I've seen a couple of interesting documentaries recently about the Drake equation and SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Got me thinking about the Fermi Paradox - if intelligent life is likely, then given that there are billions of stars there should be a huge number of alien civilisations, so we should have encountered them or detected them by now. Why haven't we? The most common ways to answer this are that actually intelligent life isn't very common, possibly even unique, or that civilisations always tend to self-destruct quickly after evolving intelligence. (an argument that sounds a little contradictory to me, depending on how you define intelligence!) However there is one other idea, one that I favour and that has a connection to virtual worlds and immersive environments. It is a weaker version of the Transcendence theory. What if all civilisations simply stop broadcasting and exploring, turning inward and going dark as far as the rest of the universe is concerned? SETI is based on the idea that we will be able to pick up radio emmisions from alien intelligences. Our own technological development has quickly seen radio transmission replaced by fiberoptics for vast swathes of communication, so we've already started to broadcast less, and as technology improves radio transmission, when required, is likely to improve in efficiency so that it doesn't spew energy needlessly into space.

What about the urge to explore, the primitive adrenaline fuelled pioneer instinct? Space travel is hugely resource intensive and expensive. We're getting better and better at stimulating our senses through technology and entertainment - and virtual worlds in all their forms are a huge part of that. So what if it's simply more exciting to play a game or explore a simulated reality that is increasingly convincing? It seems to me inevitable that any suitably advanced lifeform would try to find ways to stimulate and fool it's own senses to create experiences just as we do with interactive immersive technologies. Commentators love to say that Virtual Worlds have reached the end of the road, but maybe virtual worlds actually are the end of the road?