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Stephen Hawking Said It Would Destroy Us... But Scientists Are Doing It Anyway | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
Hawking urged caution, so is this really what we should be doing?? Join us... and find out!

In this video, we take a closer look at the rise and rise of alien messaging! The late Stephen Hawking continually warned us of the dangers of trying to communicate with extraterrestrials, but we appear to be ignoring those warnings... as scientists plan to send the most sophisticated transmission yet, out into the cosmos - The Beacon in the Galaxy!
Transcript

Stephen Hawking Said it Would Destroy Us - But Scientists Are Doing It Anyway


With the ongoing search for alien life, there’s continual debate about exactly what our tactics should be. Should we target certain planets specifically? Certain star systems, or particular galaxies? Would we be better investing our time and money into building machines capable of visiting far off worlds first hand, or is just beaming out messages from Earth a better strategy? Underneath it all, however, there’s one fundamental question that gets asked most of all… should we even be searching for aliens at all?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re exploring the extraordinary warning that Stephen Hawking left for the world… and the scientists that are choosing to ignore it.

The late physicist Stephen Hawking had a greater impact on modern popular science than almost anybody else. His ideas, theories, books, and lectures form something of a foundation for any budding, twenty-first century thinker with an interest in science, physics, space, and time. Hawking was, then, an influential voice when it came to the subject of extraterrestrial life. And, while the likes of Enrico Fermi, Frank Drake and Nikolai Kardashev have all helped to shape our understanding of aliens too, Hawking’s ideas have pushed our collective knowledge and attitudes further forward.

You might think, then, that Hawking would’ve been all for trying to find and meet aliens, all the better to understand them. But actually, he continually urged caution. While SETI (the general search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is well known, and Hawking was a high-profile supporter of many SETI initiatives… METI (or, messaging extraterrestrial intelligence) is an offshoot that he wasn’t so in favor of. In 2015, during the media launch for the Breakthrough Listen Project, which he did in general give his backing to, for example, Hawking warned against any more brazen attempts to alert aliens to our presence – reminding us that, in our own history, “encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced”. And, certainly, there’s every possibility that a hypothetical alien species that does intercept a message from Earth would be more advanced than we are… so it’s a stance that’s easy to understand.

At the same Breakthrough Listen event, Hawking continued that; “a civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us”, could be “vastly more powerful”, and “may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria”. Five years earlier, in an episode of the 2010 Discovery Channel series, “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking”, he had expressed similar views, suggesting that advanced aliens would perhaps want to “conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach”. Hawking was dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the universe we live in… but, when it comes to the predicted others that we might share it with, he didn’t necessarily think the best course of action was to call out across the cosmos, as though waving our hands in the air wanting to be seen.

Nevertheless, the reality is that that is what we’ve done before… to a certain degree it’s what we do every day… and, if a new venture goes ahead, it’s what an international team of scientists are hoping to do again, as soon as possible.

First, that “every day” part… which has, strictly speaking, been true since the advent of radio. Over the past century or so, human beings have been busy beaming messages all over Earth, to and from one another. Tech-wise, it’s a marvel of our modern times. But, also, with all these signals firing away all over the place - to and from homes, places of work, cafes, satellites, robots, cell phones, et cetera – we know that evidence of our existence is steadily leaking out into space. Thanks to the universal limit of the speed of light, there’s only so far it can have traveled since we’ve been producing it, but the information is out there.

Next, the “we’ve done it before” part… which is a reference to the Arecibo message, an interstellar radio signal sent from Earth (via the Arecibo radio telescope, in Puerto Rico) in 1974. The message was beamed in the direction of the M13 star cluster, about 25,000 light-years away, and it contained various pieces of information about Earth, in the hope that were an alien species to receive it then they’d be able to decode it. Included were a list of our numbers, a representation of a human being, and a representation of the solar system… although, in more recent years, doubt has been cast over whether any alien group could ever really make sense of it.

Which brings us to the “we’re hoping to do it again” part. Despite the warnings of Stephen Hawking and others, in 2022, a team of scientists has proposed sending another updated message out into space. Currently known as the “Beacon in the Galaxy”, it’s set to include exact location details for Earth. If it were launched, then, and it did successfully reach an alien group, not only would we be alerting them to our general presence… but we’d be telling them exactly where we live. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone is OK with this. But those behind the Beacon in the Galaxy claim to have weighed up the pros and cons, and to have concluded that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.

So, what exactly is the Beacon, and what will it include if it is transmitted? Again, it’s a radio message, and its contents are very similar to the original Arecibo package. Information about the human form, our DNA, and an open invitation for receivers to respond would all feature. It would all be wrapped up in binary code and would rely on the universal language of mathematics to make it translatable to others. As the Arecibo telescope of yesteryear is no longer in operation, the plan is to send out the Beacon via two alternative radio telescopes – one in the United States (in California) and another in China. The M13 cluster isn’t the target this time around, though, with the team instead proposing that the new message should be sent in the direction of a different region of the Milky Way, also known for star creation, and relatively close to the galactic center. As previous studies have indicated that here is where life is most likely to emerge in our galaxy, the idea is that the chances will be as high as possible for the message to be intercepted.

Those chances do still appear to be quite low, in reality, however. As is so often the case whenever innovative space missions are planned, the sheer size of the cosmos is a major stumbling block. And we know, from our efforts toward astronomy on this planet, that gazing into (and making sense of) the universe is an extremely difficult business. There’s zero guarantee, then, that this message, or any future reiteration of this message, will reach an alien race. If it does, then there’s no guarantee that that alien race will understand it… especially if you consider the various possibly alien signals we’ve intercepted in the past, all of which we’ve more readily explained away as something else other than extraterrestrial life despite, at times, not knowing for sure. But finally, if this message were to reach an alien group and they did understand it and they were advanced enough to reply, then we could still be waiting around for a long time before that reply ever reaches us. That pesky universal speed limit – the speed of light – ensures that any potential conversation between us and aliens could take literally thousands of years to even strike up. This would be a long and drawn out “hello”, to the point that we (or they) might not even survive long enough to begin even the start of small talk about things like their home planet, their taste in food, what the weather’s like over there, or whether or not they come in peace. If there are dangers to sending out Beacon in the Galaxy then, it’s unlikely that they’re immediate ones.

So, what’s your verdict on this proposed venture? Right now, it’s a plan that’s in the early stages of development; an idea about what our next move in space should be. But the Beacon also isn’t without precedent. We issued the Arecibo message almost fifty years ago and, so far, there have been no takers… but is it only a matter of time? As one of the most influential scientists of his time, when Stephen Hawking spoke on the subject of aliens the world tended to take note. But, in this case, it appears that his warning will go unheeded… and the Beacon, if it is lit, if it is sent out to the stars, may very well bridge the gap between us and alien life, regardless.

On the one hand, perhaps you can’t make such a massive scientific breakthrough without taking a few risks. On the other, could this one message also, eventually, signal our doom? Because, although scientists are doing it anyway, that’s what Stephen Hawking warned us against.
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