For those of us who work in the technology industry, it’s important to dream.  We tend to focus on issues that are “down to earth” – such as ensuring our children in schools have access to the latest technologies, or that businesses have the right IT infrastructure to protect their data. But then there are times when we want to go galactic, like pondering what would happen if extra-terrestrials (ET) landed on Earth or sent us a message from outer space?

Do we have IT protocols in place for handling such an extraordinary, out of this world event?

It might sound strange, unlikely, or something where “IT protocols” would be the last of our worries! But humor us.

Recently, several discoveries, including the possibility of an “alien megastructure” around KIC 8462852, a.k.a. Tabby’s Star, according to NBC News, seemed to intensify the need for protocols to handle such a magnificent sighting.

So, what would happen if we do discover life from another planet?  Looking at recent news reports, we can sort out science from science fiction and determine if there are in fact “protocols” or plans for an ET “close encounter.”

SETI Extra-Terrestrial Protocols:

The truth is out there: there are not a lot of formal protocols or plans for dealing with an ET-like event.  In the 1980s, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) developed protocols for an ET sighting – and those documents were again updated in the 1990s by a committee known as the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), according to LiveScience, which reported, “…the SETI post-detection protocols are guidelines for governments and scientists, rather than a global action plan for dealing with alien contact.”

NBC News wrote that the SETI guidelines do not go into much detail as it pertains to first-contact:  First, the detection of alien life should be carefully verified by repeated observations. Second, the discovery should be publicized – needing an IT platform for communication. And third, no response should be sent without international consultation – which gets into international data protection and security needs.

The United Nations and Ambassador to ET:

In addition to the SETI efforts, it has been reported that the United Nation’s Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) also drafted protocols for an ET sighting.  In 2010, the UNOOSA appointed ambassador, astrophysicist Mazlan Othman to coordinate humanity’s response to an ET-like event.  However, recent news reports depict that Othman’s job has had very little to do with meeting ET and more to do with overseeing the UNOOSA’s main charter, which deals with space-related issues, “…ranging from international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space to managing the growing problem of space debris,” according to CBS News.

In a  New York Times article regarding Othman’s appointment, she was quoted as saying, “There is no United Nations position on extraterrestrial life…I am not the ambassador to aliens!”

How long will it take to get a Message from Outer Space?  Would We Understand It?

The fact is, basic science might be responsible for the lackluster need to create a more in-depth global response for handling an ET-like encounter, and our collective technology will be at the forefront for the way we handle such an event.

For instance, if ET is a 100 light years away, the message will be 100 years old by the time we get it – as will our reply by the time it turns up, according to the Guardian, in an interview with  Dr John Elliot, joint coordinator for the UK Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research Network.

“It’s a 200-year turnaround … just to say hello,” says Elliot.

The other half of the equation – if we intercept such a message – how long will it take for us to really understand it?  The Guardian quoted Elliot as explaining that interpreting ET language is “…is a matter of linguistics…It’s the same as if you’re in the Amazon rainforest and you encounter a lost tribe…You’d include their message, or part of it, as an echo. But you’d need to have something simple at the front and build upon it.”

Again, it’s pretty “far out” – but the IT Force would need to be with us!

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