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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > Dec > Dec 23

The Fermi Death Sentence

From: Terry Groff <terrygroff.nul>
Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2007 13:43:09 -0600
Archived: Sun, 23 Dec 2007 20:12:34 -0500
Subject: The Fermi Death Sentence

Source: Nonotechnology Now


December 21st, 2007

The Fermi Death Sentence
Mike Treder

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology


Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Fermi Paradox is what
it suggests for the future of our human civilization. Namely,
that we have no future beyond earthly confinement and, quite
possibly, extinction. Could advanced nanotechnology play a role
in preventing that extinction? Or, more darkly, is it destined to
be instrumental in carrying out humanity's unavoidable death


Most readers of this column probably are familiar with the Fermi
Paradox. In 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi famously wondered,
"Where is everybody?" He was referring to the strange silence in
the universe, the apparent lack of any advanced civilizations
beyond Earth.

Fermi reasoned that the size and age of the universe would
indicate that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial
civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis is
inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support

So, where is everybody? Nowhere, it seems, or at least nowhere
that we can detect.

Many explanations have been offered for this conundrum, with none
coming even close to finding consensus. Physicists, astronomers,
and philosophers are as far from answering the question today as
when Fermi first posed it.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Fermi Paradox is what
it suggests for the future of our human civilization. Namely,
that we have no future beyond earthly confinement and, quite
possibly, extinction.

But why should that be? Don't we have a potentially limitless
future, with a solar system and eventually a galaxy waiting to be
explored and settled?

It would seem so, and yet, the available evidence may suggest

If there are no other advanced civilizations detectable, it must
mean one of three things:

1. We are the first intelligent beings capable of expanding
into the cosmos and making our presence known. There have been no

2. There have been others before us, but all of them, without
exception, have chosen - or somehow been forced - to expand in
such a way that they are presently undetectable by our most
sophisticated instruments.

3. There have been others, but all of them, without exception,
have run into a cosmic roadblock that either destroys them or
prevents their expansion beyond a small radius.

The first proposition, that we humans are unique and special,
appears quite absurd. It contradicts all that we have discovered
during the last 500 years about the true nature of the universe
and our place in it. We're not special: the Earth is not at the
center of our solar system, the solar system is not at the center
of our galaxy, and our galaxy is not at any special position in
the universe. Our placement in space and time seems to be random
and unremarkable.

Moreover, we humans, along with every other form of life, have
evolved to our present state in accordance with natural
selection. There's nothing special about us.

Why, then, would it even be conceivable that earthlings are
destined to be the very first species to make a noticeable mark
on the universe?

If we reject proposition 1, then we must choose between
propositions 2 and 3.

There is a crucial distinction between the second and third
propositions. The former relies on choice, while the latter
implies restriction by some force or law of the universe.

It seems strange to imagine, as suggested by proposition 2, that
all extraterrestrial civilizations would, without exception,
choose to expand or exist in such a way that they are completely
undetectable to us. If proposition 2 is correct, it requires
every one of potentially hundreds, thousands, or even millions
of advanced worlds to make the exact same decision. We might
expect some to do so, perhaps even most, but all? That defies

So we are left with the third answer. Whatever civilizations have
come before us have been unable to surpass the cosmic roadblock.
They are either destroyed or limited in such a way that
absolutely precludes their expansion into the visible universe.
If that is indeed the case - and it would seem to be the most
logical explanation for Fermi's Paradox - then there is some
immutable law that we too must expect to encounter at some point.
We are, effectively, sentenced to death or, at best, life in the
prison of a near-space bubble.

How might this sentence be carried out? Is it possible that
nanotechnology could play a role, either in bringing about our
extinction or possibly preventing it?

At the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, we take seriously
the danger that atomically-precise exponential manufacturing
could enable such concentrations of unprecedented power as to
result in either terminal warfare or permanent enslavement of the
human race. Of course, that sounds terribly apocalyptic, but it
is worth considering that the warnings we heard at the start of
the nuclear arms race, and the very real risks we faced in the
height of the Cold War, were but precursors to a much greater
threat posed by an arms race involving nano-built weaponry and
its accompanying tools of surveillance and control.

Could that be the pre-determined limiting factor that dooms all
advanced civilizations? Or is it something else? In any case,
we'd do well to carefully investigate the potential power of
nanotech weapons systems and the destabilizing impacts they might
have before they are actually produced. Otherwise, we may run the
risk of pronouncing our own Fermi Death Sentence.

Listen to 'Strange Days... Indeed' - The PodCast



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