Finding even friendly aliens could have some real risks for humanity

(ORDO NEWS) — Science fiction is a field in which people have traditionally struggled with the idea of ​​contact with ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence). But now these discussions are moving from the realm of science fiction to more serious realms.

Academics go back and forth, one article at a time, about the backlash and geopolitical implications of a potential contact with ETI.

The discussion is wondering if you think it’s likely, or even remotely possible, that humanity will ever make contact with ETI. And it can tell us more about humanity than ETI.

A new article entitled “The Geopolitical Implications of a Successful SETI Program” is the latest salvo from professional thinkers.

Three of the paper’s authors are affiliated with institutions including NASA, the Pennsylvania State ETI Center, the Department of Philosophy at Spring Hill College, and Harvard Law School. The lead author is Jason T. Wright of Pennsylvania State University.

This article is a response to a previous article published in 2020 titled The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Realpolitik Consideration. This article was also published in the journal Space Policy, which drew attention to the discussion of a potential contact with ETI.

The authors are Kenneth Visian and John Trafagan. Vizian from the University of Texas Space Research Center and Trafagan from the Department of Religious Studies and Human Measurement Organizations Program, also at the University of Texas. We will refer to them as the WT 2020 article.

In WT 2020, two authors indicated that much of the thinking about ETI is focused on the risks associated with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and messaging. Extraterrestrial intelligence (METI).

What if ETI is technologically advanced and threatening? What if they’re like conquistadors or something? Stephen Hawking expressed this fear well in 2010 when he said, “Such advanced aliens will probably become nomads, bent on conquering and colonizing any planets they can get their hands on.”

Aliens of this type make millions of dollars in Hollywood, but the authors of WT 2020 focused on another risk that does not attract as much attention.

What is this risk?

“In particular, the risk of simply detecting an alien signal from passive SETI activity is generally considered negligible,” they write.

What is so risky about simply detecting a signal? We and our realpolitik.

If you are not familiar with the term realpolitik, history is full of examples. Merriam-Webster defines realpolitik as “politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical ends”.

In WT 2020, the authors use this definition of realpolitik from historian John Bew: “… a view of interstate relations where “the notion that the state can be regulated or controlled by law [is] erroneous” and that “power is subject[s] only to greater power “.

Realpolitik is beggarly dirty, petty politics between political groups, usually nations. Realpolitik is different from the speeches that political leaders use in elections and in public situations, when ideology and the message of virtue are out of control, and leaders use political theater to influence the population and advance their interests.

Realpolitik is about the mechanics of power in our world. A great example of realpolitik is World War II.

US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill played well with Stalin and Russia. They called Stalin an ally, shook his hand and smiled when they met him.

They needed Stalin to keep fighting and weakening Hitler, and the Americans even sent a steady stream of supplies to Russia to support their war effort.

All is well on the surface, as in this famous clip from the Yalta Conference. shows. At the 2:35 mark, we can see how the three leaders get along with each other. But behind the scenes, realpolitik was spinning a different web.

Churchill and Roosevelt needed Stalin to help win the war, and Stalin knew it. Stalin promised Poland democratic elections after the war because he needed allies to help him defeat Germany.

He retreated from this as soon as the war ended, occupied Poland and other countries, and Russia and the West became open enemies. That’s all real politics, and Stalin practiced it well.

But that was a long time ago, and the world was at war. Why is this relevant to our more modern age and potential contact with ETI?

Because human nature has not changed.

If we passively detect a signal from ETI, it can be alarming for religious people. Their worldview may be under serious threat, and in religious countries there may be significant upheavals or even religious extremist violence.

But it will subside, I think, and people will return to their daily lives. It would be revolutionary for scientists, but most people would go on with their lives. Here is how the WT 2020 paper summarizes the reflections. But how will nations and their political leaders react?

But whenever nations compete with each other, there will be some realpolitik. And when it comes to contact with ETI, monopolizing that contact presents a potential benefit to the nation that monopolizes it.

“The history of international relations, viewed through the lens of realistic political thought, suggests that there is, however, a measurable risk of conflict over the perceived benefits of exclusive access to ETI communications channels,” the authors write in WT 2020.

“This possibility must be taken into account when analyzing the potential risks and benefits of contacting ETI.”

For Wisian and Traphagan, the danger lies in what we can do to ourselves.

Any ETI is likely to have a huge technological advantage over us, and as long as the ETI was not malicious, this advantage provides an opportunity for nations. If the government monopolizes communication with ETI, it can gain a technological advantage.

Imagine that China, Russia or the US are hungry for this technological advantage. Or North Korea, Iran, etc. This is the objective of real politics, which the authors explore. This may lead to conflict or other undesirable consequences.

In WT 2020, the authors say real policy considerations should be important when planning for a successful passive SETI. They make several recommendations.

They suggest that scientists working for SETI maintain relationships with local law enforcement, strengthen the perimeters and security of their institutions, and strengthen personnel security for scientists and their families.

The authors of WT 2020 also suggest that observational objects such as radio telescopes take similar safety measures to those of nuclear power plants.

But the new paper, which is a rebuttal to the WT 2020 paper and their realpolitik concerns, does not see these security measures as helpful. They also disagree that it is likely that any country could somehow monopolize communications with ETI.

“The existence of protected facilities and closed information streams could itself be interpreted by outsiders as evidence that some kind of world-changing activity was going on in that community or institution…”

From “The Geopolitical Implications of a Successful SETI Program”, Wright et al. 2022.

“While we do not dispute the possibility of reacting to realpolitik, we find concerns about how W&T presents the realpolitik paradigm,” the authors write.

They say that there are flaws in the WT 2020 analysis and that “…sufficient evidence is not given to justify considering this potential scenario as a guide to action over other possible geopolitical responses.”

If a realpolitik answer comes into play, this might be the most relevant answer. The authors of the new document largely agree with this, but show that “… it is highly unlikely that a nation will be able to successfully monopolize communications using ETI.”

The more real threat is that the nation thinks it can monopolize communications.

The authors also critique other aspects of the WT 2020 realpolitik scenario. For example, if Western democracy picks up on a signal, can it monopolize it? Unlikely, according to the authors, since Western science is well integrated internationally.

Our most powerful observatories have several countries and institutions as partners, so monopolization seems doubtful. The scientific community operates on the basis of openness, not informational protectionism.

The authors also critique the WT 2020 contact script sample. WT 2020 argues that a contact that seems trivial to ETI may contain valuable technical information that can be useful. to a monopolizing nation. This is unlikely.

“The fact that this could happen is not at all obvious. First of all, science is cumulative and non-linear: for a new understanding to be useful, we must first have an appropriate scientific context for the understanding. this,” they write.

Could medieval scholars have used a textbook on the development of nuclear weapons? If they could understand it, could they act on it? Unlikely, according to the authors, and the same is true for advanced technology information from the highly advanced ETI.

Also, what specific technological advantage could be obtained? We already have enough nuclear weapons to destroy civilization.

We also have biological weapons. Could ETI inadvertently share information that could enable the monopoly to build some sort of superweapon? According to the authors, this goes into the realm of science fiction and leaves real politics behind.

According to the authors, the best way to prevent statesmen from even thinking that they can get a monopoly is openness, rather than tightening security measures and state protection. In fact, the measures proposed in WT 2020 could accelerate exactly what they are trying to avoid: a real political nightmare.

In their new paper, the authors explain this clearly: “Finally, it is important that implementing broad security protections in SETI and METI fields can itself cause the very problems that W&T warns about.

“The existence of secure facilities and blocked information flows could in itself be interpreted by outsiders as evidence that some of the world-changing activity was taking place in that community or institution, leading to espionage and conflict that W&T is trying to avoid in the first place, even if on In fact, nothing was found.”

There is some agreement. between articles about the risks associated with contacts.

“W&T legitimately fears that the mere perception of an information monopoly may be enough to spark a dangerous conflict,” write the authors of the new paper.

History shows us that antagonism Countries with tics can be paranoid, saber-rattling, and even pre-emptive strikes if they believe they are in danger.

With all the unknowns associated with potential contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, some societies will find it more difficult to bear the anxiety and fear than others. There will be hotspots.

Another point of the agreement concerns the safety of scientists working on contact with ETI.

“However, even if we have good reasons to avoid extensive facility security measures per se, there remain other reasons for adopting security measures designed to protect SETI practitioners themselves, especially if discovered,” the authors write.

These scientists may well become targets of persecution and even attack. As the COVID pandemic has shown us, there are a lot of crazy people around, as well as a growing wave of anti-science thinking.

In their conclusion, the authors say that “… the real political response to the contact scenario is worth considering, but we argue that this is just one of the possible post-contact responses that deserve consideration.”

They suggest that there are much better alternatives and include responses “…that can create cohesion or closer cooperation at the level of international relations.”

They also say that the WT 2020 document is based on the premise that political leaders will misunderstand the possibility of manipulation of contacts with ETI by another state.

Although the authors believe that this concern is not unfounded and should be taken into account, the authors of this article do not agree with the recommendations given in WT 2020.

What do they suggest the world do when we contact ETI?

Instead of strengthening security on SETI sites, the authors “…recommend transparency, data sharing, and policy education.”

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