Russia: no chatting to aliens!

Here’s a man worried about aliens. He’s writing on Comment Is Free, and he’s worried about aliens. It seems Russian astronomers have been actively sending messages to ‘distant star systems’. David Cox is worried about the aliens. Thing is, the Earth has been blasting out electromagnetic radiation since the 30’s. We stick out. But, I suppose sending direct messages could conceivably alert civilisations to our existence, and serious people have worried about implications before.

This is not one of those times.

The problem is obvious. If we discover alien life ourselves, we can decide what, if anything, to do about it. If, on the other hand, we alert aliens to our own existence, we’ll be at their mercy. There’s no reason to suppose they’d be friendly. On the contrary, Independence Day may provide us with a more useful model than Close Encounters.

Is that all? No problem! We’ll quickly plug a MacBook Air into the alien mothership. Sorted.

After all, we earthlings have hardly shown an invariably benevolent attitude to such new lifeforms as we have come across. Why should aliens be any different? Any who prove capable of interpreting our messages are likely to be far more advanced than we are.

I’d argue that, for at least a proportion of the Earth’s population, benevolence correlates with advance. Also, there’s plenty of planetary real estate and it’s hard to think why a race capable of attacking would actually bother. But, still, let’s assume the aliens are religious fundamentalists intent on forcibly spreading the word of, say, Xenu.

Though we can’t at present envisage a means by which they could travel the vast distances that would separate us from them, they might well be capable of destroying, transporting or dismantling us by some form of remote control.

I need to take a minute.

Ok, I’m back. This is a glorious sentence. It takes making things up to a new level. Arthur C. Clarke famously said that technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic. But it doesn’t follow that advanced aliens can do anything you can imagine.

Travelling vast interstellar distances is an engineering problem. If you continuously accelerate at 1G you can circle the known universe in half a century; the downside is that time will pass more quickly for those back home, so you’ll never see anyone you love ever again. But it’s nevertheless possible – any of us could travel to distant galaxies given a ship and no attachments. Not easy, but perfectly possible within the laws of physics.

Remote control does not fall into this category. It’s just magic. You can’t gloss over this with ‘might well’.

Firstly, what exactly is being controlled remotely? Robots would still have to travel across the ‘vast distances’, so it can’t be that. Could it be random particles of matter? Done, of course, with Magical Advanced Technology that we can’t envisage. Ok, so aliens cause matter to spontaneously form into…some kind of awesome attacking machine. Got it.

This would be a terrible battle strategy. If you want to control a Mars rover, you can’t just drive it around from a computer screen back home. Light takes ten minutes to travel between the two planets. Tell the rover to move five metres to its left and it’ll take ten minutes to do so; it’ll be another ten before you find out whether it worked. Aliens, for all their matter-controlling machines of delight and wonder, would have to wait, at minimum, years between moves, in a game of incredibly dull interstellar Worms. In the meantime, humanity could figure out counter-attack strategies. Or move.

So far, there’s no reason to suppose that, if the Russians manage to discover any alien life, they’ll be seeking to marshal its firepower in the new cold war against the west.

There’s also no reason to suppose the Russians are looking for supernovae in which to breed Evil Space Cats with powers like that dude from Superman IV. I’ll mention it anyway, though.

Isn’t it time for Mr Miliband to tell President Putin in no uncertain terms that HMG will accept nothing less? Thereafter, we could all sleep safe in our beds once more.

Yes. Do that, Mr Miliband. I cannot sleep for worrying about the Russians harnessing alien technology. This is the only thing standing between me and blissful slumber, and it’s actually making me unsafe. Get it done.