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The Fermi Paradox

There is a well-known argument against this scenario, codified as the “Fermi paradox.” Despite the fact that there has been more than enough time for a thorough colonization of the galaxy, we do not see obvious evidence of alien presence nearby. This might suggest that the starfields of the Milky Way have never been pioneered by intelligent entities, either machine-like or metabolic, and humans may be the smartest things in the galaxy. In other words, the extraterrestrials are not here, and therefore not there. But many suggestions for reconciling the Fermi paradox have been offered, including several that would allow for widespread dispersal of intelligence. For example, the “colonizers” might be cryptic. This idea may be particularly applicable to machines, entities that could consist of individual, massive synthetic intelligences, and not the hordes of little gray guys that are so often portrayed as our galactic brethren. Another possibility is that our part of the galaxy is relatively poor in both material and energy resources, and consequently only infrequently traversed. In any case, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

The point is this: even though the evolution of intelligence may be rare, its presence in the galaxy may not be. Intelligent biology, once it reaches a level of technological sophistication comparable to our own, will be able to disperse throughout nearby space. This will protect it from extinction, either self-imposed or external, and give it enough time to engineer intelligent progeny. These sentient machines could both spread out and greatly outlive their biological creators. The galaxy could be rife with long-lived, communicating devices, even if intelligent protoplasm is both rare and fleeting.

In this way, even if Professor DeVore is correct about nature’s indifference to producing intelligence, SETI might still succeed.

Contributed by: Dr. Seth Shostak

Cosmic Questions

Are We Alone? Topic Index
The Outlook for Cosmic Company

The Fermi Paradox

A Rare Intelligence?
The Possibilities of a Signal
The Drake Equation
Human Dispersion
Living Machines
Doing the Experiment


Seth Shostak

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Are We Alone?
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