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Don’t get soft on aliens

Has Stephen Hawking been rewatching his box set of the Alien movies, asks Leo Hickman

india Updated: Apr 27, 2010 23:33 IST

It would appear so, as his opinion of whether we should make contact with any alien life forms we discover in the future has suddenly hardened. According to a new documentary series he has made for the Discovery Channel: “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans.”

Hawking believes we would be well-advised to keep the volume down on our intergalactic chatter and do all we can to prevent any ‘nomadic’ aliens moseying our way to take a look-see. Should they find us here tucked away in the inner reaches of the solar system, chances are they’d zap us all and pillage any resources they could get their hands on. Our own history, says Hawking, proves that first encounters very rarely begin: “Do take a seat. I'll pop the kettle on. Milk? Sugar?”

“Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach,” says the theoretical physicist in Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

Any alien who manages to reach Earth is, by definition, going to be far more advanced than us. Contrary to the claims of our own alien abductees, Hawking thinks it unlikely aliens will come all this way just to prod and poke us, take some samples, and pop back home.

It’s all well and good Hawking warning us now, but couldn’t he have told us to be more careful a few decades ago? After all, we’ve been pumping out our musings for all to see and hear since the very first radio telecommunications were broadcast a century ago. Any alien with their antennae pointed in our direction would already have quite a good sense of our intellectual capabilities. All they need do is take their pick from any of our cultural offerings being broadcast into the ether.

I’m with Stephen Hawking on this one. Even if we were to show to them we can calculate pi to a billion decimal places, aliens are bound to be trigger-happy when they meet us for the first time. And given our past form, who would blame them?

First Published: Apr 27, 2010 23:22 IST