August 19, 2011

Beware the Algore Aliens!

Hatched by Dafydd

It's hard to imagine that globaloneyism could get any more absurd than it already has; but -- never say never!

I can't even make fun of this self parody. The mind boggles. Imagination fails me:

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth's atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control – and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

Oh for heaven's sake, gentle readers, close your gaping mouths! We are not a codfish. Let us continue:

In their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis, the researchers divide alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful....

The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable....

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

They could be spacewhales who sing us into oblivion! Or... or... the aliens could be gigantic balls of sentient phlegm that slime the Earth to death! Or intelligent carrots and absorb us for fertilizer! ¡Rabanos radiactivos!

But the most chilling scenario was undoubtedly suggested by the world renowned globaloney philosopher king, Nobel-Prize winner, and former presidential loser, Algore:

"A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence(s)] because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth's atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions," the report states.

"Green" aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. "These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets," the authors write.

Great leaping horny toads, Mankind may be on the verge of invasion by extraterrestrial eco-nuts!

Not that the authors of the paper have any inherent political bias, you understand; as can easily be seen from this excerpt from the study itself, they have a completely open mind about what would constitute good aliens and bad aliens:

As a starting point, it is helpful to think of ETI as trying to maximize some sort of value function.2 Specifically, they are trying to maximize intrinsic value, which is something that is valuable for its own sake. Intrinsic value contrasts with extrinsic value, in particular instrumental value, which is valuable because it causes additional value. One can place intrinsic value on many different things, such as life, ecosystems, happiness, knowledge, or beauty. Human ethics is often anthropocentric in the sense that it places intrinsic value only on human phenomena, such as human life, human happiness, or other human factors. Such anthropocentrism is selfish on a civilizational scale because it involves humans only placing intrinsic value on the interests of their own civilization. In contrast, a universalist ethical framework would place equal intrinsic value on certain phenomena regardless of which civilizations possessed these phenomena. For example, a universalist civilization that places intrinsic value on life will place equal intrinsic value on all life, regardless of which civilization (or non-civilization) the life is part of. In this case, the civilization will try to maximize the total amount of life, regardless of whose life it is maximizing. If instead it places intrinsic value on some phenomenon other than life, then it will try to maximize that phenomenon wherever it occurs.

So you see, the authors give us a bipartisan compromise: Good aliens are socialist collectivists, while bad aliens are -- ugh -- selfish capitalists. But what about us humans? Where do we rate on the consciousness scale, from lowly selfishness to lofty universality?

Conflicts between humans are often, though not necessarily always, rooted in selfishness. These conflicts include struggles for power, land, resources, prestige, and many other instruments of self-interest. Even when human conflicts have overtones of being for some higher purpose, such as for liberty or against oppression, the basic desire for the survival and flourishing of the self often remains a core motivation. Likewise other conflicts we see throughout the sentient animal kingdom appear to be motivated by the desire for instruments of self-interest such as survival, food, or territory [35]. While non-sentient species (animal or otherwise) may also appear to act in their own self-interest, it is inappropriate to attribute intent to them because intent is presumably a property of sentience.

And lest you imagine that the author of the Guardian article was just reading more into the report than the scientists actually wrote, let me hasten to reassure you. From the report itself:

The possibility of harmful contact with ETI suggests that we may use some caution for METI [messages to ETI]. Given that we have already altered our environment in ways that may viewed as unethical by universalist ETI, it may be prudent to avoid sending any message that shows evidence of our negative environmental impact. The chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere over recent time may be a poor choice for a message because it would show a rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide from human activity. Likewise, any message that indicates of widespread loss of biodiversity or rapid rates of expansion may be dangerous if received by such universalist ETI. On the other hand, advanced ETI may already know about our rapid environmental impact by listening to leaked electromagnetic signals or observing changes in Earth’s spectral signature. In this case, it might be prudent for any message we send to avoid denying our environmental impact so as to avoid the ETI catching us in a lie....

Another recommendation is that humanity should avoid giving off the appearance of being a rapidly expansive civilization. If an ETI perceives humanity as such, then it may be inclined to attempt a preemptive strike against us so as to prevent us from growing into a threat to the ETI or others in the galaxy. Similarly, ecosystem-valuing universalist ETI may observe humanity’s ecological destructive tendencies and wipe humanity out in order to preserve the Earth system as a whole. These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets. We acknowledge that the pursuit of emissions reductions and other ecological projects may have much stronger justifications than those that derive from ETI encounter, but that does not render ETI encounter scenarios insignificant or irrelevant.

Somehow, no matter what the danger, the solution is always the same: limit ourselves, cut back, be more eco-friendly, stop exploiting resources, and for God's sake, smash the looms!

I'll conclude by extracting a comment of mine upon an earlier post, which through a bizarre coincidence is exactly on topic for this post:

Brad Linaweaver and I once collaborated on a tetralogy of SF novels "based" on the Doom video games. I put based in quotation marks because, while the plot of the first book (in which we were just getting our feet wet, never having novelized a game before) was taken fairly directly from the game, for books 2-4, we simply wrote pure space opera with only a miniscule connection to the supposed source. (That's why readers like the last three books best -- and gamers can only stand to read the first.)

But the logic of the game itself compelled us to have an interstellar war, and Brad and I made the conscious decision to come up with an actually logical rationale for such a thing to come about.

I daresay I'm much more qualified to speak on the topic than is Stephen Hawking, for all his degrees and awards: He knows far less about science fiction than I know about physics.

I cannot tell you how Brad and I struggled to come up with any plausible reason why one technological civilization would ever attack another one on another planet. Try it sometime!

The main source of international conflict on Earth has always been a fight over resources and room; but if one has routine and ready access to space, resources are so abundant as to be nearly valueless, save for the utilitarian needs; and there is such a staggering amount of room that even Daniel Boone would feel lonely.

For every planet that has sentient life, there are thousands that do not; some will have some combination of flora, fauna, and microorganisma (I know that's not a real classification but should be clear in context); other planets will be barren but still possess a wealth of minerals, crystals, and other useful chemicals.

In addition, there are likely many times more asteroids than full-sized planets, some condensed from minerals, others various varieties of frozen gases or liquids -- including more water than anyone could possibly need, for you V fans.

Isn't it far easier for an alien civilization to exploit resources not protected or guarded by sentient beings, who might, after all, find a way to fight back effectively? If one has interstellar travel -- a must for interstellar conflict! -- then one has an almost limitless larder at one's backdoor, without the necessity of subduing or ousting any residents.

So what's left? Some kooky religion that requires conquest? But religions too arise from scarcity; and in the post-economic environment of the entire galaxy, it's hard to imagine such a dangerous and destructive religion lasting very long without bringing about its own destruction. After all, nobody can rely upon always being the biggest baddie on a playground of three hundred billion stars sprinkled across eight trillion cubit lightyears. (And even that's restricting ourselves to just one of 170 billion galaxies! If aliens have intergalactic travel, I doubt they would even notice our existence.)

Heck, with natural and artifactual resources everywhere, on uninhabited planets and regions of space, it's even hard to come up with items worth trading for! The only valuable items that spring to mind are:

  • Technology
  • Art, music, literature
  • New philosophies
  • Food recipes readily adaptable to one's own nutritional needs
  • Personal servants, who likely would charge an arm and a tentacle for the status that such a servant would confer upon his employer: "I'm so rich, I can afford to hire a valet! I just wish he wouldn't be so demanding..."

Such intellectual creations would be the only media of exchange, since they are the only new things under the suns.

Far more likely than interstellar conflict is interstellar snubbing: Aliens, who have probably met many different alien civilizations already, would likely see ours as nothing more than "mostly harmless." They would no more want to go slumming on Earth than you or I would enjoy hanging out with remote African pigmy tribes who had never heard of the wheel.

All right, maybe we'd be visited by alien anthropologists (though probably just grad students); but they would likely try to stay out of sight, so as not to spook the primitives.

We would be astonishly lucky to encounter an alien race that cared enough even to tell us that alien races existed!

If globaloney is a radical solution in search of a problem, then justifying it by the chance that passing extraterrestrial intelligences will be so offended by carbon dioxide that they wipe humanity from the planet ("and let that be a lesson to you!")... then I submit that the globaloney-meisters are clutching the bottom of the galactic straws.

The rebirth of sanity can't come soon enough.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 19, 2011, at the time of 6:37 AM


The following hissed in response by: MikeR

It is almost impossible for me to believe that people working at NASA could write something so incredibly stupid. The quotes are just jaw-dropping. Or that they could dare to publish it, knowing that they would be laughingstocks to all.

They must be surrounded by loons.

The above hissed in response by: MikeR [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 19, 2011 8:40 AM

The following hissed in response by: MikeR

The above hissed in response by: MikeR [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 19, 2011 9:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: wtanksleyjr

That's pretty funny.

The same attitude is riffed upon in the following cartoon:


The above hissed in response by: wtanksleyjr [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 19, 2011 10:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Did I mention NASA anywhere in the post?

I took my points from the actual report itself, what it said -- and what it said about the fellows who said it.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 19, 2011 3:50 PM

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