the Andrew Bailey

Never Say Never (Unless Its Really Never)

In doing research for my podcast, I came across two very different articles. And although I don't run a link blog like my good friend, I think this warrants my viewpoint. Both were well thought out (I think), and they dealt with things that would "never" happen. Both got me thinking a bit.

The first one was "What If We Never Run Out of Oil?" It explains how as oil technology progresses, oil reserves increase. That is, as technology advances to make previously inaccessible oil deposits accessible and economically viable to reach, there is suddenly more oil in the ground.

It gives an example of the Kern River oil field. In 1950 or so, after 50 years of drilling, there was about 50 million barrels of oil left. By 2009, that figure had jumped to about 600 million barrels... after producing 2 billion barrels in the intervening 60 years. Either someone miscounted, or oil extraction technology improved.

The article mentions stuff that's been going on for some time with fracking. This is a somewhat dangerous technique that forces pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to break up fuel-bearing rocks. This has led to an economic boom in Pittsburgh and other cities nearby and in Texas. Sometimes it leads to a rather cool, but unwanted and toxic, effect of lighting tap water on fire.

This leads to what's going on now with methane hydrates in ocean sediment. It seems that Japan is leading the way; it makes sense that they would be interested in this, since they are surrounded by ocean and have no oil. Again, advancement in technology has allowed this to potentially be new oil.

The switch to "unconventional oil" (as the article calls it) also has political implications. With no one buying oil (or at least, less of it), there might be a path of political instability around the world, from Venezuela, through the Middle East, to central Asia. These oil producing countries often have dictators whose regimes are supported by oil exports. And when the money for the government runs out, there may be revolutions.

The other article is titled "Why We'll Never Meet Aliens." This article asserts that because technology advances along all fronts at the same time, by the time that a civilization develops the technology to go to another star, the majority of reasons for doing so would have been solved by then.

It seems like it goes over most of the troupes that aliens have or use when they come to kill us. They have the tech to get here, they always have energy weapons (that usually miss more often than not) and artifical gravity, they don't seem to worry about eating or drinking, and usually don't get sick.

Let's not forget that science advances everything. I guess they didn't think about putting any kind of awesome space alien targeting tech on those laser guns. By the time we have those guns, no one will be getting away.

So lets get this straight: these guys perfected FTL, navigation, and solved their biological needs in space (food, radiation) just to come take what's in this (probably otherwise worthless) space rock? That suggests they have economics. Coming untold light years with thousands of warriors and workers just to stripmine Earth is more economical than just finding it closer to home? After all, the stuff we are made of is everywhere in the universe, and probably in greater quantity elsewhere. Even humans (who are still banging space rocks together) know about E equals M C squared. We have created matter from energy. Sending thousands of dudes to come take our stuff is cheaper than finding that much energy? It would likely take more energy to come here than make the stuff out of nothing. Unlikely.

Coming to colonize Earth? That would assume the unlikely scenario that they would consider Earth habitable and survivable. Would they be able to breathe the air? Live near water? Survive the ecology? They already have ships they can change to suit their whims. What's the use of terraforming when you can build floating cities that can move several light years at a moment's notice?

Maybe they want to trade with us. Other than culture or making Earth a tourist destination, there's nothing we can offer. Our tech and knowledge would be primitive comared to theirs.

This reminds me: if one were to map Moore's Law to biology, you have some troubling conclusions. Moore's Law says that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every 18 to 24 months. If you extrapolate ingrated circuit complexity, you come up with about 1960, about the time the integrated circuit was invented. If you figure out the time it takes for a genome to become twice as complex, and extrapolate it to the 'invention' of life, you have something about twice the age of Earth.

So not only did life on Earth not come from Earth (maybe hitched a ride on some space dust when the last star blew up), it also happened when the universe was less than half as old as it is now. So when SETI looks up and finds nothing, it might very well be that we are the first beings to happen.

Some part of me hopes we will never find aliens. Not only would it mean a bigger universe, but humans can be total dicks, and mess it up for everyone. We might be the aliens from Independence Day.

Posted under Miscellaneous.

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