Do No Harm? Cultural Imperialism and the Ethics of Active SETI


J. W. Traphagan (2017), JBIS70, pp.219-224

Refcode: 2017.70.219

This paper explores the basic moral question of whether or not the attempt to contact extraterrestrial intelligence could represent a form of cultural imperialism. I argue the discourse surrounding Active SETI or messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence (METI) has focused on the risks to human civilization without giving significant consideration to risks contact might represent for our potential interstellar interlocutors. There is the potential that METI could present a threat to an alien civilization or even a form of unintended cultural imperialism that has the potential to harm an extraterrestrial society. This issue needs to be considered by METI scientists before sending a message intended for an extraterrestrial civilization. Furthermore, it raises problems with the suggestion among some SETI scholars that we should send large amounts of content, such as the Google servers, to make it easier for an alien civilization to decode information in any message we send.