So a new research paper has come out and told us what Hollywood has been telling us for years; if we meet aliens they’re most likely going to act like 16th century conquistadors and take our resources and annihilate us in the process. Similar to Stephen Hawking’s dire warning it says contact would spell doom for us all. Space.com
The rational is that since that’s what we did in the past to other other civilizations, that’s what an advanced civilization will do to us.
There are some very serious flaws with this argument. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
1. Our galaxy is a really, really big place
The argument claims that aliens would come to earth and take our minerals and such. Why? Current estimates put the total number of planets in our galaxy in the hundreds of billions – maybe even the trillions if you count planetoids. Even if we assume an absurdly highly number of them have intelligent life, that leaves millions of planets to exploit for minerals and other resources.
The galaxy is not a bigger version of the earth. In the 15th century humans lived on every habitable continent. There was no place you could go for resources except Antarctica that didn’t have people living on it. Trying to exploit any place for resources meant that you were likely to come up against indigenous populations.
In a really big galaxy, there’s no reason to upset the locals unless that’s what you want to do.
Space is big. The distance between solar systems is huge. If you have some kind of technology that can easily bridge this gap or lesson the amount of energy you need to travel between stars, earth’s resources are going to look pathetic in comparison. Seriously, are we worried they’re coming here to steal our coal to fuel their space ships?
3. Comparative Advantage
Any sufficiently advanced species should have a grasp of economics. Like us, they may not always heed what they’ve learned, but if they’re flying about space they probably have a better grasp on prosperity than we do. If they’re profit motivated it would be the best possible news for us.
One of the most important principles of economics is comparative advantage. It basically means this; If you have two parties unevenly matched in skill and productivity, it’s always advantageous for both for the more skilled and productive party to let the lessor skilled party focus on production of whatever the first party is least efficient at – even if it’s more efficient than the second party.
An example would be Apple. By focusing all of its energies on designing iPhones and allowing a less-skilled party to make the iPhone, Apple increases its productivity and profit. The less-skilled party benefits by making the product. Both gain. If Apple focused all its resources on designing and making the iPhone they’d make less overall because it’s unable to maximize what it’s most efficient at.
In our alien contact scenario we’re the unskilled, inefficient party. Despite this, we still have value we can bring to a superior civilization. That value may be in providing services, cheap labor or producing reality television. Whatever it may be, the most valuable thing we can offer isn’t our resources, but 7 billion individuals with varying degrees of creativity and ingenuity. Comparative Advantage
If they’re a bunch of religious zealots who abandoned everything they learned that gave them prosperity or secular zealots with no regard for the concept of individuality, we’re screwed.