Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Impact of Contact (II)

While a significant amount of effort has gone into finding exoplanets and determining if they are habitable, much less work has been done on the impact of successfully discovering and contacting these civilizations. That is the focus of the “White Equation,” which I developed in writing my book, The SETI Factor, in 1990. (1)
     In the White Equation, our concern is less with the likelihood of successful contact and more with the results of it, especially in regard to Earth’s civilization.
            In considering this topic, I looked first at the results of interactions between highly advanced technological civilizations and less advanced societies on Earth. The most obvious example is what happened when Europeans migrated to North and South America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
            In using the terms “more advanced” and “less advanced,” I am not making a value judgment. In many ways, I consider the societies of the indigenous peoples of the New World to be superior to those of their European adversaries. However, the possession of weaponry such as muskets and, later, repeating rifles allowed a relatively small group of adventurers from the Old World to overcome and even destroy the indigenous tribes and civilizations of the New World.
            The same trauma could well be true of contact between Earthlings and extraterrestrials, a scenario that has been advanced more than once by none other than Stephen Hawking. (2) Just imagine the difference between our own global society in 1816 and in 2016. Two hundred years ago, there were no electric lights, automobiles, cell phones, spacecraft, computers, or refrigerators, and this was the case in both the developed and the so-called non-developed worlds. If a person could travel back in time from now to then and communicate about these technologies, the people of 1816 would be amazed and probably traumatized.

            Now imagine that we have contact with an extraterrestrial civilization that is “only” 200 years ahead of us technologically. This could have an incredibly disruptive impact on our economy, politics, science, and even religion. For example, what happens to Apple and IBM if this civilization is far ahead of us with computing technology, including Artificial Intelligence, an area in which IBM has focused much of its business strategy?

To be continued
(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved
(1) The SETI Factor, Frank White, Walker & Co., New York, NY, 1990.
The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 
The SETI Factor, which explores the impact of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, is out of print, but some copies may be available at

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