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27 April 2010, JellyBean @ 6:30 am

My first contact with the legendary Isaac Asimov, perhaps the most prolific author in human history, came in 1978, when I commissioned him to write an article for the inaugural issue of Second Look, a magazine about the search for other intelligent life that I co-edited with Robert K.G. Temple.

By the time he died in 1992, Asimov’s published books numbered 500, with the best known being The Foundation Trilogy and the I, Robot series of novels. He was a Ph.D. professor of biochemistry at Boston University before he retired to write fulltime. His last nonfiction book, in 1991, titled Our Angry Earth, was a prophetic warning about global warming. Yet, this genius at portraying the future of technology was afraid of flying (he only flew in an airplane twice early in his life) and he never learned to swim, ride a bicycle, or drive a car (until late in life).

The assignment that I gave Asimov was to answer this question: “Is it wise to contact advanced civilizations?” This topic held far less relevance to science reality in 1978 than today because over the past 30 years, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has evolved many-fold in its capacity to detect radio signals from civilizations elsewhere in the Universe, if indeed they are doing any broadcasting.

With our increased technological capacity to detect interstellar signals has come a renewed debate about whether we should even be attempting to make contact. They might be so superior to us technologically that we would be easily conquered and exploited, goes one argument. Their technology might be so advanced that it would appear to us as magic, goes another line of thought, resulting in the human species losing all meaning and collective self-esteem. We might worship these visitors and become their slaves. Are we wasting billions of dollars in a fruitless search for aliens who either don’t exist, or have no interest in knowing us? The list of fears and doubts voiced seem endless.

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