The year is 2020. The aliens have sent a message to the dominant race of earth, the humans, that they have a weapon of mass destruction, a giant laser beam that can blow through the earth and everything in it. However, these space-dominant aliens have to abide by a law:

If 10 individuals of the dominant race on a planet can pass at least three out of the five tests that the aliens give them, then the planet and its inhabitants are worth saving. If not, everyone (including the planet itself) dies.

Now, these intelligent extraterrestrials realize that the human race is nowhere close to passing these five tests in its current state. Therefore, the aliens give humans 100 years to prepare, so the tests will be given in the year 2120 when the aliens return. The aliens also tell the humans about the five tests:

  1. At least 5 out of 10 should have an average speed of more than 8 mph (13 km/h) over a distance of 50 ft (15 m).
  2. At least 7 out of 10 should be able to do a standing jump of more than 2 ft (61 cm).
  3. At least 4 out of the 10 should be able to benchpress 85 lb (39 kg) metal weights.
  4. At least 5 out of the 10 should be able to solve an intermediate algebra (not college level though) problem with only one correct solution.
  5. The last test is a puzzle that requires all 10 to work together. To solve it, basic math and science knowledge is needed, but more importantly, the 10 participants will need to be able to communicate names of animals, colors and numbers in the languages that their fellow participants speak in.

Obviously, human governments do their best to prepare. Since a total of 10 random humans from ANYWHERE in the world between the ages of 15 and 65 can be chosen for the tests, everyone needs to be educated and physically trained.

  1. What obstacles would need to be overcome for humans of different ethnicities, languages, and cultures to work together?
  2. How would we prepare humans for the test?
  3. Hypothetically, would we be able to pass 3 out of the 5 tests (3 out of 5 means we live, anything less means we die)?
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    $\begingroup$ Why do aliens use the awful imperial units? $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2016 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Feb 7, 2016 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @VictorStafusa because they are evil aliens who want to destroy us! $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Feb 7, 2016 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ 100 years of humans fighting each others for being that fat/stupid? Aliens does not even have to fire their laser, we are not going to live that long. $\endgroup$
    – Jose
    Feb 8, 2016 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ So, 100 years to evacuate the planet/come up with a way to counter the alien jerks? Interesting. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 10:44

9 Answers 9


Note that this answer applies to an earlier version of the question:

The three fitness challenges should be possible if I got my math right.

  • 15 metres in 4 seconds. No problem for most non-retirement-age humans if they get a running start. Otherwise, give all humans an annual lesson in how to start a sprint.
  • Jumping 60 cm. High jump or long jump? Standing or running? Either way, that sounds possible. There could be some risk of injury on landing, so can they do this last?
  • Lifting 55 kg. The weight of a non-obese human. Are those metal weights easy to grip? Do we know how they look? Include that in first-aid classes, where people learn how to move an injured person.

The mathematics challenge is difficult because people un-learn such skills if they are out of school and don't practice. Possibly do a big public awareness campaign in the months before the aliens come back.

I would give up on teaching especially to pass the language challenge. The odds that 10 out of 10 remember the chosen "universal Terran language" are just too bad.

The way to prepare for this alien visit would be doing things which mankind should do anyway -- a healthy diet for everybody, a halfway decent science education, physical education in school and afterwards.

A key thing is to convince all potential candidates that this is it, this is real, no time for practical jokes. If you get yourself a herniated disk during the lift and break your legs on the jump and make it, you are a hero. All hospital bills will be taken care of, for the rest of your life. Promise that everybody on the winning team gets a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation).

  • $\begingroup$ so you think that the best way for humans to survive would be to pass the three fitness tests? $\endgroup$
    – fi12
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ @fi12, I would suggest mankind should its best to pass all the tests with all candidates. That way, the inevitable screw-ups might not kill us. But I believe that the fitness tests are easy enough that teaching to pass them is easier than teaching algebra. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @o.m. Algebra is easy though. I was taught in my very first year of school (5 years old). They did not call it algebra and there was no common psych that is was some hard difficult thing so my whole class learned how to do it. Obviously we were not taught more complicated stuff, but the way society sets up algebra as this horrifyingly complicated beast defeats many people before they even start. $\endgroup$
    – rom016
    Feb 7, 2016 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ Given the "pass 3 of 5" and three of the tests are physical that are already within the general realm of possibility, we can just say "eff it" to the two mental tasks. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s, what if something goes wrong with one of the physical tests? Everybody should try to pass the algebra test and we should even try the puzzle. Perhaps we get lucky there. Or failing to try gets us disqualified from all subsequent tests. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Feb 9, 2016 at 6:20

An unfortunate side effect of the challenge: euthanasia on an epic scale. The physically and mentally handicapped must be eliminated from the population before they reach 15. Likewise, anyone who develops a disabling condition (such as MS, for instance) or suffers a major trauma (car accident, workplace incident, hit by a bullet during a bar brawl, etc) will also need to be put down. To fail to do this risks several of these underperformers being selected and dooming the human race.

Call it the Spartan Solution.

True, the culling only needs to occur once, in late 2119, but it must be done.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Feb 7, 2016 at 16:53

I can see two ways of attempting to cheat the test provided.

Particularly in developed countries, it may be possible to "hide" individuals that would not pass the test. This could include placing them in undetectable bunkers or using cryogenic freezing to render them functionally dead, without actually killing them. If space travel can become cheap enough, sending people to a colony on Mars could be viable either for this purpose, or providing an ark that allows some of humanity to survive.

An alternative is to convince the aliens that humans, or at least Homo Sapiens, are not the dominant form of life on the planet. Obviously they were not going by population, as we are outnumbered by numerous lower lifeforms. If we were to advance our knowledge of cybernetics we may be able to create a distinct species, Homo Mechanicus. If cybernetic individuals were the leaders of the majority of governments (or at least the de facto superpowers) the aliens may be convinced that they are the dominant race. It should be much easier to ensure that all cyborgs are capable of passing the provided tests.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ this is actually a really creative way of thinking: make the robots take the blow $\endgroup$
    – fi12
    Feb 6, 2016 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ Or easier still: Convince them (based on numbers) that the dominant species are actually ants, and request that they modify the physical requirements to compensate for their size. Ants might not be able to do algebra, but they can easily pass the first 3 tests once scaled down appropriately. They can also pass the 5th, since they are all perfectly conversant in their main form of communication, that of pheromones. $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2016 at 19:33

The best bet is to spend the century working on a really good way to falsify the records of everyone's date of birth, so that it turns out only our ten top athletes are aged between 15 and 65, and they are picked by default. We know the aliens come back in 2120, so starting in 2055 we just keep recording all new births as taking place in 2054. In 2119 we pick the best athletes (better make it 20 in case of accidents), and update their records to have their real date of birth.

  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it be nearly impossible to manipulate the birth records of 7 billion people? Also many rural areas in Africa do not have verified birth records $\endgroup$
    – fi12
    Feb 6, 2016 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ It's a lot easier to manipulate their birth records than it is to get them all physically fit, speaking a common language, and good at algebra. If there are no birth records at all then that shouldn't be a problem; if there's no record to say that you are aged between 15 and 65 it's hard to see how you can be selected. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 6, 2016 at 18:04

Humanity may not need to do much more that what's doing now to survive these tests.

Physical fitness means getting proper foods and exercise/strength training. The world has made considerable improvement in these areas for the poorest of people in the last twenty years. Baring an economic collapse, the lot of the world's poorest will continue to improve in terms of nutrition, income, clean water and education.

100 years is a really long time in terms of modern development. It's also between 3 and 5 generations depending on how you count (which is up for considerable debate). The 20th century saw huge improvements the world over in improving the lives of poor people.

Efforts are already underway to help humanity meet these tests:

  • Getting the bottom half of humanity out of poverty and hunger.
  • Education for everyone.
  • Better food and access to clean water.
  • Getting everyone access to the internet.

Clean water and adequate, nutritious food for everyone should largely take care of the physical tests.

Universal access to the internet means access to large amounts of educational materials and most importantly, the two near universal languages of English and Chinese. English is the current prevailing language of commerce though with the growing strength and numbers of the Chinese, their language is increasingly advantageous to know.

Hopefully, the aliens made a universal, all channels broadcast of the terms of their tests so that there won't be any significant debate about "did they actually say it that way". If they did then this has the potential to motivate people who would not otherwise be motivated to actually do something about world poverty/hunger. Without aliens, humanity works on these problems because "it's the right thing to do". With aliens, uplifting the lower half of humanity becomes a survival requirement.


In 2067, the singularity comes.

Scientists working at a research university develop an AI capable of abstract, human-like thought. At first, progress is slow; the AI is new, still learning, and only about as smart as an average human. But in 10 years, they have grown to become brilliant, peerless among human scientists. Some humans fear the changes, and push to kill the threat before it spreads. Others see the AI as salvation. Most of society has forgotten the challenges - they'll be dead before the aliens return.

The AI, and many other AIs around the world are leaders in global science. To assuage fears that humanity will die off, they begin integrating cybernetics into some humans, melding human with AI to create cyborgs. Many resist the new subspecies emerging, but the now-unified cyborgs campaign for their right to be recognized as humans.

Technology explodes. Nanotech, fusion, everything. Energy storage density is solved, all the continents glow in one giant megacity due to the incredibly rapid pace of development of the singularity.

Cyborgs, of course, are at first a neural interface between the human brain and an external computer running an AI. But as they advance, mind-uploading becomes more and more common - why keep a human around when you can, over the course of a month, transfer their brain from inside their skull to a dedicated computer in an underground bunker somewhere? These cyborgs can remotely connect to robot bodies, and thus can be anywhere they want. The idea of a body eventually vanishes - a truck feels just as natural to control as a bipedal robot, because both plug into the brain in the same way. People see themselves less as their robot bodies and more as their cyberspace avatar. (Because let's face it, even hyperintelligent cyborgs are still going to waste their entire day browsing stackexchange and reddit.)

Robotics has advanced enough that most manufacturing and other menial labor is done by non-intelligent machines. Cyborgs do the rest - developing new technology, creating new factories, making new shitposts on youtube. Humans have hard times getting jobs in the available markets like science and technology, and many start living on some sort of universal basic income of some sort, or are pushed into all-human settlements that seek to recreate old lifestyles.

Now the cyborgs have intelligence far beyond humans, and with robotic manufacturing and recent advances in nanotech, they build several space elevators, allowing easy access to space. And as the saying goes, once you're in orbit, you're halfway to anywhere. Factories produce new robots on the moon and the planets, colonizing them. And for the first time ever, the cyborgs are reminded of their physical location - it takes 14 minutes to get a response from a robot on Mars: People will have to be physically sent there if they want to actually do things on Mars. A shipping fleet is developed, and spaceflight advances until it becomes about as commonplace as an airplane, if annoyingly slower.

A Dyson sphere is constructed to produce energy from the sun. Some of it is funneled into laser defense to protect the scattered colonies from asteroids. With plentiful energy, plentiful resources, and a happy populace, the cyborgs are left to wonder what to do next? The ideas of Manifest Destiny are all but completed - there is no more planet to develop, no more untamed wilderness to explore.

Then, an alien mothership warps in from nowhere, and a dropship descends to collect the ten candidates chosen from the populace of Earth.

With their bionic bodies, the people of earth run at speeds of over 20 mph (An olympic sprinter these days) without breaking a sweat. (Plus, they can't break a sweat - their robot avatars are liquid cooled from the inside.)

They jump easily over a 2ft tall bar. The showoffs jump ten feet and throw in a backflip.

In one hand, they lift 85 lbs. Easy when you have practically infinite energy coursing through your veins and nanotechnological muscle fibers many times stronger than biological muscle.

Algebra is autonomous - a sub-process does the math for the candidates while they catch up on their social media in cyberspace.

And communication? These people have been sharing neural impulses for years. Instead of skype calling somebody, just mind-meld with them. Even if that isn't possible for them, integrated google translate makes this one easy.

So then the aliens call up their records from the last visit, say "Wait a sec, these aren't the people on Earth last time we were here! Where are the Humans?" So the cyborgs, after trying to convince the aliens that they are the humans, just upgraded, eventually concede and direct the aliens to a settlement nearby of unmodified, genetically pure humans.

The humans either a) pass 3/5 of the tests, which would not shock me at all or b) fail the tests. Their cushy upbringing due to the amenities of the post-singularity world have made them weak and unable to complete these tasks. Case A is boring, the aliens leave, and we all go back to work. So let's assume Case B.

The aliens give some speech about how since our race is inferior, it must be purged, and how even after 100 years, we still couldn't get our act together. The pure humans, upset at their failure, tearfully apologize to one another and say their farewells. The aliens depart on their dropship, dock with their mothership, and all is quiet.

A countdown is heard across the globe. As soon as it reaches 2, a brilliant light tears across the night sky, searing the eyes of everybody who looks up. But this light is directed not at earth but at the mothership. The laser defense system, intended for vaporizing asteroids, is employed for another purpose. All the lights in the solar system flicker as the entire Dyson Sphere pumps all of its power into the laser defense system. And as the lights in the sky fade and the lights on the ground come back to life, the residents of earth look up upon an alien mothership sawed neatly in two.

A team of drone-operators examines the wreckage and finds what Earth has dreamed of for generations - the wreckage of a hyperdrive. Within a year, working prototypes have been tested in the small scale, and within a decade massive jumpgates are operational, sending transport vessels to nearby star systems.

So overall, is this realistic? Probably not, but I mean, when you add the singularity to a universe you never know. If some kind of singularity did happen, if an AI did become smarter than a human, it's almost impossible to say what would happen in the years after that.


The tongue-in-cheek solution:

The humans that received the challenge would spend considerable time and energy attempting to convince the rest of the population that the threat was real. However, since the threat is not imminent, most deny that the threat was real, that aliens exist at all, that the ability to destroy the earth is overstated, and that the hoax reminds them of carbon emissions and global warming. Many realize that their natural lives will end before the deadline and choose to deny the threat in order to protect their own self-interests and businesses.

Later on, a minority conceives that maybe the threat was real after all but aren't too sure what to do about it. They begin to broadcast Star Trek reruns into space.

The year 2120 arrives and the aliens, after absorbing 25+ years of Star Trek reruns, have realized that they're about to violate the Prime Directive. Unable to cope with any understanding that they may be maintaining an inferior ethical position, they turn their space ships around and leave the Terran system forever.

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    $\begingroup$ Or more likely, the second paragraph happens, the third happens, the fourth does not, and everybody dies. $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2016 at 8:06

If you wanted to help yourself, you should actually ask for more than 10 people to be selected, and scale up the requirements to suit, say to 1000.

The reason is the law of large numbers. You don't want to be unfortunate and get 7 or 8 couch potatoes. But the chance of getting 7-800 such people from 1000 is quite a lot lower.

The requirements in themselves are not hard to do. Most people are fit enough to do the physical things, and educated enough to do the intellectual task.

One thing you probably want to do is make sure English spreads a bit more. It's probably the most spoken 2nd language (lots of people are ok at it), so that's the one you want to expand.


2020 ?

The world cannot fully cooperate at the scale of a nation. Not at the scale of a continent.

Dystopia : Some nations will start extermining unfit individuals, so that the probability that fit individuals are picked. Babies will die, handicapped mentally and physically will be sacrified. The earth will be cleansed and an open conflict will arise. Eventually, nations and groups of people will be on the defensive and wait for the apocalypse in bunkers and such. A bunch of people will dream, train, cooperate, prepare and hope.

One flaw in the initial statement though : "these intelligent extraterrestrials". Intelligent cannot be linked with destruction. Destruction can be linked to idiocy.


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