NASA’s planned “Beacon in the Galaxy” (BITG), a broadcast of data by a team of researchers with the aim of greeting “extraterrestrial intelligences,” has reportedly compelled the scientists at the UK’s Oxford University to issue a warning that the experiment could have dangerous unintended results, including provoking an extraterrestrial invasion of Earth.
The US space agency wants to broadcast location data and other information into space, beaming the signal from the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope array in California and China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).
The intended NASA broadcast data would include such information as the biochemical composition of life on Earth, the Solar System’s time-stamped position in the Milky Way, digitized images of humans and an invitation for extraterrestrials to respond.
Anders Sandberg, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), argued that such a broadcast could be risky. In the unlikely event that an alien civilization receives the message, he said, the response might not be just a friendly greeting.
The search for alien life has a “giggle factor” around it, Sandberg said in an article published yesterday. “Many people refuse to take anything related to it seriously, which is a shame because this is important stuff.”
Another FHI scientist at Oxford, Toby Ord, has suggested that there should be public discussion before sending signals to aliens. Even listening for incoming messages could be dangerous, he added, as they could be used to entrap Earthlings. “These dangers are small but poorly understood and not yet well managed,” he said.
Ord insisted that there’s no scientific consensus on the ratio of peaceful to hostile civilizations around the galaxy. “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,” he said.
Weaker signals have been broadcast into space in the past using earlier technologies, such as the Arecibo message sent in 1974. Sandberg theorized that “the poor aliens might already be getting various messages sent for all sorts of reasons.”
Scientists with the BITG group have speculated that an alien species that is sufficiently advanced to achieve communication through the cosmos would “very likely have attained high levels of cooperation amongst themselves and thus will know the importance of peace and collaboration.”