Active SETI and the Perils of Isolationism

One of the central debates in the SETI community has been the question of whether or not we should engage in Active SETI (also known as Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence or METI). With the recent formation of SETI International and its expressed aims to discuss, debate and eventually engage in Active SETI, the debate has again arisen, particularly as those against METI raise concerns about the potential dangers of alerting an extraterrestrial neighbor to our presence.

Of course, there may be risk involved in messaging extraterrestrials. There is a high likelihood that any ETs who receive our message will be more technologically advanced than humans, because it is very unlikely that an extraterrestrial civilization with whom we make contact will be at the same technological juncture as humans, who have only been transmitting radio signals for about a century. We are early players in this game. But technological advancement does not necessarily equate to moral advancement, so there is no necessary reason to believe that ET will be altruistic, as opposed to bent upon galactic domination. Unfortunately, pretty much anything we think about this problem is conjecture, because we have yet to encounter a civilization more advanced than our own. But human history does not bode well for the idea that there is any correlation between technological advancement and moral advancement. We certainly need to be careful.

So what do we do? Do we hide our heads in the sand and hope nasty, advanced ETs never notice us? There actually is precedent in human diplomatic history for this approach — it’s called isolationism, which is a foreign policy approach in which the best interests of a nation are believed to be served by maintaining distance from the affairs of other countries. The U.S., as well as other countries, —> Read More