July 30th, 2006

#128: Something fun I don't seriously believe

The UFO crowd tells tales of the UFO which crashed in Roswell in 1947.

All kinds of alien supertechnology was recovered by the US Air Force, and autopsies were performed on the dead aliens inside the craft.

You know, "autopsy" is the wrong term. You perform an autopsy when you want to determine the cause of death. What was supposedly done to those dead aliens was actually dissection. You do a dissection when you want to learn how some critter is put together. By definition, if you're looking at the first example of a creature ever seen, you can't do an autopsy.

Anyway, so if you believe the tales, the US military has had alien supertechnology in its grasp for nearly 6 decades. Could this have had an effect on technology at the consumer level?

Thinking about it, I realized that there are ways that technology could leak out of the military. Top secret technology is never patented, for obvious reasons. Besides, there could exist a pathway, approved by upper echelons, through which "nudges" could be applied to research.

It really depends on how paranoid you want to get about it. It can start from simple suggestions, to research funding decisions, and even go as far as CIA mind control techniques.

If we assume that the aliens use some kind of microcircuitry in their devices, we would have had to invent the transistor before we could even begin to understand how an IC works. But the transistor was invented in 1947, so that's a non-issue. The same physics apply to everyone, so an alien transistor should work the same way a human one does; the rest is just study and reverse-engineering...once you know how to make one.

Humans would have had to figure out how to do everything to make ICs, but having seen an example of one, that would be an easier process than inventing it from whole cloth.

The US military could ensure the prominence (and therfore the security) of the USA by releasing the technology into the public domain; but if we assume the existence of the Roswell craft, then we also assume that the military has not allowed the existence of the craft to be known for both strategic and otherwise unknown reasons. Still, much of the technology employed in an alien spacecraft would fall into one of three categories:

1) Stuff we can do
2) Stuff which we can figure out how to do in a relatively short time
3) Stuff which is obviously the result of alien superscience

"Stuff we can do" is moot. We know how to do what they do, and we do it in ways which are convenient for us. An alien stapler might not look or work like one of ours, but we have no reason to start using their methods anyway.

"Stuff which we can figure out" is tricky. Assuming you want the existence of the craft to remain secret, how do you nudge researchers in the right direction? DARPA may be one such vehicle for "nudges". But you can't give the parameters for a Centrino processor to the guy who is figuring out how to make a microprocessor on a single IC. You can't specify 1Gbit fiber optic connections for DARPANET.

Suggestions would have to start at a basic level. "Is it useful to hook computers up so they can talk to each other?" The original suggestion may have come from seeing an integrated vehicle computer network in operation (ie the control systems for a flying saucer) but the technology available to the creators of DARPANET wouldn't have access to that kind of hardware. But knowing the answer to the question ("Of course it is!") would itself represent a leg up on other countries. Even though you can't make hardware like the aliens do, you don't really want to do that, anyway. The prime advantage is that you waste less time on dead ends and more time developing techniques which work for humans.

"Alien Superscience" has to be locked in a vault--and the vault has to be welded shut--if you want to keep your possession of the alien technology a secret.

We can't really speculate on what sort of technology this might represent, either. It falls too far beyond our current "state of the art" for us even to begin to evaluate it. We may have theories which could explain some or all of the principles of this technology, but the application of it would be so obviously from an extraterrestrial source that it would be a dead giveaway.

But: antigravity; disintegration beams; sapient machinery; reactionless thrusters; fusion; inertial damping technology; biorobotics; or any of a thousand other things. If the US Air Force demonstrated an airplane which could make a tight 180° turn at Mach 9--without squashing its pilot to jelly--it would be a pretty obvious conclusion that the plane contained technology which was "not of this Earth". (What other Earth would it be from?) Particularly if the plane didn't have any obvious engines.

In one of the earliest entries in "Atomic Fungus" I dealt with the notion that electricity and gravity are related. If so, we are on the very fringes of the earliest exploration of "electro-gravitation"; if the Roswell saucer does exist, it would probably contain many "electro-gravitic" devices. The sudden appearance of an anti-gravity device now would essentially put up a giant neon sign saying "ALIEN SUPERTECHNOLOGY FOR SALE!"

But why would the US military want to keep the alien supertechnology a secret? Why not go ahead and start building super-planes and super-bombs and super-tanks? It would guarantee technological superiority over the rest of the world for a century! No one could touch us!

It's a common myth in our culture that military men think only about fighting wars; that the top leaders of our armed forces are always ready to drop bombs and deploy armies for a myriad of specious reasons. But it is only a myth.

US military doctrine has, since the end of World War II, followed the doctrine that the best way to avoid the next war is to be ready for it--that having everything you need to win the next war will, by the very fact, keep anyone from starting one with you. You don't want to start a fight with someone who is ready to fight you; you want to start a fight with someone who hasn't even maintained a good standing watch, much less an army.

But if you throw alien supertechnology into the mix, it gets tricky, especially in a world which has thermonuclear weapons in it.

The US starts to develop weapons and weapons platforms using alien technology. Other countries learn of the existence of the supertechnology (via leaks, spies, etc).

...and a huge stinking war starts.

If you are the premier of the USSR in 1950, and your primary enemy is about to develop capabilities you can't match, what do you do? You believe that your enemy would not hesitate to eradicate your government from the face of the planet if need be, and historically people of your country have been invaded too often for you to ignore the threat. What do you do?

Well, you do two things: you try to get your hands on the technology, and you act to keep your enemy from getting much done with it himself. A war is probably the most efficient way to accomplish that.

You drop bombs on the places which you think the technology is being researched--big bombs. (The Soviet Union once tested a 50 megaton hydrogen bomb. It had been de-rated from a theoretical maximum yield of 100 megatons. It's the largest thermonuclear warhead ever detonated. At least by humans.) You invade and try to take the places you think the technology is being stored.

And the US drops big bombs on your cities and troops, using whatever equipment it has on hand because it's likely all this takes place long before the alien technology-enhanced stuff is ready for production.

The point is, the top US military brass is smart enough to realize this. During the Cold War, the existence of a USA with such an obvious (and major) advantage would have prompted the USSR to attack before the USA could develop the capability. It would have to; because to wait until the USA had already developed it would be too late: the USA would be unstoppable and the USSR would then exist only at the USA's pleasure...a condition which any country would find intolerable.

To say nothing of the fact that we always evaluate others by using ourselves as a model. The USSR, founded on Marxism and the idea that worldwide communism is both desirable and inevitable (particularly if the Marxists force everyone to be Marxists), would not have hesitated to use such an obvious advantage. The USSR knew it; the USA knew it. The USSR, knowing it would force the entire world to be communist if it could, figured that the USA would force ("force"?) the entire world to be capitalist, free, and democratic if it could.

The US military knows that the US has historically not started many wars. (There have been a few.) Certainly the United States has never been about "conquest"; and by the middle of the 20th Century any territory of the US either had, or was going to have, a referendum in which the people of that territory could decide whether they wanted to be part of the US or not. (The Philippines come to mind.)

There must have been a debate, in the upper echelons, between those who wanted to press the advantage, and those who wanted to play it safe. Ultimately we're better off this way, I think.

So why keep it a secret now? After all, the USSR is history.

Well, the USSR is gone; but Russia still has much of the same mentality it has had for all of history, and which informed the mentality of the USSR. But there's also China; and China may be more dangerous than the USSR, rather than less. (Some in America think that time and unbridled capitalism will reduce the hazard. I agree with that assessment. Given enough time, the problem of communist China will just...go away.)

The USA is not loved by most of the world. If not China, then the European Union, or a coalition of South American countries, or...? Someone would find our alien-enhanced technological supremacy intolerable enough to fight a real ground war over it; and there are enough of them that they could wear us down through sheer numbers.

("A real ground war", not the minor stuff going on in Iraq. Not terror actions. Think "Europe, 1944", but in the US instead.)

Ultimately the entire notion of the Roswell Saucer is, for me, an interesting intellectual exercise; but it gives me an opportunity to flex my "SF writer" brain cells by thinking, "Okay, what if...?"

So, it's fun, but I don't seriously believe it. But it would be cool.