Looking back at colonization history, even when contacts were intended to be benign, the outcomes have often been devastating, leading to violence, disease, enslavement, and genocide.
Have you ever wondered what will our first contact with aliens be like? The year 2023 has been a whirlwind of mystery and speculation. President Joe Biden sanctioned the takedown of unidentified aerial phenomena—commonly referred to as UFOs—and the subsequent leaking of military footage stirring a global storm. This flurry of events has placed us on the brink of an incredible transformation, compelling us to ponder: when will the enigma of extraterrestrial life finally unravel, and how is humanity poised to react?
What Will Our First Contact With Aliens Be Like?
The potential discovery of otherworldly lifeforms promises to trigger an epochal shift in our worldview, questioning the long-held belief of our unique existence in the cosmos. This massive shift hinges on the revelation that we may not be alone in this universe.
Drawing from transdisciplinary research spanning across continents such as Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and the Americas, a scientific group has evaluated the historical outcomes of culture contacts worldwide. Their conclusion: first contact with alien life shouldn’t be seen as a singular event but rather as a potentially already starting process.
Who Holds the Reins?
The question naturally arises – who has the authority to prepare for alien contact? The primary responders are likely to be military, scientific, and corporate communities. For instance, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 allows corporations to profit from space exploration and resource extraction, suggesting that businesses could be the first to encounter signs of extraterrestrial civilizations.
Role of SETI and Need for Diverse Perspectives
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) leads most initiatives surrounding alien communication and evidence collection. This body of scientists explores technosignatures and potential indicators of advanced technology. Regrettably, contributions from social science and humanities fields are often overlooked. In 2018, however, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center took a significant step by inviting interdisciplinary perspectives to address these concerns.
Ethical Guidelines for First Contact
While SETI maintains a commitment to transparency, its lack of a clear ethical framework raises concerns about handling potential first-contact scenarios. Based on SETI’s Post-Detection Hub’s work, diverse scenarios are being considered, from deciphering alien signals to managing potential biological contamination. However, whether military leaders or government authorities will heed these preparations is another question altogether.
Listening: A Phase of Contact or a Form of Surveillance?
SETI affiliates often assert that the mere act of listening for technosignatures cannot be harmful, but our historical examination of colonial contacts suggests otherwise. In colonial history, such as when European explorers came to the Americas, preconceived notions of superiority led to decades of Indigenous exploitation and servitude. Similarly, the act of indiscriminate listening could be seen as an intrusion, potentially setting the stage for unequal relations in case of contact.
Remembering History’s Lessons
Looking back at colonization history, even when contacts were intended to be benign, the outcomes have often been devastating, leading to violence, disease, enslavement, and genocide. An apt example would be the exploration by James Cook under the Royal Society’s orders, which despite an explicit mandate against colonial engagements, led to widespread colonization and violence in Oceania.
A Call for Precaution
By comparing Cook’s voyage and SETI’s activities, scientists aim to underscore the importance of clear ethical guidelines and the need for SETI to dissociate its goals from those of profit-driven corporations, the military, and governments.
Despite the temporal and spatial differences, SETI’s endeavors and Cook’s voyage share core qualities: they claim to serve all humanity through celestial science. Yet, their impacts could be vastly different. The discovery of an extraterrestrial message or recovered alien technology could trigger a series of repercussions, from military escalations to corporate exploitation and even geopolitical upheaval. Given Earth’s colonial history, it’s essential to take a cautious approach towards extraterrestrial engagement, learning from the lessons of our past.
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