Preparing for First Contact: Protocols and Implications
A Seminar/Working Group

Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Sir Author C. Clark.

First contact scenarios are fairly common in Science Fiction. But, what would we do, what should we do, if we actually encountered intelligent, perhaps very advanced, aliens in real life?

On the scale of the universe, or even our galaxy, our physical “encounter cross section” is very small, but it is increasing as we begin to send probes and eventually humans throughout the solar system and beyond. Also, our technological ability to detect alien signals and other artifacts is booming. Thus, though our chances of an encounter are very small, they are not zero and indeed are increasing. In the world of risk management, potential events are commonly rated in terms of probability and impact. In these terms an alien encounter is not very probable but the impact could be beyond measure and therefore must be taken seriously. In that vein, it is worth the relatively small effort to plan ahead on how to handle an encounter rather than be forced to “wing it” when the potential downside risk of a miscalculation extends to human extinction.

In this seminar/workshop we will start with overview talks from a very diverse set of perspectives. We will discuss actual first contact protocols that seem to be in place today. We will then summarize first principles proposed so far – these are broad and basic, similar to the Hippocratic oath of “First do no harm”. We will also provide a diverse/cautionary perspective on first contact risks. We will wrap up the introductory talks with a reconnaissance of the rich exploration of first contact scenarios in science fiction. Then, an interactive session will enable attendees to express their ideas, insights, concerns, and hopes associated with first contact. Finally, this seminar/workshop has the potential to develop into a long-term working group to explore the topic in much greater detail and then synthesize the results into a coherent written report to be presented at the 7th TVIW Interstellar Symposium. Attendees will be asked if they wish to participate in such a long term effort.

Note: The charge for this seminar is $50 per person and no CEUs will be offered.


Lead: Ken Wisian, Ph.D., Major General (retired), Executive Director, Disaster Research Program, Center for Space Research, The University of Texas at Austin. Ken is a geophysicist, former senior government executive and retired USAF and Air National Guard officer. He is a graduate of the US Air Force Test Pilot School, and has combat time in multiple wars.

Ken Roy, P.E., is an engineer who lives and works amid the relics of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge. He has published technology speculation pieces in such venues as the Journal for the British Planetary Society, and the United States Naval Institute Proceedings. His current interests include the history of human conflict, terraforming, and geoengineering.

John Traphagan, Ph.D., Professor and Mitsubishi Fellow, Department of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin. John’s current research interests center on two areas: (1) the relationship between culture, religion, and science and (2) social construction and concepts of ruralities in Japan. He teaches courses on religion in Japan, Japanese culture and society, astrobiology, and medical anthropology.  

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