19 August 2011

Friday Funny - Deniers Risk Alien Attack

This from an academic paper by researchers at Penn State and NASA (here in PDF, note that ETI = extraterrestrial intelligence and METI = messages to ETI):
Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilizational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere (e.g. via greenhouse gas emissions), which therefore changes the spectral signature of Earth. While it is difficult to estimate the likelihood of this scenario, it should at a minimum give us pause as we evaluate our expansive tendencies.

It is worth noting that there is some precedent for harmful universalism within humanity. This precedent is most apparent within universalist ethics that place intrinsic value on ecosystems. Human civilization affects ecosystems so strongly that some ecologists now often refer to this epoch of Earth’s history as the anthropocene [79]. If one’s goal is to maximize ecosystem flourishing, then perhaps it would be better if humanity did not exist, or at least if it existed in significantly reduced form. Indeed, there are some humans who have advanced precisely this argument [80-82]. If it is possible for at least some humans to advocate harm to their own civilization by drawing upon universalist ethical principles, then it is at a minimum plausible that ETI could advocate harm to humanity following similar principles.

The possibility of harmful contact with ETI suggests that we may use some caution for METI. Given that we have already altered our environment in ways that may viewed as unethical by universalist ETI, it may be prudent to avoid sending any message that shows evidence of our negative environmental impact. The chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere over recent time may be a poor choice for a message because it would show a rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide from human activity. Likewise, any message that indicates of widespread loss of biodiversity or rapid rates of expansion may be dangerous if received by such universalist ETI. On the other hand, advanced ETI may already know about our rapid environmental impact by listening to leaked electromagnetic signals or observing changes in Earth’s spectral signature. In this case, it might be prudent for any message we send to avoid denying our environmental impact so as to avoid the ETI catching us in a lie.