Danger of SETI: Humanity is Not Prepared for Extraterrestrial Contact

Attempts to make contact with alien civilisations should be reconsidered because humanity lacks the adequate knowledge and awareness of the universe and our place in it, according to clinical neuropsychologist Professor Gabriel G de la Torre.

In a study that considered the knowledge and viewpoints of 116 university students at institutions in the USA, Italy and Spain, de la Torre found that, despite major progress in science and technology, the majority of people lack enough knowledge of the cosmos to make an informed decision about whether contacting alien civilisations is a good idea.

De la Torre, who is based at the University of Cádiz, Spain, initiated the study in response to plans by the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) to begin sending messages from Earth telling anyone out there who can listen where our planet is.

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SETI has been going since the 70s, when it was founded with financing from NASA, and is focused on processing space tracking data from Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory using the computers of thousands of volunteers from around the world.

Previously its work has been passive, but plans to send out messages from earth, known as Active SETI, could potentially result in alien civilisations with technology far superior to our own knowing where we live.

For many, this seems like a good idea. Such aliens would surely want to meet us (assuming their technology allowed them to) and share their remarkable innovations, enriching humanity and helping further our access to the stars.

However, fears that such a meeting could go horribly for the human race have been repeatedly voiced by astrophysicists such as Stephen Hawking.

Speaking to The Times in 2010, Hawking said: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.

“I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

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For de la Torre, this risk makes for a significant ethical concern. “Can such a decision be taken on behalf of the whole planet?” he asked. “What would happen if it was successful and ‘someone’ received our signal? Are we prepared for this type of contact?”

In order to answer this question, he crafted a survey that would assess respondents’ religious beliefs, general awareness, astronomy knowledge, thoughts on likelihood of alien contact and general perception of humanity.

This was to determine how much each respondent was basing thoughts about extraterrestrial visitors on rational knowledge and how much was based on morality.

“Regarding our relation with a possible intelligent extraterrestrial life, we should not rely on moral reference points of thought, since they are heavily influenced by religion,” explained de la Torre. “Why should some more intelligent beings be ‘good’?”

He believes that decisions to contact potential alien civilisations should involve all of humanity, however, too many of the respondents showed a lack of astronomical knowledge or used religion to form viewpoints on the matter for humanity to be able to make an informed choice, leading de la Torre to call for “a new Galileo to lead this journey”.

“This pilot study demonstrates that the knowledge of the general public of a certain education level about the cosmos and our place within it is still poor,” said de la Torre. “Therefore, a cosmic awareness must be further promoted – where our mind is increasingly conscious of the global reality that surrounds us – using the best tool available to us: education,”

End to Employment? In the Future You’ll Be Working for Yourself

The future of work is freelance, according to research by marketing startup The Plato Group.

The global recession has already led to a rise in entrepreneurs and self-employment, but this trend is set to continue, with half of all Americans working for themselves by 2020.

Combined with the increasing use of robots in service and care roles, this trend could eventually spell the end to traditional, contracted 9-5 work as we know it. This, in turn, could have a significant impact on everything from housing to food.

As part of this, many of us may end up working fewer or more flexible hours in more relaxed, non-corporate environments.

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Technological and social changes have already resulted in changes to working hours, an increase in home-based work and a rise in the number of industries where freelance work is possible.

The Plato Group believes that there will be “a change in the way work is done, a change in the way companies and workers interact and a change in the government’s response to entrepreneurs.”

In particular, the organisation believes that people who are aware of these changes and adapt appropriately will be in the best position to capitalise on the shift to freelance work, and suggested that states offering tax incentives, such as Florida, would be likely to attract more freelancers and small businesses.

A significant growth in freelance work seems likely largely because of the number of tasks that can now be achieved remotely. In many industries, few jobs involve work that is tied to a specific location and employees could – at least in theory – do their work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

However, if freelancers became the majority of workers this could result in a complete change in where people live and work. Areas with appealing climates, scenery and activities could become increasingly popular, and we could see mass migration away from overcrowded urban areas by workers who no longer need to live in the city, which may even have an impact on property prices.

Some towns might even capitalise on this in a bit to boost tax revenue; we could see high-speed broadband and live/work spaces being installed in areas looking to attract more people.

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Fashion may also be affected. Many offices have already moved away from the traditional suit and tie, but with mass freelancing casual wear – and perhaps even loungewear – could see a surge in popularity.

The on-the-go food industry may see a drop as the demand for lunch break sandwiches dwindles, but the home delivery industry – which has exploded over the past few years – could see demand skyrocketing.

However, this shift could also have a very negative impact. Freelance work is often very insecure and can mean living hand-to-mouth with no regular salary to make mortgage payments, pay insurance premiums and similar.

While some would undoubtedly thrive in a freelance system, many may find themselves struggling for work.


Images courtesy of Toms Bauģis.