I’ve proposed various elements of extraterrestrial contact over the years. Perhaps it’s time to combine those elements into one list. This list would apply to dramatic and direct First Contact; that is, contact where an extraterrestrial civilization arrives in our solar system to say hello. I don’t think that this has happened or is likely to happen, but I do think it deserves some consideration. We’ll have to make a couple of big assumptions to get started. The first would be that the aliens in question mean us no ill-will. The second would be that they don’t have any agenda other than saying hello. This would be what I call a “reaction-neutral” introduction, or one that was not designed to provoke a particular response or action on the part of humans. I think this could be best described as a diplomatic or scientific mission. This is a simple scenario and the real thing would likely be more complex. However, these basic actions would still apply to even a more complex situation.
The list begins with alien actions and continues with human actions.
Introduction: The method of introduction would be critical. To truly be “reaction-neutral” the hello would need to come to all humans and not filtered through a particular government, institution or corporation. There is a multitude of ways this could be carried out. It would seem that some alien consideration of human public relations would be necessary in determining the method.
Allow humans to respond: Once there is an introduction it would be important for extraterrestrials to allow some space for humans to digest this new situation and formulate a response. With any luck, the “reaction-neutral” introduction would not lead to excessive conflict between nations or some sort of hostile reaction.
Communicate with us: Alien communication would depend on their reason for saying hello in the first place. This motive, or more likely complex motives, would likely drive all of their actions. The message communicated to us would have a huge impact on our reaction. Humans will want to know immediately why aliens are saying hello and what expectations those aliens have for a relationship with us. Humans would also need assurances that extraterrestrials would respect our right to determine how contact and diplomacy proceeds and respect our right to autonomy. Extraterrestrials would also need to communicate all physical actions they take on Earth, or in our solar system, well ahead of time, so there is no surprise after the initial introduction event.
Reassure us: As I stated before, human public relations would be important at each step in the alien introduction and eventual diplomatic relations. Primary to this would be issues of public safety and human autonomy. One would hope the extraterrestrials in question had studied us long enough to have a public relations plan that would address these concerns. That plan would need to adapt to changing circumstances on Earth. One could lay out what they might expect from human reaction, but it seems likely unanticipated situations would arise, requiring new public relations efforts. Remember, a public relations effort does not necessarily mean alien spin doctors and salesmanship. At its heart, public relations work is merely a way of communicating with humans to carry out a specific goal. That goal would go back to the alien motives for saying hello.
Move slowly and deliberately: Any action will have the opportunity for confusion and misinterpretation by humans. All alien actions would need to be clearly communicated ahead of time and made as simple as possible to understand, especially in the early days of diplomacy.
Share information in an organized process: If extraterrestrials were more advanced than us in science and technology, there would be a big learning curve if we hoped to understand science and technology from their perspective. This would require some form of education, first for human academics and eventually for the wider population. This would be important for the relationship. It would also be, perhaps, quite difficult to develop. Assuming extraterrestrials had already learned human languages, there would still be issues of biology and culture to overcome. Aliens with a very different biology could have very different senses and thus a unique perspective on the environment and universe. Cultural differences would also likely create a gulf between humans and extraterrestrials. One would hope that extraterrestrials would consider such matters and have a plan of action.
Develop a framework for diplomacy: Humans are not clear about how we think relations with extraterrestrials should proceed. It has been seriously considered by only a small group of academics and writers and there is no consensus. Who should be in charge of diplomacy? Governments, the United Nations or scientific bodies? How do we ensure that all humans are represented and that the form of diplomacy does not allow a particular institution or government to control extraterrestrial relations for their own benefit?
Support transparency: This is perhaps the most important element of the human response to First Contact. Any attempt to hide such an event from the public eye would create conflict and mistrust, perhaps to a dangerous extent. Transparency goes hand in hand with objectivity (not favoring a particular nation). Not only does the introduction need to be made to the entire planet, but it also needs to stay squarely in the public eye, with all deliberations and decisions, to the extent possible, made public. This could prove tougher and tougher as many serious matters arise, especially in making decisions about information dissemination from the aliens to humans. Clearly, one could not hope to make decisions about what information was safe to release to humanity, while sifting through that information in public. Even for matters that must remain hidden, the entire process could remain transparent.
Move slowly and deliberately: Any alien action will have the opportunity for confusion and misinterpretation. All actions, alien and human, would need to be clearly communicated ahead of time and made as simple as possible to understand, especially in the early days of diplomacy. This applies just as much to humans as it does aliens. The primary risk in human reaction is some wave of panic brought on by confusion or misinterpretation. Human governments and institutions will need to be on guard for such situations. Transparency is the best way to prevent this problem.
Allow for protection: Any type of First Contact would create a feeling of threat, to some degree. Direct First Contact would create a high degree of concern, due to the close proximity of visiting extraterrestrials. It would be natural for human governments to put military units on alert. Caution to some degree is inevitable and probably quite prudent. However, hostile reactions by humans are possible, especially if there is confusion in the process. Extraterrestrials would need to communicate all actions well ahead of time and humans would need to keep tight control over military units monitoring First Contact.
Determine a framework for information sharing: We will need to carefully consider the impact of sharing information with extraterrestrials. If they are advanced in technology this could pose a real problem for our world economy and our sciences. Perhaps this would be a role for scientific bodies representing the primary areas of concern? A panel could study the possible impact and develop a road forward for disseminating alien information.
Watch the world economy: Direct First Contact could create great swings in world economic markets as investors try to determine what extraterrestrial contact means for various industries and businesses. Careful attention to world markets and possible controls for wild fluctuations would be important.
Monitor fringe groups: Human reaction could come in a range of responses, from calm and thoughtful to frightened and violent. It seems likely that large institutions and governments would be more likely to react calmly due to a balanced nature of power sharing and decision making inherent in such entities. Fringe groups are another matter. Due to their small size and tendency towards radical views, they could react in haste. This could be a real problem, especially if fringe group reactions get extensive coverage in the news media. The reaction of small religious and political groups could eventually have an influence on the wider public, creating all sorts of issues for the human response.
Examine the future of our civilization: High information First Contact would have a big impact on our civilization. There would be a great need for an organized and well-developed consideration of that impact. From that effort could develop a plan for moving forward to ensure that human contact with extraterrestrials is beneficial to humans for generations to come.
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