Friday, August 26, 2011

Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis (By academics, NASA)

While humanity has not yet observed any extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), contact with ETI remains possible. Contact could occur through a broad range of scenarios that have varying consequences for humanity. However, many discussions of this question assume that contact will follow a particular scenario that derives from the hopes and fears of the author. In this paper, we analyze a broad range of contact scenarios in terms of whether contact with ETI would benefit or harm humanity. This type of broad analysis can help us prepare for actual contact with ETI even if the details of contact do not fully resemble any specific scenario.

Humanity has not yet encountered or even detected any form of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), but our efforts to search for ETI (SETI) and to send messages to ETI (METI) remain in early stages. At this time we cannot rule out the possibility that one or more ETI exist in the Milky Way, nor can we dismiss the possibility that we may detect, communicate, or in other ways have contact with them in the future.1 Contact with ETI would be one of the most important events in the history of humanity, so the possibility of contact merits our ongoing attention, even if we believe the probability of contact to be low.

A central concern regarding possible contact with ETI is whether the contact would be beneficial, neutral, or harmful to humanity. This concern will help us decide, among other things, whether or not we should intentionally message ETI and what we should say if we do. The short answer is that we do not know how contact would proceed because we have no knowledge of ETI in the galaxy. Indeed, we cannot know for sure until after contact with ETI actually occurs. Nevertheless, we do have some information that can help us at least make educated guesses about the nature of contact with ETI. Developing and analyzing this information may help prepare us for contact and increase the probability of an outcome that we consider favorable. more