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Besides the supremely unlikely "because they're just cool like that". Any pretenses towards the selfless or altruistic sharing of their vast cosmic wisdom just for the sake of welcoming us into the galactic neighborhood or whatever should be dropped at the door. What are some practical reasons aliens might want to uplift us to near their level of science and technology?

The ones I'm most stuck on are that they're doing it for either scientific or military purposes, and while the former is valid, "because we felt like it" doesn't usually make for a compelling story. So that leaves military purposes, like the Salarians uplifting the Krogans in Mass Effect. But why? Surely robots would be more efficient soldiers? Or is there some benefit to having human soldiers over swarms of mass-produced drones?

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    $\begingroup$ Scientific is more plausible, in exchange of letting them know our culture/history they give us some access to technological advantages. $\endgroup$ – Chinu Sep 1 '16 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ They want to prevent this: youtube.com/watch?v=OcPqk-O-fD4 $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 1 '16 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ In David Brin's Uplift series there are multiple sentient alien species who uplift less evolved aliens, making them into "client races". Plus humans have uplifted dolphins and chimps. It's a cool idea, and perhaps does a better job than other explanations of the common trope of the galaxy brimming with aliens all existing at roughly the same technological level (eg, Star Trek or Star Wars). But it was never made clear why technologically advanced aliens would need client races, aside from vague altruistic reasons. $\endgroup$ – RobertF Sep 1 '16 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ Grumble, grumble. The term "uplift" has typically referred to enhancing or improving the intelligence of species. To apply it to what is simply technology transfer only muddies the waters. Write out 100 times on a blackboard. "This is technology transfer and not uplift." $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't write off general benevolence, tbh, unless that's just not the story you want to tell. We don't have a clue what kind of social standards and ethical systems aliens would have, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they wouldn't have at least a few things in common with ours. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Sep 2 '16 at 12:49

36 Answers 36

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Cold War

Cold war between two K2+ civilizations, treaties prohibit them from establishing automated/independent machine colonies in our solar system or our spiral arm. Providing weapons, and technology to another species would allow them to have access/allies without breaking treaties. If one of the K2 civ is expanding in our local area, other can give us technology and agitate us to commit terrorism [Mujaheedin funded by US to counter to USSR]. Situations similar to Vietnam/Korean War over ideology is also possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Larry Niven, "Night On Mispec Moor". Zombies as well. Must be the weather... :-) $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Sep 2 '16 at 1:08
  • $\begingroup$ Selling guns to the Indians. It has a long and honourable history. Except wouldn't K2+ civilizations include in their treaties not supplying arms to primitives especially they've banned establishing machine colonies? Of course, sanction busting also has a long and honourable history. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ If it was banned to supply arms, they would supply technology. The idea is to push and test out what would the other civilization wouldn't think of as full out war, yet gain advantages. $\endgroup$ – Chinu Sep 2 '16 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ +1 "We taught the earth apes about fusion inhalation engines for peaceful purposes only we are just as surprise as you are that they weaponized them and attacked you with them" $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Sep 2 '16 at 22:25
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As with most question like this the answer is already known. Why does America send support to Africa? Decency.

The advanced aliens feel for the lower ones and common decency makes them want to help. It only seems like they're uplifting because the information they don't give us, we never see.

Of course as Chinu pointed out, true decency is impossible. Even true altruism has another purpose, if only for public appeal at best, enslavement at worse.

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    $\begingroup$ Decency ? I would strongly disagree on that, countries support other countries for economic/military benefits. Even situations which seem altruistic [Haiti earthquake relief] had a partial reason of diverting tax money to corporation/few people. Number one objective would be economic benefit to a individual/organization, decency would be a pretense and secondary goal. $\endgroup$ – Chinu Sep 1 '16 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Chinu decency wouldn't even be the third goal, since PR comes before it. $\endgroup$ – MatthewRock Sep 1 '16 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Chinu That is a very cynical outlook on world affairs, and I don't think it is entirely accurate. For example, the George Bush AIDS relief effort didn't do much for PR, nor did it really provide for economic/military benefit. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – cwallenpoole Sep 1 '16 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ There are many examples of countries/organizations/individuals being charitable, but there is a difference between helping/saving/preserving something and "uplift us to near their level of science and technology". I am pretty sure if humans were sulfuring from a global catastrophe, some alien might be kind enough to help us but definitely not share science and technology. $\endgroup$ – Chinu Sep 1 '16 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Chinu: They might not be willing to devote a lot of resources to us — but it wouldn’t cost them much to share (some of) their knowledge with us, and that might well be enough (from our pov) to lift us to close to their own level of technology. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Sep 1 '16 at 20:02
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A possible reason is that complex and sentient life is rare to find in the Galaxy/Universe and as such they believe it should be preserved.

What with are somewhat wanton destruction of the environment and vast population growth rates they decide that gifting us advanced technologies to be able to meet our energy needs without harming the environment and allowing us to expand to other planets is the only way to preserve such a rare specimen.

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    $\begingroup$ Given the inability of our own SETI efforts to discover unambiguous evidence of alien civilizations, it would seem the intelligent life is vanishingly rare in the Universe. Perhaps when we finally set out, we will discover that while life may be abundant, the highest forms of life on 99% of the planets we visit is equivalent to slime mould. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 1 '16 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "The Chase", with a similar theme. Billions of years ago, finding themselves the only sentient life in the galaxy, an ancient and benevolent progenitor race had seeded habitable worlds in the Alpha Quadrant with its DNA with the hopes that intelligent humanoid life would eventually evolve. $\endgroup$ – RobertF Sep 2 '16 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides I would note that in the grand scheme, we aren't really trying that hard. NASA's whole budget is around 40 dollars per US Citizen, and SETI now gets 0 of that, so their total budget is likely on the order of a penny per American. Worldwide funding for search, since ever, probably wouldn't be enough to find a single set of keys lost on earth - much less enough to discover alien civilization that is anything other than super obvious, flamboyant, and ubiquitous. A civ a thousand times greater than us within 100 light years could easily escape our current detection. $\endgroup$ – BrianH Sep 2 '16 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ While the scale of the effort is rather small, the theoretical presence of alien civilizations has been debated at length and various unambiguous markers have been identified, many of which could be expected to show up in other venues (Telescopes like Kepler would easily "see" the infrared signature of a Dyson swarm or sphere, for example). So either the Aliens are truly alien and have motivations we would not understand, or use technologies which do not leave unambiguous markers, or are vanishingly rare and beyond our current search range. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 2 '16 at 19:22
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Diversity. Just like a loss of genetic diversity is critically dangerous to a species, and conversely a large genetic diversity provides a broad array of solutions to many different problems, the same dynamic is at play with ideas. These aliens want a different perspective to add to their empire, for their own survival. These aliens recognize that there are aspects of their culture and technology that could be improved, but they also know they have a hard time seeing a different way of doing things when they have traditions that have been around for millennia.

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    $\begingroup$ If diversity is picked as an answer, your aliens approach must be to encourage the development of technology instead of handing it over, otherwise we don't bring anything new to the party ;) $\endgroup$ – Chris J Sep 1 '16 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisJ if you find an intelligent race, giving them technology might make them dependant on you, help you with using them in your plans and making them your partners, if they are worth it. If they are too stupid to understand it, they won't. However they might have different brains, characters and other things that help them make valuable discoveries. If you went back in time and triggered the industrial revolution a hundred years later, we would have advanced much more by now. The same goes with other technology. $\endgroup$ – MatthewRock Sep 1 '16 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Very good. Nice to see. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 1:54
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tl;dr - Humanity doesn't understand nor care about what they are missing out on. Once they do though, they'll want it desperately and become a great new, very cheap labour force just to be given the opportunity to participate in the alien society (even if only on the bottom rung of the social ladder).

Capitalism

As a great civilisation these aliens are used to a certain quality of life.

While a great deal of what is required to maintain their quality of life is automated away through sheer technological mastery, there are still plenty of jobs out there that need doing but nobody wants to be the one doing them.

Luckily, it looks like humanity is at least physically able to do what needs doing, and given the right conditions they breed like rabbits...

These tasks are truly horrid though, ranging from degrading through unhygienic or just downright mind numbing. Humans aren't about to up and leave their relatively simple but pleasant lives to do what is needed simply because the aliens asked nicely!?

Popular opinion on the alien social media is that intergalactic slavery is "problematic" and it would be career suicide for any politician to even mention the idea. Some other strategy is clearly needed here.

Luckily the aliens produce plenty of dangerously addictive substances and luxury consumer goods beyond imagination.

Any sane human would gladly lay down their life to experience even a few moments of the extreme luxury and technological marvels these aliens take for granted - if only the humans understood it...

It's clear that the laughably simplistic human society in its current state wouldn't have a clue what to do with even the tiniest droplet of the fountain of scientific and cultural miracles that is the alien's society.

Phase 1

Humanity needs a huge kick up the technological behind to appreciate what they do not have, form new desires and appropriate feelings of inferiority.

(Alternatively the aliens can wait a few hundred thousand years for things to progress more naturally.)

Phase 2

Once the humans feel the desire for, no, the entitlement to the basics of alien society, the free lunch ends.

Once deprived of their newfound "needs", humans will work for a mere fraction of the cost of an alien labourer doing the same job out of desperation and that carefully cultivated feeling of inferiority.

Phase 3

The aliens closely monitor and throttle humanity's societal progression.

Anything that resembles true growth will be quietly sabotaged, stolen/appropriated or outright banned/destroyed by the aliens.

The more that humanity depends on the alien society for culture, science and resources, the easier it is for aliens to continue to exploit humanity.

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    $\begingroup$ aliens can wait a few hundred thousand years for things to progress more naturally. - not they do no have so much time, exactly for reason you mention - given the right conditions they breed like rabbits $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:27
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't Capitalism, it's more about exploiting workers and organisms from Third Cosmos planets. If their technology is advanced there won't be any jobs nobody wants to do. Remember uplifting will make humans smarter. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android there's no threat in humanity becoming smarter, as long as the aliens always remain that little (or large) bit smarterer $\endgroup$ – David Meister Sep 2 '16 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidMeister this is assuming that there is something we have that the alien's need. Namely that they have either a labor shortage or there are jobs that humans are much better at. Its a lot of risk for cheap labor that you have train heavy $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Sep 2 '16 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear it's not really possible to answer the question without making assumptions. Every answer here has to boil down to describing "we have something the aliens need" because the question explicitly prohibits "just because" style answers. I'm just describing one possible thing we might have that aliens need, and a classic, time tested one at that. I don't think there's evidence that gaining technology means a civilization needs less manual labour - in fact, civilizations generally seem to want more and more "offshoring" as the local standard of living rises. $\endgroup$ – David Meister Sep 14 '16 at 7:57
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The Most Dangerous Game

Humans are, by and large, an intelligent and violent race. We have gotten incredibly good at killing each other and as technology advances that trend is only growing. In the last 100 years we went from muskets and cannons to drones and nukes. It is pretty safe to say that at the rate things are going, in another 100 years warfare will be almost incomprehensible to us.

Any sufficiently advanced lifeform that discovers us should have no problem noticing this trend. Now, they should be so technologically advanced that in an actual arms race we could never possible catch up. But that is assuming a very homo sapien-centric viewpoint. If those aliens are advanced but not war-like then Humanity could very well be an Out of Context Problem for them.

Future-proofing the Galaxy

Assuming that the aliens that find and observe us are disturbed enough to need to do something, but unable or unwilling to just wipe us off the face of the galaxy, then they are going to need some kind of alternative to prevent us from being a future problem. One way of doing this is to guide us away from the mindset that makes us such potentially vicious neighbors.

So, the sufficiently advanced life forms show up on our doorstep and offer to bring us into a new era of enlightenment. They start off with quality of life improvements, solving problems like world hunger and disease. Then they slowly start to introduce things that make life easier, maybe easing us into a post-scarcity society.

At the same time, the aliens are going to be sharing their own culture and views on life. They will start preaching about the inherent advantages of peace and cooperation, maybe give a (factual or not) accounting of their own violent past and how much better things got once they changed their ways.

The important thing is that the aliens are attacking Man's natural tendency to violence on two fronts. They are going to act to remove the natural and sociological factors that drive us to violence (poverty, sickness, lack of resources, etc.) and at the same time they are going to try to guide our thinking to be more in line with their own (peace, altruism, cooperation). At the end of the day, whether they believe what they are telling us or not, the aliens' goal is to be making sure that the rest of the galaxy is safe from the barbarous hordes of Humanity.

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  • $\begingroup$ We noticed that trend, but given the results you totally incompetent or incapable. We noticed other trend, you still alive, that part gets our respect. (you can't uplift some one who is dead, so no story about total exterminatus this time) $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ Not the most dangerous game fallacy! Humans are not the most violent species. We are a very domesticated species. Yes we did it to ourselves. Our worst "violence" is highly organized and disciplined. When it happens it is usually socially instigated and sanctioned. The violence drivers are about power, ideology & resources. Poverty, illness, & lack of resources are products of organized violence, not its causes. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ I recall a story where an alien is able to establish a telepathic link to a human scientist and gives him leads on cheap solar electric paint. Virtually free renewable energy vastly improves the world, or so we think. Later the alien returns and reveals that he bitterly regrets allowing himself to doom our civilisation. Because we have low density free energy we'll now never be desperate enough to discover how to warp space and travel FTL. Eventually we'll die out in self-satisfied boredom, still confined in our single solar system. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Sep 3 '16 at 10:29
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Let me start with two assumptions

1: They're a civilization

Meaning that they're a group of cooperating individuals

2: They are (or were) Organic

Meaning that evolution creates organics, and machine races are the descendants of organics

Organics die, and more importantly organics will try not to die. We'll hunt, graze, flee from predators, fight our competition and so on so that we an continue to be alive for a bit longer. Humans - and a few other species - are special in that we can look at other organics and think "That thing is behaving like it doesn't want to die." We're able to empathize and see the reason behind anothers actions. This opens up some possibilities, notably the thought that "If I help that human not die, it will help me not die, so I can help it not die." Empathizing with others forms the basis of cooperation.

After thinking "I'll assist in killing that mammoth so we can both eat" it's a fairly logical progression to "You go hunt, I'll stay behind and build our hut" to "Well, bad news is your transmission is trashed. We can fix it but it'll probably run you a couple grand." At its core, Civilization is doing eachother favors so that it's easier for us to not die. Since a machine race will be composed of individuals - or at the very least be created by organic individuals - it will have much the same reasoning.

But why would aliens help us? We're a different species.

Same as before: Empathy. We developed a civilization so we're obviously capable of cooperation. At first they couldn't ask us for anything big, like building a new Matrioshka Brain to expand their Gestalt, but they could pave the way for bigger things. A first contact package might contain an example fusion drive and a message reading

"We noticed you have a few gas-giants in your solar system. Some of our seed-ships will be passing through in a few thousand years, and will need to restock their reserves of Helium-3. They're capable of constructing harvesters themselves, but if you wish you can use this Fusion drive to colonize your solar system and build your own refineries. All we ask in return is that when our ships arrive you provide the fuel they require."

We get massively advanced fusion drive technology, they get a fueling port they didn't have spend any time to build. Asking for a favor thousands of years in the future might sound far-fetched, but remember that they're a K2 civilization - They're in it for the long game. To them, a possible threat is now greatly reduced, and a new asset has been created, all for the cost of a probe and some translation work.

But why wouldn't they just exterminate every possible threat?

Because a civilization of this size is going to run entirely on cost-benefit analysis. The material-cost of a first-contact package is going to be minuscule compared to the material cost of enough weaponry to exterminate an entire biosphere. Even if you used a single drop of self-replicating nano-plague, there's no guarantee that your victims won't reverse engineer it and turn it back upon you. Instead of a planet full of cooperative refinery builders, you have a planet full of reverse-engineered-nanoplague armed bloodthirsters out to avenge their fallen.

Note: Uplift can be a form of extermination

Stargate: SG-1 had an episode involving this. A friendly sister-civilization had uplifed the Earth, cured all disease, fixed the environment and given us all free energy, stopped all war - basically a utopia. What they didn't mention was that 'curing all disease' also meant 'making the entire population infertile.' Potential civil unrest was dealt with by simply shipping in their own people and pretending to be the next generation, coupled with discouraging people from talking about their infertility.

Within a generation they'd have an empty utopia for their own citizens to move into. A complete planets worth of infrastructure, all for the cost of some diplomacy and genetic warfare.

Similar story with X-COM 2: The ADVENT Coalition is formed after we discover that the alien invasion was a simple misunderstanding. Disease, aging, poverty, resource shortages - all fixed by our benevolent alien masters. In reality, the clinics where they cured all disease were labs where humans were dissected and replaced with mimics. The war never stopped: It was just dressed up as medical aid.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a comment for UIDAlexD's answer: The first part of this answer "because they empathize with us" is in direct contradiction in the question, eg. "Any pretenses towards the selfless or altruistic sharing of their vast cosmic wisdom just for the sake of welcoming us into the galactic neighborhood or whatever should be dropped at the door.". Not to mention, I don't see how "Since a machine race will be composed of individuals - or at the very least be created by organic individuals - it will have much the same reasoning." holds at all $\endgroup$ – user26467 Sep 1 '16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Eliminating live on earth as it is now, is an easy task as far energy is a concern, for K2 civ capabilities. Even when I like what you say, reasoning could be better. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg For an entire K2 civ it would be trivial. There's a flaw in your reasoning, though. As a ~K0.8, it would be trivial for Earth to send a manned mission to the moon or mars - That doesn't mean the Botswanan space program is going to be visiting any time soon. Just because your entire civilization rates as a K2 doesn't mean every frontier outpost is a dyson sphere, all it means is that the sum-total of ship, planet, and station in your empire adds up to K2. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Sep 2 '16 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ Botswanan space program is going to be visiting any time soon. - like that, I consider such possibility, not decided yet. More likely it will be Kiribati space program trough, less peoples more controllable environment, seeking for technological development, not much interests from big countries there - good candidates. Swarm is easy to build - so why not, if it worth to do. I see you point. My aliens live in space, in space habitats like structures. There is downside thought - minimal level of development for survival in space. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Another thing I didn't consider - We don't just build powerplants for the hell of it. We're not a ~K0.8 because it's fun, we're a ~K0.8 Because we have to be. We're using all of the energy we generate. Likewise, a K2 needs all that power to exist. It's like assuming that the Earth could field a 7-billion strong army. We have the raw numbers of people to do it, but almost all of those people are busy doing other things. Growing food, maintaining our cities, et cetera. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Sep 2 '16 at 13:52
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A few disjointed possibilities off the top of my head:

  • They want more [artists? trade opportunities? scientists? something we don't yet have the technology for?]. We got "far enough" as a species that they'll boost us the rest of the way.
  • A very alien (literally!) sense of honor: they are culturally obligated not to take advantage of "lesser" species - so they raise "lesser" species to be on par to avoid any temptation.
  • Stewardship of knowledge. They are going to evolve to a higher plane of existence (or commit mass suicide as a religious experiment) and want SOMEONE to carry on intelligent life in the universe. We're the closest thing they've found so far...
  • Pure evil: their religion believes that sacrificing a "higher being" grants benefits in the after life, and they're running out of higher beings. Easiest solution: make some more!
  • Boredom. Let's make some playmates to stave off our post-scarcity doldrums!
  • Curiosity. Humans occasionally try to see if whales can make music, apes can paint, etc. They're just taking it farther...
  • Solidarity against a bigger threat. An even MORE advanced civilization is coming to wipe them out, and we'd be innocent bystanders anyway - so why not let us join the fight? (Hopefully we'll be on their side...)
  • Investing in the future. "I do this favor for you as a friend, and ask only that in the future you remember I did you this favor... and that we are friends." (That last sentence is paraphrased from a Vampire: the Masquerade roleplaying book, but I can't remember which one to quote it properly; I'll edit if I find it later.)
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  • $\begingroup$ Good. Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ They might just uplift us to conscript cheap soldiers in their war... "Hey, they are violent... give them better guns, and point at the evil aliens and they will protect the good aliens" $\endgroup$ – Trish Sep 2 '16 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ There is another reason a religion might drive them to share technology - because their religion is technology. "Do you have a moment to talk about quantum computing?" $\endgroup$ – Tom B Sep 3 '16 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @TomB Have you (or your data) been saved? $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Sep 4 '16 at 1:38
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More and better technology for everyone

As shown by the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, Silicon Valley, and most recently the Internet, the rate at which technology improves is a function of the number of people working collaboratively on that technology. One person on their own achieves little. A small group of people on their own are a bit better. A large group of people working on the same thing can push things forwards so much faster though. With a large group, you even have scope for competing subgroups who spur each other on and stop development getting stale.

Assuming humans are broadly equivalent in intellect and "drive" to other participating species, then the alien alliance has just added 5 billion adults to its development teams. Even if their development teams can only use 99th-centile humans, that's still 50 million extra brains on board.

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Self-Preservation

When our aliens developed FTL travel and explored the galaxy they discovered something very disconcerting. They weren't the first, but they were the only advanced civilisation left. Everywhere else, ruins. And not a clue as to how this had happened. The Marie Celeste on a galactic scale.

Since this discovery they have been doing two things. Concealing their own existence to the greatest extent possible. Spreading life across the galaxy and uplifting younger races while never revealing themselves (c.f Iain Banks "Inversions").

If an unknown horror returns it'll attack these noisy younger races first, giving our aliens the maximum chance to know the enemy and to decide whether to fight it (with plenty of allies/ cannon fodder) or to quietly flee from it (hopefully un-noticed amidst the presumed chaos).

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    $\begingroup$ That is a book I'd read. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grothe Sep 3 '16 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ It's not an entirely original idea. It could easily have happened in the deep pre-history of Vinge's a fire upon the deep and in the less deep prehistory of Niven's Known space novels. In the latter I have always wondered why the puppeteers allowed themselves to be discovered. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Sep 3 '16 at 9:56
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Combining three points

  • Humans are on a path of self destruction
  • Highly benevolent aliens who care about other's wellbeing and survival, but don't want to rule us
  • They posses technology that can prevent our self destruction

If all of those points will be met, the aliens won't have any other chance than to give us that technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ The same thing as protecting an endangered species, except it's endangered because a rite-of-passage for members of the species is to attempt to commit suicide. Humans too would want to protect the species. $\endgroup$ – DevilApple227 Sep 1 '16 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ "It's a cookbook!" $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Sep 2 '16 at 1:15
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I am surprised that the reasons given in the Lensman series appear to have been forgotten.

The race that is uplifting humanity is locked in a life-or-death struggle with another race that is ruthless and tyrannical. Although the Good Guys can presently hold their own, they are reaching the limits of their potential, whereas the Bad Guys' ultimate limit is much higher, which means that unless the Good Guys can find someone to take up the mantle, the war will end with the triumph of evil.

The Good Guys survey the various races in the galaxy, and discern that humanity's potential far outstrips their own, but it will take too long for us to develop naturally; so they work to accelerate our development.

Read the series. It's a classic of the genre.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Speaker for Boskone should put in a word here. This scenario makes sense if an Eddore exists, & Arisia isn't up to taking them on. Advanced aliens might be this hyper-altruistic. Nice if they were. Read the introductory section of TRIPLANETARY, then skip to GALACTIC PATROL & read the rest of the series in order. FIRST LENSMAN can be read as an afterthought. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:21
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Let's assume for a moment that all world religions are right, and that all people have immortal souls created by the God (a soul is what makes a human different from a machine). Further assume that the God has created only a finite amount of souls for each civilization. Then alien race who reached immortality may soon discover that it can no longer procreate because all individuals are already alive.

For such a race the only way to expand their mental capacity and progress in the quest for knowledge is to find another civilization and uplift them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it just be easier to exterminate other civilizations to free up their souls? $\endgroup$ – sphennings Sep 2 '16 at 2:06
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings souls are tagged which species they are for $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ A Civilisation that reached immortality will surely have developed sentient & sapient AI with creativity, either earlier or later, which would remove any limits from their mental capacity. $\endgroup$ – Trish Sep 2 '16 at 19:23
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For trade

Balanced trade is usually beneficial to all societies which engage in it. However, in order to conduct trade, your trading partner must have something of value.

Despite popular fiction, advanced alien civilisations with access to interplanetary travel don't need our raw resources (water, metals, ores, whatever), they can mine these for themselves from any asteroid field or dead world, and they have a whole galaxy to strip mine if they want to. You don't waste a planet with a biosphere.

So what do we have to offer an advanced alien civilisation? The truth is, probably not much. But if they shared some of their technology with us, we become a trading partner with something of value. Suddenly, we're able to produce things they want, and in quantities that makes trade worthwhile.

Now, even a fairly altruistic alien civilisation will organise this trade to their advantage, making sure the price is right for them, and selecting carefully what technology to share. But in return, we gain access to advanced goods and technology, which is a good deal for us too.

Because life is common but intelligence is rare

Life, especially in its most basic forms (bacteria, single celled organisms, etc), is possibly reasonably plentiful and can take hold in a variety of environments. However, intelligent life, the kind of life that can develop a culture and which you can engage in conversation and share ideas and perspectives with, is probably extremely rare.

The universe is just an unfriendly place for biological intelligence to evolve and survive. It requires fragile, complex bodies which are closely tried to their required environmental conditions, lots of energy, and the right evolutionary conditions.

If we discovered another sentient race, and we weren't in competition for resources, there's a good chance we'd keep them around (and give them technology to ensure they stick around) just so we'd have someone other than ourselves to talk to.

It's possible other alien life may think the same way. If they came along today, what technology could they give us which would radically improve our chances of survival? Probably, clean energy technology, such as fusion or anti-matter (if it's possibly), so we can stop burning coal and oil. Access to spacefaring technology so we could mine our solar system for resources which are running out at home. The technology to inhabit other worlds, so we can't be wiped out in a single disaster like a large meteor strike.

Genetic diversity

Someone else also mentioned genetic diversity, which I think is a good point. Right now, if something (e.g. an epidemic) wipes out the human race, then as far as we know, that is the end of intelligence in the universe.

Intelligence may be so rare, that it's worth preserving for its own sake. And the best way to do that, is to secure the survival of other intelligence so that we don't have all the genetic eggs in one basket.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Intelligence may be so rare, that it's worth preserving for its own sake." This is the best reason. A few answers have suggested this. Remember this is also about uplifting & making species smarter. But if intelligence is rare, then upgrading it would be a good idea. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, we have fusion, so stopped to burn stuff - ok, what else resources we are shorting atm? Which resources we should strip mine. To save human live you need 50 humans, and food for them - so you can breed them. All alien civilization created strategical deposits of humans in 60-70's with alien saucer's. Why to care about 7kkk humans. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 11:44
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Because we're dangerous.

The flipside of D. Hancock's theory, that we are uplifted to promote diversity (through providing alternate viewpoints), is that certain methods of seeming to do so will not only deny diversity, but prevent it - by making humans clients, possibly dependent on our benefactors, or possibly growing and furthering their culture, instead of ours.

Its a trap

So, if we are given technology, instead of developing it on our own, we are not likely to go back and discover alternate ways of doing things (potentially better ones) for quite some time, if ever. We will not understand the technology at first, we must take their word on it, and we will have to catch up to that level before we are comfortable modifying the tech or seriously questioning its principles - and even if some theory sounds unlikely, having devices that work will override that for most of us, so our progress might be further hindered.

The "uplifting" species might then be able to control what tech we get access to, what theories we learn "proof" for, and keep us with tech that they already know about, and that they can counter. It might keep us from developing the tech to be a threat to them - especially if to progress further than what they gave us requires theories or technology from the intermediate development period that we skipped, or takes a significant leap to get to the next stage. It will make us less of a threat.

It may make us dangerously dependent (the tech has some obvious weak-point or shutoff we don't know enough to counter, that they can trigger if we disagree). If an EMP or something disables electricity, we can survive a step backwards and rely more heavily on non-electric tech, and we already have some redundancies and backups in place because we know over reliance is dangerous - but a people (say, hunter-gatherer tribe) given electronics and become dependent on them without those intermediate steps will not know how to manage without. It might mean we abandon theories or tech that would be dangerous to our "uplifters", once we get boosted in a different direction - who wants to work on outdated, backwards tech when we have the shiny new stuff to play with (only, they are weak against chemical, and dumped physics in our lap so we never figured out how to defeat their "X").

I don't think this kind of setup would last forever, as humanity is curious and sneaky and always looking for an edge, but a) the aliens might not know that, and b) they might be content with a time-limited advantage, to gain some benefit until we can't be controlled.

Whose Empire is it, anyway

Alternately, the trap may be cultural, rather than military. It is possible that D. Spetz's answer is correct, that they plan to indoctrinate humans in ideas beneficial to them while using the tech as bait - but it is also possible that they are trying to assimilate us, instead of 'brainwash' us. Humans are clever and creative and pretty good at making things work. The aliens might think our potential too dangerous to be left alone - that once we develop our own tech, we will be as powerful, or more, than them - and will eventually have the potential to be a dominant civilization.

Maybe we don't have a tech advantage, but we might someday if we have another potentially dangerous advantage - because we're operating on different timescales (maybe faster), or we have psychological advantages, or we're really good at lateral thinking or loopholes, or whatever. Keep in mind that we're talking potential and eventually, but no reason that the uplifters can't plan ahead, right? But, if they grab us while we're still young, and relatively small (perhaps compared to multi-planetary civilizations) and they teach us what they know - we will uplift their civilization instead of our own, because we will be one civilization by then.

What discoveries we may make are right besides and working with their scientists and will advance their civilization, we will adopt their history and change their customs and laws (rather than make our own), our children will seek their tales, their adventures, and eventually forget our "backwards' culture, science, stories in favor of the greater opportunities they offer - and grow up integrated members of their civilization, with no chance to form their own (potentially greater one) independently. Like adopting a child to continue family traditions, they raise us up (genuinely) and in turn we see ourselves as part of their civilization even if "actually unrelated", and raise it up instead of competing for dominance.
(credit where it's due, idea comes from Poul Anderson's "Turning Point")

The experiment does what?

Alternately, we can go back and look at scientific purposes. They might be genuinely curious - like us teaching primates sign language, which is a very effective technology, just to see what they're capable of - and what we might learn about ourselves. Giving us tech is a way to look at themselves from a different perspective.

But, slightly more cynically, it can also make us a testing ground for unproven ideas. If there are experiments they want to see the results of that are dangerous or half-baked, they can give us the ideas, and watch our versions of experiments instead of risking their own people. How about testing social or psychological theories - especially if such experiments might be "unethical" if performed on their own people without informed consent (which might make some experiments tricky). But, humans might not have the same status - or maybe so can be "offered" information that leads to the situations, because 'observing' isn't the same thing as deliberately setting up such an experiment, of course not! If they aren't sure about adopting some idea, they can play down their concerns, offer the base information, and see how crazy it drives us, and what loopholes they didn't think of, and how society might change if they adopted the idea.

Obviously, such experiments won't be absolutely relevant to them and their society, any more than mouse or monkey testing is absolutely relevant to us - but it can give ideas of what to look for and how careful to be when they are working with those they don't have to be quite so careful with. "uplifting" humans to their level would be one way of eliminating variables (access to vaguely similar tech, exposure to vaguely similar ideas) or baiting the trap of proven tech, to get us to accept and experiment with unproven tech and radical ideas.

Actual tech-trade

And now for something completely different!
The reverse of the situation in the "Its a Trap" section, where we mightn't be able to cope if tech was withdrawn, and we didn't have intermediate steps to fall back on... maybe that's what the uplifters are looking for, having lost their own ability to step backward. There's an idea now, to look at cultures with less advanced tech, and re-evaluate their 'traditional wisdom' for ideas that might have been missed the first time around (due to cultural superiority or superstition). There's an idea for looking at historical methods and 'traditional' technologies for survival or reenacting or just so they don't get lost, if we ever need them. And we have enough cultures, with different tech levels and yet similar enough for understanding, to mostly bridge the gap - though there are some things still lost to us in history, sadly, from when we weren't as careful about preservation.

So, I'm imagining the uplifiting culture has missing gaps - from "low tech" solutions, to survival skills, to all the things their culture might not have valued at the time in favor of more 'advanced' ideas and tech. And maybe they are unified enough, or advanced enough, they don't have other cultures to borrow from to fill the gaps or they just reached a place they can't step back from. But, humanity might have the missing gaps - or at least make some headway on filling them in. Maybe there's an actual reason (they actually need to move in or colonize areas with little tech, and don't know how to survive there), maybe they have a problem that needs a lower=tech solution that they've forgotten how to figure out, maybe it's just the equivalent of hoarding knowledge by survivalists and fans of post-apocalyptic fiction that tells them they should know how, just in case.

So, they can trade the shiny tech, for our current, primitive methods. They don't even have to admit the problem, just ask to observe our culture (for comparison purposes, of course), and maybe access to historical records or entertainment (like reenacting, it will look harmless). They're willing to hand over shiny tech because its what they have on hand to trade with, or because it's pocket change to them (shiny bead equivalent), and because they don't care about what it might do to our civilization, as long as they get what they need for theirs (as higher tech cultures have traditionally traded with low-tech ones, really, "non-interference" is storybook nonsense).

Unlike most of my other ideas, this would be genuinely, or fairly genuinely, a trade for mutual benefit. They can get the things they need - "primitive" but useful tech, ideas, survival knowledge, knowledge about how to adapt or innovate or progress with limited resources. We get tech, and support, and with access to ideas and trade eventually hit a roughly equal level of technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ You have assumed uplifting is simply technology transfer. If it's intended to make us smarter & more intelligent, then your answer is a bit wobbly. Advanced aliens, accordingly, would do better to downlift us instead, & not hand over tech. Glad to see a reference to Poul Anderson's "Turning Point". NB: Poul NOT Paul. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ "Because we're dangerous." Sorry. No we're not. Confined to one planet. Highly socialized, domesticated, & we only get mean when we're given permission to do so. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android - the original question was asking about uplifting in terms of gaining advanced or even equal science and technology, so I ran with that. There might be reasons to make us smarter and more intelligent, there might be reasons not to, reasons why will differ for each - and aliens don't have to pick the 'better' path any more than humans "have to", it depends on what they think might work. As for dangerous, well, we may disagree - humans can be vicious, and really don't like being limited. Thanks for fixing the typo, it really is a great story. $\endgroup$ – Megha Sep 2 '16 at 9:52
  • $\begingroup$ You're right! The OP is about uplift as technology transfer. This is not uplift as we know it. People who use the wrong words are a nuisance. Nothing wrong with disagreeing. Helps keep the debate going. The Anderson story is very good. Always thought it could have been expanded, but not sure how. Anderson tied it up so neatly. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 12:02
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To prevent self-extinction. Perhaps these aliens have observed that our behavior patterns will eventually lead us to extinction (through warfare or catastrophically failed experiments) and don't want that to happen.

Possible reasons to prevent our extinction:

  • Ok, sure, we're not gonna just gonna throw our tech around willy-nilly, but can we really allow this unique species to go extinct? Similar reasoning to what we are applying, for example, protecting pandas from extinction.
  • Intelligent life is rare; if we let them commit (unintentional) suicide we'll lose valuable opportunities to study them.
  • The extinction event will have disruptive consequences on the rest of the galaxy. Say, we'll annihilate ourselves by accidentally creating a supermassive black hole which would disturb the rest of the galaxy.
  • It's not really the entire race that wants to save us; just a kind soul that may even be disobeying the authority to do this out of simple compassion.
  • Curiosity. We never saw another sentient species. Let's see how they'll evolve in time. Too bad we'll have to interfere to prevent their destruction but, oh well, can't do much about that.
  • For the challenge. Are we able to prevent their extinction? Let's try.
  • For another challenge. We all know eachother too well. Nothing is exciting anymore. We can easily foresee how we will react in any kind of confrontation. Let's call in these humans. They're stupid, they won't act in an optimized manner. It's still interesting to fight against them/with them/play games with them (cooperative/competitive)/play games with them (e.g. take a human spaceship and drop it on Alpha Centauri. Let's see how long it takes them to get back).

By supplying us with warfare technology that doesn't have such disastrous side effects and is more effective the aliens can avoid an extinction war. By providing us with knowledge they can avoid us performing dangerous experiments. If another potential reason for accidental suicide can be found, similar reasoning applies.

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May be just like we humans study ant colonies behavior , or like give cycle to guinea pigs enter image description here

enter image description here

And see what we do with new technology and make fun of us .

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    $\begingroup$ Would you like to provide link to ginny pigs cycling, this stuff is to addictive for me to have hope to find it in time by my self. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ This is the best answer. $\endgroup$ – LCIII Sep 3 '16 at 3:29
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If advanced alien sapients uplifted humanity the reason they would do this is simple. They don't like talking to idiots. Non-uplifted humans would be as dumb as rocks compared to advanced aliens. Can you have a meaningful conversation with a dumb rock? Of course not, but if you could uplift that rock to the point where you could both have a meaningful conversation wouldn't you do so? Of course, you would.

Besides this would have the advantage that uplifted humans could explain what humanity was about (before we were uplifted) in a meaningful and comprehensible way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is not. Pretty sure I can have nice conversation with some aborigine's with spears or stone knifes. If we can establish situation when it is possible to have such conversation. Do not knowing what tumblr is just excludes that topic (if I decide so) but it do not affects practical use for me in understanding their perception of the world. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Aborigines with spears or stone knives are sapients on the same level as ourselves. They are pretty smart, so conversation isn't a real problem with them. I have assumed the advanced aliens in the OP are super-sapient. Hence my dumb as rocks remark. That is a loose way of putting it, but I think it makes the point. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ We can have conversation, and can share some interests between civilizations or we don't. And this is more question of alien interaction in general. Dog owner share interest with dog, sharing interests and be owner is not totally coincidence here, but. Do you recall that Heinlein story, where alien queen was a pet of a dude, and he was not aware of that fact. As it was disclosed later she decided she breeds that family line. Every one had fun along the story, without conversations and actually disclosing some information changed only status of dude, he got a unexpected job. Story fits well. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 3:06
  • $\begingroup$ Robert A Heinlein's THE STAR BEAST (1954). The concept sounds cute. But would a human want to be kept as a pet by a dog (assuming dogs kept pets)? I am a dog owner, but dogs and humans are co-adapted. Aliens & humans, uplifted or not, aren't, so the gap for communication is bigger. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ gap might be bigger or not - this is the general problem about aliens communications. Starting positions are higher definitely - to solve that problem from both sides, when good will or reasons exists in that case, which is OP's case for not disclosed reason. Any dog troughs do not change relations as we perceive them, which are beneficial for both sides (not any place on earth for dog individual's, but in general as spices that is true in most places). That is what I'm talking about - difference of perception is reasoning to do things, but not things themselves. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 12:30
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Because our solar system is full of resources, but extracting them is a huge pain. To strip-mine a planet or similarly harvest resources you would need millions or billions of workers, and you may not want to do the work yourself.

So instead, you give Earthlings a helping hand. By increasing the technical capabilities of humans (but not quite to your level) you create trade partners who will extract resources and maybe even invent new things for you. Teach them how to get to Mars and mineable asteroids quickly and easily, and give them new tools.

When it comes to obtaining those resources from the humans you will still have to trade something for them, but you didn't teach humans everything you know - you stayed a solid 1,000+ years ahead tech-wise. So now you're trading hundreds of tonnes of refined ore for services which your technology can render in a heartbeat.

Maybe one idea is that you did not teach humans advanced genetic techniques because of its ability to run amok - but if they can refine out 1,000,000 tonnes of Iridium for you then in trade you'll give them a cure for cancer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Which resources - please improve your answer by specifying that. Also specify why our particular system, but no any other in our Local Bubble which should have similar composition $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg - Pretty much any stable element on the periodic table (and potentially even some unstable ones, if they gave us enough technology). The most easily mined body would be the earth itself, followed by the moon, Mars... and perhaps even a planet like Europa. Asteroids could provide rich sources of elements such as Iridium (as suggested in text). It's not necessarily that the ores are unique to our area, just that the aliens don't want to do the work themselves. Perhaps similar to Americans and migrant farm workers (who are given just enough technology to do their job efficiently). $\endgroup$ – GrinningX Sep 2 '16 at 15:44
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I would think one of the most likely might be to prevent the destruction of Earth (or, if we had achieved local colonisation of our Solar System maybe other planets) with our 'primitive' technology. To a sufficiently advanced civilisation it would likely be unconscionable to allow us to spread to other planets in the way we have on Earth, damaging environments and sucking out resources. They may see their only options to be to remove us (which would likely also be a totally immoral concept to an advanced civ) or to attempt to teach us how to maintain our growth in far less invasive ways.

There are multiple mentions of this kind of thing throughout Iain M. Banks' Culture series, where the Contact section deals with low level civilisations to shape their future into a more 'civilised' state less likely to completely screw up their planet's ecology and the life on it. However there it is a very indirect intervention technologically, with agreements in place on the galactic stage to prevent a civilisation giving technology to those much less advanced. Indeed Contact agents normally have to disguise any tech, like drones, they take with them so as not to influence the civilisation in that way.

Ken McLeod's Engines of Light trilogy contains a less friendly concept of this, when the collective minds that form gods (with a small g) give humanity light speed engine designs to try and get rid of some of our 'noise' so they can think in peace. They valued their own intelligence above all others, and when a species began producing too much noise in space - radio signals, rocket flight etc. - they would intervene to 'shut them up'. For example they would give a civilisation their light speed engines, then hack them to direct those jumping to a specific location in space and into immediate conflict with another troublesome species. Part of their enabling of humanity is intended to counteract the front lines of one of these wars. If the enemy arrived at our 'present' stage of development we'd be no help at all basically, so they gave us advances intended to drive our own development of further weaponry, while also diverting some of the population to other war fronts to basically drive huge population crashes.

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  • $\begingroup$ sucking out resources - which resources you talk about $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg All of them - just a figure of speech rather than a description of the method. I was referring to metals, fossil fuels, gases, timber, minerals etc. $\endgroup$ – Brae Sep 2 '16 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ add that to your answer let us know, what to expect from alien civilization, when it covers my guess at least 1000 ly, ftl or not. besides this is Abundance in the Universe of the elements as we expect it now to be periodictable.com/Properties/A/UniverseAbundance.html metals included, fossil fuel interesting chemical as trace of live on the planet and rest have scientific values, as resources - any star system, synthesize, synthesize, grow, any geological active planet. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Sep 2 '16 at 11:36
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The classic Sci-Fi book called "Childhoods End" by Arthur C Clark Explores this idea well.

In the novel our race is poised to destroy itself. To prevent that aliens came to prevent the destruction of our race. Then guided our evolution along a specific path so we became a telepathic collective that would assist in solving the mysteries of the universe with other similar races

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    $\begingroup$ This is what I was thinking - in Childhoods End it was eventually made clear that the Overlords were on an evolutionary dead end that prevented them from transcending into the Overmind, so in one sense it was purely self-motivation to save and guide humanity . $\endgroup$ – RobertF Sep 1 '16 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertF Clarke's book suggested that the Overlords served the Overmind. They were doing what was expected of them. The Overlords hoped to discover how they could join the Overmind too. Not exactly self-motivation. Obviously there's a much more complex backstory going on there. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:52
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The Librarian of Halo recognized humanity's potential for great management and protection of life even at her own species' detriment. She recognized humanity was only attacking Forerunner worlds containing Flood parasites.

She knew her species would die at the hands of the Flood, so she selected humanity as her favored species to carry the torch after Forerunner extinction.

This is the only practical reason I can conceive which would force an alien civ to uplift another, and it still preserves the Forerunner's influence over the Milky Way through us. There is literally no other reason to uplift a species. Even a creature as benevolent as the Librarian wouldn't sacrifice or risk her own place in the universe to save another species. As good as she is, she only chose humanity because the Forerunners would die fighting the Flood, and she wanted good managers after her death.

Any spacefaring civilization compared to a planet bound civilization has / should have

  • Unlimited resources
  • Unlimited real-estate
  • Infinitely greater destructive capability via relativistic bombs
  • A mastery of science and technology we could only dream of
  • Absolute control over their own survival assuming they're the only space-farers around and
  • A healthy fear of any threat to their survival.

More than likely a space faring civ would take the Imperium's approach to diplomacy and call in an exterminatus on any blooming intelligent life, and they would be smart to do so.

Any Prometheus wannabes should be punished with death as well. The threat of extinction is simply too great should another species rise.

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The more intelligent the alien race is, the more likely it is for it to be able to see beyond what the current state of humanity is and find potential which we - as humans - currently may not be capable of comprehending. This potential will most likely be profitable to the alien race. Just like humans saw the huge potential of domesticating wild animals - exploitation. Just like humans created machines to take care of daily chores a supreme alien race will see the benefit of using us for some purpose (hopefully beside the next meal on the table or sex slavery ;)).

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Humans have been marked for death. The aliens are the executioners.

By advancing humanity, the aliens-

  • make themselves feel better by giving humanity a fighting chance.

  • have fun fighting more challenging prey.

  • give humanity the opportunity to remove the reason for the death sentence.

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Reparations for harm done.

Some member/faction/corporation of their race was responsible for a major environmental accident/catastrophe on a global or solar-system wide scale.(circumstellar?) They have determined the fallout of this incident will likely end our existence before we will be able to develop the technology to save ourselves.

For example the moon's orbit has been destabilized so that over time it will fall within the Roche limit and be torn apart. Before this time the tidal forces will become stronger and stronger causing great seismic events.

They do not have the technology to revert the damage.
They do not have the resources available locally to save us by themselves.

So they are forced to provide the technology to us that we might apply our own global resources to the problem and save ourselves. (or at least allow us to be an active participant in their plan to save us.)

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A possibility that I don't see listed elsewhere here is that we may have some sort of physical trait that they find to be very useful. For example, they may be very small, very large, aquatic, unable to breath in oxygen rich environment, etc. For that reason they may want us to become more technologically advanced so that we can work along side them in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Imagine that we came across a relatively intelligent alien species, but they had the anatomy of a flea. Setting up communication with them, teaching them about more advanced technology, and figuring out how to work together could be super useful. Just think how good that species would be at doing precise work like dentistry or brain surgery. At the same time we would be good at things they are less good at like building large machines, having better vision, etc.

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The simple answer is that all perspectives and life, especially sentient life, is valuable, and for every advanced civilizations out there are hundreds of failed ones that you can educate and bring up to your level which will allow you to think in a more broadminded way.

Also, it's not like the uplifted species is just going to be a member of a hunter-gatherer tribe and then suddenly be made a member of the galactic federation. It might seem instant to us lesser advanced species, but any species able to travel the stars probably has the ability to connect directly to the mind of a creature and with that they can simply run them through several lifetimes where tech and philosophy increases, raising them up through the history of a non-failed civilization till they are at the same level or close to the same level as the one doing the uplifting. All of this can be done nearly instantly so it's not really a problem...

As to why they might do it beyond that...as weird as it might sound to you, because they want children/to reproduce. What you have to understand is that they will likely be very long lived and live in a world where there is no real problems which leaves children to be listless and wreckless which is a dangerous combination with super technologies. The longer they live the more likely normal children won't be able to self actualize and more likely just to be depressed and suicidal. That being the case, if they want biological entities as children which might not be a thing since they might be digital, they might choose a species to "raise" because the people in that uplifted species will have problems and be self actualized already so there is a far lower risk of them growing depressed and suicidal.

Just a thought...

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Don't awaken the Old Ones!

Humanity has reached the point where would love to explore the universe, but we're very limited right now - with no FTL capabilities, traveling to other stars will have to be done with generation ships. To make matters worse, these trips would have to be one-way, and it would be very hard to guarantee that once it arrives they won't find out that their destination is not suitable (meteor strike, incompatible atmosphere, the planet has developed a deadly plague, etc.). As such, research into FTL is going to be a priority.

How could we make FTL work? Some of the common ideas are hyperspace, wormholes/gates, and a warp drive. Hyperspace is where you enter a different universe/dimension where the speed limit isn't the same or doesn't exist. Wormholes and gates are a method of linking two points in space to each other to allow quick travel between. A warp drive warps space and makes it so you don't have to travel as far.

What do all of these FTL methods have in common? All of them involve distorting or leaving our universe. When you do that, you weaken the barriers between our universe and void between dimensions. That is where the Old Ones are.

The Old Ones are most definitely not friendly. There are occasions in which they can exert a mild influence on our world, and the result of even that small influence is not pretty. Breaking down the barriers that keep them from us would bring doom not only to us, but potentially the entire universe.

You might ask why the Old Ones are able to exert any influence in the first place. Wouldn't that require that someone had already weakened the barriers that hold them back? That is exactly what happened - the advanced alien race, when they were at a point comparable to where we are now, began to experiment with FTL technology. At that time they didn't know the dangers, and they didn't have any warnings.

Fortunately for all of us, they learned of the danger before it was too late (and figured out FTL that doesn't damage the barriers). Whatever catastrophe they experienced (or nearly did), they were able to mostly repair the damage before the Old Ones could escape into our universe. But their escape was narrow, and other civilizations might not be so lucky.

Knowing full well the danger that an unwary civilization might unleash upon the universe, the advanced alien civilization now watches carefully for any civilization that has reached the point where they will start experimenting with FTL. They will then boost the technology of that civilization to beyond the point where they can endanger the universe.

More general answer

The basic idea is that along the course of technological development, there's a point where the experimentation required to advanced further is dangerous. The advanced alien civilization could either be benevolently helping us skip that step so we don't destroy ourselves, or doing it in their self-interest because the danger affects them as well. If the Old Ones don't fit in with your story, there are other ways to go down the self-interest route. For example, FTL fuel, when used incorrectly, could start a chain reaction that would convert the entire galaxy into dark matter (which can't sustain life as we know it).

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Military conflict with another civilization

There is a civilization (let's call them civilization A) that is very powerful and has some interest in keeping humans on Earth alive and independent of any of the bigger powers and reason to believe that civilization B, which A has fought with for a while and will continue to do so for a while, wants to kill all humans or take control of the Solar System.

The motives for A trying to keep us alive and independent are up to you to describe. Maybe our solar system is a strategic location to occupy because of a recent development in the war between the two, maybe A is a democracy and the people would forever hate any ruler that stood idly by as another sapient species was destroyed, maybe the people (or ruling class, if it has one) of A love eavesdropping on our artwork).

The same goes for B wanting to kill all humans or take over the solar system. Maybe our solar system is a strategic location to occupy because of a recent development in the war between the two, maybe the primary religion of civilization B teaches about how detestable anything that moves on two legs is, maybe they think that we might be a threat to them eventually and they want to get rid of the potential threat while they still can.

Naturally, civilization A would want B to lose in trying to do so with a minimal loss to both us and A. However, A must also not be able to merely bring in its space navy and defeat B.

One such situation: A's space navy will take 11 years to get to Earth, while B's space navy will take 10 years. Even though A's space navy could beat B's, B could have killed all of us before A gets there. However, A has a FTL science ship with no weapons capability hidden near us that can communicate much more quickly with the rest of A (perhaps they figured out how to send light through an Einstein-Rosen bridge but not how to send matter through it). This ship can download specs on their technology and then give it to Earth in a matter of days, leaving us plenty of time to build our own high-tech space navy that can fend off B's space navy for the needed year.

Another situation is that A is not that much stronger than B and thinks that, if we join the fight, we could make a dent towards A's side. This would really be feasible if both such civilizations had only colonized a few star systems to the point of them really mattering in the conflict. If this is the case, A gaining humans as allies would greatly help them win the war against B.

A last option is that us humans are much better at battle strategy than the other civilizations. Maybe most civilizations are all members of one race that never had wars until they found themselves communicating with members of the other race, and only humans have had large amounts of conflict on their home world with themselves. This would make people much better at battle strategy than any other race, and could make us significantly better than programmed robots or it could make us able to improve their programmed robots.

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I remember science fiction where the advanced species had accidentally started a series of supernovas at the galaxy core, and therefore needed to flee the galaxy to avoid them, but had lost the low level experience needed to survive on a new planet and therefore needed to take along another species with that low level experience.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is probably Stanley Schmidt's THE SINS OF THE FATHERS (1976) and its sequel LIFEBOAT EARTH (1978). The Rao-Chang tachyon drive was a nifty concept. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 2 '16 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ The best I can remember, it was in Larry Niven's Known Space universe, which also had Ringworld. $\endgroup$ – user6030 Sep 7 '16 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ah ha! In that case, it might be part of the series of five novels written with Edward Lerner & starting with FLEET OF WORLDS (2007), and ending with FATE OF WORLDS (2012); "the Fleet of Worlds series consists of four prequels to, and one sequel to, Ringworld." $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 7 '16 at 4:55

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