Monday, January 3, 2011

The Interaction-Problem Correlation

The impact of extraterrestrial First Contact on human civilization has often been described as a being based on the type of First Contact. The discovery of a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization many light years away would have a relatively low impact. Communication would take decades and the amount of information traded would most likely be limited at first. Direct First Contact, an extraterrestrial civilization landing on Earth, would have a much higher impact.

In keeping with this concept, I think there is another relationship to explore: the correlation between extraterrestrial interaction and the problems created by that interaction. Even in a Direct First Contact event the amount of interaction between humans and an extraterrestrial civilization could vary greatly. Extraterrestrial visitors might want to share a great deal of information with us. They also may decide to share very little with us. The amount of interaction would be primarily their decision and it would likely be based on their reasons for visiting. Perhaps they are worried about what we would do with advanced technological information? Or they may want to protect us from a rapid series of paradigm shifts in our sciences. They may have a very specific agenda for visiting, one that does not include a great deal of interaction. Or they may have a mission based on sharing all of the information they have.

A high degree of interaction would likely produce a greater amount of information. This in turn increases the likelihood of problems here on Earth. Even low interaction may cause massive changes in perspective and could cause radical shifts in human philosophy, religion and even global politics. It would certainly provide a new level of security anxiety. We would go from worrying about each other to worrying about forces from outside our solar system. Still, with a lack of concrete information the amount of impact would be relatively small when compared with the alternative. A great deal of scientific and technological information exchanging hands could produce a tidal wave of change, creating significant problems for the world economy, global politics, and perhaps most importantly the stability of our scientific and research process. To put it simply: the more information exchanged, the more potential for problems to develop here on Earth.

Does this mean we should limit interaction with an extraterrestrial civilization, if that day ever comes? Not necessarily. If they are willing to share, our human curiosity will probably get the better of us. The real question is how the process for sharing that information should work. Needless to say, if an extraterrestrial civilization were to have access to our Internet they would already have a great deal of our information available to them. This would make the interaction actually more of a one-way street. However, it is a one-way street on which we should be able control the traffic. An open floodgate of information could prove disastrous. To prevent problems from growing out of hand, the information flow would need to be strictly controlled and analyzed at every step. This would require a level of scientific and global political cooperation far beyond anything we have managed thus far. It might even be a task beyond our reaching. The real issue would be whether an extraterrestrial civilization was willing to work with us on the distribution of information. If they simply want to put everything they know out there for us to consider, there is not much we can do.

We need to realize that any type of extraterrestrial First Contact will cause problems. Managing those problems, and managing the many challenges created by First Contact, will take a great deal of effort and require us to think about our own civilization in ways we have never before considered.

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