In the realm of science fiction the idea often recurs that humanity comes into contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence in one way or another. One example above all: the delightful tale of Ted chiang (in the book "Stories of your life") and the consequent, magnificent film by Denis Villeneuve. ("Arrival"). If you haven't read and / or seen, do it.
Anyway, all these speculations are gradually moving from science fiction to more serious contexts. Leaving aside Japan, which for a long time works on its own protocol, and Germany that opened a scientific panel the whole world moves on the subject. Scholars construct, one scientific article at a time, possible answers and geopolitical consequences of a possible contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence (also called ETI).
The discussion is not valid only if you think it is probable or even remotely possible that humanity could ever contact an extraterrestrial intelligence. In fact, it can tell us a lot about ourselves (until proven otherwise, as I have said before, we are the ETs).
A new article just published has a wholly orthodox title: "Geopolitical Implications of a Successful SETI Program". But there is a world inside.
The authors of the document are associated with institutions not to laugh. There NASA (which since last summer also collaborates in the survey on UAPs), the Penn State ETI Center, the Spring Hill College Philosophy Department and Harvard Law School.
The article, first signed by Jason T. Wright of Penn State University, has been accepted for publication by Space Policy magazine, and is currently available on the prepress site arxiv.org. I link it to you here.
Extraterrestrial intelligence and terrestrial maturity
The newly published study is somewhat the answer to a previous article from 2020, also on Space Policy, called "The search for artificial intelligence: a question of realpolitik".
In that paper, the authors noted that many speculations on the subject focus on one thing: risks. Those related to SETI, (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and METI (sending messages to extraterrestrial intelligence). What if our "neighbors of the universe" were too technologically advanced and threatening? What if they were like the Spanish conquistadors, and we like the Incas?
Stephen Hawking was certain:
Technologically advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, trying to conquer and colonize any planet they could reach.Stephen Hawking, 2010
Hollywood has grossed billions of dollars on this type of speculation. But there is a much more "basic" risk that we don't even consider.
The risk of receiving even just a signal of extraterrestrial intelligence.
What's so risky about simply detecting a signal? About Us. We and our realpolitik.
If you are not familiar with this word, "realpolitik", I am providing you with a definition and a translation.
The definition: realpolitik is politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical objectives.
Translation: Power does not obey the laws, it only obeys a greater power.
Realpolitik is vulgar and dirty politics between political groups, or between nations. Realpolitik is what really happens, and overcomes the empty words of politicians, who speak of values and virtues but then do something else.
Realpolitik is about the mechanisms of power in our world. It's about our animalistic nature, largely the same since the dawn of time.
Why would realpolitik be a risk in this case?
If we passively detect the signal of an extraterrestrial intelligence, we would have relative and absolute problems. The relative ones would be for Science and Religion.
The religious worldview could in some cases be seriously threatened. There could be significant upheavals in religious-led countries, even violence by religious extremists, but then things would be "normalized".
Ditto for the scientists, who after the "revolutionary" moment would be able to rationalize the discovery, and use it as a starting point for many other researches. But how would nations and their political leaders react?
We are seeing it again today, with searches on unidentified objects. "A danger to national security", the US Defense clearly says. On the other hand, that of the newborn Chinese SETI, the proclamations are competitive: "we will be the first to find the ETs".
Whenever nations compete with each other, realpolitik comes into play. And monopolizing any contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence has potential advantages for the nation that monopolizes it.
Yet, in the 2020 study, the two authors argue that realpolitik considerations should be important in planning a successful passive SETI, even suggesting militarizing radio telescopes.
Today the conclusions are opposite
The new study essentially aims to disprove that of 2020. The authors think it is "highly unlikely that a nation will successfully monopolize communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence." I think so too. Our most powerful observers have multiple nations and institutions as partners, and the scientific community is based on openness, not information protectionism.
Sure, a nation could think to do it. And indeed this would be the most realistic threat.
On balance, the researchers say, it is all to be shown that there would be some advantage in keeping such news for oneself. Alien technologies? We should understand them first. Would Roman scholars understand anything if they acquired a modern text on nuclear physics?
I omit the broad considerations and conclusions of the study, which you can calmly and completely read from the source, and just say that the realpolitik approach would be the worst possible.
Even in the study of these currently remote hypotheses, it is necessary to remain lucid.