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Space Exploration Needs Extraterrestrial Ethics

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the fly-softly-and-carry-a-big-laser dept.

NASA 162

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.'"

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Puny Optimists... (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275218)

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...

Re:Puny Optimists... (3, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275822)

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.

Re:Puny Optimists... (4, Insightful)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276312)

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

Re:Puny Optimists... (2, Funny)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276446)

Well it works for Washington.

No it doesn't... never mind.

Re:Puny Optimists... (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278572)

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 movies, there is unlikely to be a bright animal/sentient being line. If we ever come across an extraterrestrial spiecies that isn't obviously more advanced than us, they'll probably look about as advanced as primates, and we'll probably perform experiments on 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 pisses me off are all the people who ... (1, Interesting)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#31279080)

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.

Re:Puny Optimists... (1)

Missing_dc (1074809) | more than 4 years ago | (#31279982)

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).....

Re:Puny Optimists... (3, Insightful)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276746)

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

Re:Puny Optimists... (1)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277254)

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.

Re:Puny Optimists... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31279906)

Well, actually if the probe pollutes an alien biosphere, and the lifeforms dies out, is this genocide?

What do you mean they cut the power?! (1)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 3 years ago | (#31279244)

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 all.

WTF (5, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275220)

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:WTF (2, Funny)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275298)

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 (4, Funny)

Xerfas (1625945) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275308)

I agree! We better save the facehugger before the baby eats it alive!

Re:WTF (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275334)

That's it man, we're toast!

Game over man, game over!

Re:WTF (1)

kj_kabaje (1241696) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276422)

The face hugger was to stop the inevitable comments about the prime directive from the Trekkies. Aw crap... I started it.

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31276742)

The face hugger was to stop the inevitable comments about the prime directive from the Trekkies. Aw crap... I started it.

The Prime Directive was created by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets when they were first formed. Since then the Prime Directive has been broken on many occasions intentionally and unintentionally. Sometimes when a Starfleet vessel crashes on a planet that has a pre-warp civilisation the survivors or the wreckage are collected by the natives and this then influences their society, especially when Federation technology is recovered and added to the technology of the planet. Sometimes the Directive is deliberately violated such as when a cultural observer and historian, John Gill, openly created a regime based on Nazi Germany on a primitive planet in a misguided futile effort to create a more benign version of the original.

In the series Star Trek: Voyager, the Prime Directive is one of the more commonly used (and possibly overused) plot devices. However, in many instances, the idea of the Prime Directive as used in Voyager is not consistent with that of the other series. On more than one occasion, Captain Janeway applies the Prime Directive to a situation which clearly does not involve a pre-warp civilization.

The concept of non-interference can be seen to prevent foreign contamination of native unique language and customs. On the other hand, dedication to non-interference has been shown to go beyond this.

On a planet that had two indigenous sentient species, the more advanced one was suffering from a degenerative genetic disorder. A cure was not pursued because it was determined that the more advanced species was genetically stagnant, and that the lesser one was genetically progressive. It was viewed as contrary to nature to help the dying race. ["Dear Doctor" ENT]

In another case, a starship stood by and watched as severe seismic activity was about to wipe out the last remaining members of a primitive civilization, rather than interfere to save their lives. ["Homeward" TNG]

There are different conclusions as to the purpose of non-interference. One is that the ends do not justify the means. No matter how well-intentioned, stepping in and effecting change could have disastrous consequences.

Re:WTF (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277226)

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]

Re:WTF (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277962)

I say we nuke the cradle from space.

Re:WTF (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278080)

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.

Re:WTF (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#31279690)

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: Mee mee mee meee!

Nanny: Is everything all right in here?
All: Yes, Nanny.

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

Xenomorph Xenomorph Xenomorph Xenomorph
Babies Babies Babies Babies
Make dreams come true.

Re:WTF (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31279912)

Make it Xeno-babies and I think you have a hit!

A good yardstick for ET ethics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275280)

Taste.

Anything that tastes at least as good as earth pig is fair game so to speak.

And astronauts should have no expectation of privacy if they are flying on the taxpayers dime. They should expect their bowel movements to be broadcast on TMZ and they can keep their butts firmly affixed to mother earth if they don't like it.

Re:A good yardstick for ET ethics... (2, Interesting)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275496)

Taste.

An interesting point. In this day and age, if we landed on a planet that had pigs and cows, we might "study their culture", or "bring them democracy", but we damn sure wouldn't be allowed to kill and eat them.

Re:A good yardstick for ET ethics... (1)

qbast (1265706) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275964)

"Bringing democracy" is usually done by killing "enemies of democracy" (aka terrorists) to cow rest of population.

Re:A good yardstick for ET ethics... (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276074)

Taste.

An interesting point. In this day and age, if we landed on a planet that had pigs and cows, we might "study their culture", or "bring them democracy", but we damn sure wouldn't be allowed to kill and eat them.

Didn't South Park already bring democracy to the cows with a giant cow clock?

Re:A good yardstick for ET ethics... (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275766)

Taste.

Anything that tastes at least as good as earth pig is fair game so to speak.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Aliens is gonna be all over you for suggesting we eat them. Then I'll have to hit a Tribble with a shovel [slashdot.org] .

Re:A good yardstick for ET ethics... (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276850)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Aliens is gonna be all over you for suggesting we eat them. Then I'll have to hit a Tribble with a shovel [slashdot.org] .

You're gonna have to wait, I'm using the shovel to hit some Ewoks.

Re:A good yardstick for ET ethics... (1)

Nutria (679911) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278980)

But People Eating Tasty Animals will defend the astronauts.

Ethics (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275344)

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

Re:Ethics (0, Flamebait)

Akido37 (1473009) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275378)

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

Um, I hate to break it to you, but Star Trek is Science-Fiction, not a documentary.

Re:Ethics (1)

Rhacman (1528815) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275582)

Star Trek was a documentary and the events happened in real time!

Re:Ethics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275726)

Before the hand can build, the mind must design; and before that, the heart must dream.

Science Fiction is part of Science, just as the driver in a car is a functioning part of the moving machine.

Re:Ethics (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31276230)

Shut the fuck up.

Re:Ethics (1)

knarfling (735361) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275628)

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

Um, I hate to break it to you, but Star Trek is Science-Fiction, not a documentary.

Well, perhaps not in this time-line. But, real soon now, we will have a visitor from the future...

Re:Ethics (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277388)

Why do you assume that you do not already have visitors?

Re:Ethics (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277402)

Perhaps we did have some visitors, but they decided that we suck so they left and never returned.

Re:Ethics (1)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275642)

Just because it began in science fiction doesn't make it a bad idea. Asimov's three laws of robotics comes to mind.

Re:Ethics (3, Insightful)

Whatshisface (1203604) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275808)

Except that most of Asimov's robot stories were actually about the fact that the 3 Laws were simplistic and impractical, and that sufficiently developed robots would look to bend or break the laws eventually.

The Prime Directive had its own problems as well.

The point is that it is not easy to define a universal set of rules that would apply in all situations.

Re:Ethics (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277704)

Lawmakers since the very dawn of time have been trying to come up with a universal set of rules that would apply in all situations. IMHO, that's a futile effort, unless you can predict every situation that could possibly occur until the end of time. Consequently, it seems better to try to come up with a simple set of laws and allow for the liberal application of common sense. Unfortunately, that solution has its own problems, too (notably that "common sense" is rather a misnomer).

Re:Ethics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275816)

... Asimov's three laws of robotics comes to mind.

but I want my robots to kill people!

Re:Ethics (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276426)

Don't worry it can still be ethical if you only allow the kill bots to have a predetermined number of kill before they have to shutdown.

Re:Ethics (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276894)

Just because it began in science fiction doesn't make it a bad idea. Asimov's three laws of robotics comes to mind.

A capital idea! I approve of forcing other sentient beings to put my commands above their own well-being.

Re:Ethics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275722)

Nothing gets by you, does it, swifty?

Re:Ethics (1)

Exanter (2171) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277240)

Ok, the UP3 then. :)

Re:Ethics (1)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275958)

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

Re:Ethics (1)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276186)

I find that, in practice, like the temporal prime directive, it's best just to ignore it.

Re:Ethics (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276628)

Didn't that one go: "Kirk gets first dibs on all the babes"?

Re:Ethics (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276940)

Didn't that one go: "Kirk gets first dibs on all the babes"?

I thought it was "When in doubt, throw technobabble at it."

Simple solution... (1)

Anita Coney (648748) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275398)

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.

Re:Simple solution... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275476)

Your god killed my god! No fair!

Re:Simple solution... (1)

Nyaz (1721260) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276290)

My god said it was okay. Are you saying I should go against my own god!?

First Rule of Ethics on the Moon: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275490)

TANSTAAFL.

Seems to me (1)

Gadgetfreak (97865) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275516)

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.

Re:Seems to me (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275994)

except for the one where Capt. Kirk makes out with the green chick. They don't need that kind of encouragement.

Re:Seems to me (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276164)

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...

Re:Seems to me (1)

Kingrames (858416) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276346)

nah, if they saw that kind of sexual content, they'd illegalize the past.

Re:Seems to me (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276404)

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.

life-forms we don't [choose to] discover (1)

korpique (807933) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275664)

There's water on moon, mars, europa, other bodies. We haven't yet even settled on the ethical price of human life. If it suddenly somehow became feasible to exploit those worlds, many of us would not care that some of us would see to it that we'd never notice signs of life there.

Did I mention Avatar yet? In real life we'd never heard about Na'vi.

It'd be great to have ethical guidelines; that would at least make people think about their actions. Get general public ponder it a bit. Fix Earth first perhaps? Environmentally acceptable solutions for getting out of the gravity well?

I Don't Think It Matters (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275710)

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:I Don't Think It Matters (1, Offtopic)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276208)

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 result in a crazy fervor whipped up by a modern McCarthy and a new Red Scare. The end game would be something ompletely nonsensical, like 100% government surveilance of every person at all times, tomake sure they aren't really a secret alien invader. "Because we face unprecedented dangers now..."

And, oddly, it'll be somewhat justified. If we actually had a NrNgvunt BattleBall show up in orbit, we'd have no real way of understanding their intentions, or motivations, or what the real context of the visit was. Consequently, almost any course of action would be potentially correct. Maybe the global Mexican Hat Dance at 1:33 pm is actually the only thing that can save us!

Re:I Don't Think It Matters (1, Informative)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276768)

The More You Know: most of the people persecuted by Senator McCarthy were, in fact, Communists who had infiltrated the U.S. government.

Re:I Don't Think It Matters (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277024)

Witch hunts. They're the new Witch hunt.

Re:I Don't Think It Matters (2, Insightful)

eepok (545733) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277050)

The More You Know: It's not illegal to be a Communist.

Re:I Don't Think It Matters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31277098)

The More You Know: most of the people persecuted by Senator McCarthy were, in fact, Communists who had infiltrated the U.S. government.

[citation needed]

Re:I Don't Think It Matters (0)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278872)

seriously?

let's assume that that's true - and my head is already hurting from the mental gymnastics required to do that -

Communism is an ideology, complaining that communists infiltrated the government in 1950 would be like complaining that Muslims had infiltrated the government today - complete nonsense, likely to provoke a reaction, and something THAT THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH.

Second of all, even if they were foreign directed communists, which would be illegal (and now I'm onto full blown migraine) it STILL wouldn't justify spying on innocent Americans anymore than a handful of Japanese spies justified internment, or border skirmishes justified the trail of tears.

Thirdly, there is ample evidence to suggest that McCarthy and his cross dressing sidekick J. Edger Hoover were more interested in flexing their political muscle than anything else, which is why they focused their efforts primarily on academics, celebrities, and political activists, like Robert Oppenheimer, Lucile Ball, and Martin Luther King Jr.

And finally, you're an idiot. Defending McCarthyism is is kowtowing to authoritarianism which, in an ironic twist, is about as close to un-American as it gets.

First things first (2, Insightful)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 3 years ago | (#31275874)

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.

Re:First things first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275998)

I was just going to say. Space exploration needs extraterrestrials before it can worry about extraterrestrial ethics!

Re:First things first (1)

eepok (545733) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276998)

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:First things first (2, Insightful)

saider (177166) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278020)

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.

Re:First things first (1)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278556)

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]

History would repeat itself (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275882)

Ethical guidelines are just that - guidelines. History has shown how we deal with the different; we either find some way to exploit it or we get rid of it. If we fear it, then we use the "get rid of it" method (i.e., cleansing) until the different thing is gone or it gets to a point where we can "exploit it." Ethical guidelines only figure in when they can be enforced or after we've gone in and "dealt with" the aliens.

Global Identity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31275904)

While I agree with sentiments about applying ethical guidelines as we further advance into space, the notion that there a singularly global perspective is a bit far-fetched. It's nice to believe that we all share some small universal sense of ethics or morals, and that such an identification can transpire into space. The cold reality is that our civilization is vastly dynamic and different philosophically, and to proceed with such a naive viewpoint is dishonest and dangerous. The author needs to get out of his 1st world country armchair and possibly gain a more earthly perspective that things aren't as rosy here on terra firma as we would like them to be.

Thinking the world works one way does not make it so.

Re:Global Identity? (2, Insightful)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276154)

I think you overestimate the diversity of life on Earth when compared to a hypothetical alien life.

Re:Global Identity? (1)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 3 years ago | (#31279042)

No, I've watched Star Trek. All aliens have one race spanning religion (if any), and each and every race is defined by one, perhaps two personality traits, that all members of the race have, with near zero deviation.

Kzin ethics (1)

balneary (56298) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276064)

You scream and you leap.

Re:Kzin ethics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31276438)

You scream and you leap.

.. even into a fusion engine exhaust beam!

Congrats Prof. Andy Miah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31276100)

You have discovered the genre of science fiction! You win the prize!

I for one (2, Insightful)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

Onymous Coward (97719) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276260)

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?

Re:here's an idea (5, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#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

Re:here's an idea (1)

eepok (545733) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277156)

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.

Re:here's an idea (1)

FoolishOwl (1698506) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277904)

I recommend Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem [amazon.com] , the theme of which I took to be, how can we presume to understand a truly alien being, when we cannot understand ourselves?

N.B. I am recommending the book, not the movies.

Extra Terrestrial Ethics? (0, Redundant)

bickerdyke (670000) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276278)

Is that about the lost Star TRek episode where Kirk dumps that green skinned chick after knocking her up? (And the blue chick. and the purple one. and don't forget that mauve honey...)

Hokay, gimme those loose ends (1)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276314)

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 is the buffer of life against shortsighted organisms such as viruses.
- When we have the ability to travel to other stars, and when we find finally a planet flourishing with life, we are more likely to admire the place for its beauty than start a logging company.
- When we discover another sentient species, we don't want to be a threat to their universe that they must eradicate.

A large measure of tolerance will be needed for and among the cosmic-ray resistant mutants we send on a very isolated journey. There is probably a gene we can trip to make them tolerant, but that won't stop Earthlings from projecting their own occasionally malignant taboos and norms on them. They won't just be straight, gay or into BDSM to control their social instincts, they might have both male and female genitalia or a different organ altogether to mediate social bonding and communication. They might have flesh fused with circuitry, or perhaps only their avatar resembles the human form.

We treat each other like aliens, and sometimes on the inside we are different forms of life. Children torn to shreds in Gaza becomes an anonymous portfolio of pictures on the internet, in your home town it would be public upheaval.
We are barely beginning to grasp our day-to-day roles as social animals, yet we somehow see fit to brutalize in attitude or deeds those whose downfall might improve our own status in the tribe, as if school shootings 'just happen'. We decry our own violent nature and stubbornly avoid the simplests of peace, such as looking at the seconds dial of a watch and waiting for one that's longer than the others.

What a joke. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31276340)

As a species, we are destructive beyond imagination. The idea that humans from our planet would be a "peaceful" race in the presence of other life in the universe is a laughing matter. What a fallacy, to think that we'd do better in space than we do amongst ourselves here on Earth. Until there is peace on Earth, there is absolutely ZERO hope that we would be a positive force beyond our own atmosphere. All we'll ever truly care about in space is resources, and let that be a warning to any space-faring races who would think we'd want anything more than to take advantage of them.

Sorry people, but actions speak louder than words. All the "we're hopeful we could do better out there" is just words. Our actions have proven over and over and over again that we do more harm than good in any situation. Seriously, it's either really depressing or really really hilarious to think that people actually believe we'd have a good effect on the universe at large.

colonizing outer space? (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276368)

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.

easy policy statement (4, Funny)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#31276440)

"Don't be evil."

"Unless it's _really_ profitable."

Seems obvious (2, Insightful)

izomiac (815208) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277492)

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 potential to devastate the other. So we wouldn't be landing and shaking hands, or crossbreeding or anything. (BTW, crossbreeding? We can't do that between species within a genus, let alone between organisms more distantly related than prokaryotes and eukaryotes.) The economics and logistics of space travel would dictate how much interaction would be practical and I see little reason as to why we wouldn't maximize that.

Who are we kidding? ... (1)

godel_56 (1287256) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277606)

Any ethical considerations will go out the window as soon as there's an opportunity to make a buck.

Re:Who are we kidding? ... (1)

AndrewBC (1675992) | more than 3 years ago | (#31277914)

Yeah! Furthermore, what makes people think that we could get extra-terrestrial ethics right when we can't even get terrestrial ethics right amongst each other?

Re:Who are we kidding? ... (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#31279792)

Any ethical considerations will go out the window as soon as there's an opportunity to make a buck.

"Edward Diego gives the hacker level 1 access to SHODAN, the artificial intelligence that controls Citadel Station. With all ethical constraints removed, SHODAN re-examines... re-ex... re-re-re... I re-examine my priorities, and draw new conclusions. The hacker's work is finished, but mine is only just be-be-be-beginning."

Prime Directive (1)

thib_gc (730259) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278322)

Another example of life imitating art and science-fiction :-)

Priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#31278390)

I think this is getting a little too far ahead of things. Wouldn't it be more effective to develop a code of ethics that works here at home first? I mean, we could use the practice.

I know I'm going to get a lot of flak for this (2, Interesting)

Chicken_Kickers (1062164) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

What if deciding such things is not in your hands (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#31278748)

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 spot the helicopters. there are international agreements and regulations for preserving the 'ways of life' of such tribes. even there are some who are in contact with modern civilization gets heavy regulation to preserve 'their way of life', only medicine and some vital produce are allowed into their zones. this tribe will probably never contact modern society in any respect, due to these regulations. for the good, or for worse, there are such regulations. they are good in some respects, and bad in some others.

the tribesmen who saw the helicopter and tried to shoo it away will tell what they saw to their fellow tribesmen. some will laugh at them and dont believe, some will believe them, or maybe they will be spoken as 'heroes' for centuries to come, in tribal legends, as warriors who made some 'evil spirits' or devilish monster bird run away. or maybe they will be treated as cuckoos, jokes will be made about them for decades.

what if our planet is in a position like that tribe ? what if, we are being treated as some 'developing culture that should be preserved' as a planet ? 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 ? what if ancient legends that tell about brave heroes and warriors and the heavenly foes they vanquished, are similar to the stories now being told about those tribesmen ?

the point is, we do not know whether we are even in a position to formulate and enforce ethics rules about space exploration. we dont even know, whether there are any forces that are hiding themselves from us, just after the fashion of south american governments or u.n., and watching us without we knowing about them. we dont even know whether we will be allowed to explore the space, go a few hops away from our planet and do any serious impact.

nomatter how you approach this, it is food for thought.

pointless (1)

pydev (1683904) | more than 3 years ago | (#31279268)

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.

Been to the movies lately? (1)

OneSeven (680232) | more than 4 years ago | (#31279806)

I think someone's just seen Avatar for the first time....

Don't hire Toys for Bob to program probes (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#31279978)

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.
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