Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Upcoming US Government Report on UFOs

Many people are anxiously waiting for the latest US government report on UFO sightings. It's due in June, but lawmakers say there is a good possibility it will be delayed. I don't think anyone expects major revelations...beyond the fact that the US government has no idea what is causing interactions between pilots and unknown, perhaps autonomous, objects. And that is what UFO sightings are...interactions with humans on the simplest level. I don't know what it all means beyond that. But I do know that if aliens say hello, we humans are not ready for it. Perhaps it's time to consider such a scenario....and do it in a way that is thoughtful and grounded in reality? Critical thinking is going to be essential going forward.

I've tried to touch on some of these challenges in my new book. I don't expect to become a bestselling author. I'm fine with exploring these ideas with just a few of you. Anyway, it's available on Amazon, worldwide, if you would like to join me. It's called "The Extraterrestrial Big Hello: What to do if the Aliens Introduce Themselves."


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

New Book Out Now: The Extraterrestrial Big Hello

I've been writing this blog for 11 years now. I have taken some of the ideas formulated here and added to them for a new book on the subject of extraterrestrial First Contact. It's called "The Extraterrestrial Big Hello: A Guide for What to do When the Aliens Introduce Themselves." It's available on Amazon worldwide in Kindle and Paperback formats. It is entirely in English.

Here's the pitch:

You have lived with the Hollywood fantasy for so long that you have probably never considered how extraterrestrial contact might really happen. I’m not saying it has occurred or even that it will occur. My point is that we humans have not spent much time considering the idea beyond the bright lights and enormous alien eyes. Ah, but you say- clearly the US government has a plan? Nope. But the United Nations, they have considered such things, right? Not really. And besides, considering how our human governments handled COVID-19, do you really want them deciding extraterrestrial diplomacy behind closed doors? I’m going to make a radical suggestion: all humans have a right to know about First Contact and hear from alien representatives. That’s right- an Extraterrestrial Big Hello for the entire planet.

If you read it, consider providing a review on Amazon and recommending the book to your friends. It's self-published. I don't have much of a chance, competing with the big book companies. If you think this subject is important- help me get the word out. And thanks for reading the blog.

Here's the link to the book on Amazon USA. If you live in another country, simply put "The Extraterrestrial Big Hello" into the search bar for Amazon in your country.


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: Superintelligence


I’ve discussed the idea that any aliens we meet someday may be machine-based artificial intelligence (AI). Paul Davies was one of the first astrophysicists to suggest the concept, although science fiction has been mining the idea for many decades. The reasoning is simple: machine-based intelligence is a lot more durable than a biological being, and easier to repair and reproduce. Humans are currently moving towards machine assisted living. Heart pumps and cochlear implants are just two basic examples. Computer interfaces with the brain are being tested. Davies points out that the development of machine assisted human biology is likely to continue. Eventually, we will reach a point where the human body is more machine than biological.

Philosophy professor Susan Schneider takes that idea a step further. In a presentation to a NASA conference, she suggested that aliens would likely be a highly developed form of artificial intelligence: a superintelligence. This is how Nick Bostrom with the University of Oxford defines it: “By a "superintelligence" we mean an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills. This definition leaves open how the superintelligence is implemented: it could be a digital computer, an ensemble of networked computers, cultured cortical tissue or what have you. It also leaves open whether the superintelligence is conscious and has subjective experiences.”

It may sound like an esoteric point to discuss superintelligence when any alien artificial intelligence would likely be much more intelligent than humans, just by existing. However, Schneider examines the difference between human thought and the workings of a superintelligence to tackle some important issues in the consideration of extraterrestrial First Contact.

One primary point in her paper is the issue of consciousness. Could a superintelligence be conscious? Consider the ramifications- the further an alien intelligence is from our biological state, the wider the gulf between us in terms of understanding, if we meet someday. Consciousness defines the human experience in many respects. We are a product of our interaction with our reality, in both physical and mental dimensions. Superintelligence could be so different from human intelligence that finding common ground between the two would be difficult. Schneider brings up an interesting possibility, once again relying on Nick Bostrom for the foundational idea- what if artificial intelligence is engineered to be like the intelligence of the biological originator? Humans are doing this currently as we design our own artificial intelligence. Many researchers are using the human brain and human attributes as a model for AI. Thus, the finished product would operate in a manner consistent with human intelligence. If we’re doing it, it seems quite possible biological aliens would have followed the same process. Why? Dr. Schneider brings up the concept of self-preservation. Many humans are uncomfortable designing AI that would eventually replace us. By designing AI with human thought patterns, we would be preserving part of who we are, even if the biological parts are eventually left behind. If aliens did the same, we could eventually meet a biologically-inspired superintelligent alien (BISA). That sounds daunting, so we probably need to consider the commonalities we still may have. Schneider examines the Bostrom Instrumental Convergence Thesis: “Several instrumental values can be identified which are convergent in the sense that their attainment would increase the chances of the agent’s goal being realized for a wide range of final goals and a wide range of situations, implying that these instrumental values are likely to be pursued by a broad spectrum of situated intelligent agents.”

Bostrom identifies these areas of commonality: “Resource acquisition, technological perfection, cognitive enhancement, self-preservation and goal content integrity (i.e., that a superintelligent being’s future self will pursue and attain those same goals).”

This states that alien AI, whether it be entirely artificial or BSIA in nature, will have a set of behaviors that we could recognize. That could provide a basis for understanding.

You can see why I’ve included Nick Bostrom and his Future of Humanity Institute as one of the important experts to consult with in the wake of First Contact. He has been discussing such issues for more than 20 years. I will add Susan Schneider to that list.  Applying these superintelligence concepts directly to extraterrestrials could be an important facet of First Contact.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash










Monday, November 2, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: Myopic Humans

Humanity needs a good set of prescription eyeglasses. Perhaps then we could see things that are far-off and outside of our norms. Climate change is a sad example. COVID-19, and pandemic planning in general, also qualify. Why is it that we have such a hard time seeing things that could happen in the future? Myopia is the medical condition of nearsightedness, or having trouble seeing things far away.

The other definition is used in regards to human perspective. Myopia means that we humans don’t do a very good job of looking into the future and preparing ourselves. Some of that is due to the nature of our society- there always seems to be some new fire to put out. When you are busy putting out current fires you are not thinking about future blazes. COVID-19 is a fascinating example. Institutions across the United States did pandemic planning exercises many years ago, in the wake of SARS and MERS epidemics. Clearly, though, it was not enough. Where did we go wrong? The Obama administration put together pandemic teams in the United States and even other nations. They were largely dismantled in a political shift. Even then, would we have been ready? People will be analyzing pandemic planning failures for many years to come.

Let’s apply myopia to the subject of this blog: extraterrestrial contact. The lack of planning by humans in this area is quite extraordinary. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think that planning for an event that may never happen should be a top priority. But it should at least be in the top 100, if for no other reason than the massive impact such a discovery would have on our civilization. Instead, the subject produces nervous laughter and averted eyes. Some of that is thanks to Hollywood movies and popular fiction. Another element is that alien contact can be a symptom of mental illness. Now, before you jump on me, I want to say that I am not passing judgment on people who say they have been abducted by aliens. I have never explored such claims and don’t have any evidence one way or another. However, alien contact is quite often reported in patients with schizophrenia or other debilitating mental illness. It’s right up there with being Jesus or thinking that the President of the United States is out to get you, specifically.

My point is this: the apprehension to even discuss the topic is problematic, especially when it concerns the scientific community. I agree that jumping to the conclusion that every odd signal from outer space comes from aliens would be ridiculous. Scientific studies of such events have thus far always found natural phenomena and really cool natural phenomena, at that. I don’t suggest that scientists look for alien contact in every strange occurrence in space. But I do suggest that the apprehension in even considering the possibility may cause us to miss things. We need objective study of strange phenomena that does not automatically rule out alien activity. Even more so, we need study that does not force scientists to put on blinders and ignore such possibilities, just because considering such things would damage their reputation and, God forbid, jeopardize research funding. A few brave scientists have put on the eyeglasses needed to see what could happen in the future. This post is a thank-you to those who do so in the fields of astrophysics and astronomy. I can imagine it is not easy to risk your career to consider the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. In the meantime, perhaps it is time for us laypeople to also start wearing eyeglasses and asking more questions. Our governments are not serving us in climate change response and mitigation. They are not serving us in pandemic response. They are not serving us in the mitigation of nuclear proliferation. And until the great majority of people demand action from our politicians, it is likely that governments won’t respond anytime soon to these important matters, let alone engage in alien First Contact planning. That, my friends, is on us laypeople.

The journal Foreign Affairs has a terrific article by Princeton University professor Elke Weber in the current issue that addresses human myopia and provides some possible ways to counteract the problem, for both citizens and public leaders. “Heads in the Sand: Why We Fail to Foresee and Contain Catastrophe” is a good read and if alien First Contact does occur some day, I would suggest the article as first response study for those involved in human leadership.

Photo by K8 on Unsplash

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: What World Leaders Should Consider


A Direct First Contact event would be one of the most significant historical markers in human history. The world leaders involved in that event would most likely be remembered for how they acted and how they led in the wake of Direct First Contact. It would be a high-stakes moment. Let’s consider some of their challenges.

Safety

A Direct First Contact event assumes that aliens have arrived in our solar system to make contact with humans. That relatively close proximity, whether it be from millions of miles away in the asteroid belt or in Earth orbit, would be a security issue for humans. The leaders of nations are charged with keeping their population safe and secure. For this reason, safety is likely to be a top priority for world leaders in the first days of a Direct First Contact event. An important point to recognize is the danger of over-reaction. A military alert would have to be handled quite carefully. Sudden actions or mistakes on the part of responding forces could be disastrous. World leaders would need to navigate such challenges very carefully. This is especially true of the world powers with the largest militaries and a presence in space. For this reason it may be best to have the UN Security Council take the lead on safety response, as the nations with the largest space programs are represented. A coordinated effort would also make the most sense for combining military and space-based resources.

Control

There will be a natural instinct on the part of world leaders to seek advantage for their nation in the wake of Direct First Contact. It’s understandable, as leaders are charged with promoting the best interests of their nation. However, in this case such an approach could prove problematic. Every nation will want to be a beneficiary of the positive aspects of First Contact. A nation that tries to circumvent international relations, and seek their own direct relationship with extraterrestrials, would risk retribution by other nations. If many of the world powers acted in such a way, and at the same time, there could be chaos. World leaders will have to understand that if the aliens want to treat all nations equally, trying to change that would be a mistake. A level playing field would benefit all humans and all nations in the long run.

Keeping People Calm

As I have mentioned before in this blog, surveys show that most humans would be fine with a First Contact event. A Direct First Contact event would be more stressful, as safety would be an issue. However, it seems likely that the larger human population will watch what happens and reserve judgment. There will be fringe groups that will react immediately and some of those actions could be dramatic. There could be legitimate concern involved in those reactions, but it could also be a case of fringe group leaders firing up their base to gain power. World leaders will need to manage such activity in their country and yet still maintain an environment where people are able to voice their concerns. That, of course, assumes that the nation allows open discussion. Some countries are quite restrictive about the public discussion of sensitive topics. Due to the enormity of a Direct First Contact event, trying to keep discussion suppressed could be a huge mistake, leading to even more unrest. It would be too huge a moment for people not to discuss it openly. Humans will need to talk through the issues that would come with Direct First Contact. Fringe groups will need to raise their concerns. And yet everyone will need to be respectful of each other and keep calm. I still believe that if aliens with good intentions approach humans to say hello, the biggest threat to humans would be the human reaction. It would be up to world leaders to maintain calm.

Legacy

Historians often speak of legacy when it comes to world leaders. It is commonly considered the actions and accomplishments of a leader that will be remembered by future generations and how those actions and accomplishments will be remembered. Legacy can be positive or negative, depending on the historian. Leaders may consider their legacy in decision-making. So, what of legacy and First Contact? World leaders will need to recognize that they are making decisions that will impact humanity for generations to come. Knee-jerk reactions could hurt humanity; in the process, making that leader’s legacy quite negative.

Leaders need to make immediate decisions and that means keeping their heads in the here and now. However, they would need to step back at some point and look at the bigger picture. They would be leading humans at one of the most important junctures in human history. It will not be just another day at the office.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: Most Humans will not be the Problem


Studies show that individual humans feel quite ready for Alien First Contact. So, why do I talk about social unrest in the wake of a high-information, Direct First Contact event? I am not worried about most humans. I am concerned about the actions of politicians, institutional leaders, and business executives across the globe. The issue is power. Many would perceive First Contact as an opportunity to gather advantage and power, whether it be for themselves, their government, their institution or their corporation. That power grab could take the form of people trying to secure a special relationship with extraterrestrials. It could also be religious leaders and politicians using fear to motivate the public. It could be a corporation hoping for an advance look at alien technology. It may be a world leader hoping to secure advantage for their nation. In short- it won’t be the average folks who we need to worry about creating problems in the wake of First Contact. It will be the movers and shakers of the world.

Just take a look at current world dynamics. A recent report by the Munich Security Conference had this to say:

“The global security situation is more dangerous today than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We are experiencing an epochal shift; an era is ending, and the rough outlines of a new political age are only beginning to emerge. No matter where you look, there are countless conflicts and crises.”

Politicians, bureaucrats, and business leaders have been doing this for millennia. The pursuit of power and advantage is an imbedded part of the human civilization. While most of us participate in mundane ways, trying to get a promotion at work or cutting someone off on the car trip home, there are those for whom the pursuit of power is their primary motivation.

How those power dynamics would play out here on Earth would largely depend on the actions of the visiting extraterrestrials. If aliens chose to use those dynamics to their advantage they could easily manipulate us by playing one nation against another. More so, if their aim was to throw us into chaos, without ever firing a shot, playing nations against one another could be the best way to accomplish that goal. And the flipside is true: if aliens wanted humans to remain calm the aliens would need to carefully consider how to mitigate power grabs here on Earth.

How could extraterrestrials prevent damage to the human civilization due to power struggles between institutions and nations? They would need to communicate clearly to the entire planet and not play favorites. Only carefully cultivated objectivity and transparency could obviate the usual human machinations. And even then it would be tough.

Objectivity and transparency on the part of aliens would actually be in the best interest of nations and institutions. While you may not gain advantage in such a situation - you would not lose advantage. Having all nations and institutions on an even playing field would be important. The movers and shakers will still be able to play their games- but in the ways we are used to and that we can handle.

Photo by Donny Jiang on Unsplash



Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: Social Science Expertise versus the Physical Sciences


Scientists from the physical sciences: astronomy, astrophysics, and astrobiology, are on the front lines of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The reason is simple- scientific methods of observation and analysis are the primary way we can discover the existence of an extraterrestrial civilization, if such a civilization exists at all. Physical science experts are the best prepared for the hard work that would be required in a First Contact situation if the aliens we discover are at a great distance. Physicists have the tools and skills to examine signals in the electromagnetic spectrum. There are certainly social science crossovers that may be needed in such a situation: linguists to study signals for possible language and anthropologists to try and understand the practices of another civilization. However, in most of the scenarios scientists are currently considering, physical science experts lead the way.

This blog is concerned with a very different situation. I have a singular purpose- to reflect on the needs of humanity if we are faced with high information Direct First Contact, where the aliens are visiting our solar system and have done their homework. My premise is that they understand our civilization and have learned how to best communicate with us.

If the aliens did fit that criteria, it would be a very different group of humans at the front lines of a First Contact event. The leaders of governments and institutions would be the first responders and they would need support from social science experts in fields such as international relations, psychology, religion, and sociology. The primary issues involved in such a scenario would be human communication, consensus-building, and decision-making. Humans would need to organize themselves to respond to the alien overture. Such an event would likely create incredible challenges for our human society. Social scientists could provide the expertise, and do the research necessary, to support those governmental and institutional leaders in that time of immense change. The biggest threat in such a situation could be to the social fabric of humanity. In addition to the immediate concerns of the safety and welfare of humans, there would also be the long-term considerations of the scientific, economic, and social impact to the human race. In our fictional explorations of such themes, we humans tend to oversimplify these considerations. In reality, First Contact response would likely be a massive effort with many thousands of details to work out.

Very few humans are thinking about this type of Direct First Contact. I understand why- it is unlikely to happen. This blog, then, is simply a deep dive into a tiny sliver of possibility. It is my attempt at preparation, just in case. My expertise is in communication, a social science. While I am not a scientist, I have spent my career examining communication from a number of different perspectives, including as a journalist, public relations professional, and college instructor.

If Direct First Contact does occur someday, and the aliens want to have some sort of a relationship with humans, I hope that these writings will bring potential social challenges to light and provide an initial road map for human response.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: Listening to Each Other


There would be plenty of ideas and opinions if an alien First Contact event does occur someday. Humans would argue about how we should respond and how we should move forward. Debate can be a good thing if it brings important issues to the forefront of discussion, but would we actually listen to each other? I’ve discussed polarization previously in this blog. In this context, it’s the movement of political opinion groups to opposite sides of a spectrum, setting up vehement disagreements and conflict. One could argue that First Contact would not be a political event, but rather a scientific development. It may start that way, but if there is high information communication occurring, or likely to occur, between humans and extraterrestrials, politics would quickly come into play. There would be much at stake. Governments, institutions and corporations would all be interested in a piece of the alien information pie. Issues of international relations, human leadership, and human response would put governments, and the United Nations, on the front lines of First Contact debate. It would be a political problem because governments are fueled by politics, especially in democracies.  And political polarization quickly leads to social polarization, a much more entrenched problem, as it can divide people at even the most personal level. The polarization of American politics is an oft-discussed topic, however, it does seem to be a global phenomenon. There are current examples of political polarization in Britain, France and Turkey, to name just a few. The United Nations issued a report last year citing some of the reasons for polarization as including income inequality, economic problems, the competition for resources, and environmental challenges.

Polarization is harmful when it creates gridlock and inaction. The big question in the wake of First Contact would be how to avoid polarization in order to build consensus and get things done. I think that active listening and well-considered messaging will be important. Listening sounds like an obvious solution to polarization. If we listen to other viewpoints, and consider those ideas, we are more likely to broaden our perspective. However, if all of the messaging is inflamed and politically charged, listening will be difficult.

Active listening and well-considered messaging are not new ideas. They are common interpersonal communication techniques. Here is what the US State Department suggests for active listening:

1. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

2. Be non-judgmental

3. Give your undivided attention to the speaker

4. Use silence effectively

Well-considered messaging is achieved when the sender takes into account the audience, employs empathy to understand that audience, and crafts the message using words and phrases that engage the audience. Simply put: avoid the rhetoric and get to the heart of what people care about.

We would hope that our leaders would employ active listening and well-considered messaging on a regular basis. However, we know that is not the case. Leaders sometimes make a conscious effort to avoid active listening and well-considered messaging. The reason: they seek to control people by creating wedges between groups. Nasty rhetoric is a way to fire-up your base and create a delineation with your opponents. There will be plenty of people using inflamed rhetoric in the wake of First Contact. They will be seeking power and advantage by dividing the public along lines that favor their interests. The media and the public will need to be on the watch for such behavior and call it out when it happens.

The political and social climate in many nations is currently quite negative. Such thinking could easily turn the debate over First Contact response into a vociferous free for all. If First Contact does occur someday, we will all need to work hard to keep the discourse positive and actions productive.

Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash








Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: What Do We Do?


Alien First Contact would be a worldwide television event for the vast majority of humans. We won’t play any direct role at first- we will be watching in awe. Scientists and politicians would naturally take the lead. However, there will eventually be an important job for all humans: we must hold our leaders to high standards. Forget about the alien movies you have seen. It is unlikely that a government would be able to keep First Contact secret. Scientists have pledged openness in such a situation. The prevalence of Social media would ensure disclosure. That’s good for those of us in the general public. It means that we will have an opportunity to participate. I suggest advocating for important priorities in First Contact.

  1. Demand transparency. Meetings and events related to First Contact should be made public.
  2. Insist that all nations, and diverse groups of people, are involved in First Contact decision-making. That can be done through the United Nations and by listening to populations that are marginalized across the globe: the working class, those in poverty, and people living in small nations. The rich and powerful in large, dominant nations should not control our response to First Contact. First Contact is an event for all humans.
  3. Ask that long-term impacts be considered and long-term plans made. It would be easy to treat each step After First Contact as a crisis. Leaders must make decisions that benefit humanity in the short and the long-term.
  4. Make sure that the new perspective created by alien contact is leveraged to confront important issues here on Earth. Those include climate change, ecological collapse, the nuclear threat, and the lack of equity in health and education.

The general public, in nations across Earth, will need to speak out loudly to make sure these priorities are addressed. Sitting at home will not be a wise idea for very long. Leaders will be making important decisions and the voices of the people will need to be heard. We may watch it unfold on TV at first, but our role After First Contact will be extremely important, not just for the benefit of our lives, but for generations of humans to come.

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: The Importance of Russia


Russia has a robust space program, prestigious research institutions, and a reputation for taking First Contact seriously. This Acta Astronautica article speaks to decades of Russian SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research. Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev developed the Kardashev Scale in 1964 as a way to measure a civilization's level of technology based on the amount of energy that civilization uses. Aleksandr Leonidovich Zaitsev is a Russian astronomer and the chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics. He is also the Regional Coordinator for Russia for the international SETI League. And those are just two of the notable contributors to the field. There are many others.

This would make Russia an important partner in the wake of alien First Contact. Russia also has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, which would likely be one of the first groups to consider First Contact response. The United States and China are the two other major players in any First Contact situation and relations between the three countries is turbulent. However, unlike the United States, the Russian government has been stable for quite some time. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has been the center of power in Russia for 19 years. The major players in Russia come from the government and the realm of the so-called oligarchs, business leaders who accumulated wealth and power after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Russian national interests would likely be quite similar to the interests of every other nation in the wake of First Contact. Scientists would want to be included in research and the dissemination of extraterrestrial information. The Russian government would want to make sure their country was safe from physical threat. Business leaders would want access to any information that could be a catalyst for new technology. The key difference from other countries is the significant Russian presence in space and the power of the Russian military. These attributes make it critical for Russia to be closely involved in decision making.

Superpowers may lead the way After First Contact, but all humans have a right to transparency in such deliberations. First Contact would be an event for all countries and for all people to participate in, at least in terms of being aware of what is occurring. Attempts to keep matters secret would be a big mistake. It could have a grievous impact on international relations, a situation that could harm all of the Security Council nations in the long-term. Keeping the UN General Assembly and the world public informed of the process would not only be the right thing to do, but the prudent thing to do. Making proceedings secret would inflame reactionaries and provide a vacuum of information for media commentators and conspiracy theorists to fill.

Russia does have a track record of orchestrating covert public opinion campaigns in an attempt to impact elections in several nations, including the United States. Some analysts have argued that the overarching goal is to destabilize Western Democracies. Russia is not the only country to use disinformation campaigns. The United States and China have participated in such activities in certain situations over the years. To do such After First Contact would be dangerous for all of humanity. A Direct First Contact event, one where aliens say hello in our solar system, would create uncertainty, and could be perceived as a threat to humanity. If that fear is further inflamed by covert public opinion campaigns, there could be conflict and violence. That conflict doesn’t have to come from countries, it could be the actions of radical elements from a variety of viewpoints. In fact, it may be tough to determine where such unrest would come from, considering that we have never dealt with such an event before. If a nation attempted to use a covert Internet campaign to seek advantage over their rivals, they could end up harming themselves. First Contact would be a very different situation from what we have been used to with international relations. World attention would be intense and radical uprisings could easily travel from one nation to another.

That said- the message here is calm and patience. The so-called super powers will undoubtedly lead the initial response to First Contact. However, what happens next will depend on how they do it. If there is a sharing of information, and a response process that involves all of the UN General Assembly nations, there is likely to be a more measured response from the human public. That is not to say that extremists won’t be active, but the degree to which the larger public joins those groups would depend on the amount of transparency involved.

Enough of international politics, let’s discuss the mood of the Russian people. I just read a blog post about Russian considerations of alien First Contact that reveals how the Russian people view such an event. They seem resigned to the notion that it will happen in the United States and that the Americans will control it. This article, a blog post by the New York University Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, takes a lighthearted look, explaining that Russian popular culture has not produced much fiction on the subject of visiting aliens, and perhaps because of that basic assumption: that the United States will control First Contact. The author relates an amusing story by a Russian writer that describes the feeling of being left out. Now, granted, most fictional accounts of visiting aliens have come from U.S. writers and have been produced by U.S. filmmakers. So, Hollywood assuming that the United States military would control First Contact is simply that, a Hollywood assumption. But perhaps the rest of the world has bought into the notion? After all, fiction writing and movies are about the only popular mediums that have considered First Contact. Such dramatic, and often silly, stories are what most people know of the subject and the same movies have been seen by audiences across the planet.

It’s hard to say how that general feeling of expected U.S. dominance could impact a real First Contact event. My gut says that it would probably lead to Russian and Chinese leaders scrambling to exert influence. The United States would be wise to make sure all of the UN Security Council nations have a say in the human response to First Contact, both for short-term necessity and the furthering of long-term relationships. First Contact would be an event for all nations to share equally, both in decision making and in any benefits that may come from information sharing with extraterrestrials. Russia will need to lead the way, along with the United States and China, to make sure that happens.

Photo by Nikita Karimov on Unsplash



Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: The Basics of Crisis Response

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for effective crisis response. Humans have been studying crisis situations for many years. Best practices for crisis response have been developed and refined. We humans are employing them now, albeit not as effectively or as early as we might have hoped. These are the most important lessons that I see us learning in our COVID-19 response thus far. They could apply to any future crisis situation, including alien Direct First Contact.
Be Proactive
Don’t wait until problems develop to work on response. Use thoughtful consideration and imagination to identify possible future problems and develop responses before they become a crisis. Listen to others.
Be Knowledgeable
Seek out information and best practices. Use data to inform decision making. Understand that data can be incomplete or wrong. Use critical thinking at each step. Collect better data. Find new ways to analyze the best data.
Be Cautious
Crisis requires us to protect ourselves and our civilization. Use thoughtful consideration in decision-making. Consider both short-term and long-term impacts.
Be Practical
Take care of the most immediate needs first. Use the resources you have available. Seek out new resources. Identify new needs. In crisis everyone has a part to play. Your part may not be obvious at first, but it will reveal itself if you look carefully. Get involved and make a difference.
Be Creative
Find new ways to do the things that are most important.
Move Forward
Crisis inevitably calls for action. Move forward employing all of the previous actions. Have a clear process to decide what has worked and what is not working. Keep refining your response.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Friday, April 3, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: COVID-19 Provides Insight into First Contact

It may seem too soon to dissect the COVID-19 pandemic. It has caused so much illness, grief and disruption. However, it is an international crisis with a scope that has not been seen in many decades. As such, it can be a road map showing possible human dynamics in a Direct First Contact event. Let me be clear about what I am saying. COVID-19 is a major health disaster for humans. Direct First Contact, where aliens come to our solar system to say hello, does not necessarily have to be a threat, and certainly not a disaster. That’s not what I am suggesting. I do believe that the massive international crisis caused by COVID-19 is a rare event in modern human history, and as such, it can provide unique insight into human social dynamics during a global emergency, and thus it is a window to view the challenges of a Direct First Contact event. So, if the aliens come in peace and with apparently good intentions, how would such an event be similar to the COVID-19 pandemic? If aliens arrive in the solar system there will be an element of threat inherent in human reaction, no matter what extraterrestrials express as their intentions. How aliens conduct that contact could also ramp up the threat perception, even if that was not their intention to do such. But the primary similarities are the existential discomfort both situations bring about and the world-wide nature of the two events.
Here are the other major similarities that I see:
Poles of Reaction
The pandemic initially produced two extreme poles of response. On one side some people were immediately panicked by the virus spread. An example of their reaction is out of control grocery store hoarding. On the other side were people who refused to take any action because they believed the threat was overblown by the media. To a certain extent, those two polar reactions can still be seen today. In Direct First Contact, the poles of extreme reaction could be those who welcome aliens without question and humans who want authorities to refuse all contact with extraterrestrials. Just as with COVID-19, the extremists would be more vocal than the moderate middle and more exciting for media coverage. And it seems that in both cases the moderate middle may be the best response. Take reasonable precautions. Don’t underestimate the threat. The media will have to be careful in a First Contact situation. They will need to take steps to put human reaction in the proper context, and help calm people, rather than inflame the situation. In my opinion, it took some media outlets too long to understand their important role in COVID-19.
Misinformation
As I have stated earlier on this blog, there is plenty of misinformation about COVID-19. We have all heard rumors that have turned out to be untrue. We may have also heard rumors that turned out to be correct. In a crisis situation there needs to be a well-organized communication system. Rumors and misinformation need to be addressed and dispelled, if those rumors rise to the level of common knowledge. This means having people responsible for tracking Internet and social media sites for trends and then providing responses as needed. Information is coming from so many sources with COVID-19 and it is clearly problematic. When the public gets conflicting information from sources of authority, it causes them to distrust all authority. That can be dangerous. An alien Direct First Contact event would be easier to control in terms of information, because it should be quite centralized. We would hope that there would not be multiple extraterrestrial landing craft on Earth, if that is how it happens. If extraterrestrials reach out to one authority source, and keep all communication through that source, it will be easier to provide clear information and correct misinformation. But those in charge will need to be proactive and immediate in response. It will take a massive, coordinated effort on the part of world leaders and even more so, cooperation between governments and government entities at every level.
The Dangers of a Slow Response
The slow response to the COVID-19 crisis in China, the United States, and Italy has been a costly mistake, both in terms of human life and welfare. Alien First Contact is certainly not like a health crisis in that it would have to be contained, if the aliens come in peace. However, it would be a crisis of public perception with perhaps a much greater risk in the long-term. Authorities will need to respond in a calm and deliberate manner and they will need to do so with transparency. There is an inherent danger in cover-ups and in these days of social media and video proliferation, hiding things is tough. Just ask the Chinese government. Video of what was going on in the early days of COVID-19 made it out to the whole world, despite attempts to stem the flow of information. You can no longer hide major events from the world public. However, China is apparently still trying to keep the full extent of the crisis hidden. Such actions can only undermine authority in the long run. The United States government has shown perhaps the biggest failure. Leaders had weeks to prepare for the virus and yet very little was done. First Contact would require an immediate coordinated response.
Political Polarization
COVID-19 has become a political battle in many nations and especially in the United States, where it falls during a presidential election year. The danger with political polarization is that politicians use the event to further their political interests, not worrying about what is best for the public. I think all Americans have been cringing when politicians in both major parties use the health crisis to further an agenda or protect their power. Self-interest is dangerous in this COVID-19 outbreak and it would also be dangerous in a Direct First Contact event. Everyone will need to call out political opportunism when they see it, and focus on facts.
Media Hype
There is a fair amount of media hype with COVID-19. And that isn’t a political statement. Media operations are doing what they usually do- seizing on the sexiest soundbite and catch phrase to get people to watch their channel or visit their website. Unfortunately, COVID-19 coverage calls for more sober judgment and Direct First Contact would as well. The media has begun to act more responsibly, but it has been slow coming.
International Challenges
COVID-19 has created major challenges for international relations. National interest is a priority for national leaders, which is quite understandable. Thus far, nations seem to be working through it without major conflict, but one could see a path where that changes. There are already people using COVID-19 to argue against globalization, and to attack other nations.
The same would be true of Direct First Contact. National leaders would need to carefully weigh national interest versus international interest. In the case of Direct First Contact it should be much easier. If aliens reach out to the international community as whole- the national interest of each country would be to align with the international interest. There would be nothing to be gained by going rogue in a Direct First Contact event. And worse, there could be plenty to be lost if the other nations chose to ostracize the rogue nation.
Listen to the Scientists
We have a complex society with many professional specialties. It is important to seek out opinions from specialists in any crisis situation. And leaders need to listen to those specialists. Politicians ignoring warnings from experts in this COVID-19 pandemic has costs lives and could continue to do so. In First Contact, the most important specialists would depend on the nature of that contact. If it is a signal from a far-off star system the astrophysicists, mathematicians, and linguists could be on the front line. In a Direct First Contact event, sociologists and experts in international relations could provide the most valuable insight. It would be important to consult the people who have been studying the possibility of First Contact as first responders. Then other academic areas will need to turn their expertise to the issue of First Contact. Eventually, new fields of study would develop, and that would require interdisciplinary study, which is not something our system of science does well.
Listen to Each Other
Perhaps the biggest take-away from COVID-19 is the human reaction. As ordinary humans struggle to adapt to the crisis, we see new patterns of reaction and thought. People in China, Italy, and the United States feel similar fears. They react to home quarantine in similar ways. We see people singing on balconies in Milan and then do the same a few weeks later in suburban American neighborhoods. We listen and learn from each other. In sharing our fears and our adaptations will become stronger. Direct First Contact would be such an event- a rare moment when all of humanity shares something together. We have learned with COVID-19 that such sharing provides great emotional strength.
I have had many blog posts recently using COVID-19 as a comparison to Direct First Contact. I do understand that COVID-19 is an international health disaster and that Direct First Contact may never occur. I don’t mean to diminish the extraordinary impact of this pandemic. However, it is a remarkable crisis event that is testing our modern systems of communication and governance in a way that nothing else has. In that way it can provide some insight into challenges we may face if Direct First Contact does occur someday. Let’s get through this pandemic with our human dignity and our civilization intact.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Extraterrestrial First Contact: That Which Does Not Kill Us


You have probably heard the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote "That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Quite often this is the case with humans. We learn from past mistakes and go on to do things more effectively. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is an example of this occurring in human society. The pandemic may better prepare us for worse disease outbreaks in the future. Health authorities in China will hopefully learn from their mistake of hiding the initial outbreak. In the United States, it is clear that the Strategic National Stockpile of medical emergency materials is woefully under prepared. Testing has also been a big issue in the United States. Now, can we guarantee that nations will learn from their mistakes? Of course not. Sometimes governments and institutions fail, even after learning from a crisis. We could become complacent about the Strategic National Stockpile in a year or two. Coronavirus vaccine research apparently dried up a few years ago because of a lack of interest and funding. But hopefully some lessons will be learned from this pandemic and responses improved for future events.

So, why do I write about this topic for a blog about extraterrestrial First Contact? If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization knows that we are here on Earth, “That which does not kill us…” may be the reason they haven’t contacted humans. Our human civilization advances in lurches and sometimes that includes going backwards before going forward. Progress is not a straight line. We learn from our mistakes and we work to make things better. The same is true of our scientific system. It is just as important to have scientific failures as it is to have advances. The failures lead to the advances. By learning what doesn’t work, we can get a clearer picture of what might work. It’s possible that an advanced alien civilization doesn’t want to interfere in this process here on Earth. They could very well be watching this unfold and tracking our progress.

There could be situations that would cause such aliens to change course and decide that it is time for them to make contact. Perhaps it could be a backwards slide that they worry we won’t recover from? It’s interesting to note the stresses that COVID-19 has put on our global interaction. Some people are questioning the wisdom of globalization efforts. It seems that COVID-19 may be a harmful, but not catastrophic event for humanity. But what if it was much worse? What would that do to the human civilization? What if tens of millions die in a future pandemic or if there is a nuclear war? One possibility is the so called “Dark Ages” for Europe. The Little Ice Age, thought to be caused by a massive volcano eruption, caused famine across the western hemisphere around 1300 AD. The Black Plague struck a few decades later and killed 20 million people in Europe. The result was a return to smaller, fractious governments in Europe and a decline in science and literature. It lasted for centuries.

If humans were facing a “Dark Ages” scenario again, would aliens intervene? That would, of course, depend on the intentions of the extraterrestrials. For all we know, they could be watching and hoping that our progress is stunted so that we don’t develop the technology to go out into the wider universe and bother them. If they did have good intentions towards us, they would want to carefully weigh each disaster to decide the impact. Under the “That which does not kill us…” philosophy they would be hesitant to get involved unless they had to. Humans often view aliens as potential saviors, rescuing us from our problems of climate change, dirty energy production, and other pollution. However, it seems unrealistic to expect aliens to have better ideas than us when it comes to human conditions. Take a look at COVID-19. It’s a human virus. We have many years of experience examining viruses here on Earth. Why should we expect aliens to have more knowledge about something so specific to Earth? I’m not ruling out the idea that extraterrestrial insight might assist with human progress. But it seems likely that information would be much more general in nature, if they decided to share at all. Perhaps it could be insight into better data mining techniques? It could be a key idea in physics that could change our way of thought.

If high-information, Direct First Contact does occur someday, we should be prepared to be disappointed in what aliens offer us in terms of scientific and social help. I think, though, we would get over such a disappointment. The realization that we are not alone in the universe may be enough to spark a social renaissance in human society. Just that change in perspective could be the best gift of all.