Are we alone in the universe, or are we not alone in the universe? Someone once pointed out that a yes in either case is terrifying. Below, I’ve abridged an article called “A New Theory on Why We Haven’t Found Aliens Yet.” Basically it’s because they might be sleeping.
Right now, there’re some big trends in artificial intelligence, robotics, and medical tech indicating the general direction we’re going.
There’re people who think ultimately we’ll become more integrated, physically, with the digital world around us.Maybe, older civilizations have already done it. It’s really just food for thought at this point.
Probability tells us extraterrestrial intelligence should be out there, so why haven’t we found a single sign of it yet?
It could be that we’re simply alone in the universe or that there is some great filter preventing intelligent life from progressing beyond a certain stage. Maybe alien life is out there, but we are too primitive to communicate with it. Or we’re inside some cosmic zoo, observed but left alone.
Now, three researchers have another potential answer. Aliens do exist but they’re just sleeping.
Maybe the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. Their solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down.
Sophisticated life may have elected to leave biology behind and live digitally to enhance their intellectual capacities or to inhabit harsher environments in the universe with ease.
Once you’re living digitally, it’s important to process information efficiently because each computation cost is tightly coupled with temperature. The colder it gets, the lower the cost is.
Surely any aliens could cool down their systems manually, just as we do with computers. It’s possible for a civilization to cool down parts of itself, but that, too, requires work. So it wouldn’t make sense for a civilization looking to maximize its computational capacity to waste energy on that process.
Humans may find the universe to be a pretty frigid place, but digital minds may find it far too hot. It’s likely that artificial life would be in a protected sleep mode today, ready to wake up in a colder future.
Over the next trillions of years, as the universe continues to expand and the formation of new stars slows, the temperature will drop to practically zero, allowing digital life to get tremendously more done. Tremendous isn’t an understatement, either. By employing such a strategy, they could achieve up to 1030 times more than if done today (that’s a 1 with 30 zeroes after it).
Just because the aliens are sleeping doesn’t mean we can’t find signs of them. A sleeping civilization has to preserve resources for the future. Processes that threaten these resources, then, should be conspicuously absent. This includes galaxies colliding, galactic winds, and stars converting into black holes, which can push resources beyond the reach of the sleeping civilization or change their resources into less-useful forms. We could look for those missing phenomena.
But one of the researchers says, “I personally think the likeliest reason we’re not seeing aliens isn’t that they’re sleeping,” he feels it’s more likely that “they don’t exist, or they’re very far away.”
Another researcher thinks, “Any assumption is extremely speculative.” Yet, he said, the theory has a place because it’s important to cover as much ground as possible. A wide set of hypotheses tested one by one—falsifying them, pruning them—gets closer to the truth. So, there’s a modest likelihood their sleeping aliens idea might be part of the answer.
It’s important to keep exploring solutions, trying to understand what might be out there and how this might explain our past and guide our future.