Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” – takes his weekly Doomsday column in a different direction today: Space and aliens. Think H.G. Wells and “War of the Worlds” – but a much different kind of invasion. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” comes to mind. Marshall is a contributor to WRAL TechWire. Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race. He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” Brain has written several posts recently about the threat of climate change. His exclusive columns written for TechWire are published on Fridays. This column is a repeat from 2022. Marshall will return.
Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RALEIGH – Think about how any big breaking news story enters public consciousness. One day, no one has heard of X. The next day everyone is talking about it. Think about the death of Queen Elizabeth in 2022, or the start of the war in Ukraine. A big news story like this suddenly appears on every media outlet. All the big news sites from CNN.com to WRAL.com announce it with huge headlines and splashy images. The story immediately starts trending on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and so on. Everyone you know starts talking about it. A big news event is nearly inescapable in our modern interconnected world.
And so it was when the Sleeborans arrived and announced that they were taking over planet Earth. One day no one had ever heard of the Sleeborans, and then the next day EVERYONE was talking about them.
If you lived in the United States, Canada, Mexico, or South America, you may have seen the Sleeborans’ arrival. It was known as “The Flash.” At 3:27 AM New York City time, there had been a 3-second flash of light approximately 2 times brighter than the sunniest day. Every doorbell camera and security camera on this side of the planet captured The Flash, and millions of people woke up when the intensely bright light came streaming through their windows and eyelids in the middle of the night.
Everyone else on the planet heard about The Flash via nearly instantaneous news coverage that started rolling out right after it occurred. In the beginning, no one knew what had caused The Flash, or what it meant. But soon after The Flash, events started to unfold with breathtaking speed.
The Flash coincided with the arrival of 4,096 Sleeboran ships that materialized out of nowhere. Did they come through a wormhole? Did they drop out of hyperspace? Had they materialized from another dimension? No one knew, but one second the 4,096 ships were not there, and the next second they were. The ships quickly spread out from their arrival point, with gigantic ships hovering over every major city, military installation and ocean. Most ships somehow hung motionless in the sky over their locations, and scientists really had no immediate explanation for how this was possible. And then a number of additional ships roamed freely between them.
The first acts of the Sleeborans
The first act of the Sleeborans was apparently to neuter the planet’s military forces in every country. Every nuclear missile silo and transporter was mysteriously disabled. Every military submarine and warship lost the ability to move or fire its weapons. Every military jet, helicopter, tank or transport was disabled and grounded.
The second act for the Sleeborans was to meet with every high government official and corporate leader on the planet. Apparently the Sleeborans had transporter rooms like the ones in Star Trek, because a Sleeboran robot, according to news reports, appeared in the office or home of thousands of important and wealthy people across the planet. The robots stayed for approximately two hours with each official and asked a wide variety of questions, although the interviewees seemed reluctant to share any details.
The third act was for the Sleeborans to deploy millions of robots across the planet in every population center, from small towns to major cities. There appeared to be approximately one robot per 100 people. These robots appeared to do nothing unless they detected anger or violence or what might be thought of as criminal or rude behavior – things like theft, vandalism, racism, misogyny. The robot would appear on the scene and the angry or violent or criminal person would vanish in a brief flash of light. No one knew where they went. Word quickly spread on the Internet, and people quickly recognized, that anger and violence and crime were unacceptable to the Sleeborans. Therefore, these activities quickly subsided, either through attrition of the perpetrators or lessons learned.
An interview with the Sleeborans
You know how a great movie can completely capture your attention, and you can become totally immersed in it for a couple of hours? The first interview from the Sleeborans had the same kind of effect. It lasted nearly three hours and was mesmerizing. It opened with a Sleeboran robot “sitting” on a couch across from a famous human interviewer. The interviewer opened with a simple and obvious question, “Can you tell us who you are and why you are here?”
The robot spoke in perfect English and began answering the questions as they unfolded. But the amazing thing was the quality of thought in each answer. Imagine that you are in the presence of someone with brilliant intelligence, empathy. and wisdom, who is also inspiring and charismatic without being overbearing or flamboyant. Someone you can quickly trust and respect. This is what we witnessed in the interview.
Summarizing the interview, the high points were, first, that the Sleeborans were agents of peace and progress. That’s what they called themselves: “agents of peace.” The Sleeborans would detect inhabited planets when they started to emit informational radio signals. This was the Sleeborans’ signal that intelligence had evolved to a certain point. Then they would send scouts to live among the population and see how things progressed. If a planet became dysfunctional to a certain level, the Sleeborans would arrive en masse to bring peace and progress to all the inhabitants. There was a tipping point, where some civilizations managed to grow, then mature and prosper, while others trended more toward self-destruction and needed intervention. Earth had fallen into the latter category, and the Sleeborans had arrived to bring order out of chaos.
The Sleeborans noted four important trends that had triggered their arrival on Earth:
- The growing threat of global war and nuclear war, and in particular the war in Ukraine.
- The unmanaged threat of climate change, where Earth was about to reach irreversible tipping points.
- The extreme economic inequalities that were growing without restraint.
- The proliferation of crime and corruption and general asshole behavior, especially within governments, which was making the planet’s decent people miserable with no corresponding benefit.
The fact that the Sleeborans actually used the word “a–hole” was refreshing. When the interviewer asked about the use of this particular word, the Sleeborans cited the fact that every decent person understood what was meant by the term “a–hole” in popular culture. Generally speaking, a–hole behavior was behavior that caused another human’s misery for no reason and no benefit. A–hole behavior often meant cruelty, but also included things like lying, greed, and aggression.
The Sleeborans lay out their plan
The Sleeborans had acted immediately on #1, disabling the world’s military forces and especially their nuclear weapons upon arrival. For the Sleeborans, the idea that a single unhinged human being in a leadership position could potentially destroy all life on Earth with the push of a button was impossible to believe. How had humans gotten themselves into such a ridiculous position? And when they laid it out, it did seem impossible. Why did humanity ever allow it? Why had we not, as a species, done something about it on our own? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuzH43J0mrY
More broadly, the Sleeborans noted that human leaders were often making decisions that had no benefit for the average person. There were the egregious examples, such as repressive dictatorships. But even the better positioned countries were often doing things that heavily favored the wealthy and were perpetuating the destruction of the planet.
The Sleeborans also claimed they had the ability to locate all guns and ammunition and would be collecting them over time. To the Sleeborans, a society of decent people had no need for the ability to kill a fellow member instantly. The idea was absurd to them.
With their robotic guardians – that was the Sleeboran term – the Sleeborans had also acted immediately on #4. In the interview, the robot said that all of the people who were vanishing had entered a Sleeboran facility akin to a nice hotel, where their movement was restricted to a single room and a rehabilitation program could begin. In short, the vanished humans were being treated well. They would be rehabilitated/reeducated and returned when possible. The Sleeborans encouraged all humans to immediately end all criminal, violent and asshole behavior.
The Sleeboran position on climate change and its threat to the planet
The Sleeborans were astonished by the human response (or lack thereof) to the threats from climate change. With their advanced technology and experience, the Sleeborans could see exactly where climate change was heading. But then, they argued, so could every intelligent human being. The basic concepts and processes of climate change were easy to understand. The idea that humans would ignore what was happening to the planet’s climate and willingly oversee a sixth mass extinction event, along with the eventual collapse of human civilization, was shocking to the Sleeborans: https://youtu.be/c_wF3_Y5a9E?t=30
The Sleeborans simply pointed out obvious things like:
- Rising global temperatures
- Increasing extremes in droughts and flooding
- Crop failures
- Water shortages
- Species extinctions
- Habitat decline
- Rainforest collapse
- Degradation of the oceans through heating, acidity, overfishing, pollution, plastics, and other assaults
- Sea level rise
- Forever chemicals…
They listed off dozens of things like this – assaults to the environment, assaults to other humans, impending disasters and so on, all via climate change and various forms of pollution. When they laid it out so clearly, it became embarrassing to be a human being, to be a participant in all this destruction. The Sleeborans asked why humans had not addressed and solved these problems 50 years ago, or 25 years ago, and even now the attempts at solutions were so pathetic in the face of such dire consequences. They asked why the world’s leaders had failed so spectacularly, and why the worlds followers had allowed it.
They also laid out the obvious solutions. Stop using fossil fuels. Extract a trillion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as quickly as possible. Eliminate all human activity in the rainforests. Stabilize western Antarctica to avoid a catastrophe and then solve the larger problem of incremental sea level rise. Take steps to cool the planet immediately. The Sleeborans would help, but they needed humanity to act as well.
There was nothing revolutionary in what they proposed. Scientists on Earth had understood for decades. What was refreshing was that the Sleeborans had the authority and power to cut through all of the noise and corruption and infighting and get things done immediately. Everyone would be better off.
In the weeks after this initial interview, and other interviews and announcements, and with asshole behavior in dramatic decline, an amazing consensus amongst the human species emerged. Approximately zero people on the planet wanted the planet destroyed, either by nuclear weapons or war or by climate change. No one wanted billions of fellow humans to suffer while a relatively small slice prospered.
The end of economic inequality
The Sleeborans said that, in the near future, there would no longer be any rich people or poor people. The robot gave several enlightening examples, the first being healthcare inequalities. Some people on the planet had access to all available healthcare technology. Many others had access to none, and the amount of human suffering this imbalance caused was incalculable. The same held true in terms of food, sanitation, education and so on. In the Sleeborans’ worldview, there could not be a just or prosperous society where a few humans had billions of dollars while billions of other humans were starving or nearly so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWSxzjyMNpU
The Sleeborans asked why, if humans were going to design a society and an economic system for it, the humans did not strive for an economy where:
- Every human receives high quality, healthy food
- Every human receives clean water and sanitation services
- Every human receives high quality, safe, secure housing
- Every human receives high quality health care
- Every human receives high quality clothing
- Every human receives high quality education
- Every human receives high quality transportation
- Every human receives 24×7 electricity and Internet access
- Every human receives access to technology such as computers, smart phones, washing machines, etc.
And so on…
Why would humans design things such that only a small number of people received these necessities, while the majority did not? For example, a small percentage of humans have the means to purchase a $1,000 smart phone, while those assembling the phones often received only pennies in return for an hour of their labor. The same imbalance held true for most clothing, shoes, computers, and so on.
The Sleeborans called this sort of imbalance irrational, cruel, and immoral. The fact that humans had not acted to correct these imbalances was impossible for them to understand.
How could one group of humans withhold healthcare from another group, rather than developing ways of spreading the benefits of medical technology to everyone? The Sleeborans claimed they could cure every human disease and medical problem and then asked: should the Sleeborans withhold their technology or make it freely available to everyone? In addition, how could one group of humans generate profit and wealth by withholding access to healthcare, using a person’s pain, suffering, and even life as a lever of extortion?
Therefore, the wealthy would be stripped of their assets and wealth, down to the level of a normal standard of living. And the poor would all be raised up to the same standard of living. This standard of living would be defined by the healthy carrying capacity of the planet.
Under the rules of capitalism, it was perfectly normal for a person to start a successful company, hire a million employees, and for the one person to amass $100 billion using the work of those employees to do it. To the Sleeborans, the notion of extreme wealth like this was abhorrent. Why not instead give $100,000 to each employee? Or lower prices so that the $100 billion never accumulated? The whole notion was ridiculous to the Sleeborans and would be dismantled quickly. The era of 300-foot-long yachts and private jets and 12 mansions on 5 different continents was gone forever under the Sleeborans. There simply was no tolerance for wealth in their playbook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRRByVy8iVU
Instead, the current top 5% would lose their ability to dominate and lord over their fellow humans with their vast wealth. They might feel put upon, but how could anyone be sad for them given the corresponding gains of the other 95%?
Who would run the governments of the world, and the corporations, and the businesses of the world? The Sleeborans would, and they would do so without corruption or any desire for profit or wealth. The example they used was the United States Post Office. It has hundreds of thousands of employees all doing their jobs for a reasonable pay rate. There is no CEO in the post office making $100 million per year or holding $100 billion in stock. There is no team of wealthy “executives” making millions of dollars and owning millions of shares of stock. Compare the post office to Walmart, where the children of the founder make $3 billion in dividends per year. The Sleeborans found this sort of imbalance repulsive, and their goal was to eliminate it.
In terms of the governments, the Sleeborans noted how inconsistent the world’s governments were. Governments in countries like North Korea, Afghanistan, and Venezuela were destructive and ruined the lives of tens of millions of people, and there appeared to be no recourse from the rest of the world.
All of this disfunction would end.
The thing that was so amazing and refreshing about their arrival was that the Sleeborans did the things that every thoughtful person knew had to be done. They destroyed the threat of nuclear annihilation. They eliminated all the assholes who were ruining society for everyone else. They made the hard decisions on climate change and then acted impressively. They brought everyone in the human species up to the same standard of living, rather than tolerating the amazing inequalities that had been the norm for so long. They eliminated the hyper rich and their absurdities. The world was becoming a much better place.
After nuclear weapons, the biggest threat to civilization and the planet was climate change. The Sleeborans outlined all the problems Earth and humanity faced, and then enacted solutions. There was nothing magic in what they were doing, they simply did the obvious things that needed to be done. They cut through all the absurdity and roadblocks and assholery that had stymied human progress for decades.
Were the Sleeborans agents of peace and progress? Absolutely. Nearly everyone of Earth benefitted from their arrival.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWSxzjyMNpU – Global Wealth Inequality – What you never knew you never knew
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuzH43J0mrY – The Story of Nuclear Winter
- https://youtu.be/c_wF3_Y5a9E?t=30 – Why climate change is an ‘all-encompassing threat’
- https://youtu.be/Z1fvMmkIfSM – How would the United States Fight a Nuclear War?
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS2GBq5lKAU – The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRRByVy8iVU – The Most Expensive House In The World