Consider that an advanced civilization by our human standards would require a planetary environment that provides the right resources and an intelligent life form that evolves the body necessary to exploit it. Would we have been able to build our technological civilization without an energy resource like fossil fuels, for instance, and would other life-bearing worlds necessarily have fossil fuels to begin with? Even if an ETI had the required materials, would they necessarily be able to exploit it, or might the average ETI be something akin to a super-intelligent octopus or dolphin-like creature on an ocean world? Or a similarly intelligent elephant or crow-like creature on a super-earth?
Could it be that the universe is abundant with intelligent life, teeming with brainy aliens, and it’s just that most of that life has not evolved the appropriate appendages to fashion complex technology?
No matter how high their intelligence, they would never be able to sail the sea of stars above them. In fact, given the appropriate circumstances, they may never catch so much of a hint that such things as stars and a night sky even exist. For instance, they could be aquatic creatures on an ocean world in a multiple star system, bathed in the light of at least one star all the time. Cocooned in endless light pollution, they would be blind to the universe. If they are locked under ice like on the solar moons Europa and Enceladus, they may know nothing of the planet beyond their sheltered world, much less the cosmos as we know it, and yet may also be vastly more intelligent than us.
If this were the case, we may be the only hope for those exoplanetary prisoners. It may be up to us to go to the extraterrestrial super-geniuses. By approaching them gradually in stages that build up to careful first contact, we might dodge blowing their minds into a panic — and we might ultimately serve to release them from their frosty, liquid prisons and nightless lives and help them ascend the mountains and trees to the stars.
With them on our backs, we could introduce them to the vast universe that blubbering idiots like us were able to traverse on account of evolving our goofy hands with thumbs and fingers — without which our mediocre gray matter would reduce us to a relatively common creature, and so utterly useless to them. They’ve perhaps imagined all we’ve done and more, just never had the means to put it all into action — not until now, given we can successfully strike a deal with them.
The deal? They have to rely on us to introduce them to the universe rather than have us fix them up with complex, technological prosthetics. That’s the only way we could ensure that we wouldn’t be wiped out. Us domesticated primates wish to be saviors, after all, not martyrs.
It would be a good deal, though. Through them, we would gain vast knowledge; through us, they would gain vast access. Perhaps a religion would grow among mankind, central to their faith the idea that, as intelligent beings lucky enough to have evolved such appendages, it is our destiny to migrate to and thoroughly explore the far reaches of outer space so as to achieve our proper roles as the intergalactic uber drivers for aliens, as the cosmic cabbies for higher intelligence.
At least relative to current major religions, this would be a religion I wouldn’t mind infesting the minds of the masses. At the very least, it would inspire us to migrate to and colonize space.