Monday, January 9, 2012

Extraterrestrial Contact: Dramatic and Direct

It’s a classic Hollywood plot line: aliens arrive on Earth in a spacecraft to make an introduction. It’s a cliché and as such I think we dismiss the benefits of such an introduction. I think there is great value in a Direct First Contact event and a dramatic one at that.

This blog stakes out some relatively open territory in the conversation regarding human First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. I don’t believe we have made First Contact yet. I don’t believe there is evidence of UFOs being anything but natural phenomenon and misunderstood man-made occurrences. I don’t think that a Direct First Contact event, with aliens arriving on Earth, is very likely. However, I do like to speculate about what might realistically happen if Direct First Contact ever does occur and discuss the process we might need to employ to make First Contact a positive experience, or at least as positive as possible.

My suggested scenario is this: pilot a spacecraft into Earth atmosphere and have it appear above a mid-sized American city. This method of First Contact would set into motion forces that would be hard for anyone to stop. Why an American city? The answer is the news media. The American television news media has the technology and interconnectedness to start a news coverage wave that would spread internationally in a very short time. Thus, enterprising aliens could make an introduction to the world, bypassing governments, scientific agencies and others who might seek to control such an introduction. There is immediate transparency and a method for disseminating an unfiltered message to all humans at once.  The visual event of a spacecraft in Earth atmosphere is important because it allows the news media to control the story, not relying on scientific and possibly governmental involvement, as a transmission from space might. It also has an advantage in that it is something we have seen dozens of times in the movies. Now, many of those movies don’t feature a very positive portrayal of alien intentions, so those hopefully good intentions would have to be relayed immediately and it would be important to show no threat in the dramatic event itself.

Why should space aliens give a damn? If the aliens have good intentions they would probably be concerned about human reaction. There is already plenty of paranoia and distrust to go around on this planet in our daily lives. The appearance of extraterrestrials would amp that up considerably, potentially to dangerous levels. An introduction to humans and not through the institutions of humanity would create an openness that could help the entire process. Why should extraterrestrials care about openness? Imagine the distrust and concern if an extraterrestrial civilization was to make contact with one particular nation? Global politics is a delicate balance of opportunity, risk, security and self-interest. Extraterrestrial First Contact with one nation would set off a firestorm of global political debate and could potentially harm extraterrestrial relations for many years to come. So, why not just engage the United Nations directly? Give me the practical way in which you would have the extraterrestrials approach the massive bureaucracy that is the United Nations? An initial introduction to all humans via the news media could quickly lead to a more formal introduction through the United Nations. From there a process for formal extraterrestrial relations could be established.

In short, a direct and dramatic First Contact event would allow the extraterrestrials to control the message, while providing humans the ability to control the process. Control would be an important concern in the wake of First Contact. Humans will need to feel secure in a very dynamic set of circumstances, with a high degree of uncertainty. A Direct First Contact event does nothing more than say hello, and perhaps suggest a more formal introduction to the United Nations General Assembly. This would provide a strong argument for having the United Nations lead the diplomacy effort, which might not be the case if First Contact was made with an individual nation.

There are plenty of reasons for why such a scenario might not work. Without some sort of stealth technology an extraterrestrial craft would be quickly picked up by various near Earth orbit surveillance systems, let along U.S. military radar. The aliens could be concerned about their safety. They might not have a big, dramatic looking spacecraft. They might not be able to fly a spacecraft in Earth atmosphere. They might feel that entering Earth atmosphere without an invitation would be threatening. All are understandable worries. Hopefully, extraterrestrials advanced enough in technology to visit our solar system would be able to ensure their own safety and fly a craft in Earth atmosphere. As far as the invitation goes, quite frankly I think this is the scenario that humans have come to expect in Direct First Contact.

So, there it is. I think there is value in silly speculation of this sort. The speculation allows us to explore many scenarios about how Direct First Contact might actually be accomplished. It seems to me the scenarios that matter the most are the ones that might actually work and those that will have the best possibility for a relatively positive outcome.

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