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Space and Physics

Future of Humanity Institute Academic Warns Against Planned Message To Aliens

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockApr 19 2022, 15:26 UTC
beacon

Telling everyone where you are might not be the best plan. Image credit: Beth Ruggiero-York/Shutterstock.com

An Oxford academic from the Future of Humanity Institute has warned that a new proposed message to aliens might be a terrible idea for a species that plans to survive.

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Earlier this month, a project led by Jonathan Jiang from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology came up with a new message to send to space, in an attempt to make contact with other civilizations.

“The proposed message includes basic mathematical and physical concepts to establish a universal means of communication followed by information on the biochemical composition of life on Earth, the Solar System's time-stamped position in the Milky Way relative to known globular clusters, as well as digitized depictions of the Solar System, and Earth's surface,” the Arxiv paper reads.

“The message concludes with digitized images of the human form, along with an invitation for any receiving intelligences to respond."

The so-called "Beacon in the Galaxy", according to Dr Anders Sandberg of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and anyone who has read about darker solutions to the Fermi Paradox, might not be such a great idea for humanity.

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“The simple idea would be that either aliens might contact us and have good news or be helpful or they are dangerous. You could say, well, the risk equation, if something threatens the species that would weigh more heavily than the good news," Sandberg told Radio 4's Today Programme.

“And many people would say, of course, well we are a primitive young species and we’ve seen in earth’s history if we have a civilisation that is powerful encounters a more primitive society that has usually not turned out so well for the primitive society."

“That’s a bit simplistic but there are reasons to be concerned that maybe we shouldn’t just be sending out messages willy nilly.”

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Even if most species are harmless, according to The Dark Forest Theory, it would only take one advanced species making a rational decision to cause an awful lot of space destruction. The piece of speculation on the Fermi Paradox was outlined in Liu Cixin's sci-fi novel The Dark Forest, in conversations between a sociology professor and former astronomer and the mother of their dead friend. 

The professor states that life will strive to stay alive, and there is no way of knowing the intentions of other alien species. Some could be benevolent, some could be hostile. Even if the life out there isn't hostile, it will still be expanding in a universe with limited resources, increasing the likelihood of conflict with others who need those same resources.

Given these factors, the book suggests, all intelligent life is left with the safest course of action: to wipe out any other lifeforms before they can do the same to them. 

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The team behind Beacon in the Galaxy, of course, does not believe that any alien intelligence which finds the message will be hostile.

"Logic suggests a species which has reached sufficient complexity to achieve communication through the cosmos would also very likely have attained
high levels of cooperation amongst themselves," they write in their paper. "And thus will know the importance of peace and collaboration."


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