Scientists at the recently opened SETI Post-Detection Hub at the University of St Andrews in Scotland have a daunting task ahead of them: figure out what the hell to do if we were ever to make contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization.
If aliens got in touch tomorrow, they warn, humanity would be woefully ill-prepared — something they say needs to change as soon as possible.
"Look at the mess we made when COVID hit," John Elliott, a computational linguist at the University of St Andrews and coordinator of the Post-Detection Hub, told The Guardian. "We’d be like headless chickens."
"We cannot afford to be ill-prepared, scientifically, socially, and politically rudderless," he added, "for an event that could happen at any time and which we cannot afford to mismanage."
Elliott and co are looking beyond our efforts of scanning the skies for extraterrestrial signals and asking the question of what comes next.
At the Post-Detection Hub, he'll be tasked with coordinating an international and unified response to any potential alien contact, something that will require an immense amount of paperwork and bureaucracy.
"We need strategies and scenarios in place to understand what we need to do and how to do it," he told the Guardian.
Unlike many of his peers, Elliott isn't afraid to have humanity respond to the calls of an alien civilization. That question alone is an active debate that has experts divided, with many arguing that giving up our location could end in disaster.
"It’s such an opportunity to link up, if there’s another intelligence out there, which all the indications are that there must be," Elliott told The Guardian.