The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is one of the most ambitious missions of human civilization. For decades, scientists have been scanning the skies, listening for signals, and sending messages to possible alien civilizations across the galaxy.
But what if this quest is not only futile, but also dangerous?
Some experts have warned that contacting aliens could end all life on Earth, or at least lead to catastrophic consequences.
They argue that we have no idea what kind of beings we might encounter, what their intentions are, or how they might react to our presence. They suggest that we should stop trying to communicate with them, and instead focus on hiding our existence from them.
One of the most prominent voices of caution is the late Stephen Hawking, who said in 2010: “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”
He added: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
Hawking was not alone in his pessimism. In 2020, Mark Buchanan, a physicist and science writer, wrote in The Washington Post: “Contacting aliens could end all life on earth. Let’s stop trying.”
He argued that whatever the UFO report says, it’s time to set some rules for talking to extraterrestrials. He pointed out that if there are aliens out there, they’ll probably be far more technologically advanced than we are — and therefore dangerous.
Buchanan cited several possible scenarios that could result from contacting aliens, none of them pleasant. For instance, he said that aliens might be hostile and attack us for resources, territory, or ideology.
Or they might be indifferent and accidentally harm us with their activities or experiments. Or they might be benevolent and try to help us, but end up destroying our culture or ecology with their interference.
He also noted that even if aliens are friendly, they might not share our values or morals, and might impose their own on us.
Buchanan gave the example of how European colonizers tried to convert Native Americans to Christianity, often with brutal methods. He wrote: “First contact with aliens could end in colonization and genocide.”
Buchanan’s article was based on a statement by four scholars from the SETI Institute’s Indigenous Studies Working Group, who released an Indigenous studies working group statement on the issue in 2021.
They cautioned that “First contact with aliens could end in colonization and genocide.”
They drew parallels between the history of colonialism and the potential risks of alien contact. They urged SETI researchers to adopt an ethical framework that respects the diversity and autonomy of human and non-human cultures.
Other scientists have also expressed concerns about the wisdom of contacting aliens. In 2019, two German researchers from the University of Freiburg argued that we should cease all attempts at communicating with potential extraterrestrial beings.
They said that we have no way of knowing whether aliens are friendly or hostile, and that we should assume the worst until proven otherwise. They said that sending signals into space is like “shouting in the jungle” without knowing what kind of creatures are lurking there.
These warnings are not meant to discourage curiosity or exploration, but rather to urge caution and prudence. There are also other possible dangers that we may not have anticipated or prepared for:
– Contacting aliens could trigger a war among ourselves. If different nations or groups have conflicting interests or agendas regarding alien contact, they might resort to violence or sabotage to gain an advantage or prevent others from communicating with them.
For example, some might want to establish diplomatic relations with aliens, while others might want to exploit them for technology or information. Some might want to share our culture and values with them, while others might want to keep them secret or isolated.
– Contacting aliens could expose us to unknown threats or hazards. If aliens send us messages or signals, they might contain malicious code or viruses that could infect our computers or networks, or even our brains or bodies.
If aliens visit us physically, they might bring along harmful substances or organisms that could contaminate our environment or cause diseases. If aliens invite us to visit them, they might lure us into traps or ambushes.
– Contacting aliens could alter our sense of identity and purpose. If we discover that we are not alone in the universe, and that there are other intelligent beings out there who are more advanced or different from us, we might lose our confidence or motivation as a species.
We might question our place and role in the cosmic scheme of things, and wonder if we have any significance or value. We might also face ethical and moral dilemmas about how to treat and interact with aliens, and how to balance our own interests and rights with theirs.
These are just some of the potential risks of contacting aliens. There may be more that we have not yet imagined or considered. As Buchanan concluded: “We should keep searching for signs of intelligence in the cosmos — but stop trying so hard to talk back.”