Pics might attract ‘wrong kind of alien’
Share this article:
London - With recreational space travel an ever closer possibility, you might expect a discussion at the British Science Festival to involve the prospects of colonising the Moon or Mars.
But for one group of scientists there were more pressing matters – whether images we have already “sent” to aliens reflect gender equality.
In a bizarre discussion, a group of scientists said that already-existing pictures that have been put in space to educate aliens about how we look should be updated.
A 1972 plaque on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft displayed a picture of a nude man and woman, hoping to educate our extraterrestrial friends about what humans look like. But experts have now claimed the image is outdated and shows “a man raising his hand in a very manly fashion” while the woman appears “meek and submissive”.
Dr Jill Stuart, an expert in the “politics of outer space” at the London School of Economics, also called for more “diversity” in messages aimed at aliens.
She pointed out the figures in the 1972 image were both white and said she was “uncomfortable” sending out Western-centric pictures. She added: “We really need to rethink that with any messages we are sending out now. Attitudes have changed so much in just 40 years.
“I would be uncomfortable with sending out any images or messages that include Western-dominated material.”
The idea to send an updated message to aliens was proposed by UK SETI Research Network – a group of academics across various universities and research centres who are actively on the hunt for extraterristrial life.
It was their idea as part of a competition founded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. His Breakthrough Initiative is a 100 million dollar project to listen for alien communications, with a one million dollar prize up for grabs for the best idea for a message.
Not all SETI members, however, are keen about sending messages. Some fear they might attract the “wrong kind of alien”. Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford – part of the SETI group – told the Guardian: “The thinking was that the silence in the skies might be because alien civilisations are hiding from us, and that it might be stupid to attract attention.”
Dr Sandberg admitted that “we don’t know if any aliens out there have eyes”, so any images could in fact be useless.
The 43-year-old Swedish-born space expert added that the nearest star that could hold life is ten lightyears away – meaning it could take up to 200 years to hear back from any other life forms.