Would meeting an extraterrestrial civilization be good or bad for humanity? Astronomer Dr. Jacob Haqq Misra argues that knowing the outcome in advance is fundamentally impossible, which results in a range of policy implications. Should we camouflage Earth's technosignatures or pour money into perhaps the most transformative event in human history? Should we fear the dark or embrace the unknown?
Related Reading and References
Casey Dreier: Welcome to this month's space policy edition. I'm Casey Dreier, the chief of space policy here at The Planetary Society. I am joined by, and I should say in person, literally, and standing in front of me right now is The Planetary Society's director of government relations, Jack Kiraly.
Jack Kiraly: Hi, Casey. Good to see you in person.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. To all of our listeners, I have successfully confirmed that Jack is not an advanced AI that has been representing itself to us via computer screen over the past three months working here for The Planetary Society. He is in fact real and has been doing a great job here in DC. Jack, it's great to be here.
Jack Kiraly: Yeah. It's great to be here with you, Casey. It's been a great first few months on the job and really hit the ground running with the budget process in February, and now I'm onward and upward for fiscal year 2024.
Casey Dreier: It's been an exciting time, let's say.
Jack Kiraly: To say the least, yeah.
Casey Dreier: In addition to my special co-host this month, I should say that our guest that will be joining me here in just a few minutes on this month's show is Jacob Haqq Misra. He is an astronomer, very interesting thinker and writer on particularly issues of SETI and technosignatures. And I was particularly struck by a paper he had written a few years ago that examined the variety of policy implications, based on the fact that the consequences of meeting another extraterrestrial civilization are fundamentally unknowable. That may sound almost trite as a conclusion, but he actually breaks down these three really interesting consequences of this about how we then approach not just SETI, but the concept of active SETI, of basically broadcasting our existence out there in hopes that we catch the attention of another civilization, should it exist. And again, this is just a fun area of discussion. Jacob is, again, a very deep thinker on these topics, has written extensively on it, and brings a really solid background of astronomy and physics into this discussion. It is really fun to have. I hope you'll stick around for that discussion, which will be here in just a few minutes. But in the meantime, Jack, before you and I jump into something else that is actually very pertinent as we record this, which is the debt ceiling, I think we're supposed to do a plug for The Planetary Society.
Jack Kiraly: I think you're right.
Casey Dreier: If Sarah were here, she would at this point be making an impassioned pitch for why you should become a member of The Planetary Society, if you're not. Which is that The Planetary Society is not just our home organization of Jack and I and the organization that pays our salaries, but something we just personally believe in to the point where we have dedicated our careers to advocating for you as a member, a potential member, and its ideals of space science, of exploration, of planetary defense, and of course the search for life, which is the big topic of this month's episode. Jack, you've come into this organization, you were a member and still are...
Jack Kiraly: [inaudible 00:03:16].
Casey Dreier: ... and a volunteer. Yes. None of us here at The Society get free membership as staff. But you were a volunteer for many years and now work for us. Membership, what does it mean to you in terms of why it's a valuable thing?
Jack Kiraly: It really is. The Planetary Society really is the preeminent organization that advocates for these things, these values that we hold so dear, the search for life, among them planetary defense, the exploration of not just our solar system but advancements in astrophysics and astronomy, and the engineering marvels that surround us every day. Sometimes we can get lost in the day-to-day activities, but we have, as a species been able to achieve such phenomenal things, I think, in large part because there are organizations like The Planetary Society that collectivize our passion for space science and exploration. And to have an organization that is so focused on the membership, on providing value to that membership, and listening to and responding to the voices of our members is very powerful and is one of the things that kept me involved for so many years. And keeps me engaged and excited to continue to do this work, even given all the pressures of the political environment that NASA and space exploration in general can find itself in at times. Truly we are advancing our civilization, our species as a spacefaring species. There's nothing more uplifting than being involved in an organization that firmly believes in the future of humanity, as The Planetary Society does.
Casey Dreier: It's a good, optimistic viewpoint. Great point.
Jack Kiraly: It is not often shared by my colleagues in DC.
Casey Dreier: If you share the fact that you want humanity to continue on and have this wonderful future, please join us at The Planetary Society, planetary.org/join. If you're already a member, thank you so much. We really do honestly appreciate it. It makes a huge, huge difference. One more aspect of this and then we'll move on, which is, membership really is the core of our organization financially. We are not dependent on corporate backers. We don't take government funding. It's really just individuals that really, literally, enable us to exist. And that independence just is a true, rare entity here in Washington DC.
Jack Kiraly: Invaluable. And for every new member that joins it just amplifies our message tenfold.
Casey Dreier: We're going tomorrow out to a number of Senate offices. The first thing we'll be saying when we go into those offices is, how many members are in their state, how many constituents they have are Planetary Society members? That's the plug. Thanks for listening to that part. But again, it's really, truly important, so thanks for considering it. Now let's move on. Jack, as you and I record this, we just passed a big procedural vote in the House of Representatives. The Senate has yet to come. Actually, the house has yet to vote on it finally, but we think it's going to pass. And this is a deal to lift the debt ceiling of the United States. It's been a relatively uncertain path, I guess, up to this point. Is it worth going into the details of this? I don't know.
Jack Kiraly: The debt limit. I think maybe that's the important part of this, is that the debt limit is separate from the appropriations process. This is money that has already been allocated, that we have a commitment to spend X number of dollars through the regular appropriations.
Casey Dreier: This is money that Congress approved already and directed the federal government to spend through legislation and the appropriations process. This used to be relatively standard, because again, the money has already been appropriated. The US government's told to spend it. But, it's more political and more partisan now. There's sometimes a division on if we're going to raise it, which we have to do to maintain full faith and credit in the United States Treasury, that there's some politicking that happens, let's say. At this point, it looks like the deal lifting the debt ceiling or suspending it in this case for the next two years, it's going to freeze this part of US government spending called non-defense discretionary. It's going to freeze it at 2023 levels, and then it'll grow by 1% the year after that. Not a huge cut that we originally feared, but it really restricts the amount of money that goes to agencies like the space program, like the National Science Foundation, like the Department of Energy, things that tend to intersect with our space priorities. Again, it's not a huge cut. I think 22% is what we're originally looking at.
Jack Kiraly: That was the amount feared, was a 22% cut across the board.
Casey Dreier: And now we're at a flat. But what's the problem with this?
Jack Kiraly: My dollar doesn't go as far in fiscal year 2024 as it did in fiscal year 2023.
Casey Dreier: Has anyone else noticed that eggs are slightly more expensive right now than they used to be? The same thing is true for spacecraft parts, for highly skilled engineers, for management, for everything that feeds into the supply chain for spacecraft. They've experienced inflation too. And NASA's dollars do not go as far as they used to. The original proposal for increasing NASA next year by 7% basically would have accounted for this inflation. Again, we actually don't know what NASA's going to get yet, so this is, I think, the one rub here. The pie that NASA takes its slice from is going to remain the same size. NASA could feasibly still get a 7% increase next year, if Congress wants to give it to them. But something else has to then accommodate that difference. And I think that's the problem. The pie is shrinking a little bit, and everything else that was supposed to grow also can't just grow with that same [inaudible 00:09:00]. Something has to get cut somewhere or kept the same somewhere. But even if NASA, if they apply that evenly to every single program in the US government, because inflation has happened, NASA's dollars just won't go as far. Assuming these various levels of assumptions here, NASA is likely seeing maybe a 7% decrease in buying power. Is that a fair way to characterize things?
Jack Kiraly: I think that would be. Because at the end of the day, $25 billion in 2024 doesn't get you the same $25 billion that it would've got you in 2023.
Casey Dreier: We're seeing this already with VERITAS being indefinitely delayed. We're seeing this also then with real cost growth on top of inflation happening with Mars Sample Return, with Artemis, components of that. We're seeing this squeeze happen to a variety of planetary emissions. We're seeing potential delays of Dragonfly and DAVINCI, and of course, basic research for planetary science is really tough already. And this was under the growth scenario, that they were going to have to struggle with this. The long and short of it is, I think it's fair to say that we don't know exactly yet. The appropriations process can basically begin now, what we're used to seeing, in terms of the actual congressional thing, now that we know our actual size of the pie. How it's going to get divided, at this point is anyone's guess. I guess, Jack, you've got your work cut out for you over the next few months.
Jack Kiraly: It all comes down to, and what you might see in the news, those 302(b) allocations.
Casey Dreier: Everyone's favorite...
Jack Kiraly: Everyone's favorite...
Casey Dreier: ... allocation.
Jack Kiraly: ... four-letter word in government. The 302(b) allocations is going to determine what is appropriated or, I guess, the amount that appropriators will be able to divide between their agencies for the NASA subcommittee. NASA's wrapped up in the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of appropriations, and their allocation is going to determine how much they have to work with. What is the headroom that CJS is going to be able to work with to set the budgets for the Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, NASA, NSF, NOAA, and all the other related agencies that fall under that umbrella?
Casey Dreier: I think the pie is... What? It's about 701 billion next year...
Jack Kiraly: Yeah.
Casey Dreier: ... if this all goes through. That'll be divided among 11 different subcommittees of appropriations.
Jack Kiraly: 12.
Casey Dreier: The 12th one is Department of Defense.
Jack Kiraly: You're right.
Casey Dreier: They don't get a cut. This is just the non-defense one.
Jack Kiraly: They get a 3.5% increase.
Casey Dreier: Increase, yeah. That was the deal. We're looking at 11 different subcommittees splitting that $700 billion, and it was originally supposed to be something like 735. Again, it doesn't sound huge on the outset, but given inflation, given the fact that other agencies... And then politically, NASA very rarely, unfortunately, rises to the top of the attention for a lot of members of Congress. And we've lost some of NASA's biggest champions in the hierarchy who had leadership positions in appropriations. This is going to be a tough year. That doesn't mean things will all go to hell. Because also what NASA could do within it, what they could do, what Congress could do, is rope off certain areas. They could say, Mars Sample Return gets exactly the increase it requested. Artemis could get exactly the same increase as requested. But then every other part of NASA may need to absorb the difference. This is the set of decisions that we believe NASA is going to have to face over the next few months. Again, we don't know anything yet, but we're going to be... In terms of that level of detail, this is what the process has to unfold. But this is why I think we're going to be needing you. If you're listening to this as either a society member or just a space advocate, it's going to be really important to begin communicating these priorities during the next few months now. Because this is when the rubber's going to hit the road and they're going to really be going through these tough set of trade-offs. I firmly believe, particularly now, we need to be investing in science and investing in US industry, investing in our STEM workforce in this country, and we do that by going into space. That may not be a surprise to people, but I believe that.
Jack Kiraly: I don't know. I had my doubts, Casey.
Casey Dreier: You had your doubt's all right. It's like, maybe this is the time to cut, but no. This is really going to be an important year, I think, and a big turning point. Because again, I think this is really going to set the rest of the decade, whether the US is going to be able to return to the moon this decade, whether we'll be able to really aggressively pursue Sample Return, still go to Venus, all these other great, huge opportunities we have sitting right in front of us. We will need your help coming up. You will expect emails from us in the next few months asking for opportunities to contact a member of Congress. Should also say, the Day of Action.
Jack Kiraly: September 17th and 18th.
Casey Dreier: Of this year: planetary.org/dayofaction, registrations open now. This is a great opportunity to meet directly, face-to-face, with your member of Congress or their staff and really share your priorities with them.
Jack Kiraly: And anecdotally speaking, for the Day of Action, it is one of our most successful programs we run here at The Planetary Society, and it's also one of the most impactful. And that is something that I see on a weekly basis is, some member of Congress or their staff mentions meeting with a space advocate from The Planetary Society. We make these lasting impacts. The last time we did this in person was in 2020.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, right before COVID hit.
Jack Kiraly: Right. February, 2020, what a time. This September we have that opportunity again in a critical funding year. Like you're saying, Casey, we have a lot of exciting missions that need our support right now. Our Sample Return, VERITAS, Artemis, NEO Surveyor, the list goes on and on, Dragonfly, I want to make sure I give them a shout out as well. Now is the time to make our voice heard as, really, the only non-commercial, nonprofit, independent space advocacy organization out there today. We hold a lot of power in these meetings and these conversations with members of Congress and their staff. If you're on the fence, I'm telling you, this is your...
Casey Dreier: [inaudible 00:15:22].
Jack Kiraly: ... opportunity. If you want to see Mars Sample Return by the end of this decade, now's the time.
Casey Dreier: Come to DC with us, September 17th, 18th, planetary.org/dayofaction to learn about how to do that. There are ways to participate online if you can't travel or don't have the resources to do so. We'll be following up with those as well. Jack, I think that about covers it for debt ceiling. We'll be talking about the consequences of this next month, for sure. Let's go to our interview now, with Jacob Haqq Misra. Just as a reminder, he's an astronomer, senior research investigator at the Blue Marble Space Institute. He's part of the American Geophysical Union, the International Astronomical Union, very deep thinker on SETI and technosignatures. We are going to be talking here about the policy implications of the fact that we do not know whether meeting an extraterrestrial intelligence would be good or bad. Again, really interesting discussion consequences from that, so let's listen to this discussion with Jacob right now.
Jack Kiraly: Really looking forward to it.
Casey Dreier: Dr. Misra, thanks for joining us on this month's Space Policy Edition. Glad you're here.
Jacob Haqq Misra: Absolutely. Thanks for inviting me, Casey.
Casey Dreier: One of your many areas of interest that I want to start with today, and I hope we'll touch on a number of them, is the idea of policy implications of active setting or METI, as you call it. And before we get into that paper that I recommend everyone read, we'll link to it in the show notes, let's define exactly what that means. What's the difference between SETI and active SETI?
Jacob Haqq Misra: Active SETI is contrasted with passive SETI. SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has traditionally been about building radio telescopes, pointing radio telescopes at the sky towards extrasolar planetary systems, and looking for radio signals that might be from extraterrestrial civilization. The classic thing we're looking for is narrowband radio signal that would be unlike anything else you'd find in any other astrophysical phenomenon. And then SETI has also [inaudible 00:17:30] SETI expanded to include laser pulses as well that might be directed toward Earth. We can talk a little bit more later, but other kinds of SETI you can do observing exoplanets, atmospheres and things like that. But that's still passive in the sense that it's a signal that's there and we're just trying to receive information. Whereas active SETI or METI, messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence, is us taking a more proactive, experimental approach by actually transmitting a message, again probably radio or maybe optical as a laser, towards systems of interest with the goal of attracting attention of anyone that might be on the other end and may be eliciting or replying.
Casey Dreier: That tends to bring about more, let's say, strong opinions, the active SETI version, the messaging for extraterrestrial intelligence. Let's summarize a few of those. What are some of the general, reluctant arguments for actively looking out and announcing Earth's existence to other potential civilizations?
Jacob Haqq Misra: We don't really know what the consequences of contact with extraterrestrials would be at all.
Casey Dreier: I guess. That's the point of your paper, but we'll get into that.
Jacob Haqq Misra: One of the concerns is that this could be very, very harmful, a very negative thing. The classic, aliens will receive the signal and get upset about it. They didn't know about our presence perhaps, and then they come and for whatever reason, we'd go extinct because of an alien attack, or just we're displaced by them or something like that. A lot of people are worried that maybe this won't end well for Earth.
Casey Dreier: You thought about this in this paper, the policy implications of radio detectability of Earth. And you did something really interesting. You make this logistical proof that it's a fundamentally unknowable outcome of the consequences of a steady contact, basically. Let's just walk through that, because the implications are really interesting as a function of that. Even assuming they're out there, the value of contact to the civilization you try to quantify. Tell us why that's unknowable first, and then let's look at the implications for why that is.
Jacob Haqq Misra: In extraterrestrial civilization, if they are out there, there is no way for us to predict how another species will respond that we know nothing about, until we have actually discovered them. If you want to know how a hypothetical civilization would respond to a signal that we send them, the only way to know that is to first know something about them. If we had a spacecraft around their home world and we were studying them and we knew something about their biology and something about their society, then we could actually make predictions. We could do extraterrestrial sociology thinking. But without any information about that, all we have is life on Earth to go from. We could maybe make some very basic guesses about life elsewhere, maybe it's carbon based, maybe it uses water. Those are pretty good guesses and we can't even say that that's true for sure. But just because you're a carbon-based, water-using lifeform, does that mean you will get upset when a radio message reaches your planet from another one? There's no way to know that. The only way you can actually resolve this uncertainty is to know something about them. Without that, we don't know if this will be harmful to us, if this will help us, if this will be just irrelevant to us. The idea that this is going to be all bad is a little bit projecting from our own perspectives of human history to something that is truly unknown.
Casey Dreier: That's something I want to touch on in a bit. Because I think that's a fascinating aspect of SETI in particular and then going even to METI is, assumption based upon assumption, based upon assumption, based on our very, as you pointed out, limited understanding of what life is. But I think it's really interesting that the very fact that we can't know, and it's not just that we don't know, it's that you argue that we cannot know, until we detect another civilization, what the implications to us will be as a human society, actually has implications for the policies that we undertake as a species for this. In your paper, you outline the three different approaches that fall out of this idea that the consequences are fundamentally unknowable. I'll just outline the big three and then I'd like to address them in turn. You call it precautionary malevolence, basically assuming that the outcome is bad. Assumed benevolence: The opposite, the more Clarkian idea that they're basically gods and will benefit us as a society from their wisdom and knowledge. Or preliminary neutrality: That fundamentally, contact is so unlikely to occur there's no real risk one way or the other and it should be treated with that... Because it's so unlikely, we prioritize it accordingly. I want to start with this malevolence, and we've already touched on this. This tends to be the assumption granted to the existence of other civilizations by most of METI's critiques that it will be bad. Something that I find really interesting as a consequence of it, if that is the case, if that is truly what people believe, you argue that active SETI is already too narrow of a definition in terms of announcing Earth's presence or human's presence. Talk about why are we already announcing ourselves beyond just the electromagnetic spectrum, and what would we need to do if we really take this seriously?
Jacob Haqq Misra: I'll start even with the electromagnetic spectrum. With METI or active SETI, the concern is about intention. If you point a radio transmitter or laser to space and you transmit intentionally, is that somehow different than the other radio waves we're putting out into space? We can get into that philosophical question if we want, but from just a technical perspective, it's just how much energy in radio waves or optical lasers are going out from Earth. It doesn't really matter from the receiver's end what the intention was. If you look at Earth, the loudest signals coming from Earth are military radar. At least so far, any METI attempts have not really been brighter than those military radars. There is one or two messages from the Arecibo Telescope that were transmitted out towards a globular cluster, Frank Drake was part of this, and that was approaching the strength of some of the military transmissions. Cell phone towers are pretty weak, but they're going out there, it just depends what you're listing for. But really, television and radio transmission towers are still there. Even with the aero fiber optic cables, they're increasing in number, both in developing countries, but also even in countries like the US, we have digital transmission now of TV signals. All of those things form the background leakage radiation emanating from earth. Without doing any active signaling, those are technosignatures that our planet is emitting that could be observable by anyone looking at us. There's other things too. Say we went radio quiet, we go all fiber optic cables and the military no longer needs to use radar to locate objects in space, we still have pollution in our atmosphere that could be detectable. Things like chlorofluorocarbons, which are part of destroying the ozone layer, those stay in the atmosphere for a long time. And some of these missions that are looking at exoplanet atmospheres to look for biosignatures, these are astrobiological missions to look for life. Something like pollution is an atmosphere technosignature, it's something life does, but it's life-making technology, which then makes something detectable in the atmosphere. There's other forms of pollution you could think about looking for. You could observe city lights. The high-pressure and low-pressure sodium lights in particular would have a very discernible spectral signature through a space telescope. You could look for orbiting debris disc of satellites, whether they're functioning or they're broken dust or things like that. Those are some examples. There are things that are on earth now that would give away the presence of technology. And that's aside from life. There's other biosignatures too. But the technology, for sure, is something that's evident on earth without us needing to send any messages.
Casey Dreier: In a sense, we're doing a passive/active study program already. We're passively, actively present by the fact that, as all these other variations you point out, our technology is detectable and [inaudible 00:26:45].
Jacob Haqq Misra: Right. This is why I don't worry so much about the question of intention. In some sense, if you were to intentionally double the detectability of Earth, then I think the intention matters, because without doing that, you haven't changed it much. But with all the existing METI projects, you're talking about adding a minuscule amount to this omnipresent leakage. It doesn't really matter to me if we're doing this intentionally or not. We are signaling. There are detectable technical signatures going out, whether we mean to or not.
Casey Dreier: I guess that's the interesting aspect then. If people are truly concerned about the existential risk, which I do see a lot of, the fact that we are detectable, and again, they tend to, I think, conceptually limit it to messaging SETI. But to take your argument as accurate, which I do, that really requires then that we do more than just not actively message. If they're truly concerned, then the policy conclusion is that globally we should be trying to mask our presence at every conceivable, detectable way that our technology exists, somehow masking our atmospheric composition, somehow masking or not using these military radars, suppressing all this type of [inaudible 00:28:05] leakage. This really goes beyond just not actively messaging then, if people are truly concerned about this.
Jacob Haqq Misra: If you were truly concerned about that above all else, then yes, you would have to take such extreme positions, for sure. I don't think anybody's arguing for that though. But at that naive level, then yes, that's the implication.
Casey Dreier: They're not arguing. I think this is then revealing, in terms of when you look at people's actual... Are people making an active argument based on a broad understanding of the issue, or is it a... [inaudible 00:28:41] is way too strong of a word, but... just not fully taking their arguments to their natural conclusion? If people really assume there's a fundamental existential risk, long-term risk, to humanity about active messaging, they should then be doing these other things. I think that follows, personally. I don't want to put you into a corner with this, 'cause you're much more active in this field than I am. But that's the interesting consequence to me, policy speaking, that they should then be arguing for...
Jacob Haqq Misra: That's right, yeah.
Casey Dreier: [inaudible 00:29:13]... some de-growth to bring humans back to look like we're in the stone age, just in case there's some malevolent, technological force out there that is looking for us, whether we're actively messaging or not.
Jacob Haqq Misra: Yeah, that's right. That is the implication. One of the ideas that I work on, that I suggest in one of my papers, is a working hypothesis, the idea that the benefits of communicative technology on Earth and the consequences of those, that those benefits outweigh any consequences from potential extraterrestrial contact. Yes, we're putting radio signals out, but some of those are for early weather warnings that help save lives. So, it's better to do that and risk a little bit of exposure and detectability, rather than not have a satellite system and have people die whenever there's a storm, just in case there's an alien invasion in the future. That's the trade-off. But you don't really know that, it's a working hypothesis. You can't say that is true. But I think that working hypothesis is what a lot of people operate under. Under that hypothesis you say, we want our satellite system for early storm warning and maybe we want the military to do what they need to do to protect us, but don't go and do something that's just intended to message extraterrestrials, because that is unnecessarily increasing the detectability of Earth. And even if it's only by a little bit, I think just from that point of view, any amount is more than you need. Because it is accepting that, yes, our early warning weather detection system could be the thing that brings an extraterrestrial invasion, but the trade-off is worth it. I don't think anyone's really saying it like this, but I think this is how they're thinking. We do want to keep the technology we have on Earth because it's important, but we don't want to increase our detectability simply for the purpose of signaling extraterrestrials, 'cause that would just make it potentially more likely to be seen.
Casey Dreier: This is where I think the reductio ad absurdum argument is actually quite revealing in that. Do people really, truly, honestly hold this opinion versus that they... There's something about actively messaging that, I think, people may just find distasteful or unpleasant or unsettling. That's what they're reacting to more than the concept itself, let's say, at the end of the day. I could talk about this for 20 more minutes, but let's talk about the other two consequences of your fundamental unknowability of engagement with another civilization. We talked about this presumed malevolence and the consequences of that. Let's talk about the opposite, the benevolent civilization that's out there. This is where we hit some Saganesque or Clarkian engagement with another civilization and they bestow us with great knowledge or benefits to society. We take away there's some good inherent in it. If we truly believe this is the case, what should we be doing as a society, if we do presume benevolence out there?
Jacob Haqq Misra: If you presume that there's a benevolent civilization out there and contact with them would be good and maybe transformatively good for us, then we have an obligation to do SETI and METI to find them. Maybe the only limitation would be cost. Maybe you don't want to put all our money into SETI and METI if we want to solve things like cancer and climate change and other things on Earth. This is one of those prioritization issues. But then, within the costs that are available, then that would be a priority, if we really believed that that contact would be good for us. When I think about the good, there's everything from just the knowledge that they exist, which I think would be beneficial to us. This trajectory that we're on, of a populated, energy-intensive, technological world where we have nuclear weapons and such, we don't know how long we can make that last. If we find other civilizations that exist and have lasted for these geologic time periods with their technology, that would give us confidence that this is something that can be done. And that trajectory is something where we can maybe find a sustainable landing point in. There's really no limit to the other types of benefits you could imagine that this could bring, knowledge about how to solve other global problems or just us being in contact now with what's been called the Galactic Club. If there are technological species populating the galaxy or the universe, then we join that club and we become something more than just what kind of humans we are now. It's maybe a new stage in evolution. Or we just have someone to communicate with and we can exchange information. And maybe it's only interesting to physicists and mathematicians, but you would probably learn an awful lot about physics and math and that would transform our world.
Casey Dreier: You have a helpful thought experiment equation that you include in this paper to quantify the magnitude of the benefits or consequences minus the cost of achieving them. We were both at a workshop the other week and I was reminded of this concept of Pascal's wager. When you start looking at, take again the extremes, the infinite good versus infinite bad potential here, but if there's an infinite good or very, very, very high benefit towards a successful engagement with a benevolent civilization. Pascal's wager is something similar, which is that you might as well believe in a higher power because heaven is so great you might as... There's no consequence if non-existence is the opposite. Go for it. And then you're really lucked out with [inaudible 00:35:36] if that's the case. These large infinities or large benefits really start to, in my mind, pull you into, you might as well put something into this effort, because even a low probability, nearly infinite benefit weighs in its favor to pursue. I guess this pulls you in a similar type of compulsion, that the opposite, ad absurdum I was arguing, would be right. If there's really some Galactic Club out there that'll gift us with high technology or insights into fundamental physics or open up new avenues for human flourishing then, really, we have not just a opportunity but an ethical responsibility to put a lot into this and really go for it. Because if we don't, then we're just leaving this on the table as a civilization. Does that ring true with you or would you hesitate on that conclusion?
Jacob Haqq Misra: If you're going to assume that contact would be benevolent and good for us, then yes, there is an obligation. If that's true again, that there are extraterrestrials and that contact would be beneficial for us, you could imagine future generations blaming us maybe for not starting SETI and METI soon enough, if they discovered that there's something out there and some major developments in Earth could have gone very differently if that contact had been established much sooner. I'm not saying that is what I believe, but I think that follows from the assumption that that contact must necessarily be good, then there is some obligation to do that.
Casey Dreier: I don't even know if it has to be good, just that the fact that it could be, even to me, the potential. I wrote a white paper a few years ago for the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, just taking a, again broad stroke, similar logical argument for the pursuit of even biosignatures and finding something in our own solar system of living life. The consequences to our knowledge serve almost as a step function in terms of our understanding of biology. And the potential benefit of that could be so great in terms of insights into medicine or existence and life elsewhere, that the vast uncertainty of itself... When you're talking about an uncertainty of something so beneficial, again, I still think you're compelled to pursue it to some reasonable degree. I guess I'm giving away my cards here. I'm pretty sympathetic to even the potential for benevolence, is worth the consequences of finding a malevolence civilization. I would say add this as a rub to your equation, there's a negative cost too or an opposite-signed cost.. Our own civilization is perfectly capable of self-destruction on its own. Given that fact, if we can mitigate our own self-destructive tendencies, even by the mere knowledge of another civilization, I think that starts to balance your equation out here a little bit. That it's not just that otherwise we exist in stasis as a human civilization. We have our own instability itself that may be mitigated by outside existence of another civilization. Does that make sense? Are you [inaudible 00:39:01] with that?
Jacob Haqq Misra: Yeah, I do agree with that. Yeah. And I think the one thing I would add is, when we think about the passive search for biosignatures or technosignatures, we actually can't assume that that will necessarily be beneficial. As a scientist, now I'm very interested and I'm pretty sure it would benefit science. But what would be the consequences to others if we were to find that? There's been a lot that's been written about this, but we can't predict how would the world's religions react if we found strong evidence of life on another planet. And then, if we're talking about evidence of technology, especially if we're talking about receiving a message, the knowledge of there's an exoplanet with pollution in it. But if we take the original SETI position and maybe there's a beacon that's being beamed toward Earth and we receive that and we can decode it, like in the movie, Contact, how do we know that information is not going to be harmful to us? there? That could be anything from information itself that is maybe trying to trick us to destroy ourselves versus just our inability to handle whatever the information is. That potential harm, to me, doesn't seem actually less likely than aliens flying to our planet to destroy us, which I find very Hollywoodesque. I can't say it won't happen, but the idea of a malevolent remote message seems about as likely as a malevolent invading force. In that sense, the active versus said passive dimension is also diminished a little bit. Are we ready for this knowledge or not, is the question.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, I guess we shouldn't underestimate, again, our own self-destructive tendencies here or our own inability, our species-centric problems of integrating new information. It was interesting. I think that there's a difference too between some very far away biosignature detection versus an in situ biosignature detection...
Jacob Haqq Misra: I think so.
Casey Dreier: ... or biological detection. One is a whole level of range of information versus a suggestion of information. And I've seen critiques of the fact that an exoplanetary biosignature detection is effectively meaningless, in the sense that how do you ever resolve it 100% [inaudible 00:41:24].
Jacob Haqq Misra: Yeah. If we detect even really compelling exoplanetary biosignature, there's going to be huge error bars on the signal first, there will be several decades of debate among the scientific community as to what this means and how do we take follow-up measurements. For science it would be very exciting, but for the non-scientific world, it may not be this really transformative discovery, and it may be this neutral effect where it just goes into the textbooks and it's this ongoing process. If we were defining an artifact on the moon, that would probably resonate a lot more with more people.
LeVar Burton: Hi, you all. LeVar Burton. Through my roles on Star Trek and Reading Rainbow, I have seen generations of curious minds inspired by the strange, new worlds explored in books and on television. I know how important it is to encourage that curiosity in a young explorer's life. That's why I'm excited to share with you a new program from my friends at The Planetary Society. It's called The Planetary Academy, and anyone can join. Designed, for ages five through nine, by Bill Nye and the curriculum experts at The Planetary Society, The Planetary Academy is a special membership subscription for kids and families who love space. Members get quarterly mail packages that take them on learning adventures through the many worlds of our solar system and beyond. Each package includes images and factoids, hands-on activities, experiments and games, and special surprises. A lifelong passion for space science and discovery starts when we're young. Give the gift of the cosmos to the explorer in your life.
Casey Dreier: Something I've learned as being, let's say, science adjacent... I'm married to a professional scientist and I have my undergraduate degrees in science, but... that there's always some very irritating, abiological path to generate biosignature-like signals. In general, it seems like this rule. Let me move on to your last of your three conclusions based on this unknowability of the contact, which is this preliminary neutrality. I think this is functionally what I would characterize as where we stand, if that's the correct way to put this. You characterize it as contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence is just fundamentally unlikely to occur. We may as well continue it, but not really put too much resources into it and we just shouldn't worry too much about it. Is that the accurate way to characterize this one, the neutrality?
Jacob Haqq Misra: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Personally, this is where I've come around to. I would like to believe that contact would be beneficial. That's what I want to believe. But my reasons for that are just speculative and guesses. What I'm left with is this neutrality option. In equation, it's the value of METI is equal to the probability times the magnitude minus the cost. But for the neutrality option, we just assume the probability is basically zero. It's unlikely to occur. The value of METI is just based on the cost. On one hand that's an argument for not doing it. I would say that's an argument for probably not investing government resources into METI. Because it's probably unlikely to succeed, it's just really going to be a cost sync. At best, the benefits are going to be educational, to study astrobiology and things like that. But if you have some philanthropist who decides that that's a good use of their money, fine. There's a lot of other projects that the government doesn't do that people may or may not think are important. Jeff Bezos and others are building a giant, mountain-sized clock that will tick once every 10,000 years. Do you think that's a good idea or not? I actually think it's cool 'cause it's helping with our long-term thinking. And METI does the same thing. But I'm glad that my tax dollars aren't going toward The Long Now Clock, that's a private thing. I think it's an argument that it's somewhere that science should really prioritize and put a lot of resources in, especially when it's public funds. But it's not saying we should prohibit, say, your METI. And if you've got the funds and you want to do it, go for it, but don't expect that you're probably going to find it.
Casey Dreier: I'm actually surprised that we haven't seen more wealthy individuals attempt an active SETI message at this point.
Jacob Haqq Misra: I was part of a project in 2012 to do this. It was a wealthy investor, he was a fashion photographer actually, in New York City. There's only so much money you throw at it before... And he was trying to make it into a revenue-generating process where people could have a crowdsourced message. And the model we had was, everybody in the world got one free message, but then if you wanted more, you would pay to add your message to the stream. There was a lot of issues with it. And I think the business model was a little bit difficult to fund the whole thing. In the end, we only got one transmission out. And again, this is really the problem with METI. No METI attempt has ever been repeated, it's just the wow signal. We found the wow signal once, we never followed up on it again. Even if it was real, we can never know that for sure. We wanted to really send a beacon out. You have to repeat it, even once a month or once a year, just some amount of time you have to repeat the same message. We never got to that. And then the investor lost interest. What is there to get out of it, is a question. But we have these breakthrough initiatives now, they're doing passive SETI. They have talked about the messaging problem, so we'll see where it goes.
Casey Dreier: A bold move to want to monetize active SETI with a business model. I had never even considered that as a feasible thing. I was thinking about it in terms of a self monument. Again, very wealthy people tend to be relatively interested in themselves and ego focused, and the idea of that you send a message that could be one day heard and you would be an emissary for Earth, to me, that's a very seductive thing, as an egocentrist. But the fact that we haven't seen it... How much does it really cost at the end of the day, if you're a billionaire, to have a repeated signal going out once a year through some existing radio array? It must be in the millions of dollars, right? [inaudible 00:48:28].
Jacob Haqq Misra: Yeah. Yeah, right.
Casey Dreier: It's relatively modest, so again...
Jacob Haqq Misra: Relatively modest. But even that amount of money, there's a whole branch of scholarship called effective philanthropy. These people who have this much money, they pay attention to the research to know how they can effectively spend their money. It is interesting though that you have Yuri Milner and others that are putting money into Breakthrough Listen to do this massive SETI search. But at the same time, they're interested in the other deliverables you get out of that. There's other ancillary science that's been published. They've discovered fast radio bursts and other things. There's a couple people that have gotten their PhDs through this process. They've done a lot of other programs. Even if the 10 years end and they find nothing, and all they can do is put upper limits on the presence of transmitters, there are other deliverables that came to science. I think with METI it's a little harder. There is some work you can do in terms of developing a language that can be encoded for interstellar communication, but the ancillary discoveries, what other astronomy do you uncover, I think there's less that you get with METI.
Casey Dreier: I suppose the timescales are so great that an individual is very unlikely to ever benefit their own ego from a discovery, it's just the potential.
Jacob Haqq Misra: That's right. I have a paper and then a chapter in my book titled, "Sovereign Mars". The chapter and the paper are called, "Deep Altruism". I look at that exact question. I focus mostly on people going to Mars and building a long-term settlement. And how could you fund that through an altruistic means? But it's the same for METI. You can't have what I call shallow altruism. If you're going to do that, it can't be for benefiting oneself. And you can't really even think of it as benefiting your direct descendants. It has to be a greater sense of, this is for the future, and what could motivate that. I think there are actually some of these eccentric billionaires who have that kind of view to an extent, but nobody seems to have applied it to METI yet.
Casey Dreier: I guess also from an ego perspective, aliens aren't going to care, probably, who you are.
Jacob Haqq Misra: No, no.
Casey Dreier: It's all in the human context. And again, you'll be long gone by the time they notice it. So, maybe not the most effective ego-stroking opportunity here. Looking through your three positions that one can take on this active SETI thing. I think you're right. I think we're in this preliminary neutrality. But I find that just so unsatisfying at a certain level, and maybe that makes me a bad objective policy person for the purposes of this discussion. But I'm really, again, drawn to the second option of the benevolence and the potential inherent in it. But I want to key you in. We danced around it. Are you a number three? Where do you ultimately, personally fall, in terms of where you would want our position to be, given the unknowability of this?
Jacob Haqq Misra: I personally fall on number three, neutrality. But, when I think about just what kind of constraints we may be able to put about this, speculative constraints, it leads me toward the second one, benevolence versus malevolence. If we're going to be destroyed by an alien civilization, there's the cultural collapse from receiving information. But if we're really talking about messaging in particular as a unique existential threat, then that is, they notice us and then they come and visit us and then there's some sort of catastrophe from that contact. And to me, if you are a civilization that can travel interstellar distances, you certainly don't need to come to Earth for water. You've figured out if you need water, you've figured out how to provide water on your journey, and your food and your energy. I have a hard time believing it's that they need some resources on our planet or that they need our star or our asteroid belt or something like that. If you can do that journey, you probably have a way to manage your resources over those long time scales. Any civilization we find is probably not going to be one that just evolved technology and then all of a sudden they receive our message and then they fly out over here, so they're going to be a long-lived civilization. This is true for most things we see in astronomy, most phenomenon that you can observe are long-lived. If you're long-lived, I have to assume that means that they have evolved past their tendencies to self-destruction. Because that's just self-evident, if you are around, you haven't destroyed yourself. So, if they have nukes, they know how to manage them. That doesn't mean they wouldn't attack us, but it means they would be different than us. And a lot of the arguments for METI being risky points to human history and points to the idea that when western civilizations have encountered less advanced civilizations, it always ends poorly for the less advanced civilization. Either because they were directly attacked, or they were outcompeted, or they got smallpox, or any number of outcomes from history. I think that's not a perfect analogy. Because if you are a long-lived civilization that can travel [inaudible 00:54:01], it's different. You have a different set of ethical principles that you're operating under. If they do decide to tag us, it would be for very different reasons than that Westerners attacked natives in whatever countries they visited. I can't prove then that that means that the contact will be beneficial, but I can think of more reasons that it's more likely to be beneficial than harmful in that sense. I think the harmful contact would be if they come and they're peaceful and we're just not ready for it at all and it's more of a cultural collapse. And that's more like it's on us rather than it's on them. And if that's the case, then I'm also worried about SETI, not just METI. If we're not ready for it, then maybe we shouldn't be listening. Maybe we're not ready for this at all.
Casey Dreier: Right. If there's not a huge distinction between the two. But you say something there that I've been turning over in my head quite a bit recently: The utility of historical analogy for, fundamentally, historical events of a steady detection or an active messaging engagement with another civilization. I think we have to be so careful and cautious to draw from history. Because by doing so we take for granted cultural, civilizational, technological, geographical context that probably are really idiosyncratic and unique combinations. And otherwise we assert that they're universal. Building up on this hierarchy of universality, we know physics works everywhere the same way, geology probably does. Biology may be similar. But culture, probably not. And we've seen such a variety of cultures on Earth that even no longer exist anymore. As someone who works in the SETI field professionally, how do you approach the use of historical analogy? And would you critique and say that a lot of people overuse them to a point where they're no longer useful?
Jacob Haqq Misra: I think some people do overuse them. I don't think we can actually use much at all from historical patterns of how humans have behaved. Human sociology isn't probably going to tell us much of anything about alien civilization. We can maybe look at physical constraints, like physical sustainability. You can't exist above your carrying capacity for an indefinite amount of time. You're limited by the amount of energy coming on your planet from the sun. There's the host star. There's really basic things like that. Otherwise, I don't think you can really say much.
Casey Dreier: You're in the SETI field, I'd say, a very careful and engaged thinker in this area, and you publish a lot in it. And I feel like the field itself has been really thriving in the last few years. But it's also a field that, for lack of a better term, maybe engages a lot of dilettantes or people who don't engage as deeply or professionally on this. And that's where I feel these applications of analogy tend to be misused. They're asserted pretty broadly through people who may not have a grounding in the physics or astronomy or things that... And it's not wrong to do that necessarily, but it maybe doesn't add a lot to the conversation. Is that a fundamental frustration of being a SETI professional or scientist that a lot of... Or a good example of when you're a graphic designer, everyone has an opinion on whether that logo should be... What color it should be, and it doesn't matter if you're professional or not. Is that an ongoing issue with this field, that it's so engaging that it invites non-experts to opine definitively?
Jacob Haqq Misra: To some extent. But that's okay to some extent. Because sure, if my work gets covered in a news article and I read the comment section, everybody's got their armchair explanation for what's going on. But that's okay. Those people aren't really filling up the conference halls when I go to a scientific conference. Those events are really scientific, professionals talking to each other. And the discussion in the peer-reviewed journals have a check in the sense that there's peer review and editorial oversight to make sure that any ideas getting in the journals are up-to-date and not rehashing these comment section type arguments. In that sense, I don't mind. I think that's actually a good sign that people are engaged and interested. Say two things. I think what we can learn from history, the main thing is, what are detectable type of signatures that humans have done? That is a concrete. We have put pollution in the atmosphere. We have put satellites up. And then you can think about what could we do based on technology we know about or at least have theorized. But that's different than human sociology. This is positive and has some implications too. SETI is, and in technosignatures is, inherently interdisciplinary. We do get people from non-physical sciences coming to these discussions. And that's important. That's great. You have to have that. You have to have historians and anthropologists and archeologists and philosophers and everyone else in addition to the astronomy. And I will fully admit that. I did a postdoc in ethics, so I like to cross-train. I recognize that some of my science colleagues have a harder time engaging with the humanities and social sciences, and so there does need to be more effort to engage scientists in that. But what I do notice also is that some of the social scientists and humanities scholars don't always engage in learning the physical science. And you don't have to learn the detailed math, just remember at a qualitative level because you're talking about the difference between a radio transmission versus an optical signal versus seeing a spectra of pollution in exoplanet atmosphere. If that all just sounds like mumbo jumbo to you, then that's okay, because I'm the scientist and I had to learn those things. One can learn those things without having to get a science degree, it just takes a little bit of time. And then you can have a more productive conversation. I think sometimes, even within these SETI meetings, you get a little bit of people talking past each other, because someone may apply some ideas from sociology or anthropology. And there are some aspects of that that are valid and some aspects of that that are neglecting the astrophysical realities of the context scenario. I think that's where we have to do more work, is you have to have these interdisciplinary conversations, but you can't overly anthropomorphize them. Sometimes it's the social scientists that are arguing that the scientists are anthropomorphizing. But at the same time, when you overapply history to an extraterrestrial civilization, you are also then anthropomorphizing. It's a very difficult problem again. There's very little you can really know.
Casey Dreier: I feel perhaps the real value of historical analogy would be in terms of how our civilization would react, given a [inaudible 01:01:27]. That's where...
Jacob Haqq Misra: For sure.
Casey Dreier: ... it becomes more relevant versus apply. I think there has to be a certain amount of significant humility in understanding what a different intelligence, much less civilization would be, given that we have struggled with even acknowledging different types of intelligence on this planet, or with other non-human animals to varying degrees. Or even again, the ignoring various ways in which civilization... We have a presentism bias. And we have this idea that what exists to us now is natural and inherent versus a function of our time. And all of that, I think, can play into our response aspect of this. I guess one thing I had raised the other week that I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts on, which is speaking of societal engagement with new intelligence. We may be at a cusp of this right now with our own self-devised artificial intelligence. Do you see any useful analogies there for how our society is going to be engaging with computational artificial intelligence to a potential discovery of an preexisting extraterrestrial intelligence?
Jacob Haqq Misra: Not really. Not yet, not yet. A hypothetical artificial general intelligence, if we were to have it, maybe then. What we have now, I don't even like to call it artificial intelligence. In science...
Casey Dreier: [inaudible 01:02:58] language, yeah. Right.
Jacob Haqq Misra: ... [inaudible 01:02:59] develop mean machine learning. It's really a random number generator with fancy regression. It's cool. The ChatGPT thing is neat and there's a lot of interesting science that can be solved. But it's really having a very large dataset, and high computational computing power allows you to find really interesting patterns that can pass a Turing test. That's interesting. There's no thinking going on behind it. And then if you play with some of this technology, you don't have to play with it very long to get blatantly wrong answers. I asked ChatGPT to write a biography of myself, and it awarded me awards I had never won before.
Casey Dreier: Congratulations.
Jacob Haqq Misra: In that sense, I don't think that that technology is really there yet to teach us about how we would communicate with another intelligence. It's a tool, but I don't really consider it intelligent. It's not a thinking machine.
Casey Dreier: But I guess people are acting as if it is. And to me, that's the interesting part. I completely agree with you, by the way. There's no inherent knowledge for that quote, unquote, "intelligence" to bequeath to us, because it's just this facsimile of engagement. But the idea is that people consider it intelligent, and therefore there's been a freakout at least among a certain engagement class of individuals. That, to me, tells me something. Even at the hint of a possible non-human intelligence, it creates quite a bit of uncertainty. Doesn't that tell us something about what a future contact situation could be like?
Jacob Haqq Misra: Maybe a little bit. That technology is based on things that humans have written in all of our languages. When you interact with it, it is a human intelligence. It's human words, and so there's really nothing new or foreign that it's going to tell us. It's really just spitting back our collective words back at us, chopped up and rearranged. Maybe there's some things that one could do. You could think about setting up some sort of setting, maybe experimenting of classrooms in two countries, and someone receives a message and the other one has to decode it. Maybe you could use this technology to help with that to some extent. But I think it's really telling us more about ourselves than about what a foreign intelligence would be like.
Casey Dreier: Given the fact that you fall into this preliminary neutrality perspective on METI, and I'll expand this a bit to SETI as well, do you feel that public institutions in the US and abroad are spending an appropriate amount of money to support, I'd say even more broadly, search for life activities? Or do you feel like there's an under-appreciation or underinvestment in those, given the vast uncertainty of their outcome?
Jacob Haqq Misra: I think there's an underinvestment, but it's growing. NASA, for a while, was not supporting any kind of technosignature research. They are now. I'm happy to be funded by them to study these problems. It's a very small amount of funding compared to other projects that NASA is doing. I've heard my colleagues make the argument, there's a lot of resources, for example, being put into string theory. Testing string theory is centuries into the future. The implications of that are very hard to fathom, what we're going to really be able to do with that. What could we do if those resources were dedicated toward technosignatures, for example? I think string theory is also interesting, so I'm not coming hard down on string theory, but just as an example of something esoteric. It does seem like there's a very broad interest in the question of, are we alone? Is there life out there? Is there technology out there that's not ours? If funding priorities were purely determined based on taxpayer interests, you would imagine that maybe there would be more resources dedicated to that. But at the same time, NASA just went through this decadal survey process, the National Academies wrote their recommendation in the decadal report, and the flagship mission is The Habitable World's Observatory, which would be launched in the 2040s, so a little ways away. But that would be a mission optimized for characterizing the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. You would probably be able to do some technosignature searches with that. It's very exciting that NASA and the National Academies identify the search for life as one of the key questions to drive the next flagship mission. Because I think that does reflect the interest of the taxpayers and what they want to discover. Of course I would love to see more, but I think at least the trajectory is going in the right direction.
Casey Dreier: It's interesting you bring that up. The Habitable World's Observatory is very much couched though in a much more, I would say, institutionally-acceptable framing of the search for life, which is biosignatures rather than technosignatures. And politically, as you point out, Congress actually just changed the law to allow NASA to do technosignature research before. Again, it had been banned for years for doing so. It strikes me actually more of an institutional problem about what's an acceptable scientific inquiry than a political one at this point. Again, you point out string theory, which is deeply accepted, even though it's something inherently untestable with our current technological levels. Why do you think SETI and technosignature research is considered to be more fringe or unacceptable use of scientific research than these other areas that are perhaps equally as esoteric? And is that even a correct way to characterize it?
Jacob Haqq Misra: Historically, there has been this characterization due to association with science fiction and elements of cultural ufology. When you say we're looking at technosignatures, a lot of people, including funding decision-makers, may imagine something that they saw in a movie or something really whimsical, rather than understanding that there's a scientific way of approaching the search. It's less of a problem today. The stigma still exists. One of the points that my colleagues and I like to try to mention is that technosignatures are biosignatures, it is a subset. They're two sides of the same coin. The question is, is there life in the universe, and is there life that we could detect? And if we find a biosignature that's water vapor and methane and ozone, great, we found life. If we find a radio signal or pollution in exoplanet, we found life. And in some sense, the technosignatures may be less ambiguous than some of the biosignatures, and narrowband radio signal would be far more suspect for technology than oxygen in an exoplanetary atmosphere. I feel we've been successful to an extent in convincing other astrobiologists that we are on the same team, that technosignatures are just an additional way of expanding the scope of what biosignatures we are interested in. Once in a while we'll still get a review from a paper where we've done good work in showing into the detectability of a spectral technosignature. And some reviewer will just push back and say, this is not serious work, without really even evaluating the work [inaudible 01:10:32] of itself, and just against the whole idea of technosignatures. This exists still. There is some of this institutional resistance to the idea, and it is from this historical cultural association.
Casey Dreier: And you are on a paper that makes an interesting argument in fact, that technosignatures may actually be more prevalent than biosignatures by the fact that technosignatures can spread themselves more effectively throughout the galaxy than pure biology. Is that a correct way to summarize that [inaudible 01:11:01]?
Jacob Haqq Misra: That's right. They could be. Yeah. We have to look. We don't know. One of the purposes of that paper was because some scientists will say, maybe there could be technosignatures, but they're not going to be as common as biosignature. Because what they're thinking is, that it's hard to get life to evolve on a planet. That's already a difficult step. And then it's probably hard for life to evolve technology. Probably you're going to have a lot of planets that are uninhabited, and then a few more that have life but no technology, and then there's a very, very small number with technology. So, we should focus on the ones that have life, microorganisms and things like that. The argument we make is, even if that is the case, once you get technology on a planet, it can go off-world. The technology can spread and can be the most ubiquitous signal, the most ubiquitous biosignature out there. And then of course, the technosignatures themselves may be easier to recognize as anomalous due to life, rather than some of the biosignatures, which may have a lot of false positives.
Casey Dreier: Here in this solar system, the number of planets with a technosignature outnumbers the number of planets with a biosignature.
Jacob Haqq Misra: That's right.
Casey Dreier: Very weakly, but still technically true.
Jacob Haqq Misra: Yeah, yeah, Several planets, if we count... There's Mars, orbiters around other planets, and landers.
Casey Dreier: We are out of time, unfortunately. And I have only addressed maybe a third of the questions I had for you, so you'll have to come back in the future. But for our listeners who are really intrigued by some of the ideas we've talked about today, or even you have a new book that we didn't even really discuss on, how can they find you? And maybe also, what is this new book that you mentioned briefly earlier that folks can read?
Jacob Haqq Misra: You can find me on the internet, haqqmisra.net, H-A-Q-Q-M-I-S-R-A.net, and I'm on Twitter, @haqqmisra. My new book is Sovereign Mars: Transforming Our Values through Space Settlement. This is not about SETI or METI. This is one of my other interests, is the idea of humans going out into space and establishing permanent settlements on Mars and the Moon and asteroids and things like that. And it's really a political science book. I started with, who owns Mars? But really, the question I realized is, what does sovereignty mean on Mars? And what are effective governance structures that would make sense as we go into space, given the political realities of how we have tried to have shared governance in common spaces on Earth? I look at the Outer Space Treaty, the Law of the Seas, the Antarctic Treaty System, for what works and what doesn't work, and try to draw some implications for what kinds of models might we be able to do on Mars.
Casey Dreier: I look forward to reading that, Jacob. That sounds fascinating to me. And again, we'll have to have you back on to talk about it at some point. But again, I want to thank you for your time, and again, encourage our listeners to check out the papers we talked about, I'll link to them. They're also linked on your page, and there's a whole other host of writing that you've done. Appreciate your time today. Thanks for joining us.
Jacob Haqq Misra: Thanks so much. It was a lot of fun.
Casey Dreier: That was my conversation with Dr. Jacob Haqq Misra. Really interesting, really appreciated his time doing that. Jack, I wanted to say, if you think we were to meet a advanced extraterrestrial intelligence tomorrow, how do you think we'd do? We'd come out for the better or come out for the worse?
Jack Kiraly: I think we'd come out for the better. Personally, I feel like if we have undeniably found, not just life out there in the universe, but intelligent life, I think it would revolutionize our understanding of who we are as a species, where we are in the universe, our place in space. I do wonder if these extraterrestrial beings that we're finding, if they have a debt limit.
Casey Dreier: You would think...
Jack Kiraly: You would think they have maybe figured it out.
Casey Dreier: ... with their advanced knowledge, they would bequeath us the knowledge to avoid such self-defeating issues in the future. You know what it is? Convergent evolution. Maybe that's just a universal aspect of all civilization is debt ceiling fights every couple of years. Good insight there, appreciate it. Hell, you and I work for The Planetary Society. We're Saganists, Arthur C. Clarkian, however you want to describe it, at heart. I just have a strong predisposition, I think, to seeing that this would be a net benefit and that we shouldn't be afraid of the dark at the end of the day. We should seek that out. And the potential benefits, I think, are just so hard to express in terms of our self-identity as a species, as setting hope. But also, God, how wonderful would it be to learn so much about something new, I think that's at the end of the day.
Jack Kiraly: And how comforting too, to know that there are beings elsewhere in the universe handling, maybe, the same political turmoil, the same economic systems, the same even physiological needs that we as humans have. To know that these things we have we share in common with other beings would be profound, and I think would, like I said, revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos and the evolution of it.
Casey Dreier: And our place within it.
Jack Kiraly: And our place within it.
Casey Dreier: Jack, thanks for joining me this month...
Jack Kiraly: Thanks, Casey.
Casey Dreier: ... on the Space Policy edition. Great to be here with you in person in Washington DC. We will be back next month, on the first Friday of the month. Thank you for listening. If you like the show, please share the show. Please rate the show. Please tell your friends all about how great The Planetary Society is. If you like learning about space policy, if you like following this type of news and my analysis, you can get my monthly newsletter, The Space Advocate, for free at planetary.org/spaceadvocate. And of course, you are encouraged, if you haven't already, to join The Planetary Society at planetary.org/membership. Thank you again. And Jack, ad astra.
Jack Kiraly: Casey, ad astra.