The SETI League, Inc., a membership-supported, non-profit {501(c)(3)}, educational and scientific organization Searching for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

Ask Dr. SETI ®

Chapter 5: Sociology

After Contact, Then What?

Dear Dr. SETI:
I have always been insterested in the long term prospects of SETI. Should we make contact in the near future, will SETI research come to an end, or will this be more than just a one time major event (although extremely major), that will be followed up by trying to make contact with other intelligent civilizations? Will this be dependent on what we learn from this first contact, ie; the existence of an extraterrestrial information grid (internet) that links up to all the other civilizations, or might we have to continue this search, because most of the extraterrestrial civilizations are not linked, or because there may be some civilizations out there who are not part of this extraterrestrial internet? In short, what are the long term prospects for SETI and its research community after first contact?

Thank You,
B. D.

The Doctor Responds:
That topic is much discussed in the SETI community, BD, and no agreement has been reached as to "where we go from here." The official goal of The SETI League, for instance, is to facilitate that first contact. The president of our Board of Trustees is of the opinion that when that happens, we should quietly go away, rather than trying to perpetuate our organization for its own sake. Although I'm not sure I agree, my job is not to make policy but to implement it.

I suspect in part the decision will be based upon what details we learn from any signal intercepted. My personal expectation is that after the first signal is detected, that's when the real work begins. After all, people didn't stop flying after Lindberg flew the Atlantic -- that's when the aviation industry really took off. In what direction we might go after initial contact, surely I can't say. But I have no doubt that humanity will be changed forever, in ways which we cannot now begin to anticipate.

Incidentally, you can help to influence such policy decisions by joining The SETI League, and taking an active role in discussions on our various email lists. See for signup details.

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