Monday, February 8, 2010

Risk and the Big Hello

A recent Royal Society meeting in London was titled “The detection of extra-terrestrial life and the consequences for science and society.” It presented a number of interesting topics. The ones that brought the most media attention focused on the risk involved in contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Researcher Marek Kukula suggests that governments need to become involved in any SETI based discovery and to do so as soon as possible, because of the risks posed by extraterrestrial life. This is a problem amplified greatly in a direct alien First Contact event. So, why would I still suggest that extraterrestrial First Contact should occur in a completely transparent form, and without any government interference? I believe that the initial hello sets the tone for the entire relationship, and in a contradiction, the introduction part of First Contact doesn’t mean much at all for security concerns.

In more detailed terms it comes down to consequences. If an alien civilization stops by to say hello, would it be better if that First Contact came directly to a government body and stayed behind the scenes? The only real benefit would be to control human reaction. We would certainly be concerned about civil unrest that might be caused by public announcement of First Contact. Aside from that concern, are there any other benefits to a government controlled First Contact? Not that I can see. It doesn’t help protect us from the visitors. If they want to be aggressive government contact or public contact will not matter. Certainly there is the possibility that they would be attempting to manipulate the public by appealing directly. However, even that is easily controlled if the United Nations and global powers are prepared to step in quickly and decisively.

There are many downsides to direct government contact. It could be manipulated by humans for particular interests. An example might be the United States trying to gain a political or technological advantage by controlling First Contact. Also the secrecy inherent in government controlled First Contact could ultimately lead to a negative reaction by the public. Many fringe groups already assume that government is not acting in the best interest of the people. Keeping First Contact top secret could fuel terrorism and even war.

I wish I could have viewed Mr. Kukula’s full speech. I am sure the brief media quotes did not do it justice. There is no doubt that there needs to be a stronger United Nations stance on this issue. It will be critical for the United Nations to step in and take charge of First Contact diplomacy. However, I still firmly believe that the initial event, the big hello, should be accomplished completely outside the boundaries of governments, agencies or even organizations. It should be a transparent welcome for the entire planet. After that the United Nations should take a very conservative approach to diplomacy. We must protect ourselves from any forms of aggression or manipulation. We must be prepared for the unintended consequences of extraterrestrial First Contact, such as civil unrest, economic shock and political conflict.

The big hello itself would actually be a short event, lasting only as long as is necessary to convince everyone that the introduction is not a hoax. After that it’s completely a matter for the United Nations.

Extraterrestrial contact

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