Scientists outlined one of the main problems if we ever find alien life, it's our politicians

Scientists suggest the geopolitical fallout of discovering extraterrestrials could be more dangerous than the aliens themselves.
Chris Young
Low angled view of radio telescopes.
Low angled view of radio telescopes.


The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project collects data from radio telescopes pointed out towards the cosmos in the hope of picking up a transmission from an intelligent alien civilization.

The trouble is that the receiver might not be quite as intelligent.

At least that's the premise behind a new study, accepted for future publication in an issue of Space Policy, which argues that the geopolitical fallout of finding aliens could lead to our destruction.

How would politicians react to alien contact?

The new paper delves into the "realpolitik" of a scenario in which global governments react to the discovery of alien life — meaning it outlines how it believes that scenario would play out on the global stage.

They highlight a number of troubling scenarios if aliens were to be detected.

One of the scenarios outlined sees nations aim to gain a communication and information monopoly with any alien intelligence. This would almost certainly lead to international conflict with other nations fearing those in contact with the extraterrestrials could then gain and harness alien technology to subjugate other nations.

However, the scientists also highlight the fact that any nation that was in contact with aliens wouldn't necessarily benefit from their technologies, which would likely be too advanced to comprehend. They suggest that hypothetical technologies allowing "propulsionless drives, perfect cloaking, or teleportation" would simply be too complex for a nation to suddenly develop based on initial alien contact.

The authors write that such a scenario would be comparable to medieval scholars being handed a textbook on nuclear weapon design — which would be useless in the absence of an understanding of nuclear physics.

The paper does also suggest any unrest caused by the perceived technological superiority of a nation in contact with extraterrestrial intelligence could lead to nuclear war and the end of our civilization.

Suggestions for a successful SETI scenario

The researchers, from Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center and NASA, highlight three key recommendations based on their findings: prioritize transparency between organizations and nations, develop "post-detection" protocols, and educate the world's policymakers.

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Ultimately, their suggestion is that global cooperation and openness should be prioritized in an alien contact scenario, especially as silence from scientists and politicians would quickly likely lead to conspiracy theories and accusations of hiding the truth from the public.

While the Fermi Paradox suggests aliens should be out there somewhere — the Milky Way alone contains as many as 100 billion planets, many of these in the habitable zones of their stars — it's unlikely we'll detect alien intelligence any time soon. That's not to say experts aren't upping their efforts. Harvard professor Avi Loeb, for example, is building a vast network of cameras with his Galileo Project, and he believes we could have a high-resolution image of a UFO within the next two years. Let's just hope any image that does come to light doesn't lead to global unrest instigated by politicians looking out for national interests above all else.

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