Social Impact of an ETI Detection (Workshop findings)

Before 1992, SETI searches were conducted on a limited scale by NASA, the Planetary Society, and a few astronomical organizations and individual investigators. The pace of the search was markedly accelerated in October 1992, when NASA began a detailed survey of selected stars and a full-sky survey. The NASA project, known as the High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS), used radio telescopes outfitted with specially-developed high speed computer systems. It eclipsed all previous searches and reinforced the need to seriously address a significant question related to the outcome -- What happens if we find intelligent extraterrestrial life?

This Report is the product of a Workshop convened by NASA, with the support of the SETI Institute, to examine the implications for human society of such a discovery. The chapters that follow describe NASA's Microwave Survey.

They examine

  • the idea of extraterrestrial life through recent history,
  • analyze ways in which people and groups might react to a detection of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) or to a long search with no detection,
  • and assess possible reactions to a detection by political and governmental entities.
  • A final chapter examines the roles of educational institutions, news media, and entertainment media as informers of the public in the event of a detection.

The chapters seek to identify studies and actions that ensure that the public and various political entities and organizations can be better acquainted with SETI and more likely to respond to an announcement of a detection in ways that are orderly, positive, and beneficial. Each chapter concludes with a list of recommendations. The principal findings and recommendations are summarized in the following.