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ET Thought Experiment

Vox_Veritas
Posts: 7,072
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7/30/2015 12:17:27 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
Imagine an alternate Earth, where the during the Cold War the United States, instead of embarking on that trainwreck called the War on Poverty which accomplished virtually nothing, spent that money on extensively researching space stuff for the military, including the use of nuclear weaponry for propulsion.
So, by the beginning of the 21st century humanity has the capability to reach Proxima Centauri within 20 years, or 1/4th of the speed of light (for the sake of this experiment we'll assume that Proxima Centauri is exactly 5 light years from Earth).

Meanwhile, orbiting Proxima Centauri there's a planet with life, and at the dawn of the 21st century the natives of that planet have developed the capability of reaching the Sol System (which they call chupa chupa kupa) within 20 years.

So, in 2000 humanity sends out a probe to the Proxima Centauri Planet, which we'll refer to as PCP for sake of brevity. Also in 2000 (according to the dominant human calendar) the natives of PCP send out a probe to what we call Earth.

So, in 2020 both space probes arrive on their intended destinations. Starting from the time when the probe reaches its target it will take five years for that data, which is transmitted in the form of light, to reach its sender.
The human beings are startled at first but then they come to a realization. Studying the probe they realize that it was sent out at about the same time as the humans sent out their probe, and that it was sent from PCP. Also, the probe's level of technology appears to be roughly equal to that of the probe that the humans sent out.
Thus, both the humans and the PCP natives have received the probe.

It will take them 5 years to receive data from the probe. Likewise, it will take 5 years for the aliens to receive data from the probe which has arrived on Earth.
Some people would prefer that the probe be given data from Earth in order to achieve first contact with the aliens, with the hope that the aliens do the same. Others, however, would prefer to destroy the probe so that the aliens receive minimal data on Earth, due to the strong possibility that the probe was also intended to analyze human strengths and weaknesses so that Earth can be conquered in the future, or that the aliens would use it this way if the probe receives data on Earth. There's also the possibility that the aliens immediately destroyed the probe from Earth whenever it arrived so that whenever 5 years pass humans will receive minimal data from the probe. If the aliens did this but the humans allowed the PCP probe to Earth send back data, then the aliens will have an advantage in knowledge about the other side that humans didn't. And, of course, there's the possibility that the probe didn't arrive on target or it malfunctioned.

What would you do? Would you destroy/disable/block the probe's ability to receive/transmit data or would you let it send receive and transmit data and wait 5 years to see what the aliens did with the probe from Earth?
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RuvDraba
Posts: 6,033
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7/30/2015 3:42:54 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
At 7/30/2015 12:17:27 AM, Vox_Veritas wrote:
In 2000 humanity sends out a probe to the Proxima Centauri Planet, which we'll refer to as PCP for sake of brevity. Also in 2000 (according to the dominant human calendar) the natives of PCP send out a probe to what we call Earth.

So, in 2020 both space probes arrive on their intended destinations.

Thank you for a fun question, VV.

For interest's sake, I started calculating acceleration, total energy and maximum relativistic speed at the turnaround, only to discover a relativistic star ship calculator at: [http://www.convertalot.com...]

Fiddling with that, it suggests that a constant acceleration of about 0.51m/s/s gives you a 19.94 year wait on earth until arrival, about 19.09 years on board, and about 12billion Megajoules of energy expended per kilogram of probe (needing an engine capable of delivering about 20MW per kilogram, if you divide total energy by onboard time) That seemed hard enough to be credible (e.g. a space shuttle produces only about 153kW/kg), and therefore credible enough not to hand-check. :)

What would you do? Would you destroy/disable/block the probe's ability to receive/transmit data or would you let it send receive and transmit data and wait 5 years to see what the aliens did with the probe from Earth?

Neither. if I was a Cold War-paranoid government, I'd isolate their probe to limit the information it could send (and also reduce the risk of xenobiological pathogens, which you'd have to do), then reverse-engineer it non-destructively and try to duplicate its sensors and comms, (and since you're at roughly the same tech-level, five years should be more than enough.)

Once you knew how they worked, it wouldn't matter whether your probe had arrived safely or not -- you could transmit to PCP from Chupa Chupa Kupa with whatever information you wanted to send, and receive signals from PCP using their own probe protocols each way. Meanwhile, if your probe had arrived safely, you'd learn something about how they'd reacted from its early transmissions.

Getting PCP to respond to your information rather than sourcing its own information silently is far more beneficial to both trade and security, while being silent for five years on a twenty-year investment with such potentially huge returns in information trade, should bother nobody in the long term.