Aliens with super intelligence may have already visited us here on Earth. We were just too set in our ways to notice.
It sounds like the plot of a new sci-fi film, but NASA computer scientist Silvano Colombano has suggested it's a real possibility. The internet has found a recent workshop paper of his and gone into a frenzy.
This white paper isn't exactly new. It was uploaded to NASA's technical reports servers in March this year, following a SETI Institute workshop which explored a range of ideas on how we might detect extraterrestrial technology.
Colombano's work is just one of 21 papers that were made available after this workshop, and this is much needed context other outlets may have failed to mention.
As we all know, the internet does not handle alien news well. But this paper obviously does not mean that NASA has any evidence that extraterrestrials exist. It also doesn't mean that NASA is "admitting" to extraterrestrial activity on our planet.
In fact, the paper is really more of a suggestion than an assertion. It's a concise argument for why we should use a new and more "aggressive" approach to finding life in the Universe, including a "serious enquiry" into UFOs.
But now that it's hit the mainstream, we might as well take a closer look at Colombano's ideas. He argues that the way we currently think about aliens is too narrow, and that we should be paying more attention to UFOs.
Alan Alda once said in a commencement address in 1980 that human assumptions are like our windows on the world: "Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in."
Well, Colombano has got his windex out and ready to go. He wants the scientific community to look out into the Universe with fresh eyes and reconsider our most cherished assumptions about alien life.
"I simply want to point out the fact that the intelligence we might find and that might choose to find us (if it hasn't already) might not be at all be produced by carbon based organisms like us," Colombano writes.
His argument is actually quite simple. Recently, the Kepler project has identified other planetary systems in space that are as much as 11.2 billion-years-old.
Our Solar System is much younger in comparison - only 4.6 billion-years-old - and that means somewhere in the vast Universe, there could exist another life form that is six billion years ahead of us.
With human technology developing at such a rapid rate already, it's hard to imagine what knowledge we will have at our disposal in the next thousand years, let alone six million times that amount.
As Colombano puts it: "... our form of life and intelligence, may just be a tiny first step in a continuing evolution that may well produce forms of intelligence that are far superior to ours and no longer based on carbon 'machinery'."
With such super intelligence, interstellar travel might be fairly easy to achieve. And this means that there could be aliens here on Earth right now.
It's enough to make you look over your shoulder. But what would you look for? No one knows what a non-carbon life form looks like.
And even if we knew, we might not be able to see it. In the paper, Colombano suggests "the size of the "explorer" might be that of an extremely tiny super-intelligent entity."
While he admits that most UFO phenomena are no doubt hoaxes, he does think they are worthy of legitimate study. He says that so far, NASA's 'Search for extraterrestrial intelligence' (SETI) programme has overlooked the relevance of UFO's because we assume that the likelihood of interstellar travel is extremely low.
But given the age of our planetary system compared to the rest of the Universe, does that assumption still stand?
"I think the approach the scientific community could take, instead, is very similar to what SETI has done so far: find the signal in the noise," explains Colombano.
"In the very large amount of "noise" in UFO reporting there may be "signals" however small, that indicate some phenomena that cannot be explained or denied."
The idea is still being chewed over, but we already know that Brian Cox is not a fan. When asked about us already being visited on Twitter, he said the Daily Mail article he was linked to was "inaccurate in several ways."
"If you want to know what I think, read my book Human Universe," Cox replied.
"Roughly, I think microbes will be common but multi-cellular life and civilisations will be rare."
That article is, shall we say, inaccurate in several ways ! If you want to know what I think, read my book 'Human Universe'. Roughly, I think microbes will be common but multi-cellular life and civilisations will be rare.— Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) December 4, 2018
Stephen Hawking would probably have been a little less skeptical. In his time, Hawking gave his support to the SETI program and he didn't think it was out of the question that there were more intelligent life forms out there.
But instead of calling for an "aggressive" search for these alien beings, Hawking did the exact opposite. He suggested that if we ever did receive a signal from extraterrestrials, we should be wary of answering back until we have developed a bit further.
"Meeting a more advanced civilisation, at our present stage, might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus," said Hawking in a lecture on life in the Universe.
"I don't think they were better off for it."
If NASA decides to take Colombano's advice, it's something we need to consider.