Monday, July 27, 2009

First Contact Protocol

Who should be in charge of First Contact? Should it be the U.S. government? Another nation? The United Nations? Clearly there is an important role for all of those entities. Depending on how First Contact occurs, though, perhaps it would be best handled by scientists? This is the argument in the SETI post-detection protocol. It is a well-developed set of guidelines for how to handle First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.

A science based approach in a SETI communications scenario makes sense: the event would be essentially a scientific discovery. Scientists across the planet are actively engaged in a search of the universe for extraterrestrial communication signals of all sorts. The SETI Institute itself has more than 150 people working on the endeavor. It is the most organized and reputable scientific investigation of extraterrestrial life. The hard work of SETI scientists had led to a well developed response to the discovery of an extraterrestrial signal. There is an organized method of confirmation and disclosure that answers many questions that would be raised by such a discovery. Who should be notified first? How should the announcement be made to the public?

This is the first part of the SETI post-detection protocol provided here thanks to the folks at the Planetary Society:

Any individual, public or private research institution or governmental agency that believes it has detected a signal from or other evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence (the discoverer) should seek to verify that the most plausible explanation for the evidence is the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence rather than some other natural phenomenon or anthropogenic phenomenon before making any public announcement. If the evidence cannot be confirmed as indicating the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, the discoverer may disseminate the information as appropriate to the discovery of any unknown phenomenon.

Prior to making a public announcement that evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence has been detected, the discoverer should promptly inform all other observers or research organizations that are parties to this declaration, so that those other parties may seek to confirm the discovery by independent observations at other sites and so that a network can be established to enable continuous monitoring of the signal or phenomenon. Parties to this declaration should not make any public announcement of this information until it is determined whether this information is or is not credible evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. The discoverer should inform his/her or its relevant national authorities.

After concluding that the discovery appears to be credible evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, and after informing other parties to this declaration, the discoverer should inform observers throughout the world through the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams of the International Astronomical Union, and should inform the Secretary General of the United Nations in accordance with Article XI of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Bodies. Because of their demonstrated interest in and expertise concerning the question of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, the discoverer should simultaneously inform the following international institutions of the discovery and should provide them with all pertinent data and recorded information concerning the evidence: the International Telecommunication Union, the Committee on Space Research, of the International Council of Scientific Unions, the International Astronautical Federation, the International Academy of Astronautics, the International Institute of Space Law, Commission 51 of the International Astronomical Union, and Commission J of the International Radio Science Union.

A confirmed detection of extraterrestrial intelligence should be disseminated promptly, openly, and widely through scientific channels and public media, observing the procedures in this declaration. The discoverer should have the privilege of making the first public announcement.

Dr. Albert Harrison talks about the protocol, and the role the news media will play in such an announcement, in his book “After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life.” Most of us will receive news of a SETI based First Contact from the media. Harrison observes that the news media has some serious differences from science based communication. There is often a loss of detail in reporting, due to the need to make the information understandable to a general audience, but also to make it engaging and interesting. That process can lead to a loss of context and an exaggeration of some facts, while leaving others out entirely.

The SETI protocol is controlled by scientists and scientific organizations. But the United Nations is not the first stop in the process. The discoverer is supposed to notify the appropriate government authorities for his or her nation. Of course most governments don’t even take the more formalized and organized SETI suggestions seriously. The SETI folks have had limited success with the United Nations.

All of this makes complete sense for a SETI, signal based, First Contact scenario. How about Direct First Contact? Would any of these steps apply?

Direct First Contact is a challenge, because it could happen in a multitude of ways. That’s why I am proposing a relatively simple approach. Use a dramatic First Contact event, such as an extraterrestrial craft flying over a city, to leverage the news media and use the world-wide communication system to spread the word. Within minutes in some locations, and hours in others, most of the world population could watch or listen to coverage of First Contact. This would provide a direct introduction to the entire planet. A SETI based approach would not work with a Direct First Contact scenario. All of the bureaucracy that supports scientists would prove cumbersome and ineffective in Direct First Contact.

There needs to be a clear path and a simple process in a Direct First contact event. It needs to operate entirely outside the system of government and science at first, and then bring those entities into the process soon thereafter. In essence the extraterrestrial visitors need to control First Contact. If not the process becomes tarnished by government self-interest and subject to all sorts of outside influence. We have a robust media and communications sharing network on this planet that can allow an extraterrestrial group to speak to the world directly. It would only require a simple, one-day, process to put it to work and make that big introduction.

First Contact Extraterrestrial Proposal Idea Hello First Contact Alien Introduction Space Visitors


Anonymous said...

One needs to keep in mind that the visitors can travel here and we can't travel to thier system meaning they are more advanced and might not have our best interests in mind so we should aprouch them with caution as not to start a conflict which could lead to the destruction of the human race.

Eric said...

I couldn't agree more. In a Direct First Contact event we would have to be extremely cautious. Just trying to understand the true motivations of an alien race would be tough and as you point out, the mere fact that they have the technology to travel here would automatically put them at a technological advantage. Thanks for reading!

Tony said...

There here already watching and wanting.....

Anonymous said...

Yes Tony. That's never been said. Yaaaaaaawn.

Tony said...

Maybe its not space travel but time travel.
How better to learn about us by watching key points in earth's history......

Anonymous said...

In actuality, they have only been sending drones,
1st contact protocal for less advanced races.
1st: Study technology (com - war)
2nd: Survey planet (esp. for mutualy shared and important resources)
3rd: Culture, Religion and sphycology (Understanding the Natives)
4th: Medicaly (Understand viral and other Biological threats to health)

Hope you get the picture

Philosopher8659 said...

Actually what is required for First Contact Protocol has already been given to mankind and that protocol is based on biological fact. It is used to determine sapient life.
1) A mind is responsible for the body within which it resides. Every life support system of a living organism has life support to provide for the body.
2) The mind is wholly linguistic by function.
3) There are two, and only two, primitive branches of language based not only on biology, but also the definition of a thing itself; Logics, which are indexing systems such as common grammar and mathematics, but also Analogics, one a mind manipulates the virtualization of things that produce behavior. By definition, both systems of language have to say one and the same thing.
4) Language is effected itself as standards of behavior.
5) Standards of behavior is called Law.
6) There are then, factually, in metaphor, Two Tablets of Law.

People believe that the Judeo-Christian Scripture is religious or mythological in nature, however, since all of language manipulation is based on proportional equality, or again geometric equality, or again metaphor, one tests a species using functional language, just like one does in mathematics.
Mankind is demonstrably not sapient at this time in its evolution.