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SETI public: SETI League member Allen Tough in National Geographic
Every three years a bioastronomy meeting gathers many of the
leading thinkers in the field. I went to the 1999 assemblage in
August on the Big Island of Hawaii, and at the opening
reception around a hotel pool a University of Toronto
sociologist named Allen Tough offered a provocative theory:
“I think a probe is already here. It’s probably been here
a long time.”
He didn’t mean flying saucers. His alien probes would be much
smaller—“nanoprobes,” tiny robotic exploratory craft
sent to Earth from advanced civilizations. The alien probes
may, at some point, let themselves be known to human
civilization. How? Where?
“I think it will happen on the World Wide Web,” said Tough.
Tough and about a dozen other visionaries had a
pre-conference meeting to discuss what to do if human
civilization receives a “high-content” message from
extraterrestrials. There was much uncertainty about how
well prepared humankind is for such an event. We might have
trouble crafting a response. Should we be forthcoming about
the flaws of our species? If we acknowledge our history of
wars and slavery, could that be misinterpreted as a threat?
What if, even as an international committee of well-meaning
thinkers tried to put together a message, some guerrilla radio
broadcaster or “shock jock” beat everyone to it?