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The Billion-year Technology Gap

  1. Nov 28, 2009 #1
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 30, 2009 #2
    Well, I can't say so.

    That article is full of ... stupid proud! Human proud.

    Right now, we are like a little beetle which climbed on a wire of grass and suddenly start to see a lot of grass (whow!), at some distance can see some bushes an above found something very strange named ... tree! And because she doesn't see any other beetle conclude that is the only beetle in the Universe. Stupid!

    And if the beetle will however see a butterfly, she will recognize that like a living thing? What about an eagle, or a wolf? Not to say about a car or a plane, about a house or a road. She will recognize that as unnatural things? Of course not. She is not capable to do that.

    Like us: we don't "see" anything because we are not capable to do that. Yet. We will be, I'm truly convinced.
    But first we must learn to ... "fly"!
  4. Nov 30, 2009 #3
    My humble calculation points that only in our galaxy should exist 100-300 civilizations more advanced than we are.
  5. Nov 30, 2009 #4
    At this point, I have to ask how effective radio transmissions are as a means of interstellar communication. It was my understanding that within a couple of light years, TV and Radio signals blend into the background radiation.

    If this is true, then there could be any number of species out there in our own galaxy that are on our level or above.
  6. Nov 30, 2009 #5
    Based on what?
  7. Nov 30, 2009 #6

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    From the article,
    Milan Cirkovic of the Astronomical Observatory in Belgrade, points out that the median age of terrestrial planets in the Milky Way is about 1.8 gigayears greater than the age of the Earth and the Solar System, which means that the median age of technological civilizations should be greater than the age of human civilization by the same amount.​
    Rhetorical question: How does Cirkovic know that? The answer is, he doesn't. We do not yet know
    • How many other terrestrial planets are out there yet, and of those,
    • On how many life has developed, and of those,
    • On how many life has advance beyond primitive single-celled forms, and of those,
    • On how many have lifeforms developed even a rudimentary intelligence, and of those,
    • On how many has true intelligence arisen, and of those,
    • On how many has communicative intelligence developed, and of those,
    • On how many has that communicative intelligence hung around for a geological timespan.
    The only way to come up with a definitive answer right now is to pull numbers out of body cavities.

    Other humble calculations point to over thousands of such civilizations. Others, calculate less than 10. Others calculate that we are alone in our galaxy, alone in our galactic cluster, and maybe even further. The Drake equation, and variations of it, can come up with practically any answer whatsoever. Torture data hard enough and it will say anything.
  8. Dec 1, 2009 #7


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    It's the Drake equation, and a good start on making an educated guess. I'm a pessimist, my guess is 2-3 other civiliations 'right now' in our galaxy.
  9. Dec 1, 2009 #8

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    I'm more pessimistic than that. My guess is a very small number of other civilizations in the Virgo Supercluster. With millions of other superclusters in the observable universe, we are far from being alone in the universe. We are however, for all practical purposes, all alone.
  10. Dec 1, 2009 #9
    krauss proves that the universe places a limit on computation

    Maybe this can provide some insight - Krauss et al. have proven that the universe places a limit of about 600 years of exponential growth of a societies information processing capability

  11. Dec 1, 2009 #10
    All it takes is one, and the whole universe would be packed with their descendants by now. Earth is about 10 billion years late to the scene. Even assuming that the first generation of planets was absolutely incapable of life because there were no heavy elements present (and even that is a stretch)... that still leaves trillions of stars like Tau Ceti that were around for billions of years before Earth was formed.

    The solution C from the article is too illogical. Some civilizations would come to the point where they are technologically advanced enough to colonize the universe without wiping themselves.

    So, there are only two probable solutions, either we're completely alone in the Universe (because sentient life is extremely improbable and it forms near one star out of 10^18 or more), or they are there but they are invariably uninterested in space exploration and contact as we understand it. In the second case, there's no reason to assume that life is rare. There could've been life on Tau Ceti and life on Mars, but they don't colonize the space, they don't communicate via any channels known to us. They are either all dead or so much more evolved than us that there's no way of detecting their presence.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2009
  12. Dec 1, 2009 #11
    Again, the question of whether it's possible to contact other races hundreds of light years away easily is important. Never mind the space travel. Do we really have an effective way of sending them signals? We've been beaming stuff out into space for years now, but how far does it go and still remain intelligible? If it doesn't even get to the next star system as a signal distinguishable from background radiation, then every single solar system in the universe could have an civilization as advanced as ours in it, and they'd all be unable to contact each other.

    You can't just sweep a laser-pointer across the sky and expect aliens to come rushing for First Contact. They could be more advanced than us and still not have a good way of beaming powerful signals, or traveling the vast distances involved. Can we at least say that there are no super-advanced aliens ala science fiction? Well, even if you go out of the realms of known physics into FTL travel, why assume they'd come see us first, or even know about us yet?
  13. Dec 1, 2009 #12
    It's not whether we have an effective way of sending them signals, it's whether they have an effective way to sending US signals. And why not? 120 years ago the state-of-the-art technology was optical telegraph and we were unable to send signals wirelessly beyond a few tens of kilometers. Today we are still in continuous contact with Voyager 1 space probe, which is 16 billion km from the Earth. Who knows how far we can communicate 100 years from now? If we had too much time on our hands and nothing to do, we could, in principle, go back to optical semaphores, put a huge "mirror" made of ultra-thin metal foil in the outer space, and use it to send signals that could, depending on the size of the mirror, be visible for thousands of light years. It could even be done by automatic probes, powered by solar power and harvesting the asteroid belt for raw materials.

    Why weren't they here even before our civilization was formed, that's the question.

    Humans have the propensity to colonize everything they see. 50,000 years ago there were no humans in Australia. 20,000 years ago there were no people in the Americas. 2,000 years ago Iceland was uninhabited. Today, people are everywhere, including the South Pole. If there's a way to colonize the Moon and Mars, we'll probably get there too. If any alien civilizations are at all like us, they too will try to colonize the universe. Something has to happen to all civilizations at a certain stage of their development, to prevent Earth from having been colonized by intelligent aliens long before human ancestors learned to walk upright.
  14. Dec 1, 2009 #13

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    You are ignoring the incredible vastness of space here. Suppose our nearest advanced neighbor is in Andromeda and that it has packed that galaxy with its descendants using technologies that let it travel at 10% light speed. Travel to the Milky Way would entail a 25 million year journey with no external power, no maintenance depots, no support whatsoever. If our nearest neighbor is in the Centaurus Cluster, that becomes a 1.5 billion year journey without support. The impossibility of making machinery that can survive for millions of years or more may be one of the impediments to expansion that answers the Fermi paradox. There are plenty more such impediments; there is no reason to assume we are the only intelligent civilization to have arisen in the whole universe. At some point, the vastness of space dictates that we are effectively alone even though we are not the only ones.

    The first generation of stars didn't even have terrestrial planets. There were no heavy elements present. So why is that a stretch?
  15. Dec 1, 2009 #14
    I think that you are underestimating what a civilization a million or a billion years more advanced might consider as possible. A Kardashev type III civilization that colonizes a galaxy spreads from one side of a galaxy to the other. This colonization could cross a span of many thousand light years in perhaps a million years. Von Neumann probes could then deconstruct less useful solar systems within the galaxy and then reconstruct them in an archipelago stretching to the next galaxy. Several thousand strategically placed ‘depots’ would link a galaxy cluster together and so on. Also, stars are occasionally ejected from the center of galaxies by SMBH, so some natural waypoints would already exist between galaxies. Or a “Gemini” colony ship design might allow beings to live on one half of a ship while the other half was dismantled and reconstructed in flight and then switch. The ship itself might even be made of smart material that was imbedded with molecular sized computers and simple robots so that it could reconstruct itself if damaged. The ship might even be a synthetic planet that is warmed internally by fusion or a mini black hole. The Earth has supported life for billions of years. On a biological level, advanced beings might arguably control whatever they use for DNA to the point that they no longer die from old age, so a trip of eons would not be an impediment.
    So where are they?
  16. Dec 1, 2009 #15
    They are probably watching us. :devil:
  17. Feb 8, 2010 #16
    I think that we are all ignoring some fields of technology in our attempt to mimic star trek in the goal of colonization. We are not going to be the same humans that we are currently. Genetics is broadening links between DNA and Instinct and we will possibly be able to acquire knowledge from genetic means. Or computer plug in means. Once we are interfacing with our ability to store knowledge we will not be the same species of Human.

    Imagine coming out of the womb with full degrees in Chemistry, All fields of Medicine, History, Math, Genetics. No longer the need to be taught how to not duke in diapers. No longer having to learn to eat food. Being born with the knowledge of how to walk and talk.

    Defeating the problem of aging. Eliminating the need to eat food and poop out doodie. I don't think that anyone likes to poop?

    Once we have the potential to live as long as we can avoid disease (which we might be able to defeat with genetics) and accidents. Lets face it who is going to work in a coal mine when you could risk death instead of living forever? Maybe religion will still have it's purposes. The worker bees who do not decide to take immortality genetic aging cure will live to like 100 and they won't mind working in the mines and dangerous jobs.

    As our intelligence grows so would our goals as a species. Child rearing? They don't need rearing just birthing and being watched over until there bodies develop bone structure well enough to walk. Now 50% of the inhabitants of Earth are pissed off for taking away mommy.
  18. Feb 8, 2010 #17
    How can someone with the name "Turkeyburgers" say such a thing?:biggrin:
  19. Feb 8, 2010 #18
    Sorry, but I think that us listening for, or trying to contact 'others', is a total waste of time and money!
  20. Feb 9, 2010 #19


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    Assuming our knowledge of physics is basically correct, interstellar travel may be impossibly expensive for any intelligent civilization. Perhaps the best they could do is launch nanobots encoded with dna. It might take many millions of years to arrive at a suitable planet, but, is doable.
  21. Feb 10, 2010 #20
    As Fermi said in 1950(!) where are they?

    That is they can build self reproducing probes and populate the entire galaxy with one probe per planet. So where is the Earth's probe? Hiding? We are too primitive to bother contacting? etc....

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