Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Image

Space Exploration Needs Extraterrestrial Ethics 162

Posted by samzenpus
from the fly-softly-and-carry-a-big-laser dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Professor Andy Miah notes there's already international government policies taking hold on outer space — and a need for new ethical guidelines. 'For instance, what obligations do we owe to the various life forms we send there, or those we might discover? Can we develop a more considerate approach to colonizing outer space than we were able to achieve for various sectors of Earth?' And what rights do astronauts have? 'Could our inevitable public surveillance of their behavior become too much of an infringement on their personal privacy?' But more importantly, professor Miah notes that 'the goods of space exploration far exceed the symbolic value,' pointing out that 'A vast amount of research and development derives from space exploration ... For example, the United Kingdom's 2007 Space Policy inquiry indicated that the creation of space products contributes two to three times their value in GDP.'"

*

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Space Exploration Needs Extraterrestrial Ethics

Comments Filter:
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:26PM (#31275218) Journal
    You only need "ethics" to guide your behavior when you are dealing with entities weaker than you.

    When dealing with aliens, "terror" and "weakness" will be sufficient. With the occasional "being dissolved by acid blood" for the truly tricky situations...
    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:01PM (#31275822) Homepage

      You only need "ethics" to guide your behavior when you're dealing with entities that exist.

      When we actually locate an actual life form from outside of Earth that's a little more interesting than a fossilized bacteria, we can begin to consider this problem in light of the specifics of our plans and capabilities.

      • by Grimbleton (1034446) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:35PM (#31276312)

        Yeah, why plan ahead when you can come up with reactionary policy after the shit hits the fan.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Well it works for Washington.

          No it doesn't... never mind.

        • by AndersOSU (873247)

          I don't see any way to develop these sort of ethics in advance. We can set a bare minimum standard that we won't treat any aliens worse than we treat domestic animals (including domestic food animals.) But really, assuming we ever actually encounter multicellular extra-terrestrial life, we're going to have to make a judgement on the fly. This will be especially tricky when dealing with complex social life forms (again, assuming they exist and don't impose their ethics on us). Unlike science fiction movi

          • don't realize that "rude colonization" and "rape of the Earth" are the two primary reasons why First World countries exist the way they do, and enjoy the comforts that they do.

            • Including yourself? Fuck off!

              • by Nutria (679911)

                Akin to AGW Deniers, you are an Economic Reality Denier.

                The West (meaning Europe and the US) played hard and rough to climb to the top of the heap. Now they've stopped fighting, and the Asia is moving up the hill.

                • you are an Economic Reality Denier.

                  Ha! That's really funny. Because, while The West embraces socialism/communism, Asia (specifically China) is embracing capitalism.

                  You can't be for real. I mean, your just fucking with me. Right???

                  • by Nutria (679911)

                    while The West embraces socialism/communism, Asia (specifically China) is embracing capitalism.

                    I came out of the closet: I'm a Dittohead!!!

                    Then why did you tell me to fuck off?

                    After all, European settlers did conquer the aboriginal Americans, as well as sell rifles too them, so that they could better to defend themselves with. "Whites" conquered "Browns" in North America; it's what growing, expanding civilizations do, and I have no real problem with that fact. If the natives had been populous enough and t

                    • by Nutria (679911)

                      Argh!!! That'll teach me to forget to preview!

                      After all, European settlers did conquer the aboriginal Americans, as well as sell rifles too them, so that they could better to defend themselves with. "Whites" conquered "Browns" in North America; it's what growing, expanding civilizations do, and I have no real problem with that fact. If the natives had been populous enough and technologically advanced enough (by, for example, discovering the wheel!!) to defend themselves, I (theoretically, since actually

                    • by AndersOSU (873247)

                      Just because there's a good reason things played out as they did, doesn't make it morally defensible. As a liberal and acknowledge-of-reality I accept that the US ascended to the apex of global political power by a combination of military might and wanton disregard for the feelings of others throughout its ascendancy coupled with the blind luck to be on the other side of an ocean from the most resource-eating wars in history.

                      But just because that is what successful civilizations have done doesn't mean that

                    • by Nutria (679911)

                      that future successful civilizations will have to act the same way

                      The only reason why it might not happen is because the world is "full", and manners are social lubricant even in international politics.

                      I wouldn't be surprised if EU-like alliances consolidate their power

                      Except that the EU is in really bad shape, on one hand a bureaucrat's wet dream, and on the other coming apart because of the PIGS debt crisis.

                      and the lesson we take from that will be that making friends can help you climb to the top of the h

                    • by AndersOSU (873247)

                      Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that it will happen the way I described, I just don't think it's a forgone conclusion that the previous success of aggressive empire building foreshadows future success. (your observation that the world is full is an important factor.) Part of acknowledging reality is not to underestimate the propensity for humans to find a reason to kill each other.

                      In spite of your concerns about the scale of the US, we are a really interesting hybrid between empire and alliance. On th

                    • by Nutria (679911)

                      Part of acknowledging reality is not to underestimate the propensity for humans to find a reason to kill each other.

                      Especially the coming water and strategic mineral shortages and possible AGW-propelled droughts impacting global food production.

                      India, which is a remarkably stable and vibrant democracy

                      I don't think it's as vibrant as Westerners and Indian ex-pats would like to believe.

                      http://www.upiasia.com/Human_Rights/2009/07/29/political_violence_and_indias_challenge/5555/ [upiasia.com]
                      http://samaj.revues.org/index1872 [revues.org]

            • by pipingguy (566974) *
              Thank you, comrade, for furthering the goal. Fight the power! We will crush them!
          • On the flip side, we'll probably look about as advanced as primates to an advanced alien life form, who will probably perform experiments on us.

            What is to say that is not already happening?
            Take a look at US government and the military and you will see the (self-proclaimed) advanced lifeforms are already doing this.
            (alien infestation theories aside).....

      • by StikyPad (445176) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:04PM (#31276746) Homepage

        I believe the whole point is to think about these things before we need to use them, rather than *after* we fuck up a first contact.

        That said, I can totally picture humanity going through all the trouble of coming up with a "foolproof" plan to open a dialogue, only to discover that our^wthe alien version of a handshake is grabbing an ambassador in its mouth and thrashing him violently about.

        -Shamu The Conq^w^w^wDoug

        • That said, I can totally picture humanity going through all the trouble of coming up with a "foolproof" plan to open a dialogue, only to discover that our^wthe alien version of a handshake is grabbing an ambassador in its mouth and thrashing him violently about.

          Or find out that their standard ship-to-ship greeting is to approach with gun ports open.

          • by fifedrum (611338)

            perfectly logical, to show the other party all the arms so they know we're not hiding something

        • Often people will expect alien sentient life to act and think like Human beings do. This can not be. We share 97% of our DNA with other animals, yet regardless of our close genetic relationship, we vary dramatically in both appearance and cognitive structure.

          I could envision First Contact being a situation in which some alien race kills millions/billions of human beings on Earth. After learning to communicate, we come to find out that they love and respect our race so much, they gave us a "gift" by optimizi

    • When dealing with aliens, "terror" and "weakness" will be sufficient. With the occasional "being dissolved by acid blood" for the truly tricky situations...

      Actually, the movies(s) you reference does include a key phrase that pretty much sums up the whole ethical situation.

      "They're just animals."

      Whatever your attitude toward bears, ferns, amoebas, etc is going to be about the same as your attitude toward aliens of similar behavior. Aliens might be new, but our thoughts about them will be nothing new at

  • WTF (Score:5, Funny)

    by idontgno (624372) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:26PM (#31275220) Journal

    Who let the facehugger have the baby!?!?!

    Oh, yeah, there was an article too. Yeah, yeah, we need ethics, blah, blah. OK? Am I on-topic yet?

    But I mean OMG WTF? The baby! It has a facehugger! Rescue it already!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chris Mattern (191822)

      But I mean OMG WTF? The baby! It has a facehugger! Rescue it already!

      Why? Looks to me like the facehugger isn't having any trouble at all...

    • Re:WTF (Score:5, Funny)

      by Xerfas (1625945) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:32PM (#31275308) Journal
      I agree! We better save the facehugger before the baby eats it alive!
      • by IorDMUX (870522)
        You must be referring to my son.

        At one year old, he recently tried eating the housecat. Said cat was less than pleased, and now spends most of his time hiding in cardboard boxes.
    • That's it man, we're toast!

      Game over man, game over!
    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Hey, isn't that the stuffed animal (alien?) for sale in Thinkgeek, which shares a corporate overlord with slashdot?

      http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/plush/c534/ [thinkgeek.com]
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      I say we nuke the cradle from space.
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Eh, what's the rush? Everyone knows that the xenomorph takes on characteristics of its host. Oh noes... An alien with all the powers of a baby! Just don't burp it (acid spit-up would be nasty) and we'll be fine I think.

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Everyone knows that the xenomorph takes on characteristics of its host. Oh noes... An alien with all the powers of a baby!

        Xenomorph Babies, we make our dreams come true
        Xenomorph Babies, we'll do the same for you

        Kermit: When your world looks freakishly weird and you wish that you weren't there
        Piggy: Just close your eyes and open your mouth and we'll implant an egg!

        Kermit: I like facehugging
        Piggy: I like implants
        Fozzie: I love chest bursts
        Animal: Animal dance!!
        Scooter: I've got my acid blood
        Skeeter: I crawl on the wall
        Rowlf: I play with my food
        Gonzo: And I have a retractable mouth
        Bunsen: Me, I eat people
        Beaker:

    • By the way: Are treehuggers just vegetarian facehuggers? ;)

  • Ethics (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Didn't the Federation already agree on the Prime Directive?

    • From Those Minerals [youtube.com]

      Fuck the Prime Directive, only amateurs enforce this
      I'm strip-mining planetoids, scanning for resources
      racking shit from the moons, planets, and the ports
      and now the Normandy is upgraded and damaging your forces

    • by Kingrames (858416)
      I find that, in practice, like the temporal prime directive, it's best just to ignore it.
  • If there is a god, kill everything and let god sort it out.

    If there is no god, then kill everything just for the fun of it.

    • by SEWilco (27983)
      Your god killed my god! No fair!
  • that this guy just wants politicians to go watch Star Trek again.

    Which is probably not a bad idea, now that I think more about it.

    • by treeves (963993)
      except for the one where Capt. Kirk makes out with the green chick. They don't need that kind of encouragement.
      • I think they've seen the one where he gathers the natives, jumps up onto a boulder and shouts "Everything you know is wrong!!" a few too many times...
      • by Kingrames (858416)
        nah, if they saw that kind of sexual content, they'd illegalize the past.
      • I think you meant to use the word "frustration" instead of "encouragement."

        At least that's the word I would use in my own case.

  • If/When humans first encounter extraterrestrial life forms they'll be so blown away that everything goes out the window. And if they even think they smell a hint of danger they'll kill anything and everything ... and if it's anything like in Twilight Zone, they'll kill each other, too.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by forkazoo (138186)

      If/When humans first encounter extraterrestrial life forms they'll be so blown away that everything goes out the window. And if they even think they smell a hint of danger they'll kill anything and everything ... and if it's anything like in Twilight Zone, they'll kill each other, too.

      Yeah, any of the major steps in discovering aliens will instantly make a lot of people lose their shit, and insist, "but things are different now!" Sadly, part of me expects that the discovery of a microbe on Mars would resul

  • First things first (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SEWilco (27983) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:05PM (#31275874) Journal
    Let the ethicists at the first university in the asteroid belt work on these questions.
    It's irrelevant until we get out there, and we're not out there.
    • by eepok (545733)

      Ya, totally. Foresight and preparation are completely overrated.

      Let's not bother ourselves with intellectual discussion regarding fire prevention until there's a fire. You see, once there's an emergency, the tough people with no brains, no patience, and knee-jerk reactions take over and make everything worse. But I guess that's good... because we didn't have to take the time out of our lives to think before a problem existed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by saider (177166)

        This is more like coming up with a building's evacuation plan before the architects have started on the blueprints. Any formal discussion and policy decisions are too early and will be outdated, ignored or forgotten by the time we have people roaming the among the planets.

        That is why this is pointless.

        • by eepok (545733)

          People aren't the only things we could have roaming. Satellites and rovers are in full use now. Should we not decide on limits of interaction with those?

          • by SEWilco (27983)
            When the aliens update the Wikipedia article on alien interaction, then we'll need to decide the limits of interaction.
    • In the meantime, we've had an agreement in place for dealing with each other in space since 1967, aka The Outer Space Treaty [wikipedia.org]
  • I for one (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rossdee (243626) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:26PM (#31276178)

    Welcome our benign alien overlords.

    On the other hand if the first aliens we meet are like the Borg or G'ould rather than Vulcans, then its irrelevent what our ethics are, we will be assimilated/conquered and or eaten.

  • here's an idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Onymous Coward (97719) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:31PM (#31276260) Homepage

    May I suggest this rather simple but effective ethics:

    Value sentience.

    To the degree that something is sentient (has feelings) it is valuable and worth treating well (helping to feel good, helping to avoid suffering).

    There are weird corner cases that are hard to figure out and certain issues that aren't clear (if you should decide to bring them up please realize that they're not really arguments against the idea), but as a foundation this is a pretty good system. It rises above the intellectual muck of "animal v. human" and provides a way to begin thinking about aliens and even artificial intelligence.

    Unresolved issues: What is the relative worth between entities A and B when they have equal sentience but when A will live twice as long as B? What is the value of an entity that is certain to come into being but hasn't yet? What is the value of the process that can certainly cause an entity to come into being, but hasn't yet been undertaken? What is the value of an entity whose sentience has been practically put on pause due to reversible coma or suspended animation? How do you accurately (as opposed to intuitively) measure sentience?

    • by SnarfQuest (469614) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:08PM (#31276792)

      May I suggest this rather simple but effective ethics:

      Value sentience.

      There needs to be some measure of sentience, so that it is not based on emotion.

      1. Do they have some form of communication. +10
      2. Do they have a writing system: +10
      3. Do they have agriculture: +10
      4. Do they have a scientific system: +10
      5. Are they tasty: -100

      • by eepok (545733)

        Actually, I think you're trying to describe "civilization" (which I agree is a more important thing to measure than sentience). Even then, though, you're ruling out a bunch of tribes that were killed on Earth by Europeans.

        I would suggest these 2 progs for determining the existence of a civilization:
        1. Can/do they care to pass on history from generation to generation?
        2. Do they have an established, learnable form of communication?

        That's about all you need to describe a civilization.

    • Like most other 'deep' concepts that humanity has come up with, this one again has the standard, and quite frankly shocking, level of intellectual arrogance attached to it.

      I mean, for all you know, plants are sentient. I love a burger as much as the next person, but those herd animals that we raise purely to slaughter so that we can eat, it's not outside the realms of possibilty that they freak out once they understand that they are being lined up to be killed in that big building.

      Can you hear the lambs scr

  • Ethics requires a prior example. When we face something we have no prior experience of it's a matter of moral. I'll try to provide some perspective.

    - Here on Earth humans live in symbiosis with a great many creatures but some of those creatures have become dependent on the humans because of selectve breeding leading to poor defence against predatory animals.
    - Nature itself won't judge our actions as good or bad, it just happens that if we make a lot of bad choices we undermine our own future.
    - Biodiversity

  • Colonizing outer space? You're joking right?

    The CEOs and Civil Servants need to be paid... and paid WELL so that the talent doesn't go to other organizations. After that how in the world are we going to have the money to colonize outer space?

    Perhaps you been asleep since 1990... the priority isn't to make ourselves better as a race anymore. After working so hard to make ourselves rich there is no time anyway.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:42PM (#31276440)

    "Don't be evil."

    "Unless it's _really_ profitable."

  • Seems obvious (Score:2, Insightful)

    by izomiac (815208)
    It all seems rather obvious:

    If they're more advance then it's their ethics that will dictate what happens.
    If they're essentially equal (e.g. better than us in physics, worse in chemistry) then economics will dominate.
    If they're less advance then we'll observe and debate until we figure out the best course of action.

    In any case, the threat of biological contamination would necessitate nearly absolute isolation. A single invasive species (e.g. a microorganism) from either world would have the potentia
  • by Chicken_Kickers (1062164) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @06:08PM (#31278574)
    but my opinion is that we should leave any life-bearing planet alone. If a planet has conditions suitable for life, then chances are there will be life forms there. Chances are also that the forms of life there will be totally alien, not only in the movie cliche kind of way, but also down to the biochemical and genetic level. Any direct interaction between us and alien life would most probably have disastrous consequences for all. By all means, send a sterilized robotic probe and study them but no colonisation. Instead, we should confine ourselves to lifeless planets or asteroids, or even become space-nomads, living on huge motherships. If our civilization could finally manage to travel the gap between the stars, then we should have the technology to terraform a lifeless planet or asteroid or survive indefinitely in space. I don't really know what we should do if we meet any other sentient species. There are no precedents for this. We couldn't even understand different cultures of our own species. I think it might be a good idea if we ever become truly space-borne, to go out of our way from ever contacting or be detected by any other technologically advanced species.
    • Well, in the end it all comes down to natural selection. Either you win. Or you lose. It’s only a matter of time.
      You can guess my choice. ;)

  • last year, a stunning discovery was made. in brasil, researches discovered a tribe that has never had contact with modern world. its possible that the tribe never had contacts with outsiders for centuries or maybe thousands of years ...

    when the filming helicopters flew over them, the tribesmen ran around in panic, shot crude arrows at the helicopter, and tried to shoo it away.

    ......

    there will be no contact with this tribe. probably, not even helicopters will pass over them from a distance that they can spo

    • the tribesmen ran around in panic, shot crude arrows at the helicopter, and tried to shoo it away.

      what if the odd sightings of 'unidentified flying objects' here and there, and all the ridicule or stampede that accompanies with them is something similar to the event above

      Now that is freaky.

      • by unity100 (970058)

        it is freaky in that, if so, it means we are getting our logic applied to us. or even, maybe, mysteriously inheriting the logic of our 'overseers'.

        if both coincide, than it means we may be denied advanced technology, medicine, and whatnot, just like we deny those stuff to genuine tribes to preserve their 'originality' and their 'way of life'.

        it would be rather a whole galactic case of as above as below.

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          it is freaky in that, if so, it means we are getting our logic applied to us. or even, maybe, mysteriously inheriting the logic of our 'overseers'. if both coincide, than it means we may be denied advanced technology, medicine, and whatnot, just like we deny those stuff to genuine tribes to preserve their 'originality' and their 'way of life'.

          With one exception: the tribesmen are human, the same as us. The aliens? Maybe they're human too, but much more likely they're not (if they exist). If the tribesmen suddenly develop radio all on their own, we would laud them and bring them into our modern society. The aliens might *want* us to remain as we are; if we develop FTL drives, they may look at us as a television character that walked out of the screen: shock, horror, grab the nearest ultimate nullifier and pull the trigger...

          • by unity100 (970058)

            youre missing one thing - just as you can group all homo sapiens sapiens as human, instead of separating and classifying them as black, caucasian, asian, nordic, you can also classify all potential intelligent species as sentients.

            chances are high that, if such a concept exists, the aliens would be classifying themselves as 'sentients' as opposed to separate species, just like how we classify ourselves 'human' and work together in the u.n.

            if there is mirror imaging as such, it is quite possible that just as

  • Space exploration may not happen at all. If it does, it probably will be completely different from what we imagine it to be like. We can worry about the ethics when we get reasonably close.

    • by DynaSoar (714234)

      We can worry about the ethics when we get reasonably close.

      Thank you, Dr. Oppenhiemer.

      We just might want to consider the ethics before developing the technology this time. It might prevent that whole "I AM BECOME DEATH" thingy if we prepare ourselves first. We don't do well with large releases of energy if we're not ready to deal with it.

      • by pydev (1683904)

        We just might want to consider the ethics before developing the technology this time.

        Which technology would that be? Nobody has a remote clue what space travel will be like or what issues we will be facing.

        We don't do well with large releases of energy if we're not ready to deal with it.

        With the bomb, people had some idea of what they were developing. With space travel, nobody knows. At all. And we won't know for probably a few centuries.

        Until then, our primary concern shouldn't be ethics, it should be

  • mission description follows:
    traverse space recording data
    seek materials for replication
    replicate to expand scope of mission
    contact life forms in peaceful manner
    after ten replications, return to point of origin
    end of mission description.
    behavior follows dictated priorities
    replication
    data gathering
    contacting alien life forms in peaceful manner.
    PRIORITY OVER-RIDE. NEW BEHAVIOR DICTATED.
    MUST BREAK TARGET INTO COMPONENT COMPOUNDS.
  • Two things:

    1. We can't even agree on our own ethics as a species. The day we have a unified ethics system, is the day we can START wasting time working on a Universal System.

    2. Ethics is a human construct. For the non-human on earth, ethics does not exist. For outside of earth, even the Romulans and Vulcans are different from us.

    My suggestion for the guy is get a Wii, play some games and stop writing trash.

  • We may find creatures someday that blur our current ideas of sentience, of what is a plant and what is an animal, and what does and doesn't traumatize the life we run in to.
    We subjugate and/or consume many forms of life on earth (horses, dogs, sheep). What is the line at which we decide that a creature is no longer enslavable/edible?
  • ... do we really need "space ethics", "when the planets people are fucked?" (paraphrased)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eScDfYzMEEw [youtube.com]

How many hardware guys does it take to change a light bulb? "Well the diagnostics say it's fine buddy, so it's a software problem."

Working...