Where are all the aliens? asks Russian theoretical physicist Alexander Berezin in his new paper, titled “‘First in, last out’ solution to the Fermi Paradox.”
It’s a question we’ve long pondered, and perhaps one of the greatest — in a universe so vast, and with so many seemingly habitable planets, why have we yet to observe intelligent extraterrestrial life? That is the Fermi paradox.
Berezin thinks the answer is simple, though perhaps somewhat “hard to accept.” In fact, he writes that it “predicts a future for our own civilization that is even worse than extinction.”
Well, now I’m curious.
Parameters of Life
First, he lays some ground work. He argues that our definition of life is far too narrow, and that we “drastically underestimate to what conditions life is able to adapt.”
Ultimately, he writes, the nature of an interstellar civilization doesn’t matter, whether they be “biological organisms like ourselves,” or “rogue AIs that rebelled against their creators,” or even other more outlandish forms of so-called “life.” They only need to exhibit certain traits, the most important for the Fermi paradox being a strong desire for “growth and reproduction.”
He then goes on to define two parameters involved in finding a solution to the Fermi paradox. Parameter A is the “probability of life becoming detectable from outer space within a certain range of Earth.” This would rely on the growth of the civilization — are they able to be seen?
Parameter B is the likelihood that multiple “independently arising ‘lifes’ meet in their cosmic expansion phase.” In other words, are the aliens out there at this same moment in time?
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
It’s at this point where Berezin aligns himself with Frank J. Tipler, who in the 1980s published his own paper regarding the Fermi paradox, titled simply “Extraterrestrial Intelligent Beings do not Exist.”
However, Berezin’s idea puts a very slight twist on it:
“‘First in, last out’ solution to the Fermi Paradox: what if the first life that reaches interstellar travel capability necessarily eradicates all competition to fuel its own expansion?”
He suggests that, while the eradication may not be intentional, it’s likely that whichever civilization populates space first will invariably dominate all space.
Its growth will be exponential. Again, he gives the example of a self-replicating artificial intelligence: “One rogue AI can potentially populate the entire supercluster with copies of itself,” he writes, “turning every solar system into a supercomputer, and there is no use asking why it would do that. All that matters is that it can.”
And yet, that hasn’t happened, because we’re here. We haven’t been destroyed by runaway space robots or other advanced civilizations. The current conditions of the universe allow for us to exist. That brings us to Berezin’s conclusion:
We’re the baddies. Or, at least, we will be. Even if we don’t mean to be.
“The only explanation is the invocation of the anthropic principle,” Berezin writes. “We are the first to arrive at the stage. And, most likely, will be the last to leave.”
Uh, well, there it is.
Personally, I’d figure we’re more likely to off ourselves via internal squabbling before heading out to conquer alien worlds, but it is an interesting perspective. Berezin ends his paper with “I certainly hope I am wrong.” On the other hand, if he’s right, that at least means we might avoid being decimated by space robots.
Unless, of course, it’s our own rogue AI that ends up conquering space without us.
You can check out his full paper here.