Monday, August 13, 2012

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Weight of Our Decisions

The question has to be asked when considering the response to extraterrestrial First Contact. What if we screw it up? That may sound like a worry not worth considering, as First Contact of any sort is hard to predict in terms of how it might happen. I do think it’s a question that will be foremost on the minds of those involved in the event, if it occurs some time in our future. Why? Primarily because high information First Contact would likely have a profound impact on human civilization.

It will also be a situation unlike any we have encountered in human history. That uniqueness presents problems. We can’t do a best practices review of First Contact situations. Well, that’s not entirely true. We could certainly do a review of human to human First Contact in history. The initial meetings between human societies have been well documented. A few of those situations may have turned out okay for the civilization with lesser technology, but as has been pointed out time after time, most of those situations did not turn out well for the technologically weaker civilization. There is a long list of human societies rendered extinct because of First Contact with other humans.
Aliens are unlikely to be like humans and such comparisons only go so far. And that means that we don’t have any roadmap for extraterrestrial First Contact. That makes it a potentially dynamic event and one where we are forced to fly by the seat of our pants, so to speak. If we screw it up- who’s to say what negative impacts there could be for the human race? (not to mention the rest of the Earth and it’s creatures that we usually forget to consider). If we are too open we could unleash biological dangers on Earth. If we are too open we could find ourselves flooded by alien information, causing a tidal wave effect for our scientific and social institutions. If we are hostile we could create conflict. If we are hostile we could cause the aliens to avoid us.
Of course, there is a middle road that could be followed. Staying on the middle road won’t be easy. The whole of humanity would be embroiled in a debate over the response to First Contact. It may be hard to reach consensus. World leaders may be forced to make tough decisions. Two hundred years later humans could point to those decisions and say that the wrong decision was made and that humanity was irrevocably harmed. Just a little pressure.
What can be done? Nothing. A bold and active response will be required in a direct First Contact situation. We must hope that the world leaders making those decisions are thoughtful, careful and have a clear vision for the future of humanity. We don’t want to screw this up. Future generations will be counting on us.
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