If given the choice, which method of First Contact with humans would an alien race choose- Structural First Contact or Explosive First Contact? Let’s suppose that the extraterrestrials have the ability to do whatever they want-send a message or visit in person. For the sake of this argument they are close enough to the Earth and possessing the necessary technology to visit quickly after issuing a message.
Structural First Contact: This is a message based approach that utilizes the calming effect of human bureaucracy. Let’s take the example of a single extraterrestrial message discovered by radio astronomers in the United States. If they follow any of the SETI protocols there will be a series of confirmation steps and then several more notification steps. The news would move in a ladder-like fashion from the researchers, to their superiors, to the various national scientific unions, to the international scientific unions, to the national government agencies, to national government administration and finally to the United Nations, with most likely several stops at various committee and office levels. This could happen relatively quickly, perhaps in hours, but more likely in days. But it is still a relatively calm and structured method of distribution.
Explosive First Contact: This would most likely need to be Direct First Contact, as the technology and expertise needed to receive messages is controlled in the astronomical research fields. Direct First Contact could certainly utilize a structural approach, however this would be very hard to maintain. The dramatic nature of Direct First Contact presents an explosive element. It would be damn hard to keep such a thing quiet for very long and it seems likely news of Direct First Contact would travel quickly, no matter what steps were taken to try and keep it quiet. There is another possibility: the bypassing of all scientific and governmental bureaucracies. A Direct First Contact event could be presented immediately to humans via the news media. This version of Explosive First Contact could be achieved in a matter of minutes.
The danger in Explosive First Contact is that governments and agencies have very little time to react. Poor decisions could be made. The consequences could be severe. Military response could be hard to control. Public reaction could be chaotic. The advantage is the freedom of such an event. Direct First Contact could be achieved with little or no government interference. The controlling nature of government agencies would not have the time or structure to be an issue. It would in effect bypass human scientific and governmental bureaucracy. Political concerns would not have time to influence decisions. The secretive nature of governments would not have time to take effect.
So, which method would the aliens prefer? I suppose it comes down to how much they trust those scientific and governmental bureaucracies. If they see the value of a slow approach, then Structural First Contact, based on an electromagnetic or laser communication would be best. If they worry that government interference would create a disturbing political environment, and thus pose harm to the new relationship, then the Explosive First Contact method might prove best.
Which would be better for us? I’ll take a look at that side of the coin next week.