Published in Hong Kong Magazine on November, 2008
1. It Began with the Hadron Collider Experiment
The Hadron Collider Experiment in Europe was started despite great objections on September 10th. This is the most consuming experiment with the most enormous equipment in scientific history, aimed at simulating the initial situation of the Big Bang by accelerating the particles near the speed of light for collision and seeking new scientific discoveries.
The experiment was objected by some scientists who worried that the collision of fast-moving particles would produce intensive black holes soon after starting, because human beings would be finished if the black holes produced were stable. Apart from this, they were also afraid of other unexpected destructions possibly occurring during the powerful collision.
The opposing sound developed to legal proceedings. In March, two US scientists sued CERN, which had been taking charge of the experiment, and claimed for termination. Obviously they failed, for the experiment that attracted world attention was started on schedule.
Those who insisted on starting the experiment explained that the black holes weren't worth worrying about. According to the existing scientific theory, a black hole is vaporizable, and small ones evaporate faster. Therefore, the black holes caused by collision of elementary particles will evaporate in quite a short time, which means it will be evaporated before it sucks any substance in. As to the other terrible things that were considered possible from the experiment, the chances were slim from their point of view.
According to my limited knowledge in physics, the experiment is not secure for two simple conclusions:
First, the theory of black hole evaporation has not been tested in practice. If there is anything wrong with it, a real stable black hole might be produced. What would we do? Errors in theory are not new in scientific history.
Secondly, scientific experiments are explorations to unknown fields, which are bound to present unexpected situations. Uncertainty is a basic characteristic of science and technology. Things we usually consider safe may actually be something very dangerous, like many scientific experiments that have caused death and destructions. This experiment is to push science into a brand a new height. The great power burst of nuclear weapons is released from the atomic nucleus, which would crash in a collision of particles. It is impossible to forecast accurately if there are more dreadful things inside, for we would not be scared if the subjects being challenged were not sophisticated with room for frightful assumption.
Thinking about the purpose of scientific research, chances for experiments to mobilize strength that extirpates humanity are small but existent. If the survival of humanity is threatened as a whole, is it worth going on with what we do now? The overall subsistence of mankind is of unparalleled importance that is related to the coming generations and intolerant of even slightest error. Why give place to a scientific experiment after weighing the pros and cons?
Is this world not crazy?! This is what went through my mind after seeing the majority applaud the research.
Actually, the Hadron Collider experiment is not the thing that bothers me most; it might be positive. My real concern is the consistent development of science and technology towards higher levels; it can be of benefit as well as destruction to human beings, and the fate will sooner or later come to us. All the past conflicts between the risks of overall extermination of mankind and the implementation of scientific experiments were all ended with the latter winning. This is absolutely impossible even by a little judgment, but regarded as a matter of fact now.
This reminds me of the explosion of atomic bomb in 1945. Researchers at that time were concerned very much about the success of atomic bombs. The temperature at the explosion center would top ten million degrees, which is tens of thousands times higher than the known chemical combustion temperature. No one could expect or gauge what would happen under conditions like that. People were afraid of atmospheric combustion that might be end the world. But thinking about the battle between human desire for super weapons versus the risks of being ruined during the horrifying World War II, the former got an upper hand.
What is worth a sign is that every similar choice ended with the same consequence. The explosive temperature of the hydrogen bomb was much higher, but the experiment was carried out anyway despite of people's fear of atmospheric combustion (in fact, the temperature of particle collision in the Hadron Collider experiment is higher than that of hydrogen bomb explosion). In 2000, before the experiment was started by Brookhaven National Laboratory, some scientists brought the case to court. Even the plaintiff was worried that the experiment would ruin the world, but with the lawsuit failed and the experiment was put into practice anyway.
Of course, the tests of atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb or relativistic heavy iron collider experiment were all smooth without a hitch. The new Hadron Collider experiment may be secure, but will the luck last forever? Think about it. There will ultimately be slip-ups in risks. However, the whole world would be destroyed by one lapse, and we will not even have the chance to turn over a new leaf.
If there is a 1% possibility that destructive power can be redeployed by an experiment, the number indicates that not only is there a possibility, but also 100 experiments like this that can gather 100% of the possibility of extinction. This is a simple probability statistic equation. Humanity losing its head is stepping toward the 100% possibility of ruination.
The well-known physicist Stephen Hawking led an optimistic estimation. If the Hadron Collider Experiment produces black holes, he will win the Nobel Prize as the first scientist that brought the theory up. The Nobel Prize is very attractive, and I don't know if Hawking ever thought about if his theory would be proved correct. If a stable black hole is formed by the collision, the great scientist plus the rest of world should say good bye to the Nobel Prize.
2. Study of Nano-robot
A more frightening scientific endeavor has been well under way while the Hadron Collider experiment was starting with the cries of dissent; the research of the Nano-robot. Scientists engaged in researching the security of science and technology ranked the risk index of the Hadron collider experiment at 3, while the nano-robot research was set at 10, the highest risk index, which almost implies the fate of humanity if the research goes awry.
The nanometer is a measure of molecular and atomic units, a billionth of a meter. Matter around us is all made up by molecules and atoms, which can be freely moved to turn many wastes into treasures. For example: if gold atoms are picked out one by one from low-grade gold ore, gold will become much cheaper. Atomic resolution can be easily done in carbon dioxide gas so that the greenhouse effect can be solved. Garbage can be transformed into useful products, and refuse storage areas will soon become manufacturing plants. Therefore, the nano technique is expecting a very positive prospect.
Scientists had this tentative idea to manufacture robots as small as molecules to move molecules and atoms for our purpose, called nano-robots. After this, scientists developed further prospects according to the development of nano-robots. For example, the nano robot can be sent into human blood vessels to remove the cholesterol deposited in the veins; it can track cancer cells in the body and kill them as early as possible; it can transform grass into bread immediately, etc. To sum up, the future of the nano-robot is truly splendid.
Scientists found carbon nano-tubes with superior performance during the study of C60 in 1991, followed by the success of molecular motors which could solve the core content-motivation of the nano-robot. In May, 2004, U.S. chemists developed the world's first prototype of the nano-robot, a biped molecular robot made up of DNA fragments that included 36 bases. The robot can "walk" on the lab tray. For scientists, the next step is to command the nano-robots to move "cargos" such as atoms or molecules.
To create a nano-robot is costly compared to its small contribution, and its efficiency is quite low because of its tiny volume in spite of its great significance. Even if a nano-robot does non-stop work moving hundreds of millions of atoms, the finished area will still be smaller than a needle tip.
Scientists came up with an idea to appoint two directives in the program given to the nano-robot. The first one is, of course, to finish their work. The second is to reproduce more robots according to the original one in order to finish the task together. It is of great ease to copy the robot itself, for they are made up by a few atoms and able to move atoms. One nano-robot produces ten more, ten robots reproduce a hundred, a hundred make copies of a thousand, and thus billions of nano-robots will soon be copied. This means with the first nano-robot invented, the following ones will be completed freely and easily, and the copied nano-robots will accomplish the task together.
But there is trouble! What if the robots keep on reproducing without termination? Our body and the Earth are all composed of atoms, and will soon be swallowed up if the nano-robots take all the atoms inside us or on Earth as productive materials. Other planets will also be eaten up if the nano-robots are accidentally brought there by cosmic dust. This is an extremely terrible problem.
Even so, some scientists are confident about human capacity to control the disaster. They believe that humanity can design a program to have nano-robots destroy themselves after reproducing for several generations, or to have nano-robots that can be copied by a large number under specific conditions. For example: nano-robots that specialize in garbage transformation can only be copied by garbage, the reproduction will never happen in other conditions or with other materials.
The scientists have some good thoughts, but they are not realistic. What if there are errors that block the cease of reproduction in robot programs? What if the scientists forget to put in programs that control the self-reproduction? What if there is a freak or evil scientist who intends to skip the controlling program to hurt human beings and the Earth? If one of the above situations occurs once, then humanity and the earth are bound to be ruined.
The second-to-none scientist and chief scientist in Sun Microsystems Company Bill Joy pointed out in April, 1999 that: the improper use of nano technology can be more destructive than nuclear weapons. If the reproduction of nano robots is out of control, it will that devour the universe like cancer. No one can guarantee the nano-robot will not turn into a Pandora's box, with billions of endless reproducing nano-robots that may lead to the doom of the world.
There are still many objectors against nano-robots, because the situation is so obvious. One locust is nothing, but hundreds of billions of locusts will be a disaster. However, the science and technology that seems impossible to a normal person has attracted a great number of scientists working on it night and day, and no one with real power has ever tried to stop it. Someone has even estimated the research of the nano-robot to be successful in 20 years. The human world is crazy!
3. Looking for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
With the increasingly rapid development of science and technology, the security has been ignored gradually. All kinds of scientific achievements can be applied in practice for granted; some for profits, some for military purpose, and some just for curiosity. There are enormous hidden dangers in many of the scientific studies. Some with power can ruin mankind, like our enthusiasts looking for aliens, which might be a another scientific exploration exterminating humanity.
It is actually hardly possible for aliens to visit our planet, for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence depends on not only a very suitable fixed star, but also a fitting and proper planet. In addition to Earth, other celestial bodies in the solar system can be affirmed as improper places for intelligent beings, which means that the aliens can only be found in other fixed star systems.
Fixed stars are extremely far from each other. For example, Centaurus, the nearest one from solar system, 4.3 light-years from us, refers to 4.3 years running in the 300,000 k/s speed of light. This distance exceeds by one hundred million times the range between Earth and the moon. The spacecraft applied in the Apollo Program weighed only 40 tons, but the launch mass of the carrier rocket was more than 2000 tons. The exceeded weight was basically for propellant fuel. Over thirty railway carriages of propellants are needed fo pushing a 40-ton spacecraft to the Moon, so the travel between fixed stars cannot be realized without the fuel problem solved. Moreover, a travel like this is extremely difficult and will take tens of thousands of years going through reproduction and re-evolution by countless generations. With current and expectable future science and technology, it is out of the question for the realized of travel between fixed stars. However, maybe extraterrestrial intelligence with science and technology standards much higher than us are able to make the travel happen.
There ought to be aliens in this universe, and not as a minority. About 200 billions of fixed stars in the Milky Way System and 300 billions of galaxies in universe means billions and billions of fixed star systems share the universe. With such a large number, anything with the slightest possibility might happen. However, we will be in trouble if aliens appear in reality.
According to today's theoretical cosmology, the origin of the universe is from the Big Bang more than 140 million years ago. A billion years later after that, the first-generation planets were born without life living in them. There were no heavy elements that the fixed planets and living creatures needed, but conditions for lives of wisdom appeared by large amounts among the later second and third generations 10 billion years ago.
Referring to the nurturing and evolving situation of human beings on Earth, the solar system was formed 5 billion years ago, and the earliest life on Earth appeared 3.8 billion yeas ago. The high degree of human wisdom finally came into being with constant development. Human beings finished evolution in 50,000 years. Then, science and technology took off from the industrial revolution in the middle of 18 century. However, with progress over a mere 200 years, we are capable of landing on the Moon and inventing nuclear weapons that can destroy a big city with millions of people in under one minute.
As we can see, if there were life-bred fixed star systems in the universe 10 billion years ago, with reference to Earth's breeding history, creatures of wisdom should be born in 5 billion years. This shows that they had 5 billion years to develop science and technology, and there is a 5 billion year-gap in scientific advancement between people on Earth and on heavenly bodies. Moreover, aliens capable of inter-fixed star travel must develop an exceedingly high level of science and technology that is too superior for us to catch up with. Because it is hard to imagine the disparity of 5 billion years' progress, we do not even know the way to pursue it.
Therefore, one day if we successfully attract aliens here, in accordance with the survival rules of human beings and animals, the strong will always show contempt for and bully the weak. Those from the high civilizations always despise those from the low. When a highly civilized species visits the Earth, they will probably not consider us as "human beings" (besides, we are not the same species by nature). They will just randomly kill us or make us their food or something like that. If it is our future, it should be called doom.
But what are we doing now? Almost every astronomical observatory around the globe bears an important mission---looking for and getting in touch with extraterrestrial intelligence, they have been sending electronic paging in various ways. In November, 1962, Eupatoria Observatory in Soviet Union was the first to aim at fixed stars similar to the sun to send greetings to aliens, and then again in 1999 and 2001, a keyboard concert was also sent to out space. In November of 1974, when the world's largest radio telescope completed in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, a 3 minute long electronic greeting was dispatched to the M13 globular cluster of Hercules. This was supported by authorities such as NASA, and over 90 thousand "electronic salutes" from 52 countries flew to 5 fixed stars from the Earth in July, 2003.
We also adopted all kinds of launching methods for space probes to establish contact with aliens. NASA sent "Pioneer 10" to Taurus on March 2nd, 1972; "Pioneer 11" to Aquila on September 6th 1973; "Voyager 2" to Sirius on August 20th, 1977; and "Voyager 1" to Ophiuchus on September 5th. They brought information about us, our solar system and Earth, as well as greetings to extraterrestrial beings.
To sum up, I think two conclusions should be given. On one hand, the possibility for aliens visiting Earth is extremely small. Our huge investments to get connected with aliens would be a waste if they failed. Also, the price is too high for just the satisfaction of curiosity. On the other hand, if aliens can receive our information and pay a visit to Earth with multiply advanced science and technology, what is waiting ahead for us might be the great possibility of being exterminated. Today's scientists and policy-makers should not do things that are not being appreciated or even that put an end to humanity. They are pulling the strings of human fate. They may not care about lives of their own, but they have no right neglecting the permanent survival of humanity.