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Discovering ETs: Is the world ready for first contact?
Dick Pelletier   May 12, 2014   Ethical Technology  

The year is 2035 and the world is about to receive news from NASA researchers that an intelligent alien species has been detected on an Earth-like twin, 600 light years away:

"Good morning everyone. Last night we detected irrefutable, proof that the atmosphere surrounding the planet known as Kepler 22-B revealed signs of a technology-enabled society. Utilizing our best super-computers and artificial intelligence, we have created simulations of how technologically advanced these aliens might be, andwhat they could look like today, after factoring in the light-years distance from Earth.”

    "Our simulations indicate they are about 50 years ahead of us in technology development. They have evolved into non-biological beings, and as you can see by these artist representations, they sport an uncanny resemblance to our human frame. We do not believe they would be hostile, but we cannot be certain; therefore, we recommend that we proceed with caution. Now, here's President Chelsea Clinton."

    The above scenario is fiction of course, but it may represent what could happen. How might people respond to first contact? The Jody Foster movie Contact offers Hollywood's version of an alien meeting, and SETI's Frank Drake, the science version. The late Carl Sagan believed that regardless of the aliens' intent, just the knowledge of their existence could unite the nations of the world, as we would realize that internal conflicts are insignificant compared to the challenges and opportunities of first contact.

    How sure are we that ETs exist? With more than a billion Earthlike planets in the Milky Way and 100 billion other galaxies in the cosmos, overwhelming odds suggest we are not alone. Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute's Seth Shostak predicts future computers will radically improve data analysis, and by 2035 or before, his organization will detect intelligent ETs.

    Powerful new space telescopes, including the Kepler, launched in 2009 to replace the ailing Hubble; the James Webb, with an estimated launch date of 2018; and the Advanced Technology Large Aperture Space Telescope, with a hoped-for 2025 launch, have encouraged many forward-thinkers to predict that intelligent extraterrestrial lifeforms will soon appear in our sights.

    However, detecting is one thing; but to communicate over the vast distances of space is quite another matter. Critics believe this feat could range from extremely difficult to outright impossible. In the above example, we're seeing Kepler 22-B in the past as it was 600 years ago, and since we can only transmit at light speed, it will take 600 years just to say hello.

    Will it ever be possible to navigate through space faster than the speed of light? In Physics of the Impossible, author Michio Kaku sees a solution. "Wormholes," he says, "are a marvel of warped space-time and could one day be exploited, allowing instant travel and communications through the cosmos."

    Forward thinkers believe that between 2050 and 2100, wormholes will be better understood, enabling scientists to use these cosmic wonders as shortcuts to vast distances in space. This timeline may seem ambitious, but with the 'intelligence explosion' predicted to follow the Singularity in 2045, these freaks of nature could become space portals in our rapidly developing future.

    What could we gain from cooperating with aliens? We might improve our healthcare and education systems; learn new technologies; even ward off galactic threats. However, some fear there could be risks. PhysicistStephen Hawking warns that superior aliens may want to colonize our planet.

    But future 2020s and 2030s humans; armed with enhanced brains and improved reasoning, may not share this negative outlook. An Earth society with powerful science at its disposal might recognize that sharing between two civilizations, regardless of how different they may appear to each other, will reap huge benefits for both worlds. Today, we are fragile; tied to a single planet, which we exert little control.

    And in reality, no one can predict how ETs might think, or what their intentions would be. It's even doubtful that we'll share many similarities with our new alien friends, but many futurists believe we are destined to one day detect, make contact, and collaborate with extraterrestrials. Are we ready?



Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


There’s a few months old paper by physicist Paul Wesson, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Ontario, detailing the possibility for FTL SETI.

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