≡ Menu

METI: A Longer-Term Perspective

While the debate over sending messages to nearby stars continues, it’s interesting to probe the issue quantitatively, as Jim Benford did on Friday, asking whether recent attempts at METI could be heard at destination. The subject prompts Keith Cooper, now editor at Astrobiology Magazine, to examine ways of reaching consensus on a matter that raises strong opinions whenever it is raised. If these messages are unlikely to be heard, is there a technological window here that we can use to find consensus through continuing research? Keith is well-known to Centauri Dreams readers, having engaged with me in a series of dialogues over the years on various interstellar topics. Look for a new dialogue early in 2018.

By Keith Cooper

On Friday, Jim Benford’s brilliant essay showed how the latest METI signal will not even be heard at its target destination, the planet GJ 273b, which is only 12.4 light years away. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, messages that can’t be detected at their target are a waste of resources. In light of this, METI activists may want to rethink their strategy.

(As an aside, this highlights why civilisations might be hesitant about transmitting without knowing that there is going to be someone listening; the resources, both in terms of energy and time, that are required to do the job properly are huge and you can imagine that frugal civilisations might not bother, or only do so sporadically.)

Image: Keith Cooper (left) with Jim Benford at a recent meeting in London.

There’s a window of opportunity here for both sides of the argument to come together while METI is effectively curtailed by a lack of access to sufficiently powerful transmitters (which, besides Arecibo and military radar, are thin on the ground). I’m not thinking of spending this time endlessly debating the issues. The SETI Institute’s Seth Shostak has suggested that the conclusion of any symposia called to discuss the risks of METI will always be a foregone one against transmitting (which may explain why METI activists are so keen to avoid discussion), because since we have no understanding of how ET will behave, there will always be a risk.

I think he’s probably right, but then I have to ask myself, is that the kind of civilisation that I want us to be, forever shackled by fear? I look at some of the names involved in METI International and I am honestly surprised. So many of those listed on their website are smart people whom I admire greatly, people such as Jerome Berkow, Steven Dick, Alan Penny, Paul Davies, George Dvorsky, Chris Impey, James Kasting, Lori Marino and on and on. If so many smart people whose opinion I respect are in favour of deliberately seeking contact, who am I, a mere journalist, to disagree?

You know something? I don’t disagree. Neither, I’m willing to bet, do Jim Benford, David Brin or any of the other vocal critics of METI. We don’t want to hide from contact – ultimately that’s the whole point of doing SETI. The difference comes in that we don’t think sending out signals left, right and centre, with no thought put into who we are trying to contact and what we’re trying to say, is the responsible way to announce ourselves on the galactic stage.

Scouting the Galaxy

I think there’s an alternative way. I will warn you now, it will require patience, but if we are to get to the end of this century in at least as good a shape as when we entered it, then we will need to be patient and implement long-term plans to combat climate change, over-population, poverty and so on. Why should our attempts to make contact, given the vast distances and timescales involved, be an exception?

Our current situation is that we don’t know what is out there. So before transmitting, let’s perform some reconnaissance. The advent of the Breakthrough Starshot project, which intends to fire laser beams to accelerate thousands of tiny ‘StarChip’ nano-probes to a fifth of the speed of light towards Alpha Centauri, makes such reconnaissance eminently more probable. If all goes well, the first StarChips could be launched by the middle of this century. In just over 20 years they would reach their destination, but why stop at sending these probes to Alpha Centauri? Travelling at 0.2c, they could reach GJ 273b within 62 years. The probes could survey the system for signs of life or even technology (perhaps in the form of city lights, atmospheric pollution or artificial structures), and report back.

In the intervening years our largest telescopes will be able to perform their own kind of reconnaissance from a distance. The James Webb Space Telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope will all be able to perform spectroscopic analysis of the atmospheres of the nearest potentially habitable worlds, searching for biosignatures including gases that are in chemical disequilibrium with their environment, such as oxygen, methane and others. The latter two ground-based telescopes might even be able to directly image these planets. The Square Kilometre Array and the FAST telescope in China will listen intently for SETI signals. We will learn more about our own Solar System, about how the conditions to support life came about on Earth, and whether life exists elsewhere in our Solar System, be it on Mars, Europa or Enceladus. We will come to a much better understanding of life in the Universe and the odds on finding such life elsewhere.

The point is, over the next century we will be in a far better position to say whether there is life out there in any nearby planetary systems. In fact, I’ll go one step further and make a bet that, if life exists on a planet anywhere within 50 light years of here, we will have found it by 2100. Our probes will be sent to investigate surreptitiously, likely too small to be detected by any civilisation out there. Once we’ve learned of them, and about them, we will be in a far better position to deliberately open a channel of communication with them, with first contact performed by trained diplomats and scientists. This would be in stark contrast to secretly sending out a message and not making that information public for a month. A group that claims to speak for Earth but which does so in secret isn’t speaking for anybody but themselves.

Patience in good measure

As I write this, I’m reminded of Milan Ćirković’s hypothesis of energy-optimised ‘city states’ in his ‘Against the Empire’ paper, wherein civilisations recognise the huge expense of transmitting signals or launching crewed interstellar spaceflight, and instead send out scouts in the form of robotic probes to explore the Galaxy and seek out life. Indeed, interstellar probes have long been part of the fabric of SETI, going back to Ronald Bracewell in the 1960s and the novels of Fred Saberhagen (although his berserkers aren’t quite what I have in mind!).

If, after launching our probes and scrutinising nearby planets with our telescopes, we find intelligent life, and we get an idea of what they’re about, then we can consider opening hailing frequencies with them. This approach lacks the immediate satisfaction of sending messages now, and quite possibly none of us will be alive when we find such life, but in the long-term – and make no mistake, contact with another civilisation will have repercussions, good or bad, that run into the long term – it seems the most sensible way to go about making contact.

It does require patience and perseverance to see the plan through to its end, but METI activists often deny that they are being impatient when they rush to beam their messages out into space. Seeing as their messages are not currently powerful enough to be heard by anyone anyway, this is their chance to prove that they are not acting out of impatience by joining a century-long plan to make contact by initially performing the required reconnaissance of our neighbourhood, taking the time to learn a little more about what’s out there. While we are performing our reconnaissance, we will be able to take the time to really figure out how we want to communicate in a responsible fashion and prepare society for the potential of contact.

The SETI 2020 report called for cultural maturity before we make any big decisions about contact. By finding the patience to maintain a century-long project of exploration of nearby planetary systems, maybe we can reach the required level of maturity.

So I’m throwing down the gauntlet. To those whose aim is to find life in the Universe, I say, come together and develop a long-term plan towards achieving this aim. To the METI activists, I say, hold off on your wasteful transmissions and join us. It may take a while; we may not be alive to see its completion, but once our project has found intelligent life, once we’ve performed surveillance to understand that life better and the associated risks of contact, then let’s transmit together, as a united world. The risks will be far less and the potential benefits or working together far, far greater.

tzf_img_post

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Harold Shaw December 11, 2017, 13:24

    Here, Here!

    If contact and diplomatic relations with ETIs were a game, then all of humanity is Player 1. METI enthusiasts need to demonstrate that they aren’t vain glorious alien enthusiasts and secret transmissions and threats that they won’t be stopped make it clear many of them are. IF you are a METI enthusiast, please ask yourself if your timeline for transmissions emerges from a genuine desire to see humanity benefit or from your mortality.

  • John walker December 11, 2017, 15:30

    “… I have to ask myself, is that the kind of civilisation that I want us to be, forever shackled by fear?”
    With respect, I regard appealing to a trivial reflex to want to appear courageous in the face of literally an incalculable risk to our species as foolish. It seems likely that we will not be encountering beings even remotely close to our level of understanding. I really think that facile visions from popular science fiction have stunted many people’s image of what advanced eti could and likely would be. There are a great number reasons to believe that they would dwarf us in every aspect. Even if we reduce our speculation to the simplest level of probability, assuming an eti had experienced the same civilatoric developmental rates as our planet, they would almost certainly be millions of years in front of us. This is conceptually a meaningless number of course, since we have little basis beyond Drake-like formulae to predict the life expectancy of any eti civilisation. And also millions of years would obviously not be necessary to create a mind blowing differential in knowledge and power. We are not “shackled by fear”, we are our own masters.

    • John walker December 11, 2017, 15:58

      That said, I can imagine an age where our mastery of nature and our own psyche reaches a threshold beyond which our exposure to the knowledge from others far in advance of us would pose less of an existential threat. When that might be, measured by certain milestones perhaps, one can at least vaguely debate now.

      Just a side note, regarding the potential danger posed to a species as unbalanced and primitive as our own, some seem fixated on direct physical threats. A remote influx of advanced knowledge could wipe us out just as effectively. Not necessarily even intentionally.
      None of this is “pessimism”. There is a concept known as prudence that is an essential element in any risk assessment.

      • Keith Cooper December 12, 2017, 7:52

        I probably should clarify that I’m certainly not looking to base decisions on trivial reflexes (and I’d like to think my imagination isn’t that stunted when it comes to ETI!). That line was really reflecting what Seth Shostak has said about the inevitable decision of any symposia would be to say no to transmitting, ever. I don’t want us to never ever try and make contact in the future, but I would like us to do some reconnaissance, try and find out who is out there and decide whether we should contact them before doing so. We might decide, having learned a bit about them from a distance, that it’s not in our best interests to contact them. Maybe they will be so advanced or so alien that we won’t even know how to contact them. I don’t know, the point I make is that we should find out first and to do that I think we need a long term plan and to work together to accomplish that plan, rather than bickering over signals that will probably never be heard at their destination anyway.

        Of course, this could all become a bit moot if someone makes the effort of contacting us first.

  • Robin Datta December 11, 2017, 15:43

    The hierarchical structures in human society that control scientific and technological innovation are focused on the near term.

    Scientists look to grants to keep them going: if the results should take longer than the lifetimes of the “grantors and the grantees”: results need to be available in time for forthcoming grant applications. Likewise the politicians who control the purse-strings are oriented towards election cycles: it must produce results in time for a forthcoming electoral campaign.

  • Gary Wilson December 11, 2017, 17:14

    It’s a tremendous idea. I’m not sure we are a species with enough patience to carry it out. It may remain moot if nobody in METI can access a transmitter powerful enough to reach nearby stars with a coherent message. I can’t say I trust some of the people in power around the world but many of them are more interested in self aggrandizement. If we ever organize ourselves sufficiently as a world population this subject should surely be part of the agenda.

  • Geoffrey Hillend December 11, 2017, 17:26

    There is still the possibility that there are not any nearby planets with biosignature gases in their atmospheres. Life might not exist on a planet within 50 light years of us, but we should continue to look for it 100 light years might be more probable as there are at least 512 G class stars with 100 light years of our solar system.

    • Keith Cooper December 12, 2017, 7:45

      Absolutely! I was being conservative when I said 50 light years, based on current and planned observing facilities. I’d like to think that by the end of the decade we will have a few 100m telescopes, maybe even telescopes on the Moon or a telescope at the gravitational lens focal point of the Sun, 550AU away. Such facilities would greatly extend our range.

  • Alex Tolley December 11, 2017, 18:04

    While the recent transmissions supposedly could not be heard, this was predicated on a number of conditions, primarilly that the receiver was not pointed at Earth for a long time.

    If is is, then Dr. Messerschmidt has indicated that a 10mW transmission from a 10cm dish transmitter could be received by a 600m radio telescope at a 4.25ly distance from Proxima. This was to receive transmissions from the StarShot probe, albeit at a very low bitrate.

    Why would ETI be looking at us? Gravity lensing should show an exoplanet image. Night time illumination is quite evident and a clear sign of a technological civilization. So ETI observing the sky for a million years is likely to have located Earth as life bearing a long time ago, and more recently home to a technological species using artificial light. At this point, it would be worth having a scope left pointing at Earth listening for transmissions.

    So I don’t buy the artificial constraint that we have not already been detected.

    Certainly we need to point our transmitters at ETI’s receivers, which may be unlikely. But if low wattage transmitters can be received, then many such transmitters randomly pointed at the galactic disk may well point in teh right direction, hugely increasing the probably of receipt.

    So given that we can be received, should we? The precautionary principle is raised, but I doubt it can ever be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. There will always be those that will say, “we cannot be sure, so wait and study further”. We have a great example of that in the US where a political party is using that tactic to delay responding to AGW.

    More likely there will be no global consensus. As I lightheartedly commented in the previous post, religions have been communicating with am invisible entity for millennia, with different languages, messages and requests. The historic response has been to quieten the other religious communications by bloody wars.

    There is ironin that “Mr. Transparency” Dr. Brin is now taking the tack to shut down METI for some indefinite period. Why not assume that METI attempts will happen, and prepare for an eventuality that just maybe an attempt might even be successful. We should face our fears, educate ourselves to avoid cultural issues of contact, and prepare for possible scenarios. It seems an incentive to become not just a mult-planet species, but an interstellar one too.

    • DCM December 12, 2017, 4:11

      “Facing our fears” is an internal psychological activity that needn’t have anything to do with the actual world.
      Caution about what we have to admit we don’t know is a different matter.
      The last century’s psychologization of everything isn’t much benefit to anyone except dictators.

    • Keith Cooper December 12, 2017, 7:41

      Hi Alex,

      Leaving what David Brin wants to do aside for now, I think your last paragraph isn’t that far removed from the points I make in my article. If anyone is out there then contact will happen eventually, so as you say we can spend the time preparing for it, but I think that preparation also involves learning more about what is out there before trying to contact it.

      Look at it this way; is there a reason to do METI now, rather than in 100 years’ time after a period of reconnaissance?

      I’ve addressed the matter of our visibility in my comment below.

    • David Messerschmitt December 12, 2017, 15:07

      Alex Tolley’s comparison to the StarShot downlink is an opportunity to bring about some useful distinctions between communication with a probe of our own design and making and communication with a civilization unknown to use (or us to them).

      * StarShot is “only” 4.24 ly away
      * My talk assumed a 1 micron wavelength — near infrared. If you are moving to 930 MHz, the frequency of the recent METI experiment, the receive dish would have to increase in diameter by 600x, or have a diameter of 341 km. Today the largest radio telescope on Earth is FAST at 500m.
      * My assumption was 0.5 bits per sec. At that rate, communication of significant information would require years or decades, not the short-term transmission of the recent METI experiment.
      * It is useful to remind ourselves that rate of information transfer matters. Generally if the information rate is reduced by a factor of 4, then we should be able to communicate twice as far with the same transmit power. However, this requires a transmit signal specifically designed with that purpose in mind using sophisticated design techniques. None of the leakage types we have discussed nor the recent METI experiment have followed that approach.
      * When we communicate with our own probe, the transmit and receive are designed as a unit. The figure you cite is a fundamental limit, which requires very sophisticated and processing-intensive algorithms to approach, algorithms that are coordinated in transmit and receive. (They are the result of over 50 years of R&D effort with inputs from hundreds of mathematicians.) These techniques unfortunately cannot be utilized in SETI or METI because there is no possibility of coordination with the other end. Hence the information rates that can be achieved at a given tx/rec power will necessarily be much lower in SETI/METI applications.

      • Alex Tolley December 13, 2017, 15:44

        Thank you for your reply. I agree that the StarShot communication requires long transmission times and excruciatingly low bit rates and that this is very different from current METI signaling. However, the point is that tiny power broadcasts can theoretically be picked up even from several light years away. More powerful broadcasts could be received even further, or have higher bit rates. I don’t think it matters whether ETI can decipher the message, but simply receiving bits that look complex, rather than regular or random would be informative. Much as we cannot interpret animal sounds, we can detect that they are animal sounds and locate the sources. A METI broadcaster could therefore set up a broadcast on the approach you suggested for StarShot and transmitted US legal signal strength messages for many years, aiming at different stars.
        As we have discussed on this blog before, the Catholic church was prepared to spend many decades building a cathedral, so a similarly motivated institution could well be motivated to broadcast a message, even if that message was only interpretable as “intelligent, technological civilization is here”.

        There should assume METI will evolve, using communication experts like yourself to craft signaling techniques. An evangelical religious organization certainly has the money and patience to send long, low bit rate messages to target stars. The length is even a feature as it will allow lots of time to ask for more donations to send “God’s message to ETI”.

  • DJ Kaplan December 11, 2017, 19:56

    We make shadow plays to scare ourselves at night, then we imagine that this is science, then we make policy with it.

    • DCM December 13, 2017, 17:19

      It has helped us achieve what we have so far.

  • Wojciech J December 11, 2017, 20:20

    “The point is, over the next century we will be in a far better position to say whether there is life out there in any nearby planetary systems”
    There is a certain contradiction in the article based on the above sentence.
    The same telescopes that will allow detection of life, will also be able to detect advanced civilization.
    A civilization more advanced than us would already be aware of our existence if it exists in the same time.
    Hence the METI debate is rather pointless, as signals such as city lights, atmosphere, possibly agriculture would pin point our existence to potential technological civilizations.

    • John walker December 12, 2017, 7:21

      It is a signal of intent. Undirected emissions are not. That’s a big difference for an observer.

  • James Stilwell December 11, 2017, 21:52

    Within the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive is a crucial regulation that is binding on Starfleet personnel. … The Prime Directive (officially Starfleet Order 1) is a prohibition on interference with other cultures and civilizations which representatives of Starfleet encounter in their exploration of the universe.Aug 20, 2015…

    The posts here all seem to be in agreement with the above rule…
    Look…but don’t touch, in a manner of speaking…other civilizations…
    But some will violate the rule…
    We are a fragmented world of numerous societies…
    A united earth is centuries away…
    But this organization is united…
    Scouting the human future among the stars…

    • Mark Zambelli December 21, 2017, 12:54

      To be fair James, “Within the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive is a crucial regulation that is binding on Starfleet personnel”… until it isn’t! (The ignoring of the prime-directive gives much better stories after all and it isn’t worth the iso-linear chip it’s encoded on!)

      Even with Dr Brin’s moratorium or even Keith’s level-headed compromise there will always be the ‘thumb-your-nose-at-regulations rebel-starfleet-capt’ METIist that tries anyway. The low-power thing ‘might’ also be relatively easy to circumvent (how easily could a bona-fide researcher use their allotted time on a large facility to do something nefarious instead? The more people and equipment needed for a night’/day’s run, the harder this would be I imagine, even if career ending…”What do you mean you didn’t shine Arecibo on that Near Earth Asteroid as planned but sent the contents of your Ipod WHERE?!!!).

  • ericSECT December 12, 2017, 7:20

    I’m honestly taken aback by the names on the pro-METI list (Jerome Berkow, Steven Dick, Alan Penny, Paul Davies, George Dvorsky, Chris Impey, James Kasting, Lori Marino and Seth Shostak) as have heard of and read their works, and admire them all.

    Scratching my head as James Benfords’ argument against is powerful.

    Could be evidence of the mortality crisis, per Harold.

    • David Messerschmitt December 12, 2017, 15:25

      I joined the advisory board of METI International, but I don think that makes me necessarily “pro METI”. I joined for a couple of reasons:

      * I would like to inject an element of reality into the discussions from the point of view of communications. What resources (antenna size, transmit power, longevity) are necessary to be successful. I don’t think there is a lot of appreciation of that.

      * I actually see METI as an important adjunct to SETI. It is only through design of transmission facilities that we can understand what challenges ET has in transmitting to us. This will raise our chances of being successful at SETI. This doesn’t require the type of experiment we saw — it is better done through conceptual, theoretical, simulation experiments.

      At the same time, I appreciate the arguments against forging ahead with actual METI transmissions until there has been some consensus and buy-in. So I am all in favor of study, but a moratorium on experiments.

      Responding to your “scratching my head” comment, this is not surprising to me because none of the people you mention are expert in communications. Personally I see that as a problem, because I see both SETI and METI as communications design challenges. (Certainly there are astronomy, social sciences, etc contributions that are needed also, big time.) Those who have not participated in the “communications revolution” of the past 70+ years don’t appreciate what a broad and deep field it is, and don’t appreciate the fact that it is far more than “applied physics”. I think it is therefore attendant on communications people to join in with constructive contributions, which is what I have attempted to do.

  • Keith Cooper December 12, 2017, 7:28

    @ Alex Tolley and Wojciech J

    Please don’t conflate ETI knowing that we exist with our attempts to contact them. Suppose they do know we’re here; as far as we can tell, they’ve not gone to any great lengths to say hello. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they’re waiting for us to say hello first. I don’t know, nobody does and that’s the point. That’s why I suggest learning as much as we can about what’s out there before trying to prod it with a stick. Once you make contact then there’s no going back on that and to me that is the pressing concern about METI, not that we’re already visible but that by provoking contact we put ourselves into a situation we’ve not prepared ourselves for. So let’s show some patience, do the reconnaissance, learn about who may be out there and while we’re doing that we can prepare ourselves, have all the symposia we want and figure out the best way of saying hello to a civilisation that might be a million years more advanced than us.

    • Alex Tolley December 12, 2017, 13:00

      I would like us to do some reconnaissance, try and find out who is out there and decide whether we should contact them before doing so. We might decide, having learned a bit about them from a distance, that it’s not in our best interests to contact them. Maybe they will be so advanced or so alien that we won’t even know how to contact them.

      If technologically advanced ETI is out there, what sort of “reconnaissance” can we do that will not alert them? We can build better telescopes and observe them from our system, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know that we are doing that. If they are so advanced, why not assume that they have God-like powers and know what we are doing already? If ETI is confined to its home system, maybe they are not so advanced after all, and therefore we have nothing to be concerned about.

      Please don’t conflate ETI knowing that we exist with our attempts to contact them. Suppose they do know we’re here; as far as we can tell, they’ve not gone to any great lengths to say hello. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they’re waiting for us to say hello first.

      When have human cultures ever waited for a request for contact from technologically less-sophisticated cultures? On the contrary, we have always invoked contact from the more powerful culture. Even our anthropologists work that way. When did a New Guinean tribesman come to a capital city and study one of our many economically powerful cultures?

      OK, so we cannot assume ETI will behave like humans. Maybe they have a strict “Prime Directive” that they can enforce on all their members. So we Terrans poke a nose carefully into their tent and expect to take a “look see” and quietly back away? Is that in any way realistic? We send a StarShot probe to a potentially inhabited world and hope ETI doesn’t see it and respond? Maybe we should put the StarShot project on hold too, not just weak METI transmissions.

      Once you make contact then there’s no going back on that and to me, that is the pressing concern about METI, not that we’re already visible but that by provoking contact we put ourselves into a situation we’ve not prepared ourselves for.

      Again, what are we concerned about? We don’t expect some invasion to steal something we have or subjugate us. If that were the intent, then I doubt there is any Prime Directive being enforced. Is it cultural contamination? Yes, the results have not always been good on Earth, but they haven’t always been bad either. The US claims to be able to handle all cultures that come to settle on its shores. Why should that suddenly not work for an alien species? We might have a lot more to gain than lose.

      Any argument that suggests Terrans might come off badly by an encounter with ETI that has a Prime Directive of some sort in force, implies that ETI doesn’t understand that and will cause us accidental damage via contact. Far more likely in this circumstance that they will ignore even the most provocative messages we send.

      Conversely, if ETI is just waiting to prey upon us, because we stupidly announce ourselves, assumes that they are unable to detect us already. Far more likely they know of our presence, even if in the worst case the speed of light is limiting how current their knowledge is. Once the information arrives that we have nukes and spaceflight, they will come to Earth and prey on us whether we signal them or not.

      All the arguments put forward to refrain from METI require that ETI is not local, and is technologically not that far advanced over our capabilities. I find those assumptions very unlikely, for reasons already explained.

      What positive things might even random, commercial METI now achieve?

      1. Sending out weak messages like FB posts will find the development of novel, improved techniques to make more profit.
      2. Serious METI will be stimulated to create quality messages and the most powerful transmitters. Just as oligarch Milner is funding Breakthrough projects, so might a METI billionaire fund more serious METI. (Are there any potential S. R. Hadden’s out there?)
      3. Serious R&D (with funding) might prepare the human race for dealing with ETI if/when contact occurs. We might even get better “First Contact” movies, novels, etc.
      4. “First Contact” could unite the human race as nothing else could. Either through the classic “common enemy” psychology or through understanding that humans are more alike than we can possibly be with ETI. That might just stimulate us to act in concert to clean up our own acts.
      5. Unlike the appeal to, and faith in, God near the end of the The War of the Worlds (1953) movie, the human race may finally start shucking off belief in Gods, organized religion with all their impact on our cultures, and start to deal with the universe more rationally.

      • Keith Cooper December 12, 2017, 15:26

        Hi Alex,

        “If technologically advanced ETI is out there, what sort of “reconnaissance” can we do that will not alert them?”

        Again, you’re talking about ‘alerting’ them, which isn’t what I’m talking about. I completely agree that if they’re close enough they probably would know we’re here. So let’s move past this particular argument.

        “Yes, the results have not always been good on Earth, but they haven’t always been bad either.”

        You’re quite right and historians and anthropologists who I have spoken to have emphasised that there is good and bad to come out of contact events. But when things have gone well, how much of that has been by design and how much of it is by accident? At least with human-to-human first contact, there are basic commonalities – we all experience the same emotions, have similar social structures, we look the same etc – so there’s obvious common ground to build relationships between societies on. With contact with ETI, there’s potentially none of that commonality and we’d be dealing with something no human has experience with. That alone suggests caution should be taken.

        “Again, what are we concerned about?”

        I’d say cultural *disruption* might be a bigger problem than cultural contamination, but we could both come up with a million ideas about how contact could go badly, and we could both come up with a million ideas about how it could go well. All I’m saying is, let’s leave as little as possible to chance.

        “Far more likely in this circumstance that they will ignore even the most provocative messages we send.”

        I think that’s an assumption that isn’t based on anything. I find a lot of SETI and METI is based on unfounded assumptions, which I think damages these subjects as scientific fields.

        Regarding your list of positives, I suspect the critics of METI wouldn’t consider the first two to be positive developments. The last three I agree with, but I think they can equally come from just doing SETI and finding a signal. Actually, I’d hope that they could equally be developed by having a long term plan to seek out life, if it exists. I mean, just think how much science is already based around understanding life. We want to understand the Big Bang and how it created a Universe that can support life. We want to find other planets like Earth. We try and figure out how stars work to produce the elements that make us. We just need to pull it all together and realise that seeking out and understanding life is a big part of the reason that we do science and explore the Universe.

        • Alex Tolley December 13, 2017, 16:07

          Again, you’re talking about ‘alerting’ them, which isn’t what I’m talking about. I completely agree that if they’re close enough they probably would know we’re here. So let’s move past this particular argument.

          You seem to be agreeing that David Brin’s (amongst others) concern is likely baseless. If so, I will happily move on.

          But when things have gone well, how much of that has been by design and how much of it is by accident? At least with human-to-human first contact, there are basic commonalities – we all experience the same emotions, have similar social structures, we look the same etc – so there’s obvious common ground to build relationships between societies on. With contact with ETI, there’s potentially none of that commonality and we’d be dealing with something no human has experience with. That alone suggests caution should be taken.

          That is a good point. However, as depicted in many fictional Contact stories, aliens will understand this, and having studied us, use human avatars to make this easier. Alternatively, both sides might use machine intelligence. Was it William Gibson or Greg Bear that posited that case at the end of one of their novels?

          AT: Far more likely in this circumstance that they will ignore even the most provocative messages we send.”

          KC: I think that’s an assumption that isn’t based on anything.

          It is based on the Prime Directive argument. However, I agree that the PD argument is likely specious and really just an answer to the Fermi Question. I just want to do some jiu jitsu on the PD argument, suggesting that it works in our favor.

          Regarding your list of positives (…) The last three I agree with, but I think they can equally come from just doing SETI and finding a signal.

          I agree with that. However, despite the comments to a Congressional Committee that we will find evidence of ETI within 20 years (or was that to include any extraterrestrial life?), I suspect that SETI will likely fail to find anything. What will more likely work is finding strong evidence of life on an exoplanet, life that shows no evidence of civilization and that therefore can be safely sent a probe to investigate. METI, however clever the technology and message encoding, will make no difference.

          The Fermi Question is still open and valid. The implications for SETI and METI should perhaps be taken more seriously. METI may well be no more useful than pray, but just as useful to its proponents.

  • Gary Wilson December 12, 2017, 10:49

    My vote for what it counts is with Dr. Cooper. Why not look around before making decisions based on complete ignorance? Certainly most or all of us won’t be around when contact is made (possibly this is what some or all of the METI people are actually in part at least worried about) but if we at least try to establish what or who is out there we will certainly be in a far better position to make an informed decision.

  • ole burde December 12, 2017, 12:44

    The Chinese SF writer Cixin Liu has investigated the implications of METI in his book ”The Three-Body problem ” . He makes a VERY convincing case for ”not shouting in a surprisingly quit Forest ” ….and its also just a great story …chinese SF has arrived on the scene in a big way !

    • Harold Shaw December 12, 2017, 16:28

      I think Cixin Liu’s premise is weak. As a civilization expands it will experience diversification. If every system can be considered a unique civilization, then Liu predicts an environment where civilizations are casually destroying other civilizations to make room for….other civilizations.
      Destroying a civilization can’t be easy. Liu describes some amazingly destructive weapons and I am sure Super civs could employ devastating weapons, but using them would come with risks. The weapons could be captured and used against the attacker. As well, Liu’s premise that the risk of technological leaps increase the urgency of the attacker must also make it harder to destroy the other civilization and decide.

      I think the threat of casual destruction is overblown, that as a civilization expands it will have to develop the tools needed to coexist with other civilizations because it will be making other civilizations. That doesn’t mean galactic diplomacy doesn’t include the risk of mutually assured destruction/catastrophe. I imagine it does and that is still a complex and dangerous environment for a naive and overly confident civilization.

      • ole burde December 13, 2017, 13:09

        Your refutation of Cixin Liu ‘s premise builds on another somewhat week premise , which is that a super Civ vil automaticly experience gamechanging diversification all the time ….if only ONE among many Super civs finds af way to neutralize such diversification , even for a short period like 40.000 years , then Liu could stil be a voice worth listening to

        • Harold Shaw December 14, 2017, 19:38

          I wasn’t really trying to refute Liu just make the case that his main hypothesis, that destroying any other race is the default rational approach isn’t as solid as people make out. As I stated above, I do not discount the danger posed by other civilizations.

      • hiro December 13, 2017, 17:02

        Sneaking super quasi-Zika virus (genetic modified with enough time delay similar to Darwin radio with steroid) into this planet, this species will be degenerated after one century. Relativistic rockets are only for violent hotheads, the advanced ones are usually calm and cruel.

  • Harold Shaw December 12, 2017, 16:12

    Whenever METI advocates start talking about controlling our fear and being brave, I can’t help but think of old men sending children to war. I have not encountered a defense of METI that does not sound as though it is intended to increase the chance that contact happens within the lifetime of the individual.

    I think we need to move the discussion away from the risk of annihilation of humanity. Pro METI uses this as a reliable strawman, as though that is the only risk. Imo, it exists as the extreme limit of risk, just not the only risk. If Super-civs exist then we should indeed assume they can already observe us and the question becomes how do we move them from observing to communicating. If part of that goal is expediency, we need to avoid tactics that could alienate them. Careless METI stands a high chance of providing a message or messaging strategy that will alienate them. I often hear people say it is impossible to predict the personality of a Super-civ. Phooey, I say! A Super-civ will have the personality traits required to survive, such as a well practiced sense of self preservation and an impeccable understanding of risk management. The personality traits that we can most reliably predict also predicts them being turned off by some carelessly transmitted prime numbers and music. They will also be comfortable living in deep time and will likely not be attracted to mayfly communication strategies.

    Intentional messaging is objectively different than unintentional signaling. We all react very differently to a church as we drive by it and evangelicals knocking at our door. Intentional messaging will always carry the message that we are willing to influence. How we message also risks projecting weakness, that we are technologically primitive and that we just WANT STUFF! If the goal is timely interaction with a Super civ then careless messaging is plain dumb.

    Imo, the most productive tactics would be things like flashing all our city lights and transmissions or build a giant tic tac toe game on the moon.

  • john walker December 12, 2017, 19:34

    Many errors and misjudgements pop up like perennials in the debate above and on the wider scale from both sides. I hear them very often even from academics who should know better. The discussion is in my opinion an illustration of anthropocentric thinking gone wild. Narrow terran social data sets unwittingly regarded as broad being used to project a range of equally narrow paradigms for the wider cosmos. Added to that time scales that are either far too long or far too short.

    Consider the consequences of c actually be the limiting speed of communication. What would the max distance of an eti who were “observing us already” for example actually be in order to draw a “precise” conclusion on our state of development. 50 lightyears? Sure hundreds of MKG class systems. But potential native eti developmental histories amongst them will likely offer no temporal parallels to within a couple million years of our own. 2 millions years would be a very close match. The stellar age population is too heterogenious to expect a closer one. If etis are limited to their native system, then the close stellar neighbourhood won’t likely cough up an eti neighbour. Unless one believes in fantastical social longevity. On the other hand if travel and outward settlement is possible, why did we have our planet to ourselves over the last millenia? “Prime directive”? Really? Well then Mars could have been terraformed. No skin off a Neanderthals teeth. But nothing to show there. Yes, not a proof but the likely age differential suggests that the time scales between us and them may be too disjuncted.

    Regarding the often implied benefits from broadcast lessons somehow gleened from eti societies. Particularly toxic in potential are the technological breakthroughs. As much as I am also personally interested in advancing knowledge, look seriously at our psychological profile as a species. The dominant characteristic is still not curiosity nor rational thought. It is power dynamics embedded in tribalist structures. Our society is through and through sectarian and ego driven at its core. My god, my race, my gender, my nation, my team, my species. These base identifiers are central to the vast vast majority of people. The tensions that our simian genes create make us unstable and aggressive. We have made no truely enduring progress in containing our egos in our march through the ages. Rascism, genocide, murder, still prevail. The codification of societal laws and advances in technology are the products of a small elite. Adherence to the former is fickle and prone to break down. While use of the latter has served to make us more proficient killing machines(not only of each other but in the wider ecosystem). With appologies to those who dream of interstellar battles, as I emphasised in a comment above, we need an enduring mastery our destructive tendencies before technology becomes our destruction.

    Even philosophical “knowledge” from etis could very well cause critical destabilisation when coming into contact with our primitive addiction to identity and ego.

    I neither valourize nor condemn my species. But despite a sentimental attachment to what I am familiar with, I recognise that a true transformation must occur in us for us to remain viable in any advanced context, be it eti influenced or not. I think most here, as elsewhere, ignore that necessity for whatever reason, and hence the widespread anthropocentrism that whilst often denied is in my opinion overwhelmingly present in METI and SETI discussions.

    • Alex Tolley December 13, 2017, 16:20

      You make some good points. However, I disagree that technology gifts would be more of a curse than a benefit. Current concerns over social network platforms may be real, but they do have a benefit. Clarke was adamant that even soap operas on tv would be useful to isolated Indian villages, and we know that cell phones have been a boon to rural farmers in India and elsewhere. Technology is already becoming like magic, so would even more magical technology be really harmful? Maybe, but then you are arguing that human technology development should be controlled or even cease for similar reasons. I think that is a harmful position to take, even as the US moves in that direction across the spectrum from toy chemistry sets to biotechnology techniques.

      I recognise that a true transformation must occur in us for us to remain viable in any advanced context…

      I think we are getting back to the “lotus eaters” argument. I would prefer we keep being challenged, to force us to change. naive perhaps, but I agree with Cabal’s last speech in The Shape of Things to Come.

      • Harold Shaw December 13, 2017, 19:28

        “Maybe, but then you are arguing that human technology development should be controlled or even cease for similar reasons.” AT

        Are they really though? You keep making the argument that caution A requires caution A-Z and its inverse that a level of unavoidable risk excuses increasing risk. It is the same argument used by climate change deniers, the tobacco, lead, mercury industries. It is irrational for an individual to use this logic when the risks are only to themselves and immoral when the risks are shared.

        I don’t agree with your assertion that the risk posed by ET tech is the same as the risk posed by tech developed by humans. As our tech evolves incrementally, our ability to manage the risk of our technology matures. We learn lessons during the slow process of discovery and invention. Consider the Cuban missile crisis. What kept the world from going to war? Could we have avoided war without Hiroshima or Nagasaki, how many children had to hide under their desk, what did the leaders read or witness that stayed their hand? Please do not respond that god-like ETs will know how to shepherd us, that reasoning is the inverse of the dark forest reasoning.

        Any technological species will have to face the threat of increasingly powerful individuals and small groups. Decades ago, the only nuclear threat was posed by nation states. Today, terror groups are a nuclear threat. You may balk at the US’s and other countries efforts to regulate tech like CRISPR and gene drive, but both put devastating power within the reach of individuals.
        Thankfully, I think the probability that ET would share tech is lower than the probability of them casually destroying us.

      • john walker December 14, 2017, 20:07

        Alex, an impulse for more mutual accomodation and less ego dependence doesn’t lead to indolence. The “Lotus eater” metaphor is not applicable.

        • Alex Tolley December 15, 2017, 13:28

          You are right, “lotus eaters” is the wrong term. Stagnation due to deliberate banning of [dangerous] development is what I was aiming for.

          We live in an almost unique period in history when Western Enlightenment ideas have allowed our culture to expand and develop as never before. The conservative forces to restrain further development have been gathering strength over the last half century. Some restraints have proven ephemeral as science has shown the need for caution was overblown. More recently, ideological restraints are being imposed, e,g, bans on fetal stem cell research. [I am in favor or banning autonomous, battlefield robots, at least until we can be sure they can be controled and will not kill civilians, so my position isn’t binary].

          What concerns me about a METI moratorium is that is will not be subject to any possible proof of safety. There will always be those who say “wait for more studies, because those bad ETs may be lying just beyond our current reach.” That will be never ending. If there is to be some restraint, I want to see some clearly defined exit points that must be reached in some “reasonable” amount of time and that do not conflict with other endeavors like sending out large numbers of small probes to nearby stars.

          • John Walker December 16, 2017, 20:24

            Here again you have read something into my carefully chosen words that is simply not there. I don’t advocate a luddite world where research is stifled.
            That is also a totally different topic.

            Rather it is my contention that our aggressive egoism and tribalist nature carry obvious risk should that we suddenly acquire knowledge far beyond our current level. We would do well as a civilisation to search for a solution to these inherited instabilities. They are untenable for an enlightened advanced society.

            Directly regarding METI, I suggested searching for consensus. That is a process of analysis and reflection. It is useful in this sense. The talking points thus far have from my perspective been gut wrenchingly miopic. There needs to be much deeper thought applied to a variety of questions, just a couple of which I have touched upon. Actually reaching a consensus at this point is of tertiary importance. I have vaguely suggested goal, method and even testing procedure on the path to preparing ourselves for contact.
            METI should not be permitted at the moment. It is a seriously irresponsible untertaking. At the moment. Most of those I’ve heard of who are invested in the subject seem oblivious to the fundamentals of what I see. I could write about this in much greater detail but I don’t have the time.

  • Barra December 12, 2017, 19:39

    “…climate change, over-population, poverty and so on”

    I think a lot of our problems on Earth right now could be solved by space travel (and contact with aliens). If we could find a way to go out into space and live on other worlds (hopefully somewhat like here) then there would be no strain on Earths environment and also no over-population…and maybe…no war. It might even put everything in perspective for us all. It’s just a thought.

    • Harold Shaw December 13, 2017, 19:35

      Space travel will not “solve over population”. If the Earth or any other planet, moon, space station is producing more people than they can support, sending them off in a spaceship would consume more resources than those people would consume if they stayed. Before long, their destination would be facing over population and the two populations would then be competing over a new place to send their unwanted. An end to war is a noble goal but space travel won’t bring us any closer to that goal.

  • Harold Shaw December 12, 2017, 23:43

    I have been milling kernels that everyone can hopefully agree upon.

    METI is diplomacy as well; even first, before experimentation.

    and assuming we take this seriously…

    METI must consider the plausibility, even probability, that humanity sits within a range of civilization ages.

    That puts humanity within a deep time aged galaxy wide diplomatic arena. That even reads complex.

    Imo, a world wide festival of city lights would be target sensitive messaging. A festival that celebrates our comfort in being seen as we are. I think this message corrects for the inherent weakness, greed, fear message and displays global ability and willingness. We would have to keep the luminosity within normal usage to maintain target sensitivity.
    If we held it on a regular schedule it would encourage tourism in Earth orbit.

  • hiro December 13, 2017, 17:14

    Well, we are probably “under 18” from the galactic standard, and there are penalty rules about the adults wooing minors.

    I think we leak lots of porn and religious teaching into the space, any adv civilization would either ignore or run far away if they detect such materials.

    • ljk December 14, 2017, 12:31

      Or lack our tribal inhibitions and cultural controls and appreciate having at least some idea how humans reproduce, more or less.

      We like to assume that ETI which encounter our transmissions, especially our entertainment and news, will assume us vulgar and avoidable. Instead I recall my anthropology professor saying how members of his profession learn so much more about a culture by sifting through their garbage dumps than any official monuments and such.

      If our first proof of an alien intelligence were the equivalent of an advertisement or a sitcom, I am pretty sure scientists would be thrilled for the discovery and not worried about the content. Just as astronomers and others are currently so excited about what is probably a rock zipping through the Sol system because it is our first evidence of an object from another solar system.

      • Alex Tolley December 14, 2017, 14:03

        We like to assume that ETI which encounter our transmissions, especially our entertainment and news, will assume us vulgar and avoidable.

        Who is “we” Tonto? USAians are so prudish. Is it from that Pilgrim legacy of puritanism?

        • ljk December 14, 2017, 16:39

          Tonto? No, I am not from Toronto although I have visited there several times.

          • john walker December 14, 2017, 20:46

            “Torono” to the locals. ;)
            It would shock me if advanced eti shared the same peculiar squeamishness to biological functions some of us still have. Still, if they did, it would be great. The study of taboos is fascinating! ;)

            • ljk December 15, 2017, 10:50

              In Carl Sagan’s 1973 book, The Cosmic Connection, there is an entire chapter devoted to the Pioneer Plaque, which he helped to design and get on those two probes. Much of the piece discusses how members of the public reacted to the two nude human figures on the plaque, with the focus on those who accused NASA of sending “smut” into space.

              As Sagan noted, we may not know what ETI will think of the plaque, but we certainly learned about contemporary human attitudes on the subject.

              The chapter also included a section from the British humor magazine Punch, which imagined how various aliens finding the plaque might react to it. The one I best recall are beings who look just like the pulsar map and found its design to be displaying the rudest gesture in their culture. :^)

              Have you seen the new documentary on the Voyager space probes titled The Farthest? There is a part where one of the Voyager team members is talking about how NASA would not allow an image of a nude man and pregnant woman on the Voyager Interstellar Record because of the perceived backlash originating from the Pioneer Plaque. They then showed the couple on the plaque and he commented can you imagine a more innocent picture than this? As Sagan noted at an earlier time, the aliens who find the plaque may find the humans the most puzzling part of the message.

              I highly recommend this British documentary on the Pioneer Plaque:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4bqHCgwZac

              • John Walker December 16, 2017, 20:30

                It’s comforting to me that this particular sort of puritanical neurosis was, amongst the major powers, largely restricted to the US. And even there, there’s clearly been great progress since those days.

                • ljk December 18, 2017, 11:37

                  There is the following quote from the 1995 film French Kiss regarding Americans as viewed by a French hotel concierge, where he says, and I quote: “…after all, unlike some countries, France is not a nation of puritanical hypocrites.”

                  • Alex Tolley December 18, 2017, 12:48

                    To the point that mistresses are acceptable in France, even for the President. Meanwhile in the USA, a little oral sex by a President is apparently an impeachable offense. Oh la la!

          • Alex Tolley December 15, 2017, 13:14

            The Lone Ranger’s sidekick. Perhaps I should have used the immortal “Who is we, white man?”, the punch line of so many jokes when I was young.

    • ljk December 14, 2017, 15:20

      Speaking of trying to get ETI to understand human reproduction, in 1986 Joe Davis tried to correct the rather critical omission on the Pioneer Plaques made by a squeamish NASA:

      http://timeblimp.com/?page_id=1989

      http://biomediale.ncca-kaliningrad.ru/?blang=eng&author=davis

      • Michael Fidler December 15, 2017, 1:49

        The most base attribute of our nervous system is to reproduce and survive, that is what ETI would be most interested in since that would tell them how dangerous we really are. Two good reads that shows we have just started to understand this in the last 50 years: Carl Sagans ” The Dragons of Eden” and Desmond Morris “The Naked Ape”. What I’ve noticed here is how few women are discussing most of these subjects, (the male ego is such a great thing.-) but the intuitive nature of the opposite sex is just what METI needs!

        • ljk December 15, 2017, 11:01

          Funny how there is so much worry from hypothetical aliens dwelling unknown light years away, when they should probably worry far more about humanity expanding into the galaxy.

          The one potential relief from such a threat is that our descendants who do spread into deep space will either be our machine intelligences or organic beings both physically and psychologically suited for a truly cosmic perspective and locations. We have been fed decades of science fiction scenarios where starships from Earth are manned by human crews who look and act a lot like the people of the era there were conceived in. Already we can see with real efforts like Breakthrough Starshot that at least our initial efforts are not going to be like Star Trek et al.

  • Neil S December 14, 2017, 6:22

    The ability to accelerate a small mass to very high speeds and to aim it, and to do that over and over and over, is all that would be necessary to murder a civilization, maybe an intelligent species. That would not require the ability to leave one’s system. We will be getting close to that capability with Starshot. A civilization that fears aliens could be expected to do this to a neighbor that comes to its attention. I agree with those who want to wait and passively observe.

    Oh, and we won’t know such an attack is on the way till it’s here. Let’s at least get spread out into the solar system enough that the species could survive earth’s bombardment before we call attention to ourselves.

    • ljk December 14, 2017, 12:23

      Have you read the SF novel titled The Killing Star by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski:

      http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/aliens.php#id–Alien_Contact–The_Fermi_Paradox–The_Killing_Star

      In regards to your comment that an ETI which fears being attacked by unknown others in the galaxy and commits to preemptive strikes, the piece I link to above notes that wiping out a civilization via relativistic starship impact will draw the attention of others who may do the same upon the perpetrator in order not to become their next target. Which will then result in a cascade effect. Maybe that’s why it seems so quiet out there.

      Or maybe as John Walker so beautifully described above in this thread that humans are little more than a bunch of tribal animals which the more sophisticated members of the Galactic Club know to avoid and certainly not to allow in the house until we are “housebroken”.

      I think if we want at least an idea of how a much more sophisticated mind might work, we need to develop AI programs that can simulate various scenarios of what a really superior intelligence might do in regards to access to the galaxy and dealing with species like humanity. At the least it will be potentially more productive than rehashing all the regular speculation that has been going on for decades.

      And yes, let’s make sure the AI is kept isolated from access to the Internet and other tools in case it decides to go all rogue to make folks all comfortable like. Then again if the AI is really smart our puny safeguards won’t work.

    • Alex Tolley December 14, 2017, 14:09

      The sub-light velocity of such projectiles would probably give us enough warning to launch our own strike in future. This seems like the MAD strategy, just in slow motion.

      As we are seeing on Earth, other solutions to cripple a nation are now being used – cyber warfare, biowarfare etc. Advanced ETIs will have even more capabilities in their war chests.

      • ljk December 14, 2017, 15:56

        Unless they come in from behind the Sun. A number of (presumably) uncontrolled NEOs have surprised astronomers in the past using just this flight path, giving little to no warning in the process. A few weren’t even found until after they had passed by Earth.

        Yes there are many ways to take out humanity, and as we have seen with recent natural disasters, society is ill-equipped to handle them on large scales. We are also not prepared outside of some white papers in the event someone deliberately aimed a planetoid at Earth. You won’t need a very large space rock to do some major damage and all that is required is a rocket motor and a course-correcting computer.

        • Alex Tolley December 15, 2017, 13:11

          So that die KT event was really a deliberate attempt to head off a potentially intelligent lineage? ;)

          • ljk December 15, 2017, 16:48

            If so it was not entirely successful, as some of them did escape and eventually wend their way to the Delta Quadrant…

            http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Distant_Origin_(episode)

            It is interesting to note that dinosaurs existed on Earth for 160 million years, far longer than humanity even if you stretch it to our most distant known ancestors roughly 7 million years ago.

            So far as we know, none of them ever developed tools or did other things we would recognize as civilized, though of course the fossil evidence is rather limited and we have only been studying them seriously for less than two centuries. Plus I cannot imagine many paleontologists who would accept the idea of civilized dinosaurs without some really solid physical evidence.

            Then again, not being civilized in humanity’s concept of the subject does not automatically mean unintelligent. Cetaceans are considered among the smartest organisms on Earth but they certainly do not create, use, or leave behind technology and tools like we do.

            Although I am going on an older memory here, I read that scientists know of perhaps 10 percent via fossils of all the dinosaurs that ever existed. It is doubtful we will ever know them all, so if there were truly “smart” dinosaurs they may be lost in the depths of deep time.

            Unless they escaped. 160 million years is a very long time to develop.

            • John Walker December 17, 2017, 12:07

              Technological dinosaur civilisation. This always engenders a smile. My thoughts on this predate Voyager. I wish it were true. Maybe it is. Although we have to ask ourselves how advanced and also populous such as civilization might have been since no metalurgical traces in the rock strata have yet been discovered. It would be the greatest archeological discovery of all time!

              • ljk December 18, 2017, 12:30

                Again, some dinosaurs may have become very smart, but did not follow the patterns we humans have that would have left any physical evidence.

                I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

                “For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.”

    • Neil S December 14, 2017, 17:12

      Yes, a rational civilization, even if frightened, might decide it would be unwise to become known for destroying civilizations. But It Might Not Decide That. It’s no help to us if they are wrong in their assumption. Or they might think they can launch an attack unnoticed. Our advanced civilization has been making some amazing decisions lately.

      And it doesn’t have to be a relativistic starship. It could be a lot of cement blocks or even basketballs in size and containing whatever is needed to get it up to speed. It could be pretty similar to Starshot but targeted precisely.

      And I think it will be several decades at least before we could detect those gliding up on us, or maybe determine where they came from well enough to launch a counter attack. And if their attack works, a counter attack means little.

      Thanks for the link. I don’t remember reading a lot of that but some of it’s so close to my thinking that I may have.

  • Michael Michaud December 14, 2017, 13:59

    As one who has been involved in the METI/Active SETI debate for thirty years, I am struck by how much the discussion still is driven by unproven assumptions about how alien societies will evolve and behave. One assumption is that alien civilizations will search for others and will find us. Yet human history tells us that some long-lasting human civilizations have shown little curiosity about faraway others.

    Since the beginning of this debate, some have used the imagined virtues of alien civilizations to criticize our own, calling Humankind immature, primitive, unbalanced or warlike by contrast with imagined altruistic superiors. In fact, we have no actual knowledge of how aliens would behave; they could have grievous faults as well as virtues. That leads us to the question of alien intentions, about which we know nothing.

    As we address the longer term, let’s keep this discussion civil. No one is an expert on extraterrestrial intelligence. No one can be an expert until such intelligence is found.

    • hiro December 14, 2017, 22:48

      About ETs’ intentions:

      1) They really want to stay around for a very long period of time.
      2) They dislike dropping dead just for our survival. They’ll wipe us out if we become a major threat in the future.
      3) They assume we also practice 1 & 2.

      ^From SF The Killing Star, not exact but it’s close enough.

      Anyway, if there exists an AlphaGo-Zero/ET, and we let it use those basic assumptions to simulate interstellar war scenarios around 1M times/year during a period of several decades, then we’ll have some basic info of our situation in the future.

    • Alex Tolley December 15, 2017, 13:08

      Again, one can make the same argument about God[s]. Christianity believes that God is really a loving God as proven by Jesus. That could be entirely wrong, and he really is like the Old Testament God. Or Shiva. So if he exists, and is present, why are people allowed to pray to God?

      Of course we know nothing about ET. We didn’t know much about anything, especially other forms of life on Earth. But science has helped us a lot, and AI is paving the way for us to “communicate” with some of the more intelligent species that have hitherto proved problematic.

      While this is safer than with ET because we are the dominant species, it will help us with ETs. If ETs are really malevolent, then one is forced to ask why they haven’t done anything yet to us, unless we have been extremely lucky to live in a period between their discovery of us and being able to respond.

      Suppose that ET can only act malevolently by beaming information at us? Then only civs with receivers can be damaged. Doesn’t that imply SETI is dangerous too? Bracewell’s “galactic club” might well have been malevolent ETs broadcasting dangerous stuff. Clearly, we have decided that SETI is important enough to be carried out. Yet METI is a step too far for some.

      Imperial China tried to retreat and isolate itself during the Qing dynasty and look what happened to them. Might history have been very different if China had remained outward looking and prepared to deal with different cultures around the globe (as they are doing now)?

  • john walker December 14, 2017, 20:31

    I am regretfully too busy to offer a comprehensive critique of what I view as breath taking conceptual shortcomings in the SETI and METI discussions and by association of discourse on eti in general. I am very glad this discussion is taking place and hope that it continues as there is a chance that it can eventually serve to at least begin reducing the usually highly perochial nature of our reflection on ourselves and our civilisation and the attendent projection of this onto all things eti.

    Having read only a couple comments subsequent to my last, I want to address some of the perspectives expressed.

    Although I have heard the trivial truth repeatedly stated that we cannot by definition fathom the nature of the truely alien, there usually follows a list of supposed terrestrial analogues designed to allay the feeling that we are not actually facing an indescribable existence and that those analogues offer a schematic or boundaried description of the nature of the potential influence an advanced eti could have on the present day earth. We must be ever aware of the illusory nature and limited causality which our historical experience presents before we too hastily project such onto a hypothesised alien intelligence. Even relatively vague assumptions on behavioral causality when applied at the level of an overwhelmingly high intellect(alien) is a very dicey game. Whether or not debates on alien motives, be they rational or instinctual have any relevance, I think it is important to consider more concretely the nature of intellectual superiority dare I say something approaching intellectual supremacy. We compliment ourselves as a species on our conceptual prowess. That is unsurprising given the fact that we are the supreme intellects of our particular world. But its a pretty small sample of the cosmos. An intellectual capacity far above our own would remain forever inscrutable. Including motives, priorties, and strategies. Trust would also remain a guessing game. Needless to say there are caveats everywhere. I don’t have the time to address them all.

    Whatever the case, this should not be construed as a plaidoyer for fear of the unknown nor is it a call to avoid contact. We need to work harder to identify the bias which is woven into our genes. And its insidious effects on our ability to contemplate and evaluate the potential degree of otherworldliness we may someday encounter. This can be done. But not just in the rudimentary comparative form of some human historical antecedents or terrestrial animalian parallels. A more fundamental approach is needed.
    There is however a potential terran realm where comparisons with advanced alien life can be realised . There was mention of AI as an initial stencil from which to examine the themes to which I’ve just referred. AI(s) will, should it’s(their) power exponentially expand beyond our ability to understand , become a variety of alien surrogates. Many interesting effects on the society can be considered. For example, on a psychological level, being our construct and also artificial, there will at least initially be little inclination to recognise any emergent superior, for us aspirational, philosophy in AI thoughts. But that will almost certainly eventually happen. Even if universal adherence never occurs, it will forge a path that can not truly be regarded as anthropogenic. There will be divergent interpretations of said philosophy, which due to the unfathomable nature of its creator could never be a true rendering of any original “pure” form.
    Frictions ensue.
    Sound familiar?
    I’m not demonising this prospect, it is purely illustrative of the potential core changes that could be engendered by an eti. Here, the effect is spiritual. I used this as an example since it is a relatively neglected subset of potential influences, and at first glance may seem the most innocuous. However, as I pointed out in my comments above, if the newspaper headlines offer any indication, present day homo sapiens would make dogs meat of this “advancement”. A family of cartoonish parodies would emerge just as in the arcane religious practices of today where valuable core elements are perverted and subsumed by trivialities. And ego investment in familiar faiths fan the flames of conflict with others. If this reads like a taudry rehash of the last 10 000 years of our history that is because this is the level of our culture. We are obsessed with multifarious forms ego adjuncts and our tribalist(chauvanist) impulses lead inevitably to conflict.
    I expressed my grounds for thinking our collective psyche currently unfit for an influx of advanced alien ideas and the dire need for an enduring transformation in my earlier comments . A reduction in the intensity of our addiction to tribalist identifiers is needed in order to mitigate the destructive nature of our intense desire for ego affirmation. While our strong investment in our identifiers can and has played a positive role in social cohesion, it is not a necessary element today and becomes ever more dangerous the further we extend our technological progress.

    • Harold Shaw December 15, 2017, 10:53

      I think interacting with AI/digital lifeforms will just reinforce what we already know, that the range of possible personalities is vast and indefinitely parsable. Even if we assume that only one other technological species emerged, that species would be capable of diverse personalities across its history. As well, technology promotes plasticity of form and personality. That one other intelligent species could diverge into a wide range of types each with its own history.

      Imo, that is what makes casual, blind METI dangerous. Not that we don’t know what ETIs are thinking, but that even if one homogeneous ETI emerged it is likely to become many diverse ETIs. In our over eager attempts to attract a benevolent ally, we are just as likely to attract a malevolent adversary.

      • ljk December 15, 2017, 11:30

        Since everything regarding ETI is a foregone conclusion (aliens = bad, even the “good” ones), why even bother with some international consensus on the subject of METI? As with most such things runs by humans, it will be ultimately be dominated (if not already) by a relative few as self-appointed authorities on the subject. They will either clamp it down or send out only the messages they want aliens to hear, if ever.

        This is why we can’t have nice things. Or aliens.

        • Harold Shaw December 15, 2017, 17:53

          Have a tissue and stop with the histrionics, the above does not make every possible ETI dangerous. The wide variety of personality types is spread across the galaxy, making who is in our local area very important and our local area will be the first area we explore. A consensus is important because this discussion has been limited to a population of eager alien enthusiasts who seem unable to control for that eagerness or their egos. Can you offer a method to determine the probability that contact with ETIs would result in a positive gain for humanity? Can you offer a methodology to determine whether a message won’t discourage a response? As far as I can tell, we can’t even compare the two. As I have stated before, I don’t put much stock in the casual destroyers of the dark forest theory, but unless we can measure whether a message will discourage a response we should not message.

          • John Walker December 16, 2017, 20:44

            While I agree with some of what you have written, you seem like most convinced of a universe of instructive scenarios and pathways to be found in the human condition whose fulsome polyphony will provide us with what we need to anticipate the psyche of an eti. This is a gross error. We will not find the key to such insight only by looking inward. There are vast gaps of experience and outlook in the human condition. Don’t take this lightly. It’s all too easy to anthropomorphise without being aware of it. It is a very difficult problem from which to escape.

          • ljk December 18, 2017, 13:18

            Good luck controlling all 7.6 billion humans from sending signals into the galaxy. Or hoping that every ETI is somehow so much better behaved and controlled than humanity and would never do their own version of METI.

            Humans are a messy, uncontrollable, and unpredictable race. Every time a group tries to gain control of the species – always for their own good, of course – the result is revolt and an amplification of the very thoughts and behaviors they tried to suppress in the first place, usually out of fear, hatred, narrow-mindedness, etc.

            Humanity will either spread into the galaxy or go extinct. They will eventually encounter whatever is out there for good or bad.

            What’s that quote by Leia in Star Wars IV: A New Hope to Grand Moff Tarkin of the Galactic Empire:

            “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

      • Alex Tolley December 15, 2017, 12:45

        By the same argument, it is unlikely that “Prime Directive” or “Out of Bounds Galactic Zoo” answers to the Fermi Question are valid. So where are they?

        • Harold Shaw December 15, 2017, 17:30

          I would go with the “limited to no return on investment for interstellar diplomacy unless it is to avoid conflict” answer. The wider the gap in ages, the less likely the older civilization will see any return. I do not mean that we are worthless savages compared to an older species, just that what we have of value is our unique culture. A resource that contact will erode.

          • ljk December 18, 2017, 12:40

            So humanity is to remain isolated from the rest of the galaxy because we perceive our culture and species as unique and therefore valuable? To whom?

            Sounds more like certain members of the human race want to retain the ancient and antiquated view of being the center and reason for existence, that other beings either do not exist or are somehow lesser than us even when they are more advanced.

            Even in our species’ varied mythologies of supernatural beings, the gods, goddesses, and spirits spend a disproportionate amount of their existence focusing on humanity. Especially over whether these lesser creatures are properly worshipping them or not. Seems like an incongruity to me, almost as if they were made up in the minds of those very same creatures….

            Of course humans prefer supernatural deities because they and any messages they purport to have for us can be controlled by certain self-appointed authority figures and distributed to the masses as they see fit. However they will have virtually no control over any real ETI who attempt to message us or perform some other method of contact. That is one of several big reasons why SETI and METI have been sidelined and repressed for decades, with just enough being done to look like they are being open-minded about intelligent life elsewhere.

        • hiro December 16, 2017, 18:47

          After rereading Incandescence, our first interstellar visitor could be simply an ordinary rock or a rock + alien DNA. If some random ET wants to introduce themselves to us, this is a gentle way to do it without too much shocking (to those Flat-Earthers anyway). Well, it seems we still don’t have enough capability to take this easy test.

  • Alex Tolley December 16, 2017, 19:14

    It seems to me that the anti-METI position will have an impact on even local science.

    With the Rama-like flyby by the asteroid[?] ‘Oumuamua, there was a lot of speculation as to whether such an elongated object was a possible alien artifact. Based on the no signaling argumument, we would not be allowed to bounce radar pulses of teh it, nor send signals of any kind to provoke any reaction. All we could do is passively watch it go by. Because who knows what it might be cxapable of if we demonstrate our presence.

    The Lyra Project suggested how we might launch a probe to rendezvous with ‘Oumuamua, or perhaps another should one come by soon. Again, if we suspect the object could be an alien artifact, that should be verboten.

    I think such fears are hampering our science. Perhaps an anti-METI-now proponent could explain what the protocol should be for our investigations of such an object, and indeed any non-passive search for, or investigation of, possible alien artifacts in our system.

    In fiction, would Clarke’s short story, “The Sentinel” be advocating a non-protocol examonation of teh pyramd on the Moon, or again in the novel/movie 2001:A Space Odyssey sending a spaceship to investgate the target of the beam sent from teh monolith to Saturm/Jupiter space?

    Are we really this risk-averse now? If “we” are, are all the other technologically advanced nations too?

    • John Walker December 17, 2017, 11:51

      I wish to sign off on this topic for now. Alex, I’m glad you’re around. And I understand your frustration. Personally, I honestly see neither a connection between METI rejection and a general stifling of research nor any trend to restrict research that is beyond historical norms.
      Regarding Oumuamua. Lets ignore the tri axial rotation and slow speed of this object. No doubt intended to trick Terrans into thinking it was a rock. Joke. Even if true, that would indicate a supreme desire not to interact with us.
      “..if we demonstrate our presence” An eti capable of interstellar travel entering our stellar system would have to possess the capability to ID our world especially at such close range. And not just physically but socially. Any additional directed transmission from us would change little in terms of their knowledge. Whether it would change their intentions I highly doubt.
      In METI discussions science fiction memes are a popular(and honestly in my view painfully simplistic) method of modelling hypothetical eti encounters. And yes I read a lot of SF as a kid including plenty of Arthur C. Clarke. Today I find it quaint but, with apologies, trifling. SF is often referred to when considering protocol upon discovery of eti presence. Here, my patience wears thin. Pulp SF mentalities abound here. They have virtually zero basis in reality. Not only technologically but on a sociological level. The dumbing down or oversimplification is a function of our unwillingness or inability to consider more than rudamentary eti scenarios. Just because we want or fear a particular outcome doesn’t make that outcome more likely. We need to examine ourselves and our biases far more critically.
      The hard reality is that an encounter with an eti would be akin to opening Pandoras Box. It is incredibly facile to trivialise the dangers. Cowardly, luddite, stifling, etc etc. Some opponents may be so. I can only say the level of discussion I’ve seen on METI is indicative of a limited willingness to delve into the depths of ourselves.
      Our weaknesses are the true danger in my opinion. Have I not made this abundantly clear? For those who disagree, I can only ask that you look more closely.

    • ljk December 18, 2017, 13:35

      Astronomers are predicting that now that we can detect interstellar visitors, we should see anywhere between one and ten flying through our Sol system each year. Hopefully there will be other opportunities to transmit to at least some of with various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. After all, if any of them were sent here deliberately, then they know the Third Stone from the Sun has inhabitants. Hiding would be rather pointless.

      Even more importantly, I hope those plans for sending probes to such interstellar visitors are made into reality soon, so that next time we have a vessel ready to go. We should have such space ships available in any event, including if some kind of new native phenomenon or object shows up in our own celestial backyard.

  • xcalibur December 17, 2017, 7:45

    I think this is a very reasonable argument. The people of METI are well-meaning, but mistaken. The best way we can resolve issues like this is to rely on dialectic and appeals to reason.

  • Alex Tolley December 18, 2017, 14:56

    While John Walker has a point about human weaknesses, those have not changed in millennia.
    I wonder how much of this demand for prudency is just a loss of nerve?

    Once we had mythical heroes engaging and even fighting the Gods. If such ancient Gods equate to ET, then once some had the courage to engage.
    Culturally, the West has seen 2 major disruptions – the removal of Earth at the center of the universe, and the removal of humans as God’s unique creation by Darwin. The latter is still causing disruption in some nations.
    In the East, Japan was a closed society that was disrupted when Perry sailed into Tokyo harbor. The repercussions resulted in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

    Are ET social/cultural disruptions or dangers really that much greater that these? The ancient fears of God/gods destroying the world have proven false, even if a %age of fundamentalist Christians believe in the end times that can be brought forward through certain actions. The West has survived its displacement of humans at the center of the universe without too much trouble. Japan survived the sudden influx of Western technology in the 19th century.

    ET might be much more devastating, but also may not even exist. Are we so afraid of sailing like Jason or Odysseus to lands unknown, facing entities far more powerful than humans? Have we in the West lost our collective nerve? Will other space faring nations be so circumspect? If China decides to sends signals despite out concerns, then what?

    This debate conjures up images of the Gordian Knot, although with immaterial strands of logic and opinion. Will a nation that boldly defies the anti-METI idea and actively signals, be cutting that knot as Alexander once did with a sword?

    • Ron S. December 18, 2017, 17:32

      “I wonder how much of this demand for prudency is just a loss of nerve?”

      For endless comments in this thread you persist with hurling these insults at those with whom you disagree. You are not the only one. Cast aside the straw man if you dare. You provide a good example of why I no longer bother to speak here on this topic.

      • Alex Tolley December 19, 2017, 10:58

        I don’t see phrasing this as a question as “hurling an insult”. We can go back at least to Spengler for the idea that the West has lost its vigor and is in decline. The lack of progress in human spaceflight has also been characterized as a loss of the acceptance to bear any risks. If such a question is uncomfortable, by all means, disengage, but as long as it is asked civilly and within the comment constraints of this blog, I don’t see why it should not be raised.

        • John walker December 22, 2017, 18:34

          Spengler thought an Imperium Germanicus could save the day for the west. Is the imperial path the type you would also recommend?

    • John walker December 22, 2017, 18:05

      “Courageous” and hearty souls shall boldly break free and seek the truth from the great beyond.
      Let us proudly show ourselves. We shall endure.

      “Are ET social/cultural disruptions or dangers really that much greater that these?”…
      arbitrary earthbound comparatives follow.
      Simple answer.
      Yes.
      We will not be presented with a psychology nor a technology nor a philosophy which is even remotely comparable to our own. This is not a mythological engagement between idealized heros and some arbitrary deity. Nor an inner species cultural conflict between wheeled and nonwheeled societies. Given the simple math I offered in a comment above, it seems likely that eti will be crushingly far beyond us in every conceivable aspect.
      My lack of nerve? No. Unfortunately with respect your lack of reason.
      I have no fear of et per se. We are the problem.
      As a species (and I’m referring to the broad masses)we glorify power over wisdom, are addicted to ego boosters in the form of an endless number of associative identifiers(nation religion brands style etc etc etc) to the point of battle readiness, we vastly prefer emotional truths to objective ones, resist deeper learning when not forced to do so and are breath takingly narrow minded egocentrics.
      The point I make about our species innate character, our abismally overblown and yet fragile ego, is that this blinds all but the most circumspect individuals. METI discussions are but one niche topic on a gigantic list where a wider perspective seems either unwanted due to overpowering desires or unattainable due to lack of imagination or ego investment.
      These are catastrophic characteristics for a species who may be granted powerful new knowledge the likes of which have no precedent on this planet in any culture. We need to cure ourselves of our age old short sightedness. A permanent cure. Can we do that now? No. Should we consider it when we can? Will it happen voluntarily? Not without an unimaginable crisis. Which essentially negates the voluntary aspect. The future psyche of our species is a mystery. I can only wish us benevolent enlightenment. That change if witnessed from afar may open doors for us that are as yet closed.

  • ljk December 19, 2017, 12:41

    China to Rome: Human societies have evolved along similar paths

    December 18, 2017

    Societies ranging from ancient Rome and the Inca empire to modern Britain and China have evolved along similar paths, a huge new study shows.

    Despite their many differences, societies tend to become more complex in “highly predictable” ways, researchers said.

    These processes of development – often happening in societies with no knowledge of each other – include the emergence of writing systems and “specialised” government workers such as soldiers, judges and bureaucrats.

    The international research team, including researchers from the University of Exeter, created a new database of historical and archaeological information using data on 414 societies spanning the last 10,000 years. The database is larger and more systematic than anything that has gone before it.

    “Societies evolve along a bumpy path – sometimes breaking apart – but the trend is towards larger, more complex arrangements,” said corresponding author Dr Thomas Currie, of the Human Behaviour and Cultural Evolution Group at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

    “Researchers have long debated whether social complexity can be meaningfully compared across different parts of the world. Our research suggests that, despite surface differences, there are fundamental similarities in the way societies evolve.

    “Although societies in places as distant as Mississippi and China evolved independently and followed their own trajectories, the structure of social organisation is broadly shared across all continents and historical eras.”

    Full article here:

    https://scienceblog.com/498240/china-rome-human-societies-evolved-along-similar-paths/

    • John walker December 22, 2017, 18:45

      What did you intend with this reference? If you are insinuating that this assertion implies a similar developmental trajectory for etis then I disagree.

      • Ljk December 22, 2017, 22:40

        No but I wanted to have an actual data point to go on. Even if it is just one with one species. At least it us real and not speculation.

  • ljk December 20, 2017, 11:57

    Intelligent Aliens May Know about Us Well Before We Find Out about Them

    SETI is still scanning the skies for other galactic citizens. [When did they stop? And when did SETI become one monolithic group?]

    By Steve Mirsky | Scientific American – January 2018 Issue

    Fourteen years ago in Bremen, Germany, astronomer Seth Shostak gave a lecture that included a wager. “I bet everybody in the audience a cup of Starbucks that we would find E.T. within two dozen years,” he told a new audience in October. You don’t have to be a Klaatu-level math whiz to calculate that Shostak has 10 years left before he’d have to shell out for a lot of tall drips. I’m talking about the coffee.

    Shostak is senior astronomer at the Center for SETI Research based in Mountain View, Calif. SETI stands for “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” of course, as the millions who have loaned out their home computer time for the SETI@home project know.

    He mentioned the wager at a session on the current state of the search for any signs of alien intelligence at the World Conference of Science Journalists in the San Francisco Bay Area. The SETI conversation in question took place on the University of California, Berkeley, campus. No protesters or extraterrestrials attended. Probably.

    Full article is here:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/intelligent-aliens-may-know-about-us-well-before-we-find-out-about-them/

    To quote:

    Shostak thinks his Bremen audience comes out ahead either way. “Because either [by 2027] a signal has been found and you have something to talk about at lunch—or you get a cup of coffee. You can’t lose.”

    Shostak thinks we already might have attracted somebody’s attention: “The kind of equipment that we have today is within four orders of magnitude of being able to detect radars on nearby worlds, within a few tens of light-years. Now this speed of increase in the collecting area of radio telescopes on Earth is roughly two orders of magnitude per century…. That means that any society that’s at least 200 years more advanced than we are has equipment that can pick up SFO, alright? That’s the local airport for those of you from out of town. So … if you really think there’s a potential of killing seven billion people because the aliens get ticked off by hearing I Love Lucy and send their interstellar battlewagons here to wipe us out…, you better turn off all the radars. Not for the weekend, not for this year, you better turn them off forever. And to me, that doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

  • ljk February 13, 2018, 12:38

    If We Receive a Message From Aliens, Should We Delete it Without Reading it?

    Article written: 12 Feb 2018
    Updated: 13 Feb 2018

    by Matt Williams

    https://www.universetoday.com/138521/receive-message-aliens-delete-without-reading/

    So we hide under our beds and reject a scientific discovery of historic proportions. Well, why not – after all, ignorance, fear, and isolationism are the hot trends these days.

  • ljk June 15, 2018, 9:38

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1804.01885

    Policy options for the radio detectability of Earth

    Jacob Haqq-Misra

    (Submitted on 5 Apr 2018)

    The METI risk problem refers to the uncertain outcome of sending transmissions into space with the intention of messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence (METI). Here, I demonstrate that this uncertainty is undecidable by proving that that the METI risk problem reduces to the halting problem. This implies that any proposed moratorium on METI activities cannot be based solely on the requirement for new information.

    I discuss three policy resolutions to deal with this risk ambiguity. Precautionary malevolence assumes that contact with ETI is likely to cause net harm to humanity, which remains consistent with the call for a METI moratorium, while assumed benevolence states that METI is likely to yield net benefits to humanity.

    I also propose a policy of preliminary neutrality, which suggests that humanity should engage in both SETI (searching for extraterrestrial intelligence) and METI until either one achieves its first success.

    Comments: Accepted for publication in Futures

    Subjects: Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph)

    DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2018.04.002

    Cite as: arXiv:1804.01885 [physics.pop-ph]
    (or arXiv:1804.01885v1 [physics.pop-ph] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Jacob Haqq-Misra [view email]

    [v1] Thu, 5 Apr 2018 14:53:55 GMT (8kb)

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1804.01885.pdf

Next post:

Previous post: