It’s been twenty long years since the War of 1996 and the world is slowly rebuilding from the intergalactic pummeling it received from an alien mothership and its 36 City Destroyers. In that time, mankind has applied alien technology to not only weaponry and vehicles, but to appliances as well, creating bladeless fans and touchscreen smartphones. The man tasked with building it all: Jeff Goldblum.

This is the premise of Independence Day: Resurgence — well, part of it anyway — which comes out Friday. In the trailer, president Elizabeth Lanford announces that “we have found the technology to build a stronger and safer Earth” but after a few bwaahh bwaahhs the audience realizes that might not be totally true. What we’ve found is alien technology better than our own. And we’ve reverse engineered it.

The idea that humans would build their own technology from the leftovers of aliens isn’t just something that sprang from the minds of Resurgence screenwriters Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, and Carter Blanchard. Humans have longed assumed advanced technologies (a relative term if ever there was one) were the products of some sort of intergalactic intervention. These conspiracy theories break down into three basic types.

Aliens as the Source of All Technology

The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in 1901.
The Antikythera mechanism was discovered in 1901.

The 1984 conspiracy bestseller Chariot of the Gods popularized (with “hard scientific facts!”) the idea that ancient civilization landmarks like the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, and the Nazca lines in Peru were actually alien-built structures and landing sites. This line of semi-reasoning proved popular because these spots are hard to understand products of ancient engineer. They are not the only ones. The Antikythera mechanism, a device believed to be an astronomical clock, was built by ancient Greeks. Naturally, people have theorized that it was actually created by an advanced (but apparently not too advanced) alien species.

Considered by scientists as the most technologically sophisticated artifact to exist from antiquity, accredited researchers believe the purpose of the device was to tell the user when lunar and solar eclipses would occur and to track the timing of the Olympic games. The authors behind don’t buy it:

“While many experts try to offer explanations for how this device could have been conceived, designed, and built, all of their concepts fail the tests of logic. There is only one possible explanation. Beings with advanced knowledge of astronomical bodies, mathematics, and precision engineering tools created the device or gave the knowledge for its creation to someone during the first century B.C.”

To which the researchers behind the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project working with the mechanism say: “No, by the same argument that it is not evidence of time travel. It fits within a long tradition of astronomical, mechanical, or general scientific development.”

Aliens as the Source of New Materials

Once you dive into the world of alien conspiracy theories, a name that comes up again and again is Philip Schneider. Known as a UFO whistleblower, Schneider claimed to be a geologist and structural engineer once employed by the United States government. Before his death under mysterious circumstances in 1996, Schneider embarked on a series of lectures around America to discuss what he claimed to be the longstanding relationship between the U.S. government and aliens. The point of the relationship? Exchanging new tech.

In this undated video, Schneider is giving one of these lectures. At about three minutes in, he says that he is going to explain “different alien metals that have been produced both in the confines of this planet and in outer-space and are now used in all stealth aircraft.”

Schnieder says that the metal is made of two elements: niobium, which is on the periodic table, and marinite — an alien element. This metal, he says, comes from alien technology.

Robert Lazarus, who told the media in 1989 that he had been part of a secret military operation that worked on alien technology also claimed he had encountered an alien material: Element 115. Lazarus claimed that this substance allowed aliens to amplify gravity waves, allowing them to fly their spacecrafts. Related: No record of Lazarus’ employment has been found and CalTech and MIT, which he claims to have attended, do not have any record of his admission.

Aliens as the Source of Modern Inventions

This category is the broadest and the most frequently cited: The idea that we’re surrounded by technology that was manufactured from alien tech. Sometimes people say this is stuff that we’ve mistakenly interpreted as normal (like circuit boards and microchips and other times this refers to tech that has been kept from the public.

In 2002 British hacker Gary McKinnon was arrested by the United Kingdom’s national high-tech crime unit after allegedly conducting an extensive search into the computer networks of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Defense, and NASA. He told the BBC in 2006 that he was looking for evidence of suppressed alien technology— and found it. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:

SK: Did you find what you were looking for?

GM: Yes.

SK: Tell us about it.

GM: There was a group called the Disclosure Project. They published a book which had 400 expert witnesses ranging from civilian air traffic controllers, through military radar operators, right up to the chaps who were responsible for whether or not to launch nuclear missiles.

They are some very credible, relied upon people, all saying yes, there is UFO technology, there’s anti-gravity, there’s free energy, and it’s extra-terrestrial in origin, and we’ve captured spacecraft and reverse-engineered it.

McKinnon also claimed that he came across NASA communication in which photographic experts said that they “regularly airbrushed out images of UFOs” from images taken from high-resolution satellites. McKinnon’s claims are in line with those of Lazarus who, before he decided to step away from the alien conspiracy game, said that the U.S. military relied upon alien technology to built their own crafts.

The Technologies Aliens Wouldn’t Give Us

In 2013 Canadian ex-Minister of Defense Paul Hellyer told Russia Today that not only is much of the technology we use alien-based, but that they would give us more technology if we weren’t such assholes. If humankind “would go about it peacefully” they would share the splendor of their tech: Dropping the atom bomb, apparently, was a big sign to extraterrestrials that we’re too sketchy to handle any more gifts.

One piece of tech believers think aliens are holding back from us: Clean energy. Scientists have thrown out the idea that the star KIC 8462853 is surrounded by a Dyson sphere — a hypothetical megastructure that can capture a star’s power output.

The inverse of the aliens-holding-back-tech theory is that they haven’t visited us — but if they did, they would be such super-environmentalists that they would want to destroy us immediately. I’m not sure which idea is more comforting.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, Giphy, YouTube

Sarah is a writer based in Brooklyn. She has previously written for The New Republic, Pacific Standard, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. She likes cheese especially when paired with a full-bodied joke.

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