The METI Controversy: Is Detection by Alien Life a Threat to the Human Species?

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May 06, 2008

The METI Controversy: Is Detection by Alien Life a Threat to the Human Species?

Eavesdroppin_2 Mankind has always been driven by contradictory drives.  The relentless curiosity that pushes us forward and is directly responsible for our progress from caves to  cities.  The fear of change that tells us "hang on, these caves/cities are really nice, we don't want to risk losing them."  There isn't any greater potential threat to the status quo than the discovery of extraterrestrial life, which is why some people would prefer we didn't try.

There has been some outrage recently over attempts to contact intelligent aliens, where instead of hiding in the corner and listening real hard some astronomers beamed intense directional messages up up and away.  Critics decried these actions as dangerous, though their fears reveal more about us than any eventual ETs.  They assume that they would be similar to humanity, so their first response to finding a more primitive culture would be to exploit the hell out of it.  While such a fate might be pleasingly ironic (for anyone who isn't human, at least), others contend that any species that can make the journey here has advanced to a point where their goals are rather higher-minded than "Shoot us".

Dr Alexander Zaitzev, of the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, doesn't think much of these worries either way.  A proponent of METI (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), in a recent paper he shows that the odds of one of the METI messages being detected is a millionth of that due to powerful radar pulses regularly used in astronomical investigation.  Though whether writing a paper saying "This METI thing we're doing has only a tiny chance of working" is overall a good idea remains to be seen.  An important point is that METI represents an intentional will to make contact, rather than the accidental alien interception of some random radiation from Earth - the difference between saying "Hello!" and just being a suspicious strange noise late at night.

Most of the objections to contacting aliens are weak under close examination.  We can't suddenly decide to hide after fifty years of pumping electromagnetic radiation into space without rhyme or reason - in fact, we'd better hope that an advanced civilization doesn't catch an episode of "American Idol" and just vaporize us outright.  Suddenly keeping quiet would be like a drunk boyfriend carefully taking off his shoes after knocking over a bookshelf on his way to the bedroom.

Then there's the assumption that aliens would have the same kind of technology we do - despite the extremely obvious fact that our technology can't actually get to other planets.  Any attempt to mask radio emissions will likely look like cavemen closing their eyes to hide from satellite imaging.

The simple fact is that certain people have always opposed progress while other, better people have driven it.  "Experts" decried boiled water as unhealthy compared the vital stuff straight from the river, cursed antibiotics as a temporary placebo, and confidently declared that computers were nothing but expensive toys.  As an intelligent species we must make every effort to contact anyone or thing we can - and if you don't like it, there are some lovely caves you can move back to.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

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Comments

I noticed this site a few months ago and thought it was interesting. But there are too many idiotic commentary articles like this one. I happen to agree that there is little threat from aliens, and I guess you could say I'm fairly pro-progress... but:

"The simple fact is that certain people
have always opposed progress while
other, better people have driven it."

That is not by any definition a "fact", let alone a simple one.

""Experts" decried boiled water as
unhealthy compared the vital stuff
straight from the river, cursed
antibiotics as a temporary placebo"

And what makes you better qualified to say either way? Do you know for a fact whether, for example, pasteurizing milk is depriving people of bacteria they need for digestion, leading to auto-immune diseases? There have been stories in the news recently of farmers being arrested for selling unpasteurized milk; look it up. Similar story for the overuse of antibiotics causing drug-resistant infections. Sure, we can continue progress for progress's sake, but do you want eventually for everyone to always be required to wear hazmat suits?

I know this has nothing to do with aliens... so to bring it back:

"As an intelligent species we must make
every effort to contact anyone or thing
we can"

Pure opinion.

"and if you don't like it, there are
some lovely caves you can move back
to."

And that's kind of the point of the nail-biting, isn't it - there won't be any caves to move back to.

I'm by no means "anti-progress" and I think the status quo needs to receive a firm kick in the ass, but I am one of those critics of METI. It is correct that assuming aliens will be anything like us, especially when there are organisms on our own planet which seem incredibly alien to us, is the epitome of anthropomorphism. However, assuming that any creature, which presumably became the dominant form of life on its own planet, would be benevolent is to also accept that they will have pointy ears and greet people with a wish for long life and prosperity(in English!).

The fact is: we do not know. Therefore, on the possibility of there being aliens out there who are similar to us in at least the respect of aggression, deliberately sending out our location without taking precautions is akin to jumping out of a plane without a parachute.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to contact alien life, I'm simply saying, I would like a parachute first.

Just out of curiousity for us luddite hippie types, where are these aforementioned nice caves?

Who says aliens don't already live among us?

I'll just answer the question directly.

Yes, especially if that alien life is anything like Natasha Henstridge in 'SPECIES'

I once heard an argument about the history of human civilization. It went something like this: in every case, the civilization that was the explorer eventually dominated the civilization that it discovered (whether by war or other means). Seems to hold true when you look at the the European exploration of North America.

Based on this argument there are two concerns with making contact:
1) Due to human nature, if we do the discovering and one days in hundreds or thousands of years we are able to make physical contact, could we be the ones to whipe out an alien civilization?
2) If the aliens are doing the discovering let's hope they don't operate in the same way we do or one day we could all be drinking mucus lattes while watching the 36th Shphinxter Bowl instead of the Super Bowl.

Article from "all intelligence is like human intelligence" perspective. Particularly wrong point is the ending:"As an intelligent species we must make every effort to contact anyone or thing we can".
Even the minimally creative thinking can come up with the possible life development track that leads to highly intelligent life that has no interest (or even the concept) to communicate with anyone. And that is just the most bizarre possibility.

Now to the actual science. Evolution is not a fluke case happening on the Earth. It arises from the basic Physics laws that make it more likely for more and more complex systems to appear. But, there is no "compassion principle". It is eat or be eaten Universe. Many strategies can work including being silent and hiding or be outgoing and trying to be helpful... It is human nature to be outgoing and explore. Alien intelligence does not need to be such. Maybe they'll want to destroy us just because we found them... Maybe they'll want to destroy us for resources and competition... Maybe they would simply ignore us as communication is not their "thing". Or, maybe they are Sky-Utopians who help everyone.
It is pure gamble as to what may happen, but it is our nature to try and contact/explore around. For the best results we should be aware of all possibilities and not deceive ourselves with the "highly intelligent=highly compassionate and communicative" nonsense.

@marty
a lot of the european discovery massacres occurred because there was little or no concept of human rights. it was spanish rights or english rights or french rights. on the flipside, there are plenty of fanatics who think others deserve less rights simply for being born in a different country. i can only imagine what sub-human rights these fanatics would propose for beings born on a different planet.

That's just nonsense. Any civilization technologically capable of contacting us personally is a civilization that has certainly surpassed instincts of self-destruction and inclinations for conquering and destroying other worlds.

To the person that wrote "It´s human nature to explore", is that so?. For example in the school there was the teaching that "the human is sociable by nature", I think is to survive that the species adapt, including exploring to achieve resources, slaves or whatever.

AND BY DOING NOTHING WILL OBLITERATE OUR SPECIES. THATS WHY THEIR USEING THIS TYPE OF TECHNOLOGY, SOMETHING THATS FAR BEYOND US AND SO NO-ONE WOULD EXPECT ANOTHER SPECIE IS THE CAUSE. THIS A 2 PART ENIGMA. FIRST PART UNDER OUR OCEANS CREATING HAVOC TO DELETE ALL LIFE ON EARTH AND IN THE OCEANS. 2ND PART 20 TO 22 YEARS AWAY ON A COLLISION COURSE WITH A OBJECT BUILT APPROXIMATELY 58 YEARS AGO. SPECIFICALLY TO DESTROY A OBJECT HEADING DIRECTLY TO EARTH TO TAKE OVER AS A NEW SPECIE, BUT NEITHER KNOWS THAT THE 2ND. PART WILL NEVER ARRIVE. HAVE A NICE DAY AND DO= http://www.socyberty.com/Activism/First-Step-for-the-Solution-to-Global-Warming.103109

instruction of my link= GET GROUPS OF PEOPLE FROM EACH CONTINENT AND GET A SALVAGE LICENSE SO THAT YOU'LL BE ABLE TO KEEP THE TREASURES YOU FIND WHEN YOU EXTRACT THE SANDS OF TIME THAT MAN HAS NEVER TOUCHED FOREVER. WHAT TREASURES YOU FIND IN THESE SANDS ARE YOURS. IF YOU'VE TRIED MY EXPERIMENT THIS WILL PROVE IF WORKED BY ALL NATIONS THAT WE WILL LOWER ALL OCEANS ON EARTH AND GAIN 25 MORE FEET OF DRY LAND AND NARROW DOWN THE SPECIFIC LOCATIONS OF WHERE CERTAIN OBJECTS ARE TO PLACE THE EXTRACTED MINERAL TO ALLOW NATURE TO RETURN TO NORMAL NATURALLY. THIS MINERAL WILL ALIENATE THEIR EQUIPTMENT AND DISSOLVE IT. THIS IS WHAT WILL DESTROY THE TECHNOLOGY THATS ALLOWING NATURE TO DESTROY ALL LIFE. IGNORE IT AND YOU'VE MURDERED ALL LIFE ON EARTH AND THE WHALES AND OTHER LARGE IN OUR OCEANS. GOODBY.

Any civilization capable of receiving and sending back signals would have human like intellectual curiosity. That's enough for me to assume they would be as fascinated about us as we would be about them. If they had means to come here, they might send a sort of diplomat, but they would have no reason to attack, as we have nothing they could possibly want. All natural recourse they needed would be available to them in space, including life supporting planets.

Man has to explore and move outwards, or we will destroy the planet that we do have... We are not responsible people, as a whole.

I wish it were not true, but it has been and shall always be OUR WAY!!!

Cyborg

If intelligent spacefaring aliens exist, then two possibilities exist.
1) They haven't found us because our solar system is completely unremarkable, no substantially important ores, not a particularly bright star.
2) They have found us and they find us extremely self-centered. We only launch space vehicles to look back at ourselves. We fight amongst ourselves for a fraction of a blue dot. We fear manmade climate change instead of local supernovae. If aliens have found us, we look pretty stupid and primitive. It's a lot like getting a good look at all the potential dance partners at a prom, in this case we're not even as interesting as the girl next door. We're more like the slightly fat chick who's always checking her makeup out in the mirror and complains when she has to walk up stairs.

The key issue when thinking about contacting aliens (rather than "hiding in the corner") is not whether we personify their motivations and reactions as being like ours, but ***what the cost-benefit ratio is of guessing wrong about what those motivations and reactions actually are.***

If we hide and guess wrong we miss an opportunity to meet and profitably interact with another species.

If we reach out and guess wrong we become extinct.

It is really that simple.

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