Why haven’t we found aliens yet?

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A new paper on the Fermi paradox convincingly shows why we will probably never find aliens.

One summer night, when I was a child, my mother and I were scouring the night sky for stars, meteors, and planets.

Suddenly, an object with a light that pulsed steadily from bright to dim caught my eye. It didn’t have the usual red blinkers of an aircraft and was going far too slowly to be a shooting star.

Obviously, it was aliens.

My excitement was short-lived as my mother explained it was a satellite catching the sun as it tumbled along its orbit. I went to bed disappointed: The X-files was on TV twice a week back then, and I very much wanted to believe.

Today that hope is still alive and well, in Hollywood films, the public imagination, and even among scientists. Scientists first began searching for alien signals shortly after the advent of radio technology around the turn of the 20th century, and teams of astronomers across the globe have been taking part in the formal Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) since the 1980s.

Yet the universe continues to appear devoid of life.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford brings a new perspective to this conundrum. In early June, Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord of the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) released a paper that may solve the Fermi paradox — the discrepancy between our expected existence of alien signals and the universe’s apparent lack of them — once and for all.

Using fresh statistical methods, the paper re-asks the question “Are we alone?” and draws some groundbreaking conclusions: We Earthlings are not only likely to be the sole intelligence in the Milky Way, but there is about a 50 percent chance we are alone in the entire observable universe.

While the findings are helpful for thinking about the likelihood of aliens, they may be even more important for reframing our approach to the risk of extinction that life on Earth may face in the near future.

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