“Can NASA cause an alien invasion by sending our location” ?
A NASA plan to beam Earth’s location into outer space could inadvertently trigger an alien invasion, Oxford scientists have warned.
Last month, we reported on “A Lighthouse in the Galaxy” (BITG), an update to the 1974 Arecibo radio telescope message that aims to send as much information as possible about our society and species into space.
And is that improvements in digital technology mean that more data can now be transmitted.
The proposed new 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.
As well as the location of the solar system in relation to major star clusters, along with digitized representations of the solar system itself, the Earth’s surface, and humans.
The message ends with an invitation to extraterrestrial intelligences to respond. However, Anders Sandberg, a senior fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) in Oxford, warned that sharing this information presents a risk.
“While the chance of the message reaching an alien civilization is low, it has such a high impact that you really have to take it very seriously,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“However, the laughter factor surrounding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence means that many people simply refuse to take anything related to it seriously, which is a shame because it’s such a big deal.”
Dr. Sandberg also opined that, given the difficulty of traversing interstellar space, a message received by even a very advanced civilization could be “little more than a postcard saying, ‘I wish you were here.’
Toby Ord, colleague of Dr. Sandberg at FHI, made similar arguments in The Precipice, a book published in 2020 in which he analyzes existential risks and the future of humanity.
There, he suggested that it might be prudent to have a “public discussion” before sending messages to aliens, noting that “even passive SETI (listening to messages) can have dangers as the message can be designed to trap us.”
“These dangers are small, but poorly understood and not yet well managed,” he added.
The downside can be much greater
In general, wrote Dr. Ord, “the main relevant question is the ratio of peaceful versus hostile civilizations.
We have very little evidence on whether this is high or low, and there is no scientific consensus. Since the disadvantage can be much greater than the advantage, it doesn’t seem like a good situation to take active steps towards contact.
NASA scientists proposed that the new message be transmitted from FAST (China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope Array) and the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in Northern California.
Although a date for such a broadcast has not yet been offered.
Scientists, including the notorious Stephen Hawking , have warned in the past that such messages can be risky.
In a documentary published in 2010, Professor Hawking pointed out that, on Earth, interactions between civilizations at different levels of technological advancement tend not to work very well for the less advanced group.
“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life can turn into something we wouldn’t want to know about,” said Professor Hawking, citing the arrival of Europeans to the Americas.