back to article Hawking: Aliens are out there, likely to be Bad News

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has repeated his long-held belief that intelligent aliens are likely to exist, and that a visit by them to present-day humanity would probably have unfortunate consequences for us. Publicising a new documentary he has made for the Discovery Channel, the legendary boffin told the Times at the …


This topic is closed for new posts.


  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Keep broadcasting!

    I for one welcome our new reptilian overlords. Tosev 3 will be safer in their (slightly colder and scalier) hands.

    1. Anton Ivanov

      Are you located somewhere in the middle east?

      I would not be so sure for this if I was German ya know... Getting my arse nuked out of existence by our new reptilian overlords is not a good way to end. Not that the French or Japanese fared much better in the book.

      Also, they took of to come to Tosev 3 (Earth in reptilian speak in the WW2/Colonisation series by Harry Turtledove) when they thought that all they were going to meet will be the mighty warrior of Tosev 3 - a knight from the crusades. They might come considerably better prepared if they hear a radio first. In fact they may not come at all. A couple of comet cores accelerated to fraction of C velocities aimed straight at Earth may come instead.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Prepared or not prepared

        Stock up on ginger, I'd say...

  2. Ian Stephenson

    I for one...

    welcome our OCP overlords.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Why is Hawking pontificating on Aliens?

    Is off base and his ideas are rather childish. Has his quest to find the ket of the Universe run aground?

    Let's hear Charles Stross on the question. He's infinitely better at this:

    >>They order, and Gregor waits for the waiter to depart before he continues. “Suppose there’s an alien race out there. More than one. You know about the multiple copies of Earth. The uninhabited ones. We’ve been here before. Now let’s see…suppose the aliens aren’t like us. Some of them are recognizable, tribal primates who use tools made out of metal, sea-dwelling ensemble entities who communicate by ultrasound. But others–most of them–are social insects who use amazingly advanced biological engineering to grow what they need. There’s some evidence that they’ve colonized some of the empty Earths. They’re aggressive and territorial and they’re so different that…well, for one thing we think they don’t actually have conscious minds except when they need them. They control their own genetic code and build living organisms tailored to whatever tasks they want carrying out. There’s no evidence that they want to talk to us, and some evidence that they may have emptied some of those empty Earths of their human population. And because of their, um, decentralized ecosystem and biological engineering, conventional policy solutions won’t work. The military ones, I mean.”

    Gregor watches Sagan’s face intently as he describes the scenario. There is a slight cooling of the exobiologist’s cheeks as his peripheral arteries contract with shock: his pupils dilate and his respiration rate increases. Sour pheromones begin to diffuse from his sweat ducts and organs in Gregor’s nasal sinuses respond to them.

    “You’re kidding?” Sagan half-asks. He sounds disappointed about something.

    “I wish I was.” Gregor generates a faint smile and exhales breath laden with oxytocin and other peptide messengers fine-tuned to human metabolism. In the kitchen, the temporary chef who is standing in for the regular one–off sick, due to a bout of food poisoning–will be preparing Sagan’s dish. Humans are creatures of habit: once his meal arrives the astronomer will eat it, taking solace in good food. (Such a shame about the chef.) “They’re not like us. SETI assumes that NHIs are conscious and welcome communication with humans and, in fact, that humans aren’t atypical. But let’s suppose that humans are atypical. The human species has only been around for about a third of a million years, and has only been making metal tools and building settlements for ten thousand. What if the default for sapient species is measured in the millions of years? And they develop strong defense mechanisms to prevent other species moving into their territory?”

    “That’s incredibly depressing,” Sagan admits after a minute’s contemplation. “I’m not sure I believe it without seeing some more evidence. That’s why we wanted to use the Arecibo dish to send a message, you know. The other disks are far enough away that we’re safe, whatever they send back: they can’t possibly throw missiles at us, not with a surface escape velocity of twenty thousand miles per second, and if they send unpleasant messages we can stick our fingers in our ears.”

    1. Marvin the Martian

      "infinitely better"

      seems to be mostly in the eye of the beholder.

      But maybe if your mind is a vastly large and subtle as Hawking, the difference between trivially obvious and scientifically advanced can be difficult to spot, and here we ended up in the first half...

  4. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Nasty FSM's

    I don't really see why an alien race, even one which has used up its resources, would single us out amongst the billions of others which could be more suitable for harvesting. If they are roaming the universe scooping up resources they'll probably get here eventually anyway, SETI or not.

    1. Blofeld's Cat

      Why single us out?

      >I don't really see why an alien race, even one which has used up its resources, would single us out amongst the billions of others which could be more suitable for harvesting.

      But free-range humans are so much more tasty than the frozen, battery-farmed ones you get in supermarkets. It's always well worth travelling the extra thousand or so zels and picking your own.

    2. Misoriented

      They have telescopes, right?

      Plus, us sending signals out doesn't make us any more noticeable. I'm sure they can see us. Hell, we'll be able to find Earth-like planets in the next few decades and we're so primitive that we invented digital watches only 40 years ago. It doesn't take a rocket scientist. Er, well you know what I mean.

      They can see what chemicals Earth (and the rest of the Sol system) is made of, they can see some of them are sentient-made, so they know if we have any resources they want. If they're looking for places to harvest, they've either not noticed us, which seems unlikely, or there's other places more attractive and as Jason Bloomberg said, they'll get here eventually.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Can I be the first to say

    Can I be the first to say I welcome our alien overlords....

    1. DaveyDaveDave


      You can be third :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        welcoming bunch

        Good to see us Humans are such a welcoming bunch though.

    2. Matthew Anderson


      You can be the third to say it, and no doubt more to come. It's starting to be the ell reg equiv of spamming the boards or being first to comment. Why don't you just write, "I'm a retard" and be done with it?

  6. Tom Cooke

    Bird singing on a branch

    Greg Bear's "Forge of God" and "Anvil of Stars" go into considerable detail about the strategies required to survive in a universe populated by many races with variable intentions - worth a read.

  7. Andrew 13
    Thumb Down

    Stick to the knitting

    Physicists should do physics. Speculating on the sociology of space civilisations is not their forte. I am put in mind of Penrose's stab at explaining why artificial consciousness could not exist (a computer cannot answer the question "how do you feel"). Hawking also made the bold statement that if we could find the grand unified theory we would "truly know the mind of god". Try defending that argument in an undergraduate level philosophy course. If this theory was the only justification for the spending money on NASA, I'd pull the plug.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Is that some kind of free-association drivel?

      The "Truly known the mind of God" statement he made was a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun - but then you seem a bit sour to know that concept. And I think your final statement meant to say SETI, not the unrelated NASA, but I doubt you actually think about what you say...

  8. Pete 43

    Well we've dropped the "pizza" leaflet throught the door...

    Indian or Chinese tonight? BOGOF (collection only)

  9. Filippo Silver badge

    active seti

    I don't think anything we can do to "attract attention" matters much in terms of our security. Advanced aliens are likely to use self-replicating probes to explore space. With that method, you don't need to know there's something interesting on the third planet of that specific yellow star, because you're exploring each and every solar system anyway.

    IOW, if hostile advanced aliens exist, we're screwed, even if they don't know we're here. They'll find us eventually, and even if we get to their same level of technology, they'll be backed by the resources of thousands of planets and therefore be unbeatable.

    Our only chance is that either the intergalactic empire is good, or that we're the first intelligent species to develop and therefore *we* get to be the evil intergalactic empire.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The key to winning the war is developing jump 3 drives so we can jump 3 hexes to their 2 and devestate their rigid caste based society!

      1. Alex 79

        Solomani rule

        Aliens probably never played Traveller - we Solomani were always the nastier of the humanoid races. Built a Black Globe generator and envelop the planet in a shield.

  10. Sven


    What if we just arm every flying object in space now with a couple nukes, go to the moon and mars and but some defenses out there too ... and wait. Once the aliens come into our solar system we'll hijack them, take there ships and use it against them (maybe uploading a mac virus or something).

    We would the "bad part of the neighbourhood" of the milkyway.

    I wouldn't mind seeing more money flowing into the space industry, not just for robotics but getting humans up there (incl the moon and mars).

    Terminator: we could build T800 to do the killing for us?

    1. The BigYin

      There is no defence

      If there is alien life...

      If that life is intelligent...

      If that life has technology of any kind...

      Then, considering cosmic time-scales, it will either be too primitive to get here...

      Or so mind-boggingly advanced that it could get here and we not know one damn about it...

      And if it got here with malice, then there'd probably be feck all we could do about it.

      "Ah puny human, a nuclear bomb. How quaint. I'll see your nuclear arsenal and raise you that moon. Yes, the one now dropping towards you. Toodles!"

  11. envmod

    already happening

    already happened, they're already here, we've already got the technology to defend ourselves (plus sort out all the world's problems to boot), we already know (most of) their intentions.

    we just need to hear all that from one country. unfortuately it has to be the USA as if any other country "admitted" the alien situation it would likely not be taken at all seriously. even the UK or Western Europe generally - imagine if France suddenly said "OK, we know all about aliens and have proof they exist" - no one would give a shit. If America said exactly the same thing, the world would change overnight (possibly for the worse).

    never going to happen though anyway...

    1. Daniel Garcia 2


      /pointing at tinfoil hatter


  12. Chemist

    I can only quote Douglas Adams

    "Space is big. REALLY big...."

    The actual quote in full is ""Space,is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space"

    I suppose some would call it "Security by obscurity" - I just think it's a dickens of a long time to anywhere.

    Also : "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea"

    1. IanPotter

      RE: I can only quote Douglas Adams

      Might as well get the most relevant quote in:


      It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in it. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

      1. smudge

        but DNA got it wrong

        Much as I love the Hitchhiker's Guide, this one is wrong.

        If there are an infinite number of worlds, and some of them are uninhabited, there are still an infinite number of inhabited worlds. Just a "smaller" infinity, that's all :-).

        1. Mr Grumblefish

          No doubt

          yours is the one with "I trust the Guide" emblazoned across the back in large friendly letters.

      2. Chemist
        Thumb Up


        Spot on !

      3. Jean-Luc

        Uh... no.

        Just because there is an infinite amount of space does not imply an infinite amount of worlds. The universe is expanding which implies that it is moving into areas that are hitherto empty. Not that there are infinite worlds. The actual numbers may make my pedantry irrelevant though ;-)

  13. Graham Bartlett

    One question?

    What's Earth got that's valuable enough to them? To put it another way, what do we have on Earth that's worth a bunch of aliens going down the gravity well, fighting it out with human defenders, and hoisting themselves and their stash back up the gravity well again?

    We're certainly rich in water, but if you're out in space anyway and you're tatting around in the solar system, you've already flown through the Oort cloud and Kuiper belt with uncountably many "dirty-water" asteroids and comets. Metals? Oort cloud again, or there's a perfectly good asteroid belt before you get to us, and Mars has plenty of resources too with less gravity. Hydrogen or hydrocarbons? Easier to send scoops down into the upper atmosphere of any of the gas giants. Sulphur? Venus. Iron? Mars again. The only thing really special about Earth is artificially-created elements like plutonium, and I suspect pretty much any government would be happy to *give* the stuff to them, in as large quantities as they like. But for that matter, if you're advanced enough to run a starship then you've figured out nuclear fission already, so mining/refining/reacting uranium yourself is a trivial exercise.

    1. Ottoman

      "What's Earth got that's valuable enough to them?"

      Meat. Lot's of meat.

      1. Anonymous John

        Or cheap labour

        I wouldn't mind washing dishes on a luxury interstellar cruise ship for a couple of years.

    2. lglethal Silver badge

      I would say...

      ... its more about being able ot freely strip the more abundant planets without the annoyance of pesky humans.

      If aliens came and started strip mining the other planets, im sure the inhabitants of Earth would take it upon ourselves to defend our solar system (we'll need those resources for when we start strip mining whole planets!). Therefore, whilst it might take a few years of development, we would eventually become a pest. Much simpler, to just wipe out makind from the start in one quick attack, and then strip mine until your hearts content...

      1. The Fuzzy Wotnot
        Thumb Up


        So what are Cameron, Brown and Clegg going to do about it eh?! Oh yes, bang on about the NHS, privacy concerns and proportional representation, won't do you much good when a slimy skinned, yet beautiful and slightly soft-focused alien ( thinking 80's V here! ) is about to chow down on your soft squidgy bits!!

    3. Volker Hett

      You're right

      we're not interested in your technology, your minerals, metals and stuff, but we're looking after proteins and such. So if you could stop smoking, don't drink alcohol and take up a healthier diet this would be largely appreciated.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Re: One question?

      This is a very good response, and I feel that Hawking's imagination is too severely constrained by the usual human impulses and motivations: people/aliens would only ever justify going anywhere to "conquer" or for "resources". If intelligent extraterrestrials have managed to engineer something to let them (or their descendants) travel across interstellar space, either they've done so at a stretch and may not have any capacity to do much more than crash into the Earth, or the whole project required such resources and knowledge that in making a voyage (or by merely preparing for it), they are in a technological state that means that they hardly need to pop down, elbowing Exxon Mobil out of the way, in order to suck out the last drops of Earth's oil, all because "the aliens are running out of gas".

      The only kind of extraterrestrials that would come along to mess around with humankind are some breed or other of space perverts. All the others would probably see no merit in interfering.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      What's Earth got that's valuable enough to them?

      That's fucking obvious. Paris Hilton AND Britney Spears!

  14. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Rather depends on how many arrive

    The thing about the european colonisation o f N. America is that there were bloody millions of them who turned up. Not just a Mayflower-full. If our first contact with aliens results in them phoning home and saying "Hey, look what we've found ... come on over and bring your friends" then we may well be the subject of an invasion. Although if the indians had had nuclear weapons, the story might have been different.

    On the other hand, if we come across a single individual, or a spaceship that has taken hundreds of years to get here then the balance of power could well be tipped in our favour. Simply by strength of numbers (readers of Footfall will be familiar with this situation) as the aliens couldn't be everywhere, all the time.

    Personally, I think if aliens did come here, they'd either not notice us, or would react the way we do to an ant-hill when out walking: something to be ignored and avoided, unless it becomes a nuisance.

    1. DrunkenMessiah


      Because no-one's ever pissed on an ant hill just because they thought it would be funny...!

  15. Smallbrainfield

    Even if they did reach Sol...

    ...the rest of the solar system has massive resources that would be far easier to gather for a spacefaring species than what Earth has to offer. Comets, asteroids, gas giants are full of stuff you might want for your journey. Unless they wanted some trees or something to brighten up the place, why would they bother with us? More likely we would attack them for nicking our stuff.

    I'm sorry, but bright as Steven Hawking is, duh. Stick to physics, Steve.;

    1. Liam Johnson

      no titlerequired

      I will reply to this post at random - but there are a hell of a lot of posts here with the same sentiment :

      "bright as Steven Hawking is, duh. Stick to physics, Steve:" and they all have one thing in common:- written by a load of numpties who think science fiction books are somehow the best the human race can offer.

      Read what he said for gods sake. They might, just want resources, they might just want a little holiday in the galactic outbacks, but how the f*ck to you know what they want? Please explain to me how you know they want asteroids or commets or gas giants or anything else out in the oort cloud or just floating around in space.

      They are aliens! Your "smallbrain" cannot know what they want.

      They might just want to build a luxury holidy resort, but they need to send the pest control in first.

      All Hawking is saying is they we cannot know what they want, so lets just keep our heads down until we get a better idea. If you do fancy calling all an sundry over for dinner, could you please find another planet to do it from?

  16. M7S

    "I really dont think they flew 90 billion lights years just to pick a fight"

    Not long to July 4th

  17. ShaggyDoggy

    "They're made out of meat." "Meat? ...

    Brilliant short stiory by Terry Bisson

  18. james 68


    he just doesnt want them to recognise him for what he is -

    a dalek minus the outer cover that can only repeat 3 sentences over and over and....

  19. Scott Broukell

    Well ...

    we all get along just fine with each other down here on Earth don't we, what could possibly go wrong bumping into some space peeps ? Intelligent life my arse. Survival of the fittest maybe, but that's another matter. Survival by means of smelling the coffee and being rational, noooo, not going to happen. Survival of some itty bitty remnants left behind by humins for something / body to find in the distant future and mull over, that's more like it. The potential for other sentient beings to exist in the universe cannot be denied, but co-existing within communicable time / distance, no, I don't think so. Let's get back to putting our heads in the sand until the party is really over then.

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch

      survival of the fittest?

      What the hell does that mean? Fittest for what, exaclty? To survive?

  20. AndrueC Silver badge

    Also worth reading..

    ..Vernor Vinge:"A Fire Upon the Deep". It does a very good job of conveying just how vast our galaxy is and how isolated we might be. Anyone worried about the consequences of alien contact might get some comfort from that :)

    You should also read "A Deepness in the Sky" because it's a sort of prequel and, frankly, a bloody good book.

    But back to the article - I think he makes a valid point. I think visiting aliens will only do one of two things:

    * Avoid contact but perhaps leave some kind of probe/alarm system behind that can detect if/when we ever grow up enough to be worth talking to.

    * As Prof. Hawkins says - they'll take what they want and we'll be lucky if we survive.

    If we were friendly and rational then a third option would be to open dialogue and maybe send a small population down to co-habit. Unfortunately no-one is going to want to co-habit with us for the foreseeable future. We can't even live with ourselves at the moment - stupid sods that we are.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      "We can't even live with ourselves at the moment - stupid sods that we are."

      You and your stupid snoring!

  21. Random Noise


    Might not be so bad... Maybe after a few hundred years they will let us run our own casinos. Before you know it we'll be swimming in gold pressed latinum.


This topic is closed for new posts.