Astronomer Claims the Adorable Alien in Earth to Echo May Be Realistic
Earth to Echo, the upcoming film about a group of children who befriend a tiny, owl-like alien robot, may have a relatively realistic conception of extraterrestrial life, according to astronomer Seth Shostak.
Shostak, who is a senior astronomer at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, told Space.com that the idea of encountering extraterrestrials that are robotic or cybernetic is perfectly consistent with his research. First, it stands to reason that if aliens are advanced enough to manage interstellar travel, then they are also likely advanced enough to build sentient robots.
"Just about the time that you develop enough science or tech to fly to other planets and other stars… you begin to develop faster computers. If you believe the people working on artificial intelligence - they think we will have thinking machines by midcentury. That is just decades away."
Furthermore, according to Shostak's research, cybernetic organisms have the ability to evolve much more quickly than completely organic organisms: "Machines have a lot of advantages over soft, squishy protoplasmic intelligence. They can evolve much more quickly. Machines are not stuck with Darwin."
Not only are alien visitors likely to be artificial, there is also a good chance that they would be small and adorable, much like the titular Echo. "Most people think of aliens as being human-sized - that if you have too small a brain, you are not smart," Shostak said. "That's all based on Earthly biology, which is based on neurons. Neurons of all species are about the same size... If I were creating an artificial intelligence, I'd want to save on the rocket fuel and make the intelligence small - not so small that it gets wiped out by the first raindrop it encounters, but you don't want to send elephants into space, either. So if you can build smart things that are small, it makes sense to do so. Of course, smaller is also cuter."
In light of the research that animals evolved to be cute in order to encourage parents to nurture their children, it makes sense that extraterrestrials would evolve to have an adorable appearance. Whether our definition of "cute" is the same as that of aliens is a different story.
But if the adorable Echo is realistic, then how would our government react to a little alien robot landing on Earth? According to Shostak, we would be very ill-prepared: "While there is no coordinated government plan that I know of to respond to a landing, I chaired a group that considered the implications of alien contact. It resulted in more of a gentleman's agreement. For example, if you pick up a signal that you can verify, you won't respond without contacting the United Nations. But response to an actual visit is likely to be different."
But apparently it matters very little whether we are prepared or not, because we would be sitting ducks no matter what we do: "Contact from aliens a thousand light-years away is different than having them land in Bergen County, New Jersey. I mean, let's face it: If they come here, it really doesn't matter what documents you might have in place. Whatever they want to do, they probably will do. Their technology will completely trump yours."
Watch the potentially realistic alien visitor in Earth to Echo on July 2.