Alarming news from deep space, where a Nasa error meant communications were briefly lost with Voyager 2. Launched in 1977, the probe has been trundling away from Earth at nine miles a second for nearly 45 years.
Today it is 12.3 billion miles away, freed from the Sun’s particles and magnetic fields. Even in the interstellar void, it is evidently still at risk of human incompetence. You wonder what we are gaining with these extra-terrestrial displays of uselessness.
Stephen Hawking long worried that we were making a mistake in announcing our presence to all and sundry like this, as we would appear to alien powers no more sophisticated than “bacteria” do to us.
An alien spacecraft encountering a Voyager will find a junk-shop assemblage that might have been built on Blue Peter, rather than terrifying proof of a nascent galactic civilisation.
A more sinister proposition lurks in The Three-Body Problem, the brilliant and bestselling science-fiction trilogy by Cixin Liu, the Chinese author.
Alien-hunters have long been perplexed by The Fermi Paradox, which asks why, if aliens are so clever, we haven’t met them yet.
Cixin presents a solution, the “dark forest theory”, first proposed by David Brin in 1983. This suggests that any advanced civilisation would eventually present a threat, so it’s logical for a more advanced civilisation to destroy it as soon as possible.
In this universe, the only societies that endured would be those that kept shtum. The books are being adapted by the producers behind Game of Thrones. Even more people will be aware of the books’ dark premise: that if we don’t stop mucking around in space, something much worse than winter will be coming.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that any obscure powers lurking out there are studying broadcasts from the dawn of radio until now. They would see Woodrow Wilson and JFK give way to Donald Trump, Churchill and Atlee to Boris Johnson. A civilisation that walked on the Moon and had supersonic airliners now squabbles online over whether Barbie is feminist and which loos people ought to use.
These watchers of our skies would conclude that, rather than advancing towards galaxy-ruling technology of our own, we are going backwards.
Who would bother to destroy a civilisation that is doing a perfectly good job of destroying itself? We thought it would be our ingenuity that would save us, but our stupidity may prove more valuable.
What do you predict for the future of our civilisation? Tell us in the comments below.
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