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Telling aliens where we are ‘puts Earth at risk’


The Arecibo message is one of several broadcasts sent into space. “The poor aliens might already be getting various messages sent for all sorts of reasons,” Sandberg added.

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A better approach than individual groups firing off ad hoc broadcasts, he said, would be humanity co-ordinating as a species. “We’re not great at co-ordinating, but I think it is a nice exercise.”

Toby Ord, Sandberg’s colleague at the FHI, made similar arguments in The Precipice, a book published in 2020 in which he analysed existential risks facing humanity.

Ord suggested it might be wise to have “public discussion” before sending messages to aliens, pointing out that “even passive SETI [listening for their messages] could hold dangers, as the message could be designed to entrap us.

“These dangers are small, but poorly understood and not yet well managed.”

Overall, wrote Ord, “the main relevant question is the ratio of peaceful to hostile civilisations. We have very little evidence about whether this is high or low, and there is no scientific consensus.

“Given the downside could be much bigger than the upside, this doesn’t sound to me like a good situation in which to take active steps toward contact.”

The NASA scientists proposed that the message be broadcast from China’s Fast radio telescope, and the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California. No date has been proposed for the broadcast.

Scientists, including the late Professor Stephen Hawking, have warned that these messages could be risky. In a documentary released in 2010, Hawking pointed out that, on Earth, interactions between civilisations on different levels of technological advancement tend not to work out well for the lesser-advanced group.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Professor Hawking said, citing the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.

The Telegraph, London

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyses science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it each week.



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