Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gatekeeping After First Contact

I have long advocated for a conservative approach to diplomacy and relations with any extraterrestrial civilization we might meet in the future. Strangely, this isn’t an idea shared by many in the SETI research community. Albert Harrison is one of the few to suggest that gatekeeping could be important After First Contact. In his paper “Networking with our Galactic Neighbors”, part of a Foundation For the Future report, Harrison describes gatekeeping as regulating the information that might be released to us by an extraterrestrial civilization. The gatekeeping could be handled by the extraterrestrial civilization to control us, for our protection or their benefit, or it could be done by humans to protect or control other humans. If you read this blog regularly you know that I advocate gatekeeping to carefully control information dissemination After First Contact. Receiving extraterrestrial information in a massive flood could be dangerous both in the short and long-term. A well thought out process could protect our cultural institutions, better determine how information might be processed, and keep our sciences and research institutions from being washed away in the torrent of new knowledge.

Even if the extraterrestrials have their own set of gatekeeping protocols, it would seem necessary for humans to have a system as well. A coordinating body could work with academia, government and other groups to provide a framework for sorting through the information and considering the impact of such knowledge on human civilization. Clearly, such a body would be put in a powerful position. So, how do we prevent human gatekeeping from being used by governments or agencies for special interest? Complete transparency in process seems to be the only solution. How could you empower a body to sort through secret information and still keep the process transparent? It would be complicated, but seems possible. The key is to make all decision making in public. Every meeting could be streamed and the proceedings carefully documented on the web. You could allow for worldwide participation in the process by the regular consideration of outside opinions and viewpoints. It would also be important to make sure the body in charge of a certain field of study was not subject to political whims or corporate pressure.

The key is to spread the power out among nations and among people to achieve some degree of global participation. The international coalition of experts would have to report to a larger body, responsible for the organization of the overall effort. There would be the danger of bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of progress. It would be necessary to give some in the group the power to keep the process moving forward.

Needless to say, it would ultimately be the keepers of such information, the extraterrestrials involved in First Contact, to decide how the process should work. They would likely have their own view of how such information, if any at all, should be disseminated to humans. However, as in all things After First Contact, it would be critical that humans make the final determination as to what happens. Self-determination will become the central issue for humans After First Contact. We will have to fight for our culture and our future no matter how benign the intentions of our visitors. It is our society that will be at risk, not theirs.

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