Well, this is depressing. Seems I missed something when I wrote the Lex Luther Lemma to John C. Wright’s Space Princess Equation, something John Ringo notes in Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse – that Moore’s Law works, to use my terminology, to lower the thresholds of genius, wealth and crazy to the point where a moderately intelligent Lex with suburban level wealth who may be only a little off his rocker has or will soon have the answer to Fermi’s Paradox: where everybody is is dead, done in by their own inevitable Lex Luther, a brilliant (for ever-decreasing values of smart’), wealthy (ditto for ‘wealthy’) homicidal sociopath (for values of ‘homicidal sociopath’ converging on bitter teenager).
I was half-kidding. I mean, the values for variables in the LLL are all real – there really are geniuses, billionaires and homicidal sociopaths – but I wasn’t thinking the required confluence would necessarily happen any time soon. Each of these things exist today. The only assumption – and it’s not much of one – is that the variables are not exclusive: that being a sociopath doesn’t, for example, inhibit one also being a billionaire or a genius.
Brief recap: Wright & I, among others, are alternately amused and frustrated by those who treat the Drake Equation (1) as if it were science, as if, because we’ve arranged a series of unknown probabilities in a string, that somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re stone cold certain that They are Out There. Fermi is our hero, because his quip – “then where is everybody?” – neatly sums up the issue: if you assume anything but vanishingly small numbers for the probabilities (and note: for most of them, you get to make up whatever you want, as there is no evidence to get in the way), then the galaxy should be positively festooned with signs of intelligent life.
So then begins the next game: explaining why Fermi is wrong – it’s become a cottage industry of sorts to show why there are still lots of aliens out there, they just hide/don’t like us/are too advanced/are too different. Be that as it may, such efforts merely provide fodder for mockery by we few, we band of jokers. John C. Wright tends toward lighter humor than I, and so pointed out that Drake’s logic would just as well support the conclusion that Space Princesses, beautiful and fell, exist. Follow the link above to see how that works.
I, being less funny and more dark, went with the Lex Luther Theorem/Corollary/Lemma (It’s my idea, let’s go with Lemma, so we can use LLL or L3 for short). Now, along comes John Ringo to point out that the mechanics of technological advance mean that, over time, what was accessible and doable only to the elite becomes accessible and doable by any halfway competent nitwit. The Lex Luther Threshold (again, I can call it what I want) is falling, as the commonwealth of ideas and technology expands so that I, the individual, need less personal genius and wealth to use it. As it becomes easier to do what a few years earlier would have required an extensive lab, extensive funding and a high level of genius, more and more power will fall into the hands of crazy people. It gets easier and easier to answer Fermi. There’s nobody here because some nut killed them all off.
But it gets worse: if it’s your own personal genius and money you’ll be using to destroy the world, there becomes a floor on how crazy you have to be – crazy enough to devote years to building a lair, assembling henchmen, and designing and building your Mega Death Ray. That’s pretty crazy. But if it only takes a week or to to build your killer virus in mom’s basement, you’ll only have to be snubbed by the prom-queen level crazy.
Ringo hangs his hope on countervailing tech – that the white hats will build anti-viral nano-bots, for example, that can be set to provide preemptive immunity to any bugs a maniac might release. I merely observe something long known in military circles: over time, the means to defeat expensive defenses are much less costly than what it takes to set up those defenses. Two guys with a horse can drag a cannon and blow down your castle walls, walls that took thousands of man hours to build; a multi-billion-dollar carrier group’s defenses (much of those billions goes toward those defenses) can be taken out with a few million dollars worth of small nukes deployed to simply swarm them. And so on. So, I’m even less comforted than Ringo with the thought of anti-viral nano-bots, and he’s not very comforted at all.
In short, I thought I was half-kidding. In reality, we are so doomed.
- to recap, for any poor soul wandering over for the first time – the Drake variables:
- (i) the average rate of star formation, R*, in our galaxy, (we can guess – at least, stars are formed in our Galaxy, so there’s something to guess about)
- (ii) the fraction of formed stars, fp, that have planets, (Ditto)
- (iii) the average number of planets per star, ne, that can potentially support life, (Hmmm – ‘can potentially support life’ is a bit open-ended. The only planet we know can support life is earth, so if we substituted ‘that are just like earth’ we’d be on firmer ground, scientifically. But, earth does exist, so, OK, sloppy, but not outrageous)
- (iv) the fraction of those planets, fl, that actually develop life, (FULL STOP: the value here is somewhere between 0 and 1, inclusive – and we have NO EVIDENCE to suggest in any way where in that range it lies. Follow closely: we’d need to have at least 1 example of life arising somewhere other than earth to make this variable meaningful. We don’t. A probability can never be any more certain than the least certain of its terms. Dressing up our ignorance in an equation doesn’t make us any less ignorant.)
- (v) the fraction of planets bearing life on which intelligent, civilized life, fi, has developed, (Ditto, times 100 – now, we’re just begging the question. IF there are any other civilizations out there – and, reminder, there’s exactly NO evidence there is – then we can start guessing how probable they are. But, if we find alien civilizations, the probability of their existence is 1 – and we don’t need no stinkin’ equation to tell us that. Lacking that evidence, WE DON’T KNOW how likely such an alien civilization is to exist. Smoke and mirror for the gullible.)
- (vi) the fraction of these civilizations that have developed communications, fc, i.e., technologies that release detectable signs into space, (Piling on the stupid: once we FIND such a civilization, we’ll have some basis other than gullible fanboy enthusiasm for guessing how common they are) and
- (vii) the length of time, L, over which such civilizations release detectable signals. (Warp signatures, for example. Although Spock showing up in depression era New York would work, too. Pure fantasy.)