We have yet to find any traces of extraterrestrial intelligence, a vexing problem known as the Fermi Paradox. A new solution to the “where are all the aliens?” conundrum suggests that advanced aliens do exist—but they’re in a self-imposed state of hibernation, waiting for a future era of the cosmos in which they can flourish to the greatest extent possible. How very convenient. The Universe as we observe it today is not as it was billions of years ago, nor does it appear as it will billions of years from now. New research accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggests that conditions in our current Universe are far too warm for a digital, computer-based civilization, and that it makes sense for such beings to enter into a state of aestivation—hibernation, but in response to excess heat—until the cosmos is much colder in the far, far future. At that stage, with stellar objects dispersed across an enlarged Universe, information processing can occur with far greater speed and efficiency, enabling an advanced civilization to achieve more than what’s possible under current cosmological conditions. But back up a sec: digital aliens? Indeed, an increasing number of futurists, astrobiologists, and SETI experts are starting to think that advanced intelligence eventually transitions into a digital mode of existence. Living as digital beings within powerful supercomputers, post-biological aliens (or future posthumans) will demand unhindered access to powerful and efficient means of information processing—a hypothetical mode of existence known as “dataism.” But as Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Ćirković argue in their new JBIS paper, there’s a cost to information processing, particularly when the computer performing those calculations is temperature dependent. As computer scientists and information physicists know, the potential for information processing increases as temperature decreases (energy is required to cool a blazingly fast computer, after all). So rather than squander energy and resources in the current era, Sandberg and company believe it makes more sense for an advanced, computer-based civilization to aestivate and wait until the Universe is much colder than it is today. The current background radiation of the Universe is roughly three degrees Kelvin above absolute zero. That may seem like a trivial amount of “warmth” to you and me, but to a computer-based civilization, it could represent an intolerable amount of heat. Trillions of years from now, when the background radiation will be reduced to practically nothing, thanks to the expansion of the universe and extinguishment of most stars, information processing will be able to proceed at a rate 1030 greater than what’s achievable today, the researchers calculate.
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