How to Avoid Obliteration: Disability as a Model for First Contact

Public talks

How to Avoid Obliteration: Disability as a Model for First Contact

Tags: AIR, SETI Artists in Residence, SETI

Time: Monday, Sep 25, 2023 -

Location: Online via Zoom

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Host: Sheri Wells Jensen

Because humanity is a young (and presumably vulnerable) technological species, many of the models we use for first contact are decidedly grim. Our most prevalent examples of conflict between civilizations with different military/economic/technological force are the horribly destructive historical encounters between the 'old' and 'new' worlds. Drawing from these examples, it is easy to imagine how humanity will dwindle (if not completely cease to exist) under even the theoretically most benevolent advanced interstellar civilization. There is, however, an existing Earth example for sustained contact between a powerful and a less powerful community on Earth today.

Disabled people are more vulnerable, more divided, and have dramatically less economic and social power than our abled fellows, and although we have experienced intermittent attempts at obliteration, we persist. This is not because we are stronger or more resilient. It is also not because abled people are either kind or empathic. The key to our survival lies in the models of disability that implicitly guide the interactions between the two groups.

This presentation explores these models, how they harm and how they could uplift disabled and abled people, and what might befall humanity if a potential ET decides to adopt one or more of them in a first contact scenario.

This event is a Zoom meeting and will be recorded and shared wholly or in part on social media and other public platforms. Participants agree to have their videos and voice recorded and shared.

Part of the A Sign in Space Workshops

A Sign in Space is a multidisciplinary art project conceived by artist Daniela De Paulis. De Paulis is leading a global team to send an encoded message from the European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) back to Earth, simulating a signal an advanced extraterrestrial civilization could eventually send to Earth. The message was “detected” by four radio astronomy observatories on Earth: the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA), The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station observatory managed by INAF (the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics). De Paulis and her team developed the encoded message, but its contents remain unknown, even to most of the collaborating partners.

The message was transmitted from the TGO on May 24 at 19:16 UTC/12:15 pm PDT.

The A Sign in Space team is hosting a series of Zoom-based discussions open to the public around topics that consider the societal implications of detecting a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization. The discussions will take place over 6-8 weeks after the transmission.