Stephen Hawking: Damn All Aliens!


Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, apparently still smarting from getting passed over for the role of the guy in the wheelchair in Avatar, says we'd better not be trying to phone E.T. or even text him:

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world's leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe's greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.


[M]ost of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter…

We'll have to wait for the show, but Hawking's extended comments suggest he's paying more attention to Independence Day than to Stanislaw Lem. Without any apparent help, this planet has already produced such inscrutable creatures as the platypus, the coelacanth, and chupacabra. The third solution to Fermi's paradox suggests platform neutrality is not as widespread elsewhere in the Alpha Quadrant as it is here on Earth. Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us? Hawking is having none of that:

Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is "a little too risky". He said: "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

Should we take Hawking's isolationism seriously, or is he just the Racist In the Year 3000?

Back before the Singularity, Gregory Benford profiled Hawking for Reason. More recently, we've given mixed reviews to the Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts' plans to save Earth through space travel and applauded his adventures in zero gravity. (And for God's sake, if Stephen Hawking is only an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society, what the hell do you have to do to become a full member? When the Vulcans make first contact—53 years from this month!—let's hope they do something about that oversight.)