How Texting Aliens Could Affect Humanity

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 11.22.31 AMNext week, a startup working in a new sub-field of space exploration called METI (messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence) will begin transmitting text messages and photos toward atmospheres thought to be capable of sustaining life; hoping to broaden the type of information being transmitted to include cultural data from around Earth.  The red dwarf star harboring these atmospheres, Gliese 526, is about 18 light years away so any responses will not make it back before 2050.  Many fear this type of contact may be dangerous to humans on earth while others believe life forms intelligent enough to receive our intended communications would have likely already noticed our electromagnetic emissions over the past three quarters of a century and know we exist. We asked Zintro expert Frans von der Dunk for his general ideas on this advancement from a legal perspective.

According to Frans von der Dunk, an expert on space law and politics, “If extraterrestrial life would be detected, this will inevitably raise a number of legal issues. The most important ones may actually shake the very foundations of ‘the law’ as a man-made instrument designed to regulate human behaviour in one form or another, as we by definition are encountering non-human life. The actual extent of challenges to the concept of ‘the law’ however also depend upon the level of intelligence and advancement of such extraterrestrial life.”

Frans von der Dunk explains that the laws that govern humans are “essentially meant to achieve two, sometimes cooperating, sometimes contradicting aims. On the one hand, law is supposed to establish some semblance of justice…On the other hand, law is supposed to establish some efficiency in human interaction, to allow some measure of predictability of human action. As a matter of fact, most law is developed rather for the latter than the former purpose – there is for example no inherent justice in driving left or right. This of course includes outer space, where there is not even a ‘left’ or ‘right.’”

Considering the context, Frans von der Dunk continues: “‘Space law’ refers to a sub-set of legal rules applicable to outer space and human activities therein…The 1967 Outer Space Treaty functions as the overarching document in this context, providing the general legal framework for all human activities in outer space, for the benefit of all mankind and for peaceful purposes…Extraterrestrials, obviously, presuming of course they possess the requisite intelligence in the first place, do not necessarily share those assumptions, understandings or even the concept of ‘law’ as a binding set of social arrangements amongst humans.”

“In sum,” Frans von der Dunk concludes, “depending upon the level of intelligence and advancement of extraterrestrial life, the foundations of the law will suffice, be thoroughly shaken in a need for a compromise, or found to be totally irrelevant in relation to such extraterrestrial life – and perhaps elsewhere, too…”


By Gabriela Meller

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