Extraterrestrial Direct First Contact would provide plenty of challenges for humanity. Threat will be the number one issue and a question of great concern.
It’s not a simple notion, since the threats to human civilization from alien First Contact would be numerous and wide ranging. To better examine the issue it would be best to break up the problem. First, let’s identify some of the threats. Next we can talk about the timing of those threats, some will be immediate and some long-term. Finally we can examine possible responses to those threats.
1. Military threat
This is the classic worry: alien invaders use weapons to attack countries here on Earth. I say countries, because currently we would respond as individual countries to a military threat. Given enough time a NATO or United Nations response could be organized.
Alien military threat is tough to pin down. Like almost everything else in this discussion, it’s impossible to discuss particulars, since they could have almost any type of weapons technology. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of an alien military threat is the unpredictable nature of such an event. Here on Earth we know who to watch, we know how they react, we can tell when they are getting agitated. We can use satellites to view troop movements and radar to track missile launches. Some of these same technologies could be used to evaluate alien military threats, however they would have to be used in a much different manner and making those changes could take time. Perhaps one of our best alerts would be the space debris tracking systems developed by the U.S. Strategic Command and NASA. While there is an extensive catalog of orbital debris, which could help alert us to an alien invasion, these observations are usually done as part of organized “campaigns” for a limited length of time.
2. Subversive threat
In this scenario, alien visitors work outside of the usual power system of international politics. Rather than working with the United Nations, NATO or a powerful nation, they ally with third world or rogue countries to destabilize our international order. This would be viewed by some as a just cause, fighting the hegemony of current world powers. The resulting destabilization could lead to conflict and war between nations.
3. Manipulation threat
This subset of the subversive threat involves aliens using social and psychological techniques to win power on Earth. The most dramatic example would be the sweeping conspiracy featured in the TV show “V”. While this example of aliens posing as sexy humans is rather silly, it raises legitimate issues. How would we ensure that we are not being manipulated in a First Contact event and for years afterwards?
4. Biological threat
Extraterrestrial craft could bring extraterrestrial bugs. Biological contamination is an immediate issue in a First Contact event. One need only look to the smallpox epidemic in North America to see what visitors can bring to new shores. Even the most innocuous microbe could pose dangerous.
5. Environmental threat
How is the alien craft powered? Are there any emissions or radiation from the craft that could prove dangerous to humans or the Earth environment?
6. Social threat
Alien visitors don’t need to do anything to be a threat to our society. Just the mere introduction could have serious implications here on Earth. Religion, government, and culture would all be at risk. There would be short-term concerns, including civil unrest and warfare. However, perhaps the biggest impact would be long-term. How would a new view of the universe, new technology and new neighbors change our social system? Many native First Contact civilizations here on Earth suffered a long-term erosion of their society that left the population in poverty and despair. Advanced technology and new ways of doing things may look exciting at first, but what will happen in the long-term?
7. Economic threat
The world economy is influenced by many sources. Direct First Contact could cause shock to the economic system either in the short-term or long-term.
8. Political threat
Even if alien visitors didn’t interfere in our world politics, First Contact could have a profound impact on how nations behave. Third world nations could be concerned about being left out of the process. World powers could feel that the global power structure is threatened. Nations that feel threatened are quite dangerous.
9. Psychological threat
How will humans respond to First Contact? Will religions embrace the idea or will religions create opposition to alien contact? Will people see First Contact as the end of human civilization? We may simply incorporate the revelation of extraterrestrial life into our conscious and move on with our lives. For some, though the process may create fear and irrational behavior. Others may have unreasonable expectations of alien visitors. And there could be people who actively worship extraterrestrial visitors.
10. Scientific threat
Direct First Contact could only be accomplished by a civilization with a higher degree of technology. Only a society with advanced technology could reach our planet to say hello. That technology would likely be science based (unless it was wholly acquired by the civilization visiting us, without a fundamental understanding of the principles). How would that technological knowledge be expressed to us? If given to us wholesale it could have a dramatic impact on our sciences. Science is based on a foundation of knowledge, built through many decades of observation and testing. Skipping over the framework to jump to a new technological conclusion would make our scientific systems flaccid and create an erosion of our knowledge base. We could become dependent on extraterrestrial knowledge and thus dependent on an extraterrestrial civilization.
All this talk of threat may give a quite negative view of First Contact scenarios. And while it could certainly be a negative event with negative consequences, it could also very well turn out in our favor. With any luck a visiting extraterrestrial group would be comprised of researchers who want nothing more than to welcome us to the wider universe. They may even share these concerns about how First Contact could impact our world.
So, why worry about the threats, especially if there is no way to know what might happen? Some proactive preparation could provide a defense. If we have a set of simple rules to apply to alien First Contact, we can protect ourselves from many of the threats that are not of an aggressive nature. We must build in a process for determining biological and environmental safety. We must keep our various military forces on high alert and find a way to share military information between countries. We must carefully control who they contact on Earth and when and where they do so. We must establish ground rules at the very outset regarding information disclosure.
About the only protocol that exists currently is the NASA reaction to biological contamination. Other plans may exist and have been kept secret. However, I would be surprised if that’s the case. Discussion could be a starting point to prepare for Direct First Contact. Talk is cheap and in tough budget times cheap is good. Why don’t we start there? It only takes a few brave souls, in highly placed positions to get the ball rolling. United Nations…are you listening?
Next up…the timing and response to threats.