The ethics of "first contact" was the subject of a panel discussion at last week's Starship Congress, where attendees hashed out the logistics and consequences of becoming an interstellar civilization.
One of the many discussions held at last week’s Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress — which seeks to promote technologies and efforts that will eventually “move humanity toward becoming an interstellar civilization” — involved the ethics and procedures future travelers should follow when first encountering life on other worlds. One popular example from science fiction, the “Prime Directive” principle of noninterference, was dismissed by University of Hawaii engineer Joe Ritter, who cited the effects of invasive species on the islands’ ecosystems: “[I]f we’re enlightened, we’ll leave it alone…Will humans do that? Probably not.” Icarus Interstellar co-founder Richard Obousy was more blunt in his view that the existence of simple life forms shouldn’t prevent humans from accessing a planet’s resources.
What’s the Big Idea?
Naturally, the big assumption behind the discussion was that technology would eventually allow humans to have to deal with these questions at some point in the future, and that the vastness of the universe likely contained some form of life, sentient or otherwise. Financial economist Armen Papazian pointed out that explorers will need to decide the primary purpose of their mission. “Are we going to embrace or are we going to utilize? Are we trying to export our scarcity economics? Or are we trying to enjoy an abundant cosmos?”