It’s the oh-so-familiar plot of so many science fiction movies – contact with an alien race results in war that decimates humanity.
But is it such a far-fetched fantasy?
Renowned physicist, science advocate and media figure Stephen Hawking doesn’t seem to think so. In comments made in his latest online film, Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places, the theoretical physicist cautions against beaming our location to the stars in the hopes of being noticed by an alien race.
In the film, Hawking, a longtime sufferer of debilitating motor neurone disease, takes viewers on a journey through time and space on the fictional SS Hawking starship.
Narrating in his distinctive, computer-assisted voice he issues a dire warning for humanity. Hawking likens potential contact with aliens as similar to the Native Americans being confronted with Columbus’ expedition – a meeting which “didn’t turn out so well”, to say the least.
Hawking, famous for his major contributions to bringing dense, theoretical science to the general public – most notable in his watershed work, A Brief History Of Time – has previously harshly condemned efforts to beam signals into outer space in the hopes of drawing attention to our cosmic neighbourhood.
Indeed, while launching the Breakthrough Listen project, which searches nearby stars for indications that life may be flourishing somewhere out there, Hawking warned that any civilisation able to detect signals we emit – whether as radio, light, or physical probes – may be more than a billion years ahead of us in technology.
If so, he suggests, such advanced species would have no reason to view us with any more esteem than we view a colony of bacteria.
Stephen Hawking’s Favourite Places begins with the Big Bang, and follows Hawking as he traverses vast interstellar distances between five “significant locations” across the cosmos. Travelling from Saggitarius A to Saturn, to Gilese 832c, Hawking explains his theory of matter, and why he’s convinced we’re not alone in the universe. He then returns to Earth, and recounts time spent in California with his family early on in his career. The film, which runs for 25 minutes, is currently hosted on CuriosityStream.
Hawking is adamant that, despite all its wonder, we are better off not disturbing the universe.
“One day we might receive a signal from a planet like Gliese 832c, but we should be wary of answering back.”