Thursday, October 30, 2008

SETI: Figuring Out the Beacon Builders

The Benfords -- Jim at Microwave Sciences, Gregory at the University of California's Irvine campus, and Dominic (Jim's son) at NASA GSFC -- believe that advanced societies, if they are to be found, ought most likely to exist toward the galactic center, and probably at distances of over a thousand light years. We're thus talking, in all likelihood, about interstellar beacons rather than targeted transmissions when it comes to SETI. And if beacons are indeed at play, what can we say about their costs, and do our own standards of terrestrial cost have any application in an ETI context?


intense said...

The presumption of the Benford brothers, in each of their respective papers, that an extraterrestrial intelligence might actually be interested in transmitting, via ~10 Ghz microwave beacons, or similar technology, METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, aka Active SETI) signals over thousands of light years strikes me as both utterly presumptuous and deeply anthropocentric in nature, and without any real consideration of the possible consequences.

While I agree with them that the standard SETI protocols and assumption that listening for radio signals in the ~1 Ghz band from nearby (400 or less light years away) systems is likely to be fruitless, their implicit assumption that the majority of advanced civilizations, which they posit would be closer to the galactic hub, and thus far more than 1000 light years away from us, in a kind of "goldilocks civilization zone," and should motivate us to revise SETI assumptions to listen for microwave transmissions at a higher bandwidth as some of such non-human advanced civilizations may be employing high-band microwave "beacons," is nearly as misguided and improbable to yield results.

Why? Because METI is a terrible, insane idea for humanity (or any non-human form of intelligence) to seriously consider acting upon. It would be the equivalent of yelling, "Hey, come get me!" in the cosmological night of the intragalactic jungle, without knowing just what might be out there actively listening for or capable of detecting such a signal.

What do you do if or when some extremely advanced and unknowably intelligent predators show up, attracted by the "signal within the noise" you have so conveniently provided as a "beacon" to vector them to your location?

Even if "the other" were "benign," the consequences (considering, as historical example, even just our own history of inter-cultural contact effects) would most probably have such an incredibly disruptive impact on our relatively primitive human culture, precluding our presumed independence, that we could end up either destroyed (or co-dependently "enslaved") as a species. This fact would not escape other, even more intelligent and capable non-human species. So why would they engage in METI, either?

METI beacons could result in inadvertent species suicide, either way. Once the signal is sent, it cannot be recalled. And several METI signals have, foolishly, already been sent, directed at various star systems.

Who dares speak into the darkness for earth as a whole? The solipsistic needs and quasi-religious desires of some should not be allowed to overcome logical caution and the potential dangers of such blind signaling. I personally think METI should be absolutely prohibited until and unless, by international treaty, there would be a comprehensive, justified rationale for doing it.

IMHO, I don't think there is any.

For further information:

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Intense on this. Listening, yes, but broadcasting should be approached with great caution. We just can't assume, as many do, that any contact would yield angelic visitors who would come to save us from ourselves. While that might be true, the opposite is just as feasible and could be counterproductive to say the least.


intense said...

See also:

Shall We Shout Into the Cosmos?
An information/resource page concerning a fast-developing scientific controversy.
Organized by David Brin, Ph.D.

Bruce Duensing said...

The whole issue is a tempest in a teapot. If an technologically advanced, non human species exists, its more probable they will find us, than we using our proverbial Marconi sets in comparison to theirs. Consider that the military already utilizes quantum encryption.
If they listened, this presumes they are just fascinated by us, where we may appear to be proverbial primitive lunatics. Our collective ego knows no bounds, maybe that is our carrier wave.