The Fermi Paradox
The story is that sometime in the early 1950s, four physicists were walking to lunch and discussing flying saucers. The place was Los Alamos, and the lunch group included Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Emil Konopinski, and Herbert York. None of them believed in flying saucers, of course, but – and this is just the way such conversations go – the discussion turned to the possibility of faster-than-light space travel and the probability of life cropping up elsewhere in the galaxy. Fermi had a hunch that life shouldn’t be all that rare – it should be common, really – and that there was at least a ten percent “miracle chance” that supraluminal travel should prove possible. This led him to raise an exasperated question that drew laughter from the others: “Where is everybody?”
Thus the Fermi paradox: in all this space, and all this time, there should be plenty of advanced alien civilizations – but we haven’t heard from any of them. How come?
The most conservative resolution of the paradox is to claim that the universe is in fact SO very big andSO very old that not only has intelligent life evolved all over the place, but the spaces and times separating them from one another are SO very vast that they can never be crossed. It would be like two children in Cuba and China releasing their balloons at the same time and expecting them to bump into each other.
But there are other possible and more tantalizing resolutions to the paradox. Maybe the aliens have checked us out already and decided to put us in galactic time-out; maybe they already walk among us; maybe tomorrow we will indeed make contact; maybe alien governments always decide to cut funding for alien NASA programs; maybe in fact we live in an alien-created virtual reality – and so on, down the long line of fantastic sci-fi literature. But I would like to focus on one resolution that, whether likely or not, raises in my mind some interesting philosophical questions. Maybe, by the time any civilization reaches the point at which they can reach out to other planets, they also have developed super-intelligent machines, and that is when all hell breaks lose.