throughout the galaxy. Maybe the hypothetical probes will be creatures on its own.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:19:35, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Sure. I did have brief stab at learning some Spanish earlier in the year, and not only managed to confirm my complete inability to learn a second language but also learnt a lot about the reasons why it's so hard. I was particularly upset to discover that I had to learn a different way of pronouncing the alphabet. Also, most words have multiple meanings in both languages - but the catch is that they don't overlap much. So machine translation cannot possibly work without context, and reverse translation will hardly ever give the original text. And then there are the common phrases which are language-specific, and the words without direct equivalents (pretty/beautiful).
On 2008-12-13 at 23:20:36, BorgClown wrote...
Also, I read an article that theorized that intelligent patrons could form in the electromagnetic currents of stars. Talk about a life form of pure energy. Alien life is a fascinating concept, it's a pity all we have is guesses (yet).
On 2008-12-13 at 23:24:25, BorgClown wrote...
When I started writing, I decided to do it exclusively in Spanish because that's my native language. Someday I hope to have the need (and fat wallet :) for a professional translator, but in the meantime it's better to stick to the language I manage better. I'll give the story a Babelfish treatment and carefully check it before sending it to you, so it doesn't lose context.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:29:04, BorgClown wrote...
What's so hard about Spanish pronunciation? It's great, spelling bees are unknown in Spanish-speaking countries because the spelling is almost directly related to the pronunciation. We have quirks like the mute H and a few redundant consonants, but overall, pronunciation is easy. The grammar, that's contrived compared to English, I can't deny it.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:32:08, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Life will become artificial simply because it can. We humans will create artificial life, and if we allow it to evolve it will have the benefit of some design built-in. Of course, there's artificial life in the sense of creating artificial DNA from scratch and then there's the robotic, self-copying nanotechnology. Artificial life may end up simply being more resilient than we are.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:33:15, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Spanish pronunciation seems perverse when you've spent a lifetime knowing precisely one way of saying the alphabet and have never been exposed to even the idea that it could be used a different way. It'd make sense if Spanish used different symbols, but for the most part they're the same.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:35:58, Lee J Haywood wrote...
It's true that life could exist in space - in theory. If you can create the physical equivalent of a Turing machine then you can have life. But you have to ask how likely it is to have something stable, information carrying and capable of self-copying in space? Life might form, but would it go on to become intelligent without the challenges a planetary environment provides for evolution to work on?
On 2008-12-13 at 23:45:37, BorgClown wrote...
Water, sugars and other organic molecules have been detected in plain outer space, but I concur that those environments are too poor to arise complex life forms. It appears that (for our kind of organic life) oceans are completely necessary.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:48:28, Lee J Haywood wrote...
That's an understatement - the number of requirements to end up with human-like creatures is staggering (well, a pretty long list at least), both in terms of the environment and evolutionary history.
On 2008-12-13 at 23:53:33, BorgClown wrote...
Come on, we are glorified animals. Although chimpanzees are closer to us, give bonobos one more million years and they could equal us.
On 2008-12-14 at 00:04:00, Lee J Haywood wrote...
Right, I did say human-like. But our 'intelligence' is entirely the result of the changing environment of our planet and a long series of accidents. Ants show intelligence, at least collectively, but they're unlikely to send probes into space - and nor will their descendants, since ants would have to de-evolve as they're already the best ants they can be (within reason). Even a very basic computer can demonstrate artificial life, and evolution. But it's very constrained - Tom Ray's Tierra software demonstrated the full range of optimisation, parasites, etc., yet would never get as far as useful intelligence as we would want our alien counterparts to possess.
On 2008-12-14 at 00:21:50, BorgClown wrote...
I'm gonna check what Tierra is about, sounds interesting: http://life.ou.edu/tierra/
On 2008-12-14 at 09:49:09, Lee J Haywood wrote...
The online stuff is semi-interesting, but unfortunately I don't have the book excerpt which I first read / copied around 1994 (from Stephen Jay Gould, I think). It described how Tierra evolved from a single ancestor organism. As you'd expect, it started out simply optimising the code and coming up with novel algorithms. But it also demonstrated things like symbiosis and had the equivalent of viruses which could only replicate by using the copying mechanisms of other organisms. The whole system went through a series of epochs, and was remarkable because it treated the addresses in computer memory more like physical locations with relative positions than anything else.
On 2008-12-14 at 09:49:49, Lee J Haywood wrote...
The emergence of viruses, I mean.
On 2008-12-14 at 10:41:47, Lee J Haywood wrote...
This seems to be a fairly good summary - at least, it lists the stages the evolution went through in Tierra. http://www.jmu.edu/geology/evolutionarysystems/programs/tierra2trim.pdf
On 2008-12-15 at 02:54:35, BorgClown wrote...
I read the document. It is a fascinating work, although the emergence of viruses is no surprise because entities can't overwrite other's code, but they are allowed to read and execute it as if their own. Fascinating nevertheless.