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The only logical reason a alien empire was to let us join them was if we had something to offer them. After all, alien empires aren't running a charity!

Let's assume that humans have discovered the effects of an alien empire in space, we do not know how much more advanced than us they are, what they have or what they look like. Considering that aliens could very well be better than us in any aspect, what feature can we guarantee we are better than them at? What do we, as a species, have to offer a galactic empire of different alien species that they do not have?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 26 '16 at 13:55

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What do we have? Resources. And waste. Really depends on the aliens. You seem to be focusing on tech, but they will have that.

  • In Doctor Who, there were two fly-based aliens looking for, well, poop. Waste products are a valuable resource in certain situations and for certain aliens.

  • Plastic. We have a lot of plastic that we want to get rid of. These aliens might eat it and consider it a delicacy.

  • Water. Despite shortages, there are plenty of planets that don't have enough.

  • Novel experiences and stories. For the aliens who have everything.

  • Coffee. We have coffee. And chocolate chip cookies.

  • Earthworms. That sounds crazy doesn't it? But they are an important contributor to life on our planet.

  • Genetic material. Why resequence a gene when you can borrow? These aliens might have capability in some areas of science, including this one, but this would be cheaper and quicker.

  • Resistance to radiation. Rads are present everywhere on this planet, and we just walk around, without suits. Life has adapted to the sun's radiation. Oh, we get sunburns, but if these aliens developed on a world with a different thickness of atmosphere, they might find that we are cheaper to use on away missions. For instance, if the planet that they developed on has a much more congenial level of rads than most life-supporting planets, then it would make sense to have humans collect samples for them, thus saving on valuable resources on ship, if they still breathe oxygen. EDIT: Adding this link thanks to @Rob Watts in the comments. Humans are scary.

Pretty much, if you can think of something not-so-useful that we have a lot of or can do that seems completely ordinary to us chances are, somewhere someone out in the stars wants it. The question is pretty vague because aliens are, well, alien. There's no guarantee we're going to better at anything than they are. Like they might have an abundance of gold and think it's pretty worthless, while we will have all the poop they will ever need…

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    $\begingroup$ In my fictional universe there's companies that pirate music from pre-space civilizations, legally required to pony up 100% of the income from sales to the actual copyright owner as soon as it's legal to actually talk to them. They make money because not every copyright owner continues to exist long enough to collect that debt. $\endgroup$ – Schilcote Jul 21 '16 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ There is a sci-fi novel "The Second Invasion from Mars" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in which martians invaded Earth for... human gastric juice. $\endgroup$ – Mr Scapegrace Jul 21 '16 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ Why lift water from Earth rather than mine ice from shallower gravity wells? $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Jul 21 '16 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android: given that we're talking about an alien "empire", an entirely plausible legal situation would be that whoever found the solar system and stuck a flag in it would be the IP owner, not the natives ;-) Or, depending how they see us, not the native fauna and flora. You don't pay royalties to birds and flowers. So it could be a lot worse than Schilcote's system... $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jul 21 '16 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ The "resistance to radiation" section could actually be considerably expanded - there are a number of ways in which humans could potentially be above average. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Jul 21 '16 at 21:04
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Entertainment

Presumably we think differently than the aliens do. Our literature and music would be unique to them, offering them new chances to enrich their lives or just be amused or entertained.

Bio-diversity

Our food, assuming it is not toxic to them, would be a new set of flavors. We might have plants that can help their environments, or just look pretty in their gardens or vases.

If they are based on nucleic acids, they might also find something in our DNA or the DNA of other Earth life that could help heal their diseases and help prevent genetic stagnation.

Or they could just refine our previously unknown diseases into new bioweapons.

Their pathetic lives

Frankly, we are a violent race, and are very good at finding new ways to hurt and kill. If they can't avoid us, they might do well to stay on our good sides.

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    $\begingroup$ Their pathetic lives - yep that work every time)) $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Galactic empires everywhere must quake in their boots at the thought of violent humans. Chances are they could vaporise our planet in a microsecond. On the other hand, biodiversity is an excellent choice. Our unique evolutionary history would produce substances for use in medicine and pharmaceuticals. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 21 '16 at 5:18
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    $\begingroup$ what entertainment could go viral in an alien culture.... "have you seen the latest thing, its hilarious, these humans, remove their external wrappings, then, you'll never believe it, but one of them puts part of themself inside the other one and then takes it out, then in and out. Crazy humans, I nearly dried out it was so funny."... of course, the classic (I forget the books I've read this story in) is for humans to wage war while the aliens watch and bet on the outcomes. $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Jul 21 '16 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ As we've never met any actual aliens, there's no way to know if they'd consider us a violent race or a bizarrely pacifist race. Maybe the aliens would watch us and say, "I can't believe it! These two humans met, and then they just talked for a while and walked away! At no point did either one try to kill and eat the other. What a bizarre race." $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Jay: Of course, that would imply that right after saying that, the speaker tries to kill the listener… $\endgroup$ – Holger Jul 21 '16 at 16:52
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Well, hmm, who says they're not running a charity? Many Europeans and Americans in the 19th century thought that advanced western civilizations had a moral obligation to help poor countries, and this was one of the motives behind the colonial era. (Yes, other motives were selfish and exploitive. Real life is complicated.)

Which brings me to one way to approach the question: Why did rich, technologically advanced nations on Earth in the past build colonial empires that took in poor, backward places? And while the colonial era is pretty much over, why do rich, advanced nations today trade with poor countries? What do they have to offer?

  1. Natural resources. Earth might have specific resources that are rare on the aliens' planet(s).

  2. Cheap labor. People with lower technology tend to be willing to work for less. If the aliens are way ahead of us, in their eyes we may be cheap labor.

  3. Specific skills. Just because people group A are more technologically advanced than people group B doesn't mean that they are better at EVERYTHING. Germany has been a leader in chemistry for centuries: many countries equal Germany in technology in general, but the Germans still outdo them in chemistry. Likewise the UK and US lead in medicine. Japan in auto manufacturing. France in wine. Etc. Different nations have historically excelled at different things. That's a big reason why international trade exists: if everyone in the world was equally good at every job, there'd be no reason to trade. Rather than shipping things around the world we'd just make everything ourselves. And that's among humans, where we all have the same basic genetics. Perhaps the super-advanced aliens have much poorer hearing than humans do, etc, so humans can surpass them at tasks that require good hearing regardless of our technological inferiority.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, there's benefits to be had by trade even if everyone is equally good at everything, because there's usually inherent benefits in specializing. :P $\endgroup$ – Schilcote Jul 21 '16 at 5:36
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    $\begingroup$ By the time the aliens come over here, persuade humans to work for them, transport the humans elsewhere, provide the humans with everything they need to live. ( people will need very different food and even air than the aliens) Then the people have to be trained in whatever the aliens want us to do. Robots are easier. They can be mass produced, fixed without the aliens needing specialized medical knowledge, designed for purpose and so on. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jul 21 '16 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson That assumes that the aliens would have any reason to transport the humans elsewhere and train them. Here on Earth, the UK is much richer and more technologically advanced then Kenya, but the UK buys, for example, cement from Kenya. They do not transport the Kenyans to the UK to make the cement, and I don't think the UK has schools in Kenya to teach Kenyans how to make cement. In any case, if the aliens' robots can do any job people can do, they probably can do any job the aliens can do also, and you have a whole different kind of story. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Schilcote True. Often, the advantage of specializing is that you become more skilled at that job when you do the same job all the time. There are also issues of economies of scale. Instead of place A having a factory with 500 workers making widgets and another factory with 500 workers making doodads, while place B does the same, it might be more efficient for place A to have one factory with 1000 workers making widgets while place B has one factory with 1000 workers making doodads, and then they trade the output. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ On the flip side of charity.... "Religion". They may be missionaries/evangelists coming here to spread word of their god(s). I do not in any way foresee this ending badly, as humans are notoriously good at accepting the beliefs of others without violence $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Jul 22 '16 at 10:31
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Location, Location, and Location.

For a second-hand copy of FTL for Dummies, we'd build them a spaceport. If we happen to be halfway between their homeworld and a planet with the most beautiful beaches of the galaxy (in their entirely subjective opinion) or perhaps next to the naval base of a rival, that's a deal too good to be true.

Strength in Numbers.

We don't know how the galaxy is organized. Perhaps there is some equivalent of the UN or the WTO (or the soccer world championship) where Earth joining the Evil Empire would give them another vote.


Follow-Up: My idea with the second bullet point is that the aliens gain something in galactic society/politics by being able to claim that they represent a multi-species empire, the more species the better. Maybe they are gaming the system here, as Jay commented. One vote per species in some assembly, even if everybody knows that only one world in the empire calls the shots. Compare how two extra Soviet republics were part of the UN during the Cold War.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't really see how Strength in Numbers works in this case. Considering that they are way more advanced than we are (with their fancy FTL and everything), It would like trying to increase population of your country by giving citizenship to dolphins or dogs. $\endgroup$ – Mr Scapegrace Jul 21 '16 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ @maxMrScapegracerubanov you mean just like the Three-Fifths Compromise in the US? $\endgroup$ – kat0r Jul 21 '16 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ @maxMrScapegracerubanov That depends on the rules of the Galactic Confederation. Here on Earth, every nation in the UN gets one vote in the General Assembly, regardless of how advanced or primitive or rich or poor they are. Perhaps the aliens recognize all intelligent species as equally worthy of respect regardless of their level of technology. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @o.m. Of course to the aliens, they might be looking for the most beautiful bug-infested swamps or subterranean lava flows in the galaxy, but yeah. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @maxMrScapegracerubanov Sure. I'm not saying I'd WANT to become a vassal state in an alien empire. I don't like the idea of having to live under laws passed by a bunch of people in Congress from New York and California who share neither my economic circumstances nor my religious and philosophical beliefs. I'd be surprised if I actually WANTED to live under a government controlled by an alien race from another planet. But that was the premise of the question, and I thought it was answerable as given. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 14:04
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Why would we want to join their empire?

We just met them. We don't know anything about them. We only know that they are technological advanced. We don't know if their morals/ethics are compatible with us. We don't know if they would even want us to join their empire, even if we were as far developed as they are.

There is multiple ways this can go. They might be conquerors and simply might want to take our resources. Look at Independence day. Not necessarily the most interesting story to tell.

Lets say they aren't outright hostile. But they aren't a charity, either. So make them interested in information. They probably want to study us, want to learn about us and the creatures living on our planet. After some negotiations, it is decided that they create an embassy on Earth, and that we keep an open communication channel with them. They send some scientists as well to study Earth. We will want to do the same with them. Maybe they won't hand us their technology, but information about their social structures, their home planet, their political landscape etc. are all very valuable.

This process will also yield information about what we have and they want and vice-versa. The first thing that happens is trade. Art in particular. Life will have developed differently on different planets, so there will be plants, tress etc. They don't know about. Those can be used as material in art they might be interested in. Music and instruments are another thing we might have to offer that they might want to import.

So at first, the relationship will be based on information interchange, then more and more trade. While art and entertainment always work, you could always make some resources restricted for them.

They might live on a quite barren planet and consider large bodies of water to be quite are. Earth could become a place of interest for tourism for them.

At that point we'd have a pretty good relationship with them. We interchange information and we trade. So we revisit the question I posed earlier:

Why would we want to join their empire?

On earth, nations trade and exchange information. Yet they rarely want to merge.

Maybe trading could be made easier if we were part of their empire. This isn't a problem we could negotiate a free trading agreement with them (think TTIP).

As long as there isn't an outside force / a threat, there would be no reason for us to want to join them in the first place. And even if there was another civilization that indeed was hostile, we still wouldn't necessarily want to join them. They could agree to protect us if they think relations are good, and might even try to ally with us (think NATO), because they might be interested in their enemy conquering a nearby star-system and would like the heads-up and warning. So much like NATO has less powerful members as buffer-zones, we could be a buffer zone for them and be under their protection.

In order for us to want to join their empire, there has to be a sense of common shared identity. Which needs to evolve over time, possibly generations. Nations on Earth form because of a long history and a common shared identity, the sense of "belonging together". This sense isn't just there.

So the question isn#t really what we can offer them in forms of trade/tech/knowledge, but the question is what can we experience together with them / what events might transpire to form a bond of trust, understanding and to create a shared identity so that we and them would want to merge into one empire. Its an interesting thing to explore.

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Strangely enough it is ourselves. It's very probable sapient life is rare in the universe. Perhaps there might be only a hundred or so sapient species in the entire galaxy. Finding one more sapient lifeform would be invaluable scientifically, intellectually and culturally to the starfaring civilisations of the galaxy.

Early European explorers when they were undertaking oceanic voyages and discovering new cultures and populations of peoples around the world and especially in the Pacific Ocean, they also had to do a lot of trading of goods and materials that were extremely valuable to be allowed to examine and investigate the islanders and their society. With a little horse-trading we could do the same. Perhaps, stardrives instead of nails and axes.

We should remember those encounters between two alien cultures did involve a considerable amount of copulation. But those first contacts were between members of the same species. First contact between two cultures with alien biologies might involve a lot less copulation, but you never know do you? There is a long history for this sort of activity. It could add a whole new meaning to the phrase the fleet's in.

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  • $\begingroup$ If we're going to get serious, the available scientific evidence at the moment is that the number of known aliens races is approximately ... zero. While we are certainly a long way from proving that there is no intelligent life in the universe besides us, we are an even longer way from proving that there is. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Jay Number of alien intelligences being zero is a fact plain and simple. Estimates for other sapients in the galaxy varies from zero to millions. if zero, then we're alone & the OP's question goes out the window. I choose a plausible but conservative figure. It makes sense that sapient life will be valuable to other sapients as each other sapient species is likely to have a singular development history. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 21 '16 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Sure. I'm happy to go with the premise of the question and assume that there is such a thing as an alien empire for the sake of discussion. Just commenting. $\endgroup$ – Jay Jul 21 '16 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Jay I was going with the alien empire premise too. It's a big universe out there and alien empires could easily co-exist with issues about the prevalence of sapient life. Just to give an answer with a different slant. I hope I succeeded. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 22 '16 at 14:03
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Minerals like iron or bronze can be found all over the universe. Water isn't commonly found in liquid form but in ice form it can be very plentiful. Same goes with salt. However there are a few things that can't be found or at least we haven't found in the universe.

Protein: so far we've found no plants or animals in our universe. Is the rest of the universe is anything like what we've discovered so far then organic materials and proteins might be in short supply.

Fossil fuels: oil coal and other fossil fuels are made from organic materials as stated earlier large quantities of organic materials appear to be a rarity in our universe by extension so would fossil fuels.

And of course there's always Slave labor. We don't know much about the alien culture and Technology it's possible they don't have or refuse to use intelligent AI or robots. If that is the case they might seek to use slave labor as a substitute.

Location: it's also possible their interest in her it has nothing to do with us but the location of Earth it is halfway between two civilization who often trade with each other they might be interested in us at the halfway point where they can stop refuel and gather supplies.

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    $\begingroup$ I quite like the possibilities inherent in a halfway point. This also raises questions of balance between competing galactic powers. We could perhaps be a place to play out proxy power struggles. $\endgroup$ – jorfus Jul 22 '16 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ @jorfus you raises up another possibility for an alien civilization to be interested in us. Warfare. In the New World European nations what often use Native Americans as soldiers giving them Advanced European weapons and sending them against other European States. If this civilization is involved in a long War perhaps it needs a fresh troops. If they provide us with the technology 7 billion extra soldiers might mean the difference between Victory and defeat. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 22 '16 at 3:30
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Who says they have to be running a charity?

Technical specifications/textbooks are nothing more than data, which would hardly cost a great deal unless they've got extremely inefficient methods of holding data (in which case, hey, show them flash storage). They simply say 'Here's some technical specifications, if you can manage to build this with your own resources then you can join the Empire and start paying taxes'. Now they've got another vassal that they can use to pump out resources. Look at it not from the perspective of 'What can the humans offer us in terms of technology/society/resources' but 'What can 7 Billion+ sapient organisms offer us in terms of productivity'.

Assuming that the method of FTL they use doesn't rely on unobtainium (and in all cases, if you want to have Earth stand a chance at all, you need to apply some arbitrary rules somewhere), there's no reason it shouldn't be build-able with what we have on Earth.

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The short answer is that we can't guarantee anything.

The things we have, the knowns we can offer, we don't know if they have it or better. We don't know if they want anything to do with us. And we don't know if they are the type to try to conquer us and take what they want, should we have it.

That doesn't mean to say we have nothing, or nothing to offer. We have our art, our music, our culinary arts, our poetry -- the good things in life.

We also know that the galaxy is filled with much the same natural resources we have here on Earth, so we can assume they won't need to conquer us for that. After all, a predator only hunts what is worth the energy.

So, if the goal is to open a channel with them, to start trade or what have you, then being as open as we dare is the wiser option. What we can offer is exactly what we need them to tell us, or at the very least let them show us what they appreciate.

Hope this helps ^_^

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The Earth has a property that might be rather rare, and has been suggested as something that could attract alien tourists, and somewhere that we should look for alien tourists in case there already are some secretly on earth.

The Moon is the same angular size in the sky as the Sun. Therefore in particular we have near-perfect eclipses (occultations) allowing viewing of the entire solar corona. We can't predict alien aesthetics, but if they are interested in astronomy then this is interesting and cool.

Obviously if you have interplanetary travel then you can position yourself in a location with this property any time you like, but the ability to view it from the surface of a planet might be unusual.

As well as probably being rare it is also temporary. The Moon is a rather large satellite, properly we're binary planets in the sense that the centre of mass of the system is outside the surface of the Earth. It is being hoisted into a higher orbit by tidal interaction with the Earth, and in about half a billion years or so all eclipses will be annular.

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Nothing ( Research Opportunity? )

Think of what a tribe of apes in a jungle could offer us. Their food is in tiny quantities and not what humans want anyway. Getting to them and providing for them is difficult. They aren't easy to train and aren't good enough to do even low skill jobs. In the event that they are sitting on important resources we won't trade anyway.

To the aliens we will be a long way from anywhere ( if we were on a main route we would notice it) and we will have a pathetic amount of resources. Intelligent life is rare in the universe and the amount of resources used will be negligible whatever they do on our scale. ( the researcher could give the apes as much food as they could eat ) The aliens do not stand to gain anything much because they can make whatever we could give them ourselves, the alien population will be millions of times ours so they will study us for scientific purposes. The aliens will have the tech and manpower to scrutinize earth in great detail if they wanted to. This may or may not involve interacting with us but as macroscopic interstellar spaceships will release a huge amount of energy when slowing down, the aliens could easily avoid incinerating earth but getting us not to notice them stopping would be much harder. As they will probably construct a Dyson swarm or suchlike we will easily be able to see evidence of them.

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  • $\begingroup$ @DonaldHudson you're making a lot of assumptions on what the aliens can and can't do. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 21 '16 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ your premise with jungle apes it totally off reality. They offer and we accept. I heard they eat bananas, so if ape offers to me a banana, instead of me crunching and crawling and climbing at banana tree yhea - 'll accept)). They are smarter then dogs, and are used. Main problem with premise you describing kinda gods earthworm relations. We are not gods, but we make different agreements with animals, relations etc. If you might to say that animals are useless for us ... Problems are animals barely fit communication skills, we are better at that, good enough for some tasks. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ "The aliens can make whatever we could give them". Because they have superior abilities, yes. In The Golden Age, Charles C. Wright solves this by remembering opportunity cost: "Any midlevel Sophotech could have written in one second the architecture it takes me, even with my implants, an hour to compose. But if, in that same one second of time, that Sophotech can produce something more valuable [...] then the competition is not making me redundant." So the aliens can make use of human labour to free themselves up to do other things. $\endgroup$ – Rob Fisher Jul 22 '16 at 8:10
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Lets reduce the scope of this question a bit to put it in perspective. Is there anything you do that you can be reasonably sure you do better than anyone you're likely to meet?

Unless you have objective validation that you're a world champion at something it's unlikely. Objective validation violates the "we don't know about them" stipulation.

We could go all touchy-feely and say you're better at knowing yourself than anyone else is. But is that really true? You could study me for a long time, get to know me, create simulations of me in your head. You could then use your objective perspective (free of self-deception and pesky emotional baggage) to predict my actions better than I could. (At least one of my ex-girlfriends can do this disturbingly well.) I can therefore imagine a race of aliens who know our psyche and biology better than we know ourselves. It wouldn't take long to do that if you started with a higher level of scientific advancement.

Or you could say, well I don't know that I'm better than you, but I'm really good at the one thing I'm really good at.

What is humanity good at? What does history say? Science? Ha. Our history is full of superstition and rejection of science for far longer than we've been making advancements in science.

Conflict. Though true excellence is control and we're super bad at controlling escalation (disagreement leads to argument leads to low level violence leads to state sponsored violence or genocide). So maybe we're not good at conflict.

We're good at picking fights. I'm better than you at picking a fight, and if you don't believe me come over here and I'll prove it.

Uniqueness. We do unique pretty well. Art, craft We probably have woodwork the likes of which they've never seen before. If they have wood it's unlikely they'll have wood precisely like ours. I would expect spacefarers to have lots of metal and synthetic materials. In the future in space wood will be more precious than gold.

Also, what makes you think we'd be invited to join an empire. If history has taught us anything, cultures join empires at the point of a sword.

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All things considered living on a planet with a life supporting biosphere is a luxury, it’s far easier and more economical to strip-mine planets and build ships/stations; consider every block of land as a wedge from the planet’s core to the upper reaches of its atmosphere. They would happily pay us what we would consider a fortune to rent space in international waters where they can land floating island-like holiday resorts and we could make further profit by providing entertainment, food and souvenirs.

There would need to be laws in place to prevent pollution, bio-contamination, and a tax on souvenirs so that we can buy back raw resources, even the excrement should be recycled back into our planet’s biomass. The point is the buying power of an interstellar empire would far exceed the value of our resources so in order to ensure they’re not “buying our land for beads” we can’t allow them to leave with more matter than they arrive with.

Effectively we’re exploiting them but since their economy is so far ahead of ours this merely gives us a chance to slowly catch up, and considering the exchange rate (buying stuff for little more than their cost of raw resources) they’ll still be getting really good value for money, even though relatively speaking we're also making a great profit.

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I would compare this to a situation like the smaller Eastern European nations joining the EU.

Clearly there was an advantage for those nations to belong to the club, but what advantages for the existing EU to invite them in? I think similar reasons would apply in your case; even though the scale is quite different, the basic logic could easily be the same.

So with that in mind, my list of reasons for them wanting to admit us to their empire would be:

  • Trade: This is the big one. They want to do business with us and we want to do business with them. Being part of the club will smooth those wheels.

  • Geography: In Europe, countries are part of the EU primarily because of geography. South Korea isn't about to be invited to join, no matter how beneficial that might be to either the EU or South Korea, because they're not in Europe. The aliens will have a similar consideration: Maybe it's purely down to the Sol system's location in the galaxy that's enough to warrant an invitation to join the Empire.

  • Empire building: Bigger empire means more jobs for the beaurocrats at Imperial HQ on Rvgrnosh Prime, more cushy diplomatic postings, and more civvies to lord it over. It doesn't necessarily have to be hostile, just good old fashioned expansionism.

  • Free movement: Being part of an Empire makes it easier for people to travel. And that's important because there's a whole bunch of new unspoiled tourist resorts and landmarks on Earth that the aliens are desperate to visit and spend their hard-earned Y'fgrs at.

  • Buffer zone: If we're on the edge of the Empire's borders, or close to a competing power, it may make sense for them to want us to join as we will strengthen their border. They may want to use our system as a military base (think of how the USSR used Cuba during the Cold War), or as a border trading post (think how the UK used Hong Kong), or even just to bring the vulnerable border nations under your umbrella to make it easier to defend and make it harder for other spheres of influence to impact the core of your empire (think of why Turkey or Ukraine might be drawn into the EU).

  • Cheap labour: Farms across the UK, France, Germany, Spain... all use a lot of cheap labour from the Eastern European EU member states. This is a major economic boost if the Empire as a whole has high employment rates and would otherwise struggle to fill those lower paid menial roles.

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Interstellar civilizations are going to be at a scale that makes our planet-based civilization really gimpy.

We are Kardashev type-0.7 civilization. An insterstellar civilization, barring "magic" new technology, is going to be at least a type-1 or type-2 or type-3 civilization.

The different in scale is ridiculous. By type-2, you are disassembling planets for raw materials, and Earth is not that big of a planet. By type 3 you are disassembling stars.

So physically we have nothing to offer.

Even if we assume computers don't get any more efficient, the dreams of their computer clusters will be far richer than our entire cultural history. Our culture will be interesting in the same way that the culture of gorillas is interesting: our civilization is ridiculously young, and ridiculously tiny, compared to an interstellar one.

If a technological singularity occurs (where computers get more efficient, and they are a type 1/2 civilization), then all these conclusions are true even to a much larger extent.

Going between stars is reasonably hard. The implied scale of the civilization that can go between stars so that it maintains an interstellar civilization has consequences.

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Worshippers

What do we, as a species, have that they do not have?

7 billion converts to add to their flock.

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I think one of the most realistic answers I've seen to this question has been indentured servitude/slavery for a period of time.

The current members of this empire are like rich kids sailing around the world on nice yachts and humanity will be like the illegal immigrants they employ to clean up their messes, make their surroundings look nice and generally make them feel better about themselves.

With their tech it should be possible for 90%+ of this to be replaced by robot labor, but who wants that? Its so low class.

In exchange for tech and protection from more established races, our entire species (or, say, everyone that leaves Earth) becomes their "menial" labor force for a while. In the time spans an intergalactic empire thinks in, this period is probably measured in millennia.

That is primarily dependent on the idea that a culture is found before it has access to interstellar travel, if humans managed to get themselves into space with their own tech they will add a new dynamic to the whole thing. Maybe we get taken in by one of the more benevolent factions, or if we sort of stole some tech to get to space maybe we're taken in by a faction related to the one we stole tech from.

Also - we have our DNA. I'm not sure if you're presuming most life is carbon based, but there's a decent chance our DNA is at least longer/shorter than that of other species even if by some chance all the building blocks look the same.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget the prestige one gets for having the most exotic slave or servant. "Look, only four appendages! They are really born that way!" $\endgroup$ – Peter S. Jul 22 '16 at 13:37
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Gold is supposedly rare in the universe and scattered. Since we love gold, we already mined a lot of it. They would be happy to just pick up our stash of pure gold. That's also what some think is already happening...

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry but the aliens can mine dead asteroids or planets on a vast scale without worrying about environmental concerns. The energies needed for nuclear transmutation are lower than for interstellar travel. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jul 23 '16 at 16:12
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As others have pointed out, any society capable of routine interstellar traffic will, on their way to Earth, pass by many natural resources which their technology will enable them to exploit with more ease than much of what we treasure here on Earth. So they will come to Earth to get other things.

It will likely turn out that if they elect to conquer Earth, they will do so for the sake of imposing a particular societal form upon us (whether religious or secular), regarding this not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself; in other words, the whole point of the military conquest is to force seven billion people to live their lives according to the conquerors' wishes.

It may also be that while space-based habitation is practical for brief residence, there are long-term health effects (perhaps peculiar to specific races) of residency in space, which are avoided by dwelling on planetary surfaces. We have a large surface area which is protected from the harshest of interplanetary and interstellar radiation by the atmosphere and the planet's magnetic field, and has a naturally self-regulating atmosphere of nitrogen, oxygen, etc, in a somewhat varied range of temperatures and humidities. If they like our surface conditions here, we may find regions of our planet being scouted out as development property. Offer them Detroit.

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Rob Reid thought in Year Zero that our (pop) music would make the aliens ecstatic. They named their heavy metals Vanhelium, Slayerium, Ledzeppimite (but not Bonjovium — that's not a heavy metal, sorry). I enjoyed the novel.

Charles Stross thought that some aliens may just be interested in (possibly entertaining) information or stories. In Singularity Sky, the Festival, a civilisation of uploaded minds, arrives at Rochard's World and drops cell phones from orbit. When picked up, they say "Entertain us, and we will give you what you want."

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Someone already said entertaiment,oh well, i'm going with:

Tourism

Is very likely that aliens have seen many types of of planets and exotic locations, but the thing here is that we have different cultures, that might be a novelty for them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you expand on this answer please? $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jul 24 '16 at 21:08
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Well we could teach them how to conduct inter-species wars, how to mistreat one another, intolerance and hatred. A walking tour of the Middle East would be a great place to start. We could be specialists in what not to do. ;-)

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    $\begingroup$ A lesson in hatred and intolerance. Well information is a key factor in such encounters. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 21 '16 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ Take my upvote. For any space-faring civilization the level of uncivilized behavior we expose must be breathtaking. Our collective behavior is surely one of the Great Filters; only civilizations which manage to reliably and long-term control it become interstellar. (Note: 71 years is not long-term in this context. Thinking in larger time scales is part of controlling the behavior; like accepting delayed gratification is indicative of growing up, individually.) $\endgroup$ – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jul 25 '16 at 14:17

protected by HDE 226868 Jul 21 '16 at 14:31

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