Fermi Forge

I recently reread Greg Bear’s SF novel The Forge of God, after coming across it in a book. It’s a novel about the destruction of the Earth. I may be too pessimistic, but I find it to be one of the most convincing explanations of the Fermi paradox.

Assuming our civilization doesn’t collapse, it’s going to become very easy for us to send machines across the whole galaxy in a time which is small compared to the lifetime of the universe. It’s going to be so easy that it will inevitably be done by some person, somewhere. The chances that we are the only intelligent life in the galaxy seem to be me to be, literally, astronomically low. So: where are the machines created by other intelligent life?

Bear’s book gives one answer, essentially an update of Saberhagen’s Berserkers: there are machines out there which destroy worlds. The book describes the Earth as a lamb calling out into a dark night, unaware of the wolves closing in. I hope that’s not the universe we live in, but I can’t think of a likelier explanation. I can think of many other possible explanations, I just can’t think of a likelier one.

This is not, of course, refuted by the ongoing failure of SETI. It’s clear that we will soon stop broadcasting radio ourselves. After a hundred years it won’t make any sense to even set up a beacon. So it seems to me that SETI is based on a false premise conditioned by our current technology. It’s still worth spending some time on, of course, just in case.

In the meantime, I hope that our civilization stays out of the Malthusian trap long enough to find out where everybody else is, or whether we truly are alone.

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