Monday, December 31, 2007

First Contact

This project is an attempt to provide a framework for the first welcome by an extraterrestrial civilization when greeting the planet Earth. Humans have discussed this scenario for hundreds of years, with an emphasis on the dramatic. It's time for a systematic approach to First Contact. Such contact would be primarily a communications issue, although what follows includes details of law enforcement response, government reaction and ultimately public reaction. All of these factors would be critical in the initial hours of First Contact.

There must be some assumptions when considering this type of First Contact. For this project let us assume that extraterrestrials don’t plan an invasion or takeover of the planet. We’ll need to assume that they have been studying the Earth for some time now. For the extraterrestrials, the ultimate decision would be to determine when it was safe and practical to make contact. It's not just a question of safety for the extraterrestrials, or for humans on the ground, but for the entire social makeup of human civilization. If extraterrestrials make friendly contact they would probably want to do so in a way that would provoke the least unrest on planet Earth. Our vast supply of nuclear weapons makes us a threat to extraterrestrial visitors and to ourselves.

The key is to say hello to the entire planet at once.
If extraterrestrial beings have been evaluating our current social and governmental systems they probably realize that those systems are fragile at best. An introduction to one nation would inevitably lead to suspicion and distrust by other nations. It's important to reach the entire globe at one time and with a message designed for all humans.

To accomplish this you need an extensive satellite based communications network.
That system is currently in place. Most of the world population could receive news and pictures of an extraterrestrial hello in a matter of minutes. For others it might be, at the most, a couple of hours. It is merely a matter of who decides to take the satellite feed and put it out for broadcast. It would be a question of news judgment, not technology.The technology required is accessible by every nation on the planet.

You need a startling, visual event to attract attention.
The video and content sharing agreements of world television networks guarantee that an event could go global in a very short time. The greatest impediment to the event becoming available world wide would be the local coverage of the event and the technology available on-site. It would be best to pick a location where satellite transmission would be available quite quickly.

You need a physical, Earth based, manifestation of the greeting.
Extraterrestrials could make initial contact from space, beaming a message directly into our satellite systems. This could prove simple and effective; however it does raise a number of trust issues. If extraterrestrials are sitting in space just waiting, how many are there? Where exactly are they? What are their intentions? It’s like someone coming to a house party, standing outside with a bullhorn, and yelling to everyone inside. Humans appreciate direct contact in a greeting.

You need to prove that this is not a Hoax.
It would be natural for humans to believe that a startling, visual extraterrestrial welcome is a hoax. A display of technology would be the best method for disproving the hoax. It needs to be done in a way that humans could easily measure and then compare to our own technological ability. Can the craft ascend at a speed much higher than a human aircraft can achieve? Can it stop quicker? Can it perform maneuvers that human aircraft cannot? The demonstration must be clear, measurable and unequivocal.

Any civilization reaching planet Earth would likely be far more technologically advanced than us. It would be important to show this technology off in the initial hours of First Contact, to dissuade notions that the event is a hoax. Doing this from orbit or from outer space might seem threatening. Certainly it would be possible to put a spaceship into orbit next to the manned space station and perform maneuvers that would help to settle the hoax issues. That might feel distant and cold. An object orbiting the Earth would seem more threatening than a simple approach on the ground. Simplicity is important in a First Contact situation. The more complicated the contact, the more questionable the intentions of the extraterrestrials.

First Contact should be direct, simple and non-threatening. It should occur here on Earth, where we are the most comfortable. It should reach out to the entire world at once with a singular message: Hello.

Location and Communications Method
Where would it be best to have First Contact? There are several factors to consider. The host area must be technologically advanced. Communicators must have quick access to satellite communications. They need to have this access outside of the influence of government. In less obtuse terms it needs to be done by a free media. The media is designed to cover events quickly and share it on a global basis, nearly immediately. As I mentioned before the biggest issue is with initial coverage of First Contact. The media communication must happen quickly before forces in government try to control the situation. The host area must be served by a swift and technologically advanced free media. This rules out many countries in the world.

The host location must also be somewhere where the political makeup will help to ensure a lack of government interference. This point is important. Any government, when confronted with extraterrestrial contact, is going to have a knee-jerk reaction to shut it off from the rest of the world and contain the situation. It is hard to imagine a nation on Earth that would not have this initial reaction. This is why the media response must be so swift. It must supersede any attempts by governments to shut down First Contact. However, this in and of itself would not prevent government interference, especially at the most local level. There needs to be another factor involved: the right to property ownership and freedom of speech. There is only one deterrent to government intervention: a government that must ultimately respect, by law, the rights of property owners and the right to freedom of speech.

There are several countries on the planet that have these rights and freedoms. But even among free nations governments have attempted to block rights and freedoms in times of emergency. The only thing that can prevent this is an active and aggressive media. The host area needs to have a robust media that will fight government interference at every step. I think you can probably tell where I am heading with this. There are many reasons not to have First Contact occur in the United States. The nation is viewed as a world dominator in many circles, and any First Contact in the United States would be subject to extreme scrutiny. Yet it is still the only country on Earth with such a technologically advanced and aggressive media, the basic rights of property ownership, and freedom of speech.

So, with all that said, why not land a space craft in the middle of Central Park in New York City? The aggressive news media is perhaps most aggressive in New York. The access to the U.S. networks, not to mention all of the foreign networks, would make New York seem like a natural spot. The problem with First Contact in a large city is control. A spacecraft needs to come into an airspace and land without a loss in human life. This is quite important. First Contact needs to be safe and controlled, while still reaching out to the entire planet at once. Big cities present a whole host of problems, including air traffic issues and crowd control. It could also seem more threatening to have initial contact occur in a major American city, especially one that has been subject to terrorist attacks.

So, why not have first contact occur in some other part of the country? Contact in a semi-rural part of the United States may seem like less a welcome to the government of the United States than to the people of the world. Still, there must be that immediate response available by the media. For this reason it may be best to have First Contact occur in a semi-rural area just outside of a mid-size city. The key is that the city must have a television news media that is technologically able to transmit pictures immediately, and put them up on satellite and network feeds quickly. The television stations in the city need, at the very least, to have satellite uplinks and it would be good for them to have satellite trucks. Helicopters with live transmission capability would also help speed the initial coverage. Most mid-size TV markets have this technology.

Once the best city has been determined, the actual location of First Contact must be considered. It must be quickly accessible from the city. It must be privately owned. The only argument for allowing First Contact to occur outside of government control is private property and freedom of speech rights. This will probably only be an issue for the first few hours of contact, but it is likely to be a big issue. It would be best if the location was within the jurisdiction of a large police department, which could handle not only the onslaught of public attention and crowd control, but also might be less stressed by an emergency situation. It will be imperative to have cool heads to deal with in the initial minutes and hours of First Contact. A small town would likely be overwhelmed and quickly appeal to the federal government for help.

The private property location must be able to accommodate the landing of a space craft and the subsequent deluge of media vehicles. This must be done in a controlled fashion, with easy media access, and a controlled area for the space craft. For these reasons a farm within the police jurisdiction of a mid-sized city would be a prime location for First Contact.

Once a location has been selected the next issue is how the event should transpire. Should it be quick or prolonged? Should it be a matter of extraterrestrials walking out of the space craft and waving hello? Should it be a landing with gradual communication over a longer time period?

It would seem that the answer may lie in between these two extremes. There are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios. In the immediate proposal there are three problems. First a very quick hello allows no time for people to absorb the information. An abrupt First Contact could be disturbing and lead to unrest and turmoil elsewhere in the world. It may also seem threatening. On the other hand, the long term method leaves more time for government interference and control. It also makes everything more mysterious and thus potentially threatening.

To avoid these issues a moderately quick, although carefully paced, First Contact would seem to be the best method.

Human Help
It would be possible for an extraterrestrial civilization to make First Contact plans completely on their own. However, what is at stake is perhaps the biggest public relations question of all time. An extraterrestrial group, which has been studying the Earth for some time, would have insight into many aspects of human relations. They would still not be as good at predicting human behavior as humans themselves. The problem really lies in a series of “what ifs”. What if the police try and cordon off the area and won’t let the media inside? What if the U.S. Government moves in immediately to shut off all communication? What if residents in the area become aroused and feel threatened? These are the type of questions a public relations professional would ask. How should the event be carried out? What could go wrong? How do you ensure that everything runs smoothly?

Human assistance in First Contact could provide the answers to many of these questions. It would also help in the control of events on the ground.

So, should extraterrestrials go out and hire a public relations firm? It’s actually not a bad idea. A PR firm would be able to run through a variety of scenarios and determine the best methods for each stage of the First Contact. The more people, though, that are involved in the process, the more complicated it becomes.What's needed is an independent intermediary, either as a group or an individual. Independence is an important part of the proposal. There will be political and social ramifications to any First Contact situation. If First Contact is perceived as being controlled by a government or organization it may create global tensions and hamper the process.

The Scenario
The most immediate need in First Contact is to attract attention. It must be done in a dramatic way to quickly achieve media coverage, before the authorities can attempt to seize control of the situation. A quick flyover of the medium sized city in question should achieve this goal. It would need to be done at a very low altitude, which would leave no question as to the unusual nature of the craft. Such a fly over would no doubt lead to a great deal of excitement on the ground. For this reason it shouldn’t last too long, perhaps 15 minutes in total. It would be best to plan this flight to stay in the path of television remote cameras, which are stationed in downtown buildings. These cameras are turned on at all times. They would be the first cameras used to track a craft after the initial phone calls and scanner chatter reached TV newsrooms. A clear and dramatic picture of a craft on a TV news remote camera would press the media into immediate action and make the coverage a top priority. Also, network sharing is easily done these days from most medium market TV stations. Initial network attention would assist in garnering the needed international coverage later in the process.

At this point the craft should travel to the main farm destination, just outside of the city, and land. Citizen phone calls will help the media identify the location of the landing. Helicopters from the media and police will be in pursuit. This will help with the identification of the landing area. If the landing location is close enough to the downtown area the first TV news vehicles should show up within twenty minutes. The first police vehicles will probably arrive much sooner. For this reason it would be necessary for the property owner to inform police that the news media is allowed to park in an area next to the landing zone. This will, needless to say, be an interesting conversation. It is imperative that the property owner take as much control as possible in the confusing initial minutes after landing. This delicate negotiation will depend on the personalities of those responding. It is suggested that a lawyer be on hand to help the property owner negotiate media coverage with police, if necessary. It should be pointed out that no law has been broken and that property owners have the right to do what they like with their property. It may take extra police reinforcements time to arrive on the scene and this will basically become a race with the media. It is essential that the idea of open media coverage be communicated and reinforced at the very outset. Human nature relies on precedent. If reinforcement police officers arrive on the scene to find news media already there, there is a much better chance of the scene remaining open to the media.

Let’s assume that the news media is allowed to collect near the spacecraft. There will need to be time for the media to set up remote trucks and asses the situation. During this time, if pictures are clear, TV stations will most likely start constant coverage. The networks will also be “looking in” to determine if the story warrants national coverage. At this point most reasonable journalists, police and government officials will assume that the event is a hoax. The flyover has only served to make it appear to them as an elaborate hoax.

An hour will allow the news media to set up needed equipment and settle into the story. It is likely the story will generate enough interest to make the Associated Press wires. This will give the event some national, and perhaps international, reach.

The goal should be a formal introduction of the extraterrestrial representatives to the United Nations General Assembly, and thus the entire world. This should be facilitated behind the scenes. The ultimate moment should be an address or other form of introduction by the extraterrestrial representatives themselves.

Update 11/28/09:
This proposal was written a couple of years ago and I already find several things I would change. I think the most important alteration would be in the final stages of the initial event. Once the craft has been proven to be of extraterrestrial origin it would be best if the spaceship stayed in the original landing location for a while. This will allow frantic government scientists (most likely NASA) to ensure that there is no safety issue. The top concerns would be biological contamination and radioactivity, although they would probably want to monitor all sorts of things, including electromagnetic signal strengths and chemical discharge. It will be a real challenge to convince scientists that there is not a safety threat from any of these possibilities. These reassurance should occur from the very beginning of the First Contact event and be repeated often, to at least soften the response. In order for this to continue as a transparent event, the media needs to be present for everything that happens, including scientific testing. Any move by the government to evacuate the landing area and create a perimeter will kill transparency. The only possible way to block this is through many reassurances, and by providing access for government testing.


Anonymous said...

Why not in France, Germany or UK, they have agressive media and are technologicaly advance and the aliens will be view as more neutral than if they land in the US, and in these countries people don't carry weapons around with them

Eric Melcher said...

Those countries have aggressive national media, but not neccesarily a technologically advanced and journalistically aggressive local media. In the United States every city has several local TV news operations and in mid sized cities they have satellite and helicopter technology that european smaller cities might be lacking. I think First Contact could occur in many democratic nations, but the nature of the US news media makes it a good location. And I agree there are problems with the US as a location. It would require a great effort to show it was an independent event for the entirety of humanity.

Adrien said...

I think security will be a big issue and the more important, so it's not very important if there are little delay beetwen the landing by example and the wordwild broadcast by national media (if they want to make contact, and travel so far, they can wait a few hour in the sky of a midsize city of these countries).
Security is the biggest issue, for us and for them, so aliens don't land where people have machine gun and can be very trigger happy, you have been warn :)

Adrien said...

And that will not upset China and Russia, we are already in not very good relationship with them, and it seems that will not improve.