First Contact, and the Long Now Foundation

Since I was 15 years old, I have been convinced that, basically, humanity is hopelessly oriented to the short term, even if its own long term success or even survival was in the balance. In those days, as I worked through high school and college, majoring in Physics, I was delivered to a point where I needed to choose a graduate school path. I consulted. My choices were Artificial Intelligence or SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Major players advised me away from SETI, and while AI, in 1974, was a long sought capability, at least the skills attending the software and algorithms and engineering and computer science could earn me a living. For SETI, I would be a marginal astronomer or astrophysicist or, worse, exobiologist with engineering creds, and these would not make a living.

In the end I chose MIT and AI, but SETI has never been far from my mind.

And in the intervening years, with threat of nuclear war receding, and despite threat of impact of climate change increasing, posing a threat which could be much worse, I hoped humanity might get its act together.

I was deeply disappointed. It hasn’t. The slipshod international response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic of 2019-2022 demonstrates how badly off we collectively are.

So, I revert to my opinion of 1967: Humans are hopelessly short sighted. While we might blunder our way into some kind of equilibrium with climate disruption and eventually find some mix of curtailment, direct air capture, and suffering with which we can survive, it is far less an impressive performance by a group of hominids who think they are king of the hill in technology and science than those claims would suggest.

The hope in 1967, and increasingly now, is that a First Contact experience might shock us collectively into realizing where our place is, and the perspective we need to adopt. I do not mean an indirect inference of an extraterrestrial civilization as in Carl Sagan‘s Contact book and movie, but, instead, direct, in person contact, even if the extraterrestrials do not stick around for a long time.

The goals I have for such an encounter are similar to those of the Long Now Foundation. It’s not surprising that some of the principals of the Long Now also hold strong positions and are active at trying to deal with climate disruption due to human emissions of fossil fuels.

About ecoquant

See Retired data scientist and statistician. Now working projects in quantitative ecology and, specifically, phenology of Bryophyta and technical methods for their study.
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1 Response to First Contact, and the Long Now Foundation

  1. Greg Robie says:

    This is a graph I created from one that is part of the ~2 hour Earth Day presentation this is a 3 minute clip of (link to the full presentation is in the description – which gets most Everything but its economic assumptions – right). I’m not sure what you will see in the graph, but I see our tendency to be focused on a now as a female gendered brain “strength”. If so, it is therefore incumbent on the species – should it want to feel wise – to effect an integrated thing relative to the male gendered brain’s “strengths”.

    As you figured out by 15, such is not our species’ strength. Attempted rationalism and heirarcy are replaced by privileged ‘egalitarianism’ … and periodic social collapse happens. This time, ours is born of a privilege predicated on ‘wealth’ as an individual right to be irresponsible. Our collapse is unfolding as the first iteration of this pattern on a planetary scale.

    Have you watched “/the social dilemma”? It is an exposé on how AI, in the service of maximizing ad revenues to fund our “free” [a]social media platforms, function as fossil fuel poured on the fire of the folly of human hubris. ‘Imprisoned’ in the female gendered brain’s extreme and what defines social power – the [very] short term of greed-as-good – haven’t we had front row seats (I’m 70) for the unfolding death-of-good thing and CapitalismFAIL?

    The agency that can yet be matured into by us infantile Boomer generation is to own our systemic violence and pay for our hubris as non-violently as possible. Destroying our ‘wealth’-as-debt is what we are committed to in our Anthropocene. I do not relish aging into our continuing the violent option of preserving ‘wealth’. Vietnam was our opening act of this morality play of life; Afghanistan, the latest lesson regarding wisdomLOST.


    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart


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