Monday, September 19, 2011

Economic Interests and Control After First Contact

In a high-information First Contact scenario there would be plenty of money-making opportunities. New information can lead to new technology. New technology means profit, and in the case of extraterrestrial information, potentially huge profit. Now an extraterrestrial civilization may not want to share much, if anything, with us about science and technology. But even if they offer only minimal information that we can use, it is bound to have a massive impact on the world economy. For the most part I have ruminated over the potential challenges that information would create here on Earth from a governmental and institutional perspective. Blog reader Geoffrey has inspired a new line of thinking lately. He recently posted in response to the declaration of human rights entry I made several months ago- my rather naïve set of statements that I think we need to consider expressing to any extraterrestrials we might meet. My concern, as far-fetched as it may sound, has been extraterrestrial meddling in the human civilization After First Contact. Geoffrey thought it was interesting that we would ask more of the aliens than we do of humans. He is worried, as are most Americans these days, about recent economic turmoil and the underlying reasons for that turmoil. In particular, he points out that many self-interested groups have been manipulating the American financial system for their own benefit and to the detriment of the country as a whole. I agree with him in that assessment. I think that no matter what your political inclinations, most Americans could agree that decisions have been made, in terms of banking, trading and financial regulation, that have benefited a powerful few, while leaving the rest of us with dwindling 401-K plans, if we’re lucky, and unemployment and financial collapse if we are not so lucky.

It does beg the question. What would the powerful cadre of investment bankers, speculators and corporate leaders do in the event of First Contact?

I think that there would be two corporate reactions. The first would be much the same as the general global response- a period of being stunned. I doubt there is one major company on the planet that has considered how to respond to extraterrestrial information. Why should they? Right now it appears that there are no extraterrestrials for us to contact and if there are they could be hundreds of light years away.

The surprise of an extraterrestrial contact event would soon wear off and companies would start considering how to respond. On the speculation side of things, the stock market may reflect this reaction quite quickly as investors try to decide which businesses are likely to capitalize on extraterrestrial relations and information. Of course, until we know what information they would be interested in sharing with us it would be tough to decide who is likely to profit from extraterrestrial information. Perhaps the wisest investment would be with the companies supporting robust research and development wings, particularly in physics. Aerospace might be another logical choice. Even if the extraterrestrials would not be thrilled about sharing their interstellar travel technology, humans would most likely want to invest in satellites and other space monitoring technology for defense and science. We would suddenly be aware that there is much more out there than meets the eye and we would be keen to know more, both for safety and knowledge. Space will suddenly become the hottest frontier for corporate interests and for speculators.

All of this is expected and welcome in a free market. China and Russia would be sure to respond as well, and once again that is beneficial to the global economy. One positive outcome of First Contact could be a stimulating of the world economy. Needless to say, we could certainly use stimulation. Such a rush of new opportunities could also cause investment banks to loosen up the purse strings and start loaning out the piles of cash they are sitting on.

The real issue comes in the long-term. The development of legitimate business would be fine. What happens along the way could be the problem. Regulating information flow so that everyone on Earth has an equal chance in responding to opportunities would be essential. Big business may attempt to tie such opportunities to defense related industries and thus keep some development top-secret. There would likely be all sorts of efforts to take advantage of the new situation. This is a plain fact of a free-market society: big business is tied closely to governmental leaders and corporations spend a great deal of money, time and effort lobbying to make sure they get an inside track in anything that involves the government. Any attempts to coral extraterrestrial information and keep it available to only a privileged few would be detrimental to the global economy and, needless to say, morally wrong. It may sound like a speculative conspiracy theory, but I think we have all been naïve about how the financial game is actually played. Whether or not extraterrestrial information could be kept for a select few would be dependent on the type of First Contact, who that contact is with (government, media, and scientists) and of course what the aliens decide they want to do. After all, it’s their information and ultimately they would be in control.

Then there’s the flipside- corporate interests arguing for a free flow of information. I have said for some time that gatekeepers of some sort will be critical for information flow After First Contact. I think regulating information flow will be important to help us decipher that extraterrestrial information and make sure it doesn’t erode the foundations of our social, civic and scientific institutions.

I think an interesting and unusual alliance could be forged between free speech/open sourceware/free Internet folks and big business. If we do assign gatekeepers to control information flow After First Contact, both of those interests would be upset. They would want as much information as possible to be released, although the two groups would have very different motives. Big business will want as much opportunity as possible and that would come through information about the sciences and technology. They would likely be opposed to gatekeeping on a purely economic basis. The freedom of information folks will be upset that anyone is controlling information flow. This unholy alliance of freedom of information and big business would probably never gel as a concerted, joined effort, but the primary argument would be the same.

No one nation, or bloc of nations, should be allowed to control information After First Contact. It should be a global effort, involving all nations and with protections to make sure the powerful countries don’t subvert the process for their own interests. Transparency in process would be essential.

Any information that comes to humans from extraterrestrials would have to be considered a gift to all humans. However, that information flow needs to be controlled to help protect our institutions from being harmed. It will probably take quite a bit of work to even understand alien thought and logic, let alone decipher scientific ideas. The key is to set up gatekeepers who will not be subject to national or business pressure. Those gatekeepers would need to have careful oversight. And the entire process would need to be transparent to the point of causing boredom. Every meeting must be streamed on the Internet. Every decision should be tracked and monitored. The gatekeeping process would likely need a bureaucracy of huge proportions. I personally hate bureaucracy, but sometimes it’s necessary. It doesn’t have to be inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy. That will be up to us.

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