Seth Shostak recently published an article over at The Guardian suggesting that extraterrestrial life won’t be “squishy” like us, but rather artificially intelligent mechanized beings.
Shostak, who is an astronomer with a PhD in astrophysics from CalTech, has always been known for his comments on the possible existence of extraterrestrials, and what they might look like. He’s also the Senior Astronomer over at SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, so maybe he knows a little of what he’s talking about.
If aliens were ever to visit us Earthlings, he says, they likely wouldn’t be carbon-based lifeforms, or resemble us in any way.
One of the reasons for this is the extraordinary distances they would have to cover just to get here.
“The reason is a simple consequence of the staggering distances to the stars. Even the nearest, Proxima Centauri, is 25tn miles from Earth. Our fastest rockets would take 75,000 years to reach it. Neither humans nor Klingons are built to withstand such trips.”
Mechanized extraterrestrials, however, wouldn’t have to worry about food or oxygen or anything at all, really.
Maybe that’s our own future, as well – with advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, could we someday become the tiny mechanized robots journeying throughout the galaxy? It’s a future that’s not very hard to imagine, though one I’m not sure I’d personally be excited about.
From Shostak’s perspective of actual, practical space travel, though, it makes sense. The distances and time involved to make a journey over such vast amounts of space is mind-boggling, especially without any means to just Star Trek ourselves through the cosmos. It’s always possible the technology to do so may someday exist, but even then – as Shostak points out, Proxima Centarui, our closest neighbor, would still take us 75,000 years to visit, given our current technology. If you take into account food and other supplies, and just the general wariness that comes with being human, such long voyages seem almost impossible.
It’s not just a matter of what’s doable, it’s also a matter of what’s practical. And tiny intelligent robots would probably handle the journey far better. Just turn yourself off for a while and it’ll be like the trip never happened!
Shostak also says that, while he does believe there’s other life in our galaxy, he doesn’t think extraterrestrials are bouncing around in Earth’s atmosphere right now, nor have they ever throughout our history.