April 27, 2007

How not to prepare for an alien invasion

This is the most ridiculous book I've seen in quite some time: An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion by Travis S. Taylor et al.

Book description
"This book describes a serious look at defending the planet in the event of an extra-terrestrial invasion. Travis Taylor, et al, have written the definitive book on the defense of earth against a potential alien incursion. Whatever your beliefs on the subject...the book also serves as an important primer on the potential future of warfare on every level. It is tightly grounded in current day realities of war and extrapolates thoughtfully but closely about future potentials. It should be on the reading list of anyone who is serious about national security and the future of war."
The authors believe that there is a "high probability" that one or two intelligent alien species visit Earth every century. They also reject Carl Sagan's famous assertion that advanced space-faring civs have by necessity (i.e. selectional processes) advanced beyond the need for war. "It's a wonderful idea that has no basis in reality," claims Taylor.

Consequently, they feel that the world, or more specifically "America," needs to be on the ready. They advocate asymmetric warfare to combat the extraterrestrials. The authors argue that the likely technological imbalance would force defending forces to adopt guerrilla-like tactics -- warfare along the lines of what is currently being experienced by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "[I]if we were attacked by aliens, this is our best defense," writes Taylor.

Post-Singularity warfare

There is so much wrong with all this that I don't know where to begin. Their line of argumentation seems to belong in the 20th century.

The idea of the United States defending the planet with guerrilla tactics reminds me of one of the most absurd films of all-time, Independence Day. In this movie, America experiences a supreme ass kicking until the alien invaders are thwarted by the Fresh Prince and his Apple Newton (remember those?).

Okay, time for a 21st century reality check. And let me put it this way: setting aside hand-waving dismissals of the Fermi Paradox (and that's a BIG caveat), if an advanced space-faring intelligence were to arrive at Earth with hostile intentions, their attack would be over before we could say, "E.T. phone home."

Specifically, I'm imagining a post-Singularity machine intelligence with access to artificial superintelligence, advanced robotics, genetically designed phages, and Drexlerian nanotechnology (if not femtotechnology). It would be like the Terminator and Matrix worlds on steroids. And that's if they want a planet to recover; the use of anti-matter weapons would make quick work of our planet should they want to destroy it. Alternately they could set the atmosphere aflame using grey-goo nano. Or how about robotic locust swarms, autonomous hunter-killers, and neurowarfare?

Moreover, malevolent ETIs wouldn't even need to visit the Earth -- they could send their forces by proxy in the form of Von Neumann probes, or what has also been dubbed berserker probes. These are self-replicating space-craft that could conceivably reproduce and travel across the Galaxy at an exponential rate. These devices could carry a number of nasty weapons with them for their attack.

As an aside, the theoretical prospect of berserkers poses a conundrum that's related to the Fermi Paradox. Any malevolent or misguided advanced intelligence could spawn a fleet of these probes to sterilize the Galaxy in fairly short order. That said, we clearly don't live in a sterile Galaxy as witnessed by our ongoing existence. We appear to live in a Galaxy that's devoid of berserkers for non-obvious reasons.

So, my advice on preparing for an alien invasion?

Simple: don't bother -- you won't even know what hit you.

22 comments:

n8o said...

I sense this is another to add to the book sheld beside 2004's hit: The Zombie Survival Guide

BoyintheMachine said...

So your advice is, 'Don't Bother'? Our chances may not be that good but they are still a whole lot better than a big fat zero should we just give up.

Without having read the book, I do agree with the notion of a 'guerrilla war-type responce'. The Celts used it quite effectively against the Roman invaders, only ultimately losing due to failure to integrate into a central culture vs. their tradition tribal way of life.

Will such a responce prove effective against an alien invasion? Well, it depends on their motivations for coming here.

-If they want to wipe us out completely, then such tactic will not be successful.

-If they view us as a resource to use as they deem fit, i.e. 'cattle of the gods', then such a plan can prove useful, whether they have magical posthumanoid technology or not. (If you think our rebelling against being cattle would force an alien race to wipe us out, you're mistaken. Such a 'if I can't have you, no one will', mentality seems unique to the human species. If we put up sufficient defences and cause just enough trouble to cause the invaders to doubt the worth of their endeavors, then we just might see our would-be-masters flee for a far more easier conquest.

(It's likely that some form of 'hive-mind' will be possessed by posthumans or posthumanoids. In this case, our best defense is the flagrant use of our own individuality, which in itself might be considered a form of 'guerilla thought' by an alien species.)

With regard to the problem of communication...an alien species might never be able to communicate with us. Most people just assume our minds will be compatable with an alien mind. Nor will it be so easy to construct a technological device to 'translate' human thought into a fashion compatable with an alien mind.

The only option available to an invading alien species is the construction of a hybrid-being, one able to both comprehend human thought and translate human thought.

Creating a Hybrid species loyal to the aliens would also allow the aliens to live on our planet, thus tending to the cattle.

However, such a plan can backfire. It's possible that any hybrid-being may rebel against it's alien heritage and side with humanity. Of course, this is a risk an alien species may decide to take.

The research of Budd Hopkins and Dr. David Jacobs seems a lot more reasonable in this light.

-Jason

Earth Defense Guild said...

All of your objections will be answered in full, in volume 2 of Planetary Defense.

We appreciate your assistance.

Derek C. F. Pegritz said...

"Why try?" indeed! One of the finest depictions of an "alien" invasion powered by post-Singular technology is Wil McCarthy's excellent Bloom, in which runaway nanotech (developed on earth) consumes the entire inner Solar System and a tiny handful of humans survive in the Jovian system just by dint of having mostly been there when the "mycora" were released.

The entire biosphere of earth was consumed in 40 minutes. The planet itself, in under a week. Then Venus, then Mars, then most of the Asteroid Belt....

The ONLY realistic alien invasion account I've ever read was Niven and Pournelle's Footfall. It's success relied mainly on the fact that the alien race had NOT experienced any form of accelerated evolution and travelled to our Solar System in little more than a bucket with a fusion drive strapped to the back. It made for a great, if not terribly realistic, novel.

Ryan said...

I agree completely with "don't bother" at this point.

Our best and only chance to withstand a real 'alien invasion' is to reach the singularity as soon as possible and have our own friendly superintelligence with access to nano technology and such.

Asymmetric warfare is ridiculous...it only works in human warfare because, for one, we have sympathy for our enemies. We wage war to change the forms and polices of other governments.

Presumably aliens would only attack us to prevent us from ever reaching post-singularity status and would have no interest in anything but our complete destruction.

Bob Mottram said...

Why even bother with all that nanotechnology when you could just redirect the orbit of a significantly sized asteroid so that it hits earth and does all that extermination work for you. After that, taking over is easy.

BoyintheMachine said...

"I agree completely with "don't bother" at this point.

Our best and only chance to withstand a real 'alien invasion' is to reach the singularity as soon as possible and have our own friendly superintelligence with access to nano technology and such."

We don't know what form the Singularity will arise as, nor can we know what form of Posthumans will be a result of such. Therefore, choosing to embrace the singularity as an option is not wise at this point.

It's possible that a posthumanoid alien species may attempt to force their form of singularity upon us, much in the same fashion as 'The Borg' of Star Trek fame, or of the forcing of Christianity upon natives by the white european conquerors.

An even more intruiging possibility is the speculation that a posthumanoid alien species went about singularity in a completely wrong fashion, thus they may have lost many of the qualities they previously held dear. (A hive-mind, for example, is most likely not conducive to emotional experiences, yet the hive-mind would retain the memories of such experiences. The result of such knowledge may produce 'mental anguish' on an unimaginable scale.) If such scenario is true, then a posthumanoid alien species may desire to use us a resource, in an attempt to right their past mistakes.

-Jason

BoyintheMachine said...

"Why even bother with all that nanotechnology when you could just redirect the orbit of a significantly sized asteroid so that it hits earth and does all that extermination work for you. After that, taking over is easy."

Sure...if your motivation is to exterminate most of the biosphere, and assuming you have the time to wait centuries to millenia in order for the planet to be inhabital again.

-Jason

Bob Mottram said...

It all depends upon your perception of time. Centuries and millennia to us may be just the tick of a clock to some alien or machine superintelligence.

Jim said...

Keeping humanity as glorified cattle? If we're just meat (a big if, since we're just as easily poisonous or nondigestable), we're not all that unique at that since other primates would likely do as well; therefore, humanity is expendable in that scenario. Neutralizing humanity (perhaps with a species-specific bioweapon) and opting for farming a less intelligent primate would be safer in the long run. Purely amoral cost-benefit reasoning there; no human notions of vengeance required.

BoyintheMachine said...

"Keeping humanity as glorified cattle? If we're just meat (a big if, since we're just as easily poisonous or nondigestable), we're not all that unique at that since other primates would likely do as well; therefore, humanity is expendable in that scenario. Neutralizing humanity (perhaps with a species-specific bioweapon) and opting for farming a less intelligent primate would be safer in the long run. Purely amoral cost-benefit reasoning there; no human notions of vengeance required."

Cattle are kept for more reasons than just 'meat'. An advanced race may 'milk' our species of several things, DNA, Emotions, if not our very bodies themselves. Or they could put us to work, a 'beast of burden' as you will.

Example:

If 'The Matrix' scenario is a reality, then it is far more likely that an advanced A.I. is milking our unconscious brainpower while lulling our conscious minds to sleep. (The notion of using humans as batteries seems absurd. Perhaps this is the very reason why we sleep/dream in the first place, i.e. workin' for the man.)

-Or-

What we may even percieve to be an alien invasion might not be that at all. We may possibly be invaded by Posthumans from the future, who achieved singularity in a wrong fashion and who are now seeking to correct their mistakes with the 'fresh' DNA of their primitive relatives.

The point is this: An alien race, including Posthumans from the future, is not going to invade us simply out of the desire to destroy our species. Nor will they destroy us to gain our planet. If we are destined to be invaded by an advanced race it is because they want US. We would be considered a resource, a commodity, and property. -Cattle.

-Jason

dagon said...

Evolution moves slowly and its results plateau at a certain level not depending how long evoluttion lasted - but how competetive the local biosphere is (pleistocene tigers evolved in australia are whimps when compared to velolciraptors evolved a 100 million years earlier on a supercontinent).

Yet a billion year of evolution is brushed casually aside by one simple adaptation - a brain. Individual humans lose against the mass of nature but humanity as a collective is a geological force.

And that's only after a fewthousand years of technological advancement.

Pretty soon we are going to make a quantum leap thats just as fundamental as growing a brain in the first place. We are gonna move from presingular intelligence to postsingular intelligence. That means that humans from the future are gonna be as powerful technologically and intellectually (and probably physically) as are dragons when compared to trilobites. Worse so.

Alien civilizations will have made leaps of progress we cannot conceive of. Assymetrical warfare against a human technological civilization a fewthousand years ahead of us is ludicrous and laughable. We wouldn't even see them and they'd be here and gone. And if they decide to push the button, we'd be dead, instantly.

There is only one use for the rhetoric of the article above; get the white trash simpletons (who can see us buzzing about in our X fighters, valiantly waging a struggle of resistance against might imperial star destroyers) to agree to moving to space.

Moving to space will mean a new industrial revolution, one that is gonna spark enormous wealth and progress. And in the next century our race of humans is sure gonna hurt bad if we don't have a lot more industrial capability. Billions are going to die if we don't clean up our act as a species.

Aliens invading? It would be like a farmer cleaning up weeds. No comparison.

Hoka-shay-honaqut said...

I don't know about the rest of yous, but I'm shining up my new tinfoil hat and stockpiling beer, batteries and powerbars.
:Eric

Anonymous said...

When it comes right down to it, there'd be no reason at all for a more advanced race to even bother invading the Earth. What do we have that they could possibly want, that they could not obtain more easily elsewhere, or simply manufacture themselves?

That said, if there were to be an attack by an hostile, posthuman civilization, we've had it. I doubt we'd even recognize the attack for what it was until it was far too late. A comparison to the Celts vs. the Roman Empire is no comparison at all; the technological gap that existed between those two civilizations is insignificant compared to what would be between ourselves and posthuman-equivalent aliens.

How could you fight a guerrilla war against an adversary who could, quite conceivably, saturate the atmosphere with a bioweapon that may simply make you psychochemically incapable of rebelling? Wasps do this to cockroaches here on Earth already...

Anonymous said...

Well lets see.. due to our failure to locate other intelligent lifeforms at or past our level of being... Then that also can be applied to the perspective that earths resorces are very rare and are a high value in the cosmos... If anything we wont even care... we can be just as evil as anything else out there... if i were an alien bent on beating the piss out of earth i would use an existance editor... so i can delete it all together ... And because we are such lazy bastards why wouldn't the aliens be as well. So just Sit back all comfy in your expansive recliner chair and watch as the last one trillionth of a second of your life fails to exist.

Positronium said...

If I was an attacking alien starship commander, I would just unfurl a large aluminum coated mylar mirror the diameter of the Earth and fry us with our own Sun's light. We would all cook like ants under a mean kid's magnifying glass and we would not even see it coming. That is about as hard as it would be to wipe us out. We humans could build a mirror like that with the technology we have now. That is just an example of what an attacker that is merely at our level of technology could do to us(aside from building the ship to actually get here). Defending a planet against an invading force attacking us from space is absurdly futile. Anyone with the imagination of a mean kid with a magnifying glass could defeat us if they had the high ground of space so it is even more absurd to assume we could fight advanced aliens even 10 years more advanced than us. The guys who wrote that book must have been smoking something pretty powerful, considering how many degrees they have.

Theo said...

What a load of bollocks: Did anyone bother to ask what a species that has the technology to cross many light years of space (and no, sunshines, it's not like in Star Wars) could possibly want from us, in the way of controlling us? Technology, raw materials and DNA resources and other similar things? Kind of like invading Iraq to steal their MP3 player industry (actually, that's about as good as the crap reason that was given).

About the only reason I can think of, for aliens to invade and NOT exterminate us, would be because they were relatively "humane" (pun, ha) and, while wanting to stop us threatening them in the future, also want to not just take the easy road and wipe us out.

If they actually did take steps to control us, it is fantastically pathetic to assume that we would even know it, given the level of knowledge and technology required to even get here.

Anonymous said...

There are actually two quite good depictions of what could happen if aliens would attack us: "Forge of God" by Greg Bear and "The killing star" by Zebrowski & Pellegrino.
Good reads both of them - especially after having suffered through "Independence day" or similar crap.

/ Backman

Anonymous said...

I suspect in the scope of our galaxy we are nothing that unique and they would just be stopping by due to their idol curiosity like we look at ants and such.

Sora_sei said...

Briten and spain wanted to exspand their taratory or lands to increase their welth and another reson is lets say their ar mutipole race or species in space all wanting to exspand their traratories an gain strategic and natral reasorces. very much like the politicul fild woth in our worold to day. And if you think about it ther socities could be in the trillyons or more and they need more sapace. Try looking at things fram a statigic point of vieu, and ask your self how would you get more power and resorces. like the pravbial war beetwwen old russha and the US.

jayessell said...

Cattle?
More like Bees.
We don't eat bees, we eat their honey.
The only thing of any value humans could
supply to advanced aliens is...

Music.
Comedy.
Drama.
Docudrama.
Dramadies.

And History.
(Be sure to label WWII as 'Non-Fiction'.)

The aliens would come, record the contents of every library, museum and internet server to their xpods and go.

OK... they'd subscribe, but remotely.

The scholars of dozens of worlds (assuming they still live on planetary surfaces!) will compare the works of Shakespeare to Zxrfgxx and say the differences are due to the humans having only two genders.

The psychohistorians will design a mathematical model for Earth and try to predict the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. (They'll be able to check the 19th and 20th right away.)
Hopefully there's no 'divide by zero' in the 21st.

Bill said...

The post about asymetric warfare not working becasue 'we have sympathy' is grossly incorrect. You need to READ what the insurgents are doing in the Stans and Iraq...hell all over over there. THAT is Asymetric warfare. They don't give a DAMN about us. They want us DEAD. PERIOD. And that type of warfare WORKS.
Now, will it work as posed in the book in question? Who knows. Conditions might favor it. Might not. To simply assume that there is no defense against such an attack right away, before it even happens is simply asinine. What if the Vietcong and NVA thought that way in 1945? The Mujahadeen in 1979? If you just want to give in and give up and never assume that there could be a possibility, well just take yourself out of the gene pool now.