The scientific community is split about whether we should send out messages into deep space telling aliens we are here, with SETI arguing in favor and eminent astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and several others warning of the huge risk to humankind.
If there are intelligent extraterrestrials out there, and they receive our messages asking for a response or a visit, would the future of our whole existence be put at risk, would it be good for us?
At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, California, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute) scientists said now is the time to actively try to get in touch with intelligent life in distant star systems (if, of course, there is any).
According to SETI, we have been eavesdropping for several decades and have not yet received any clear evidence of advanced life forms, or any type of life for that matter.
SETI Institute’s director and senior astronomer, Dr. Seth Shostak, said at the AAAS meeting that we should step up the search.
Dr. Shostak explained:
“Some of us at the institute are interested in ‘Active Seti’, not just listening but broadcasting something to some nearby stars because maybe there is some chance that if you wake somebody up you’ll get a response.”
If there is super-intelligent life out there, they would already know about our existence, Dr. Shostak insists, which discards the argument that we had better keep quiet because aliens might come along and destroy, enslave, experiment on us, or even use us as domestic pets or toys for their young.
Dr. Shostak said in a BBC interview:
“A lot of people are against active Seti because it is dangerous. It is like shouting in the jungle. You don’t know what is out there; you better not do it. If you incite the aliens to obliterate the planet, you wouldn’t want that on your tombstone, right?”
“I don’t see why the aliens would have any incentive to do that. Beyond that, we have been telling them willy-nilly that we are here for 70 years now. They are not very interesting messages but the early TV broadcasts, the early radio, the radar from the Second World War – all that has leaked off the Earth.”
What if a super-intelligent and advanced alien civilization did respond. Wouldn’t we be completely at their mercy?
If, according to Dr. Shostak, we have already been sending messages out for several decades, what’s the point of having these talks? They are not suggesting anything new.
Serious concern about the wisdom of such a move
American scientist and award-winning author of science fiction David Brin said at the AAAS meeting that sending messages out into deep space is a bad idea.
Mr. Brin explained:
“Historians will tell you that first contact between industrial civilizations and indigenous people does not go well. (Pro-message people have been) railroading the public into sending a message without a wide and detailed discussion of what the cultural impact might be.”
Even though Mr. Brin believes we would most likely never get a response, he insists the risks of devastating consequences are still too high.
Mr. Brin added:
“The arrogance of shouting into the cosmos without any proper risk assessment defies belief. It is a course that would put our grandchildren at risk.”
From Traditional SETI to Active SETI
Traditional SETI involves what the Institute has been doing for decades, listening for either flash laser pulses or radio signals. Active SETI means deliberately sending messages out telling the Universe we are here, Dr. Shostak explained.
We have sent out messages in the past. In 1974, one was transmitted from the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico, while some Voyager probes contained outgoing messages.
Stephen Hawking points to history
Professor Stephen Hawking, the eminent theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author fears the consequences of inviting aliens who may be more intelligent and advanced than we are to come and visit.
In one of his “Into the Universe” episodes, Prof. Hawking reminded us what happened to the American Indian following Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
“It didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” he said.
For any alien civilization to be able to understand our message and then visit us, they would have to be several centuries more advanced technologically than we are.
Would a more advanced civilization be nice to us, or do us harm? Let’s look at our own behavior with other forms of life on Earth.
We eat other life forms, exterminate them if they do not suit our lifestyle (pesticides), we hunt them, parade them in zoos, have them as domesticated pets, we have also driven many of them to extinction.
Video – Prof. Hawking talking about the possibility of aliens