Fermi's paradox, Extraterrestrial Life and the Future of Humanity: a Bayesian Analysis
Journal article, 2017
The Great Filter interpretation of Fermi's great silence asserts that Npq is not a very large number, where N is the number of potentially life-supporting planets in the observable universe, p is the probability that a randomly chosen such planet develops intelligent life to the level of present-day human civilization, and q is the conditional probability that it then goes on to develop a technological supercivilization visible all over the observable universe. Evidence suggests that N is huge, which implies that pq is very small. Hanson (1998) and Bostrom (2008) have argued that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would point towards p not being small and therefore a very small q, which can be seen as bad news for humanity's prospects of colonizing the universe. Here we investigate whether a Bayesian analysis supports their argument, and the answer turns out to depend critically on the choice of prior distribution.