Columnist Leonard David

Is humanity prepared for contact with intelligent aliens?

spot-lit satellite dishes on an arid landscape point skyward ere the backdrop of a starry night
The Allen Telescope Array in Northern California, which researchers use to search for possible signals from intelligent aliens. (Image credit: Seth Shostak/SETI Institute)

A new study calls for humanity to prepare for an encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence and examines the possible social consequences of such contact.

First of all, the consequences of first contact strongly depend on the way it takes place. The paper offers the view that first contact with alien life poses considerable risks for humanity. Additionally, a first contact event could also take place without being culturally recognized.

The intriguing new research paper is led by Andreas Anton of the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany.

Related: The search for alien life


Anton and colleagues serve up a set of scenarios:

  • The signal scenario is the basis of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) programs, in which radio astronomers search for signs of alien civilizations. It assumes that radio telescopes can pick up artificial signals from the far reaches of space.
  • The technosignature scenario envisions that future powerful telescopes will find evidence of past or present extraterrestrial technology.
  • The artifact scenario assumes that one day, somewhere in our solar system (or even on Earth itself), we will come across the material remains — such as a space probe — of an extraterrestrial civilization.
  • The encounter scenario involves the appearance of an alien spacecraft in near-Earth space that can be assumed, based on its flight maneuvers or other actions, to be controlled by intelligence, either biological or artificial.

Biological beings or artificial intelligence?

The prospect of an encounter scenario, the paper points out, raises an important question: Whether the alien technology is controlled by a biological life form or an artificial intelligence.

"A biological life form, we suspect, could potentially cause greater anxiety, as the immediate question would be what 'they' want here. It also has an inbuilt assumption that they have a relatively nearby base or have superfast travel (maybe faster than light) and would thus be very far ahead of us technologically," Anton and co-authors write in their paper. 

"However, the question of whether the encounter is with a biological life form or the emissaries of a machine civilization could remain unresolved for a long time," they add.

Be prepared

The paper concludes by acknowledging that the more we know about the universe and the further we penetrate into the cosmos through our own research activities, "the more likely it is that we will be confronted with alien civilizations, their signals or their legacies."

That being the case, the researchers suggest, humanity needs to be prepared as a global society for this scenario.

"In the political sphere, the question of how to deal with this discovery and possible communication with extraterrestrial civilizations would lead to a global discourse," they write in the paper. "International cooperation would be essential to develop a unified approach to dealing with this new reality."

 This research paper, titled "Meeting extraterrestrials: Scenarios of first contact from the perspective of exosociology," is available here

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.

  • rod
    Interesting article and reference paper cited, Meeting extraterrestrials: Scenarios of first contact from the perspective of exosociology

    Is *science* preparing humanity for a first contact with intelligent, non-human life (perhaps already known in some circles of government and science)? What message about our origins would that intelligent life tell humanity?
  • Pogo
    We haven’t discovered evidence of life anywhere but here, we’re not even sure what to look for. I don’t think we have any idea what to prepare for intelligent life forms, nor how to prepare it.
  • MicchaelL65
    Are we ready for contact with intelligent aliens? The US alone has 2 different political parties with differing ideologies that cannot even come together on anything. So, the answer is 'No. We are not ready for first contact.
  • George²
    Obviously, if extraterrestrials land on Earth, then there will already be an intelligent race on the planet. They will surely look upon us as animals in a pre-intelligent state.
  • El Hado Helado
    Admin said:
    A new study calls for humanity to prepare for an encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence and examines the social consequences of such contact.

    Is humanity prepared for contact with intelligent aliens? : Read more
    'What will you believe: What I told you, or what your blind eyes have seen?' (Groucho Marx, Duck's soup, 1933)
    Who is sure we haven't had contacts with alien yet?

    Not to Heavens, but up, up and away in the sky.
    Please have a look at

    If some wait for a Press Conférence in front of White House, in Saint Peter's place, they'll wait for ever.
    Klaatu barada nicto (from parade and night) won't take place.
    Some alien could be in the invaders' business, none is in the Show Business.

    Blessings +
  • bwana4swahili
    "However, the question of whether the encounter is with a biological life form or the emissaries of a machine civilization could remain unresolved for a long time,"
    I suspect it might be very difficult to determine whether an advanced society's 'visitor' is biological or AI, although I believe our first contact will be an AI of some form due to the rigors of space travel.

    As to how we greet it/them is an open question. Humans do have a tendency to open fire before fully evaluating the situation. This approach with an highly advanced space travelling entity would not bode well for humanity!!
  • El Hado Helado
    As pointed, some aliens can be invaders, there are hints the Spaceship in 'Rendezvous with Rama' could be a real object, a galley of vampires.

    No alien is in the Politics Business, No one is a Preacher, No one is in the Show Business, some Share technologies with us, namely NMR, but not the space travel technology, at least not with everybody.

    They Said <<snip>> already went to Stars, met thousands of Alien civilizations, some other reject them. Who knows?
    I don't.
    Gesund +
  • COLGeek
    El Hado Helado said:
    Please have a look at
    The perfect gift this holiday season for the person you thought already had everything!
  • shelly42068
    I don't think we will impress them too much, for the 3 time i have watched someone take a crap in public, and nobody cares. So i am pretty ashamed of the human race, law won't do anything. And hello, it is nice to meet you too!!
  • rod
    So, did these intelligent aliens evolve via abiogenesis using HCN? This new report and past report indicates abiogenesis needs HCN to create life.