I bet you thought this blog entry was about aliens making breakfast of humans. Sorry. First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would create challenges for institutions and individuals across the world. Academic fields in the physical and social sciences would have new ideas to consider and perhaps entirely new academic areas for study. In the event of a high-information First Contact governments and world bodies would have many considerations. And if the First Contact is direct in nature those considerations could have a high degree of immediacy.
The plain fact is that we’re not ready. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Would we really want to spend time and energy considering something that might never occur and, if it does occur, something that is impossible to predict? We have no idea what aliens we might encounter and what challenges that contact might create. But we don’t need a detailed plan. What’s missing is a framework for diplomacy and interaction in a conversational First Contact event. A framework isn’t the details of response. It’s merely the structure used to support the development of those details.
The true challenge behind First Contact response is that it demands that people think in a way that they have not done before. Many academics and professionals would have to consider their area of expertise in an entirely new light. High information First Contact would also demand that many institutions act in a way they have not done before. There would be a series of new responsibilities created and most likely a heated debate about who should handle those responsibilities. The institutional change would be the toughest. Institutions, such as governments, trade organizations, scientific bodies and NGOs, are built to support specific missions and act in carefully managed areas of interest. First Contact could bring about a power grab as some groups try to dominate the response. It could also cause a finger-pointing effect, where everyone expects the other guy to do it. This is perhaps the most dangerous part of not having a First Contact framework for response. We would be left scrambling and in the process our various conflicts and divisions would come into play. How might we react? We could hope that nations and world leaders could come together with a plan quickly. Some may look to the United States and China to lead the response. The primary group joining nations on Earth and creating a forum for debate is the United Nations. However, even a United Nations response is likely to come under some criticism.
So, should we hope that the aliens just leave us alone? Perhaps. However, I think we would eventually pull together and stage an effective response. If the aliens in question are patient we might have the time needed to build our framework and consider the situation. If the introduction is more demanding in nature we could be in trouble.
It is simply too much to ask for most institutions to consider alien First Contact right now. However, even a basic plan of response by the United Nations would do much to prepare us, if such an event ever occurs. It would also help answer the question of legitimacy in a First Contact event. It’s much easier for the United Nations to claim responsibility for diplomatic duties if they already have a protocol established. They currently have no such plans that have been discussed publicly. Astrophysicists have brought the issue to the attention of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on several occasions and yet there has been no action taken.
Any aliens planning First Contact should build in a little extra pad. That will give the humans time to run around, trying to figure out what to do next.
Do we need a framework of response? Let me know what you think. Visit the Alien First Contact Facebookpage and chime in.