New: Annual Stapledon Lecture

Milan Ćirković: Astroengineering and Futures Studies

In a wide-ranging and fascinating lecture Serbian philosopher, astronomer and astrobiologist Milan M. Ćirković discusses the search for possible alien civilizations and their artefacts, and the problems we face in looking for them.

The form of orthodox or classical SETI” (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence)is familiar from movies such as Contact: using large radio-telescopes scientists on Earth try to detect radio messages being transmitted by alien civilizations. Astronomers have only recently started to take seriously a very different approach to SETI. Instead of looking for radio signals we look for evidence of “astroengineering”, large-scale technological accomplishments that very advanced extra-terrestrial civilizations would be capable of carrying out—or as Freeman Dyson put it “engineering projects on the grand scale”. Ćirković explores some the methods used in this new approach, and explains some the key assumptions that are being made and points to some of the significant challenges that need to be overcome. Ćirković demonstrates an issue that has to be confronted when engaging with any “speculative” future: what you are looking for is determined by where (and when) you are looking from, and also what “you” are.

Milan M. Ćirković is a Research Professor at the Astronomical University of Belgrade, and a research associate of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. He has coedited (with Nick Bostrom) Global Catastrophic Risks (Oxford University Press, 2011), and is the author of The Astrobiological Landscape (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and more recently The Great Silence: Science and Philosophy of Fermi’s Paradox (Oxford University Press, 2018). He current projects include a book-in-progress on Stanisław Lem.

We had invited Professor Ćirković to deliver his lecture in person in the Spring of 2020, but the pandemic intervened. We are happy that he was able to record an online version for us.

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