Astrophysicist Reflects on Implications of Contact with an Advanced Civilization

Alien Signal


“If the Perseverance rover finds evidence for microbes on Mars, our self-esteem will not be affected since it is obvious that we are more intelligent than they are,” wrote Harvard’s Avi Loeb in an email to The Daily Galaxy asking him for his thoughts about the impact of evidence of the existence of an advanced alien civilization. “But if the rover will bump into the wreckage of a spacecraft far more advanced than we ever produced, our ego will be challenged.”

“The illusion of superiority and unjustified hubris is deeply rooted in human nature. It led the Nazi regime during World War II to trigger the death of more than 70 million people or 3% of the world population in 1940, an order of magnitude more than the death toll caused so far by the COVID-19 virus. The miniscule genetic differences that motivated Nazism would appear laughable in the presence of a far more advanced civilization,” Loeb noted in his email.

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Guided by Biological or Artificial Intelligence?

“It is often argued,” Loeb observed, “that the general public already believes that we are not alone in the universe and therefore the societal implications of finding technological signatures of another civilization will be mild. However, this argument is misguided. The response of humanity to such a discovery will greatly depend on the details of the findings: whether the equipment is autonomous or robotic, whether it is guided by biological or artificial intelligence, whether it represents a form of life that we had never witnessed, and finally — what is its intent?”.

Humans are currently in an AI revolution, which suggests something similar may be going on at other points in the universe, says Susan Schneider,  Director of the Center for the Future Mind, and William F. Dietrich Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of Mind, Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, Florida Atlantic University, who has written about the intersection of SETI and AI. Once a society creates the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, she notes, they are only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm from biology to AI.”

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Types of Contact

In his email, Loeb explained: Our historic migration out of Africa started about a hundred thousand years ago, but a future migration out of Earth may be triggered by a dialogue with a messenger from afar that does not resemble anything we had seen before. Protocols for contact with extraterrestrial intelligence have been mostly inspired in the past by the possibility of detecting radio signals from planets around distant stars. Given that the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 light-years away, such signals would require a decade or more for a round-trip conversation. As a result, they do not bear consequences to our immediate future.

“But a different type of contact could deliver prompt implications,” Loeb notes. “It concerns physical objects from another civilization that are already here, waiting to be noticed like a package in our mailbox. The arriving hardware need not be brainless but could possess artificial intelligence (AI), seeking information about the habitable planets around the sun.

“An encounter of this type implies instant contact without a significant delay in communication time. The potential for an immediate engagement changes the response protocol relative to a delayed radio signal.”

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Early in 2021, the political news site, The Hill, reported that a video of an unidentified flying object was leaked by the Department of Defense, raising questions that are still unanswered. The video obtained by documentary filmmaker Jeremy Corbell was recorded by the Navy and shows a spherical object flying and darting above the water off the coast of San Diego for several minutes before descending into the ocean.   

“Why does science have to be boring?” Loeb asks, referring to the Navy video . “Here we are talking about a discovery that would change the history of humanity, so how dare we push it aside.

Avi Shporer, Research Scientist, with the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research via Avi Loeb and The Hill

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