Thursday, December 1, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: First Contact and Nationalism

There has been a significant movement towards nationalism and protectionism across the globe. The most notable examples would be the U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union. While there is much debate about the policies associated with nationalism and protectionism, the philosophy comes down to world leaders wanting the best for their country.


First contact with aliens would at first blush appear to be a threat to nationalism and protectionism. Certainly from a military perspective it could be so- if the aliens have hostile intentions. But if an extraterrestrial civilization offers a non-threatening introduction that perspective could be very different for world leaders, especially where it concerns the United Nations. The UN has long been a flash-point when it comes to supporters of nationalism and protectionism. The UN is often viewed as a threat to national sovereignty.  But in a Direct First Contact situation, one where the aliens come to our solar system to say hello, the United Nations could be a necessary tool for world leaders.


Much of the debate would be decided by the aliens themselves. If they extend their welcome to one nation or a specific group of nations, that would have to be respected. Other nations could argue their point, but ultimately it’s up to the aliens to decide who they want to communicate with. The same is true if the aliens want to deal with all nations. Individual countries could grumble about it and even try to gain advantage behind the scenes. But if the aliens are not interested in dealing with individual nations, this would quickly prove to be a fruitless endeavor. More so, it could risk an individual nation’s relationship with aliens and the rest of the world. This could prove to be a big problem for aggressive nations who are intent on making their own deal. They may very well get left out of the international deal-making.


The countries most likely to seek control of First Contact would be the United States, Russia and China. Why? They have much at stake with large economies and a preference for asserting influence in global affairs. All three are members of the UN Security Council- likely to be the first UN body to consider alien contact. The question is how the use of their influence would be most effective – alone or in the UN Security Council? Taking a separate path could be dangerous, as it could cause the straying country to be less influential in the United Nations. It would seem prudent for world leaders to consider this- the United Nations may be their most effective way of exerting influence on the process. This is true for the Security Council nations, especially the P5 permanent serving nations of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other nations would also be advised to exert their influence through the United Nations. To go it alone would be foolhardy. If the aliens want to deal with individual nations they will. If they want to deal with everyone, the United Nations would be the best alternative for individual countries.


The problem is what the United Nations represents for nationalists- the threat of an extra-governmental agency running the show. There is already a fear of the United Nations turning into a world government. First Contact would likely increase that fear. However, in the specific case of alien First Contact the United Nations could be viewed as a valuable tool- a conduit of sorts for contact. The major nations exert much influence over the United Nations currently and would continue to do so in a First Contact scenario. Less powerful nations would have their only opportunity to be involved in the decision making process through the United Nations. Does this mean that the United Nations should gain more control over international affairs? That would depend on how the arrangement is put together. In a conduit scenario the UN would be a process body. And much of First Contact would be about process. Nations could decide how the UN should structure response to First Contact and the framework for a global relationship with aliens. Strong involvement from the General Assembly in the decision-making process could ensure national control. It also means a great deal of responsibility for nations to work together and make decisions with alacrity. Hesitance and in-fighting could make a General Assembly controlled First Contact strategy untenable. Nations can control how much of the process is decided by United Nations bureaucracy. There will have to be some level of action and decision-making in the United Nations. The framework for the process will be an important point for General Assembly consideration. It comes down to this: if the General Assembly can be effective in decision-making countries will retain control. If they fail, the bureaucrats in the UN will have to lead the way. That means it is critical that American, Russian and Chinese UN ambassadors work together to solidify support for actions in the General Assembly. This is the type of superpower leadership that will be necessary in the wake of First Contact. Those ambassadors can be extremely important in the process, but only if they have the complete backing of their bosses. And First Contact would not be a time to play games. If a national leader chooses to “go rogue” in public statements and push for something else behind the scenes they could find their national influence undermined. Any sign of gamesmanship would send a signal to other nations that the process cannot be trusted.


So, how should the United States, China and Russia present themselves in a First Contact situation? It depends on what the aliens want in the First Contact process. If the aliens want to deal with the entire planet it would seem best for the big three, and the rest of the UN Security Council members, to act as strong leaders within the context of the UN. It seems likely that the nations who figure this out quickly, and set forth a UN-based strategy will fare better in the post- First Contact world. It’s one situation in which going it alone could be a very, very bad idea.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Cultural Autonomy


Cultural autonomy is the ability of a group of people to decide their own fate. Cultural harm is one of the significant threats that we would have to consider in a direct alien First Contact event. It’s a topic addressed in a recently published book titled “Commercial Space Exploration: Ethics, Policy and Governance.” In one chapter Philadelphia area writer Brent Franklin focuses on the interaction between civilizations and what that could mean for humans in a First Contact situation. Cultural harm is the potential damage that interaction between civilizations could have, especially for the weaker, less-advanced society. Franklin points to Brazilian relations with the isolated tribes of the Amazon. These may be the last such isolated societies on the planet. Brazil has gone to great lengths to protect the autonomy of the indigenous tribes. Those actions are based on the negative outcomes for many other tribes in previous years. Interaction with humans has collapsed indigenous economic and social structures, to the point of completely dissolving some cultures. This is not a new aspect of human life. We have experienced such actions for thousands of years. Some may argue that it is a natural progression for more advanced societies to subsume less advanced. However, in the last 100 years fierce opposition to this argument has developed. It can be seen in the efforts of Native North Americans to preserve their culture, much of which was decimated by European settlement and intrusion.

We may consider our human society rather advanced in terms of depth and complexity. But there could be risks in interaction with extraterrestrials. Technology is one of the most obvious considerations. Should aliens provide technological information to us? If they are more advanced we may not even have the foundation to understand alien technology. But if we did, would having knowledge given to us make us stronger or weaker? Science is a foundational system that grows through the sharing of ideas and replication of study results. Each new piece of information is a building block, but that block is only put in place once it has been critically reviewed. Along the way, all sorts of other ideas, challenges and considerations can come to light. Human science is a complicated set of interactions and development. Alien technology could throw us off course. Or it could make us dependent on alien tutoring.

Human religion could also suffer cultural harm. Perhaps the aliens have a religious system that is adopted by humans? That could undermine human religions and have a drastic impact on human culture.

There could also be benefits to alien interaction with humans. New ideas could cause us to develop our technology in new directions and grow our religious perspectives. A lot would depend on how interaction with aliens would occur. The negative comparisons in human history usually involve the new society encroaching on the geography of the indigenous group, quite often through dominance and even war. If aliens were not threatening us physically, could interaction create positive change for the human civilization? Many would argue that we need new religious perspectives, as religion is the source of much conflict here on Earth. Perhaps alien technology could be shared in a way that would incorporate our human scientific system?

Cultural autonomy is the ability of a group of people to guide the future development of their culture. If there is agreement that some alien perspectives might be beneficial, those perspectives could be incorporated into human society. The point is that humans need to make the decisions. If aliens do visit our solar system some day they will be encroaching on our space. We should be the ones who decide how the relationship should progress. We should have the ability to limit and control contact. That could even mean turning down alien assistance.

Franklin suggests a “peaceful and cautious approach to contact.” This is something I have been promoting for several years now. Yes, there would be clear threats to humanity in an alien First Contact scenario, especially if it is Direct First Contact, taking place in our solar system. But there may also be benefits in such a relationship. The tough part would be setting up a framework for the relationship that would allow for that “peaceful and cautious approach.”

In simple terms humans would need to assess the following in any First Contact scenario:

-The details of the situation itself: what are the aliens proposing?

-Our position in this scenario: what are our weaknesses and strengths?

-The risk that further contact could provide to the human civilization

-The benefits that further contact could provide to human civilization

It’s basically the SWOT analysis that businesses use for planning. You evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. From there you can develop a short-term response and a long-term strategy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Everyone in the Same Boat?


I make assumptions on this blog. One major one is that there are at least a few civilizations in our Galaxy far in advance of us in terms of technology. This would really be our only hope for communicating with extraterrestrials. A presentation by Cornell University student Evan Solomonides says that we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting. His extrapolation is that it could be 1,500 years until First Contact. He made his remarks to an American Astronomical Society meeting this year. Space.com writer Nola Redd reports that Solomonides thinks humans may be on the same development track as any other extraterrestrial civilization that may be out there. Meaning that extraterrestrials are probably no more or less technologically advanced than us. This idea is based on the particular mixture of heavy elements needed to produce life as we know it. It takes many generations of stars to produce the amount needed to produce life. That means most other stars with life would be along the same timeline as us.

It’s an interesting idea. Many people have been attempting to answer the Fermi Paradox, which asks why we haven’t heard from extraterrestrials yet. Solomonides would argue that if they are out there, they simply haven’t developed enough for us to hear them or for them to hear us. And that’s what the search for extraterrestrial life comes down to for humans right now- radio and television signals traveling through space.

There are plenty of other reasons we may not have heard from extraterrestrials- they may not care to talk to us. They may have sophisticated methods of communication that we can’t detect. They may be waiting to say hello until we are further developed. They may not care if any other civilizations are out there. But the idea of equal technological development is an interesting idea. I suppose if that is the case, we really won’t know anything for many more generations. That, in and of itself, is kind of an annoying idea. Thanks Evan.

 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Let There Be Light

The reliance on radio wave searches of the universe, in hopes of intercepting signals from extraterrestrial civilizations, may be too narrow. That’s what astronomers have been suggesting for some time now. Radio waves are already diminishing in importance for humans. So, why expect that an alien civilization would use them at all?


Next up is light. There are a few projects underway using light searches and proposing light communication on our part. A recent post in ScienceBlog describes a paper by UC Santa Barbara researcher Philip Lubin. He suggests in the journal REACH that directed energy may be useful in the search for extraterrestrials.


“In our paper, we propose a search strategy that will observe nearly 100 billion planets, allowing us to test our hypothesis that other similarly or more advanced civilizations with this same broadcast capability exist,” Lubin said. –ScienceBlog


Of course, it is entirely possible that even light would be an outmoded communication technique for extraterrestrials. It seems clear, though, that the only hope in this search is to constantly reevaluate our methods and utilize the latest advances in human technology to help re-define the search.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

HD 164595: An Example of How Tough Discovery Notification Will Be

Update: Russian scientists now call the signal terrestrial in origin. More here.


There's a sudden rush of excitement on the Internet about star HD 164595 in the Hercules constellation. An Italian scientist found a strange signal emanating from the star on May 15, 2016. According to SETI there have been 39 observations since that time, in attempts to replicate the signal. Nothing else has been discovered. So, why all the excitement? A blogger apparently got advance word of the search, details of which were due to be presented during a conference in September. Internet speculators and the mainstream media, including CNN, have jumped on board this week. While the stories themselves offer a more complete analysis, the headlines are rather excited.

Who knows? This could be what everyone has been waiting for- an actual signal from an alien civilization. But the only way scientists can begin to prove that is by finding the signal again, and again, and again. They are still looking in many frequency ranges and even for any possible laser light emission.

This is another example of how quick information can spread and the danger of that speculation. One can only imagine what would happen if scientists do make a discovery some day. This shows that it will likely come out prematurely and lead to rampant speculation. The difficult thing about speculation is that it could lead anywhere...so if there is some element of truth, it can be spun so many different ways people won't know what to believe.

What can we do? Pay attention to trusted sources. The folks at the SETI Institute in Mountain View California have been through this more than once. Seth Shostak is a good source for an educated, and well informed, scientific opinion. Just watch out in the mainstream media. I have already seen quotes from Shostak and colleague Douglas Vakoch, twisted around in reports that make things seem more exciting than they are- yet.

We need to have patience and let scientists do the hard and often tedious work that is required when there is an unexplained astral phenomena. Here's a link to the situation on the SETI Institute website. This is a recently updated link to the star HD 164595 Wikipedia page with a lot more about the sun and why this signal is so intriguing to SETI researchers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Anyone Out There?

There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life in the universe. One group insists that the “eerie silence” means that we are alone in the universe. We have been listening for more than fifty years now and there has yet to be an alien signal discovered. The other group insists that we have searched a tiny bit of the observable universe and we have used technology that may very well be irrelevant to extraterrestrials- the radio spectrum.

Lee Speigel with the Huffington Post writes about a new effort to predict the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe. His story focuses on an Astrobiology journal paper by Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan. They use new data from the search for exoplanets to update the famous Drake Equation. Frank Drake sought to quantify the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe back in 1961. His equation is still in use today. The Astrobiology paper, as outlined by Speigel, suggests that the new exoplanet research be used to update the equation. According to NASA, There have been 3,268 expoplanets discovered as of May 19, 2016. The Astrobiology authors extrapolation of this number is rather astonishing to consider:
“Even if you are pretty pessimistic and think that you’d have to search through 100 billion (habitable zone) planets before you found one where a civilization developed, then there have still been a trillion civilizations over cosmic history!” Frank wrote. “When I think about that, my mind reels — even if there is just a one in a 100 billion chance of evolution creating exo-civilizations, the universe still has made so many of them that we are swamped by histories other than our own.” –Huffington Post

It’s quite a difference in perspective- either we are the only civilization in the universe or there may be a trillion civilizations in the history of the universe.
All considerations, with this little real information, is basically speculation. Even with the scientific discovery of thousands of exoplanets, we still don’t know enough about how life could develop outside of the Earth to truly consider the possibility of life on another planet, or for that matter a trillion planets. The article does provide some new ammunition for those seeking extraterrestrial intelligence. The discovery of exoplanets and more importantly, the nature of those exoplanets, allows us to now focus our search in a way that we could not even five years ago.
We need to update the search with the continuing discovery of exoplanets. We need to update our search strategies to get beyond the radio spectrum. We need to keep searching.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Those Damn Aliens


Independence Day, one of the better marauding alien movies, is back with part two. It has some people considering space defense. It’s not an unreasonable topic, if you think alien civilizations exist and that they have the ability to travel to Earth. A Forbes contributor, Bruce Dorminey, recently took up the subject. He talked to physicists to discuss how humans might prevent a sneak attack. Not surprisingly it all comes down to the technology available to visiting aliens. If they travel at less than the speed of light they would probably be detectable. If they know something about physics that we don’t know- and can travel faster than the speed of light- we would be in trouble.

The other issue is space defense. Detection is one thing- but what do you do next? People have suggested building space defense…usually nuclear missiles in space. That is currently banned as part of an international UN treaty for the peaceful uses of space. No one wants another country putting nuclear missiles in space.

It’s unlikely anyone will spend money on what is probably the biggest “what if” in human history. There is no evidence that intelligent alien life exists, let alone that they have the technological ability to travel here. This is just speculation now, but can you imagine the reaction if some day we do discover intelligent alien life out there? I would suspect that there would be an immediate call for detection and defense platforms in space. There could even be a space arms race. We will need to carefully consider the circumstances if that does occur. If the aliens are much more technologically advanced than us- defense may be a moot point. And no matter what we would have to consider the risk of putting missiles in space. Exactly who would control them?

In the meantime, stick with the movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but I would guess the humans win in the end.




Monday, June 6, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Responding to Social Media Demands

It’s tough to keep anything secret these days. There are so many outlets for information that news tends to be instantaneous. That’s a big change from 1989 when the International Academy of Astronautics put together a set of protocols for the detection of a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization

Cathal O’Connell writes in Cosmos about a proposal to update those protocols. University of St. Andrews researchers Duncan Fargan and Alexander Scholz suggest a speedier process for public dissemination of news of an alien signal discovery. This is a big difference from the current protocol, which calls for researchers working together behind the scenes, to confirm that the signal is indeed of intelligent origin before taking it public. The reason for the suggested change is simple: it is likely someone in that chain of researchers would put it up on Twitter or Facebook before it could be confirmed. The authors point out in their Acta Astronautica article that the social media revelations could contain incorrect information or be misinterpreted. It would be better to have an open release to the public of preliminary information. Research to confirm the discovery can follow.
Communication has changed significantly. It is critical for researchers to consider those changes when it comes to announcing a possible extraterrestrial signal or contact. I think this article points to a larger issue. Transparency would be essential in any first contact scenario. It’s important that correct information be available to the public as soon as possible, so that speculation and rumors can’t overtake the facts.

The article brings up another interesting aspect of our age: the dangers associated with revelation of extraterrestrials contact. O’Connell writes that Fargan and Scholz suggest hazards for those making such an announcement. The researchers could be subject to Internet based intrusions and attacks.
Keeping up with the Internet and social media won’t be easy. Speculation and rumors would likely fly no matter how much researchers work to put out correct information. It’s critical to take into account the possible reaction to news of First Contact now. When it happens there will barely be time to think before the news has reached the entire world.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Politics and Space Aliens


I’ll just go ahead and say it this way: if aliens have any plans to visit Earth they had damn well better keep an eye on our politics. I know that is unfair, as most human political situations are a vast cesspool of ego aggrandizement and power grabs. But despite the disgusting nature of the subject, it would be important for extraterrestrials to consider. Political matters offer an indication of the stability of governments. Governmental leaders would be key decision-makers in the wake of a Direct First Contact event.

Let me wade hip-deep into the political muck by first examining the current presidential race in the United States. If I was an alien (I am not) I would consider the timing of my big hello. Would I want to make First Contact when there is a lame duck U.S. president in office? Should I wait for a new president to take command? The advantage of the lame duck president is that they have very little to lose politically, hopefully enabling them to act thoughtfully and make decisions based on the long-term well-being of the U.S. and the world. A lame duck president also has experience with all sorts of crises and many veteran cabinet and staff members. A new president has the advantage of newness- they have not yet developed the network of enemies that a veteran president has. A new president would also have more time to carry through with an extraterrestrial policy.

The big issue during an election cycle is candidate reaction. Presidential candidates are more likely to present brash ideas during an election, in an effort to appeal to voting blocs. Candidates don’t have the same responsibilities as a sitting president. Alien First Contact would be wrapped up in a huge political debate in regards to our response, no matter when it happens. That debate could be much more aggressive during an election cycle.

The political situations in Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom would also be important to consider. They are the other standing members of the United Nations Security Council. They would likely have a large role in diplomatic relations with an extraterrestrial civilization. Evaluating politics in Russia and China might be tough for aliens. Much of the important decision-making process is conducted out of the public in these two nations. That’s not to say that behind the scenes political decisions don’t happen in the United States, France and the U.K. But the nature of news coverage in those nations, and less government control of the political process, makes it more likely decisions will be made in public.

So, how do aliens go about evaluating the situations in China and Russia? They would have to do what reporters around the world do when examining the countries- get as local as possible with sources and know enough about the nature of each government to understand what is really going on when they make public announcements.

This could all be accomplished on the Internet. But it means that extraterrestrials would need to take the time to study us, before saying hello. I understand the argument could be made that aliens would not understand or care to understand, our human political systems. However, I think that if they have the technological means to travel to our solar system, they would also have the ability to study and learn. The value in evaluating human politics is simple: it can give you an indication of how various governments, and the United Nations, might react in a Direct First Contact situation. This includes military reaction and that’s a big one. You don’t want to scare leaders of an unstable nation.

Another factor to consider is United Nations leadership. The process is underway now to pick a new Secretary General. That position would be critical in any First Contact scenario. The same thoughts apply- do you want to say hello with a lame duck Secretary General or wait for a new Secretary General to take office?

How would aliens take in all this information and could they ever fully understand the human implications? That’s impossible to say. But we humans do a good job of putting it all out there. There are thousands and thousands of political blogs, academic works and other analyses of political situations available on the Internet. An alien wouldn’t need to start from scratch. There are plenty of humans evaluating politics and offering insight.  That does raise another concern: lies and exaggerations on the Internet. Humans have enough trouble keeping information on the Internet straight. How would aliens do it, considering the fine points of human behavior might be hard for them to understand? Let’s just hope the aliens take their time and study the cesspool of human politics very carefully before they say hello.

 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Humor and Honesty


Many humans would be anxious about First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, if it ever happens some day. A quick review of First Contact fiction plots in popular media shows the anxiety quite clearly. Books and movies have dwelled on the negative for decades. And there is a possibility that First Contact could be a real problem for humans. However, it seems more likely that First Contact would be a mixed bag of positive and negative impacts. It also seems likely that many of the outcomes will depend on how humans respond to First Contact. Negative outcomes may be due to negative human reaction and have nothing to do with aliens. Managing those reactions will be important in the wake of First Contact.

I think it would be important to maintain the “humanity” in any First Contact event.  That can be accomplished with honest communication, transparency in action and the use of humor.

Why humor? It’s a human way of relieving tension and acknowledging fears, and could help to calm people. Serious matters would need to be handled seriously, but there should be plenty of room in the process for humor. Such techniques would, of course, depend on the nature of First Contact. If aliens are reigning down missiles on Washington and Moscow, humor wouldn’t be such a good idea. But in a more positive scenario, humor could serve to act as a reassuring anchor for people watching First Contact coverage. Humor would remind them that this is a human event and not the end of the world. Aside from relieving tension, humor can help in communication. It is a way to address concerns and counteract negative stereotypes with less confrontation than a more direct approach.

Governments don’t do a very good job utilizing humor. Some politicians have learned the value of the technique. And that’s an important point. Institutions can’t show a sense of humor about a situation, but people can. Humor, honesty and transparency will need to start with the major human players in a First Contact situation. Hopefully, with good examples from those individuals and good results, it could be a foundation for the process going forward.

The most important part of communication would be honesty. Humans have been trained by Hollywood writers to expect conspiracy in an alien First Contact scenario. The best way to be honest is to be transparent. The entire human population has a right to know exactly what is occurring at each step in the process After First Contact. Meetings should be made public, whenever possible. At the very least, closed door meetings should be summarized for the public afterwards. This would not be easy to achieve without a struggle. Governments often act behind closed doors when it comes to security decisions. There would be many security considerations in a Direct First Contact situation. Governmental leaders would need to weigh their options carefully. The benefit of having a closed door meeting, and not reporting on the outcome of that meeting, could be minimal compared to the value of keeping the public informed and calm.

Perhaps the biggest fear in the back of the collective human mind in a First Contact event would be the alien perspective. Will it overwhelm our human world? Will we somehow lose our humanity in the process of having a relationship with extraterrestrials? Humor and honesty could help to keep the process of Contact human in nature, and thus understandable, and hopefully acceptable, to the world public.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Fears


Fear would be a understandable, and perhaps common, human reaction in any extraterrestrial First Contact scenario. It would be a big concern in a Direct First Contact situation. Here is a breakdown of possible human fears:

Fear of Attack- Hollywood has primed us for this fear with a million movies about marauding aliens attacking Earth. The threat of attack is a legitimate fear, but only in the context of the actual situation.

Fear of Interference- Concerns about aliens interfering in human activities, either behind the scenes or openly, are also legitimate, and need to be addressed.

Fear of Conspiracy- This worry would probably focus on some group of human beings having a secret deal with aliens that would give those humans an advantage. This could be a particular country or some subset of human society.

Fear of Change- We’re already overwhelmed by changes in our society and our technology. Information overload would be an issue.

Fear of Being Left Out- This could be a fear held by a particular group of humans or group of countries. The fear would stem from being left out of decision-making and not receiving the benefits of First Contact. This will be especially true for developing nations.

Fear of Loss of Control- This will be a concern for many humans, but especially for those who are in control of some human institution.

Fear of Religious Change- This stems from the possibility that information provided by extraterrestrials will somehow undermine particular religions, thus throwing faith into disarray.

Fear for the Future- What will humans become After First Contact? Will we become more like aliens? Will the trajectory for human development be changed? And for better or for worse?

Calming fears will be important in a First Contact situation. International and government leaders will need to speak often to address concerns and set up commissions or panels to respond to legitimate fears. Scientists and other experts will need to put developments into context for the rest of humanity and explore legitimate concerns. The news media will have to be careful about responding to rumor and misinformation. Context will also be critical for the media to truly serve the public. Humanity will learn about First Contact developments primarily from the media, so there is a tremendous responsibility there for journalists, and perhaps most importantly, those who lead newsrooms and media companies.

Everything concerning First Contact would need to be out in the open. Transparency would be essential to prevent misunderstandings and diminish fear of conspiracy. There should be open meetings for all developments in the First Contact process. Those meetings should be streamed on the web for everyone to view. Leaders will need to respond to rumors and misinformation immediately.

Every human would need to be included in the process, in some way. That means all nations need representation in decision-making. Leaders would need to listen to public opinion, and even fringe groups, to hear concerns and respond to legitimate concerns. A bunker mentality could be disastrous for leaders.

The rational middle of human society will need to be fully engaged and prepared to speak out, if necessary. Fringe groups will be quite loud. They cannot be allowed to dominate the discussion.

It may take a while for some of these fears to develop. Leaders shouldn’t assume that a calm public in the first few days and weeks After First Contact means that the calm will continue indefinitely. There will be a period where humans and human leaders are stunned and simply processing information. This will not last. Humans will need to respond quickly to put into place a framework for responding to fear.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Danger and Importance of Fringe Groups

Observation shows that human social behavior often follows predictable patterns at the macro level. That’s why I think you can discuss possible human social reaction to alien First Contact. At the macro level we will probably react much as we do to other challenges and debates.

Fringe groups are major players in human social debates. A fringe group could be described as a smaller, organized contingent of people with beliefs that fall closer to the absolute pole than they do the middle ground. If we look at human social reaction to a big issue, such as abortion, you see two opposite poles and a continuum of opinion in between. The one pole believes that there should be absolutely no abortions under any circumstances. The other pole considers abortion to be the right of a woman to control her own body, allowable under whatever circumstances the woman decides. Most of us would probably fall in between these two extremes. Surveys show that to be the case. Clearly, it’s a complicated issue that involves much more than simply these two poles. But viewing the debate in this way allows us to see forces at work.

It seems to me that the middle ground of any human debate is often the quietest position. There seem to be less advocacy organizations representing the middle ground. Institutions and larger, more broad-based, organizations often occupy the middle.

Fringe groups, operating near the poles of the debate, are usually much smaller in actual numbers of followers. Either because of this, or due to the inherent passions of those in these positions, fringe groups tend to be quite vocal. It’s important to note that in any large debate there are likely to be many fringe groups operating at each pole. They sometimes work together, and at other times they disagree and fight with each other. This can be due to philosophical differences or simply the human problems of ego and control. A fringe group at either pole seeks to influence the debate and convince people in the middle. They do this via protests and other events designed to garner media coverage. However, some members will view these methods as unproductive and engage in civil unrest. Even smaller groups may choose violence.

This type of human reaction can be seen again and again, throughout human history. In the 1960’s war protestors held marches and rallies. Some groups thought that rallies were not enough and provoked riots. Still others resorted to bombings.

This may all sound negative at first blush. But we need to understand the importance of fringe groups. They often represent a way of thinking that is at odds with the current actions of society. An example is the abolitionist movement well before the Civil War in America. Many regarded abolitionists as radicals in the early days. As the debate became more widespread, the larger group of abolitionists spoke publicly and changed minds, leading to greater support. A smaller group helped to build the Underground Railroad. Even smaller groups participated in violent revolt. Would America have rejected slavery if not for the abolitionist fringe groups? It’s much easier to stay in stasis than to participate in change. Fringe groups provoke debate and often action. They may help us to see things in terms we could not before. It’s occurring today with the animal rights movement. The push to protect animals in the food chain is operating at a pole. Some groups believe in public education. Other groups take more radical action.

It’s important to note that fringe groups can also make existing situations much worse. That seems to be occurring in the Islamic and Christian communities. The groups at the poles of radical Islam and radical Christianity are engaging in all-out war. Extremist Islamic groups are attacking the larger human society and that provokes radical Christians to promote separatism. Those of us in the middle have to endure the violence and also struggle to keep Muslims and Christians together in a common society. Groups are struggling for power and control in the world of Muslim and Christian extremists. Even more dangerous- there is an apocalyptic/religious reward element involved on both sides. That means the parties often do not act rationally.

So, let’s bring this back to extraterrestrial First Contact.

The human reaction to intelligent alien First Contact will probably correspond to the degree of tension involved in the situation. If we are communicating with a far-off civilization, and our messages take years or decades to travel, that will be a low level of tension. The second degree of tension would be fast communication with a far-off extraterrestrial civilization. This would assume that the extraterrestrials have communication technology to do such, because we are still stuck at the speed of light for transmission and most stars are many light years away. The third level of tension would be representatives of an extraterrestrial civilization arriving in our solar system. The tension in this scenario comes from the threat of close proximity and the prospect of dramatic change in our perspective, if the aliens are willing to share information.

First Contact would lead to a big debate over what we should do next: welcome aliens with open arms or tell them to go away. These would be the poles. The continuum of reaction would fall between these two extremes. However, it seems inevitable that there would be extremist fringe groups operating at these poles. Fear would likely drive the isolationists. Hope would be important for the open arms contingent. Power will be a big factor in a Direct First Contact scenario. Some groups may also find apocalyptic connections to First Contact. The results could be chaotic and challenging. Some extremist groups could turn to civil unrest and violence, especially on the isolationist side. Fear appeals will be common. Rumors and misinformation will run rampant.

How can we predict such things for First Contact? Just look at the current debates in our world. Fear based appeals; power grabs and apocalyptic thinking are part of many fringe groups embroiled in a wide variety of issues.

Despite the negative aspects of fringe groups, they need to be heard and their ideas considered. As I mentioned before, human society sometimes needs a push that only fringe groups can provide. The AIDS medical research debate in the 1980s and 90s was a heated battle between activists and health institutions. In the end, the work of the fringe groups, often nasty and confrontational, pushed the government to take action. Without the vehemence of AIDS research fringe groups, the tremendous progress that has been made in AIDS treatment might not have happened. It certainly sped up the process.

What do we do then, in the wake of First Contact?

We need to listen to fringe groups and carefully consider their arguments. We need to separate the facts and legitimate concerns from the fear and misinformation. We need to put it all in context and then begin to make decisions. The real problem may be the media. The media loves fringe groups, because they are confrontational and controversial. That makes for dramatic pictures and enticing headlines. There will have to be a massive effort to get voices from the middle of the debate heard. Perhaps it would be time for radical moderation? Moderate thinking could be expressed in the ways normally used by fringe groups- protests and public demonstrations. Moderates, having considered all sides, will need to be heard in order for us to proceed in a positive way after First Contact. Violence and civil unrest need to be rejected and dialogue promoted. It won’t be easy, but in the end decisions will have to made and action taken by humans. We can’t let debate devolve into a long-standing feud and inaction.

Can we respond to alien First Contact without the violence and acrimony that has marked so many human disagreements? Hopefully. But it is clear to me that there can be no bystanders in such a debate. Once all ideas have been considered, the sensible majority, the rational middle, will need to speak up and be heard.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Timeline of How We Will React


Wonder or horror. We never go much further than these dramatic and yet shallow human reactions to direct alien First Contact in our film and fiction. If extraterrestrials say hello to us, before we discover them, there would be a big impact to our human civilization. I like to consider that impact to humanity, past the knee-jerk reactions in the initial moments. This is an examination of extraterrestrial First Contact in a timeline of possible human reaction based on our current human condition.

Step 1: Contact
The initial revelation and reaction. People will be stunned. Leaders will scramble to cope. It will seem at first that the initial wonder will last forever. It won’t.

Groups involved: scientists, media, government, first responders and military.

Public: acting as spectators only, no impact aside from psychological.

Length: This period will be quite short, perhaps a few days.

Step 2: Communication
The very first communication between humans and extraterrestrials would probably focus on the reason for the alien visit and a discussion of a process to move forward.

Groups involved: international agencies, governments, media, and perhaps scientists. With any luck the international agencies will quickly establish advisory boards from important scientific areas, especially the social sciences. The primary issues we will face are social science issues.

Public: the coalescing of individual reactions into movements begins.

Length: A few days or a couple of weeks.

Step 3: Negotiation
The discussions lead to concrete proposals and counter-proposals for action in developing a framework for a relationship. How much information will they provide us? How will they provide it? What do we humans control in the process? Politicians begin to assert themselves. Some people seek to grab power by utilizing fear to mobilize the public.

Groups involved: international agencies, governments, politicians, media, public and hopefully scientists. Civil society organizations will also become involved, advocating for the dispossessed public.

Public: beginning to impact government action and international agencies through opinion polls and formation of movements in reaction to First Contact. There could be the very first sign of civil unrest during this period. Fringe groups will become quite active.

Length: It could last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the amount of debate between nations and inside international agencies. The length is critical, because the longer negotiation takes, the more time it gives for civil unrest and violence to break out. The lack of a concrete plan will lead to instability.

Step 4: The Relationship Begins
The first trading of information in an organized fashion takes place.

Groups involved: Scientists, international agencies, governments, media, fringe groups, religious leaders, civil service agencies and the public.

Public: fully involved, some groups responding with action, civil unrest and violence. Fear based appeals by politicians and other people seeking power. It becomes difficult for scientists and international agencies to do their jobs because of the noise of the conflict.

Length: A few weeks or possibly months.

Step 5: The Relationship Continues or Isolationism Develops
This is the true fork in the road. The debate that has been raging will lead towards a positive framework for a relationship or the debate will cause some nations to separate and isolate. Isolationism could be accompanied by calls for military reaction for defense. The military could become an active part of the debate.

Groups involved: everyone in developed nations and increasingly the public in developing nations. We need to listen to developing nations and the concerns of their citizens.

Length: no longer an issue.

Step 6: A Long-term Relationship or Isolationism Prevails
There may be a split here between nations. Some may choose isolationism and others may choose to continue in an information exchange with extraterrestrials. However, this type of split seems unlikely. Nations outside of the relationship with extraterrestrials would be worried about missing out on technological and economic benefits of contact. It seems more likely that it will be all or nothing for human reaction, with the debate being played out in the United Nations. Nations must be shown the benefits of a unified international response to First Contact. Scientific advisory boards can provide the expertise and information to support this effort.

Step 7: The Long-Term Impact
Disruptions to the economy could be quite hard on the public. Some industries may wither in the new perspective and others may grow stronger. This could leave workers in a difficult situation, especially for those lacking the education to take part in the development of new technology. Nations will need to respond to these challenges early, through massive education programs and workforce training partnerships with industry.

The big question is: when would we actually benefit from extraterrestrial contact? It could take a while. The positives, aside from the wonder of revelation, could take months, years or decades to develop. And in the meantime, the negative impacts could cause us to turn our backs on extraterrestrials. Isolationism could be a big debate, just a few weeks or months into First Contact. Sadly, if it grows unmanageable, fear has the possibility of ruining our relationship with extraterrestrials and never allowing us to experience the benefits of contact.

Our Human Challenge

I know this sounds quite negative. And it will seem inconceivable in those first few heady hours after the announcement of First Contact. But that wonder of enlightenment could quickly lead to human conflict. We need to be prepared for this. We need to develop a First Contact framework to reduce conflict. Initial kneejerk reactions will be impossible to control. But what happens next, with those reactions coalescing into movements and long-term change, can be managed if we are prepared to counteract the negatives immediately with the facts, whatever they may be. As I have said many times- a little paranoia is a good thing. It helps humans to be cautious and consider the risks properly. Rampant paranoia can lead to all sorts of horrible reactions. Preventing this will take fast-acting leadership, courage and true vision. Let’s just hope that our scientific community, politicians and religious leaders are up for the challenge. The future of humanity will depend on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Fault Lines

I believe that problematic reactions in human society will form along familiar fault lines in the wake of First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. However, those fault lines could resonate and grow in new and unexpected directions. In the same way that geologists track changes in the earth’s crust to detect the probability of earthquakes, social scientists, governments and institutions will need to track public perception and opinion. Notice that I mention perception first. We're used to gauging public opinion and perhaps not so used to evaluating perception. The difference, as I see it, is depth of analysis and context. Humans will need active and sustained research to inform world leaders and the public at large. Collectively, we will need to hold up a thoughtful mirror to humanity and carefully evaluate how we are reacting to First Contact. Communication and decision-making should follow from a close examination of that human reaction. The danger After First Contact will come in knee-jerk responses and in a failure to predict where things will go next.

What should we be looking for?

-Confusion

-Concerns

-Worries

-Rumors

-Misinformation

-Signs of extremism leading to violence

This monitoring of public perception can lead to a better response by scientists, the media and governments in informing the public of the facts and clearing up confusion. 

The world news media will be especially important partners in this process. They will have to be cautious and deliberate in their response to new information and in the coverage of events After First Contact.  Media outlets will likely be the first organizations confronted with misinformation and rumors. Weeding out the truth will be incredibly important. It will be the duty of dedicated journalists to work with knowledgeable and trusted scientists. News organizations will need to strengthen filters to sort out bad information and prevent themselves from hurtling head-first into questionable stories. This won't be easy. Competition will be fierce and public desire for new information intense. The most important news organizations in this process may be the ones currently most susceptible to hype and rumor: the 24 hour TV news networks. If they fail us, the entire media structure could collapse into a squalor of stupidity. Here's looking at you CNN, Fox News, Sky, BBC, CNC, RT, DD, France 24, Deutsche Welle and MSNBC. Will you lead or will you fail? If you fail, then the public will need to turn you off and seek sober coverage.

Ultimately, the monitoring of public perception can inform us, so that we can make decisions on how to move forward. Many concerns and worries will be quite legitimate. Humanity won’t come up with the answers for how to move forward immediately After First Contact. It will be a process of discussion, debate and revision. That will involve listening to the world public- each and every nation; people from many religions and cultural backgrounds. This isn’t a process reserved for the most wealthy of nations, particular blocs of nations or the so-called “free world.” This is a process for all of humanity.

Concerns, worries, rumors, misinformation and confusion can turn into fear if not addressed. Fear can lead to civil unrest. Concerns and worries can also be used by individuals and groups in the promotion of agendas that are ultimately more about grabbing power, than the actual concerns or worries.
Humans will be humans.  We will need to listen. We will need to respond.

Have I missed something that we would also need to track After First Contact? Join in the discussion on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.