Rodney Brooks

Robots, AI, and other stuff

A Fair Fight?

In all science fiction movies and TV shows when there are aliens and the humans have to fight them it turns out to be close to a fair fight.  Of course the humans always win in the end, but there is plenty of drama as the fight is balanced and there is room for the pendulum to swing back and forth.

But what if we met aliens for real, and what if for some stupid reason they or we wanted to fight each other instead of study each other and perhaps revel in the wonderful idea that two different life forms who could communicate with each other had somehow found each other in this very empty Solar System/Galaxy/Universe that we occupy?

Would it possibly be a fair fight?

The Universe is 13.8 billion years old, and our galaxy is almost as old at 13.2 billion years. But the Earth is relative newcomer at 4.6 billion years old–there are many planets in our galaxy much older than ours and many much younger. Life arose on Earth about 4.1 billion years ago.  Mostly it has been single cell life ever since–it would usually lose in a fight with blasters. Animals, weird ones, but recognizable as animals, showed up about around 500 or 600 million years ago, or about 96\% into the life of the Universe. Humans first appeared about 5 million years ago, or just in the last 1\% of the 4\% of the age of the Universe, or about the last 0.04\% of the history of time.  Humans only figured out how to organize into armies no more that 10,000 years ago, or the last 0.2\% of human history or 0.00008\% of the age of the Universe. And we only got anything like guns in the last 400 years, or the last 4\% of that so then the last 0.0000032\% of the age of the Universe.  And we won’t get blasters, according to most science fiction, for another 200 years.

So, if another species that arose somewhere else in our Galaxy, and who has interstellar travel, and shows up here on Earth, and turns out to be nasty and wants to fight us (oh, wait, maybe that is us who wants to do the fighting), what is the chance that they will be anywhere near to the 600 year period of our history of guns turning into blasters, and not way beyond? What is the chance that we and they will have anywhere close to the same technological level so that a fight even makes sense?  Does even one single scene in any movie or TV show about humans fighting aliens have even the slightest chance of being technologically plausible?

Or let’s put it another way.  The lion is the apex predator in Africa.  But when it comes to an encounter with an American dentist the lion always ends up dead, and the dentist walks away unscathed. Every time.

One comment on “A Fair Fight?”

  1. The author of the Three Body problem neatly equalized the stakes using two ideas but you’ll need to read the books to find out how 🙂

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