According to a recent statistical analysis, any sentient society humanity may contact is likely at least twice as A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ as ours, if not much older. A new paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology describes the research, which was conducted by Dr. David Kipping of Columbia University in New York.
To begin, Kipping and his co-authors, Flatiron Institute’s Dr. Adam Frank and University of Rochester’s Dr. Caleb Schraf, examined how people might interact with a billion-year-old society. Understanding the significance of such a question would need to calculate the likelihood of such an old c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ existing
We don’t have any concrete proof of billion-year-old c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s, therefore this is a difficult issue to address. The historical r̟e̟c̟o̟r̟d̟, on the other hand, contains two kinds of comparable datasets, although on considerably smaller time scales: What is the average lifespan of historical c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s?
How long will the species survive? The authors tried to develop a statistical model that would suit those two datasets fairly well. Applying that paradigm to the lives of a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s is not a logical jump. The Minoan c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ of Crete used Linear A as a script. It was used to write the Minoan language from the 19th to the 15th centuries BC. Only a tiny portion of the text could be read. Both datasets follow the same statistical model, which is known as an exponential distribution.
Exponential distributions are extremely frequent in statistics, and the form of the curve may be determined with just one variable. The half-life of c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ is used to explain the whole distribution in this model. When acceptable values for that parameter were sought, historical data was once again helpful, with the most appropriate average life being about double the present age of our c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳.
Although this exponential distribution is a good starting point for extracting certain information, Kipping and colleagues point out that it is a simplification of what is likely a highly complicated computation. Despite its brevity, the paper contains a lot of intriguing concepts. According to the authors, any c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ we discover will be about twice as A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ as ours. It should be emphasized that the age of our c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ cannot be determined directly. The writers point out that mathematics is applicable to people of all ages. If one considers the age of our c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ to be the 12,000 years we’ve been farming, c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s will likely continue to cultivate things for another 24,000 years on average.
However, this does not indicate that c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ will be destroyed at the conclusion of that time period; rather, it just implies that they will no longer be performing the things that defined c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ in the first place. Post-radium technosignatures Another example demonstrates how this might work. According to the author’s calculations, a c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ that transmits radio waves into space would have a service life of just 200 years, about twice as long as the 100 years we have already been doing so. Around that time, a society that uses radio would most likely begin to utilize more advanced technology, like as lasers, to replace omnidirectional transmission radio waves.
So, although it no longer exists as a c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ radio transmitter, its members are still alive and well, albeit with a new, less detectable technology. The paper also offers a more in-depth look at the subject of detectability. Because radio waves were the most prevalent type of electromagnetic waves that humanity, as a c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳, sent into space during the time of Sagan, the Search for E̳x̳t̳r̳a̳t̳e̳r̳r̳e̳s̳t̳r̳i̳a̳l̳ Intelligence (SETI) was almost entirely focused on them. However, as technology has progressed, we have grown less reliant on radio, which means we now transmit fewer and weaker radio broadcasts than we did in Sagan’s day
According to another research, even if humans were to discover ex̳t̳r̳a̳t̳e̳r̳r̳e̳s̳t̳r̳i̳a̳l̳ radio signals, those who transmitted them would have long since died. Alternatively, we have improved our ability to recognize other aspects of a sophisticated society.
These features are referred to as techno-signatures, and they include anything from focused laser pulses to planetary temperature maps. Dr. Kipping points out that a new generation of telescopes will be able to detect some of these techno-signatures on neighboring exoplanets, providing us with a glimpse of ex̳t̳r̳a̳t̳e̳r̳r̳e̳s̳t̳r̳i̳a̳l̳ c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s we’ve never seen before.
It may also make the questions you address in the paper much more pertinent. Bias in time The probability that a discovered c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ is older or younger than ourselves is also discussed in the article. This may have far-reaching consequences for how we decide to make the initial contact, or even whether we decide to do so at all. The article’s conclusion is both interesting and not immediately apparent at first look. A significant percentage of the area under the curve is found in exponential curves. According to this exponential distribution curve, about 60% of c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s are likely younger than ours, while 40% are likely older. At first sight, this seems to indicate that we are more likely to encounter a c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ that is younger than our own. This, however, does not account for a phenomenon known as temporal bias. To explain the temporal bias, Dr. Kipping offers a vacation example.
Are you more likely to meet someone who is traveling for two days or two weeks while on vacation in the Dominican Republic? The apparent answer is two weeks since you are more likely to be on vacation at the same time as they are. Cotemporal c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s are no exception. Although there are more c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s with lower lifespans than ours, the fact that they have shorter lifespans implies we are far less likely to coexist with them.
This is the article’s primary conclusion: any c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ we come across is more likely to be older than ourselves rather than younger. Indeed, arithmetic indicates that there’s a 10% probability that any c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ we discover will be more than ten times older than ourselves. Dr. Kipping remarked that if these c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s follow the same exponential technological development trajectory that mankind has been pursuing for the last several millennia, one can only imagine how much more sophisticated such a society might be.
He also pointed out that when it comes to c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s with unclear technological capability, these statistical models have the greatest practical effect. If a c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ is significantly more evolved than ours, such as one capable of constructing a Dyson sphere, there will be no question about its technical capabilities in comparison to ours. If we can find a heat island on a neighboring exoplanet, it might be a c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ that is just emerging from the Stone Age or has already achieved full artificial intelligence.
The actual consequence of these statistical models is that whatever c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ we find will almost certainly be older than ours. That reality should be kept in mind by anybody considering how we may engage with any observable c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳. And if we ever find incontrovertible proof of another c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳, we may add another data point to the model established by the authors to determine how valid it is.