We can’t claim to know what will happen if space aliens land on Earth, but the screenwriters of alien invasion movies have gamed out the possible scenarios for us. On one hand, you have the Independence Day scenario: They try to exterminate us for whatever reason. And I hate to break it to you, but if a civilization is advanced enough to find us and blast us with photon torpedoes, no Will Smith-plus-computer-virus heroics are probably going to save us, and we’re all going to die.
The second scenario is a bit like upcoming science-fiction film Arrival : UFOs show up, but until someone can figure out how to communicate with them, no one will have any clue whether the extraterrestrials are saying “Give us all your phosphorus before we blast you with our super laser,” or, “Here’s a quick and easy recipe for unlimited energy.” Guessing wrong means interstellar war.
In either situation, as the leader of Earth’s only superpower, the president of the United States will have a lot of responsibility should aliens land. He or she will either be leading the (again, probably doomed) fight against the extraterrestrials a la Bill Pullman in Independence Day or working on brokering a billion-year peace deal with the people of Squidulon-5 or whatever. Those are the highest possible stakes—either human slaves in the Saharan phosphorus mines will be cursing your name in 2528, or you will be remembered as the greatest and most important diplomat in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history.
The chance of us making first contact with aliens between 2016 and 2020 is remote, but if we did, who would you want in the Oval Office? To figure it out, I reached out to some of the best minds in the world of extraterrestrial research. These experts—three researchers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) field and one UFOlogist—gave me some pretty interesting answers. Sometimes they were pretty vague, but it doesn’t sound like any of them are eager to Make Earth Great Again.
Dan Werthimer, Chief SETI Scientist at the UC Berkeley Department of Astronomy
VICE: Does it make sense to raise the issue of what to do about an alien landing in the presidential election?
Dan Werthhimer: I think people should start thinking about the consequences of communicating with other civilizations. There are potentially great outcomes: We could learn a lot, and there are potentially bad outcomes. We could learn about technologies that would be good for weapons, or something like that. So it would be good to start thinking about how the world is going to deal with this and who should speak for Earth—and if we should reply, who’s going to reply, and how do we draft that sort of message. It’s good to think about that ahead of time, because it could be chaos if we ever find a signal.
Is one major candidate better in your opinion?
I think [Donald Trump] makes a lot of off-the-cuff remarks, many of which he later says, “Oh that was a joke,” but that’s the kind of thing that could get us in a war, or a nuclear war or something. Especially when you’re coming into contact with different cultures, or even different civilizations, you need to be careful about what you say, and how it could be misconstrued. We need to go about these things much more carefully than Trump does with that stuff.
Mike Pearl Staff Writer - VICE