The Stephen Hawking controversy continues to bubble, with discussion on the Larry King show and the appearance of David Brin’s essay The Other Kind of Aliens. It’s all to the good to get such discussions widely circulated, even if it can be dismaying to find that so many respondents believe the answers about how alien cultures will behave are obvious and can be readily deduced from our own cultural experiences. But maybe that’s because this is a new controversy, one that the search for exoplanets is only now bringing to a wider public in any serious way. There is plenty to ponder, and while we debate the nature of alien culture, let’s look at something more immediate.
The Protocols of SETI Success
SETI continues to look for signals of extraterrestrial civilizations. What happens if a signal is actually detected? For the answer, we can look to the SETI Post-Detection Taskgroup, created by the SETI Permanent Study Group of the IAA (International Academy of Astronautics). The Taskgroup’s job is to look at what would happen if we do get a confirmed detection. Understand that we’re talking about a group that is purely advisory in nature, but one whose insights may help scientists. It’s an impressive group whose members are listed here.
Step one is obvious. The reception of a signal would be met with the Taskgroup urging its discoverer to evaluate its authenticity beyond any shadow of a doubt. If it is genuine, the Taskgroup then advises that details be disclosed to the astronomical community first, beginning with the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which would then pass the news along to the United Nations and other govermental bodies. The discoverer would then be free to call a press conference to announce the finding, and soon the airways and computer networks would be filled with discussion.