There's about 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe—and as the technology of our telescopes improves, humans will probably discover as many as a trillion galaxies. Galaxies, like our own, can contain 200 billion or more planets and stars. Inevitably, some of those celestial worlds are capable of bringing forth and nurturing intelligent life. In fact, to some top astronomers, the question is not whether aliens exist, but how many millions of different intelligent extraterrestrial species exist.
With so many possible advanced life forms out there, the obvious question is: Why haven't humans made contact with them yet? This famous conundrum is called the Fermi Paradox.
There are at least a dozen cogent answers to the Fermi Paradox, but only a few delve into the communication of extraterrestrial civilizations—something which must exist in some form for us to even know about them. And none of the answers about communication adequately discuss what happens to alien language in an accelerating intelligence explosion, which is what must happen for them to be advanced enough to make contact with us.
We will never have more than a few seconds to understand or even notice our millions of neighbors.
Modern day humans—and presumably other advanced intelligent species—are generally in a state of exponential technological and evolutionary growth. That growth may not perfectly reflect Moore's Law (where microprocessor speeds double approximately every 24 months), but it's probably somewhere in the ballpark.
This technological growth leads to only one place: the Singularity, a state of existence that is so advanced humans can name it but not adequately describe it. It's a place that transcends the understanding our three-pound brains can muster—a place where progress in the last minute of existence might be more progress than all of history combined before it. And all smart aliens end up in the Singularity.
With this in mind, make sure not to imagine aliens as slimy green monsters portrayed in Hollywood films. An extraterrestrial species even 100 years more advanced than 21st century humans has likely discarded their biological bodies, deeming them unstable and too primitive. Instead, advanced aliens merged with machines and became data to serve their growing superintelligence needs.
After aliens are well into the Singularity, they probably discovered ways to influence and control individual atoms, thereby giving them the ability to merge and manifest as anything in the universe. So now they could be anywhere and everywhere.
But the key point here is that extra 100 years of evolutionary advancement. In our case, the end of that timeline from 2016 would put us in the early next century. I'll call it Jethro's Window, after the protagonist in my futurist novel The Transhumanist Wager, because there's a critical point in time from where we are as humans today (it starts with the invention of the microprocessor) to the point when we reach the Singularity.
Here's the sad solution to Fermi's Paradox: We've never discovered other life forms because language and communication methods in the Singularity evolve so rapidly that even in one minute, an entire civilization can become transformed and totally unintelligible. In an expanding universe that is at least 13.6 billion years old, this transformation might never end. What this means is we will never have more than a few seconds to understand or even notice our millions of neighbors. The nature of the universe—the nature of communication in a universe where intelligence exponentially grows—is to keep us forever unaware and alone.
The only time we may discover other intelligent life forms is that 100 or so years during Jethro's Window, and then it requires the miracle of another species in a similar evolutionary time table, right then, looking for us too. Given the universe is so gargantuan and many billions of years old, even with millions of alien species out there, we'll never find them. We'll never know them. It's an unfortunate mathematical certainty.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and a 2016 US Presidential candidateof the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional columnfor Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.