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Future Tense: Fermi's Paradox and the End of the Universe


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Fermis Paradox and the End of the Universe, photo illustration

Credit: Eric Lo

The Fermi paradox is a question that has bedeviled scientists for a long time. The galaxy, it is believed, should be home to myriad alien species, some millions or even billions of years older than humanity. So, Fermi asks, why aren't they here?

Take, for example, the gwyrxia.

Their name is not gwyrxia, of course. They do not communicate with sound waves, and, in fact, any sound waves humans can hear are of such low frequency the gwyrxia would not have considered even the possibility they might be a means of communication. They communicate with a spread-spectrum electromagnetic radiation, so efficiently encoded that, if we humans even detected it, we would think of it as indistinguishable from thermal noise. Gwyrxia is what it would sound likesort ofif you could decipher their name for themselves out of that pink noise.

In order to live forever, the gwyrxia knew they would have to abandon organic bodies. They needed a more durable form. This they did many billions of years ago. The most efficient encoding of a mind is to imprint the patterns of their consciousness into electron spin states, using a quantum computation as a form of thinking. They implemented this quantum computation in the spin states of the valence-band electrons of silicon-oxygen bonds in silicate rock. Silicate rock seemed a reasonable matrix, since there is plenty of it in the universe.

About 1015 electron spins are required to hold a gwyrxia mind. The interaction between electron spins, each interaction either flipping or not flipping a spin, provides the qbit computations that correspond to "thinking" for a gwyrxia.

So, rather slowly, the gwyrxia decided to colonize the galaxy. They live a long time. They are slowbut they began a few billion years ago.

They are massively parallel, and massively redundant. Each gwyrxia mind is duplicated several trillion times in any particular silicate instantiation.

They have barely noticed us, so far. As I said, audible frequency pressure waves do not matter much to them, and only since humans have been using radio wavesbarely 100 yearshas there been even a possibility of their being able to detect us. They communicate very slowly; remember, they have already decided to live to the end of the universe, and a century here or a millennium there is not terribly important to them.

So they are only just beginning to notice us.

For decades, we have been wondering, where are they?

The answer is, all around us.

We call them "rocks."

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Author

Geoffrey A. Landis (geoffrey.landis@nasa.gov) is a scientist at the NASA John Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, working on Mars missions and advanced concepts and technology for future space missions, and author of science fiction novels and short stories, most notably Mars Crossing (Tor Books, 2000) about an ill-fated expedition to the red planet.


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