Monday, September 6, 2010

Misinformation and the Information Age

Humanity in the information age: a 12 year-old learning how to drive in a Ferrari.

Eighteen percent of Americans believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. The poll, last conducted in 2008 and followed up this year, also shows that number is rising. How? Thanks to our incredibly powerful information system, otherwise known as the Internet. Web tales of the President’s secret Muslim faith have been circulating for years. You would think that the evidence otherwise would have put these ideas to rest. Instead, the opposite seems to be occurring.

Why do I mention all of this in a blog about Extraterrestrial First Contact? Imagine the crap that would be flying around After First Contact? There would be all of the abduction and alien conspiracy folks, who would suddenly have a much more plausible argument. There would be new conspiracy theorists, trying to uncover evil things happening behind the scenes. Religious extremists would take to the web like never before. The average Internet faring folks at home in Middle America (or Middle India) will have to sift through it all and form an opinion. And opinions matter. If the majority of humans are against diplomacy with extraterrestrials, we could realistically end up taking an isolationist stance.

About the only antidote is transparency. Alien First Contact should be as transparent as possible. Unfortunately extraterrestrial visitors won’t be able to tell us everything about themselves immediately. That will lead to a certain amount of distrust. And there should be some things carefully regulated, like the flow of scientific and technological information. This regulation will of course set off a whole new round of conspiracy theories.

Maybe there is truly only one solution. Perhaps humanity needs to grow up, and quickly. The Internet is a tremendous tool for knowledge. But only if we know how to drive it.

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