Are we really alone?

As the search for extraterrestrial intelligence ramps up, maybe we should look around us

British scientist Stephen Hawking is pushing for us to find out if there are other forms of life in the universe. Andy Rain / EPA
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Science fiction author Arthur C Clarke noted there are only two options when it comes to extraterrestrial life: “Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Working out which one of those possibilities is true is the goal of Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million (Dh367m) project backed by physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner.

Their belief is that life arose spontaneously on Earth and with billions of other planets in the universe, the overwhelming likelihood is that it must have happened elsewhere as well. This poses as many questions as it hopes to answer: if we aren’t alone, why has intelligent life not sought to contact us? Is it wise to alert alien civilisations to our existence? What if they turn out to be belligerent?

And finally, since the nearest extraterrestrial life is likely to be so far away that we can’t visit, why bother? With more than seven billion humans, we can hardly claim to be lonely. Maybe we ought to put more effort into speaking to the abundance of Earthlings first?