Scientists Believe Humans Will One Day Colonize the Universe

August 26, 2013

Science

Humanity Could Colonize the Universe

Hubble Deep Field image showing myriad galaxies dating back to the beginning of time. Image by Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA.

A new study from the University of Oxford looks at the possibility of human colonization throughout the universe.

Scientists as eminent as Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan have long believed that humans will one day colonize the universe. But how easy would it be, why would we want to, and why haven’t we seen any evidence of other life forms making their own bids for universal domination?

A new paper by Dr Stuart Armstrong and Dr Anders Sandberg from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) attempts to answer these questions. To be published in the August/September edition of the journal Acta Astronautica, the paper takes as its starting point the Fermi paradox – the discrepancy between the likelihood of intelligent alien life existing and the absence of observational evidence for such an existence.

Dr Armstrong says: “There are two ways of looking at our paper. The first is as a study of our future – humanity could at some point colonize the universe. The second relates to potential alien species – by showing the relative ease of crossing between galaxies, it makes the lack of evidence for other intelligent life even more puzzling. This worsens the Fermi paradox.”

The paradox, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi, is something of particular interest to the academics at the FHI – a multidisciplinary research unit that enables leading intellects to bring the tools of mathematics, philosophy and science to bear on big-picture questions about humanity and its prospects.

Dr Sandberg explains: “Why would the FHI care about the Fermi paradox? Well, the silence in the sky is telling us something about the kind of intelligence in the universe. Space isn’t full of little green men, and that could tell us a number of things about other intelligent life – it could be very rare, it could be hiding, or it could die out relatively easily. Of course it could also mean it doesn’t exist. If humanity is alone in the universe then we have an enormous moral responsibility. As the only intelligence, or perhaps the only conscious minds, we could decide the fate of the entire universe.”

According to Dr Armstrong, one possible explanation for the Fermi paradox is that life destroys itself before it can spread. “That would mean we are at a higher risk than we might have thought,” he says. “That’s a concern for the future of humanity.”

Dr Sandberg adds: “Almost any answer to the Fermi paradox gives rise to something uncomfortable. There is also the theory that a lot of planets are at roughly at the same stage – what we call synchronized – in terms of their ability to explore the universe, but personally I don’t think that’s likely.”

As Dr Armstrong points out, there are Earth-like planets much older than the Earth – in fact most of them are, in many cases by billions of years.

Dr Sandberg says: “In the early 1990s we thought that perhaps there weren’t many planets out there, but now we know that the universe is teeming with planets. We have more planets than we would ever have expected.”

A lack of planets where life could evolve is, therefore, unlikely to be a factor in preventing alien civilizations. Similarly, recent research has shown that life may be hardier than previously thought, weakening further the idea that the emergence of life or intelligence is the limiting factor. But at the same time – and worryingly for those studying the future of humanity – this increases the probability that intelligent life doesn’t last long.

The Acta Astronautica paper looks at just how far and wide a civilization like humanity could theoretically spread across the universe. Past studies of the Fermi paradox have mainly looked at spreading inside the Milky Way. However, this paper looks at more ambitious expansion.

Dr Sandberg says: “If we wanted to go to a really remote galaxy to colonize one of these planets, under normal circumstances we would have to send rockets able to decelerate on arrival. But with the universe constantly expanding, the galaxies are moving further and further away, which makes the calculations rather tricky. What we did in the paper was combine a number of mathematical and physical tools to address this issue.”

Dr Armstrong and Dr Sandberg show in the paper that, given certain technological assumptions (such as advanced automation or basic artificial intelligence, capable of self-replication), it would be feasible to construct a Dyson sphere, which would capture the energy of the sun and power a wave of intergalactic colonization. The process could be initiated on a surprisingly short timescale.

But why would a civilization want to expand its horizons to other galaxies? Dr Armstrong says: “One reason for expansion could be that a sub-group wants to do it because it is being oppressed or it is ideologically committed to expansion. In that case you have the problem of the central civilization, which may want to prevent this type of expansion. The best way of doing that get there first. Pre-emption is perhaps the best reason for expansion.”

Dr Sandberg adds: “Say a race of slimy space aliens wants to turn the universe into parking lots or advertising space – other species might want to stop that. There could be lots of good reasons for any species to want to expand, even if they don’t actually care about colonizing or owning the universe.”

He concludes: “Our key point is that if any civilization anywhere in the past had wanted to expand, they would have been able to reach an enormous portion of the universe. That makes the Fermi question tougher – by a factor of billions. If intelligent life is rare, it needs to be much rarer than just one civilization per galaxy. If advanced civilizations all refrain from colonizing, this trend must be so strong that not a single one across billions of galaxies and billions of years chose to do it. And so on.”

“We still don’t know what the answer is, but we know it’s more radical than previously expected.”

Publication: Stuart Armstrong, Anders Sandberg, “Eternity in six hours: Intergalactic spreading of intelligent life and sharpening the Fermi paradox,” Acta Astronautica, Volume 89, 2013, Pages 1–13; doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.04.002

Source: Stuart Gillespie, University of Oxford

Image: Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA

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24 Responses to “Scientists Believe Humans Will One Day Colonize the Universe”

  1. Michael Martin-Smith Says:

    The first steps could occur sooner than we think- many technologies are combining to make a dispersal of Humanity into Space economical and feasible.

    The only real obstacles would be the adoption of essentially anti-human attitudes as favoured by “Earth Firsters”.

    These are of course variations on all traditional opposition to human advancement from “Original Sin” to its modern Green variants, and hopefully will be blown away down the same drainhole of History.

    People who wonder what the role of Humankind is in this Universe can now understand that there has been a stepwise evolution of the Cosmos from Simplicity to Complexity, via pure energy and subatomic matter , stars, galaxies planets chemistry biuochemistry simple life , multicellular life and, now, Mind.

    We humans are the bearers of Mind, and, until proved otherwise, MUST treat ourselves as a new, uniquely significant phase in the growth of an Embryonic Universe.

    Rejection of Space expansion by Humanity out of hatred for the species is a crime for which mere Genocide is an inadequate term. Those who would restrict Humanity have only one honourable option – suicide. Abortion of human potential development by confinement to Earth is ethically unpardonable

    In this light, the Colonisation of Space is not merely a looming option but a MORAL necessity.

    We can and should get on with it- there is nothing to lose but our Limits

    Reply

    • Mosaic Says:

      I certainly agree with you. We are the shepherds of this universe given the divine gift to expand and colonize if we pull our heads out of our asses and focus back on the race to space.

      Reply

  2. Walter Matera Says:

    In other words, it might just be a really lonely Universe with no one else in it to talk to.

    Reply

  3. Fernando Rodríguez Says:

    I wonder how they reach the conclusion that it is relatively easy to move between galaxies. A million year civilization more advanced than us would take hundreds or thousands of years only to explore nearby stars in their own galaxy. Having the ability to travel at the speed of light it would take immense resources and individuals in this task which I am sure someone out there has started. My position until evidence is given is that either advanced species are maybe a handful per galaxy making it really hard to colonize large portions of it in long periods of time, or physics as we know them today can not be changed meaning that light speed travel is not possible to obtain. We tend to think science is almighty and we try to deify science making it omniscient and all powerful, but if the laws of physics are there and can not be changed, we might have an explanation to why we haven’t seen anyone waving at us. Another complicated thing is if they communicate with us, will we understand? Will we even realize they are trying to communicate?

    Reply

    • Daniel Walker Says:

      Its just mighty far and there is likely something to do with evolution, so higher minds decide that even knowing of them may desturb it

      Reply

  4. Jimbo Says:

    Who really cares …right now the most important thing to people on this earth is when their next food stamps and welfare check is coming in, when the next episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is on TV, Are the police at my door to seize my drugs, money, and guns … Will Miley Cyrus dance dirty again real soon?, Turn on Monday Night football …..not that Carl Sagan crap, and no my children you can go to school only when you want to ..I really do not give a crap …

    Reply

    • JACK WAGONER Says:

      Why respond if you’re so negative. If you’re not interested……why are you reading these articles. Quit trying to be an asshole and go read your comic books.

      Reply

  5. Martin Ciupa Says:

    If the Fermi Paradox is resolved by the fact that the Drake Equation has parameters to render the Universe as being very sparsely populated with civilizations, then, if our civilization matures into significant technological progression, I would recognize a possibility that a significant portion of our Galaxy will be visited by Human engineered Von Neumann/AI like probes, and perhaps eventually colonization. However this possibility is easily challenged by examining implicit assumptions that are potentially unsound…

    a) Assumption #1: That the Fermi Paradox can only be resolved with Drake Equation with low presence/no other civilizations than ours. This is far from being proved. Many scenarios exist that keep the Universe/Galaxy quiet whilst it has potentially many civilizations within it. If the Universe/Galaxy is quiet for a reason, assuming human civilization is free to conduct invasive colonization is unsound. It would be a potential violation of the “reason” why the Universe/Galaxy is quiet.

    b) ASSUMPTION #2: The assumption is being made that Techno-progression will lead to Physical expansion, colonizing other New Earths, according to a ethic similar to that of arguments like: Imperialism, Manifest Destiny, Lebensraum, etc. A techno progressive future may also have an ethical progression to make those activities unacceptable. Civilizations may evolve to be sustainable at a low Kardeshev energy scale, not seeking expansion beyond earth. Civilizations may develop simulation based futures, they may “sublime” to less materialistic reliance. It is a failure of technological imagination and ethics to apply 19th/20th century ethics much beyond our current age.

    This research appears weak in this regard.

    Reply

  6. James Hayes Says:

    [one possible explanation for the Fermi paradox is that life destroys itself before it can spread]

    Based on what I see of humanity at present, I’d say this happens to intelligent species at least 999 times out of 1000 – but that still leaves scope for an occasional species to spread.

    I think I’d kill myself after living a couple of hundred years – quite frankly everything becomes boring as hell after a time – maybe entire species do this.

    The best chance or alternative to spatial expansion for us is “heaven on earth”, where robotics does all the work for us and we just live in a drugged virtual world. This process would include every 20 years or so, removing both some memory and chemical resistance, so that we are still able to enjoy life.

    Technology-wise, we have so far to go, that the question isn’t even relevant yet. Many things science dreams of are simply not achievable. Nothing I’ve seen convinces me that the distances are surmountable. As no world close enough will be perfect, for the distances to be surmountable, you’d need terraforming of the destination point done by self-initialising and replicating robotics. You could probably only freeze DNA for the 1000′s of years of travel required, and have to rely the robots to set up your world.

    Reply

  7. Mark Sinus Says:

    Humans, as a biological species, would never might expand beyond the boundaries of lunar-terrestrial-solar system matrix. The fundamental prohibition exists: peptides and nucleic polymers are unstable outside the solar system, even if to neutralize the cosmic radiation. In order to overcome it humans should create the artificial intelligent, non-organic beings, new cosmic race. Actually, the process of deep space exploration predetermines the next stage of evolution of any planetary civilization. We call this evolutionary process: “Dematerialization”. The same rule applies to the evolution of all Aliens. Forms of evolutionary transition to a new society of meta-intelligence networking minds and developing a planetary super-civilization will depend on the balance between technological progress and spiritual development of human civilization. This evolutionary way has a lot of red flags and the great challenges, far beyond any man’s imagination.
    Any irreversible imbalance inevitably will close this transition leading to an earthlings clash with cosmic abyss and consecutive doom scenarios.

    Reply

  8. Teodoro Bustillo Vicario Says:

    Pues eso ni es tener en cuenta nuestra carrocería, ni tener en cuenta lo que supone cambiar de nivel.

    Para pasar de electrón individual a ser electrón integrado en un átomo es un cambio de nivel, igual que de molécula a célula. En ambos se da un salto cualitativo. Igual que es otro salto cualitativo saltar de célula a agrupación de células para generar organismos. Y así podemos seguir.

    Pensar que una célula tiene el mismo nivel de captación de la realidad que un organismo compuesto de miles y miles de células es no captar el salto cualitativo. Ni todos los homínidos captamos igual lo real ni todos los mamíferos coincidimos en tal captación. Una vaca –o toro- (Bos primigenius Taurus) no ve lo real igual que un Homo sapiens. Muy diferente capta lo real una abeja (Apis mellifera) o un besugo (Pagellus centrodontus) o un vencejo común (Apus apus).

    De nuevo los Homo sapiens que así piensan se creen en el centro de lo-que-hay. Parece que piensan que con este hardware y con este software se puede ir hasta el infinito; ni valoran ni tienen en cuenta nada más que sus deseos ampliados “ad infinitum”. Tal hardware y software se ha generado en un polígono y una fábrica muy concreta y precisa. El polígono industrial se llama Sistema Solar y la fábrica: Tierra. Tal fábrica ha sido/es capaz de producir miles y miles de productos. El producto Homo sapiens tiene múltiples versiones culturales y sólo algunas de esas versiones culturales generan tales pensamientos/deseos. Que tal producto sueñe despierto es propio de artistas pero no de científicos. Si muchos de tales Homo sapiens son partidarios de ser clonados es porque parece que piensan que así va a pervivir su “yo”, su individualidad personal e intransferible. Ni se dan cuenta que sí, se parecerán exactamente en su carcasa pero aunque sean idénticos, igual que un coche es igual a otro del mismo modelo, de la misma serie, de la misma fábrica pero cada coche es un coche diferente; su fecha de generación y de caducidad es otra diferente.

    Por favor, piénsese que con tales carcasas y con tal software no ha llegado nadie por aquí. A lo más algunas moléculas encriptadas en alguna basura espacial de la que puede que se haya desarrollado en este polígono industrial y en esta fábrica. Sí; me estoy refiriendo a la panspermia.

    Ampliar los deseos hasta límites insospechados es eso: deseos pero ni ciencia ni conocimiento. Es orgullo, vanidad, arrogancia. Vanitas vanitatis, muy propia del Homo sapiens.

    Reply

  9. Lee Says:

    We have yet to successfully reach Mars with a manned mission, much less the nearest star system, or find a habitable planet (or a Terraformable one), beyond our system, so I feel it’s a bit premature to think about colonizing one of the Magellanic Clouds, much less Andromeda.
    Yes, it’s a naturally violent Universe, and even if you consider Silicon, Germanium or another form of life, living long enough to form intelligence and technology advanced enough to leave not just the home planet enmasse, but the home system, is an extremely, tremendously huge feat.
    Maybe there is intelligent life out there that has reached it’s nearest stellar neighbor. And maybe the reason we’ve not detected them is because by the time their signals reach us, they are so weak that we can’t sort them out from the background noise, or they’re so far away that their signals haven’t reached us yet. Lets say we do detect signals. What are the odds that the “people” who created them are still alive, much less they are close enough that we can, say, play “chess by mail” with them?
    I’m not against the research, I just feel that we should pay more attention to learning to stand up before we start planing a marathon.

    Reply

  10. Rick Shindley Says:

    Given that we use radio to communicate over very long distances, we tend to believe that an advanced alien civilization would use radio, too. It certainly may but given what we are learning about quantum mechanics (QM), it is not beyond possibility that QM could be used for instantaneous communication over any distance. Specifically, the use of the quantum entanglement phenomenon would allow a traveler to take along entangled particles to use to call home and have telephone-like two-way conversations from anywhere in the universe.

    If an alien civilization uses QM for communications, their communications would be undetectable and, hence, there would be no purpose in listening for them. QM communication would permit its users to remain undetected by distant intelligent life like us.

    Reply

  11. Frank Shifreen Says:

    I believe that exploration of space and travel to the stars will be a significant
    development of humanity’s maturity and evolution. I do not agree that we
    have to solve the problems of the earth first. The exploration of space
    Was a high point of modern history, in a time of environmental insults , petty
    wars and strife. We have to be prepared to pay the price, which is worth it,
    I believe. I applaud Dr’s Sandberg and Armstrong for their paper. it is vitally
    Important for our future.

    Reply

  12. Astronist Says:

    This is a rehash of ideas that have been being pushed around for decades. So far as I can judge from this report, Armstrong and Sandberg have nothing new to say. They just want to let everybody know how badly they want to believe in aliens, despite there being not the slightest evidence that they exist. If life only emerged from chemistry around 5 bn years ago, and did so in an extraterrestrial setting, both of which are perfectly plausible, then the whole Fermi “paradox” vanishes.

    Stephen
    Oxford, UK
    (NB I have no connection with the University’s Fretting about Humanity Institute)

    Reply

  13. a o connell Says:

    If the telescopes out there have not detected a spacecraft of any kind or the merest sign of life.what is all the fuss about u f o.lights in the sky the odd blurred picture never a proper photo.just a fraud.hope they give us a break now.

    Reply

  14. Madanagopal.V.C Says:

    At best future of mankind can colonize Mars, Titan, or Moon only within our own solar system and that too not too far from earth. Man cannot go to the next galaxy even which is about 40 light years away and travelling by today’s rockets, it will take 4 million years at least. Same reason will apply squarely to other intelligent aliens too to visit our earth. The laws of physics cannot be exceeded. You can travel at the velocity of light only if you are a boson or photon, massless, energetic and invisible. We can only infer through our advanced mathematics and physics the existence of water and other amino acids which are life making tools in other exo-planets of other galaxies. Thank You.

    Reply

  15. paddy Says:

    It is NOT POSSIBLE that humanity and simple maths proves this there are billions of galaxy’s in the universe im we assume an adverage of 100 million stars in each galaxy.
    (some one else can do the maths) This leaves us so many stars

    IF

    . 50% of these stars have planets
    . 10% 0f those are actually capable of supporting life
    . 10% OF those actually do
    . 10% of support more than bacterial life
    . 10% of the planets supporting more than bacterial life support intelligent life . would any one like to work out the number of aliens out there?

    Reply

  16. paddy Says:

    I wish to edit my opening statement in my first notice, it is NOT POSSIBLE that humanity is alone and simple maths proves this……….(as before) …………

    Reply

  17. thomas Says:

    I believe it’s not goods idea I believe we should let the aliens coloize . What the point if we don’t give food,water,education, safe people from flood , fix flood issues, build more home and also if we kill every predators including ourselves that the human race need to work in this issue before colonizing other planets and meet alien. The way I see it we going to fuck that planet too the same way we fucking this beautiful planet by lot of co2 to and destroying climates thats home to ever cuture. Until we start to care more about this and less in technology and money I think there’s no point.

    Reply

    • Stan Says:

      I believe if there are indeed an abundance of Alien life in a few of our billion’s of stars in our nearby galaxies then why haven’t they tried to contact us or send out ways to try and detect others out there as we have here. The problem maybe that they may have tried and we can’t intercept them as it’s in a different form of communication that we can’t comprehend and they too believe they are alone, or there are simply no life in our nearby galaxies that can actually communicate such as bacterial, animal or other like insect’s or plant, and that intelligent life is indeed rare. There is no proof otherwise only speculation. Majority of the new planets that we have discovered can’t support life and there are billions maybe trillions there is no definite math to say how many planets are out there. Space is infinite who to say trillions of billions of light years away life is not running wild in some unknown galaxy we just don’t know or may never will. I don’t believe light speed travel is possible. If not could explain why we haven’t discovered no one yet, and if that’s the case we wont be able to colonize nearby stars as our nearby stars that we found or know of can’t support life. We would have to travel deep through space possibly to find the right make up to support life and i don’t think that’s possible. We wont be traveling through space like Star Trek that’s for sure. I also don’t believe God created everything here. I believe in science and evolution and things than believe there is a spirit that tied everything together or just us in general. If there is an intelligent life out there I’m sure they have their own gods of worship different to our own or their own comprehension to the matter, and if we meet them someday would we still think ours is the only one out there and get petty with it. If we find intelligent life someday in the future it will put a damper on our own religion, because god wont be the creator of all things. I’m sorry to put religion into it and that it had no relevance to the article, but i believe it to be true. Life is indeed rare and in fact if light travel/warp speed becomes possible, but i doubt it. Then we would be the Aliens to other worlds. I believe in time we will become the Aliens that we been dreaming up if light speed indeed becomes possible and if it does then where are the Aliens, because someone had top move out by then.

      Reply

  18. Banskie Says:

    I personally feel human intelligence is unique in the universe or at least the most advanced. If there were far more advanced lifeforms out there, they should have found us by now. People would say that the laws of physics would limit any technology from exploring the vastness of the universe. I would say, our understanding and mastery of science and technology is merely at its infancy. Our civilization is just several thousand years old, which is but a mere speck on a cosmic scale. Just several hundred years ago, the idea of airplanes would be beyond our comprehension. We have accomplished a lot in the last 400 years. Now, imagine what we can accomplish a million years from now. The laws of physics that we know today and our technology would be comparable to that of our ancestors during the stone age. So in my own conclusion, if there were intelligent lifeforms out there, there has to be some Kardashev type 4 civilizations out there who have truly mastered the cosmos. These type of civilizations would have unlimited computing power and can harvest star systems for energy and they should have found and destroyed us by now or enslaved us. But the fact that there is not any indication to suggest that they exist must probably hint that we are ahead of the game and it is our destiny to be the masters of this universe.

    Reply

  19. Mitchell Says:

    I go with advanced life destroys itself before it can advance to glactic travel. Species evolve to a point where they start to discover medicinal practices and develop life saving and life extending treeatments and medications. They invent their species equivalents of anitbacterial agents and antibiotics. While the intellegent life forms continue to advance and extend the use of the wonder drugs, manufacturing it by the boxcar full, the bateria slowly but surely interact with the closed environment of their home planet, and through exposure to all the drugs in the environment caused by the original host not absorbing all of the drugs and passing it as biological waste back into the environment, the bacteria continue to evolve to be resistant to the antibiotics. Eventually and always bacteria win the fight and flourish until they are the only organisms left. They cycle of life is not gone, it just gets bumped back a few billion or so years until an advanced life form can emerge from the soup once again.

    Reply

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