The measure of Civilization

View 823, Friday, May 09, 2014

I spent the day with friends going to the JPL Lecture by Claudio Maccone on finding a metric to measure the level of a civilization; this in anticipation of messages from an alien civilization. It is likely that civilization is more advanced than ours if it initiates contact with us. The question is, how much more advanced? Is level of civilization subject to measure? If so what models are there for this?

The answer to the first question is, we don’t know, but it sure would be important if we could do it. As to what models we might employ, until now none at all. This first cut measure by Maccone is is subject to considerable debate, but it is a starting point on a subject I would have previously thought impossible. I sat fascinated during the lecture and I suspect I was overly enthusiastic in some of my questions at the question period, but this was about the most interesting lecture I have been to in years.

Dr. Maccone isn’t certain he has answers but he has developed some beautiful mathematics to produce a model that might let us obtain such a metric, on both ourselves and on some alien civilization. Clearly this is a first cut at a highly difficult task. I’d never have thought of trying it. My thanks to Greg Vane, Senior Executive Advisor for Strategic Planning Solar Systems Directorate at JPL for inviting us to attend. Afterwards some of us went to dinner to discuss it, and my head is filled with questions.

It’s late now and I’m tired, so I’ll have to leave you with that teaser. I intend to do more with his presentation tomorrow, but tomorrow morning Roberta and I will be going to the live video simulcast of Rossini’s La Cenerentola tomorrow at a local movie theater, so I’ll be a bit late getting started.

I’ll ad a picture, but the rest will have to wait.


Dr. Claudio Maccone, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Lou Friedman at JPL just before the lecture on May 9, 2014. The lecture/seminar was on the subject of metrics for comparing development state of civilizations. Lou Friedman is the former Executive Director of the Planetary Society. Dr. Maccone is author of Mathematical SETI, a textbook for university courses on the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence


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