ALIENS visiting Earth could be super-beings powered by AI technology far beyond anything we know, an expert warns.
And they could be so advanced they look down on us like ants – so we will have to hope they "extend their tentacles in peace", says Dr Luisa Preston.
It comes as a new BBC documentary imagines how the world would react to a visit by extraterrestrials – from internet memes to panic buying of loo rolls and guns.
Dr Preston, a lecturer in planetary science and astrobiology at University College London, says we could have a lot to fear.
She told The Sun: “We do think that if there is alien life out there then it’s quite possibly more intelligent than we are.
“If you look at it logically, the universe is 13.8billion years old but life on our planet only began to arrive 3.9billion years ago – intelligence is a relatively new thing for us.
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“We do think that if we do encounter life it will be small organisms or it will be far ahead of us.
“There’s a theory that civilisation has a lifespan so it could be that these civilizations have evolved to the point where their civilisation ends.
“Where they could have evolved to – who knows?
“Some people say that the next stage in evolution would be artificial intelligence and gone from being biological to being technological.
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“It’s obvious that technology would outlive biology. Life on earth is restricted to our planet but if anything happened our technology would live on.
“We have the Voyager probes out there and rovers on Mars. Evidence of our civilisation would exist – it would just be technological evidence.
“Who knows what’s out there?”
And if we ever did meet creatures from another planet, one of the first things we'd want to know is what they look like.
Dr Preston said: “I would like to think they wouldn’t be terrifying and that they’re a really nice artificial intelligence species who want to make friends with their lowly biological cousins.
“The beauty of the subject is that we don’t know – and that’s the fun bit.
“We use all the science that we know of and we try and extrapolate ideas about what could be coming to try and help us find it.
“In theory an alien life form could look like anything. It could be a rock, anything up to a sky-whale.
“But there are certain things that we see through evolution on the earth that are common among different species that aren’t related.
“For example, eyes have evolved between 50 and 100 times in different species.
“If you want to be an intelligent species then you’re going to need a brain and enough oxygen to run that brain and a hard shell to protect it.
“Having an arm and a leg on either side so were symmetrical has come up in evolution quite a few times.
“So maybe four limbs, six limbs, eight limbs – that might be possible.
'Tentacles of peace'
“We’re not saying intelligent life will look exactly like us.
“But we do think there must be certain traits that have proven beneficial to allow intelligent life to arise in use that could maybe be used by aliens.
“I’m an eternal optimist and believe that any civilisation that’s more intelligent and advanced than us is just more tolerant, otherworldly and more accepting and extend their tentacle in peace if that’s the case.
“I don’t think they would ever be threatened by us – it would be like us trying to speak to an ant.”
Dr Preston is one of the experts interviewed in First Contact: An Alien Encounter, which aired on BBC Two last night.
It imagines the most significant event in human history when we finally pick up a message from another lifeform.
Experts believe we need only to look at what happened when we went into lockdown for clues.
As soon as the first news filters out humans do what they do best – take to social media to devise hilarious memes.
But over the course of the next 12 days the world goes into meltdown as contact with a terrifying alien species becomes a distinct possibility.
Scenes in the docu-drama show people taking to the streets and beginning to strip supermarket shelves bare as panic begins to set in.
According to Dr Beth Singler, we can expect similar behaviour to the early days of the pandemic when desperate shoppers stocked up on loo roll and pasta.
“With such an unclear signal without an obvious intent and message, I think there would be a lot of uncertainty – and uncertainty breeds anxiety,” said the Cambridge University anthropologist.
“We do see disturbance in people’s day to day routines when big events happen.
“We saw this with the global pandemic when people rushed out because they foresaw circumstances in which supplies would be limited.
“I think you will see an increase in the feeling that there has to be something I can do so what can I do to prepare and I will go out and I will buy tinned food, I will buy toilet paper, I will stock up on water just in case.
“And that’s a way of reassuring yourself that you still have control over the situation.”
After the first garbled message is picked up, the drama begins to unfold on day six when a 120-mile-long object travelling at 20million mph is spotted by a scientist at an observatory.
The news filters out and the American military, which looks out for UFOs, admits to being “clueless” before confirming it’s an “unidentified aerial phenomenon”.
Riots then begin to break out as Americans begin to arm themselves with gun sales doubling across the country amid fear of impending invasion.
Others begin to buy telescopes and begin looking out to the sky in a bid to catch sight of the object.
Meanwhile, people on earth begin to work out what their message would be to aliens.
Professor Michael Garrett, director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, said it might be wise to "gather as much information together before we transmit" a message back.
“We have got this thing in our head that is limited by the physical scale of it but there might be other things out there that have a capacity that is completely beyond what we can even imagine.
"It’s a bit like ants trying to communicate with humans.”
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Others though are more clear about what we should send back.
“You heard the sound they sent us? I would send them an equally annoying message back,” says one man.
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