Singularity Exo-Paleontology

From: Paul Hughes (
Date: Thu Mar 25 2004 - 18:13:35 MST

When is the earliest possible time in our universe
that a technological singularity could have occurred?

Letís examine the evidence and make some conjectures.

In order to determine the theoretical earliest time we
need to know what the necessary precursors are for a
technological singularity is. Since the Earth and the
emergence of our own civilization is the only example
we have, weíll assume that life and therefore
technological civilization requires a planet as a
necessary prerequisite for a technological

So when were the first planets formed? Since planets
require heavy elements, the earliest possible time
wouldíve been after the supernova explosion of a
first-generation star. The first generation of stars
started forming approximately 160 million years after
the Big Bang. The most short-lived of these stars were
the blue giants. All first generation stars were
composed entirely of hydrogen and helium and no heavy
elements. Thanks to nucleosynthesis in the cores of
these stars, all the heavier elements through Uranium
were first created during this time. After the first
of these blue stars exploded, all itís material
including the heavy metals, formed the necessary
conditions for birthing stars with proto-planetary

According to this story,

The Hubble Space Telescope found tantalizing evidence
that planets first appeared much earlier in cosmic
history, around 12.7 billion years ago, and therefore
may be more abundant than previously suspected.
Since we know both the earth and sun are each 4.5
billion years old, the earliest possible earth like
planets could have appeared as early as 1 billion
years after the big bang.

So from here we look at Earthís history to ascertain
our final figure. This is where a bit of guesswork is

For now, lets examine the historical record of life on
our planet. There is now observational evidence that
archaebacteria, the first type of life, were around as
early as 3.97 billion years ago. For the next 2.2
billion years life on Earth consisted of nothing more
anaerobic bacteria and archaeans. Then about 1.8
billion years ago eukaryotic cells appeared as fossils
too. With the beginning of the Middle Proterozoic 1.8
billion years ago, comes the first evidence of oxygen
build-up in the atmosphere. This global catastrophe
spelled doom for many bacterial groups, but made
possible the explosion of eukaryotic forms. These
include multicellular algae, and toward the end of the
Proterozoic, the first animals.

With the Cambrian Explosion soon after, all the major
phyla of life we see today emerged on to the scene.
Between the Cambrian explosion and today, there have
been 5 great extinctions, the last of which was 65
million years ago, when 90% life including all the
Dinosaurs were wiped out by a comet. From this lowly
10% that was left emerged almost all the complex life
we see today.

So the real question now is could this 3.97 billion
year history of life have evolved quicker? We know
the first 2.2 billion years of life consisted of
nothing more than simple anaerobic bacteria and
archae, and the next 1.2 billion years single-celled
eukaryotic oxygen-breathing bacteria. So for the
first 3.4 billion years the degree of evolutionary
change was almost non-existent. There is no reason to
suspect the emergence of eukaryotic cells couldnít
have happened sooner, perhaps as earlier as a few
million years after the first bacteria. The
mechanisms underlying these punctuated periods of
evolution are still largely unknown, so itís mostly
conjecture. But lets take a crack at it anyway.

I think most of this periodís stagnation was the
result bad luck. Perhaps the correct mutations
necessary for the emergence of multi-cellular life
simply have a very low probability of occurring. We
know that quadrillions of bacteria were spread out all
over the earth, and only after 3.4 billion years of
random mutations and conditions eventually gave rise
to the first multi-cellular organisms. If the result
is largely by chance, then life multi-cellular life
could have occurred shortly after life first appeared
at all. Then again, mutli-cellular life could be so
rare, that only 1 out of a million bacteria bearing
planets gives rise to multi-cellular life during the
lifetime of its parent star.

Itís quite possible that multi-cellular organisms
could have emerged as early as 3 billion years ago,
giving rise to the equivalent of the Cambrian
explosion 2.5 billion years earlier than it did. This
leaves the last 543 million years after the Cambrian
Explosion until now. Perhaps if we had a larger gas
giant in a orbit closer than Jupiterís, there would
have also been less asteroid and cometary impacts
during this period, further accelerating the right
kinds of conditions for life to occur. In the scheme
of things, this time frame is small enough that I
wonít compress it any further for the sake of this
essay, and assume that 500 million years is the
minimum time necessary for complex technological
civilization to evolve from the first appearance of
multi-cellular life forms.

So assuming my 2.5 billion year compression of the
history of life is possible in a planetary system with
the right conditions, this means technological
civilization on the Earth could have occurred as early
as 2 billion years after the formation of Earth

Since we know that the first planets were forming as
early as 12.7 billion years ago, and using earthís
history as our example, this means that the first
technological singularity could have occurred as early
as 10.7 billion years ago, or 3 billion years after
the Big Bang. If we take out my conjectured time
compression of evolution, we add an additional 2.5
billion years, then we get 5.5 billion years after the
big bang, or 8.2 billion years ago.

This leaves us with a theoretical minimum of 8.2 Ė
10.7 billion years ago when the first technological
singularity could have occurred.

Comments, feedback, flaws?

Paul Hughes

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